"Then it is dark; a night where kings in golden suits ride elephants over the mountains." - John Cheever

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Another Ice Age?

Climate change sceptics often protest that in the 1970s, scientists claimed we were heading for another ice age. Those who believe in the threat of global warming generally counter that there were only a very small number of such claims, which the sceptics deliberately keep bringing up in order to muddy the waters. The famous piece that is meant to have inspired the sceptical line of argument was a cover story in Time magazine in 1974. I just Googled it, and was surprised to find that it's on the Time website here. They must have digitized their archives. Interesting to actually read the original.

Here's someone's blog post showing that there were far more papers predicting warming, even in the 60s and 70s.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Muji Lego

Thought it was time for a frivolous post, so - Muji Lego. Every north London home should have a set. What's with all that papery stuff? They seem to be missing the point.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air

I've posted about David JC MacKay's Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air before, but as I said in a comment to the last post, I've now read the whole book. Thought I'd summarise some key points in case you can't face the whole thing.

In summary, MacKay says: "First, we electrify transport. Electrification both gets transport off fossil fuels, and makes transport more energy-efficient. (Of course, electrification increases our demand for green electricity.) Second, to supplement solar-thermal heating, we electrify most heating of air and water in buildings using heat pumps, which are four times more efficient than ordinary electrical heaters. This electrification of heating further increases the amount of green electricity required. Third, we get all the green electricity from a mix of four sources: from our own renewables; perhaps from "clean coal"; perhaps from nuclear; and finally, and with great politeness, from other countries’ renewables. Among other countries’ renewables, solar power in deserts is the most plentiful option. As long as we can build peaceful international collaborations, solar power in other people’s deserts certainly has the technical potential to provide us, them, and everyone with 125 kWh per day per person."

Or, in a bit more detail, he also provides a 10-page synopsis.

And here's one of his proposed possible energy plans (plus a diagram summarising some alternative plans).

Some other bits worth looking at:

His calculation of total possible UK renewable energy. His is the column on the left, compared with some more conservative estimates. (He is deliberately ignoring economic, political and practical factors at this point and concentrating only on possible energy output from renewables.)

And if you're wondering what you could do, here's some bits about how he reduced his home energy consumption by two thirds (turning down the thermostat and reducing draughts have the biggest impact), more here (5 pages or so). For buildings, he's particularly into heat pumps, more detail here. And some stuff on gadgets here, and why articles about standby and unplugging mobile phone chargers have the emphasis wrong (though you should still switch off gadgets and unplug chargers anyway).

Oh, he's got a pretty good blog too, which I hadn't realised.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Doom and Gloom

I think we've had it. Little prospect of the politicians agreeing anything tangible at Copenhagen, nevermind anything like what's needed. Meanwhile, the scientific prognosis seems to get worse and worse, while the general public continue to show astounding levels of uninterest and scepticism about global warming. I just don't see how we're going to get out of it.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Mundane Science Fiction

Just heard the editor of this book on radio 4 talking about 'mundane science fiction', a term I hadn't heard before. Meaning fiction derived from existing or imminent scientific research, rather than the far-fetched stuff of the movies, with teleportation, light-speed travel etc. (essentially fantasy magic). The anthology paired research scientists with writers to inspire the short stories. (Indirectly, also reminded me of the excellent insultingly stupid movie physics site.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Barmy Nutters Party

Watching that absurd pillock Nick Griffin gurn and sweat his way through Question Time last night like an odious, boss-eyed toad poured into a suit inspired me to have another look at the BNP membership list that was leaked last year (http://wikileaks.org/leak/bnp-membership-list.txt).

Bizarre bunch, with a few more surprising weirdos among the run-of-the- mill bampots and utter tossbags. As well as the expected nightclub bouncers, body builders, martial arts instructors, ex-servicemen, former policemen, prison officers, army surplus store owners and military history buffs, I counted around 30 musicians, 15 proof readers and 10 artists (self-defined). There are 15 or so former Tory councillors/local party officials/canvassers, about 5 of the same from Labour, a couple of Lib-Dems, a bunch of UKIP defectors, another bunch of defectors to UKIP and about 10 assorted shop stewards and union reps. There's even 3 former Green party activists - part of a weird environmental/conservationist/heritage fringe, who are presumably dedicated to preserving England's green and pleasant land just as it was for the 'indigenous' Britons during the last ice age. Worrying number of people who are into camping and fishing and stuff too - next time I take to the hills I'll be a bit more suspicious of anyone else I meet.

This all comes from the 'Interesting Notes' column, which also contains the following curiosities:

"Will not be renewing 07 (objects to being told he shouldn't wear a bomber jacket)"

"member describes himself as a witch: potential embarrassment if active"

"Pubic speaker [sic]. Has two suits of medieval 14th & 15th century armour and can joust for rallies"

"Hobbies: amateur radio & 'church-crawling'. Quaker"

"Former policeman (anti-terrorist branch, Met)"

"Media worker (Sky TV), background in PR/advertising. Pleased to offer advice"

"Semi-professional multi musician (traditional/British folk). Pagan. Classic motorcycle enthusiast. Huntsman"

"Active Odinist/member of Pagan organisations. Hobbies: folklore"

"Ex-Conservative and then Lib-Dem councillor, ex-chairman of local Green Party and UKIP member Minister of Religion. Cert. Ed. Hobbies: steam railways" [missed a couple of parties out there]

"Hobbies: artist: oil painting (willing to paint pictures for raffles, etc). Writer: screenplays"

"Will not be renewing 07 ("Jehova God only real hope for mankind") Company director"

"Specialist in pre Raphaelite style portraiture."

"Hobbies: sewing crafts, knitting, animal welfare, military history"

"Hobbies: walking, cycling, bird watching, church architecture/history, bell ringing"

"Activist Tour guide (Peterborough Cathedral). Writer for local paper (church/village history). Runs a Christian singing group. Vegan/supporter of organic produce. Members of the Woodland Trust, National Trust, VIVAI, Anglican Society, Open Doors, British Israel World Federation"

"Hobbies: military vehicles - owner of a WW2 jeep. Singer with a ladies' barbershop chorus and quartet. Solo singer: Vera Lynn act."

"Will not be renewing 07 (embarrassed by revelations in Private Eye re. councillors)"

"Composer/musician/lecurer. Doctor of Philosophy (Composition) PhD. Cert. ED:FE, BA (Hons), BTEC computer software. Soundtrack writer, ethnomusicologist. Hobbies: music (performance), rambling/hiking, ornithology, history, poetry"

"Osteopath (Classical). Reflexology. Former lecturer in osteopathy. Advisor on posture/diet/nutrition/health matters. Hobbies: marathon running, camping, motorcycling, folk music. Writing (health issues). Working with nature/conservation organisations" [and lynching...]

"Retired chiropodist. Devout Christian lay preacher (non-conformist churches: Baptist, United Reformed, Presbyterian etc). Hobbies: walking, Scottish country dancing, horse riding, writing, poetry."

"activist - Makes kites with BNP logos etc."


Oh, and in case you happen to have a stamp, an envelope and something really unpleasant to put in it handy, Nick Griffin's address is on there too. (It's in Wales, not England, strangely.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

#122 Moleskine Notebooks

More on the Stuff White People Like blog I posted a while back on Fitz, now a bestselling book. Turns out it was written by a young Canadian (white) guy to amuse his friends and just took off. As he says, "the more I started writing, the more I realised that I wasn't writing about other people, I was writing about myself. And I was full of far more self-loathing than I had expected." We need to work harder at the Fitz (without the self-loathing if possible)! Google Analytics not too encouraging so far..

(I have several Moleskine notebooks)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Well, a bit of good news...

In the face of pressure from the Fitz and others, Heritage Lottery Fund have come up with some dosh for Bletchley park after all...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Why we're all doomed

Check this out. A campaign has been launched in the US called CO2 is Green, with an 'educational' off-shoot, Plants Need Co2. Grauniad piece about it here. Now, compare the profile of the nice cuddly environmental expert here (on about page of Plants Need CO2) with the biog of the same bloke here. Curious that he forgot to mention his chairmanship of the US Oil and Gas Association, US Natural Gas Supply Association or Honorary Directorship of the American Petroleum Institute in his biog on 'Plants Need CO2'. Must have slipped his mind. These bampots are admittedly of marginal influence, but every little seed of doubt they plant helps to delay Americans facing up to the fact that they produce a quarter of the world's CO2 emissions each year. Don't know how the b*st*rds can sleep at night.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Vive le Sarko

Maybe it's because he hasn't exactly enjoyed excessive growth himself (with his stack heels and specially chosen short people in photo ops), but Nicholas Sarkozy has commissioned and endorsed a report by Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen that criticises the obsession with GDP growth. “For years, statistics have registered an increasingly strong economic growth as a victory over shortage – until it emerged that this growth was destroying more than it was creating,” says Sarko. You've got to hand it to him - not the most likeable bloke, but this is good. (He and Angela Merkel have also been good on the whole financial crisis, and are pretty good on the climate talks.)

And here's Jonathan Porritt talking about it, while revealing for the umpteenth time that the Treasury (mostly under Brown, alas) has frequently been malign, obstructive and anti-progressive.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Keith on Keith

Just watched the Keith Allen program about Keith Floyd on the Channel 4 website. I say watched - actually had to abandon it about 1/2 way through because it was so dire. Nice countryside around Avignon though, kudos to Floyd for going to ground (as it were) in a lovely part of the world.

Why I love the EU

Great stuff from the EU. But cue hysterics from the CBI, Human Resources professionals and everyone else dedicated to keeping this country as stressed, over-worked and miserable as possible.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Nothing to be frightened of

Anyone read this? I'm just about to - on my desk courtesy Amazon today.

To balance things out I'm also reading Tintin: The Complete Companion in tandem with reading Tintin stories to Jenny at bedtime. To pick up a conversation from a while ago, I don't think Herge was fascistic at all - just a product of his times.

Glum Councillors

This is the sort of thing the internet is supposed to be for.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Climate scepticism - on the rise!?

God this is depressing. There are dozens of reasons for this: a scientifically ignorant population, a hopeless and incompetent media, insufficient leadership from government, the ability of lobbyists and business interests to spread confusion, and a nation of people that just don't want to face up to truths that at best will require big changes in their lifestyle and, at worse, are terrifying. What the hell is to be done?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Iconic ironmongers to close doors

This is a shame, I've done quite a bit of lunchtime ironmongery shopping in this place over the past couple of years.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Loch Tay from Ben Lawers

By a couple of m'colleagues who had a bit of a hill walk a couple of weeks ago. Almost as spiritually significant as Kinross Services...

Friday, August 14, 2009


Just a quick useful bit of IT posting - Malwarebytes is very good at removing malware from PCs. Best of breed kind of thing.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Anyone in town for the Festival? Have signally failed to get down to that London this year (so far).

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Just checking in. How is everybody? I'm going to do some renovation work on my commuter bike over the next few days and will post a picture of it when it is done. I was embarressed by the ammount of rust on it when I met Colin last time.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Without Hot Air

Heard this Cambridge physicist bloke on the radio. He's written a free e-book about how much energy we use, and how much alternative energy provision we'd have to bring in to cover it if we don't reduce consumption.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Gross National Happiness - again

The Bhutanese have had a lot of mileage and publicity out of their GNH idea over the years (including on this blog), but I didn't realise how seriously they took it. It's actually a constitutional requirement to consider the impact on happiness of any proposed political proposal, and they have devised a complex methodology for monitoring it:

"the Bhutanese produced an intricate model of well-being that features the four pillars, the nine domains and the 72 indicators of happiness.

Specifically, the government has determined that the four pillars of a happy society involve the economy, culture, the environment and good governance. It breaks these into nine domains: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance, each with its own weighted and unweighted G.N.H. index.

All of this is to be analyzed using the 72 indicators. Under the domain of psychological well-being, for example, indicators include the frequencies of prayer and meditation and of feelings of selfishness, jealousy, calm, compassion, generosity and frustration as well as suicidal thoughts.

“We are even breaking down the time of day: how much time a person spends with family, at work and so on,” Mr. Dorji said.

Mathematical formulas have even been devised to reduce happiness to its tiniest component parts. The G.N.H. index for psychological well-being, for example, includes the following: “One sum of squared distances from cutoffs for four psychological well-being indicators. Here, instead of average the sum of squared distances from cutoffs is calculated because the weights add up to 1 in each dimension.”

This is followed by a set of equations:

= 1-(.25+.03125+.000625+0)

= 1-.281875

= .718

Every two years, these indicators are to be reassessed through a nationwide questionnaire, said Karma Tshiteem, secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission, as he sat in his office at the end of a hard day of work that he said made him happy."

(From the New York Times.)

Friday, May 08, 2009

Edna unveiled

It was my old schoolfriend Richard Maclean! I found out as - being a bit irritated with Edna's witticisms - I restricted comments to site members only and he emailed me to complain...

So not Seumas but relatively close geographically speaking as Richard's based in Inverness.

Monday, April 20, 2009

JG Ballard

JG Ballard has died. A sad loss. Perhaps the world had become too much like his dystopian fictional one.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday, March 15, 2009

And in a similar vein...

America cheers as satirist delivers knockout blow to TV finance gurus.

Interestingly, mad Max (see below) upbraids Jon Stewart for not raising this sooner. Is Peston right to say that the British press has been much better at reporting on the markets and appreciating the seriousness of the crisis?

Global banking fraud

Tom sent me this article by Patrick Wolf in the FT the other day, which is a pretty sobering assessment of the implications of the current financial meltdown. The era of financial liberalisation has resoundingly failed, and it's not clear what will replace it. Poverty and suffering is likely to increase on a grand scale, and there's a serious risk of geo-political instability, more wars, the rise of extremist politics etc. And this from a guy who wrote a book a couple of years ago on how anglo-saxon style liberal democracy was the inevitable model for the world. 

This morning I heard this guy - Max Keiser - being interviewed on Radio 5. He also does a show on the BBC World tv news channel, and on Resonance FM (which is worth checking out more generally, by the way).  Now, there's more than a touch of the blogging crank about him, but he was refreshingly angry about the whole economic situation and incredulous about how governments are dealing with it, and how we're all complacently going along with it. I checked out one of his slightly shrill podcasts, and beneath the bluster he makes a lot of good points (as far as I can tell). For instance:
  • Banks are effectively holding governments to ransom - give us more trillions or we'll blow up the economy. And we're going along with it. But while governments are desperately attempting to stabilise the situation for the good of their countries as a whole, the banks (and other large companies) are still motivated by corporate self-interest - they want the cash to continue to enrich themselves.
  • Similarly, a couple of pharma companies in the US got a massive chunk of Obama's bail out in order to do a merger, and promptly sacked 17,000 people (would need to check the facts on this one) - not really the rationale for giving it to them in the first place.
  • The whole 'toxic bank' model doesn't just get the bad assets off the balance sheet at vast expense for the taxpayer - it enables the banks to re-package the bad assets and sell them on (again) as commodities, and take fees for doing so. (This was part of what led to the problem in the first place: banks' liabilities - i.e. dodgy mortgage loans - were getting repackaged and sold on, so they ceased to be regarded as liabilities and instead became assets - and thus were not subjected to the same degree of risk analysis, as there were profits, commissions and bonuses at stake.)
  • He reckons that media reporting on financial markets should be approached in the manner of a scandal sheet - trying to uncover fraud and bad practice, which has always been extremely widespread, but is only now getting a lot of attention. His view is that in the last 25 years, the dubious practices of dodgy 'bucket shop' stockbrokers have become standard practice throughout the financial industries. There is sharp practice at all levels, but everyone with a stake has been complicit, but kept schtum for as long as they were making cash. For instance, execs at Citibank and Goldman Sachs or somewhere were selling their customers financial products, but taking short positions on the same products themselves because they believed they would underperform. Similarly, they were also shorting on their own company's shares - in order to make cash for the company. Financial institutions invested in Madoff even though they must have known what was going on, because they still made massive returns. And so on.
  • Quantitative easing essentially involves the government borrowing money to buy back its own loans. Hm... Historically, this kind of behaviour generally results in uncontrollable inflation. 
 I don't know how on the money his analysis is (to use an appropriate phrase), but he's certainly right that we should all be furious about what's going on and very politically engaged with it all. There's a lot at stake - and I don't mean wealth necessarily, but the state of society. But it all seems to complicated, and the sums of money involved so unreal, and nobody knows what the solution is, so we're just watching it all happen and hoping it will all turn out ok. 

By the way, he says buy gold. 

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Fitzroy - as good as ever

Colin and I had a beer last Wednesday in the Fitz. You'll all be pleased to hear that it is exactly the same as always. John, Seumas - any chance of a Fitz get-together this year?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

They Rule

Anyone had a go at this? Interesting concept, though struggling to get any particularly striking results.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fight global warming even if it's untrue

I quite like this line of argument, that was published in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph from Cafod. Of course, the sceptics were out in force the next week, but it makes sense to me. 

Fight global warming even if it's untrue

SIR – The longer I work on climate change, the less important I think it is whether or not the warmists or the sceptics are right. This may seem a rash statement, but hear me out. Just imagine a future where the majority of the world's climate scientists are proved wrong and global warming does not occur at the rates predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

If we hadn't listened to them, we might enjoy the satisfaction of saying "told you so", but we'd still be living in a pretty miserable world. That world might not be much warmer but, my goodness, it would be beset by a host of other serious environmental issues: diminishing water resources, rampant deforestation, massive soil erosion, uncontrollable urbanisation and the frightening loss of biodiversity.

Peoples lives would be threatened and whole ecosystems destroyed because we hadn't bothered to address the causes of this environmental degradation under a global economic system that, in its current state, can only grow if nature dies.

Now imagine a world where we had listened to the climate scientists and started to change our resource-consuming behaviour and address the inequities of the global economic system. Although the warming still didn't materialise, we would have addressed a host of environmental issues and be living a largely pollution-free existence.

We may even be saying thank you to the climate scientists who, although they got it wrong, provided us the opportunity to create a cleaner, brighter and fairer world.

Dr Mike Edwards, CAFOD

And I think they should go ahead with the Severn barrage!

Saturday, February 07, 2009


Do you guys know about Spotify? Link to free sign up sans invitation here.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Diana and Actaeon to stay in Scotland

Hurrah! Some mealy mouthed labour MP (or MSP or whatever) on the Scottish news just now complaining about the use of taxpayers' money - bah to him.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Btw, i've granted all you chaps admin privs so you can hack around with FT

Oversight, should have done this a while ago. Everyone is now able to tinker with gadgets etc should they so wish.

Is anyone else here using Google Reader?

Because you can add a shared item widget into blogger which shows a feed from your google reader shared items (looks to right).

Bookshelves. Finally.

Have worked out where to get some decent bookshelves for the living room. Vitsoe. Thank god. Can die happy. Or at least with a decent shelving system that will integrate with the shelves I put up myself.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

When central bankers rescued, then ruined, the world

John Lanchester seems to have been picking up some work for the New Yorker lately. This review of a book about central bankers is up to his usual standard - although he's Americanised his style a wee bit, or the editor has. Turns out his dad worked at HSBC in Hong Kong when he was a kid, which might explain his fascination with the global financial system over the last couple of years - over and above the more obvious reasons.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mu Mu!

One for you John? Bill Drummond on the death (he hopes) of recorded music from Radio 3's 'Free Thinking Festival'. I heard this on the weekly Radio 3 Arts and Ideas podcast, which often has interesting stuff on it, despite the annoying presence of Philip Dodd. 

I increasingly find I don't care one way or the other what happens to recorded music - despite devoting about 15 years of my life to being absolutely obsessed with it. What a waste of time - I could have been doing something useful instead.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What is Stephen Harper reading?

Cats aside, this is the best website I've seen for a while - brilliant stuff from the writer Yann Martel

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The latest environmental disaster - Google

Sorry guys, to do the first global warming horror story of 2009, but this was a bit alarming. It seems that Google searches use up an incredible amount of energy. Like pretty much everything we do in the modern world.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

This is probably as retrograde as anything in terms of cool

But I'm quite liking lolcats. It's related to the failblog thing and is (ummm) lots of pictures of cats with funny
captions. They've evolved their own lolcat-speak...

I've also spent yesterday evening playing with Windows 7 on a tablet PC. It's not bad (see below)...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Atheist Advertising

I like the look of this campaign. I agree with the sentiment of course, but also the quite cheery tone of it. The UK's high-profile public atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens) can be a bit of a turn-off with their truculence and aggressive materialism. I think this is a bit more gentle and positive.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Best of the Fitz 2008

Another year over. Much has happened, both good and bad, but frankly it's not been a vintage year for our blog. In 2004 we had an astonishing 302 posts - in 2008 it was down to just 30. Has Facebook killed the Fitz? Or have we all got better things to do - if so, I'd like to know what. Anyway, there was still plenty of good stuff and, for the record, here are my personal favourites in no particular order:

1) Rainy Edinburgh Morning from the No. 30 Bus

2)Christian the Lion

3)The Best Documentary Ever Made

4)The Drugs Don't Work

5)Happy pi Day