Monday 31 March 2014

It makes you feel proud.

The schools minister - Gove - is obviously inspiring schools with his mind boggling ideas. Some other are jumping on the Gove bandwagon and providing him with some competition by retaliating with boggling ideas of their own. I remembered as a kid at school, we earned stars for doing something notable. So I came up with 'Gove Stars' to acknowledge the entrepreneurship of the staff.

A school, which was placed in special measures after Ofsted deemed it inadequate in 2012 has come up with a wonderful mind boggling idea. The parents of a six-year-old boy have criticised his school after the child was suspended for four days for having a packet of Mini Cheddars in his lunch box. Senior staff at Colnbrook Church of England Primary School decided that Riley Pearson should be kept way from lessons for continually flouting its healthy eating policy with his choice of cheesy snack.  Bronze Gove Star awarded.

Staff at a primary school in Melksham, Wilts, fled inside when a five-year-old pupil got stuck up a tree in the playground. In a mind boggling lapse the staff exited citing health and safety rules. Quick-thinking passer-by Kim Barrett helped the lad down, but instead of thanking her, headmistress Beverley Martin reported her to the police. The police in a mind boggling moment of her own ticked her off for trespassing. I don’t know who is more wrong, the police or the teachers. But both failed in their duty. Gold Gove Star awarded.

In a clear case of political mind boggling correctness, gone mad, a mother in Hull was ordered by a school to declare her 7-year-old son guilty of racism. The reason for the demand, the boy asked a 5-year-old classmate: 'Are you brown because you come from Africa?' The boys mother Hayley White was summoned to a meeting with Elliott, his teacher and the deputy head of Griffin Primary School in Hull. I was told I would have to sign a form acknowledging my son had made a racist remark which would be submitted to the local education authority for further investigation. Gold Gove Star awarded.

The outstanding - Double Gold - Gove Lifetime Achievement Award goes to head mistress Lynn Small.

Parents were up in arms at a primary school that has threatened to label kids as “racists” for years on their school record if they refuse to attend a field trip meant to push Islam on kids. In a mind boggling and crass piece of stupidity. Lynn Small, headmistress at Littleton Green Community School in Huntingdon, sent a letter home with the children. 

The headmistress’ letter says the field trip is part of a “statutory requirement” for kids to learn about different cultures. The workshop is to be held at Staffordshire University and will give your child the opportunity to explore other religions. Children  will be looking at religious artefacts, similar to those that would be on display in a museum. They will not be partaking in any religious practices. Refusal to allow your child to attend this trip will result in a Racial Discrimination note being attached to your child’s education record, which will remain on file throughout their career. 

Fortunately, the understandable outrage from parents was enough so that education officials got involved and told the headmistress to retract her threats. Ms Small sent a second letter pleading for parents to disregard her previous missive. Double Gold Gove Star awarded.

I wonder if this mind boggling achievement will be attached to the education record of Headmistress Lynn Small.

Sunday 30 March 2014

National Archive Podcast (13)

I love history at a local, national and world levels. The National Archives contain some interesting records of British Imperialism around the world. There are also important records relating to life in the united kingdom. These records can also be used by anyone who is interested in genealogy. The documents come in all forms. I like to listen to the research outcomes in the form of lectures as the archives come under greater and greater scrutiny. The files are captured in MP3 format. There is obviously a bias towards history and family history in my choices.

Chris Pomeroy, of the Pomeroy DNA Project, reviews the history of DNA testing and explains how it can be used by family historians, as well as discussing the experiences of leading family history projects that are using DNA testing to link and verify their family trees. Click Here to listen.
Find out about the British child emigration schemes from 1618 to 1967 as Roger Kershaw examines the reasons and the records behind the schemes to Canada, Australia, South Africa and beyond. Click Here to listen.
Janet Dempsey examines the wealth of records which deal with the tragedy, terror, heroism and honour of the Merchant Navy in both World Wars. Click Here to listen.
David Thomas examines the reality behind Charles Dickens' fiction - what were Victorian debtors' prisons really like and how accurate was Dickens' portrayal of them? Click Here to listen.

Saturday 29 March 2014

Economical with the actualité

The recent floods have opened up once again the maelstrom of a myriad of different agenda's. About which research or which ideas hold the greatest sway. Despite individual belief either for or against global warming, there are certain things that are not disputed. Sea levels are rising, weather patterns are changing, particulates in the air we breathe are an issue in towns and cities. 

Like the food web, a water catchment area is very complex ecosystem. A system that is very sensitive to even small changes. Each change no matter how insignificant at first sight can have unintended consequences further along the waterway. Erroneous decisions made in one area can have a significant detrimental effect in another.  Part of the process of healing the flood meadow landscape means cleaning up the ecosystem and then protecting against contamination. By way of an example. Because village properties on flood plains can't normally be connected to the main sewerage systems. There is frequent use made of holding tanks. If an area is hit by flooding the contents will overspill and contaminate the watercourse and the surrounding land.  Chemicals are often added to such containment to control smell. Those chemicals entering the waterway are a further source of contamination.  Farmers hold quantities of slurry in lagoons or tanks which during heavy rainfall or flooding can over top and contaminate the watercourse and surrounding land. Therefore no process that would allow contamination in flood conditions should be allowed to take place on a floodplain.

A floodplain or flood plain is an area of land adjacent to a stream or river that stretches from the banks of its channel to the base of the enclosing valley walls and experiences flooding during periods of high discharge.

We  are a tiny island nation and space is at a premium. However, brownfield sites should be prioritised. Rather than greenbelt land being allowed to change use. Stopping all building on a flood plane is out of the question. However, only essential construction should be allowed.  Therefore a stringent set of rules around design and construction should be set to mitigate the effects of long periods of natural flooding. Flood plane or flood meadow should be managed for its primary purpose - to contain and absorb flood water. Secondary use providing grazing for animals should be encouraged. Where possible go along with nature - why enter into an expensive battle to protect the floodplain for arable farming. When the same results can be easily achieved elsewhere, on more suitable and acceptable ground conditions.

There has been much angst and teeth grinding amongst the farmers on the Somerset levels. The government has offered them £10 million to 'rebuild' their farms. However, the farmers in an Alan Clark moment, have been a little bit "economical with the actualité" concerning the true scale of their problems. £3 million pounds a year is already provided to the farmers on the levels. Currently funding 528 'Environmental schemes' for more than 50,000 acres of the levels. Agreements where farmers are paid around £180 per acre to encourage habitat such as permanent grassland in flood plain areas. So that's a guaranteed £180 pounds a year per acre for keeping and eye on the grass. Whether the floodplain is flooded or not.

How does this £180 an acre compare with other arable farmers across the UK. Well, figures from Churchgate Accountants (based on 59,000 arable acres) show the top 25%, achieved a healthy £185 per acre. The average paying circa £110 per acre. The bottom 25% made £50 per acre, according to the survey.  Puts it all into perspective, it seems that those poor web footed farmers are all on the gravy train.

The cost of affordable energy is a constant thorn in everyone's side. Thatchers government took what was a national asset and stripped it for cash. Now, the providers who were supposed to create competition seem to be all of one mind. The prices spiral ever upwards. Maybe its time for the government to look at state generation of electrical power. The options being large scale renewable, fossil, oil, gas and nuclear or a mixture of each.

Governments and the generation of electricity are subjected to intense political lobbying by big business. The result of the delays this creates - is rather than replace dirty technology - Decision and construction now happen so late that it only supplements new demand. 

The predictable nature of tides makes them an ideal renewable energy source. Much more reliable than wind. The tidal range of the Severn Estuary makes it one of the great natural wonders of the world. We have all witnessed on TV the spectacular tidal bore which can be seen when the tide wind and river flow combine to create the right conditions. The barrage could be operated in the same way that the Thames barrier.  Used just as a flood barrage it would certainly help to reduce the worst of the flooding that we have witnessed recently. However there are other issues that could make the barrage an even more attractive construction project such as power generation. With two tides each day there is potential to capture renewable energy in the form of tidal flow in either direction. Giving reductions in greenhouse gas, through reduced CO2 emissions.  The Severn Barrage would provide over 8,000 Megawatts of power. That's around twelve nuclear power station's.

There are other sites that could provide electrical power through barrage generation. Between four and eight sites are to be found in Britain, potentially making the UK a key player in the World's Green Energy market. The Wash, Tees, Mersey, Severn, Dee, Solway and Humber estuaries are all potential sites for large scale tidal energy generating barrages. The Pentland Firth, the narrow run of water between the north-east tip of Scotland and the Orkney islands, is possibly the best place in the world to generate electricity from the movement of the tides. Scotland and the UK generally are seen as world leaders in tidal energy research, but it the United States and Canada who are investing heavily in the field. There are estimates that up to 40% of the UK's daily power requirements could be generated using tidal barrages.

It is important that any development of renewable energy should be accompanied by a robust assessment of its environmental impacts. The assessment should also consider how any negative environmental impacts could be avoided or minimised, through the use of mitigating technology or regulatory safeguards. it is important that the quality and diversity of wildlife and natural features are maintained and enhanced. The range of options considered should be informed by consultation with the relevant nature conservation agencies. However, the concept of economic and habitat benefit in all its forms should be the major consideration.

A major milestone is the funding available under the EU climate policy. The NER300 programme which has been described as a 'Robin Hood' mechanism. One that makes polluters pay for a new large-scale low-carbon technologies. The €1.2 billion of grants – paid by the polluters - will leverage a further €2 billion of investment for the 23 selected low-carbon projects. This will help the EU keep its front runner position on renewable energy creation. Two of these demonstrator projects will be in the in the UK. The EU has announced funding in the region of £30m for two UK tidal projects.

  • Rhea Tidal Turbine Array has been given a €18 million award. The proposed development is for four tidal energy devices with the approximate electrical output of up to 5MW as an array in Kyle Rhea, located between the Isle of Skye and the Scottish mainland. 
  • Sound of Islay project has been given a €21 million award. The proposed tidal array is situated within the Sound of Islay which separates the Islands of Islay and Jura. The scheme will generate up to 10 MW of power from the tidal currents and will involve the construction and operation of ten tidal devices.
MeyGen is planning to deploy tidal stream technology in the Pentland Firth that will initially generate up to 398MW of electricity, enough to power about 40,000 homes by 2020. It would be amongst the first array of tidal stream turbines. MeyGen has secured an Agreement for a lease from The Crown Estate for the area that lies in the channel between the island of Stroma and the north easterly tip of the Scottish mainland.

Friday 28 March 2014

Canal Cuttings (5)

This is just one of a series of around fifty old newspaper articles that I have been reading. I have been doing some research from old newspapers and magazines. Covering the last 200 years or so of life on the inland waterways. With particular interest in the major issues of the day that were effecting the canals. The most active periods for evaluation and change, has always been just prior, during and shortly after the two world wars. It should be remembered that between the wars the ownership of some of the canals changed hands as the railway companies bought up the waterways to get reduce competition. What is not clear is the effect this early form of asset stripping had on the viability of the inland waterways. Its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Most surprising of all are some of the problems that beset the canals back then - are still prevalent today. Reading old newspapers can throw up some rather interesting stories. Here is what we would call today a public interest story.

Caveat: Some of the articles are difficult to read and even using modern electronic  scanning and text conversion methods. The odd punctuation, word or character may have been transcribed in error. 

The Spectator 1st January 1910

The Canals Commission  

The Report of the Royal Commission on Canals and Inland Navigation, which was published this week, is a most interesting, we might almost say a fascinating, document. Where is the man with soul so dull that his fancy would not be engaged by the possibility of reopening to the full range of national traffic the great inland waterways which have so long lain comparatively idle?

Economists of every school will be agreed on this: that they would like to see these waterways once again playing as important a part as a means of transport as they did at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. But when we come to the practical question of how this regeneration is to be effected there are bound to be acute differences of opinion. Some people no doubt will think it quite enough to say that the State could revive the canals if it liked, and that therefore the State ought to do it. We, who profess to be as much attracted as any one could be by the idea of having every part of England accessible to water-borne traffic at a cheap rate, and who recognise fully that it would be a thousand pities not to use a system of waterways which are actually in existence and are from every point of view a great national asset, still hold that we must restrain our sentimental prepossessions and examine the matter severely as a business proposal. We must put to ourselves the brutally plain question: Will it pay?

We must say at once that if the only condition on which it would be possible to rehabilitate the canals were proved to be a, very considerable expenditure by the State an expenditure on which the return would be doubtful, which might not be counterbalanced by the improvement in trade, and which in effect would be an interference by the State in the domain of private enterprise and a virtual subsidising of one kind of trade at the expense of another we should reluctantly be compelled to oppose any proposal of the sort. We think it quite conceivable that much might be done for the canals on other conditions. We do not venture to dogmatise on this most difficult question, but such suggestions and comments as we have to make will appear in their natural order when we examine the Report of the Commission.

The history of artificial canals, as distinguished from the mere improvement of rivers, begins with the construction of the Duke of Bridgewater's Canal from Worsley to Manchester. From 1761 to 1830 there was a feverish period of canal-building, which was checked only by the application of steam to locomotive engines and the arrival of the railway epoch. The total mileage of usable water- ways, including rivers and canals, in England and Wales is now about three thousand six hundred and thirty-nine miles. Since 1830 the use of these waterways has not only not developed, but has notoriously diminished. Long-distance traffic by water has become quite insignificant in amount. But meanwhile a curiously different phenomenon has been observable on the Continent. Mr W Lindley, an English engineer of much European experience, who is an enthusiast on canals, and gave his professional services free to the Commission, has written an admirable Report on this subject. In France, Belgium, and Germany large sums have been expended by the State, and water-borne inland traffic has practically kept abreast of the railway traffic. There is no sign of any slackening in the development of these schemes.

As one of our British Consular Reports says, "the Germans consider that in the great commercial struggle of to-day the agriculture and industry of those nations will be best equipped for the combat whose conditions of production owing to cheapness of transport are most favourable." Nobody could dissent from that principle as such, but it is to be noted that in France, Belgium, and Germany the whole waterway system is under the direct administration of the Central Government:. Herein lies a marked and initial difference between the conditions abroad and in Great Britain. There the waterways are worked in sympathetic conjunction with railways which are for the most part State-owned. Here we hope that the railways will long continue to be worked under the healthy competitive influences of private enterprise, and we confess that so long as that remains it will be impossible to draw any exact analogy from Continental experience. But that is not the only difference between ourselves and the rest of Europe. There is also a geographical difference. Our insular position makes it possible for imports from foreign countries to be landed very much nearer to their destination than the points of disembarkation are to a great many of the large towns of France, Germany, and Belgium. In England waterways, with the exception of a few rivers, have never received assistance from the State or from local taxation. In Ireland assistance has occasionally been given by grant or loan, and in Scotland the Caledonian Canal is national property.

English canals were constructed by private companies, and as no amalgamation on a large scale has taken place, the owners of canals are a diverse and disunited class. In the early part of the railway era the railway companies bought up a considerable portion of the canals in order to abate competition. The Commission points out that if the railway companies possessed waterways conterminous with their lines, they might use the water freely for slow and heavy traffic; but as it is, they do not use them seriously, and are not concerned to do anything more than discharge their mere obligations of upkeep. And of course the railway companies would have no monopoly of carrying by water, even if they wished to develop this side of their traffic. They are mere toll-takers. It is therefore only fair to admit that it has been quite natural for the railway companies not to pay very much attention to the canals. As to the independent canal companies, they have hardly been able to keep their heads above water, and in most cases their property has deteriorated. The total net revenue of the waterways irt, declining, and among the investing public there has long been a complete lack of faith in the future of canals.

On this state of affairs two remarks may be made. One is that the prosperity of canals would not necessarily mean, as is sometimes assumed, a reduced prosperity for the railways. Cheap and easy transit by water would be a great impetus to trade, and all carrying companies would profit by such an impetus. It is one of the chief heresies of Protectionist economists that the success of your competitor means the failure of yourself. The second remark which ought to be made is that the failure of private enterprise in canals is perfectly explicable, and that, like most explicable failures, it could probably be modified, if it could not be ended. The canals came into existence under an utterly haphazard system, and this system was petrified by the brilliant inauguration of the railway era. The canal companies, all at sixes and sevens, and almost wholly inarticulate, have remained in what the Commission calls "a position of arrested development." The chief practical symptom of all this is the absence of standardisation. You can start a truck of goods on any railway in England and it can travel over the lines of all the other 'companies without the least difficulty because they are all built to the same gauge. In the case of canals it is quite otherwise. Barges which navigate one waterway are unable to pass the locks and bridges of other waterways, and thus "through" traffic is out of the question. The conclusion of the whole matter is that the Commission is convinced that private enterprise cannot be expected to take the improvement of canals in hand because there is no prospect of adequate remuneration. Abroad canal-tolls are either absent or very small, whereas in England the canal companies depend upon their tolls for revenue; yet while the tolls are retained at their present figure the traffic of the canals is unlikely to increase. 

The Commission has not recommended State-aid without a struggle. It examines the argument that manufactures ought to be produced at places where the natural conditions are most favourable; that under modern conditions it is impossible artificially to revive the canals in order to feed the Midland industrial centres with raw materials at a cheap rate; and that even if this artificial process were undertaken, the manufacturing districts nearer the coast would always have the advantage, and the money spent on the canals would be in any case thrown away. But the Commission rejects these arguments :- "The reply to these objections is, in our opinion, that although, from an abstract economic point of view, it might make no difference to the country at large whether works remained in the Midlands or migrated to places more suited to existing conditions, such a vast dislocation of industry would in practice be attended by so much waste and loss, and so much suffering to the working classes, that, if the State can do anything, with reasonable consideration for all the interests involved, to prevent or to moderate the process, such steps should be taken. 

It is obvious that the process might take the form, not of removal of the works to the sea-coast, but of the closing down of the works altogether, and the emigration of the floating capital now engaged in them to other parts of the world, to which the labour engaged in them could not follow it. It may fairly be held that the State is concerned in ensuring to its citizens by its own action, if private enterprise fails to accomplish this end, the best and most economic modes of transport, so that industry and commerce may be carried on as effectively as possible, especially in view of the strong competition now taking place in the markets of the world. The coalfields of the Midlands give facilities for manufacturing which should be utilised to the utmost. Even if new industries and manufactures tend to establish themselves on the coast, rather than in the interior, it appears to be desirable that those now existing in the interior districts should be saved from the uprooting which apparently threatens them, if that saving can be effected by sound measures which will effectively reduce the rates of transport.

These words are perhaps the most important in the Report, for they are the underlying principle on which the majority have made their recommendations. From this principle, as such, we must wholly dissent. The canals have so long been comparatively idle that we cannot bring ourselves to believe in the vast dislocation of industry which the Commission foresees as the result of a starved canal service. Nor do we admit that the State should ensure its citizens the best and most economic modes of transport so that the stern conditions of modern competition may be met. This is simply, under one of its numerous aliases, the old delusion that the State knows how to spend money on behalf of its citizens better than the citizens know themselves. If water-borne traffic between inland towns and the coast would pay, is it not likely that private enterprise, always anxious to turn new capital to account, would seize the opportunity?

If it can be proved to the various members of a disunited class of owners that their capital already sunk in canals could be made remunerative, is it inconceivable that by State suggestion, or by State help to a reasonable extent, they could be induced to create a thorough scheme which would put into their pockets the money said to be waiting for them ? The argument we have quoted would end logically, not only in the purchase of the canals, but in the nationalisation of the railways. The Majority Report recommends that a central Waterway Board should be formed, consisting of three or five Commissioners, and that this Board should control all the State-owned waterways. As the Development Scheme proposed by the present Government contemplates "the construction and improvement of inland navigation," the Report suggests that part of the functions of the Waterway Board might be vested in the Development Commissioners. To begin with, the Waterway Board would have the control of what is known as "the Cross" the network of waterways which join the Humber, the Mersey, the Severn, and the Thames with the Midlands. When the Board thought that other canals ought to be acquired, it would have power to submit the necessary proposals to Parliament. It is calculated that the improvements required on the four great lines of "the Cross" would cost £17,500,000, and the annual expenditure would be increased to £1,098,000. To meet that there would be an existing revenue of only £567,000.

We cannot help confessing to have read this Report, interesting and exceptionally well written though it is, with some disappointment. As we said at the beginning, there is no exact analogy from Continental experience, as abroad nearly all the railways are State-owned. The fact that railways are not State-owned here is surely an essentially distinguishing fact, and yet, as a few members of the Commission point out, very little attention has been bestowed on the probable effect of having State-owned canals alongside privately owned railways. The whole canal question is so complicated that a most careful examination of the evidence now placed before us will be necessary before we can hope to penetrate the obscurity. It would be ridiculous to pretend to have a ready-made scheme. We still trust that it may be possible to bring into common and easy use once more a system of transport which has the enormous preliminary advantage of being in existence. But we could not possibly approve the vague estimate which the Commission has offered of the profit and loss account of acquiring the canals. Let us express, however, our belief that if Mr. Asquith's Development Scheme should ever come into being, and the State should decide for Englishmen how they ought to spend their money in order best to secure their material advancement, public money would be spent less disadvantageously on the rescue of canals from their present decay than on almost any object on which the money would be likely to be lavished.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Podcast Extra (1)

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. 

The latest in the list of Podcasts to be downloaded onto the iPod is 'Damn Interesting'. Its hard to say what the content is going to be. It could be a short story. It could be an excerpt from a book. It could have an historical flavour or it could be factual. Out of the current batch of podcasts (free for download on iTunes) I enjoyed listening to 'Nineteen Seventy Three.'

It is a well known story that the overthrow of Chile was ordered by U.S. President Richard Nixon. The 1973 Chilean coup d'état against President Allende, came about following a period of American inspired social unrest. Nixon also ordered a form of economic warfare and stood by as the population starved. Allende was overthrown by the armed forces and national police. The military abolished the civilian government and established a junta that brutally repressed the population. Augusto Pinochet, army chief, formally assuming the presidency in 1974. 

Before Pinochet's rule, Chile had for decades been hailed as a beacon of democracy and political stability in a South America plagued by military juntas. The United States government, which had worked to create the conditions for the coup, promptly recognised the junta government and supported it in consolidating power. An internationally supported plebiscite in 1988 eventually removed Pinochet from power. Thousands of Chilean men, women and children were disappeared during Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. Pinochet's controversial but close relationship with Thatcher led Tony Blair to mock Thatcher's Conservatives as "The party of Pinochet."

During its first year in office, the Allende Government achieved economic growth, reductions in inflation and unemployment, a redistribution of income, and an increase in consumption. The government also significantly increased salaries and wages, reduced taxes, and introduced free distribution of some items of prime necessity. Groups which had previously been excluded from the state insurance scheme were included for the first time, while pensions were increased for widows, invalids, orphans, and the elderly. The National Milk Plan affected 50% of Chilean children in 1970, providing 3,470,000 with half a litre of milk daily, free of charge. Which to the US government had all the hallmarks of subversion.

However, the 'Nineteen Seventy Three' podcast actually tells a much more wonderful and intriguing story of British involvement in trying to stay the coup d'état. Involving a somewhat mysterious and larger than life individual. Plus a whole new brand of technology. Leaving the listener with that  'what could have been' feeling.  

Chile's Project Cybersyn was based on the 'viable system model' theory and used a neural network approach to organisational design, and featured innovative technology for its time. In an era before the personal computers it included a network of telex machines (Cybernet) in state-run enterprises that would transmit and receive information with the government in Santiago. 

Information from the field would be fed into a statistical modelling software application (Cyberstride) that would monitor production indicators such as raw material supplies in real time, and alert the workers in the first case, and in unusual situations also the central government, if those parameters fell outside acceptable ranges.

The principal architect of the system was British operational research, cybernetics and management science, scientist Stafford Beer. The system embodied his notions of organisational cybernetics in industrial management. One of its main objectives was to devolve decision-making power within industrial enterprises in order to develop self-regulation of factories. 

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.

Wednesday 26 March 2014


UrtheCast project.

UrtheCast's two cameras can stream unprecedented footage of our evolving Earth to anyone with an internet connection. In near real time, you will be able to monitor your favourite locales and record events as they unfold. UrtheCast is streaming high definition video of Earth straight from the spacecraft. The system actually consists of a pair of cameras, one still camera and one HD video camera, that are mounted on the spacecraft. The 3.25fps video runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

UrtheCast is building a business model based upon the type of technology, generally referred to as "spy satellites". UrthCaste offers a search, rewind, and the ability to tag objects or ongoing events. UrtheCast is also providing APIs for developers to build upon the current service. The HD video camera is mounted on a steerable platform that swivels around. That’ll provide up to ninety seconds of HD video of a location up to sixteen times a day.

Satellite imagery is a billion pound a year industry and the 200 gigabytes of image data Urthecast downloads each day. The community-focused on-line platform, will allow it to compete with everyone from consumer focused Google Earth to commercial space imagery company DigitalGlobe. UrtheCast has signed an agreement with the United Nations. They intend to use it for crisis monitoring, both environmental and humanitarian. They have also signed an agreement with a European non-profit (charity) that wants to use it to monitor various assets.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Bruce and Blade

I was saddened to hear about the decision made to put down the two RAF dogs that guarded Prince William during his time as an RAF search and rescue chopper pilot. Brus, a Belgian Shepherd and Blade, a German Shepherd were put down on Friday, shortly after the prince completed his final shift at RAF Valley on the island of Anglesey. Bruce and Blade are among 288 dogs that have been put down in the past ten years by the Ministry of Defence. 

Everyone is talking about the dogs and people are upset they’ve been put down’, a member of staff said ‘I saw William stroke the German Shepherd a few times and made a fuss of him. They were really popular and William always said hello to all the handlers.” 

So as RAF guard dogs come to the end of their usefulness and they become a liability they are destroyed out of hand.   No doubt it will be the squaddies next!

Old Waterways Photographs (12)

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

Coal loading at Bridge Street Wharf at Rotherham on the South Yorkshire Navigation. The coal was from the Old Roughwood drift mine on Fenton Road and transported by tipper lorry to the coal loading stage where it was tipped into the barge hold. The drift mine closed in the mid 60's and coaling on the wharf stopped around the same time. Serenity and another unknown vessel await their turn for loading.

In the background can be seen the 'Prince of Wales' (coal fired power station) cooling towers which were demolished in 1980. The power station closed in 1978. In front is the darker outline of the bridge wharf warehouse (Later to become the 'North Notts Farmers' warehouse) In front of the warehouse can be seen the coal chute used by the tipper lorry. A lorry can be seen in position on the chute. Another is waiting its turn in the road. The Rotherham Forge buildings can be seen on the right.  The Great Central railway line is on the left. Rotherham Town Lock is behind the camera position.

Monday 24 March 2014

Canal Cuttings (4)

This is just one of a series of around fifty old newspaper articles that I have been reading. I have been researching from old newspapers and magazines. Covering the last 200 years or so of life on the inland waterways. With particular interest in the major issues of the day that were effecting the canals. The most active periods for evaluation and change, has always been just prior, during and shortly after the two world wars. It should be remembered that between the wars the ownership of some of the canals changed hands as the railway companies bought up the waterways to get reduce competition. What is not clear is the effect this early form of asset stripping had on the viability of the inland waterways. Its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Most surprising of all are some of the problems that beset the canals back then - are still prevalent today. Reading old newspapers can throw up some rather interesting stories. Here is what we would call today a public interest story.

Caveat: Some of the articles are difficult to read and even using modern electronic  scanning and text conversion methods. The odd punctuation, word or character may have been transcribed in error. 

Basingstoke Canal

The Spectator 11th November 1911

Note: This is a reply to the article in Canal Cuttings (2)

About a year and a half ago, when Mr. Edwin Pratt issued his little volume, "Canals and Traders" a writer in the Spectator expressed the opinion that "even in these days, when money is spent by public bodies on almost everything, nobody is going to the expense of cleaning or filling in a derelict canal." Apparently the prophecy will not be justified by events. According to a communication which Mr. E. Southgate Day (care of Messrs. Hannaford and Goodman, 57-59 Ludgate Hill, E.C.) has sent to Tuesday's Times, the canal which runs from Weybridge to Basingstoke is to be closed. The bridges are to be thrown down into the channel, roads are to be driven across the bed, the water is to be drained off or allowed to revert to its natural channels, and the land used for building sites or other purposes. As Mr. Day points out, this would mean that the present enjoyment which the public derives from the canal would be lost for ever, and he asks anyone who is interested in preserving the waterway to communicate with him at once.

We have no means of ascertaining whether the facts are precisely as Mr. Day states them, but if they are it would certainly be difficult to over-estimate the loss to the public which would follow the closing of the canal. The cutting which holds the canal water runs from Weybridge to Basingstoke, passing through or near Byfleet, Woking, Horsell, Brookwood, Frimley, Ash, Aldershot, Fleet, Winchfield, Odiham, and Basingstoke a distance of thirty-seven miles. Many of these places are large centres of population and others are what the house agents call "residential neighbourhoods" so that there is a very large section of the population of the home counties which is interested in the question whether the existence of the Basingstoke Canal is to be continued or not. Besides these people there is a wider public which, whether or not they make actual use of the canal, cannot but be affected by the loss of a secluded waterway and its natural accompaniment of wild life and the beauty of flowers and trees. The whole countryside would become the poorer by what has become a kind of sanctuary for the bird life of a great stretch of Surrey and Hampshire. 

There is nothing which is more attractive to birds than water with plenty of food near at hand, and nothing provides water and food more surely than a canal. A canal is not merely a straightforward cutting filled with water with a tow-path by its side. It is a winding stream which is a centre of life and growth. It is more than a stream it is often fed from large ponds and reservoirs which in turn become other centres of wild life. Water loving plants and trees establish themselves along its banks. Willows, alders and poplars shade its waters; meadow-sweet, forget-me-not, loosestrife, musk, irises, willowherb scent the air about it and fill the stream with the colour of their flowers; the sky shines in the water grey or white or blue, and wherever the water goes a new light shines with it. Herons flap up from the grey sedges set about its ponds and tributary ditches; swallows hawk for flies down the long road of water and take clay for their nests from the mud it moistens. Coots and waterhens build in the rushy fringes of its ponds and the stretches of boggy undergrowth which seem to attach themselves to its flank in so many places where the towing path has been banked up above the natural level of the surrounding fields. Reed warblers, sedge warbler, reed buntings, grebe, snipe all the waterside and water loving birds nest and breed in the neighbourhood of a canal running through open country, and if the canal is filled in and the land about it drained and built over the birds perforce go elsewhere. 

The naturalist, in short, would lose much, but in some ways his is not the greatest loss. Not all the birds would leave the dried-up waterway ; there would still be left most of the migrants and the commoner inhabitants of the "wet, bird-haunted English lawn." But what is to become of the fisherman? 

It would be difficult to think of any greater blank which could be left in the lives of the many hundreds who find their chief recreation on the banks of the canal if the opportunities of fishing along thirty-seven miles of water were by a single act denied to them. The bank fisherman is perhaps not a very picturesque or heroic person. He has had many easy jokes made about him; he is the butt of endless chaff; he often catches very little and perhaps more often nothing at all, but he surely has a claim. If the canal and its tributary waters go he loses the happiness of nine months out of the twelve indeed, of the twelve altogether. There are many men who get through the week's work as they do only because at the end of it waits a day in the open air, in rain and cold it may be, but in the open air, with the long rod stretching out over the water, the float dipping in the ripples, the ledger line down on the bottom and somewhere, in however airy a castle, the hope of a heavy basket of roach or perch, or the carp or barbel or pike which at last is to outweigh all other pike and barbel. It is a quiet and harmless recreation, and one which at present costs those who pursue it no more than the price of their rods and tackle, which indeed is all that most of them could afford. But the loss of it could not be measured in shillings and pounds.

But all this is not business. No doubt that is so, and the canal owners would be perfectly right in contending that the growth of the canal side into a strip of charm and beauty is accidental to the efficient working of a canal service, and that in any case it is no part of their duty to provide recreation and amusement to naturalists and fishermen. If anglers want fishing, and rowers want boating, and naturalists want quiet walks among trees and birds, they must be prepared to pay for them; they cannot expect them gratis at the hands of other persons who are losing money. Those arguments are sound enough, and they lead at once to another, which is whether it is not worth somebody's while to keep the canal as it is, or nearly as it is. There may be engineering difficulties which would make the expense of maintaining the canal in full working order prohibitive from the point of view of a district or a County Council; but is it good economy, merely as regards pounds, shillings, and pence, for the neighbourhood to let the canal go altogether? In a piece of country which is rapidly being cut up for building land one of the greatest attractions which the house agent or speculative builder can offer is the presence of water and beautiful waterside scenery. 

The opportunities for boating, fishing, and skating afforded by any given neighbourhood are serious considerations when it comes to the letting and taking of houses. Rents and prices are high wherever there is good boating ; they would drop at once if the water dried up. With a fall in rents and prices, consequent on lack of inducement to live in the neighbourhood, the income of the resident shopkeeper lessens immediately. Money ceases to circulate freely ; visitors go where they are better amused; the lodgings which at present let so readily for the summer months become empty. It is difficult to count the consequences, but they are plain enough; the presence of water is one of the greatest possible assets of any district. That being so, would it not be logical, instead of destroying the canal, to improve and preserve it—perhaps to purchase it, with a view to developing the land in the neighbourhood. 

On first reading Mr Day's letter to the Times, it may have occurred to many that here was one more opportunity for the beneficent enterprise of the National Trust, that admirable society which has laid the community under so deep a debt by acquiring in perpetuity so large a number of threatened places of natural beauty. But thirty-seven miles of land and water must remain a formidable proposition, and though it would be setting a crown on past achievements if the Trust were somehow able to acquire the canal and the walks by its banks, there is an opportunity here, perhaps, rather for commercial enterprise than for public subscription. We would most of us prefer to keep the canal as it is, in many parts wild and lonely; but if that cannot be, and if the builder is to come to the canal, could we not contrive matters so that his bricks and mortar should do as little damage as possible. If philanthropy-plus-five-per-cent. has so often proved successful, why not picturesqueness-and-five-per-cent. 

Garden Cities are the fashion, and rightly the fashion; is there not a rare and distinctive chance for a Garden City here Garden Cities and villages, indeed, in character if not in name, exist already along certain stretches of the canal bank. They would lose half their meaning if the bridges were knocked into the water and roads were run over the dry bed. Why should not the principle of building on or rather near the canal bank, but keeping the canal bank beautiful, be still further extended. Here, ready to the builder's hand, is the water needed to advertise and to attract capital to new garden villages, and to separate them in people's minds from other garden villages. If the canal is allowed to dry up, its waters and the chances of successful enterprise run away together.

What is wanted is a capitalist or a syndicate to see, and then seize, the opportunities offered for profit by preserving the canal. One of the difficulties, however, to such a suggestion is obvious. Most capitalists would, we fear, reply to us: "Do you think us mad? Who is going to touch land in England with Lloyd Georgian finance banging over us? " How to meet such an objection we confess we do not know.

Sunday 23 March 2014

National Archive Podcasts (12)

I love history at a local, national and world levels. The National Archives contain some interesting records of British Imperialism around the world. There are also important records relating to life in the united kingdom. These records can also be used by anyone who is interested in genealogy. The documents come in all forms. I like to listen to the research outcomes in the form of lectures as the archives come under greater and greater scrutiny. The files are captured in MP3 format. There is obviously a bias towards history and family history in my choices.

Dr Dennis Wheeler, from the University of Sunderland, discusses the use of historical Royal Navy logbooks in studies of climate change, focusing on the archival resources rather than scientific conclusions. Click Here to listen.
A look at the changing nature of imprisonment over the centuries and the experiences of those who endured it, charting the growth of the national prison system in England and Wales from castle dungeons to purpose-built concrete gaols. Click Here to listen.
The problem of serious habitual criminals and how to keep track of them greatly exercised the minds of our Victorian and Edwardian forebears. This lecture focuses on the methods utilised by police and government to record and monitor such offenders, and how the surviving records can beused by present-day historians to investigate both historical and contemporary questions concerning serious and persistent crime. Click Here to listen.
After the Second World War, the role of governors in Britain's overseas territories changed. This talk examines the colourful personalities and mixed fortunes of these proconsuls, and argues that, in spite of their declining power and authority, they performed a key role in managing imperial retreat. Click Here to listen.

Saturday 22 March 2014

Waterway Asset or a Liability!

Is Vince Moran a waterway asset or a liability? Your answers to this question please written on the back of a £25 cheque addressed to CaRT - (Cycling Angling Rambling Truss)

The public have a perception of charity and the public will always want to support the welfare of people flooded and forced out of their homes. The public will do this long before donating in support of the infrastructure of canals. Some people will see the CaRT 'National Emergency Appeal' for funding as muscling in on other much more worthwhile appeals at this time. Appeals such as 38 Degrees that are trying to raise donations for direct emergency relief for those stricken people who have been flooded out of their homes.

I would have thought with over 2000 miles of canal and rivers to maintain. CaRT like the Environment Agency, various Local Authorities in England and the various Internal Drainage Boards would have a 'Grant in Aid' agreement in place with the Government for averting flooding disasters. Otherwise, CaRT should identify the costs and apportion those costs to the local authorities where the issues are located. If such a Grant in Aid agreement does not exist, between CaRT and the government via DEFRA the next question should be - why not?

I'm worried that this is another predictable knee jerk reaction by CaRT to flooding and the dire message that has been prematurely sent out. It seems that those in the know operating boating businesses (Boating Trade Condemns Appeal) think that the begging letter might have done more damage to the inland waterways that the effects of flooding. 

"Maybe it's poetic justice – the way that the country that began the industrial revolution has found itself so unprepared against the climate change it has ushered in. But one can't help thinking, nonetheless, that Brunel must be turning in his grave. Half a century – at least – of failure to invest in a resilient national infrastructure has brought us to this."
Deborah Orr writing in the Guardian. 

Most of the time CaRT seems just to want to ignore those 'irritating' boaters. However, when anything like a calamity occurs. Just like a friendly but persistent dog, one that's always wanting to hump your leg. Out come the saturation (pun) mailing lists to bombard those irritating boaters for even more of their money. The cunning Baldrick plan put in place by directors and then orchestrated by the various members of CaRT staff. A snow storm of emails from 'Director', 'Corporate Relationships Manager', 'Individual Giving Manager' or 'Boating Communications Manager'. I think I just need a 'Trustee' and a 'CEO' to have the full set!

Once more this calls into question the public relations skill set of the trust. It seems that for the gaff prone - every opportunity is now and forever more, going to be seized upon, to turn up holding the friendly but persistent doggies begging bowl. Can someone introduce Vince Moran to Prince Philip, it seems to me that they have a wealth of experience to share.

Friday 21 March 2014

Old Waterways Photographs (11)

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

This is an old photograph of Levitt Hagg on the South Yorkshire Navigation. Immediately to the west of Doncaster, lies a band of magnesian limestone bisected by the River Don. The flow of the Don over the millennia has created a steep gorge several miles in length, which is famous as the setting for Sir Water Scott's novel, Ivanhoe. The sheer sides of this gorge have long been quarried for their high quality dolomite and many local buildings, most notably the 12th century Conisbrough Castle, were constructed using the stone from these quarries. 

The history of Levitt Hagg is fascinating. In the eighteenth century limestone quarries opened in South Yorkshire to provide building materials. John Battie began quarrying operations. He had entered the quarrying business because the growth in population in the 18th century had created a demand for stone to build more houses. In 1750 quarrying operations started at the base of Warmsworth Cliffs in the Don Gorge near Sprotbrough and  the hamlet of Levitt Hagg was established to house the quarry workers and workers employed in the boat yard.  As well as quarrying operations, barges intended for  use on the canals were built on the river side close to the village, the first one being completed in 1886.

Further down the Don gorge are an impressive pair of  abandoned limekilns, which are the only surviving structures in the once thriving quarry community of Levitt Hagg. The limekilns are built into the side of the gorge.  Quarried limestone was carried to the limekilns, where it was burnt using local coal to produce dolomitic lime. This product was much in demand from the Sheffield steel industry, which in 1843 was producing 90 per cent of British steel and almost half of the entire European output of steel. Levitt Hagg produced its peak output of 23,000 tonnes of quicklime in 1876.

200000 hits.

Starting in January 2010. And apart from one small hiccup the the blog has had at least one posting each day over the last four years. Typical of most blogs it was a predictable slow start with few visitors arriving. But then the inland waterways at that time were covered by several notable blogs. I was deliberately trying to be a bit different in the content. I did not want to provide a ships log in the sense of just recording our movements from place to place. So I have varied the content quite a bit, often going off onto subjects that may not have had a watery theme. 

We had reached the figure of 10,000 visitors by Friday the 29 April 2011 some 16 months after starting. I had noticed by then that there was a regular readership base forming. I started to take note of which posting were being read most and provided more of the same. After two months on Saturday, 18 June 2011 we had reached 15,000 visitors. After a further two months we had reached 20,000 visitors by Monday, 22 August 2011.  After three years on the 5th of February 2013 we reached what was for me the landmark 100,000 visitors. After three and a half years on the 30th September 2013 we reached the 150,000 visitors. 

What had been a slow start in the early days of the blog had slowly built up into a steady flow of visitors. I had continued to vary the content and avoided adding items that appeared to be avoided by visitors. The average number of visitors is 3921 per month since the blog started. The average figure over the last six months is 8,333 visitors each month.

Well six months after reaching 150,000 and the visitor count has continued to grow. Now the number of visitors to the blog has reached 200,000 which is once again another significant number. 

A few statistics: The more popular items are as you might expect are the more humorous stuff. The typical number of visitors is around 250 to 300 a day. There are certain days of the week when more people turn up.  Wednesday seems to be very popular so I can only imagine that Wednesday is not only a bad football team but also a bad day for television?

As 'Rose of Arden' is just one of eight blogs in total that I write for. (Some of which have a closed membership) Add into the mix the occasional article posted on NarrowBoat World, as well as dipping in from time to time on the odd canal forum. Blogging and writing is keeping me busy in retirement.  

Many dog people suspect that their canine companions indulge in forbidden impulses when left unsupervised. Sometimes those suspicions are based on bits of evidence — such as misplaced pillows and wrinkled bed covers — people find when they return home from work. This dog’s human must have surmised that something was going on behind her back. She set up a monitoring camera trained on the bed the dog was not supposed to occupy. In this case, the dog doesn’t simply bend the rules — it takes great joy in its furniture transgression. After all, in the dog’s mind, it’s your space only when you’re there. (It’s obviously useless to outlaw bed-sitting to a cat — and so the household cat sits as it wishes, as cats always do.) 
Click the arrow to start.

Thursday 20 March 2014

Pillings Marina

The issue of Pillings marina seems to be continuing and has been escalated further by the blockade threat made by the trust. Irrespective of the unpleasant messages about family and previous clients of the marina that have been placed on Facebook.

At the time period when the marina was being proposed BW published a prospectus for new marina operators. Which is still available on line. It is a prospectus which clearly paints a very rosy operating position. M'learned friends will ask, was the prospectus a misleading document. The prospectus would also be closely linked to the British Waterways business plan of the time which was then a confidential document with limited circulation. The prospectus and the BW business plan when taken together would also provide some rich pickings for m'learned friends to mull over at great expense.  

I discovered a long time ago that any expectation of morality in business holds very little sway. I also learned that morality for a charity was a paramount position to maintain. The sacrificial pawns in the middle of this game - are the boaters.

There is a rather interesting aspect to this issue and one that has not been aired so far. However, I would imagine that there are other marina who are currently paying the CaRT access charge, who will be watching the developments with more than a little interest. I would also imagine that marina owners who are not paying the charge will also be awaiting the outcome as it will possibly have serious consequences for their business.

So I'm playing the role of devils advocate, the Canal and River Trust it should be remembered are in a monopoly situation operating as the sole provider for the waterways under their control.

It could be alleged that CaRT are abusing their position as monopoly provider by way of discrimination. CaRT by using a specific access charge at one marina, a charge that is not levied at one or more other marinas within the area. That selective application of such a charge gives unfair advantage to the marinas competitors. Add into the equation that BWML is operating marinas under much more favourable terms and conditions which are not available to many other operators. This could then be interpreted as providing BWML with an unfair advantage and undercutting competition to all other marinas.

Inequality is a well recognised discrimination. I would imagine that the argument would be 'that an unequal applied charge' has ultimately led to business number one, that was operating the marina on behalf of business number two, going into receivership. Therefore the claim of inequality by the trust also spreads to business number two who are not part of the action taken by CaRT. By being placed in a position where they are unable to lawfully operate their business with any real prospect of making a return. 

That the threat of blockade of access into the marina which is also impeding business number two from employing another business to operate and manage its holdings as intended. That the proposed blockade was a further discrimination that has encouraged boats to leave the marina and further damaging their trade and profitability further. That the communication sent to the marina customers has further disadvantaged their trading position.

That the position created by BW/CaRT therefore creates an unequal playing field of many different levels. Creating an inequality to trade fairly and with equal opportunity in an area controlled by a monopoly. I expect that such a case would be built and placed with the Monopolies commission to examine the situation. If the Commission hold that the Trust is abusing its position, the situation could change dramatically. The next escalation in either case would then be with the charities commission and the way the trust is operating its business. Which would bring a further minefield for the trust and the trustees.

Now lets speculate that the case is ultimately decided in favour of Pillings. Will the trust remove the charge at Pilings and other marina.  Alternatively will it retrospectively apply the charge to all marinas.  I don't need to speculate on that outcome. CaRT would claim that their hand was forced and they need to apply the charge fairly and that it must apply to all.

But CaRT also has a mixture of charges which it applies in other areas. For instance when applying a charge of 9% of the full occupancy of a marina income. Compared with placing a charge of 50% for an end of garden mooring.

One way or another the public and boaters are going to be picking up the not inconsequential bill for the whole issue. I would not hold my breath on this one, I think that this is a story that still has a long long way to run. It will bring even more dubious valuable publicity as the various colours of washing are laundered once more in public.