Saturday, 21 October 2017

Blowing In The Wind

At least the air is fresher. But we are hardly into autumn yet given the way that the weather has been so the storms are a reminder of what can happen. Avoiding speculation about climate etc. it allows to think what this winter might be like around the Atlantic Isles.

With so much information out there on the net and so many more scientists etc. making inputs and people reading and guessing what might happen it means that rather than knowing we could be more confused than ever in the past.

Is it now the rule that if the winter is "good" that is not much disruption or problems then people take it for granted. But when the weather turns bad or nasty then a blame game starts. We have become much more impatient of the slings and arrows of misfortune when we cannot just travel when and where we want and the heating bills go into four figures.

"It's the govenmunt!" could be the reaction. In the late 1940's the Attlee government elected with a huge majority hit the buffers in more ways than one with a crucial railway system nationalised at the same time as it was paralysed by dreadful weather.

I was happy making snowmen and throwing iceballs at the teachers and creating slides on the pavement for all to fall, but for ordinary people who already had had enough of the shortages etc. since 1939 it was a winter of sacrifice too far.

In the years since bad winters have usually caught us well short of being either prepared or tolerant of the consequences, some predictable, some not. What could a long nasty spell of rough or bitter or both conditions do to our modern economy, especially if the net goes down for any length of time?

Think, ten to twenty days with few or no flights in and out? Think, the motorways blocked with hundreds of trucks stuck or smashed. Cars going nowhere, heating systems out, electricity gone, just in time supermarkets out of time, traders marking up by the day.

Then Mrs. May telling us it will all turn out for the best while Mr. Corbyn promises to nationalise and ration snow production.

Now where did I put those packs of tinned meat I bought after 9/11?

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Fancy A Bit Of Health?

The voice was stern, the thought was oops what I have said, done, or forgotten now. Although early in the morning there was still a rich choice of errors of judgement.

But no abject confession was needed. It wasn't me it was the Prince of Wales what done it according to the bit on the label saying "Supporting The Prince's Charities".

The pack was a Waitrose Duchy Organic Orange Juice; well not quite juice a concentrate. Other words told me that it was made from oranges grown without reliance on artificial chemicals or fertilisers.

This could mean camel dung, but let us not quibble about sourcing these substances. Turning over the box gave the ingredients, the usual stuff with a good whack of Vitamin C, just to keep us happy. Also a enough of sugars to satisfy those who like it sweet and strong.

But wait! Another thing, in rather fainter type "Orange Juice From Concentrate With Added Non-Organic Aromas". So it is organic but if you smell it or smell the smell it is not organic. So what has the nose done wrong then?

It seems that all that concentrating, distilling and organic peasants treading the oranges leave it with a smell which is not nice. And we humans are fussy about smells. Scientists tell us that if we do not like a smell there may be good reason found in the brain parts served by the nasal receptors.

The orange juice which is allowed to call itself organic by law is also allowed by law to be non-organic in the way it smells and no indication or information of the substances, possibly synthetic or brewed in a laboratory filled with cackling aliens bent on taking over Earth.

The web yielded this one:



"Dirty Little Secret. Orange juice is artificially flavored to taste like orange juice."

How do you make orange juice? Simple! Squeeze oranges and drink. How do big box companies make orange juice? Complicated! Squeeze oranges, remove oxygen, re-flavor the now flavorless orange juice with artificially orange "flavor packs" and...drink?


I never thought about it but it makes incredible sense now. Orange juice from Tropicana, Simply Orange, Minute Maid, Florida's Natural, etc.—they're all ridiculously consistent in their flavor. And the trick isn't to get the most delicious tasting oranges but rather to create their own unique artificial flavor.

It all starts with the stripping of the oxygen. Once the juice is squeezed and stored in gigantic vats, they start removing oxygen. Why? Because removing oxygen from the juice allows the liquid to keep for up to a year without spoiling.

But! Removing that oxygen also removes the natural flavors of oranges. Yeah, it's all backwards. So in order to have OJ actually taste like oranges, drink companies hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that make perfumes for Dior, to create these "flavor packs" to make juice taste like, well, juice again.

The formulas vary to give a brand's trademark taste. If you're discerning you may have noticed Minute Maid has a candy like orange flavor. That's largely due to the flavor pack Coca-Cola has chosen for it.

Some companies have even been known to request a flavor pack that mimics the taste of a popular competitor, creating a "hall of mirrors" of flavor packs. Despite the multiple interpretations of a freshly squeezed orange on the market, most flavor packs have a shared source of inspiration: a Florida Valencia orange in spring.

The flavor packs aren't listed in the ingredients because they're technically derived from "orange essence and oil", whatever the hell that means. So just remember, when you buy Orange Juice next time, even though it says 100% juice (which it is), it's still 100% artificially flavored. [Food Renegade via Hacker News]


The best thing is to buy oranges and make your own juice and take it neat or with water or something stronger to taste.

The Prince of Wales can be left to stew in his own orange juice.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

A Big Bang

Some of the world's volcanoes are a little twitchy at the moment and  experts say that the super one at Yellowstone in North America may be sooner than we think. For us that is OK, we will be all long gone.

But if two or three substantial ones were to go up in series in different places in the world the net effect could be substantial. The article below from ten years ago tells us of the major one of 1816, Mount Tambora, which had major effects in Europe.


Michael Sullivan, October 22, 2007.

The biggest volcanic eruption ever recorded in human history took place nearly 200 years ago on Sumbawa, an island in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago.  The volcano is called Tambora, and according to University of Rhode Island volcanologist Haraldur Sigurdsson, the eruption is one of the most overlooked in recorded history.

Tambora's explosion was 10 times bigger than Krakatoa and more than 100 times bigger than Vesuvius or Mount St. Helens. Approximately 100,000 died in its shadow.  "The eruption went up about 43 kilometers into the atmosphere.

That is about 30 miles — much higher than any airplane flying today — and emitting a volume that is about 100 cubic kilometers of molten rock in the form of ash and pumice," Sigurdsson says. "That volume is by far the largest volume of any volcanic eruption in life on earth."

Global Cooling

But it was the enormous cloud of gas — some 400 million tons of it — released by the eruption that produced the "year without summer."  When the gas reacted with water vapor in the atmosphere, it formed tiny little droplets of sulfuric acid that became suspended in the stratosphere, creating a veil over the Earth, Sigurdsson says.

This veil of gas acted like a mirror, bouncing radiation back into space and decreasing the amount of heat that reached the Earth's surface, causing global cooling, he says.  Of course, no one knew that at the time, and few people know about it even now. It wasn't until the early '80s, Sigurdsson says, that he caught the Tambora bug. In that decade, researchers taking core samples in Greenland's ice made an amazing discovery.

"You drill down through the ice, and you can count the rings just like in a tree. And people started doing research on the layers, and they found there was a whacking great sulfur concentration at one particular layer: 1816," Sigurdsson says.   "That was first evidence that Tambora had global reach … and that it was unstudied," he says, adding, "We needed to get much more info on what really happened here."

The Year Without Summer

The year after Tambora erupted, Europe was trying to cope with the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.  There was a mass demobilization of soldiers flooding into the labor market.

Patrick Webb, a dean at Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science, describes the socio-political climate after the wars.  "You had economies disrupted, infrastructure damaged, governments in limbo," Webb says. "And so the conditions were already ripe for something to go wrong."  And something did go wrong in 1816, known as "the year without summer." Temperatures dropped, crops failed and people starved.

"Hundreds of thousands of people died. People were reduced to eating rats and fighting over roots," Webb says. "Most of these people were killed by epidemic disease, [such as] typhus and other things related to starvation. They simply couldn't find enough food."   In America, New Englanders saw snow well into the summer — the average temperature in July and August was 5 to 10 degrees below normal, according to Webb.

A Bad Vintage Year

Even the wine from 1816 was bad.  Alain Vauthier, who owns one of the oldest vineyards in Bordeaux, France, keeps a fair bit of wine from each vintage in the cellar. He has an impressive collection, which stretches back to the beginning of the 19th century, but there are only a few bottles from 1816. Vauthier says that's as it should be.

"It is not a good vintage," Vauthier says. "It is a bad time, bad weather, bad summer."  Daniel Lawton is the owner of Bordeaux's oldest wine brokerage house. His assessment of the 1816 vintage is even less charitable.  "Detestable, you understand? Horrible," Lawton says. "A quarter of the normal crop. Very difficult to make good wine. Just a terrible year." All of this was triggered by a volcanic eruption that happened on the other side of the world.

Reading the Layers of Earth

For more than two decades, Sigurdsson, the volcanologist, has been gathering information from the Indonesian island. His first trip to the volcano, Tambora, was in 1986, and his most recent trip was just a few months ago. His task is made easier, he says, by the scrupulous record keeping done by the earth itself. The layers of the soil on the island are not unlike the layers of ice in faraway Greenland.

"Each layer is like a page in a book. These layers are really a graphic representation of the eruption," Sigurdsson says. "They are drawing out for us, writing down for us, the history of the volcano. And they don't lie." 

While he was digging, Sigurdsson discovered something else: artifacts and remains carbonized when Tambora erupted. He calls his excavation site "The Lost Kingdom of Tambora" — a find he also refers to as "The Pompeii of the East."

"I have studied deposits in Pompeii and Herculaneum, from the great destruction of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. It's the same mode of destruction, the same mode of death. But [the] difference here is that the human remains are much more carbonized—almost entirely carbonized," Sigurdsson says.

"The bones are a piece of charcoal," he says. That tells scientists that it was a much bigger explosion — with much higher temperatures.  The explosion was hot enough to melt glass, and it happened so fast, Sigurdsson says, that people living on the island had no chance to escape. The carbonized remains of one woman recovered at the site confirm this.

"She is lying on her back with her hands outstretched. She is holding a machete or a big knife in one hand. There is a sarong over her shoulder. The sarong is totally carbonized, just like her bones," Sigurdsson says. "Her head is resting on the kitchen floor, just caught there instantly and blown over by the flow."

The Lessons of Tambora

All the big volcanic eruptions — Tambora, Krakatau, Pinatubo — have ended up cooling the Earth, causing temperatures to drop. And that, Sigurdsson says, has some people thinking about replicating the Tambora effect in an effort to slow global warming.

"People have proposed that we induce artificial volcanoes by bringing sulfur up into the stratosphere to produce this effect," Sigurdsson says.
But, he warns, "Do you want to counter one pollutant with another one? I don't think so. But that's been proposed."

Still, Sigurdsson thinks that lessons from eruptions like Tambora can be applied to models used to study global climate change. Global warming is viewed by many as the most pressing, most dangerous threat. But Sigurdsson warns that catastrophic climate change might come from an unexpected, yet familiar, direction.

"Somewhere on the Earth, within the next 1,000 years, there will be a comparable eruption. And we'd better be aware of the consequences," he says. He notes that another giant volcanic blast would release large amounts of gases, creating interference in the atmosphere that could cause major disruptions in telecommunications and aviation.


What just went bang?

Monday, 16 October 2017

Einstein Was Right

The big news today is that in the science of gravitational waves out there far away space has been warped by the collision of two  neutron stars.

It has taken 130 million news for the news to get here, so the dinosaurs missed out sadly. Also, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles did not carry the story.

Einstein suggested the possibility as this BBC Science News tells us. There is likely a lot more in the science of space, the deep past on earth and in our DNA to be found which reminds us of what a shoddy lot we are on the whole.

In the meantime the man who was to sort my TV out has gone off the radar. He was approaching the black hole of the Blackwall Tunnel in that strange universe called London when they lost trace of him.

Given that so much TV these days is known to be warped already it was only to be expected.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Colour Me Purple

A major aspect of our debates on many issues are those relating to race and the associated colours of skins. These are discussed often in relatively simple terms and assume differences or aspects that are often assumed or supported by either limited science or other evidence.

In the mean time the geneticists work on in their laboratories etc. trying to unpick the human story and year on year making advances in what is known and is evident in the DNA. This article deals with Africa and the Africans and suggests it may have been more complicated than we think.

There has been a long history of theorising about who humans are, where they came from and how they relate to one another. Our problem today is that we are carrying a lot of baggage from the past in the shape of ideas and assumptions that have not stood up to close DNA investigation.

What is a larger problem is the malign influences of some of these.

The trouble is that politically we are stuck with old ideas and opinions that influence policy and debate. Given the way this is going it could be that the science may be one of the casualties.

Call it the Copernicus Syndrome.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Free Beer For The Workers

The web today has sites saying that the Conservative Party is now the Soft Left while the Labour Party is becoming the Hard Left. Debating this could be complicated and it is either too early or too late in the day, or both.

The essence of these is that promises, promises are made that this, that,  or the other will be provided for all, most, some or a few "free". Which and what are the subjects of some shifty oratory but the idea is that you will get something for nothing.

At least what appears to be nothing to you. It may be that like the added extras which we are familiar with you will be paying but via a different route. As this might involve agencies, government departments or "services" it adds to the real cost, but this unlucky feature is never mentioned.

There is nothing new about this. The picture above is from a tablet of around 5,000 years ago in ancient Sumeria, as in Egypt, and deals with beer rations for the labouring class. Because it is old we might think it good, but I wonder what the beer was like and whether the workers might not have preferred some silver in the hand and a choice of better beers.

I recollect at a political meeting during an election in 1951 a local Layabout M.P. was asked the question of why the workers might not have free beer or at least cheap subsidised beer because of all the profits of brewing and the notorious wealth of the brewing families. This was a town then that still had an active Temperance Movement among the various congregations.

He was a barrister of some standing with a gift for words and the authority of a man who had spent quality time in the law courts and in the cabinet and government. More to the point a couple of the brewing families gave valuable financial support to the Labour Party by various means not apparent to the public albeit rather better known at Westminster.

A great deal hung on his answer, especially the size of his majority in a marginal constituency. He went into deep thoughtful mode and agreed with the questioner that is was a subject that needed examination and perhaps action. But then there were many issues and opinions. Perhaps a Royal Commission might consider it and make expert recommendations on which legislation could be made.

One of which was perhaps greater taxes on the brewers, offset by better regulation and allowances for reduced prices for their products. It would be nationalisation but under another name. This kept the party faithful happy. The State would take control of beer for the good of all.

He was lucky, the meeting had run late and the Caretaker was jingling his keys so we departed, some of us in a hurry. After all, it was getting close to closing time at the nearest pub's.

I was gasping for a quart or two of Everard's best.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

John Tusa And Old Memories

There are times when you find yourself in the past in unlikely ways. On Sunday 8th October at 6.45 on Radio 3 I was spooked by John Tusa, a well known person high in standing, see Wikipedia etc., telling a personal tale. Over sixty years ago our paths crossed.

He is a few days older, and did his National Service at the same time as I did before university. We were in the Army in Germany and he was down the road at Celle. We both went to the Hannover State Opera House in this period. I saw "La Boheme" and "The Flying Dutchman" but unlike John was limited by time and cost.

He mentioned during the programme his visit to Kiel and that it was on a military exercise. I recall that one and our crossing the Kiel Canal. Also, there was a brief comment about the countryside adjacent to the River Elbe. He omitted to mention that on the other bank then were the forward units of the Soviet Third Shock Army, ready for the off.

I spent some days there monitoring signals along with others from The Royals, recently Prince Harry's regiment and The Cameronians, Glasgow and The Gorbals own, throwing empty beer bottles at them. There were a lot of bottles.

I doubt that John did that. But below is the programme note of the BBC for the broadcast.


John Tusa revisits the provincial German towns where as a 19-year-old national serviceman he first discovered opera in 1955 and finds out why, 62 years on, it's still thriving there.

Back then, he was based in the centre of the country, at the garrison in Celle. None of his fellow officers seemed to think it at all unusual when John vanished off from time to time to spend an evening in nearby Hanover glorying, for example, in the Verdian climaxes of what was billed as "Die Macht des Schicksals".

Though only when the orchestra struck up the opening bars of The Force of Destiny overture did John realise what he'd booked seats for! From Hanover, it's a 300-mile round trip to Essen, in the much-bombed Ruhr valley, but to enjoy the wonders of Mozart's Idomeneo, or to travel to the far north of the country to have his first ever taste of Wagner, it was worth it...

More than 60 years on, original programme pages in hand, John retraces those journeys to find out what makes German opera, outside the great houses of Berlin and Munich, tick. Because tick it certainly does.

Along the way, John meets the current "Intendants" (directors) of all three houses, their artistic directors and house singers. Today, still, Germany counts its opera houses in the dozens - as many as 80 or 90 of varying sizes - most with an ultra-loyal public who are happy to pay not-many euros to enjoy often world-class singing and playing.

So what's the trick? And - in the Facebook age - is the audience of young people shrinking? And what are the houses doing to counter that? Oh, yes: and at Hanover, John enjoys the latest Forza del Destino, while in Essen, it's still Mozart (Clemenza di Tito in 2017), and in Kiel, he catches up with Wagner - The Valkyrie.


John was lucky having a prosperous family so he was far from typical at that place at that time. Also, a Royal Artillery officer, but was he at Div. HQ, perhaps with the CRA? When by the Elbe did he ever come across a crew of rough types and join them in telling the Soviet's he would be in Berlin within the month?

I think we should be told.