Monday 29 April 2024

Vote early and vote often

The head quote is attributed variously to three Characters from Chicago: Al Capone, his partner-in-crime Mayor "Big Bill" Thompson or Mayor Richard M. Daley. The latter not to be confused with his son Mayor Richard M. Daley who also headed the city for 20 years.

We came back to Ireland in 1990, having spent the entirety of the 80s recession in the US then UK. The colour of my passport was inconsequential because my sense of identity was nailed to the masthead of the great wonderful Project Europe that became the EU. After the débacle of Brexit, like far too many non-dom Brits, I got all my paper ducks in a row and vindicated my rights to citizenship in 2018. It took a year of time and a mort o' money but my FBR [Foreign Birth Registry] cert came in the post with the sheaf of birth, marriage and death certificates I'd submitted for the FBR audit trail.

A couple of years ago, and still today, we were encouraged to update our details on, the electronic register of voting rights. I have issues with my birthday because I appeared just after midnight during British Summer Time [clocks forward] and so am astrologically born the day before. And I have issues with Eircode. But I am also severely institutionalised, so I obeyed and submitted the details. I was a little hacked off when I didn't get a polling card in the run up to the Referendum of March 2024, which made an attempt to reduce the rights of women, under the guise of asserting equality.

I put updating the register and lack of polling card together and went online to verify that a) although the local county council [voting registerers] talks to [social welfare, tax, driving licences] b) MyGov doesn't talk to the Dept Foreign Affairs which is the gatekeeper of the FBR. And sure enough my PPSN+DoB+Eircode = Nationality, UK. In April, I set to rectifying my status. For voting, it is straight forward: 

  • download ERF1.pdf
  • fill in the boxes
  • sign 
  • submit with photocopy of naturalization papers or FBR
Job done:

Changing nationality seemed to be straight forward after I phoned MyGov central in Carrick-on-Shannon: go to any local office of the Social Welfare/MyGov with your paperwork - you may need to make an appointment.

Accordingly, I phoned the nearest office in B'town (where I had been photographed and whence I had  acquired my Social Welfare = Free Travel card). I explained why I wanted an appointment and got back a wave of alarum and despondency. No no no, Bob, this FBR you're talking about, that won't do at all, you're only at the beginning of a long process of naturalization, when you've got your naturalization papers come back to me. That was but a glitch because the main task [Votes for Olds!] was in train for resolution. But after lunch I phoned Carrick-onShannon again . . .

. . . and got Declan. Yes yes yes, Bob, sure your grandparents were born in Ireland, of course your nationality should be Irish; you make a copy of that FBR and send it to me and I'll sort it out for you. I should be able to do it this afternoon but sure amn't I in the office tomorrow?

Two hours later Declan emails Thanks for the document, that’s done now.  I also updated your address to Include your Eircode. We still live in a really small country where legacy employees of The State have time to give individual attention to small problems. 10+ years ago, as designated driver, I spend some hours over several visits in ArdKeen hospital. One of the public facing employees had a job which seemed to involve conducting patients and their files from the ante-room of the Xray department into the waiting-room of the Xray department. You may be sure that as ArdKeen puffed itself up to Waterford University Hospital and this kindly lady [was] retired, she wasn't replaced. More paper, more cross-checks, more audits, less care-and-attention for Jo Poiblí.

Sunday 28 April 2024

Go on you must be joking

At the mill with boons

Friday 26 April 2024

Scenic Routes

Did I mention being Grand Marshal of the Scullogue Gap last weekend? I did. The night before, I threw together a steward's pack incuding a  HiViz  jacket. Imagine my mortification when I arrived en poste to find I had snagged a  HiViz  bolero [R] from the coat-rack. I'd been dancing at the same cross-roads 5 years previous when I had to make my own signs, this time signage was a lot more professional because of sponsorship by Aptus the broadband people. We all have a tendency to big up our contributions to any common venture but my station was key because it was where the shorter route-options [50km and 80km] turned for home while the 100km and 140km hard-chaws headed for the full circuit of Mt Leinster.

It was a brilliant sunny day with just enough chill on the breeze to prevent overheating - sunscreen defo advisable. I got to see a poor bloody buzzard Buteo buteo being hunted off the premises by a pair of crows Corvus spp. They say that 360 people had registered for the Blackstairs Cycling Challenge and it seems that €17,100 has been raised for the cause. You'd think that everyone would be happy, but I heard two separate tales of angry car-drivers taking the trouble to roll down their windows and curse at the cyclists for getting in my !&*%ing way, can't you proles see I have an Audi? which really helps people who might be a bit wobbly in the saddle. I was contracted to Be There from 10:30 to 12:30 for the anxious [nobody needed my spanners, tire-pump or blister plasters] because the signs were many, large and self-explanatory. But a really enthusiastic volunteer swung by on the dot of 12:30 and scooped all the signs into the back of his van. I was asked to hang on for a bit because there were known stragglers who by definition were less fit and more anxious. It would be a propaganda fail if such people were to miss 'my' crucial turn for home and get lost in the wilds of Wexford.

It was thus 13:30 before I Escape!ed and headed off for Costa na Déise. I was in a bit of a rush because family were >!surprise!< over from England. But less than 5km into my journey South, I got caught behind three [3] elderly but spruced up tractors. I hung loose reckoning they could be over-taken at the Ballinlug Long Straight. But when we finally reached this zoooomportunity, the long straight was old red tractors as far as the eye could see. I did a U-eee and nosed along the Scenic Route through Askinvillar Rathduff Ballygibbon Ballindoney Balligalvert Templeludigan and back to the known path at Ballywilliam. I've never been to or through Templeludigan (St Joachim's church! 1909 National School! ball-alley!) before, so [✓] to that.

Had a wonderful time with the family in Trá Mhór, including some care-and-attention for Pat the Salt as he lurches towards his 99th birthday. We came away at 15:50 on the Monday - I R Retire, so can go home when it suits. I had been apprised by my pal Russ that Belview Port is a designated landing point for 80m wind-turbine blades. In February, he suggested I look out for changes to roundabouts in the area to allow these monsters to traverse a national road network originally designed for the ass-and-cart. I had also noted the flashing signs  Luffany works 22/04 to 26/04 expect delays . How and ever, we found ourselves joining a 3km tail-back on the N25 Waterford Ring-Road. Of all the ways to approach Luffany at the N end of said Ring-Road, this is the worst because there is an unsurmountable median strip and no turn offs to winkly side-roads. We endured the stop-go car park in a fug of diesel for an hour but at least The Grape didn't boil over and it wasn't hosing rain. We're heading South again today . . . via Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, another Scenic Route. But not so Scenic as the back-road from New Ross to Waterford by Glenmore and Slieverue [R with more tractors].

Wednesday 24 April 2024

Aristotle all dressed up

It's hard to credit that Raphael of Urbino has been dead for 500 years, because we can imagine meeting him swapping pigments with Michelangelo of Firenze and Leonardo of Vinci as they waited for the Pope to see them. The fact that Raphael died at the age of 37 from infection and bloodletting? Not so much.

One of Raphael's most notable and most copied works is his School of Athens which was commissioned by Pope Julius and executed on a wall in the Vatican between 1509 and 1511. It's BIG (5m x 7.7m) and detailed. The conceit was to represent the greatest thinkers of the Classical world as a reminder the papal court to do better. It was a massive cos-play for Raphael and his pals: discarding their doublets and cod-pieces and striking a pose wrapped in sheets or chitons. At the time, it would have been a hoot, because viewers could make facetious comments about their mate Michelangelo as . . . Heraclitus [bloborecent]. Those classically educated viewers would also have made a much better fist of recognising the iconography of the Ancients. My Mum got to be pretty good on the iconography of saints having spent her retirement years cruising between cathedrals and museums. Doing the who's who (both the philosophers and the models) on The School of Athens been an on-going puzzle for art-historians to wrestle over ever since. Here's one attempt - hint Geocentrist Ptolemy is holding the globe?

But, despite the skirts, they're all . . . men.

In our times there exists a self-appointed coven of crones Na Cailleacha who are venerable and arty and like to hang out together. I've mentioned cailleach as a slightly scary, respectful term for a generally undervalued segment of society. Tremble also at Sprakkar - an Icelandic equivalent. From Spring 2024, this collective decided that it would be grand jape to make a tableau vivant of The School of Athens with only women in the cos-play. Nice touches: replacing Euclid's chalk-board with a black laptop [above R]. Of course they strove to be consciously diverse and inclusive within the women space. Face it, they'd have been hard put to find 40 white Irish female philosophers, all available for a specific weekday morning in March, to populate their School of Hibernia.

And, contra Raphael and Julius II, an identification key has been included for posterity. They borrowed the Museum Building from TCD because of the steps and pilasters and put on a spiffy lunch so that everyone involved could mingle and network afterwards. Getting Mary Robinson, Ireland's first F Uachtarán, and Linda Doyle, TCD's first F Provost, to fill the robes of Plato and Aristotle was a coup. Some of the models have appeared in the Blob before. I haven't gotten round to writing up Dau.II's saxophone teacher / cailleach . . . yet. The fluffy white representations of Artemis/Diana/Medb and Athena/Minerva/Brigid/ standing on the newel posts at the rear are the work of Helen "Cailleach" Comerford who died suddenly a couple of weeks later
Here's a couple of minutes of RTE launching the project.

Monday 22 April 2024

Kent KaBOOM!

 I was born in Dover in 1954; because my mother was born there in 1920 and went home to deliver her sproggs. I never had any sense that Dover was my home-place, not least because the family up-stakes 3 months later when my naval father was posted elsewhere. 

12 years later there was a window-rattling explosion 6 km off the coast of Folkstone, the town next door.  Marine salvers had been contracted to remove the wreck of Polish registered liberty ship SS Kielce [L]. The Kielce had been carrying a cargo of munitions from Southampton to Bremerhaven in March 1946 when, in crap weather, at night, she collided with the steamer Lombardy and sank without loss of life. Resting on the seabed in 30m of water, the wreck wasn't a hazard to shipping; although I bet there were pissed off trawlermen when their gear snagged on on the sticky-out metal bits. 

So the Folkestone Salvage Company thought it was be a good idea to carry out some controlled underwater explosions to reduce the wreck to smaller lumps to facilitate its removal. The third such detonation ignited part of the original cargo - still fizzy after 20 years in saltwater. What's left of the wreck is now 6m below grade in its very own crater. Ordnance experts afterwards estimated at a 2-kilotonne explosion. At least the Kielce had been carrying, like, bullets and incendiary bombs rather some fancy chemical weapons of mass destruction. Needless to say, nobody was in a gung-ho hurry to finish the salvage job; nor yet authorize a further attempt. Accordingly Kielce lies conveniently close to shore and ordinary folks go wreck-diving there on the reg'lar. Thus Callum Beveridge: dived this site a few years ago before being aware of its history. Must be the only wreck I've ever dived where the top of the wreck is deeper than the surrounding seabed. It sits in a 6m depression and the seabed is littered with bent and twisted munitions inc .50 cal browning rounds.

You may be sure that the Kielce experience informed the continuing decision to Do Nothing about the wreck of SS Richard Montgomery off the other side of the county. In 1966, folk were allowed to have a go without being completely fettered by authorizations, risk-asssessments and mighty insurance premiums. Having a go meant not warning people away from the windows of the seafront B&Bs and hotels. Having a go meant allowing Philip Kaye a cross-channel swimmer to be in the water 3km from the wreck site when the balloon went up. Shocked, shocked 'e woz: "I got a pain in my head and the sensation of being beaten with dozens of sticks, I never saw the explosion, but the tremors were terrific. I had a pins-and-needles effect for several minutes."

Sunday 21 April 2024

Aprille shouers

Mish-mash bish-bash

Friday 19 April 2024

New for Old

Roy the Plumber came as promised on Wednesday: third time lucky because Mon and Tuesday were giving stormy weather and he prioritized indoor jobs elsewhere. The forecast for Weds was not manifestly better, but he came anyway at 08:50hrs with all the kit to replace a) the submersible pump b) the old topside pressure cylinder c) the grit-filter d) most of the brass fittings e) the 28 years submersed electric cable. We were allowed to keep the ¾" = 20mm water pipe (L laid out on the grass, taped to a new ½" = 12mm polypropylene rope). 

Roy set to the outdoor work first, which was an astute move because, within minutes of finishing that half of the game, the drizzle drifted in from the North. But not before I was able to rummage up an old tarpaulin to cover the matériel which had been spilled across the grass out of the back of the plumber's van. It you think my desk-drawers  or my tool-shed is a mess, you should check out the vans of anyone of our five sequential plumbers. There is some organization in the hape because they always seem to be able to find whatever unexpected tool or fitting that the job requires. First thing obvs is to haul up the old pump and pipework. When the bore hole was clear of clobber, it was possible / necessary to plumb the depths. 

When it was drilled in 1996, water started to flow from the orifice at about 15m, but the drillers kept going down and down because "the flow isn't sufficient". They finally stopped at 34m or 113ft in old money. The drill sections came in 10ft lengths; except for the first which had 3ft of working bit on the business end. Drillers adopt a "I've started so I'll finish" protocol: if they've gone through the faff of hauling the rig up to install a new section, then they go down the full length of that pipe. Wells are thus . . . 73ft or 113ft or 173ft  . . . deep. The bore-hole cost, old money, £4.00 a foot.

In 2024, the well is 99½ ft deep. In 1996, the pump was suspended 76½ ft down. For reasons not entirely clear, 5 ft = 150 cm was trimmed off the pipe on Weds, so the pump is now suspended 28 ft = 8½ m above the sediment. Which, after nearly 30 years is a geological ~4 m thick. We're all guessing that sedimentation is not linear: most of the grit / sand /sludge was washed out of the rock-fissures in the late 1990s and things have reached a steady state by now. Interestingly whenever were have the cover off to look into the bore-hole [as R] you can see the water surface glinting an arm's length down. As in 2019 when we had the water tested for free.

The electrical cable is not taped to the rope. Which was interesting because heretofore I've thought that the rope was a bit redundant: y' could surely lower the pump down (and haul it up using the power cable and/or the water pipe. That was until I got to play with the old pump and the new one [guess which is which? L]. Those lads are heavy: at least 15 kg. It is entirely possible that the connexions would rip out under the weight. If not immediately then over time. Like with sinking the drill bit, getting the pump up and down is work and you want to have as much as possible of the workings topside where they can be diagnosed, fixed or replaced - capacitor for example.

We're back to 21stC normal now. Water comes gushing at the turn of several available taps, both t'ilets fill their cisterns without a thought.So little heed have been paying to the inestimably wonderful resource - and for all my life - that I thoughtlessly flushed the t'ilet twice before I re[s]trained myself. I was alone in the house of 8 of those tap-waterless days, so I was able to lower the standards on generating dishes and pans for washing. And putting socks over the faucets to stop me being thoughtless. Still-and-all, I doubt I've acquired Giardia, SchistosomaOnchocerca or Fasciola from drinking crystal clear rain water from a bucket. Which is not the case in Somalia hmmm.

Wednesday 17 April 2024

Our bucket economy

25 years ago Lilliput Press published Lives Less Ordinary 32 Irish Portraits by Peter Morgan and Judy Kravis (1999). It's still in print but you can get 2nd hand copies for £5 or thereabouts. It's an amazing record of alternative folk living their own peculiar dream in the later 20thC. I've mentioned the book before especially wrt the chapter about Judith Hoad who lived in a remote cottage without indoor plumbing.

We have, so, indoor plumbing; although Old Ray, who died out of the house in 1994, managed without those amenities for 50 years. When we came with our modern ways and two small children we had a bore-hole drilled and sunk a submersible pump 100 ft =30m below grade. From that central heating was installed so we had hot&cold running water, not only in the house but also in two sheds - and a stand-pipe in the yard for watering walkers and sheep. On Sunday 7th Apr, the water stopped running. Even after I cleaned out the sclerotic pressure valve, the pump would switch off a couple of minutes after reset.

I called Roy the plumber and he came (in the drizzle) the next day for a scoping visit. He has promised to come today to sink the new submersible pump and connect it up.

We are not strangers to waterlessness because, like, the submersible pump runs on electricity and maintenance- or storm-scheduled power cuts stop all taps. It's all do-able for a few days so long as fore-thought has provided some back-up drinking water in bottles. It's disconcertingly convenient to have a 'lec'kettle that works next to a tap that don't. During our bucket week we instituted a parallel system for kettles on the wood-burning stove: 1) for drinking and cooking water 2) for washing and hottle bottles. But it's been well soggy this weather and we're getting hectolitres of clean clear rain water captured by 150 sq.m. of polytunnel roof -  I'd have no compunction about drinking that . . . ignoring the leaves. It is comical to imagine over-educated, over-aged me tottering down the steps from the tunnel with a bucket in each claw.

All good fun until, like a bucket-economy friend of ours in The West, who on the morning To The Compost trip, went all literal and tripped dropping >!kaPLOOSH!< the brimming family pee-bucket at the head of the stairs. Mercifully 'e didn't follow the bucket on down.

Monday 15 April 2024

Roti and reading

Before Easter, I was alone at home [agane: nobody luvs meeee] tasked to make a hella gurt stack of Knockroti, in anticipation of the appearance of Dau.I and Dau.II from Dublin. You know how teenage boys can make short work of an 800g sliced pan & 250g of butter at RT°C, so long as a toaster is available? My family will give them a run for their money - and no toaster need apply: ignoring that universal advice of never eat anything longer than a child's leg or bigger than your own head. It's busy work but not mentally taxing, so it's a good time to ear-book a podcast or something from Borrowbox. My cupboard was bare on both these fronts so I downloaded more-or-less the first non-fiction book that was a) available now b) not a diet book written by an influencer.

As you see above, the Roti shift was productive. The rando borro boxxo was [surprisingly?] on message:

 . . . Failosophy: A Handbook For When Things Go Wrong by Elizabeth Day. I'd never 'eard of 'er - or her book. But it turns out that Day [b. 1978] is a British journalist and book-writer who was raised in Derry (where her Dad was a surgeon in Altnagelvin Hospital) and, in the 00s wrote for a rash of different papers in London. Then in 2018, she launched a podcast How to Fail with Elizabeth Day which turned out to be phenomenally successful. Failosophy is her publisher's second bite at that gravy train.

The conceit of the podcast is that Celeb is contacted in advance and invited to jot down three life-changing failures. If these notes meet some sort of threshold, research is done and Celeb invited in to be grilled about the life lessons.There is no requirement to sort between fale and pech fails. These two Dutch words apparently mean "I booted my driving test by mounting the pavement while reversing round a corner" = fale and "My father was killed when a block of frozen urine crashed through his Heathrow-adjacent greenhouse" = pech. You can imagine yourself learning from the former; from the latter, nt so much.

Lemn Sissay, Brenda Hale, Nigel Slater and Malcolm Gladwell are among those who have featured both on this podcast and The Blob. There is an arresting clip from the interview with Mo Gawdat, whose 21 y.o. son died under the knife during a routine bit of surgery. Asked if he was devastated by the loss, Gawdat answered [paraphrase!] "Sure, of course we're gutted, but I spend more time reflecting on the wonderful two decades during which Ali was the light of our lives". What matters is not the crappy hands which life deals you; it's how you play the cards you get.

Sunday 14 April 2024

Half April 2024

Bits and bobs

Friday 12 April 2024

Hedgehog science

Peter "Boson" Higgs  aka Peter "Waited 5 decades for a Nobel" Higgs, died in the fullness of his 94 years at his home in Edinburgh on 8th April 2024 . He's pictured [R] the year I was born, 10 years before he made his seminal calculation about the structure of matter. Obvs, other people added other data bricks and intellectual mortar to cement the Higgs boson into the standard understanding of the physics of the Universe.

There were tributes on MetaFilter including a citation to a post-Nobel article in the Guardian. That piece included a memorable confession: Higgs said he became "an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises". A message would go around the department saying: "Please give a list of your recent publications." Higgs said: "I would send back a statement: 'None.' ".
Confession? Indictment!

 🦔 Higgs is a great example of ‘The fox publishes many things, but the hedgehog publishes one big thing' paraphrased from Archilochus, Erasmus, Berlin [that would be Languagehat]. The productivity failure article cited above gave me a rush of empathy. Three of the most interesting, public-engaging, well-travelled, widely-read, student-inspiring faculty at my alma mater were all at one time up before the beak for not publishing enough. Least Publishable Units LPUs are countable but that doesn't make them valuable - even collectively.

This is not the first time I've taken my chapeau off to a scientific Hedgehog. In 2015 I made a sweeping bow to Françoise Barré-Sinoussi when she was retired from l'institut Pasteur in 2015. After isolating the HIV virus in 1983, FBS spent the next 30 years immersed in the scientific, medical, social and political aspects of the virus and AIDS. Focus focus focus. 

  • "πόλλ' οἶδ' ἀλώπηξ, ἀλλ' ἐχῖνος ἓν μέγα" Archilochus of Paros
  • Multa novit vulpes, verum echinus unum magnum Erasmus of Rotterdam
  • A fox knows many things, a hedgehog knows one great thing. Berlin of Riga (and Oxford)

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Sea as soup

I was faced with a mountain of washing up and had run out of podcasts and had nothing on the go from Borrowbox. Rather than being the Trappist plongeur or, worse, listening to RTE on the wireless, I logged on and downloaded something, anything, from the non-fiction bin. Came up with The sea is not made of water : life between the tides by Adam Nicolson [prev], which starts with a (for me) wonderful mix of Linnaean binomers and purple (and green & brown & red) prose describing his adventures on the foreshore. In one project he secures permission to create a new rockpool in Argyll. Three days are spend with maul and bar to create a depression which has not been wet since the Jurassic. Rain and the tide duly brim-fills this shallow dip in the landscape and Nicolson settles down to record the immigrants . . . and muse on the etymology of "brim". My experience of tidal pools is entirely superficial: it's wet; there's "a fish"; anemones; a pebble . . . Nicolson has more patience and observational skills and can count.

But nobody can do really useful field-work in the week remaining of their summer holidays and Nicolson turns to the scientific literature to report on the dynamic processes that affect species abundance: mostly nature red in tooth and claw. a cost-benefit trade off played out over evolutionary time. One rock scissor stone tale looked at the interactions of common periwinkles Littorina littorea, green shore crab Carcinus maenus and green algae like Cladophora spp and Ulva lactuca. The winkles eat the algae, which shelter the crabs, which eat the winkles. Who wins depends on how far up the shore the pool is and the local rapacity of gulls which can swallow crabs whole.

It's true that sounds like a very simple ecosystem but you have to start with simple models - preferably generating testable hypotheses - if you're going to establish some principals in our understanding of how life ticks. Later he cites Bob Paine's (1933-2016 obit) concept of key-stone species - often top predators - whose impact cascades down the food-chain. Paine found that when he fecked out all the ochre starfish Pisaster ochraceus on a section of the foreshore, its favorite food mussels Mytilus californianus spread unchecked across the rocks depriving lots of other shellfish of a home. Within a short time the number of invertebrate species halved compared to a control (starfish present) plot. Same with wolves in Yellowstone: in their absence, deer eat all the twiggy saplings leading to deforestation and a catastrophic decline in all the species which use trees for shelter, food or infection (hey fungi have rights, too).

This is, for sure, a beautifully written hello beach, hello sky book. But it is also a philosophical and historical treatise explaining how smarter people than you-and-me made sense of the natural world. He carries a torch of Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BCE) in a similar way that botanist Anna Pavord tribs Theophrastus of Lesbos. There's a succinct history on the causes of tides, including enough of the wrong turns associated with famously smart blokes (Kepler - looking at you) to make me realise that tides simple neither conceptually nor locally. This is followed by a weird chapter on Andromeda stories - where vulnerable people (women, esp virgins, suicides, the unhinged) are pegged out at low tide, so that the sea can perform a non-culpable "disposal". Check out Catherine Campbell MacLean for as local example?

Whoa, Adam: that's a kinda niche to be sharing with beachcombers. But the Nicolson rabbit holes are many and varied - a bit like The Blob. Not many readers will be familiar with the works of 19thC marine biologist Philip Gosse, whose biblical literalism conceived and delivered Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot in 1857. Far from untying anything, Gosse made his arguments into a tangle of special pleading to explain why Adam had a navel (omphalos) and why God created loadsa a dead fossils to bamboozle contemporary geologists. As we all know, Darwin brought out a much more satisfying, internal consistent hypothesis two years later with On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. I knew about Gosse b/c very expensive education but also because of his son Edmund's compelling growing up oppressed story Father and Son ". . . one of our best accounts of adolescence, particularly for those who endured . . . a religious upbringing".

Bottom line for the soul: Nicolson's fossicking along the tide-line seems to lead up to his sympathetic ruminations on Martin Heidigger - emphatically not because Heidigger was an enthusiastic Nazi. It was more because of Heidigger's quip "I care therefore I am" and his concept of Dasein - being present when out and about in the world. Nicolson has spent his entire life in reconciliation between his scientific and poetic understanding of existence - both his and each periwinkle's and the interaction terms! I'm on board with this, having made Science as A Way of Knowing a running theme in The Blob. But I also really like that Nicolson accepts that humans are not cartoons. 21stC discourse finds it all too easy to bring down the shutters: oh, that bastard is, like, A Nazi I don't need to engage with, listen to, or acknowledge the existence of such perps. That's easy; much more difficult to look into the dark corners of our own souls and work on that. And dismissing everything that makes me uncomfortable is all too easy to generalise to include the undeserving: the disabled, the poor, communiss, People of The Book, the homeless, that misogynistic colleague, boat-people . . . travellers.

Bottom line for the shore: the sea is big, wet and salty and a very great number of creatures live there. To the nearest whole number we know 0% about how these denizens interact and are inter-dependent. Humans are almost certainly a key-stone species for world between the tides. Blundering about on the beach with our yappy dogs; allowing a company like Exxon to operate 200,000 tonne oil tankers; forcing the sea to suck up all our CO2.

Monday 8 April 2024

Taking nice things

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house,
thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife,
nor his manservant, nor his maidservant,
nor his ox, nor his ass, nor his pot-plants
nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

If it didn't happen, they wouldn't be making Ten Commandments about it? And these judeo-christians are really trying to head things off at the pass with their exhortations to damp down or eliminate the feelings of envy. Good luck with that. Meanwhile current law hereabouts cares not a whit about your covetous turmoil . . . so long as you don't act on it and make off with yer man's wife or her ass.

In 1986, we bought our first (of two) houses: a late-Victorian mid-terrace two streets away from a railway-cutting in suburban Newcastle upon Tyne. At that time a friend was writing software to digitize the address-scape of Britain to facilitate the early targetted direct-marketing sector of Capitalism. He reported that our street was coded: ⅓ council housing [#39]; ⅓ owner occupier [#37 us]; & ⅓ private rental [#35]. And we #37 and our abutting neighbours at #39 and  #35 matched this profile precisely. We were the beginnings of gentrification with our books and bottles of wine. After inhabiting a micro-farm for nearly 30 years where the nearest neighbour is 300m away, I can imagine going back to life where we could smell next-door's cabbage boiling for dinner and endure their full volume kid's TV on Sunday morning.

There was no garden attached to #37, but the previous owner had low-walled a corner of the back-yard and planted a sad looking cotoneaster. That yard was just big enough to park a car IF we grubbed up the shrubbery. A strip of concrete 1.5m wide [less for the bay-window] fronted the house. The original uniform cast-iron railings had all been cut off and carted away (?to make battleships?) in WWII but they had been replaced piecemeal for most of the houses. On Summer evenings, we used to sit out front on the stoop or on kitchen chairs to watch the sun set over the end of the street. The unintended consequence being that we met more people from the neighbourhood. After living there for a while, we acquired a job lot of a dozen plants in pots - mostly pelargoniums - and put them all out front on the downstairs windowsills and up against the fence. We made more friends when folk stopped to compliment us for bringing a splash of colour to the street. It might have been super-bougie for some bluff no-nonsense Geordies, but not all. It felt like doing a small-small thing for our community - and ourselves.

Then one night a local entrepreneur nicked off with ALL our plant-pots, just leaving rings of unbrushed dirt where the flowers had been. The galling thing about the whole sorry saga was the knowledge that what had been a public good had become a private benefit. Certainly, our plants didn't re-appear somewhere else in the area - I had a bike; I checked. At least it was less invasive than Mr Ahmed at #41 having his front-door robbed.

And because there's nothing new under this sun, someone from Carrigaline Co Cork has had her day in court for robbing [or more likely fencing] six hanging baskets from a Tidy Towns venture in the hamlet of Inch near Killeagh, Co Cork.  The cunning TidyTowners had buried an Apple AirTag in one of the baskets which enabled them to track their time effort and care property to Carrigaline. Carrigaline is all of 50km from Inch; y'have to wonder that there weren't low-hanging baskets nearer to the intended destination. In contrast to NuponT in 1987, we know where the perps live:

Pelargonium? Today's jigsaw puzzle today.

Saturday 6 April 2024

Stormy Lonsdale

Today, we had a bit of a drubbing from Storm Kathleen; 11th named storm of this season. Named for Dr K "benzene" Lonsdale, Irish crystallographer. But life goes on.

Friday 5 April 2024

So you're thinking of going to university?

My IRL Self provided a check-list for wannabee students based on our experience of being SLO School Liaison Officer - organizing Open Days for my Department at a mid-tier UK University through the 80s. It was published in New Scientist in 1989 . . .

In the next few months, thousands of prospective undergraduates will be travelling round Britain, trying to find a university which will take them for the next three or four years (or to decide which university they should take their custom to, depending on your point of view). What most of them do not realise is that effective teaching and the quality of student life come fairly low down the list of priorities of these institutions, which tend to offer more reward and encouragement to the research side of the university coin than to undergraduates.

However, as research is likely to be of only tangential relevance to students, I exhort all university candidates to consider and number of questions to ask on their visit to university. 

Most of the questions can be asked directly, some by observation, and some by taking a little extra time at beginning or end of the official day. (Any chance of arranging to spend a night with a local student should be seized). For each question you should think about the best person to address: current undergraduates will often be able to give more meaningful answers than lecturers. Although some of the questions will not be answerable in the context of any Open Day, they are nevertheless important. After all, if you are going to stump up the train-fare for the visit you may as well get the most out of the trip as possible.

  1. Does the tour guide appear to be taking any interest in me?Does this person establish eye-contact? Are they showing that open days are a chore? Places which care about student recruitment will put their most personable staff on the job; those that don't will give the work to the departmental deadwood.
  2. Is there evidence that undergraduates have low status? Look for signs such as "Undergraduates may not use the lift" "Staff Toilet". Is there a student common room or (better) a common common room? Do I get a desk? Do I get a locker? Will I be a 'member of the department' or will contact be  limited to lectures and practical classes? Can I park my car near the campus for a reasonable fee?
  3. Can I afford to live here? Are the halls of residence the kind of place where I would want to spend a year? Is there rented accommodation nearby? What will be the effects of geography on my life here? (City centre sites are a long way from the mountains; greenfield campuses tend to be short on cinemas)
  4. Am I going to meet a set of friends who will stick with me for the next three years and the rest of my life? [Ans: probably!]
  5. Does the tour of the department take in the research labs and, if so, how much time will I ever spend there? Do I get the impression that research takes priority of teaching? Can I have a list of research projects carried out by students in recent years? Are projects supervised by lecturers or delegated to technicians or (worse) postgraduate students? Are synopses of the lectures available?
  6. Is there an active degree-based student group or society? Do its activities combine both social and educational events? On the obligatory tour round the local brewery, do I get a free pint at the end of it?
  7. Is there an effective careers information office? Can I look at it? Is it better equipped than the one we have at school? Does each student have a mentor / tutor? Is this person a fund of cogent advice, friendly support and genuine interest in my happiness?
  8. Can I meet the chair of the chess | badminton | hang-gliding club? Is there such a club? Could I set one up?
  9. Can I have 20 minutes to talk to a 2nd year student? Is there an Alternative Prospectus? What are the worst parts of the course?
  10. Does the entertainment offered during the Open Day comprise more than a cup of tea? Do lecturers appear for this? Do they seem more interesting than the poor fish who has been showing us round all day? Is it even the regular tea-break and are undergraduates present? Am I going to be seduced into coming here because they make a nice cup of tea?
  11. Does the Library make provision for recreational reading? (this is particularly important for sites miles from town)
  12. Can I get access to a computer? Can it handle word-processing? Is there any provision for recreational use? Will I be trained | forced to use one? [Cripes that's dated!]

Of course having asked all those questions you still have to answer the most important one yourself: do I want to go to university at all? The wonderful thing about Open Days is that they give you a chance to find out.

[Digging up this olde document was triggered by a question on MeFi - where lots of relevant advice].

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Call this a resort - blehhh

Sheep? Who'd have 'em? It's not rocket-science but it takes a certain amount of engagement, and presence, to manage sheep. The worst thing that can happen is that a) one of t'buggers dies b) we don't realise for a while. Since the foot&mouth epidemic of 2001, farrrmers can no longer leave dead sheep in a quite corner to be recycled by fox and crow. Every beast is now ear-tagged and the DeptAg wants to know the entire life history [incl death, disposal, or sale] of every tagged sheep. We got complacent, unmindful and careless in 2020 [must have been Covid!] and allowed one of our aged ewes to die . . . and get partly dismembered by "the cleaners". I ignored the flies, pretended I was CSI Midlands, and shovelled the bits into a heavy-duty plastic bag for delivery to The Fallen Animal Guy the other side of the mountain.

Since then I count the ewes [60 legs and 15 wet noses and I'm satisfied] several times a day. I've had to cut sheep-wire to free sheep-heads on numerous occasions - hint: cut a vertical strand rather than a horizontal one. And, face-it, it's easier to handle a whole dead sheep than her scattered parts. 

Pegleg trough (see shadow below)
We're in an awkward season now. The grass really hasn't started to grow, so we are having to rotate our stock flock through the various paddocks. We had a bin full of sheep muesli and, one chilly spring day in March The Gaffer decided that the sheep may as well eat it. Accordingly The Outdoor Man heaved a feed-trough from of a distant field and left it in the field with a bucketful of muesli. The sheep were delighted. A tuthree days later, also frezzzing, I cast thereto another bucket of feed. Much gambolling and unseemly shoving at the trough.

But shortly after that I found that the empty trough had been kicked to buggery [see top L]. The end piece out and one side hanging by a thread. All the sheep were looking at their hooves all innocent, or whistling nonchalantly at the far end of the field. What ever these professions of not me guv'nor it was easy to imagine them developing expectations from getting quality chow with added molasses and then abruptly not getting it: Call this a resort? - blehhh - take that <kick>; think it's easy being a sheep? <stomp> horizontal sleet, eh? fancy some?

But something had to be done, though, with the thoroughly broken-through trough *, even if that was choppitup for kindling. What I did in contrast was use the least rotten trapezoidal end piece as a template to cut two new ends from western red cedar off-cuts from the 2016 woodshed project and the 2023 planter-box project. Once these ends were installed, it was easy to cut 400mm off the rottenest part of each trough . . . making good for another couple of years use. No complaints that the troughs are now 15% shorter & 10% lighter for hefting about the property according to the exigencies of the muesli service.

Credit to Young Bolivar for making the original troughs that same 2016 Summer as he designed and built the cedar woodshed.
(*)Where I grew up, these 'appliances' were called troffs, hereabouts they sound more like trocks.

Monday 1 April 2024

I was a pirate fence

All Fool's Day! In the mid-1990s, The Man made me Director-and-sole-employee [DASE?] of INCBI the Irish National Centre for BioInformatics. My brief was to make available DNA and protein sequence databases and appropriate analytical software for Irish researchers. As most of the potential clients knew nada about such databases, I also devised some training courses to get everyone up to speed with this new future. We were a little ahead of the curve and some of our deliverables were at the very frontiers of science [then]. I clocked up some airmiles hawking myself, and these courses, about: NI, NL, BE, CH, NO, SE, FI, TR, ZA. Never made it to Iceland, but might have.

I was better at some aspects of my job [making tea; designing logos; writing book-reviews for Briefings in Binf] and not-so-good at others [firmware updates; blagging people for money; writing, like, papers]. I'd meet with the team [that would be Me] on Monday morning to allocate tasks on the Things To Do list. I had some cyber-adventures.

It may be hard to credit now, but pre-Tiger Ireland was a poor, almost Third World, country: certainly a nett beneficiary of the levelling up aspirations of the EU. 

Giving me systems admin privs over an internet connected server caused a National RedFace Incident in about 1997. As well sponging off the EU, Ireland Inc. was also a nett consumer of internet resources. It was a source of interest and not a little pride when a manager at the National Academic Internet Hub noticed a large blip of out-going traffic - the country was at last providing the world with something useful. The Hub sent a congratulatory message to my Institution, who tracked the source of traffic to my server and asked "what gives?". I was baffled. 

With a lot of help from local IT effectives it transpired that I'd set up an FTP-server to facilitate sharing of DNA data but set the privs to allow read and write access to all. An enterprising anarchist had uploaded some pirated Microsoft products and other [GTA.1-like] tasty resources and let it be known that everyone could stick-it-to-the-man by downloading stuff from my server. I learned a lot on that job - mostly by making mistakes.