Thursday, 5 March 2015

Fruit flies like a banana

Most long term readers will be aware that I have an interest in technology and research. This is a hangover from my working life in academia. The climate, environment and electronics are amongst my interests my main interest though as usual I have been known to go off on a tangent.

Did you know that 'time flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana'. Is an old wordplay intended to highlight the vagaries of the English language. However, today it has a bit of prominence because maybe time is up for the fruit flies! I recently read of a new bit of research, which will in the future - if successful - have a significant improvement on the environment. It revolves around creating a genetic modification in a pest species that is a major contributor to lost crops. However, this time there is a back door get out of jail card built into the modification. Science has learned from issues of the past.

One of the biggest pest species is the Mediterranean fruit fly. The insect can devastate many different food crops and usually over a wide area. Science has for a long time tried to introduce chemicals to control pest species through poisoning or by introducing a predator species. However, in the past insecticides like DDT and the introduction of cane toads has actually made a situation much worse though unforeseen side effects. Effects that can in themselves become a much bigger problem on the environment.

The new bit of research now targets the fruit flies themselves. Through the simple expedient of making the fruit fly become its own worst enemy. By changing the reproductive ability of the flies it is possible to engineer a huge crash in the fruit fly population. Scientists are about to start trials using fruit flies that have been bred in the laboratory with a genetic change. The flies are allowed to breed in the laboratory in vast numbers. This is because a control chemical in the breeding laboratory allows the flies to breed and behave as normal. However, if the control chemical is removed the flies ability to breed changes and the flies can only reproduce male flies. The numbers of female flies in the following generation plummet. Yet the number of male flies persist. As the number of second generation grows and breeds with wild bred flies the population of females will reduce even further. The general population will suffer a collapse.

The main benefit is that within the target area, the widespread use of chemical insecticides to control the fruit flies is reduced. Any collateral damage created to non pest species is also reduced. Therefore the general population of other beneficial insects such as bees is higher. While other insects will provide a better source of food for predator species such as wild birds. The other interesting part is that by targeting only males while the population within the immediate area will plummet. If the number of males reproduced in the laboratory are no longer released into the environment. The number of fruit flies will return naturally to their previous number. In this way, any unforeseen issues such as that caused by the introduction of non native species. Which happened with the cane toad will be avoided.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

In the Jam Ole.

For a decade or more the cut has been deliberately underfunded with the promise of jam tomorrow. Its something of a quaint expression penned by Lewis Carroll. We all have come to realise it represents just another false promise and other false dawn. In more recent times, the phrase has been used to in politics to describe intentionally unfulfilled promises fed to the electorate in the run up to an election.

CaRT before the Camel!
There is an old saying that the Camel was put together by a committee. I think this analogy has some bearing on the CaRT Waterways Partnerships. Three years into their tenure and the Partnerships (which are a regular drain on resources) are reported as still not understanding their raison d'être. Well the Partnerships are not on their own - because as a lay person who takes just a bit more than a passing interest, I don't understand their raison d'être  either.

Waterways Parsnips!
In theory the Partnerships should by now have been started covering their own running costs. Not only that but from the beginning of 2015. The Partnerships should start to generate a regular income stream estimated to plateau at circa £800,000 a year. This for me is a clear case of porcine avionics. Millions of pounds of much needed money for maintenance has been diverted into the superfluous ideology of Partnerships.  The return on that investment in financial terms has been nada, zilch, nothing.  Can they cover their own cost of operation yet, nada, zilch, no! Well to be more factually correct there has been a single huge return on the investment in the form of a mountain of bad publicity. For me the waterways partnerships are a living breathing megalomaniacs charter.  Causing discord and ill feeling on a local and national level.

Time Gentlemen please!
Its time to call time on the partnerships in their current configuration. Its time to sit back and take stock and actually do something proactive. Most hard nosed businesses would have pulled the shutters down on the partnerships long ago. Instead the Trust who always 'know best' have sleep walked themselves into another hole.  Caught like a rabbit in the headlights. The problem is - they will not stop digging and back fill the hole, because they can't stop now. Its become a point of principal - because they know best. So more money will be thrown into the black hole and they will come up with some weird and wonderful excuse, involving newts and voles by way of justification. And the waterways will fall even deeper into the continuing slow spiral ever downwards.

A stitch in time!
I see that the level of queen bees in the Ivory Towers hive continues to grow. Many of the worker bees have been replaced by volunteers. Is this the trusts own topsy turvy version of a zero hours workforce. One where you can work all the hours you like but you are guaranteed zero pay. Like the NHS before it the trust has done away with many of the front line troops. Now the trust has a management structure - with a raison d'être - for managing non maintenance. With an ever growing back catalogue of repairs the trust is busy looking for the ones it feels it can ignore.  Your granny told you as a kid all about - a stitch in time.

Jam Tomorrow

How many times have I heard it, words that hide the truth;
of a future to be filled with wonder, but its just another ruse;
putting off the inevitable, the truth will come with sorrow;
there never was an intention, of their promised jam tomorrow.

Cutting maintenance corners, penny pinching is now their way;
 but exactly why are they saving, the pennies for a rainy day;
putting off the inevitable, the truth will come with sorrow;
there never was any likelihood, of their promised jam tomorrow.

The canals are in the mire, the broken infrastructure shows;
the moorings megalomania, have dealt us all a heavy blow;
putting off the inevitable, the truth will come with sorrow;
there never was a possibility, of their promised jam tomorrow.

Yet another miss placed vanity, that only they knew the way;
its us that will have to pay the price, as they slowly retire away;
putting off the inevitable, the truth will come with sorrow;
there was only a pretence, of their promised jam tomorrow.

A plethora of waterways partnerships, is their chosen path;
 raising masses of donations, it makes you want to laugh;
putting off the inevitable, the truth will come with sorrow;
there never was any chance, of their promised jam tomorrow.

 So now the cut is managed, as a public charitable trust;
with ever dwindling coffers, how soon will CaRT go bust;
putting off the inevitable, the truth will come with sorrow;
there never was any reality, of their promised jam tomorrow.

The Alternative Canal Laureate

Evan Keel.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

More Myths

'The Night Before Christmas' by Clement Moore is one of the most famous Christmas poems of all time. With lines like 'he jiggled his belly, like a bowlful of jelly' and the poignant 'to all a good night!' It established some images of Santa that continue to this day. As time has gone on, affectionate parodies of this poem have emerged, and some of them will make for highly entertaining reading.

Lock Gate Poetry

Twas the night before utopia, all down the canal;
came the sound of a wood carver, and a poet his pal;
chipping away to carve out,  the poets inner thoughts; 
words without meaning, that conjurers up naught.

Lock gates with graffiti, of a more permanent kind;
 disguised as an art form, that remains unsigned;
lock heritage and their function, forever is soiled;
the ambiance and the look, changed and spoiled.

In the morning I saw it, all scattered around;
chippings and sawdust, swept up in a mound;

I tried to make sense, of the words just incised;
if there was inner meaning, it was well disguised. 

Then I had an idea, and stood upon my head;
but as for true meaning, there's still not a shred;
I tried to read it again, but this time in reverse;
 despite all my efforts, it just seemed even worse.

Then the reality dawned, the truth of it was plain;
it never did have a meaning, for it was only feign;
distract thoughts from other ills, is the real plan;
a tricksters sleight of hand, done like a con-man.

Evan Keel
Alternative Canal Laureate