Sunday, 19 September 2021

The Incredible Bulk

I've taken up exercising again, as it's well over 6 weeks since my brain bleed and I was starting to pile on the pork though an overindulgence of sweeties.

I'm alternating my exercise regime over 3 days - one day of running, one day of upper body exercise and one day of rest.


It's amazing how quickly I've managed to reach almost the same level of energy expenditure as pre-accident. I can already run, non-stop, to the local petrol station (about 0.9 miles, or 1.45 km) and part run, part fast walk the return journey. Being able to run 0.9 miles non-stop is quite a feat for me due to my COPD and, by the time I'm at the far end, my lungs are screaming for oxygen. I am currently back at 50 press-ups, but the 40 x 10kg arm curls (10kg in each hand) are still 5 short of 40.

Now, exercising increases muscle bulk, which in turn increases oxygen demand when those muscles are worked. However, my COPD means my lungs are basically screwed, so their oxygen intake will likely never improve. That presents a problem - how can I exercise without increasing muscle bulk? I suppose the vasculature can improve on getting the most of the limited oxygen available by an increase in efficiency, a bit like the way in which altitude training increases the red blood cell count, but I don't want to end up with an enlarged heart.

Strangely enough, when I go for my COPD lung function tests, my lungs are about 25% greater capacity than average, so I guess they have compensated for the damage within them. However, when it comes to lung function, I have the lungs of someone 10 years older.

I suppose the secret is not overdoing it and the 3 day regime is quite well adapted to that, although my eventual aim is to run to the petrol station and back without stopping at all. I may even extend that by running, non-stop, to the school and back, which is exactly 2 miles. I'd be more than happy with that as a target, as I've never, ever, been a runner and struggle with steep inclines when walking, whereas Hay leaves me huffing and puffing on hilly, coastal paths.

At school I'd get a stitch, also known as Exercise-related Transient Abdominal  Pain, when running and always managed to dive out of the cross country by volunteering for something infinitely boring, but not as painful. In rugby I was handy in the scrum and for short bursts of energy, but chasing a ball up and down the field of play knackered me, which is why I was rarely picked for the Bantams and Colts teams. That wasn't COPD (caused by decades of heavy smoking), but asthma, with which I also suffer.


Saturday, 18 September 2021

Mobile Literacy

I regularly see young women pushing prams while communicating with their friends by social media and this made me wonder whether social media and the availability of mobile phones has done anything positive for literacy, not necessarily in the UK, but more specifically where mobile technology is becoming more prevalent.


All we ever hear about mobile technology is invariably bad, but this is primarily the media promulgating scare stories, which sell more than good news. 

Certainly a lot of people message each other using an argot, but that is just as much a version of literacy as correct spelling and grammar - it's a step in the right direction, providing it's intelligible to the recipient. Much of it is simply a convenient shorthand.

I looked it up and, yes, a UNESCO study has indeed shown that mobile phones are improving literacy in the 3rd World. 


Friday, 17 September 2021

Jimmy Nails

A new cat has entered the neighbourhood and upset Kitty. His name is Jimmy and he's taken to coming into our house, as all the cats in the area are wont to do (Railway, Spooks and Ginge). He belongs to our new neighbours and yet hangs around our house and sneaks in through the open doors. It may be the extensive garden or it may be the lack of screaming kids, but it certainly isn't due to the lack of cats.


Below is Jimmy.


And here is a rather pissed off Kitty.


Jimmy and Kitty are very similar, being back and white and fluffy, but Jimmy has a black face.

Now Jimmy is a bit of a bugger and is frightened of no-one, not even Kitty, who is known as a bit of a bad tempered bruiser who dislikes other cats on her patch and has no truck with them, growling, hissing and spitting at them.


Jimmy doesn't, however, give a damn about Kitty's warning growls. He's hard as nails, which is why Hay called him Jimmy Nails...

 

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Game Over

I know I keep banging on about it but, for many among the public (and inexplicably, given the numerous cockups), the government's response to the Covid numbers is their touchstone. They may catch a glance of the 6 o'clock news, but that's it as far as keeping abreast of the latest developments is concerned. As far as they are concerned, if the government doesn't mandate masks then it's OK not to wear one in enclosed public spaces because it's game over for Covid - they've been lulled into believing there is no danger.


What they forget is that Boris' aim is not to prevent deaths per se, but to ensure the NHS isn't overwhelmed, as keeping the economy going is his first priority. To that purpose he's reported to have said privately that he's willing to accept 50,000 deaths. That's nearly 40% of the number that have already died - and around the number than died between January 1st and the end of August last year. The number of hospitalisations would be far in excess of this.

I don't want to be one of those 50,000 - obviously some don't mind at all, or are simply oblivious to the problem. All it will take is one mutation too many and we'll be back to where we were at the start of 2020.

Travel industry associations and airlines are meanwhile lobbying for all travel restrictions to be lifted. Can't say I blame them - their businesses are at risk and before the pandemic they were more concerned with pumping money into their stock value than putting something away for a rainy day. For this reason they have a vested interest in denying the obvious and deaths are a price they don't have to pay. Thank God corporations don't run the country, as they aren't subject to the ballot box.

At the end of the day it's a balancing act between avoiding deaths and the keeping the economy going - we get that. Both can be satisfied by simple precautions that many (including our government) are incapable of recognising as necessary. It's not as if they're knuckle-draggers either; they just blissfully unaware.


Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Where Are the People?

Job levels are reported to be back to pre-pandemic levels and yet there's a record number of vacancies - over a million, to be precise - so many that they can't be filled. 

So, if you consider the above, the Covid effect has been eliminated from the equation by virtue of the opening statement and the million vacancies can only be due to Brexit and departing EU workers not returning. The catering industry alone is short of 92,000 workers.



The government response is that, rather than recruiting from abroad (which would be an admission that Brexit hasn't panned out as planned - not that there was any plan in the first place), they suggest businesses should be paying higher wages, which will obviously result in higher prices and not the lower prices Brexiteers promised. Fault me on my logic, if you can.

A corollary of paying higher wages while there is a shortage of staff is that those able to afford it will be enticing staff away from those who can't afford it, with a consequent flow of staff away from lower paid establishments. Nothing will be solved and the smaller operators will go to the wall. Pay higher wages and you can't, 5 years down the line, reduce them again - the higher wages will become the new baseline below which you simply cannot go, and thus systemic.

Paying decent wages is not a bad thing in itself, but it must be recognised that the cheaper prices promised by Brexiteers as a result of Brexit was a myth.

Another solution proposed by the government is for employers to invest in training - but where are these people to come from that need to be trained; there simply aren't enough people to fill the available jobs, let alone be trained. Added to the foregoing, training places in those industries most affected, such as catering colleges, are full to capacity.

All the above combined will result in lower tax returns and less government spending. 1m divided by the 32m of the working population means a 3.13% tax drop, on average, with the government having less to spend.

Again, fault the logic.

Now, there is a whole bunch of workers on furlough, who are included in the employed figures, but many will stand no chance of remaining employed when furlough ends. These currently furloughed employees facing redundancy may therefore add to the unemployed, freeing up some of the population for the job vacancies - if qualified. There again, a good proportion of these may have already filled other jobs (facilitating the high employment figures), which was their right under the terms of furlough. Throwing this into the mix complicates the issue, but I can't see it improving it any.


Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Your Parcel is Arriving Today

Have you noticed that parcel deliveries are all over the place at present and that the estimated day of delivery bears no reality to the actual day it's delivered?



I keep getting messages from courier companies telling me that my parcel will be delivered today - but which is it of the 4 parcels that are in bloody transit?

It would help if there was some indication of what the parcel contained or, at the very least, the sending party, which the courier company must know. Your entire day can revolve around knowing what's in the parcel - is it the important one, or the unimportant one?.


Monday, 13 September 2021

Elderly Tennis Bikes

On the bike innertube issue of yesterday's post, I've been advised to go one of two ways; tubeless tyres or double-ended innertubes, which are a single length, plugged at each end and don't require you to remove the wheel. My next problem is innertube and tyre sizes, which are a bit of a mystery to me in respect of imperial and ISO. 

Moving on; so, in the final analysis, the shine is coming off Boris' plan for funding care of the elderly. Can't say I'm surprised; when the Tory Party attempts socialism as the only logical solution to a problem where the free market is incapable of response, you know the wheels are going to some off once people see through the smoke and mirrors and the brunt will fall on the less wealthy to the benefit of the wealthy. It will be a pleasure to watch the Red Wall crumble. 

So, Britain has a new tennis star, which is bound to cause some intellectual inconsistency among the more reactionary wing of the Daily Express readership (which is large). Emma Raducanu has a Romanian father (we don't want those Eastern Europeans coming over here and taking our jobs, or getting benefits - whichever suits the cause of the day), a Chinese mother (the Chinese are our enemies - oh, hang on - we desperately need their trade - panic), was born in Canada (Trudeau is so Woke) and came to the UK aged 2. 


Something has to be grabbed with both hands and lauded in our current, parlous state and so the Express, for whom immigration was 75% of the argument (and the only one to which it could attach some credibility - not of fact, but of xenophobic emotion it stoked up within its readership), has to embrace a multicultural tennis star who doesn't have a drop of British blood in her, or merely revert to type and tell her to go back where she came from, like it does on the other 364 days of the year.

This does, however, raise some important questions about nationality when it comes to participation in sport. Sportspeople can represent a variety of countries, depending on heritage - if your grandmother was Irish, for example, you can play football or rugby player for Ireland. Surely it should be based on your passport and, in the case of dual nationals, where you mostly live?


Sunday, 12 September 2021

E-Bike Drawbacks

 Had my first drawback with the e-bike - a puncture in the rear hub wheel.


Because of the back brake, the derailleur and the power lead from the motor hub, it's rather a task to remove the back wheel. I couldn't accomplish it in the normal manner of putting the bike upside down due to the display poking over the top of the handlebars, so I chose to put it in the stand.

The battery had to be disconnected and the controller had to be unhooked from the motor - two connections at the controller - and all the zip ties had to be removed. The brake wasn't a problem and the derailleur was on the other side. However, the hub, being very heavy, caused some consternation when it dropped, tipping the bike forwards on the stand.

I managed to get it off, remove the innertube, fix the hole and reinsert the tube. Reassembling the rear wheel in the correct position, however, required an additional pair of hands due to the bike being the right way up, but on a stand and the hub being so heavy. No.1 Son duly helped with the reassembly. 

The problem compounded itself when we'd reassembled everything without first pumping the tyre up - it blew spectacularly. Had to disassemble the whole caboodle again, replace the innertube with another and then reassemble once more.

Next time I'll leave the bike upright - not on a stand. What would help would be a connector on the hub lead near to the hub itself, rather than the connector being at the controller end of the circuit. Repairing a blowout on the road requires quite a bit of kit - adjustable spanner, Allen key for removing the disk brake, wire snips for the zip ties, new zip ties, crosshead screwdriver, pincer nosed pliers and, of course, the innertube. A hub-end connector would eliminate more than half of such a toolkit.


Saturday, 11 September 2021

Take Back Control

I don't know about you, but I'm struggling to determine what, exactly, Britain has managed to 'take back control' of.


It's certainly not illegal immigration, which was the primary argument in support of Brexit and the entire thrust of one Nigel Farage.

I believe people are realising that the rousing and simplistic solutions offered up by populist demagogues cover up very complex situations that are filled with nuance. Such nuance is entirely lost in the fervent calls to faux patriotism. Populists are experts at selling a vision of heady triumphalism that has little basis in reality and even the basics are now falling apart because of EU workers returning to their countries of origin.

Any volunteers with suggestions as to what we're now in control of in a positive way?


Friday, 10 September 2021

I Know My Place

KPMG wants to take more people from the working class to better reflect the UK's diversity. That, however, calls into question the construct of class - what is it?

There was a time when there were only 2 classes; the aristocracy (albeit having its own ranking system within it), and the rest. The aristocracy owned the source of wealth - the land - and had no need to work. They settled for martial pursuits and jostling for position close to the reigning monarch or, occasionally, supplanting him or her, if not to their liking.


Then there arose a bourgeiosie - a class that created wealth through inventions or new processes. The aristocracy always hated 'trade' as these entrepreneurs were termed, precisely because they demolished the aristocracy's monopoly on wealth, which was based on land ownership.

So, you have the aristocracy, who have no need to work, those who rose to become the middle class (i.e. the ones who used their own skills and the skills of others to create wealth) and those who merely laboured for others.

There's a slight conflict here with another form of class distinction. The first becomes upper; the middle stays the same, but the working class is now transformed into the lower class, but they are two entirely separate things. Working class people can and do frown upon lower class people and no one wants to believe they're lower class. 

Then there are the younger scions of the aristocracy who have to enter 'trade' so as to provide a living for themselves. They go into merchant banking marketing and high-end drug dealing. By any strict, mercantile definition, they're middle class, but they don't consider themselves as such and form cliques on the coat tails of the aristos. The Tory Party loves them and some even entered into the ranks of Labour Party. 

Class is a spectrum and there's no clearly defined cut-off between one class and another. There are even strata within this spectrum whereby one can be middle class according to one stratum (say education), but lower class in another (say taste or appreciation of art). 

Think of the barrow boys of the financial boom of the 80s and 90s. Many of them ended up with fortunes that meant they never had to work again. That puts them in the upper class bracket, but they're not accepted as such because their fortunes were derived from trade and are seen by the upper class as lower class made good, or middle class if they're lucky.

The problem is that, while there are some people who are vociferously and proudly working class and refuse to acknowledge their transition to a higher class through education, the vast majority of the hoi polloi want to be thought of as middle class. Essentially it's a form of insecurity and engenders Britain's preoccupation with the class system.

Could it all boil down to the manner in which one pronounces the word class?


Thursday, 9 September 2021

Consequences

QAnon conspiracy theorists in the USA are demanding that they are treated for Covid with Ivermectin, a horse dewormer.


Meanwhile, a study has shown that Ivermectin use in humans results in sperm dysfunction in 85% of men who use it, making them infertile.

Let the conspiracy theorists do their research and use it to treat Covid, I say.


Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Dunning-Kruger Driving

The Dunning-Kruger effect is 'a cognitive bias whereby people with limited knowledge or competence in a given intellectual or social domain greatly overestimate their own knowledge or competence in that domain relative to objective criteria or to the performance of their peers or of people in general', and it affects a lot of us in one or other area of our lives.


Take the following example: say it becomes scientifically proven that autonomous vehicles are safer than cars driven by people. Which would you prefer - to drive yourself or be driven in an autonomous vehicle controlled by AI?

According to polls, the vast majority would would choose to drive themselves, precisely because they overestimate their ability to drive. If an autonomous vehicle has an accident, it's something out of your control, whereas when you're driving you feel more in control, but you're more at risk of an accident. Many people don't make a logical assessment of the risk, but go on gut feel and the belief they're brilliant drivers. Strangely enough, they'd even feel safer being driven by someone they don't even know.

It's probably an explanation as to why many people believe WTO is the preferred Brexit option - in fact it's the reason for any form of Brexit. Also why some believe their own Facebook research trounces science in respect of masks and vaccines.


Tuesday, 7 September 2021

State Protected Brexit Inheritance

While I feel I have earned the right not to pay National Insurance, it is rather iniquitous that I should be exempt from a rise which would go to fund my old-age care, should I need it. A general tax should be levied, but not to fund the social care of those who can afford to pay it from assets.

I do have a problem with the people I hear saying the state needs to pay to prevent their parents' house being sold to pay for care. What they are asking for is the tax payer to fund their inheritance. 

If your elderly parent requires care and has a valuable house then, under the current system, it's not only right, but just that the fees are paid from what would be your inheritance. I don't have a problem with that. I also don't agree with shuffling the house into the children's names such that it appears the parent has assets below the threshold for the state to step in - it's legal, but immoral and therefore unjust.


On the other hand, dementia is just as much a disease as any other long term, chronic illness and should therefore come under the NHS. It's not as if everyone will get it - the total population prevalence of dementia among over 65s is 7.1%. This equals one in every 79 (1.3%) of the entire UK population, and 1 in every 14 of the population aged 65 years and over. What is perhaps a scandal is the cost of care home fees, which can produce a 35-40% profit.

The NHS does actually fund some long term care, depending on the nature of that care, but the rules are complex and mind-bendingly difficult to negotiate..

Here's a suggestion; the state pays for your care in case of dementia, but it gets your house until you die and rents it out to help defray the cost of care. Once you die, the house is returned to your family within 6 months.

Moving on:

"The HGV driver shortage is due to Brexit."

"No it's not, it's due to Covid."

"No it's not, it's Brexit."

"Liar, it's due to Covid."

Who presided over both Brexit and the government's lax and tardy response to Covid? Let me guess...

The truth is that the driver shortage developed well before Covid appeared on the scene. It has been years in the making. An aged workforce, IR35 and low pay all (the average starting salary is £21,300 and top salaries £60k, with an average of £32,100) contributed. Brexit undoubtedly had an effect as Europeans were a high proportion of the driving workforce in the UK and many have left. Covid also had an effect, but the Pingdemic is past us and yet the shortage still persists due to the lack of new blood, retirements and European drivers not wanting to stay, quite understandably, in a hostile country.


Monday, 6 September 2021

Unusual

I've started to think that you know you're getting old when the BBC's headline story is the death, at 39, of someone you've never heard of.

Talking of things I've never heard of before, I can't say I've ever seen this before:


A car with a 240 volt, 3 pin socket in the back.

Talking of the unusual, I've had an idea about some foliage for the house. I'm currently arranging the planting of a climbing rose and a wisteria against the house on our front patio - one either side of our French doors. 


It's rather a pain, as I had to grind some existing patio slabs and get down under the cement, membrane, rubble and hardcore that forms the bed for our patio. I still have compost to source and have simply placed the pots in the holes for now.

The idea I came up with is to grow runner beans on a trellis against the house on the other patio. It would be an annual crop, would provide some leafy adornment and provide food within easy reach.

The mobile patio heater is now fully operational.


While I was at it, I welded some areas of attention on Trigger's Ride-on-Mower. Hay has urged me not to de-rust and paint it, as she likes the rustic and utilitarian patina. The oil, inside and outside, burned off during the test firing. The draw on it is good and it doesn't require holes in the bottom, but I am going to put some in anyway as a rain drain.


Sunday, 5 September 2021

Complete and Not So Complete

Both e-bikes are now complete. 


As you can see, the wiring on the 2nd one (on the right) posed some particular problems, mainly from the fact I couldn't find a suitable pannier to go over the rear wheel, which meant positioning the controller in the centre, resulting in wires being either too long or too short, depending on the function.


The box I ordered for the controller, being strapped to the battery with Velcro, is a fudge at best, but it offers protection and looks fit for purpose. I may even get one for the first bike, as it looks better than a black canvass bad. I may just finish it off with some silicone sealant where the wired enter, so as to prevent water ingress.

It would be nice to affix it to the underside of the 45 degree strut, but the length of the wires currently precludes this; however, I may adapt it in this manner at a later stage. Suffice it to say it works and is doesn't look too bad.

Made a start on the mobile patio heater I wanted to upcycle from an old, garage oil sump I rescued from a local garage. I thought I'd drained all the oil out of it, but it just kept pouring out the further I cut into the base of the aperture I was making with a grinder.






The problem was that the pipe poking out from the top of the unit went from the top down to a few inches short of the bottom of the barrel, resulting in an airlock that was trapping a couple of litres or more of thick, black oil. Some washing powder and plenty of water on the stones will clear that though.

I'll probably arch the top of the aperture. I removed the pipe sticking up from the device, widened the hole and replaced it with a spare, wood-burning stove chimney that I' hammered down to a small, circular protrusion a couple of centimetres from the bottom of the chimney for a snug fit and then welded it into place. A bit difficult with the chimney being cast iron, but I managed it. Any tiny holes remaining will be covered with a layer of fire cement.

A grate for the bottom needs sourcing and that may prove problematic in terms of size and I may have to weld something myself from scrap iron. Hay quite likes the rusty patina so I'll leave it like that, rather that de-rusting it and painting it with heat resistant paint.


Saturday, 4 September 2021

Supermarket Sweep

 I've done a rough survey of supermarkets over the last week:


  • Waitrose - virtually everyone is wearing masks.
  • Tesco - about 30% not wearing masks.
  • Lidl - 50% not wearing masks.
  • Aldi - very few not wearing masks - less than 10%.
Now I don't attribute all these results to socio-economic group, but it does seem that supermarket prices drive the mask wearing and the more wealthy (and therefore middle class and educated) the clientele is, the more they will wear masks, No-one can demy that Waitrose, being hideously expensive, is frequented by those more receptive to sensible advice.

The outlier in this survey is Aldi, which is an alternative to Lidl, but we don't have one in Yate. The one I visited was in Thornbury, which is predominantly and staunchly middle class and will skew the results. which could be the reason for the high levels of mask wearing I saw there.


Friday, 3 September 2021

Pass the Remote

Saw this the other day.


A remote controlled rids-on mower, you don't ride on. Want one!

I wondered what was going on, as the mower was moving and the bloke was walking alongside it. 

However, it it actually worth using a remote control on large areas such as the one he's mowing? I can see it possibly being useful in confined spaces, but not wide open fields of grass, unless you're sat to one side on a hilltop, relaxing while having a mug of champagne and a caviar butty.


Thursday, 2 September 2021

Labour Shortage

We voted, by a narrow margin, to end Free Movement and, as a result, many Europeans left The UK. Now we have a shortage of people across the board, to our economic disadvantage. How do we solve that? 


If I were a European HGV driver and was offered a temporary visa (I reiterate the word temporary, meaning with fewer rights and protections than an unemployed British person - and liable to withdrawal at the whim of a government that has a habit of breaking promises), I wouldn't see that as a viable offer I'd be willing to accept. It's moot anyway, as the government has decided not to follow this route. That said, what our government says on a Monday morning can change to the complete opposite by Monday evening, as we have learned.

What about training our own? How, when it seems none of our own want to do the jobs and we're short of people across all segments? 

We had a system that worked, but we broke it because these workers weren't British. Their descendants would be British, however, within one generation, as I am. I'm indistinguishable from someone born here - except for Brexiteers of course, as I have the ability to join factual dots and reach inescapable conclusions, a trait which they singularly lack.

Joining dots seems to be a waning trait today and has poisoned the national bloodstream - like the bus driver on a radio phone-in show who suggested the lack of HGV drivers could be solved by allowing bus drivers to quickly pass HGV tests, without any consideration for the fact we'd then be left with a scarcity of bus drivers.

Like the Wetherspoons spokesperson who said its beer delivery problems had been caused by industrial action by Heineken drivers working for GXO Logistics, when the Unite union said this was not possible as no industrial action had taken place.

Like the Express readers who crow about the British economy having the fastest growth in the G7, according to the IMF, while simultaneously ignoring that you're bound to have very fast growth when you've taken the largest hit in the G7, and that we're still predicted - by the very same IMF - to be 4% less well off than had we remained in the EU. Then there's government debt having reached 98.8% of GDP in July, the most on record, which has to be paid back - by tax payers. That's going to work wonders on growth, especially when furlough ceases at the end of September.

Like the people who extol the many and magnificent trade deals we're signing (so magnificent that the much vaunted Australia deal would bring a paltry 0.02% to the economy over 15 years), totally unaware that it would take several hundred such miniscule deals to make up for the lost trade with the EU.

Like those who believe doing a trade deal with a trade bloc on the opposite side of the planet would replace the trade we did with our nextdoor neighbours, who don't have huge transportation costs. 

Like those who believe our universities indoctrinate students in liberal thinking, when it has been proven, in study after study, no matter the country, that it's education itself that makes people more receptive to liberal and progressive ideas.

Like those who believe documenting the factual history of National Trust properties is rewriting history.

Like those who believed the stories that, after Brexit, our food would be 20% cheaper (for which you can thank one Jacob Rees-Mogg, for whom food could quadruple in price and it not make a jot of difference). Supermarket bosses are already warning of huge price hikes, especially when HGV drivers are being offered 40% wage increases.

Like those who told you, in a fervour of nationalistic patriotism, that there would be no border in the Irish Sea.

Unquestioning belief makes fertile ground for charlatans purveying lies and misinformation by those in jobs not requiring an iota of expertise or qualification to perform their duties. Britain had spent the last six years destroying its relationship with Europe and has treated some of its closest allies like a foreign enemy. It placed itself in a self-imposed continental exile in which animosity, not cooperation, is the order of the day. 

There are three factors dogging the UK; the first is that the special relationship with the US is clearly a fiction; the second is that Brexit had burned bridges with the other Western powers to whom Britain might naturally turn; the third is that the Government is utterly incapable of demonstrating the level of competence any situation demands of them. 

Our politicians have been directed not by what was expedient for the state, but by reckless adventurism and personal ambition on the part of our leaders, which was ultimately destructive to the state.


Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Countries

So Boris is recognising the military junta in Myanmar as the de facto government by sending an envoy. I know he's desperate for trade deals, but surely this is going a bit far? 

What is a legitimate government? In the West we maintain it's a democratically elected government, but that's antithetical to many regimes around the world. A whole bunch are absolute monarchies, such as Saudi and numerous Emirates (to whom we sell weapons, so they can't be that bad). Others are theocracies, such as Iran and Afghanistan (within a few days). A small number are dictatorships of the left or the right. I suppose it depends on pragmatism and international recognition as to whether we consider them legitimate - and whether they are willing to buy our weapons and technology.


To bring things to the present, it strikes me that Afghanistan isn't even a country by most definitions. The vast majority of countries have evolved through, and are defined by, a common language and set of customs, but there are some 14 ethnic groups in Afghanistan, of which the Pashtun are the majority (40%~50%), but they're not evenly distributed. It's a hotch-potch mosaic - no wonder there's strife. The Afghans may be easy to conquer, but impossible to rule.

Countries which are constructs, such as those with a myriad different ethnic areas amalgamated by arbitrary borders, seem to be the ones that are most unstable. The breakup of empires, especially those that forced different ethnic groups to mix, seems to lay the groundwork for future conflict - arbitrary demarcation lines bring problems. 

We like to deride Afghanistan as a tribal society but, when you think of it, the UK is also a tribal society - and a construct. The Welsh hill tribes do not identify as much other than Welsh, the Scottish Nationalist Party is making great gains in Scotland (the Tories and Labour have only 7 seats between them)  and the Tory Taliban is most concerned with consolidating its hold on England, but wants the other tribal areas to remain under its control. Northern Ireland is a special case. 

While we're as much of a construct as Afghanistan, we do have democracy and most of our tribal fighting was done centuries ago when the English managed to impose their dominance, although the fault lines appear to be opening once more.

Is democracy all it's cracked up to be? It's a balancing act between the poor and the rich, with the middling sort casting the die. There are undoubtedly more poor than rich and therefore there is a danger of a tyranny of the poor. The ancient Greeks overcame this by giving the poor a vote, but limiting their access to power by providing a selection of candidates for power from within their class alone. Only in the most extraordinary circumstances were those from the lower ranks of society provided with a platform for candidacy.

Major political parties today have the same strategy, although the left now has its own candidates, thus breaking the stranglehold of the rich on power. Yet the wealthy are gradually infiltrating the corridors of leftist power.

I sometimes wonder whether the franchise should be restricted to those who have earned the right to vote by giving something of themselves to the state. Say a minimum 1 or 2 year period of Public Service on leaving school, which I would interpret as any position that is paid for from the public purse - any government service at all, whether that be in the military, the NHS, local government, national politics or sweeping the streets, etc. 

Those who merely wish to take from the state would have no say in how the state was run. Harsh? I don't think so - everyone would have the chance to do this stint of Public Service and give something of themselves back to the community after their state education - even the wealthy and self-entitled, who probably need it most and for whom it would open eyes. Of course there would be exceptions that need to be teased out, such as the mentally incompetent - which would rule out those currently in government having any vote whatsoever.


Tuesday, 31 August 2021

E-Bike Mounting

Despite No.2 e-bike not being 100% complete, yet fully functional (waiting for a black box for the controller and the wiring requires rerouting), I thought I'd try mounting them on the motorhome bike carrier. Not an arduous task, I hear you say, but they're very heavy and unwieldy.

I'd bought a hand-held weight gauge for weighing the refillable LPG cylinder, so I know how much LPG is left in the bottle (15kg is full and 10kg is empty). Seeing as it goes up to 50kg, I thought it ideal. The bike rack carrying capacity is 60kg max. My first e-bike with the 29 inch wheels weighed in at a whopping 29.5kg and the 2nd one was slightly less at 26.5 - just within the capacity.

Next I had to contend with the extremely wide handlebars of the 1st e-bike. along with the 29 inch wheels, but overcame the problem by putting the smaller bike on the inside and the large chappie with the humungous handlebars on the outside. You can see the size difference by the positioning of the wheels.


So the handlebars wouldn't foul each other, I placed one bike facing the offside and one facing the nearside. A couple of straps for added security finished the job. I reckon that should do the job without too much trouble, but it's a 2 person task because of the weight of the bikes.

I think I'll remove the batteries for actual transport, as it will reduce the weight by at least 15kg, as well as preventing people nicking them. A nice, protective rain cover wouldn't go amiss either.


Monday, 30 August 2021

Lawn Clearance

Work progressed yesterday on clearing the unmown areas of the lawn - I bloody hate them, despite them being a haven for wildlife (although not much chance of that with 5 cats in the neighbourhood) and wildflower seeds.


Piles of mown grass all over the place and the patches where they came from are now brown stubble. The long stuff first needs attacking with a brush cutter, as the ride-on mower just runs it down without cutting it. The cut grass is then left for a few days to dry out and for the wildflower seeds to spill out on the ground before being raked up and the entire lawn mown.

Trigger's Ride-On Mower struck again yesterday when the clutch no longer worked. The problem was traced to the bolt holding the clutch and main driveshaft in place having loosened, resulting in the entire clutch assembly becoming disengaged. Turned the mower on its side, forgetting to switch off the fuel, resulting in the engine becoming flooded, which pissed out when put back upright. I thought I'd damaged something in the fuel line at first.

At least the lawn can now recover and be back to my preferred, verdant nature. I always mow the lawn with the grass box off, as it returns organic material to the soil. Hay hates it when I do this as, if the wind is in the wrong direction, the cut grass blows into her pond/lake. Yesterday, however, necessitated the grass box being mounted and me dumping piles of it all over the show for manual removal by Hay and her sister (I have to give them something to do in return for allowing the unmown areas).

I can't believe how the plants and trees have burgeoned this year - it must be the CO2...


Sunday, 29 August 2021

The Patio Heater

I managed to rescue some ironmongery from a car dealership in Chipping Sodbury, which shows some potential for upcycling.


It's one of those old containers for draining an engine sump into while the car is on a ramp. I thought I would cut a large dog kennel access shaped hole a few inches from the bottom, as a door, hack out the pipe on the top, widen the hole and weld a length of wood-burning stove chimney into it, which I just happen to have spare. A circular grate on the bottom would hold logs and insulate the bottom somewhat and a few holes in the bottom, perhaps with a circular damper, would facilitate a nice airflow.

To finish it off I'd burnish it with a drill-mounted wire brush and paint it with heat resistant engine paint. The fact it's on wheels makes is mobile and ideally suited for wheeling around the patio.


Saturday, 28 August 2021

Dream Slips

I woke from a very short sleep the other day with an involuntary start. My brain translated this as me slipping on ice in a dream, yet the dream I was having didn't involve me walking on ice - the slip suddenly materialised in my head. 


Was it the start that caused the image in my mind, or was I indeed dreaming of walking on ice and slipped, causing the start - chicken or egg?

According to sleep experts, it's called a hypnic jerk and occurs as you're falling asleep and means absolutely bugger all, despite the army of dream cranks interpreting it in a myriad different ways.

One scientific hypothesis posits that the hypnic jerk is a form of reflex initiated in response to normal bodily events during the lead-up to the first stages of sleep, including a decrease in blood pressure and the relaxation of muscle tissue. Another theory postulates that the body mistakes the sense of relaxation that is felt when falling asleep as a sign that the body is falling. As a consequence, it causes a jerk to wake the sleeper up so they can catch themselves.

My opinion, and it's merely an opinion, is that my body jerked and my brain filled in the gap, conjuring up an image of me slipping so as to rationalise the jerk. The brain is very good at filling gaps and colouring in what's not actually there.


Friday, 27 August 2021

HGV Conundrum

So there's a shortage of HGV drivers, caused mainly by EU drivers not returning to the UK, for one reason or another. Pundits are calling for the training of UK candidates, but with driverless trucks due to be on the road by 2030, who in their right mind would spend money on training to become redundant within 9 years?


The push toward autonomous trucks would mean fewer trucks, as there's no human at the wheel, who is limited by the number of hours he or she can drive without sleeping. The cost savings to operators would be enormous, so you can bet your bottom dollar that research into this technology will be massive, driven primarily by large supermarkets.

Social media commentators have suggested paying truck drivers a decent wage, but they can earn from £32k up to £47k, which isn't exactly chicken feed. Even then, paying a driver more might attract larger numbers to the industry, but it is only a long term solution - paying a driver more won't get him driving two trucks.

The only short term solution is to encourage EU drivers to return to the UK, but why would they when the government has spent the last 6 years making them feel unwelcome and their prospects will be shortened by a drive to recruit British drivers to replace them?

 

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Justice and the Law

 Been reading an interesting book on the rise of democracy in ancient Greece, or Athens, to be precise.


The Athenians had a special regard for justice, which they believed every person was able to discern, regardless of their biases. If they did wrong, they might try to justify it using all manner of tricks but, in their heart of hearts, they knew they'd done wrong.

A respect for justice must not be confused with respect for the law, as many bad laws are made and, as we all know from history, many laws were made by the one section of society or another to protect their position, wealth or influence. Laws are revised all the time because of this. Laws are merely an attempt to codify, however imperfectly, natural justice, free from bias.

Below is an excerpt from the Funeral Oration of Pericles, the foremost statesman of his age who, despite a law stating politicians should serve only one term, was elected time after time, due to his successes and acknowledged incorruptibility: 

"Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. Our government does not copy our neighbours', but is an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while there exists equal justice to all and alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit. Neither is poverty an obstacle, but a man may benefit his country whatever the obscurity of his condition. There is no exclusiveness in our public life, and in our private business we are not suspicious of one another, nor angry with our neighbour if he does what he likes; we do not put on sour looks at him which, though harmless, are not pleasant. While we are thus unconstrained in our private business, a spirit of reverence pervades our public acts; we are prevented from doing wrong by respect for the authorities and for the laws, having a particular regard to those which are ordained for the protection of the injured as well as those unwritten laws which bring upon the transgressor of them the reprobation of the general sentiment."


Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Exponential Bias

I'm sick and tired of hearing people say masks are only 10% effective at preventing the spread of Covid and it's therefore not worth wearing one.

For a start, there's a German study (beware of isolated studies) which showed they were around 40% effective and a more recent systematic review and meta-analysis concluded they are effective but, due to it not being possible to conduct randomised trials to exclude other factors, like social distancing, the exact percentage is unavailable.

Regardless of that, let's model a 10% effectiveness on a pandemic in which cases are doubling at each time period, be that a day, a week or a month - it's easy enough to do in Excel. A doubling of cases results in over 2m cases on the 22nd time period - the result of exponential increase. Applying a 10% effectiveness is itself compounded at each iteration. 

I produced the above chart, which shows the effect of a 10% reduction in spread on an exponential rise. As you can see, it's far out of proportion to the small initial effect, precisely because it's compounded and amplified. There are only some 230k cases - a tenth of the original, forecast number.


This 2nd chart shows the result for an empirical 40% effectiveness derived from the single German study. Over the same time period, wearing a mask results in only 46 cases, as opposed to over 2m cases when not wearing one.

Many people simply don't understand that a small change can produce such a huge difference when you're in the realm of exponentiality, which is whenever the R number is above 1. They're wont to apply a linear effect, when it's actually exponential, in line with the infection increase.

Even a 5% effectiveness would result in a 66% reduction in cases. The important caveat, however, is that everyone must wear a mask for these figures to be even remotely relevant, and wearing a mask is the easiest thing in the world to do..


Tuesday, 24 August 2021

2nd E-Bike

At long last the 2nd e-bike (the one designated for Hay) is back from the bike emporium with the motor wheel and Pedal Assist Sensor fitted - and I have learned a lot.

  1. Don't use an aluminium framed bike, unless you're certain that the gap between the rear forks matches the required gap for the setup you're contemplating, as you can't bend aluminium like you can steel - it will fracture.
  2. Don't go above 7 gears on the freewheel or cassette - it complicates matters enormously and you probably won't be able to use the extra gears above 7 anyway.
My setup was 9 gears, which is rare, which required the addition of a 9 gear freewheel and the emporium had to lock out the top gear anyway so as to avoid the chain snagging bolts on the motor hub.


You can see the size of the motor on the rear wheel, and it's really heavy. The bike actually rides quite nicely though; however, uphill would be tough without the Pedal Assist.

I added the display and wing mirrors yesterday, but siting the battery and controller is fraught with issues; the perfect position for the battery means the wires come out of the front of the bike (they need to come out at the back) and the pannier that carries the controller doesn't fit the bike. I could re-site the controller somewhere nearer the front, but it would look jury rigged.





Mudguards and a decent set of lights need to be added too.

Once complete, the next headache will be ensuring the 2 e-bikes don't exceed the motorhome's bike carrier weight limit. Removing the batteries will probably be necessary for transporting them, but they should be easy to remove fairly quickly.


Monday, 23 August 2021

Metal Umlaut for the £1 Bus Ticket

When we were in the Peak District for the weekend, Hay and I took a hike into Buxton and then caught a bus into Bakewell. I paid for the return ticket by contactless payment, receiving in return two tickets marked as £6.40 each, a total of £12.80.

On returning home yesterday I checked my accounts and was astonished to discover I'd only been charged £1, despite the face value of the tickets being many multiples of this. Inexplicable, unless the Buxton £ is of higher value than the Old Sodbury £.

Just a quick financial tip, if you're a NatWest customer. Get a NatWest Rewards credit card and make all your purchases on that, paying off the balance immediately after your purchase. You get 1% back. NatWest has given me several hundred quid back since I got the card. It costs £2 per month for the card, but you get that back for merely logging into your NatWest App a couple of times per month. I recently used the card to pay a £5,000 deposit and am eagerly waiting to find if I get £50 back. I'm sure other banks have similar promotions, but they're certainly worth it to save a bit of money.

While wandering around Buxton I spotted this gentlemen's shampoo bar - something we used to call a bar of soap in the old days. It's manufactured by a company called grüum


Now despite the umlaut in the name, the product is actually made in Manchester, so the Metal Umlaut, made famous by bands such as Blue Öyster Cult, Motörhead, Mötley Crüe and the parody band Spın̈al Tap, seems to have made the cross-over into men's toiletries.




Sunday, 22 August 2021

Bottle Brilliance

Hay bought a couple of bottles of wine the other day in bottles I've never seen before, but are perfect for a number of reasons.


The bottles are plastic, but flattened.

  1. They are a more efficient shape for stacking in a box or the fridge.
  2. They won't roll away when laid flat.
  3. Of great use in our motorhome.
  4. With deep enough pockets, you can use them as large hipflasks.
All bottles should be this shape, but preferably in glass, rather than plastic, which is better for CO2 than plastic.


Saturday, 21 August 2021

Taking Offence

There's a bit of a furore going down in Stroud. A local clock, which is surmounted with an image of a tethered black boy, is the subject of both offence and the insensitive vocalisations of a local Tory MP who has gone to the Dark Side of the War on Woke, which has just about overplayed its hand and is becoming a joke in its attempts to egregiously cause offence in the cause of nazionalism.


Who is best qualified to determine if a tethered black boy clock in Stroud, incidentally dating from the height of the slave trade and colonialism, is offensive to black people? A white, Tory politician with a penchant for the new wave, pantomime fascism of the anti-woke brigade, or a black descendant of the Windrush Generation? 

A stab in the dark here, but I'd hazard a guess at the latter, as the former doesn't have a clue how the latter feels. Offence is in the eyes of the one voicing offence, not the apologist for the offence.

Only a year ago the anti-woke warriors were saying that the policy should be 'retain and explain', meaning the addition of explanatory plaques. This entirely sensible policy, however, is now referred to as 'rewriting history', which is as illogical as you can get.


Friday, 20 August 2021

Chairman's Kitchen Tip

Overheard in Lidl at the checkout:

Chairman: "I think you've made a mistake. These walnuts are on special (Chairman shows checkout lady the Lidl weekly specials list)."

Checkout Lady: "I think you'll find that's only a weekend offer."

Chairman, after checking magazine: "You're right."

Checkout Lady: "I'm always right."

Chairman: "But you're not my wife."

Checkout lady smiles.

A quick, time-saving tip for all you ladies out there who dote on my blog and know everything. It's something I dreamed up myself a couple of months ago.


Those wet but clean tea towels? Don't throw them in the wash; simply bung them in the microwave for 3 minutes, giving them a shake half way through. The heat kills any bugs that might feasibly be on them and they dry within a few minutes.


Thursday, 19 August 2021

Evolution

We were having lunch at our favourite cafe in the picture-postcard village of Sherston the other day. Hay had ordered pancakes with syrup, which attracted a couple of wasps.

Wasps have a smooth sting which can be used as a defence mechanism many times over with no ill effect. The bee, on the other hand, has a barbed sting which, when used, sticks in the skin of its victim, resulting in the bee disembowelling itself as it attempts to flee.


It's a strange to be possessed of a defence mechanism that, when used, kills the one who wields it. How did evolution work that logical inconsistency out?

There again, it might be down to the bee being prepared to lay down its life to protect the hive, which may be in danger. The good of the many outweighs the individual's needs. Strange, however, that the wasp didn't evolve to be as altruistic. There again, of the 7,000 species of wasps in the UK, only 9 build communal nests (and they last only a matter of months) and therefore there's nothing to protect. It's still a strange defence mechanism.


Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Afghanistan

Why were we and the Americans in Afghanistan in the first place? Revenge for 9/11 and to get Bin Laden! Not always the best reason to go to war. Afghanistan has bugger all of use to us. Yes, it's a breeding ground of anti-Western fundamentalism, but precisely because we marched in there in the first place and decided to stay there.



Perhaps we should have learned a lesson from Edward I and his wars with the Welsh hill tribes - build a network of huge castles and hand them over to Normal overlords (the Normans were rather fierce and loved nothing better than a bit of butchery). The only problem there is that the castles were located on the coast for ease of supply by sea - and Afghanistan is landlocked.

What was the objective after punishment of the Taliban? If it was to instil the country with democratic values, then the prerequisite for that is eliminating corruption. Even Russia hasn't managed to do that, and we're falling back into it big time. You can't instantly democratise a corrupt population - any attempt to do so will result in a corrupt dictatorship.

The only manner in which Afghanistan could be democratised is to remain there in perpetuity. Is it worth it in terms of lives lost and financial cost, when we get very little in return?

I think the West is best out of the place. It's a local problem that requires a local solution - but the countries surrounding Afghanistan are just as corrupt and so can't solve it either.

Yes, human rights will be violated and generations of women will not get an education, but the cost of doing something about this is huge and requires a completely novel approach that doesn't risk lives. What that solution is, I have no idea. Until we have that solution, then we should stay out.

Someone on social media asked whether the Afghan refugees we're taking into the UK will be Covid tested. Afghanistan has a total of 372 cases, and declining. We have 28,000 and increasing. They're in more danger from us than we are from them. That, however, depends on the accuracy of their Covid stats. 


Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Sartorial Elegance al la Chairman

Hay seems to think my sense of colour coordination and sartorial style has gone a bit adrift since my head injury.


I can't, for the life of me, think what's making her think this. She said I had to change my clothes before we went out else people will think she's either in charge of a head injury patient or that I'm a Timmy Mallett stunt double on children's TV.

The fact the zip-on legs for my shorts are a different colour to the shorts has an entirely logical cause - the beige legs were wrecked and thrown away ages ago and the only legs available were the ones belonging to my blue walking shorts. Entirely pragmatic, if you ask me.

Bright orange hoodie? Well, I am Dutch by birth.

Sandals? Convenient when constantly going outdoors and then indoors - saves time.

Sky blue T shirt? Camouflage against the sky.

See - I told you there was a reason.

"Grey socks with sandals?" I hear you ask. OK, I'll give you that one.