The following posts have no fixed theme or style, but I hope you enjoy reading them!

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Difficulties one can have when purchasing apples

In an effort to do as little harm to the environment as possible, I have started looking at where my fruit and vegetables come from. Ideally, I thought, I should buy fruit and veg from Britain, or at least from Europe. That would save all the costs of moving the fruit round the world, because we all know that transport causes loads of problems when it comes to pollution, greenhouse gases, and forming vapour trails which have been shown to be another factor in global warming.

So I looked. And looked. And found strawberries. But it occurred to me that there isn't really any fruit which is in season in Britain at the moment. I found some beans and some lettuce and other vegetables, but very little fruit. There were some pears from Holland (and also from Germany last week), and some apples from France. That cheered me a little, but then I remembered that pears and apples grow in Autumn, so they should not be ripe yet either.

I had put this curious fact to the back of my mind until I got home and realised that some of the apples I had bought (all of them Pink Lady apples, all the same price, on neighbouring parts of the same shelf) were from France, and some were from South Africa!! I felt betrayed, tricked, and also BAD.

How could this be? The supermarket has chosen to source their fruit from both places, so presumably the quality and price are similar. On the one hand the South African apples are expensive because they need carrying over here across the world. But they may be cheaper in other ways. Maybe the labour there is cheaper and they run their farms better. Maybe apples are in season there, so they need less fertiliser and need no heating or greenhouses. Maybe the trees are more productive, so they take up less land. Some of these reasons are environmental as well as economic. And we don't know which reasons apply. How can we save the environment when we don't have enough information to make an informed decision?

What we do know is that it is important to look at the impacts and prioritise:

Maybe you don't care about the amount of fertiliser that is being used. In most parts of the world it is causing no problems yet in the Gulf of Mexico there are thousands of square kilometers of "dead" ocean, where all of the life has been killed off because of the chemicals put on the crops in the farmland around the Mississippi and Missouri rivers (see "The Skeptical Environmentalist" for arguments showing that this is actually necessary, otherwise we couldn't feed people).

Maybe you don't worry about global warming. Personally I think that the consequences of global warming could be severe and cause problems to humans, animals and plants alike. Global warming happened on Venus. It is the hottest planet in the solar system even though it is much further from the Sun than Mercury. Greenhouse gases caused this to happen at some point in history. Yes, I know, Venus is not the same as Earth, and it is closer to the Sun as well. But this shows that greenhouse gases are important at some level. Anyway, I don't claim that I have any proof that we need to worry about global warming, but nobody in the world knows whether the consequences will be insignificant, problematic, serious or catastrophic, and any of these are possible.

Maybe you don't worry about running out of land to grow food on. I haven't read extensively on this but I can say that we have been making decisions for many years about whether to use more fertiliser and grow more intensively (or use GM crops) or whether we flatten some wilderness and use that instead. Both of these options bother me, and I think I'd prefer to keep some wilderness. What do you think?

In any case, we must choose where we stand on these issues, because your choice of apples has impacts in all of these areas and probably others. As to our lack of knowledge on the subject and lack of guidance on apples in particular, I'll look into this a bit more when my exams are finished, and I'll let you know if I find out anything important.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Advice #8

It's good to be smooth. If your metallic sample isn't smooth enough, it's hard to analyse it under a microscope. It's also really nice to know that you are the smoothest kid on the block. So my advice to you today is

Be Smooth...
Use mild green fairy liquid, smooth your nails, moisturise, talk in a deep, slow, clear, confident voice, don't ever get flustered, and, above all, wear really dark sunglasses.

Don't let anyone in the world out-smooth you, ever.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Seed protection

For the second time this term, I have found myself wasting most of the morning watching a squirrel. I like squirrels, and enjoy watching them nibbling on things, running up and down trees, and generally enjoying being outside. But this one is a silly squirrel...

She came into the courtyard where I live, pausing once in a while to look around, checking for predators. When she stopped, her tail took a moment to catch up, finally ending up curling back on itself so it stood almost upright. She knew her target. She moved round the base of the tree, checking how it looked from all angles. She wouldn't want to make a mistake and end up in a bad situation. But she has been here before, and knows this tree is worth the dangers that come with it. This tree has seeds. What the squirrel did not realise is that the seeds are actually intended for birds, and not for little squirrels like her. Nevertheless, she eventually took the bold move of going onto the tree. The clouds looked down on her from the sky, they probably realised that the seeds are not for her! But they didn't say anything, they just grew and darkened, preparing themselves for the shower that came later.

With the seeds in sight, she dashed up the trunk, and climbed onto the bird feeder. She lost her inhibitions, but I had to tell her that she is not allowed seeds. So I dashed downstairs, and out across the grass towards the tree. She was occupied with her seeds so she didn't realise until I got right up to her. But just as I reached the tree, she heard me suddenly, as if woken from a dream, and dashed up the tree.

Determined to make my point, I dashed after her. I don't often climb trees, but it's fun, so I moved as quickly from branch to branch, getting as high as I dared until the branches get so thin that they bent perilously as I put my weight onto them. I looked up. The squirrel was perched on a tiny twig at the top of the tree, being buffered from side to side by the wind. There's always a wind up high, but particularly today, it was very gusty. But she had beaten me. I tried to stare her out for a while, but she won that too and I went inside.

Thinking I had gone completely, she edged (a little more cautiously than before) to the seeds and started eating again.

The process repeated itself again before she realised the point I was making and ran away. In the meantime, there are very few seeds left for the birds, but there aren't many birds either, so it'll probably be fine.

Jo has watched me with the squirrel on both occasions, and finds it very funny. She knows a lot about animals and thinks the squirrel is pregnant, so I trust her. She is going out with Chris, who is a Southampton fan. Southampton were unlucky not to get promoted to the Premiership this year, and will no doubt succeed next year (or so Chris hopes). Chris likes economics, sport and musicals. Jo likes musicals too, but prefers physics to economics. She lives near me, even when we go home from Uni, since we are from the same area. I thought I should introduce you to these people, because they are pretty amazing, and I will probably mention them again in future posts...

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Learn to love your nose

Your nose is cool. Not unreservedly, but it is pretty cool. I know nothing about the physiology of noses, so I can't comment on that. I also don't know if your one is a little fatter than you would like, or maybe too big, or maybe a bit crooked.

These things are beside the point, things which people say and others repeat in order to give noses a bad name. Think of all the things you can do with your nose. You can blow it, wrinkle it and even flare your nostrils. I learned yesterday what that means (I had only read it in books before), and you can do it if you are angry, but you can also do it for fun, just to make your nostrils look that little bit bigger!

And your nose does so much in return. It allows you to smell and taste, for one thing. A life without smelling or tasting would not only be boring, it would stop you from realising when someone has put something weird in your sandwich, or your milk is just starting to go bad. But this is not the main gift which your nose so unselfishly gives you: it allows you to
Now that's pretty cool. You can even breathe and keep your mouth closed, so you don't have to open your mouth when you are eating - because that's rude. Your nose is a very selfless protuberance. So often, you get ill, and your nose takes all the flak. You don't feel bad, you just have a blocked nose. Let me explain: If I was to tell you that I cared about you so much that I would fill myself to the brim with snot to prevent you getting ill, you would think (a) that I was weird, no, very very weird; AND, more importantly (b) that it would be a pretty amazing sacrifice for you.

So yes, noses are weird, but they are also amazing.

Get to know your nose.

Give it a squeeze, first in the direction that closes the nostrils, then in the other direction, so your fingers are above and below the tip of your nose. Give it a stroke, along its length, feeling how it blends into your face. Wash it, exfoliate it, powder it too, they like that.

Then you will really LOVE your nose

Friday, 11 May 2007

Das Klassensystem in England

[Bevor ich anfange: wenn eine Deutsche die folgenden Sätze liest, bitte sag mir wenn ich viele Fehler geschrieben habe]

Heute werde ich euch zeigen, wie ich das englischen Klassensystem verstehe. In Deutschland ist das Klassensystem etwas anders. Deshalb habe ich Stundlang mit einer Freundin aus Deutschland namens Kathrin darüber geredet. Sie hat sogar ein Buch gelesen, das alles erklaert. Ich werde sie nachfragen, wie es heißt, damit ich euch ihm empfehlen kann.

In der Vergangenheit gab es drei Klassen:
1) Die Unterklasse waren die Mehrheit, aber sie hatten keine Macht. Sie waren Leute, die schmutzige Arbeit getan haben, entweder auf dem Land, oder in Fabriken, Minen usw.
2) Die Mittelklasse waren normalerweise Berufsleute. Sie haben sich so gesehen, dass sie besser als die Unterklasse waren.
3) Die Oberklasse waren eine winzigkleine Minderheit, die viele Macht hatten. Sie waren von der Mittelklasse etwas beeinflusst, hatten aber sehr wenig Kontakt mit der Unterklasse. Sie waren der Adel, sie waren Reich und hatten viel Land.

Ich mag die Deutsche Wörter Unterklasse und Oberklasse, weil auf englisch "underclass" irgendwie subjektiv ist, aber es klingt doch besser als "lower class".

Naja, ich wollte gar nicht das alte Klassensystem beschreiben. Fast jeder Student (der die Naturwissenschaften nicht studieren) lernt unendlich viel darüber, und sie können natürlich viel besser als ich einem Einsicht geben.

Ein Klassensystem gibt es noch, aber es hat sich ja geändert. Die drei Range sind nicht so klar, trotzdem weiß jeder wer eine wichtiger Sozialstand als sich hat. Leider sehr viele Sachen in England gehört zu eine bestimmte Klasse. Die "Mittelklasse" sprechen mit einem Akzent aus Südengland: der sogennante "Received pronunciation". Im Gegensatz redet die Unterklasse in regionale Akzente. Die Mittelklasse trinkt Wein, die Unterklasse aber Bier. Die Mittelklasse tragen Hemde, die Unterklasse tragen z.B. ein Pullover mit Kapuze (ich suche eine Übersetzung für 'hoodie'!) welche wahrscheinlich zu groß ist. Die zur Unterklasse gehörend Leute verwenden oft Schimpfwörter, die zur Mittelklasse gehörend Leute nicht. Die Mittelklasse sind stolz auf ihre Ausbildung, und wollen normalerweise an der Uni gehen. Die Unterklasse stehen wahrscheinlich eher auf Geld. Die Unterklasse rauchen, die Mittelklasse selten. Die meisten Mittelklassler gehen regelmäßig in die Kirche. Wenn es ein politisch Wahl gibt, stimmen sie für verschiedene Parteien, im Fernsehe gucken sie verschiedene Sendungen an.

Die Liste geht immer weiter. Alles, was man tut, ist wichtig. Sie sind nur Stereotype, aber meistens stimmen sie noch. Es gibt viele Leute, die versuchen in eine höheren Standpunkt zu kommen. Sie tun einfach Sachen, die zu die Mittelklasse gehören.

Ich merke oft Unterschiede, weil ich beide Seiten zum Teil gesehen habe. Bis mein Vater gestorben ist, war ich in eine Staatsschule. Das hat eine breite Mischung von Leute. Danach war ich in eine Privatschule. Die Leute waren alle in der Mittelklasse. Ich habe zweimal in Fabrike gearbeitet. Fabrike enthälten Leute, die ihr ganzes Leben dort arbeiten werden. Sie sind in der Unterklasse.

Mir wäre besser, wenn es solche System nicht gäbe. Meistens ist es kein Problem, aber es teilt manchmal Leute auch. Es gibt Leute, die haben nie jemand aus eine andere Klasse kennengelernt. Es ist einfach, ein ganze Gruppe in der Gesellschaft zu ignorieren. Manche Leute sind deshalb sehr unhöflich. Aber ich finde es auch schlimm, das Leute gar nicht verstehen können, dass andere Leute anders leben.

Ich schreibe an diesen Thema, weil es mir eingefallen ist, wieso ich Rugbyhemde nicht mag. Sie werden hauptsächlich (aber natürlich nicht immer) von Leute, die zur Mittelklasse gehören getragen, Leute die die Unterklasse nicht verstehen. Rugby wird erst wenig in Staatsschulen gespielt, aber es wird in Privatschulen sehr ernst genommen. Es wird fast ein Klischee: Mittelklassleute tragen ihre Hemde (besonders Rugbyhemde) mit Kragen auf. Ich bin nicht sauer, auf Leute die einen tragen, aber ich mag nicht selbst einen tragen, weil wenn man ein T-shirt trägt, kann man zu beide Klasse gehören!

Leute teilen sich immer ab. Sie denken, ihr Teil ist besser als die anderen. Aber es ist total falsch. Wir brauchen andere Leute verstehen, und brauchen manchmal ein Mittel dafür. Aber es gibt sehr wenig. Fußball ist eine Verbindung, ab und zu die Medien auch, oder Musik. Aber es gibt sehr wenig. Das Klassensystem wird nicht bald aussterben.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

what a waste of time

Further to the post below:
Yes, I'm still not working, how terrible am I?!

Anyway, I did a quiz and it got me just right, although I was a bit surprised it did. Have a go, see if it works for you. Maybe it's a good quiz, but maybe it didn't even get me right, just got my perception of myself down to a tee.

Diary Entry

I have had a bit of a rollercoaster of a week (the last 7 days, not just since Monday) so I'm feeling a bit drained. Life is very stressful at the moment, for many many reasons. Some of the things that have happened this week have been good; I spent a very pleasant evening with Clare the other day. I exchanged a couple of very pleasant e-mails with a friend who I haven't spoken to properly for a while. I won a game of chess. I did a small amount of work successfully. I saw my family at the weekend. I had a really nice music rehearsal last Thursday.

Don't get me started on the bad things.

I was pleased to see a UN report on the risks of using biofuels. I have been skeptical of them for a while but not really known why. I suppose it is because it is still something that burns fuel and puts the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Anyway, I'm sure they will not be a major solution to our environmental problems.

I must get on. I have a ridiculous amount of work due in, because two supervisors have imposed short deadlines at once. Just another bad thing for the list.

Sorry for the boring post, next time will be fascinating I'm sure. Or something

Saturday, 5 May 2007

My grudge against air

There are two malicious types of air, or possibly more, I'm not sure:

1) WIND: When wind comes, it makes me angry. My problem with it, is that it deliberately tries to annoy people. When the wind stops, the world doesn't end. No. Even in big windy storms there are lulls, as if Mr Wind ran out of breath, and is getting it back, just so he can blow at me again and frustrate me. When you cycle, the wind stops when you stop, but slaps you across the face as soon as you try to go anywhere. I sometimes go outside to work, and it is really calm until the moment I put down my papers, when it picks up and blows them everywhere. It would be fine if the wind just stopped and didn't come back.

N.B. The world would be a worse place with no breezes ever, thought I should just add that

2) FANS: These are sinister and terrible air devices. They exist to subvert our minds and make us all insane. They are like the little moving "Smileys" on msn that never get tired... they are just a low continuous noise, and the longer they goes on, the more freakish it is that they is still going. Without realising it, you are forced to raise your voice slightly. Listen to a fan, and you will hear the malevolent force behind it, which will slowly catch up with you like the tortoise catching the hare, with a horrible inevitability about it. Give it a couple of hours, and you will be tense and grumpy and not know why. Give it a day or so, and even the strongest of us will crack, screaming, curled up on the floor, as the last bits of humanity have been sucked away by this unrelenting machine. Beware, and never spend too long in a room with fans, air conditioning etc etc, unless you have backup. They can't penetrate the minds of many united people, let's hope they never learn to.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Advice #7

Don't try to teach a pig how to sing:
It will be a waste of your time and it will annoy the pig