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Thursday, 10 November 2011

The £1.47 security-tagged Chop

Last year for the first time the local supermarket started tagging roasting joints, which at the time I found extraordinary. Well, it seems meat theft has reached endemic proportions; everything now bar mince and sausages now bears a security tag that must be de-activated at the till. Including the £1.47 chop for last night's supper. 

And overnight the parking meter some ten metres from my front door was 'done'. And I didn't hear a thing. Oh well, off to the station. And just hope they haven't stolen the copper signal cables again this morning. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Either the Hun shits gold or France is next

Maybe Spain, maybe France. But until the constipated Hun shits out gold, the Euro-rot won't stop.

Time to lynch the clown

Italy has something of a history of being led by posturing clowns, or at least by corrupt and evil men who hid their vice under a mask of clownish buffoonery. Yes, the priapic Berlusconi was such a one, as was the absurd Mussolini, but also Andreotti, a Mafia stooge convicted of murdering a journalist and Craxi, mired in graft and corruption, within the recent past. Some had a jackdaw-like compulsion for geegaws, like Francesco Cossiga, who scrounged sovereign orders from just about every State on Earth, including our own Bath, to the point where his entire torso from neck to groin was not big enough to wear them all. None have failed to provide the average Englishman with an innate sense of moral superiority and greater worth.

Hatfield Girl has remarked that the wealth ghettos are intact; the streets are filled with gleaming new cars, the women are beautiful in their Autumn fashion, the restaurants are full, the sparkling shop windows bursting with actinic lamp glare and expensive goods. In fact just as I report the state of the City here - just the same. In fact what we're both seeing is the financial crisis itself, in which financial sector profits have been privatised but losses nationalised. We're looking at the privatised gains and not the socialised pains. 

No doubt Berlusconi will manage to avoid jail, like Andreotti before him. Perhaps he is already suffering from Saunders' Syndrome, an Alzheimer's-like condition brought on by judicial proceedings. Italians haven't used the Gadaffi  solution since Benito and Clara were hung upside-down like rabbits in the game larder. 

Monday, 7 November 2011

Coal, the greenest fuel

The insane obsession with both wind and solar PV technologies, both hugely expensive and producing tiny yields of power, ignores the greenest technology of all, one for which we have massive existing reserves, and one that can be developed locally at relatively low cost - coal pyrolysis. Simply, this is heating coal without allowing it to burn, and capturing both the volatiles given off and the hard waste remaining. One of the UK's last coal pyrolysis plants, at Carrickfergus, is shown below. Even non-engineers can see how simple it is. 

About half of the gas output is Hydrogen and 35% Methane. Hydrogen is the real vehicle fuel of the future, and Methane can go straight to existing domestic supplies. Carbon monoxide is also produced; this can be hydrolised with Hydrogen to make Methanol, used to produce biodiesel. By-products include coke and coal tar. Coke can be burned as a smokeless fuel in domestic fireplaces, and coal tar can be further distilled to provide a range of useful products. There are small amounts of Sulphur (Sulphuric acid for batteries) and Ammonia (fertilisers and explosives) produced. Pretty much everything can be used.

Coal. The greenest energy source.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Tread softly, but carry a big stick

Nick Drew's piece should be read widely. And H/T Nick for this Economist piece

Well what do you bloody imagine they're for?

Kropotkin and Europe: Co-operation through conflict

Most informed commentators in the Sundays are of the opinion that if the Euro-17 plan fails, Europe will fail and we'll all return to the dark ages, as competing nation-states impoverishing themselves in competition (or war) with no winners. It's a bleak scenario, a Darwinian competition, an Ayn Rand world of pure selfishness and the pursuit of self-interest in which the most ruthless and best-equipped win. Yet such a scenario flies in the face of all nature and all human experience. And herein is the paradox of altruistic self-interest. 

Kropotkin, better known as an anarchist than as a biologist, observed that the species that survived and flourished were those where there was co-operation between individuals who otherwise competed for food, mates and territory. Modern research has confirmed this to be true even at the level of the microbe; that 'altruistic' co-operation amongst competing individuals provided greater benefit than pure conflict. And scientists have reconciled this with Darwinism - the fittest are those who are able to benefit from reciprocal co-operation. 

In 1980 Robert Axelrod carried out a large-scale experiment with players adopting strategies suggested by fellow academic game-theorists in a 'prisoners' dilemma' situation. The winning strategy was Anatole Rapoport's 'Tit for Tat' This provided a better chance for survival than anything else. The strategy has the following characteristics;
  • Be nice: cooperate, never be the first to defect.
  • Be provocable: return defection for defection, cooperation for cooperation.
  • Don't be envious:: be fair with your partner.
  • Don't be too clever: or, don't try to be tricky.
Users of BitTorrent will recognise the strategy as applied in regular unchoking; selfish participants are punished, reciprocal co-operators are rewarded. But can this be applied to competing nation-states, where conflict may mean war? And how does the EU fit in here?

Well , the EU is an organisation that not only allows but encourages free riders, with no sanctions for nations that cheat or don't play fairly. In evolutionary terms, such a group will not succeed - all members will achieve less than in a group that applies effective sanctions to non-conformers, where defectors are punished by co-operators. The mutual powers that the EU-17 are belatedly seeking, of direct control over national fiscal management, are exactly the powers of sanction that could make the bloc work. The paradox is that each member of the 17 must remain fundamentally in competition with all the others. It's a circle that can't be squared. 

Europe's real future and best chance of survival may actually be as 27 nations whose economies and currencies are competing against eachother, co-operating in conflict.