Saturday 30 November 2013

Hell freezes over

As the cold weather gathers up here, we have news from hell that a chill is also being felt down in the boiler room. Spokesperson Antihales said "A huge glut of condemned spirits entering the after life has necessitated the expansion of the number of boatmen on the river Styx. Not only that, but the traditional nine-tiered system on which hell had been built had now grown insufficient to accommodate the exponentially rising numbers of  those bound for hell."

Adding to the need for expansion, Antihales said "The fact that a majority of the new arrivals possessed souls far more evil than the original nine circles had been equipped to handle. Newspaper executives, advertising executives, tobacco lobbyists, MP's, Chuggers, Solicitors retained by charities, Charity Trustees and Charity officers represent a wave of spiritual decay and horror the likes of which Hell has never seen before."

Despite the ever growing need for expansion, the plan faced considerable resistance, largely due to the considerable costs of construction. However, funding was finally secured in a deal and a Memorandum of Understanding was brokered between the Cycling Angling Rambling Trust finance director and Satan himself. The charity has a large fund available which was created from the spare cash made available by the underspend on the maintenance budget.  

In the period prior to the construction of the tenth tier, many from amongst the new wave of sinners had been placed to share eternity with black marketeers and despots. The sowers of discord, flatterers, morons and seducers. Some had even been placed with the violent and hypocrites. The authorities in hell however, had decided that the new level, to be named the CART tier should be located at the site of the former bubbling sulphur lake at hell's centre, Satan said "It better suits their insidious brand of evil."

Spokesperson Frigax the Vile, a leading demonic presence and one of the most vocal supporters of the new tier said "In the past, the underworld was ill-equipped to handle the new breed of sinners flooding our gates. We were almost overwhelmed with CEOs, focus-group leaders, sales representatives, and vast hordes of pony-tailed environmentalists. But now, we've finally got the sort of top-notch Sulphur canals of doom, which are necessary to give such repellent abominations the quality boiling they deserve." Pausing momentarily to tear off the limbs of an ex charity director, Frigax added, "We're all tremendously excited about the many brand-new forms of torture and eternal pain this new state-of-the-art facility will make possible."

The new tier also features a hall of celebrity dancers, where condemned TV personalities, clad in skin-tight spandex outfits soaked in flesh-dissolving acid, are forced to dance for centuries on end, covered in vomit and prodded with the distended ribs of skeletal, anorexic demons, accompanied by an unending, ear-splittingly loud dance-remix version of the 1987 Stock, Aitken and Watermans hit for Rick Astley "Never gonna to give you up"

"In life, I was a friend of the trust" one flame-blackened crone told reporters. "When I arrived here, they didn't know what to do with me. They put me in with those condemned to walk backwards for the crime of attempting to see the future for the trust.  I've been shrieking for mercy like a woman ever since."

His face contorted in the Misery of the Damned, a Barrister said: "It's hell here there are no executive lounges, I can't get any decent claret, and the suit I have to wear is a cheap  knock-off. Plus, I'm being boiled upside down in lard while jackals gnaw at the soles of my feet. " He then resumed screaming in agony.

Grogar the Malefic, a Captain in hell's elite demon division and supervisor in charge of admissions, said "Hell's future looks bright, thanks to the new CART tier. "Things are definitely looking up. We're now far better equipped, and we're ready to take on the most unholy atrocities humanity has to offer. We're really on the grow down here. This is an exciting time to be in hell."

Friday 29 November 2013

Old waterway Photograph (1)

Collecting postcards, or Deltiology as it is known, is a fascinating hobby. Our recent history has to a point been documented by postcards. It's curious in a way even with all the wonderful advances in technology. It's hard to believe that the good old picture postcard is still with us and still going strong. I did a posting on collecting old photographic postcards. Which gives some simple background information about what is an interesting hobby.  Click Here
The old waterways postcards can be interesting in their own way and also act as a spur to do some research to identify the photograph location. This is the first in a series of postings about old canal photographs and postcards. The postcard image below is only identified as being of the Basingstoke Canal at Frimley circa 1916. Identification number WHA 392. 


The Basingstoke Canal was completed in 1794. Built to connect Basingstoke with the River Thames at Weybridge via the Wey Navigation. Its intended purpose was to allow boats to travel from the docks in East London to Basingstoke. From Basingstoke, the canal connects to the Wey Navigation. This, in turn, leads to the River Thames at Weybridge. 

The photograph above is identified as being Frimley, the canal and new boathouse. There are tiny changes between the photographs. Such as the missing landing stage in the lower photograph. A search on the web provided some information that said that the new wooden boathouse, was constructed in 1906 by one-time canal owner Alec Harmsworth. The man in the punt is William Harmsworth his brother.

This photograph above is from 'The Frances Frith Collection' and pre dates the boathouse being built in 1906. The Frith collection has several other photographs from around this location and prints can be purchased. What is apparent is that the line of the canal is at this point was still being maintained with the fitting of revetment boards. However, this may only have been a precursor to the construction of the boathouse and intended to provide improved moorings.

The Basingstoke Canal was never a commercial success and, from 1950, lack of maintenance allowed the canal to become increasingly derelict. After many years of neglect, restoration commenced in 1974. The Basingstoke Canal Society was formed to carry out the restoration and on 10 May 1991 the canal was reopened as a fully navigable waterway from the River Wey to almost as far as the Greywell Tunnel. The trials and tribulations of the canal society restoration make good reading on their website and act as a spur to other restoration societies.

This is the same view today taken from the same spot on the Guildford Road bridge at Frimley Green. The trees have in the last 100 years matured and in places overgrown the canal. The location of the old 'new boathouse' is now lost from view.

Now new technology in the shape of a satellite image can still reveal some detail about the same location. The canopy of the trees is doing its best to hide what remains of the boathouse from above.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Noisy Solar Cells

They are really picking up Good Vibrations. Some solar cells convert sunlight into electricity more efficiently when loud music is played to them as long as it is pop rather than classical.

Traditional silicon-based solar cells convert sunlight into electricity efficiently, but they can be awkward to work with and expensive to produce. So Steve Dunn at Queen Mary University in London and James Durrant at Imperial College London have been experimenting with zinc oxide, which is much cheaper and can be made into thin, flexible films. The only drawback is that its efficiency is just 1.2 per cent, a small fraction of what silicon is capable of. To improve this, Dunn and Durrant took advantage of another of zinc oxide's properties. Nanoscale rods of the material wobble in response to mechanical stress – such as the vibrations produced by sound – and generate an electric field.

"We tried our initial tests with various types of music, including pop, rock and classical" says Dunn. Rock and pop were the most effective, perhaps because they have a wider range of frequencies. Using a signal generator to produce precisely measured sounds similar to ambient noise they saw a 50 per cent increase in efficiency, rising from 1.2 per cent without sound to 1.8 per cent with sound.  The discovery could lead to the development of zinc-oxide solar arrays that can be deployed in noisy public places – next to busy roads, for example.

"There are lots of places where this might be useful. On top of air-conditioning units, on military vehicles or on military personnel where lightweight power sources can be used to supplement heavy power requirements. The majority of solar cells on the market won't benefit from the phenomenon. But it will be possible to design and develop new cells to take advantage of what we've seen." says Dunn. 

Paul Weaver at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington says "Anything that can improve the conversion efficiency of this type of solar cell is clearly useful. It's interesting that exploiting combinations of properties in these complex, multifunctional materials can produce unexpected benefits."

This article appeared in print under the headline "Sparks fly when solar cells dig that funky beat" In the New Scientist magazine.

The link to the pdf document referenced in the original posting has been removed. (see Halfies comment) The link I provided was only available to subscribers. Even though I retired from Higher Eduction three years ago. My old employer has continued to maintain my subscriptions.

Arctic 30 Update.

There has been an update issued by Greenpeace about the brave and inspiring 'Arctic 30' protesters.

It’s been a week of ups and downs for the Arctic 30 - 29 activists and journalists have now been released from prison on bail. But our friend Colin has been refused bail - and all 30 are still facing ludicrous charges and potential jail sentences.

At times like this it can be easy to get bogged down in work and lose sight of the bigger picture. But today I read something that inspired me so much I wanted to share it with you. Jayne, who is a lifelong supporter of Greenpeace, wrote to us in support of the Arctic 30. 

This is her email:
When I was just a small child, maybe 7 or 8,  I was watching the news with my parents. I saw a Greenpeace protester jump from a ship in front of a whaling vessel to try to stop the slaughter of those beautiful creatures. It captured  my imagination, I had  never seen anything so brave before and probably not since, it was a terrifying leap. It has meant that I am, and always will be, a lifelong supporter of Greenpeace, and a defender of all you do and believe in.

You continue to stand up for the future of this wonderful, fragile, and totally abused planet. You will overcome tyranny time after time, in the face of overwhelming odds, because you act with only the best of motives, and there are those of us who will always be on your side. 

I may not have your courage, or your dedication, or your resolution, but I will never, never desert you; you are our hope and our moral compass and I am proud of you.

I would say to Jayne that the only reason we are able to do what we do is because of people like her and our 94,000 other regular supporters. We don’t take money from governments or companies, so the people who give us money are our lifeblood.

Click Here to visit the Greenpeace website.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Podcast (5) & Smartphone Apps for Boaters (28)

I have written previously about my Apple iPod that I use as a relaxation through entertainment mainly at bedtime or occasionally when I am out walking the dogs. I have found myself chuckling away at a comedy program only to get a few strange looks from people walking the towpath. Now I wear a pair of bright pink ear buds which make it more obvious that I am listening to something and that I have not lost the plot. I find that the iPod is ideal in such situations because of its small size. 

For a bit more background on the ever growing world of podcasts you can read my original posting on Podcasts and Podcasting. Click Here.

So what have I been listening to recently in the digital world of podcasting. This week I am trying out a podcast application on my smartphone. I still prefer to use my iPod via the laptop. But I thought it would be useful to have my favourite podcasts linked to my smartphone.

BeyondPod provides full control over what is being downloaded over your data connection. Update a single feed, feeds in a given category, or all feeds. Download a single podcast, the latest podcasts, or all podcasts for a given feed. Nothing happens without your knowledge. Podcast downloads can be scheduled to occur at a specific time, only when connected to WiFi, or only when the phone is charging.

BeyondPod's integrated podcast player support variable playback speed and tracks what podcasts you have listened to. There is also a configurable TiVo style "commercial skip" that lets you easily skip over content that you are not interested in.

Smart Playlist automatically generates playlists based on your listening preferences. The Home Screen Widget gives you one-button access to your podcasts, SmartPlay, and SmartPlay updates directly from your phone's Home screen. You can use BeyondPod to discover new podcasts and RSS feeds. BeyondPod includes direct access to the library with thousands of free audio books.

Who knows maybe you might be able in the future to listen to a podcast with the soft dulcet tones of a dyed in the wool Yorkshire cynic. Who might just wax lyrical about all things with good, bad and indifferent aspects that he comes across as he makes his way along the canal.


Tuesday 26 November 2013

Old Postcards and Photographs.

Collecting postcards, or Deltiology as it is known, is a fascinating hobby. Our recent history has to a point been documented by postcards. It's curious in a way even with all the wonderful advances in technology. It's hard to believe that the good old picture postcard is still with us and still going strong. For years when we went away on holiday it was expected that you would send to family and friends a 'wish you were here' message on a postcard. The saucy seaside comic cards were also a popular item. Then with the improvements in travel, and the reduction in the postal service it was often the case that you would arrive home before the card!

But for many years the humble picture postcard was a form of communication, used by almost everyone. No one at that time had any idea that their cards would be so avidly collected today! Picture postcards capture a place in time that is often lost by later development or a change in circumstances. The old working inland waterways are one such subject.

The first paid-for by sender postal system was developed by Rowland Hill. A standardised postage was paid by the sender, who purchased a stamp to attach to the letter. The first stamp was the Penny Black, issued on 6 May 1840. The stamp showed a side portrait of Queen Victoria at age 15. Britain's first picture postcard is thought to be one of Scarborough, dated 15 September 1894.

Andrew Maxam (postcard historian) said "The pictures that appeared on postcards, were an incredible variety! Almost any subject under the sun could be found on picture postcards as publishers competed with each other to produce the most attractive designs. Also photographers, both national and local, went round the streets recording all the towns, villages and cities for posterity. We owe much of our knowledge of how Edwardian Britain was like due to those enterprising men and women."

I have a small collection of old postcards. Some of them are based on inland waterways subjects. Often it is difficult from the picture to identify a time and place that a photograph was taken. It must be remembered that many years, even decades may pass between the taking of a photograph and when it was published on a postcard. It could also be a long time before the postcard was posted. From time to time, reproductions of old pictures or photographs are repeated some decades later.

Here are a few ideas on dating the time period of a photographic postcard.

The first postcards were mailed in Britain in 1870. But it was 1894 before the first picture postcards were produced within the UK. Prior to this most postcards were produced in Germany. The divided back which permitted the message be on the same side as the address was introduced in 1902. In 1939, the modern colour postcard was introduced. Often with richly coloured photographic images.

Postcards in the United Kingdom.

1870: The first UK postcards introduced by the Post Office. They were plain cards and had a pre-printed stamp. The sender wrote the address on one side of the card and a brief message on the other. There was no picture.

1894: The Post Office allowed postcards published by other than the government to be posted. A halfpenny adhesive stamp was added to these cards before posting. Not having to print a stamp onto the card freed the postcard publishers to use any printing method, this freedom allowing publishers to produce photographic images. By selling postcards without a printed stamp, the price was reduced.

1895: Postcard size adopted to be 4.75 ins x 3.5 ins and were known as Court Cards. The address was written on one side. On the reverse was a small picture with sufficient space for a written message. Don't be surprised to find words written on the front of old picture postcards.

1899: The UK adopted the internationally accepted standard postcard size of 4.75ins x 3.5 ins. The address and stamp were on one side, while the other side held an image and any written image. Because the image often occupied a good deal of the space, the message would be crammed in around the border of the photograph side of the postcard.

1902: The UK Post Office decreed that the image should be on one side, while the back was divided with the message put on the left, and the address and stamp put on the right. Britain was the first country to adopt this format. Manufacturers soon produced postcards with a line on the back to indicate the division between message and address. In those days, everyone sent postcards! Very few people had telephones, and postcards presented a cheap and efficient form of communication.

1926: Postcard sizes were specified with a minimum size: 4 ins x 2.75 ins and a maximum size: 5.875 ins x 4.125 ins.

Using postage stamp values to aid dating postcards.

Where a stamp if franked with a date, then its safe to say that the photograph dates from before the date of the frank. However, some are franking marks are smudged and can't be read with any certainty. Knowing when a particular stamp value was needed can in this case help to pinpoint the date.

For an insight into the post office, look at the length of time between the principal dates that postal charges were increased. Varying in time from 48 years from 1870 to twice in a year in 1975.

1870 - 1918: ½d, one 'half penny'.
1918: 1d.
1921: 1½d.
1922: 1d.
1940: 2d, letter 2½d.
1957: 2½d, letter 3d.
1965: 3d letter 4d.
Postage tariffs change to first and second class. First-class post should arrive the next day, second-class post taking longer. 

1968: First: 5d: second: 4d

After the conversion to decimal currency.

1971 first: 3p, second: 2½p (6d)
1973 first: 3½p, second: 3p
1974 first: 4½p, second: 3½p
1975 first: 7p, second: 5½p
1975 first: 8½p, second: 6½p
1977 first: 9p, second: 7p
1979 first: 10p, second: 8p
1980 first: 12p, second: 10p
1981 first: 14p, second: 11½p
1982 first: 15½p, second: 12½p
1983 first: 16p, second: 12½p
1984 first: 17p, second: 13p
1985 first: 17p, second: 12p
1986 first: 19p, second: 14p
1989 first: 20p, second: 15p
1990 first: 22p, second: 17p
1991 first: 24p, second: 18p
1993 first: 25p, second: 19p
1996 first: 26p, second: 20p
1999 first: 26p, second: 19p
2000 first: 27p, second: 19p
2003 first: 28p, second: 20p
2004 first: 28p, second: 21p
2005 first: 30p, second: 21p

Since 1989, when non-specific price-point stamps were first issued, senders more and more frequently use stamps denoted with 1st or with 2nd, rather than using stamps with a specific price denomination. This will make dating more difficult in the future.

Other methods of identification.

Sometimes the content of a picture can help, often prominent buildings will have a record of their date of construction or even when they were torn down. For unknown buildings certain styles only appeared after a certain date. Road going vehicles are much the same as there will be a period when they were first constructed. The clothing worn by people in pictures can also help to establish a date. Both men and women’s fashions changed, as did uniforms. Street names can help too establish a date - names such as 'Coronation Street' because such street names only appeared after a particular event. Memorials shown in postcards can also help in dating. Where a printed postcard contains a recognisable artist’s signature. Their signature can help date the postcard. If the postcard has been used, then the handwriting, and even the wording of the message may give some historical clues about when that message was written.
With regard to the black and white or coloured images, it is believed that the first multi-coloured card was issued in 1889. Before coloured images were printed, black and white postcards were sometimes coloured by hand. Later, black and white postcards were then produced by adding over printed colours to the card. With later advent of colour photography, this colouring method of adding over printed colours to the card became almost non-existent. 

Responsible dealers use a grading system to help potential buyers determine condition, ours is as follows:

Mint - As new, unused, in a pristine state. Not normally applicable to vintage cards unless found in original printed packets.
Near Mint - Like Mint, but very light ageing or very slight discolouration from being in an album. Not as sharp or crisp as Mint.
Excellent - No obvious flaws. Sharp corners, clean and if used, writing does not detract from appearance.
Very Good - Minor defects such as album marks, signs of age and handling acceptable that do not detract from a visually pleasing card.
Good - Noticeable defects, handing and wear apparent. Slight creasing and minor postal damage not detrimental to image acceptable in this category.
Fair - Obvious creasing, staining, small tears or damp damage evident. Significant edge or corner damage. Just about in a collectible state.
Poor - Incomplete, image seriously affected.

Over the next few weeks I will be publishing some old waterways themed photographic postcards. Some help to identify the exact locations, vessels or dates would be useful.

Monday 25 November 2013

Todays Hero

OK, I'm a bit fickle I have all time hero's, Mandella, Ghandi and a few others. But like the kid I am at heart (though the body might indicate otherwise) I also have what I describe as a daily hero. This is today's hero. Greenpeace activist Phil Ball has been granted bail by a Russian court. All done while wearing a brilliant prison-made t-shirt with “Save the Arctic” stitched on in Russian.

Whether you agree or disagree with oil and gas exploration in the artic.These individuals have the courage of their conviction to make a stand and to make a peaceful protest. Phil is only one amongst a huge list of such people. The Russians have thorough their actions galvanised a huge swing of awareness in the the real dangers encapsulated in this issue and also brought a great deal of discredit for their version of democracy. 

My antipodean hero is Australian Arctic activist Colin Russell. Unlike his fellow protesters he has been detained until February by a Russian court after a peaceful protest against Arctic oil drilling. All other members of the Arctic 30 have been granted bail and all but one have been released from the detention centre. However, they still face the charge of hooliganism - which in the enlightened time of Putin's medieval Russia - carries up to seven years in jail.

Sign the petition now Click Here

Sunday 24 November 2013

First Mate Guides

The First Mate Guides were created by Carole Sampson.

If you wanted to know how to contact a doctor, dentist, vet or chemist, or if you want to know where you can find a bank, post office, telephone or laundrette then these guides give you the peace of mind of knowing where they can be found.
Carole Sampson has decided to cease publication of her extremely useful First Mate Guides, mainly because she is now based on the continent. However, she has made the Guides available for download in return for a donation to cover the costs of maintaining the site. 

The guides have been converted into PDF documents that you can print them or as in my case load onto my Kindle. I have always found the guides enormously useful, as they go into far more detail about shops and other facilities on the system than the conventional guides can possibly have space for.

Print versions of the guides are available in some chandler emporiums. If you want a print version of the guides - I would get them now while they are still available. 

The downloads can be found here, please leave a donation to ensure that the website where the guides are hosted can continue to remain on-line. Click Here

Great Ormond Street Hospital

My name is Mike Gibbins and my dog is Roxy. Next summer we will be kayaking together around the coast of England. Here is a link from last summer where we kayaked from Bournemouth to Totnes and back. This clip is where we went around Portland Bill. 

We have set what I've been told is an impossible amount to raise of 100,000 for Great Ormond Street Hospital. Now I know that as a group, boat people of whatever type are the most generous, and I'm hoping some of you will kick start my campaign. If you can just spare anything to get it under way it would be greatly appreciated. I will be paying for everything myself so your donations will go in full to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

So everybody please, please, if you can give me and the charity a leg up. The link at the bottom of this post is my just giving page. Thank you for reading this and even if you cannot help financially then please copy and paste my link and publicise it on any websites or Facebook or Twitter. The challenge starts mid April or early May depending on the weather.

Thank you for your help.

Mike and Roxy

Click Here to donate.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Podcast (4)

I have written previously about my Apple iPod that I use as a relaxation through entertainment mainly at bedtime or occasionally when I am out walking the dogs. I have found myself chuckling away at a comedy program only to get a few strange looks from people walking the towpath. Now I wear a pair of bright pink ear buds which make it more obvious that I am listening to something and that I have not lost the plot. I find that the iPod is ideal in such situations because of its small size. 

For a bit more background on the ever growing world of podcasts you can read my original posting on Podcasts and Podcasting. Click Here.

So what have I been listening to recently in the digital world of podcasting. 

I have been listening to more of the science based podcast offerings. The Naked Scientist Special editions were on my listening list this week. Tuberculosis and other killer diseases have featured in the podcast recently.

Tuberculosis is a major world problem, but extremely difficult to treat - vaccines are toxic to humans, and the disease-causing bacteria have a habit of hiding in the very cells tasked with destroying them. 

Immune system bodyguard drugs that fend off TB before it can hide could soon be possible, according to new research. Simon Bishop speaks to Professor Kurt Drickamer about the work.

I rather enjoy the no nonsense BBC Science Hour podcasts. They tend to look at unusual connections between health and social issues. Sometimes the links between health and social issues can be very enlightening.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a new campaign to encourage European governments to focus on health rather than economic indicators. They say youth unemployment has great consequences for the health of those affected, leading to depression and even suicide. In a wide-ranging report linking health to economic factors they say attention needs to be paid to education in childhood and addressing the needs of socially vulnerable people. 

Who knows maybe you might be able in the future to listen to a podcast with the soft dulcet tones of a dyed in the wool Yorkshire cynic. Who might just wax lyrical about all things with good, bad and indifferent aspects that he comes across as he makes his way along the canal.


Petitions do work!

As most of you will now be aware, the BBC have recently announced that The Sky at Night will continue from February next year, after a break in January. The BBC's own news website states that this is following the petition.

So I just wanted to say an extremely grateful 'Thank You', on behalf of the entire 'Save Sky at Night Team' to each and every one of you who took the time to sign this petition and say how delighted we are that the programme has been saved. 

We don't yet know what the format will be, or even who will be presenting it, but we feel that we cannot really do anything useful regarding that until the programme has aired a few times and we can gauge whether or not the scientific content has been retained to at least the same standard. As such we have decided to close this petition and 'watch and wait'.
Once again thank you very much for your support and well done to all of us!
Karen and the Save S@N Team.

Friday 22 November 2013

Climate warming anything to concern about?

I have a question, is climate warming or the lack of climate warming anything to be concerned about. It might seem to be a strange question. Worrying is to strong a word to use. I think its more to do with if something is a concern or isn't a concern rather than a worry.
For years I have read each side of the issue and to my crotchety mind I still don't have a clue. The concern is that there are so many factors to take into account. Broad brush strokes split into two areas, natural phenomena and man made.

The natural phenomena covers just about every niche science subject you can think of.  Astronomy through to Volcanology and many other ologies in between seem to have a view on is there isn't there global warming. The sun cycle is obviously a factor and modern astro-science is giving us a better understanding of the processes. But we have no control of the sun. When it comes to volcanoes its a similar outcome. We understand more of the causes and processes. But as with the sun we have no control whatsoever.

Man made processes are in many cases outside of the worlds control. There are the big issues like slash and burn of forests. To widespread and ever increasing air travel. What we have in place is an accounting and measuring system that is based on carbon. One that we refer to as the carbon tax. It's a form of currency and like currency the world over, its not universal. In the UK we have taken positive steps to reducing carbon emissions. The winding down of power stations using fossil fuel such as coal is one such way. The clean burning of fossil fuels was talked about but was never fully explored.

What I do worry about however is the two camps of believers and non believers. They are at the two groups who are at extreme ends of the greenhouse gas / global warming / climate change spectrum. Where there are extreme views there is usually evidence manipulation.

Now we in the UK are trying to 'go green' with wind farms and the use of solar generation. Each has a role to play and each has its own limitations. If the wind does not blow or at night when solar is not available. There are other forms of generation such as nuclear which also has its own pitfalls. To large scale generation by the construction of barrages which have environmental impacts.

The nub of the problem as I see it, which is largely ignored is the ever spiralling demand for energy in all its various forms. Generation is such a wasteful process which is not cost effective for anyone other than the big power providers and the balance sheet.

If I am our at night, I see thousands of street lights which are in constant use from dusk to dawn. Yet in time of conflict we managed to cope with the blackout. Modern street lighting is supposed to reduce street crime. The reality is that it only reduces the fear of crime. We could reduce energy cost by switching off or operating street lighting for shorter periods. Or should we turn off or take out of service every other street light. The financial cost of provision of street lighting is immense.

Britain’s 7.5 million street lamps cost an estimated £500million a year to run. Each one costs around £60 a year in electrical power and maintenance costs. If savings are made, across the country of say 50% that would be a reduction of around 11 million tons in carbon emissions.

Some councils are already making the cuts or operational changes. The energy used to light Kent's streets next year will cost £6.4 million and will produce 29,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. There are around 90,000 street lights and 15,000 illuminated signs in the county of Nottingham which cost approximately £5m each year in electricity and maintenance. In Shropshire, 12,500 or 70 per cent of the area’s lights are now switched off between midnight and 5.30am. Derbyshire County Council plans to turn off 40,000 lights at night. Leicestershire County Council expects to save £800,000 a year in energy bills for the country’s 68,000 street lights. Bradford dims 1,800 of its 58,000 street lights between 9.30pm and 5.30am. Worcestershire County Council postponed plans to switch off and dim lights. The authority currently pays £2 million a year to run 52,000 street lights.

Now, just imagine if the savings were then used to modernise the lighting systems to incorporate LED systems. With a 90% reduction in power requirement and reduced maintenance. Plus at the same time to install better control systems to give even bigger savings in costs and emissions.  However, as the government has cut payments to local councils then the savings are used to help balance the budgets. 

As an island nation we should be looking at wave energy. This is a slow emerging technology, which has yet to benefit from cost reductions through volume. It initially requires levels of additional market support in order to make it competitive against established sources of electricity which have already been supported through this phase of development.

Large-scale capacity: hydro plant producing more than 5 megawatts

Imagine if the 50 billion budget for HS2 was to be used for improving things like the construction of more efficient large-scale capacity renewable energy systems. Say the Thames barrage, Severn Barrage and a Humber Barrage for power generation. The UK currently generates about 1.5% of its electricity from hydroelectric schemes. There are other potential sites around the UK that could be used. Hydro generation would be almost around the clock generation of power due to the effects of the high point of the tide occurring in different locations at different times of the day.

Small-scale capacity: hydro plant producing less than 5 megawatts.
There is also small-scale capacity scale generation on river weirs where there is a nearby usage for the generated power. For instance the two Archimedes screw generators installed on the River Thames, at Romney Weir, represent the production of 300KW of electricity that will reduce CO2 output by 500 tonnes a year. Generation at Teddington Weir for instance could produce 500KW. Enough to power up to 800 houses. There are similar plans for Sunbury Weir, Bell Weir, Viaduct Weir, Boveney Weir at Windsor, Boulter's Weir at Maidenhead, Marlow Weir in Buckinghamshire, Goring Weir and Osney Weir in Oxfordshire.

Micro-scale capacity: hydro plant producing less than 50 kilowatts.

Micro-scale capacity generation such as at Greenholme Mill on the River Wharfe which has started to generate electricity. Enough for about 300 homes at a cost £700,000 and will produce around 14,000 megawatt hours of electricity a year.

EU legislation made it compulsory for energy efficiency ratings to be published in all UK homes for sale advertisements. Home owners are now required to commission an energy performance certificate (EPC) before putting a property on the market. The legislation will effectively put an energy efficiency grading on ever house that is advertised for sale. But what if all new buildings were required to include solar power and or solar heating in the design.

Thursday 21 November 2013

England's Environment Agency

It looks to me like CaRT had a narrow escape when during the planning stage the handover of sections of the EA was postponed. The poison chalice that could have been off loaded on CaRT are amongst the more expensive sections of the EA. 

I discovered an interesting whistle blower website that shines a light into some of the inner workings of the Environment Agency. But at the broad brush stroke level if the information is correct should be sounding the alarm bells within CaRT.  I was amazed to read some of the top line statistics comparing England's Environment Agency to it's European counterparts.

A few interesting facts:
other European Environment Agencies have more duties than our Environment Agency, but manage them with lower staffing and budgetary levels. It's interesting how even though the Danish Environment Agency faces greater risks and greater costs from flood protection than England, it again manages this and it's additional duties with far lower staffing and budgetary levels. Most stunning is the fact that England's Environment Agency employs more staff than all the above combined by a factor of THREE and has TWICE the budget of all the above combined. 

The British EA report gives the financial detail. 





Going by these statistics, it would appear that the Environment Agency is overstaffed by around 9,000 and has a budget that appears to be £1 billion too much. This, along with what others have experienced, highlights the dire need for an in depth analysis and review of the Environment Agency with the aim of restructuring the body to ensure that tax payer money is being spent effectively.

Now if the EA was restructured along the lines of say France which also has a significant canal system. Maybe its time that all the inland waterways were under one banner. Then there could be a good case of saving money for essential maintenance by absorbing the Broads authority and CaRT into the EA. Putting the CaRT after the cheval so to speak.

To read more, Click Here

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Visits and Visitors

I don't know about you, but I find it hard to accept that the canals get millions of visitors every year. I have cruised many miles and hardly seen anyone other than the odd bird watcher, rambler, dog walker or fisherman. Is the canal a place that 'Joe Public' would really want to bring his family to visit. With the myriad of other places I imagine that Joe sees the local canal to be used more as a dumping ground for rubbish than as a visitor attraction.

I am interested in how popular the canals are becoming, as it would be a good indicator to the future. Because Joe Public is going to be asked to dig deep and support the canals by charitable donations. The Trust are going to be hard pressed to operate in a charitable market. Especially at a time when a significant natural disaster has taken place. One such as in the Philippines that is unfolding as I write. Its easy speculation as to which collecting tin the donation is going to go into.

The trusts website has the following claim to make. "Record numbers of people have made a trip to the nation’s canals and rivers this summer. During August, 5.4 million people visited a canal or river over our busiest fortnight, breaking previous visitor records as people took advantage of the good weather to come down to the waterside."

While visitor numbers might give some sort of feel for the take up of interest in our canals and rivers. I would want to qualify that number with people who made what I would consider to be - a genuine leisure visit by being attracted to the canal. Lets suppose that part of your commute into work each day was alongside a city centre towpath. Could you honestly call that a visit or visitor to the canals.

The UK has 63.7 million head of population. With a sample of 1000 people asked if they paid a visit to the Canal and River Trust managed waterways. This gives a representative figure of just one 1 for every 63,700 head of population.

I have a friend from my days of working in higher education. He headed up a team who conducted surveys and he highlighted for me some of the pitfalls that can skew the results. If for instance someone says that they have visited the canal. What might seem to be the next logical question is who was with you. Which gets the response the wife and two kids. This single call then represents 254,800 visits to the canal.

So it seemed prudent to ask CaRT for some background information on how the visitor numbers are calculated. Typically the methodology used. CaRT volunteered the following information which they said fell outside the requirements of the FoI Act. Maybe this is an early sign of the transparency and openness that Richard Parry recently revealed.

"You may find the following explanation helpful. You are indeed correct that the use of the term ‘visitor’ is often used in the leisure sector to refer to the number of visits people make as well as the number of people who actually visit. The Canal & River Trust monitors both visitors (people) and visits (occasions) through our Inland Waterways Visitor Survey (IWVS). The IWVS was established in 2003 and is currently conducted by independent market research agency BDRC Continental. The IWVS is a telephone survey that runs continuously through the year, interviewing almost 12,000 people annually.

A nationally representative sample of just under 1,000 adults is interviewed each month. Data is weighted on a monthly basis to the national GB population profile in terms of region, sex and age. A Random Digit Dialling (RDD) approach is used. This is a system which offers a totally geographically unclustered sample; vital since an individual’s usage of waterways is determined in part by their proximity to waterways (either living or working).

The visitor figure referred to, of around 10 million is based on the number of people who say they have visited a canal in the last year. Some will only have visited once, perhaps to a canal side pub for Sunday lunch; others may be visiting everyday as their route to work or to walk the dog. We know asking about behaviour over the last year presents some problems – some people may think back beyond a year, others will have forgotten their visit. We feel however, that this measure gives us a reasonable overview of visitor behaviour on an annual basis.

We also measure total visit occasions, and although there is obviously varies from year to year, depending on the weather, external events as well as our own marketing and communications. It is usually around 300 million visits.

The total visits figure is gathered by first asking people if they have visited one of our waterways in the last two weeks. Why two weeks? Two weeks is used as it is short enough to accurately remember more detailed information about their visit, but gives a larger and more robust sample than just asking about visits in the last week. Some people may have only visited once; others may have visited lots, doing different activities on different occasions. By counting all these different occasions we can monitor the number of visits made each month and in total over the year." 

Allan Richards left an annotation to my FoI request.

"I would suggest that the requester asks for clarification regarding the word 'canal' in the response. In particular, ask if 'canal' means the Trust's canal's, all the Trust's waterways (i.e. canals,rivers, reservoirs etc), or does it include non-trust waterways? To further inform the requester, this figure is used as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) to ensure that the Trust meets it's obligations under its Funding Agreement with Defra. I would suggest reading pages 27 & 28 of the Trusts first annual report. The KPI was set at >11m (set in the Trust's Operating Plan although not recorded in the annual report) and CaRT's achievement against KPI being 9.9m.

Other visitor number figures in the annual report are:-
Total visits 297m
Average visitors during a two week period 3.2m
The more I thought about the content of Allan's annotation the more I came to realise. That to get a more complete understanding. It would be useful to know if the figures are based upon visits/visitors to any waterway or if the figures apply only to visits to the trusts waterways.
The trust replied unequivocally "The figures are based only on visits/visitors to any of the Trust's waterways, no others."
So how does CaRT stack up against other waterways authorities?
Research by 'Tourism South East' estimates that in the whole of 2011 there were 3,399,000 staying visitors in the Norfolk broads area, staying a total of 14,470,000 nights. The total number of day visitors to the whole of the Norfolk area including coastal resorts was estimated at 31,228,000. Tourism is the largest sector industry in Norfolk, supporting more than 54,000 people and contributing approaching £2.8 billion to the local economy.

By comparison the Canal and River Trust had from their own figures 2 million more visitors in just the two week period in August than the Norfolk broads.  The headline here is that The Canal and River Trust has more visitors in just two weeks in August than the whole of the Norfolk Broads has in a whole year.

The Environment Agency unfortunately does not gather any records of visitor numbers to their waterways. The only visitor numbers recorded are at 5 spot locations on the  River Thames and the recording of boats who visit their waterways.

The Cam Conservators do not collect visitor figures other than for boat numbers for their waterways. However, they did say in a FoI request that "the unpopularity of the current licensing arrangements has significantly reduced the number of visiting craft since 2011. I estimate the reduction may be as much as 50% although we have not undertaken a formal analysis of boat observations."

Another claim made by CaRT was based around the number of boats moving on the waterways. "The Trust also measures the number of boats using its canals and rivers. While definitive figures for summer 2013 will be available in the New Year, early indications are that there were more boaters out taking advantage of the sunshine compared with 2012."

After all 2012 was the wettest year on record. I would imagine that its was not to much of a challenge to improve on that. We were out during 2012 and covered about 1500 miles of the rivers and canals. The thing I remember most was the almost total lack of boaters on the move. We never had a problem finding a visitor mooring. I put that down to the abysmal weather. This year we were out at Easter and we had a second cruise in the summer school holiday period. Once again, just as in 2012 the lack of boats on the move was very noticeable. But as the number of boats has fallen from a high of over 35 thousand to 32 thousand. This reduction in the overall number of boats must have had an effect. Or maybe it was just something peculiar to the northern waterways.

The wet weather in summer 2012 cost rural Britain at least £1 billion, according to an investigation by BBC One's Countryfile. Costs to farmers in lost output amounted to £600 million, while visitor numbers fell by 12%, costing the tourism industry an estimated £478 million.

But its the claim that 'there were more boaters out' in 2013 that I find most surprising. It suggests that the boaters were cruising the system rather than off their moorings. If so, for how many days weeks and months did the boats cruise and how far did the boats travel. I look forward to seeing the 'definitive figures' for summer 2013.