Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Beneath the social construction

Beneath the social construction, that complicated marvel of a structure, there are excavations of all sorts. There is the religious mine, the philosophical mine, the economic mine, the revolutionary mine. 

Such and such a pick-axe with the idea, such a pick with ciphers. Such another with wrath. People hail and answer each other from one catacomb to another. Utopias travel about underground, in the pipes. There they branch out in every direction. They sometimes meet, and fraternize there. 

Jean-Jacques lends his pick to Diogenes, who lends him his lantern. Sometimes they enter into combat there. Calvin seizes Socinius by the hair. But nothing arrests nor interrupts the tension of all these energies toward the goal, and the vast, simultaneous activity, which goes and comes, mounts, descends, and mounts again in these obscurities, and which immense unknown swarming slowly transforms the top and the bottom and the inside and the outside. 

Society hardly even suspects this digging which leaves its surface intact and changes its bowels. There are as many different subterranean stages as there are varying works, as there are extractions. What emerges from these deep excavations? The future.

Victor Hugo - Les Misérables (1862)

I like this quote. Social change is the result of a kind of disjointed undermining. Even the miners have little idea of consequences, however fanatically they dig away down there.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The power game


Clean Technica reports on the Westermost Rough offshore wind farm.

The United Kingdom celebrated the installation of its first 6 MW wind turbine over the weekend, having erected the first of 35 Siemens 6 MW turbines at the Westermost Rough offshore wind farm in the North Sea.

The Westermost Rough offshore wind farm is a joint venture between DONG Energy and its partners Marubeni Corporation and the UK Green Investment Bank.

Is that this Marubeni Corporation?

Marubeni Corporation, a Japanese trading company involved in the handling of products and provision of services in a broad range of sectors around the world, including power generation, entered a plea of guilty today for its participation in a scheme to pay bribes to high-ranking government officials in Indonesia to secure a lucrative power project.

And this Marubeni Corporation?

In January 2012, Marubeni Corporation agreed to pay a US$54.6 million criminal penalty to settle multiple US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) charges relating to its work as an agent for the TSKJ joint venture. The TSKJ joint venture comprising Technip, Snamprogetti Netherlands, Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) and JGC Corporation hired Marubeni to bribe lower-level Nigerian government officials to help it obtain and retain contracts to build liquefied natural gas facilities on Bonny Island in Nigeria. TSKJ paid Marubeni US$51 million which was intended, in part, to be used to bribe Nigerian government officials.

Of course I am not implying or suggesting that there is anything questionable about Marubeni Corporation or the Westermost Rough project.

Monday, 18 August 2014

How to be overweight

After a recent visit to a Little Chef, I've been wondering just how easy or difficult it is to be grossly overweight. I'm sure keen weight watchers know the answer to this already, but how many extra calories do you need to put on the pounds and keep them there? has a calculator which I'll assume is reliable, so I began with a BBC report taken from the ONS which says the average English male in 2010 was 38 years old, 5ft 9in tall and weighed 13.16 stone.

Okay, so the calculator says he should consume from 2090 to 2700 calories per day to maintain that weight depending on how sedentary he is. Let's take to 2400 calories for someone who is mostly standing.

Next I doubled the average guy's weight from 13.16 stone to 26.32 stone. That sounds pretty hefty to me. Going back to the calculator our not so average Englishman should consume from 3100 to 4000 calories per day to maintain his new weight, again depending on how sedentary he is. Let's take to 3550 calories for someone who is mostly standing - although that may have become less probable.

So to maintain double the average weight, our average Englishman needs an extra 1150 calories. That's not much more than a Medium Italian pizza from Pizza Hut

From the same source, the average woman in England weighed 11 stone and was 5ft 3in tall. Let's assume she's also 38 years old. So to maintain double her average weight, our average Englishwoman needs an extra 960 calories. 

To my considerable surprise, maintaining a such a huge weight as 26 stone possibly isn't that difficult. It only seems to be a pizza a day. Doesn't seem enough to me but I'm not an expert on these matters. I've never had a weight problem but I do enjoy pizza.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Heat and light

We recently returned from a week in a Norfolk cottage, a converted stable where the main living area was also a kitchen diner. The place was comfortable and pleasantly warm in the evening. 

In fact I noticed the room temperature always rose slightly during the evening even though we never turned on the central heating.  According to the room thermostat, the temperature tended to rise from about 20°C in the early evening to about 23°C by 11pm.

Initially puzzled, I eventually realised that the light bulbs were not the energy saving type but old fashioned incandescent bulbs. They were opalescent candle bulbs so the difference wasn’t immediately obvious. Seven 40 watt bulbs were pumping a little less than 280watts of heat into the room as soon as we switched on the lights.

At this time of year with darker evenings and summer fading away, it’s a useful effect I’d forgotten as we’ve used energy saving bulbs at home for years.

As the room thermostat was in the living room, it will only switch on the heating when the heat from the lighting becomes inadequate. Even then, it will only top up the heat from those old fashioned light bulbs.

It’s not always simple, this energy saving lark.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

WiFi and Hurricane Bertha

In the unlikely event that my lucubrations have been missed, my excuse is that I’ve just spent a week on holiday without web access. 

Yes the place had WiFi as advertised, but this was a cottage in North Norfolk where WiFi seems to have some kind of local meaning.The phone signal was feeble too, so we enjoyed a whole week with only TV available to keep tabs on the outside world. Quite relaxing actually.

I took the above picture of Hurricane Bertha from the Norfolk Coast Path. The old girl was still impressive even in her dotage – had us running for cover anyhow.

More later.

Friday, 8 August 2014

A horror of being wrong

From Wikipedia

Some people, and I think I’m one of them, have a problem with being wrong. It manifests itself as a certain lack of robustness when it comes to attacking almost any social malaise or political stupidity. Almost always there are caveats. Almost always arguments are less robust than they could be. Note the almost.

I’ve been reading reams of G K Chesterton lately, mainly because I think he illustrates the problem very well. He understood the art of argument, the need to ignore the inevitable weakness of any standpoint and play to its strengths. The need to have a robust standpoint in the first place. Take these three quotes as an example.

Surely, when all is said, the ultimate objection to the English public school is its utterly blatant and indecent disregard of the duty of telling the truth.

But no English school-boy is ever taught to tell the truth, for the very simple reason that he is never taught to desire the truth. From the very first he is taught to be totally careless about whether a fact is a fact; he is taught to care only whether the fact can be used on his “side” when he is engaged in “playing the game.”

England is the country of the Party System, and it has always been chiefly run by public-school men. Is there anyone out of Hanwell who will maintain that the Party System, whatever its conveniences or inconveniences, could have been created by people particularly fond of truth?
G K Chesterton - What's Wrong with the World (1910)

I don't find it easy to write in this robust manner because what Chesterton says isn’t true - there are glaring holes. To begin with, Chesterton himself attended a public school - St Paul's School. So where does that leave his own attitude to truth?

On the other hand, a disproportionate number of our political elite slither out of public schools and adapt to a culture of routine lying like ducks to water. In other words there is at least some connection between habitual lying, carelessness with facts and public schools.

The trouble is, I would not find it easy to ignore the caveats as Chesterton so blithely and persuasively does. The cynic in me says that is because Chesterton is doing exactly that of which he accuses the political classes. Yet it works. The point is made and it lingers - as it is supposed to linger.

But all sorts of things go through our heads, and some seem to linger, and some don’t.

Thursday, 7 August 2014



I don't know where I picked up on the Seasteading Institute, but some big ideas are still out there.

The vision of seasteading is an urgent one. We can already see that existing political systems are straining to cope with the realities of the 21st century. We need to create the next generation of governance: banking systems to better handle the inevitable financial crises, medical regulations that protect people without hindering innovation, and democracies that ensure our representatives truly represent us.

Seasteaders believe that governments shouldn’t be like the cell phone carrier companies, with few choices and high customer-lock-in. Instead, we envision a vibrant startup sector for governments, with many small groups testing out innovative ideas as they compete to better serve their citizens’ needs.

Currently, it is very difficult to experiment with alternative social systems on a small scale; countries are so enormous that it is hard for an individual to make much difference. The world needs a place where those who wish to experiment with building new societies can go to test out their ideas. All land on Earth is already claimed, making the oceans humanity’s next frontier.

I may be too sceptical, but somehow this idea feels both impractical and designed for wealthy people. I'm not even sure if I like the idea - in fact I don't. Will there be hills and valleys and wayside pubs? I think not. And what about meals? Somewhat fishy I presume.

I'm sure Captain Nemo's version was better, but I also detect a note of... not exactly panic but something close to it. Currently, it is very difficult to experiment with alternative social systems on a small scale.

Indeed it is and we aren't likely to improve that situation by shoving everything into the grubby paws of EU and UN bureaucrats.