30 March 2008

Save GMT Campaign

For years - and I mean like 40+ years, since I was at school - there have been campaigns and continual sniping to keep the UK's clocks one hour ahead of GMT around the year. I don't just not get it, I fundamentally disagree with it. It was tried in the 1960s, when I was at school, and was a complete failure, So we had lighter afternoons in winter coming out of school, but we also had darker mornings and days when it didn't get properly daylight until 10AM. As someone who suffers (albeit marginally) from SAD I need that early morning light to get me going and reset my body clock.

Jilly over at jillysheep has suggested in a post today that we should preserve GMT all year round. And I have to say I agree. I don't see the point of continually changing the clocks with the seasons. Every time we move the clocks an hour (in whichever direction) it throws everyone's body clocks; it isn't just me who notices it; I hear many people commenting that their body clock is out of kilter with the our artificial time.

Now I can understand why the government thought it a good idea to put the clocks forward in summer during times of war (which if I recall correctly was a significant part of the rationale for its use; tho' not the original reason for the idea). But I do not see the least necessity for it today. What does summer time give us? Longer and lighter evenings; nothing more. And while I love long summer evenings as much as anyone, in these days of flexible working we could achieve the same effect just as easily by adjusting our working hours if we need to. (Already some of us frequently have to start early or finish late because we are dealing with colleagues or clients on the continent or in the Americas.)

I wonder if anyone has ever worked out the (notional) cost of changing the clocks twice a year on business? I would think it is rather large. And certainly not something worth paying to get longer light evenings when there are other cost-free options available.

There's the usual good article about Daylight Saving Time over on Wikipedia. What is interesting, that I didn't know, is that a large swathe of the world has used summer time and has now abandoned it. Basically it is only the "western industrialised nations" (and some of South America) which use summer time. Large chunks of the globe have either given it up or never used DST in the first place.

Anyway ... we really should keep GMT alive. It is, after all, a cornerstone of our heritage. Universal time was "discovered" in England, yes at Greenwich, which is why the Meridian is there! Universal time has been a great thing: the world equivalent of "railway time". But let each country keep its own time zone. And let us keep and celebrate the heritage which is ours and is GMT!

Now who feels like starting a campaign to preserve GMT? Hands off our time zone! :-)

29 March 2008

Heathrow Luggage Mountain

Absolutely unbelievable!

According to this BBC News item there are now at least 15,000 (and maybe 20,000) pieces of luggage now stranded at Heathrow Airport's brand spanking new Terminal 5.

And for a third day BA have cancelled around 20% of their flights out of Heathrow with many more apparently leaving without any luggage loaded.

What an unbelievable shambles.

When BA and BAA file for bankruptcy I wonder if the government will have the gall to pay off their shareholders? They'd just better not even think about it!

28 March 2008

Pondering (Thirteen Things) in the Rain

Pondering in the Rain, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 5/52, 2008 week 13.

As I took this standing outside the doctor's this morning I thought we might have 13 medical things to go with it (mainly for the Flickr "Thirteen Things" group ...

  1. I’ve never yet broken a bone in my body.
  2. I’ve had all the usual childhood illnesses except mumps.
  3. I’m short sighted and have worn glasses since my mid-teens.
  4. I have type 2 diabetes.
  5. I had my appendix out when I was 28.
  6. I had glandular fever when I was 32, and had 3 months of a nice hot summer off work.
  7. I suffer from hayfever; and with me the allergy really is to some species of grass pollen.
  8. I have obstructive sleep apnoea; this means I have to wear a mask at night with gentle air pressure pumped into it to keep my airway from collapsing.
  9. I was born with a deformed nail on my right index finger; everyone who noticed it assumed that I had damaged it in an accident. I finally had the nail permanently removed after I did rip it off by accident.
  10. When I was a kid of 6 or 7 I would have a week off school every term with a high fever (nothing else, just the fever). No-one knew why, but our old family doctor eventually suggested my parents take me off sugar; so no sweets for years, but no fever either. I still don’t know why it worked or what the underlying cause was.
  11. I’ve lost count of the number of crowns I have; it’s at least six. But none caused by an accident; all due to teeth falling apart.
  12. I’ve had a cartilage operation on both knees (at different times) and my knees still give me pain. But then apparently I also have the beginnings of arthritis in my knees; not surprising as my father had severely arthritic knees.
  13. I suffer from depression; Churchill’s “black dog”. It’s worse in winter as I am slightly afflicted with SAD as well.

This Week's Zen Question

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

Ideas in the comments, please!

Me? I'd buy a lottery ticket to win a nice big jackpot, so I can afford to retire.
Or would I be altruistic and magic away religion, politics and war? :-)

PS. I stole the quote from a photograph on Flickr.

27 March 2008

Yo, Ho, Ho and a Bottle of Duty Free

So after less than one day Heathrow's sparkling new Terminal 5 has ground to a halt, despite all the much trumpeted testing which was done on the systems using thousands of volunteer members of the public. BAA and the staff appear to be blaming a crap luggage conveyor system. BA are blaming problems with "staff familiarisation". That's right; let's blame the staff when our shiny new technology doesn't work. Talk about appalling management; I was always taught that the first thing you do is defend your staff publicly (whatever you may have to do behind closed doors) - but that clearly isn't good enough for BA.

Oh and all this after BAA has been forced to suspend it's plan to fingerprint every passenger using T5 because the Office of the Information Commissioner says it's illegal. And why were they going to thus abuse our civil liberties? Because they have been stupid enough to build T5 such that international and domestic passengers (aka. terrorists) can mingle after security checks and could swap boarding passes!

I wonder why I won't be flying BA any more?

Full BBC News report.

Constitutional Renewal Bill

Simon Carr in today's Independent isn't impressed. "Bilge" and "fudge" are about the politest things he has to say about Jack Straw's proposed Constitutional Renewal Bill. See the full article: The Sketch: The PM's constitutional renewal Bill is just PR and weep.

Regulation of (Financial) Markets

Stability in financial markets is unattainable; anyone who believes they can make it otherwise is pissing into the wind. Sadly many governments, banks and indeed market makers are included in this afflicted group. There's a good article with the title "More regulation will not prevent next crisis" by John Kay in Financial Times of 25/03/2008. The key passage is:

... in financial services, the demand today is for more regulation. That call should be resisted. The state cannot ensure the stability of the financial system and a serious attempt to do so would involve intervention on an unacceptable scale. But to acknowledge responsibility for financial stability is to assume a costly liability for failure to achieve it. That is what has happened.

Since financial stability is unattainable, the more important objective is to insulate the real economy from the consequences of financial instability. Government should ... ensure that the payment system for households and businesses continues to function. There should be the same powers to take control of essential services in the event of corporate failure that exist for other public utilities ...

We cannot prevent booms and busts in credit markets, but today’s regulation of risk and capital – which is more reflective of what has occurred than of what may occur – does more to aggravate these cycles than to prevent them. Regulation in a market economy is targeted at specific market failures and should not be a charter for the general scrutiny of business strategies of private business. Banking should be
no exception.

How true. Not that politicians have a hope of understanding this. And not that bankers would want them to understand it.

[Hat tip to Wat Tyler at Burning Our Money.]

24 March 2008

Heron ...

Heron ... bastard ... just been at my pond ... thrown one large goldfish on the lawn ... fish still alive and replaced in pond ... might survive ... rest OK as far as I can see ... heron returned after 15 minutes ... seen off by locals crows ... I like crows ... I also like herons and fish ... but not together!

Books Do Furnish a Room

I've just come across Terence Jagger's weblog Books Do Furnish a Room about books, trees and gardens, wildlife, ideas. As those of your who know me at well will know Books Do Furnish a Room is the title of volume 10 of Anthony Powell's 12-volume sequence A Dance to the Music of Time. And indeed Jagger does occasionally make reference to Powell, so his weblog is a "must read" for me. The first Powell-related items I spotted are Borage, Writer with the X Factor and Uncommon Readers. This weblog is well worth a look for those interested in books.

23 March 2008

It's Easter

It's Easter Day. And I've spent almost the whole day doing literary society work - well it is the end of our financial year coming up and membership renewal time, so lots of mailing to do.

Just as well I have plenty to do as I don't like Easter; I think I never have; I always enjoy Christmas but not Easter. And no, it's not because of my atheism and general lack of belief in anything - I enjoy a long bank holiday weekend as much as anyone. It's just that I always feel Easter is a dismal time; I don't know why. Which is weird as I am (marginally at least) affected by SAD and about now start to look forward to and appreciate the lengthening days. Maybe this year feels worse than most as Easter is so early, and it's grey, wet, cold, and snowing on and off. I'm ready for a 3 month holiday in the sun: sun, sea, sand, warmth, wine, good food. I wish!

Now where did I put that lottery ticket?

21 March 2008

Working on the Train

Working on the Train, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 4/52, 2008 week 12.
I was working on the train to Glasgow early on Monday morning.

16 March 2008

Super-Cows and the Redesign of Farming

I always see Focus, the BBC's science and technology magazine, and mostly I find it too superficial to satisfy to my scientific mind (not surprising really, it's designed for interested amateurs, not former science professionals). But occasionally they have an interesting and thought-provoking article or comment. One such is in the current issue (April 2008) where Colin Tudge, zoologist, science writer and broadcaster, makes the case for the redesign of farming rather than the current trend towards super-livestock. Unfortunately the BBC doesn't put the whole of the printed magazine online, so here is a heavily edited (but I hope undistorted) version of Tudge's article; to read the whole thing you'll have to buy the magazine.

The US government has approved the cloning of high-performance cattle, pigs, and goats ... The idea is to make genetic copies of 'elite' animals: the ones that grow quickest, or give the most milk ... Commercially, this sounds good.
But the decision ... has been met with protest.
[A] few decades ago, traditional dairy cows in the western world yielded between 600 and 800 gallons per year, and were productive for at least five to 10 years ... Modern herds are expected to average more than 1000 gallons a year [and some even 2000 gallons] ... These high-performance cows average only 1.8 lactations, after which they have mastitis and are crippled.
Worse, though, is the mindset behind this use of cloning. For elite animals do not perform well except in cosseted conditions, and are ... force-fed on high-grade feed. This requires huge capital – so such animals are intended only for rich countries whose consumers already have more than enough.
Worst of all, the frenetic search for the high-yield animals completely misconstrues the role of livestock. Already we are failing to feed the world's population. An
estimated one billion out of 6.5 billion people are chronically undernourished while another billion suffer from excess.
The central task is to produce the most nourishment possible from the available landscapes. Food crops produce far more food calories and protein per hectare than livestock, so they should be our priority – cereals, pulses, nuts, tubers, fruit, and vegetables ... Cattle and sheep should feed on grass or ... trees that grow in places where we cannot easily raise crops ... The omnivores like pigs and poultry can feed on surpluses and leftovers.

So farming that is designed to maximise food output produces a lot of plants, with modest amounts of livestock ... Plenty of plants, not much meat and maximum variety is precisely what modern nutritionists recommend.
But modern, industrial, high-tech farming has nothing to do with feeding people. It is designed to generate cash.

15 March 2008

Double Departure from Alexisbad

One of a series taken at Alexisbad during RailTrail charter from Quedlinberg to Wernigerode, 13/02/2008. This was a special for our photoshoot; the train on the right is our charter train; the one on the left was a service train which had just terminated. And I must say it was a magnificent sight and not something you will see these days during normal service. It would have been even better if there had been the snow we should have rightly had in February. We spent well over half an hour here just standing around; it was a bit chilly even with warm layers, jackets, hats, gloves and scarves. But well worth the wait, I hope you'll agree!

This completes the pictures from our Germany trip. For me this shot is the star of the whole set, but not by a lot!

13 March 2008

1000 Photos on Flickr

Double Departure from Alexisbad

This is my 1000th upload to Flickr in just 2 years and 2 days -- so I thought I'd better make it a good one!

One of a series taken at Alexisbad during RailTrail charter from Quedlinberg to Wernigerode, 13/02/2008. This was specially set up for our photoshoot; the train on the right is our charter train; the one on the left was a service train which had just terminated. And I must say it was a magnificent sight and not something you will see these days during normal service. It would have been even better if there had been the snow we should have rightly had in February. This is the sort of thing which Railtrail do well: the tours are well researched with special shots like this set up where it can be done because they know that one of the big attractions of this type of tour is for the photographers, as well as those who just want to ride on "pretty" trains!

I have a feeling we might well do this one again sometime; perhaps in Spring (tho' not this year).

12 March 2008


Copper, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Here's the next batch of photos from our Germany trip loaded onto Flickr. Just two more batches to go!

11 March 2008


Admiration, originally uploaded by kcm76.

I've just put up on Flickr the next batch of my photographs from the Harz Mountains trip last month (in fact we left exactly one month ago today). I've got probably three more batches of 8 or so to post, which I will hope to do by the weekend -- and I'm keeping some of the better ones for the end; it's called an incentive to come back again! Although that holiday was hard work, with lots of early starts, it was a great break and I would thoroughly recommend Railtrail as specialist tour company: everything was superbly organised and ran like clockwork; the two guides were friendly and knowledgeable and not always chivvying us to get to somewhere else; all very relaxed. I already feel the need to do it all over again.

10 March 2008

Scruffy Triptych

Scruffy Triptych, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Here's this week's self-portrait. I was mucking about and decided to try something different: this is a composite of 4 frames taken under identical conditions -- well I had only to swivel my chair! I'm not sure if it works, but it's different.

08 March 2008

Driver's Eye View

Driver's Eye View, originally uploaded by kcm76.

I've just posted the latest series of pictures from our trip to Germany in February. This set are all of the Wuppertal Schwebebahn which runs above the streets and the Wupper river for about 8 miles (13km). Apart from one in a German theme park, this is the only public suspended monorail in the world. More information in the Schwebebahn Wuppertal item on Wikipedia. And the full set of photos is at www.flickr.com/photos/kcm76/sets/72157604071758017/ -- they're not brilliant pix, more for illustrative purposes than intended to be arty, but hopefully interesting for those who like curiosities or railways..

03 March 2008

Infinitely Boggling Science

Time to catch up on some Scientific American articles I’ve read over the last few weeks.

Remembrance of Things Future
An interesting article on how a writer in December 1900 thought things would be a century later. As expected some right:

  • ready cooked meals will be bought from the equivalent of bakeries
  • no street cars (ie. trams) in large cities

but mostly wrong:

  • mosquitoes, flies, rats and mice will have been exterminated
  • the alphabet will not longer contain C, X and Q
  • all traffic will be below ground, consequently
  • cities will be free of noise
  • Nicaragua and Mexico would be part of the USA

Full article
Complete list of original predictions

Hard question of the year: Does infinity come in different sizes?
Hard answer: Yes.

This back-page “Fact or Fiction” article from January’s Scientific American contains some interesting insights, and some interesting mathematical sleights of hand. We probably all accept that there are an infinite number of integers (the natural numbers 1, 2, 3 …). And between each pair of adjacent integers there are an infinite number of fractional numbers (2.1, 2.11, 2.111, 2.112112 …). That means there are infinity to the power infinity real numbers (natural numbers and fractions) – which is an infinitely different ball-game in terms of defining the size of infinity.

Love, Sex and Robots
Finally an item from the March Scientific American which considers the proposition that we might one day (soon) be able to have a relationship with, marry and even have sex with, a robot of the opposite sex. Scary? Probably for most of us. Fantasy? Probably not. After all go back 100 years and the idea of male homosexual marriage was absurd. Apparently there is a lot to be said for allowing the socially inept [my phrase] to gain some mutual comfort from a relationship with a robot. And there are already experiments showing that children (at least) will spontaneously treat a robot as (almost) sentient, for example by putting it to bed when its batteries run flat. I see the arguments, but I remain firmly skeptical.

02 March 2008

Watch Our Backs, Mate

Watch Our Backs, Mate, originally uploaded by kcm76.

I'm still working through the photographs I took on holiday in German a few weeks ago. I've put the latest few online on Flickr. Some of the shots are pretty grainy (like this one) as they were taken in absolutely appalling light -- in the case of this shot it was very grey and overcast and getting on towards dusk. Lots more to come which I intend to put up about 8-10 at a time over the next few weeks -- and I'm keeping the best of the steam train shots 'til last (probably). I still have some 30% of the shots to look at in detail.