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

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Advice #12

As a last resort for cleaning your pots and pans, soak them in hot soapy water and then use Brillo pads - they are awesome!

[I accept no responsibility if you go and rub off your teflon coating (non-stick PTFE) in the process]

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

The weekend just gone

Good weekend! I went to Duncan's birthday party, at his house. His university friends were there, who I had already met, but nobody who I knew very well, so I was worried it would be a bit awkward. But in the actuality of it all, it appears that I just reached the point of feeling completely at home with them all, and not feeling like an outsider (albeit a newby). Seeing Duncan and having a proper chat with him about the past present and future was very special too. So it was a lovely evening, and instead of going to bed early as I could have done if it were boring, I stayed up until the last people slept at almost 5am.

The journey back on sunday evening was typical of a sunday night, with delays, cancellations and rail replacement buses all in one evening. I don't mind dozing in a bus though, and I love night-time bus journeys.

Then today Wicko came to visit and we played snooker, ate out, watched a film, in short, it was good to catch up, hear his news, see an old friend and do fun things for a day.
Bank holidays are a great idea!

Monday, 27 August 2007

Cardigans Update - Greatest Hits Compilation coming soon

I feel it is important to tell you about the Cardigans, because otherwise you might think they don't exist. After all, sacking their producer for their 2003 album Long Gone Before Daylight was promotional suicide for them, as nobody pushed the album for the radio. Their best piece of work was lost to the mass market. By the time their next (and most recent) album Super Extra Gravity came out, everyone had forgotten about the cardigans and weren't interested in hearing their new sound. After all, the band came a long way from Lovefool in 1997 and My Favourite Game in 1998.

The latest news is that the band are still separated by the Atlantic because Nina is doing her solo project A Camp. I got a copy of the first A Camp album, and it is great! The songs somehow don't seem as creative musically or lyrically as the Cardigans, but they are still very good and worthy of Nina. Having played a couple of gigs in the US, it seems like A Camp will be releasing another album soon, but no news as yet on that.

In the meantime Magnus and Peter have met to discuss making some more music together. I'm sure they would prefer to have Nina with them, but they are keen to make music, and I am glad that they aren't going to forget the whole thing. As recently as the 15th August Magnus said "we are are still alive as a band" on the website, so I don't think we need to worry about the splitting up quite yet.

As I say, though, the label decide everything for the band, and have decided to produce a greatest hits compilation. News on this has been appearing on the website drop-wise through the ask the band section. It will NOT be called Greatest Hits, Magnus assures us.

The format will be three or four songs from each album, ordered chronologically. I think it is better to order them this way simply because their style of music has changed a lot through the last 13 years since their first album was released. So far, a release-date has not been set (rumours say 5th November) but October or November is likely. The tracklisting has also not been released, but there will be a main CD including the best songs, and then a special edition will contain a second CD with rare B-sides. Songs known to be included are:

CD 1:
NOT Your New Cuckoo

CD 2:
Happy Meal 1
For The Boys
Songs written and recorded for A Life Less Ordinary and X-Files

My ideal tracklisting (including what is already confirmed to be included) would be:
1. Rise and Shine
2. Black Letter Day
3. Cloudy Sky
4. Carnival
5. Travelling With Charlie
6. Beautiful One
7. Lovefool
8. Happy Meal II
9. Losers
10.My Favourite Game
11.Hanging Around
14.For What It's Worth
15.Please Sister
16.03:45 No Sleep
17.And Then You Kissed Me
18.And Then You Kissed Me II
19.I Need Some Fine Wine And You, You Need To Be Nicer
20.Don't Blame Your Daughter (Diamonds)
21.Little Black Cloud

22 tracks is a bit hopeful, but I have already left out Erase/Rewind and others, so I'll leave it at that! I'll post the actual track-listing when I get it

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Ramblings on life's meanderings

These days I have been remembering what it is like to feel lonely. It's not that I don't see anyone, or even that I never do anything, but I do lack seeing many people who I count as being my closest friends. Being at university when everyone else is away means that as well as missing the people who will not come back (who I mentioned here), I miss those who will be coming back next year. Luckily, Rachel has mainly been in Cambridge, but she has gone on holiday as well now. To cap it all, I have been arguing with Sonia a bit, and while we care about each other enough to stay in contact, I worry for her especially, and also for our close friendship.

When I went home last week, I found that the Georges (a group of friends from home) are all away, either working or on holiday so that, while I had a very good time with the family (and for much of the time I genuinely enjoyed myself and relaxed), I still felt like I had not seen most of my friends for far too long!

Going to Edinburgh cheered me up though. I went with Pete, Lizzy, Richard and Chris, and we had long enough to have small-talk, in-jokes, arguments, debates, bored moments, events and shared memories for later. It was great! From feeling a bit down at the start, I was my normal happy self within 24 hours. We saw lots of festival shows: a musical I actually enjoyed (Tony Blair the Musical), a disturbing, thought-provoking film (Extraordinary Rendition), a slightly sketchy old man singing songs about (mainly) sex, a play that actually makes me want to read 19th century fiction (Crime and Punishment) and a play so horrific that I actually threw up (no way it could possibly have been food poisoning, nope, no chance) (Dracula, featuring Chris's brother Matthew). We also explored Edinburgh; here's a picture of Chris and Richard enjoying the view on Arthur's seat, which might be named after Richard's grandfather

Then I came back. I'm still in quite a good mood, but my room is trying its best to annoy me. When I came in, the window was leaking. Then the light crackled and went off. And I had no food in to make for dinner, and no bulb in my lamp. I looked at the time to discover that my alarm clock had run out of batteries and stopped. But I'm not feeling as bad as I was ten days ago, so it has failed. Haha! Now I must sleep, good night

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Environmental rubbish? [Read previous post first]

In my post Environmental Rubbish! , I was saying that it is completely natural that humans should mould the environment to our own needs, just as every other species does. In fact, the environmentalist standpoint is negative, the goals are unachievable, and trying to achieve environmental goals lowers our productivity.

Let us consider the arguments used again.

1) The environmentalist standpoint is negative.

Actually, the environmentalist standpoint is a challenge of improving the world so it is hard to think of it as negative. Of course, this challenge translates as limiting the damage we do to the environment by our actions, but that does not have to limit ourselves and become a negative thing.

During the industrial revolution England was a horrible place, with smog over London and coal dust blackening the stone in the north. Environmental action has taken the positive step of improving the air quality across Britain by a change in industrial practice. Nowadays, an analogous situation is that of power stations, which cause acid rain, global warming and particulate dust. We can change the industry by researching, developing and installing clean power stations. This is a positive improvement. The development process will encourage more efficient designs to save resources and money, and the change to the atmosphere will improve the health and well-being of the nation. To take the example of something that everyone can do, energy-saving light bulbs last longer and use less power than traditional light bulbs, so using them saves money as well as the environment. Reductions in energy usage, air miles and landfill are positive actions that improve our lives and improve the state of the planet.

2) The goals are unachievable

One goal set out in the previous post is indeed unachievable. This is the goal of creating a world unaffected by humans. But the real goals are simpler and more manageable. Firstly, we want to continue to survive here on Earth. Even in the worst case scenarios, we will not all die. There may be floods, droughts, extinction of animals and health problems, but there will be no self-destruction of the species or of the planet.

The next goal is to sustain our quality of life. This means that we need to use the same amount as resources as we can produce. Further to this goal, I would like to see more of the world in its natural state. But that is more than just an emotional preference. A world created by humans becomes unstable but natural processes balance out the instabilities. Therefore some natural processes must be left as they are. For instance, the rainforests absorb carbon dioxide and provide medicines among other things. We need to keep the polar ice to prevent flooding of coastal cities and to maintain the air and sea currents that determine local climates. Letting farmland revert to its natural state helps the quality of the soil. So a goal of sustainable future prosperity is a goal which provides sustainability for the environment too. Nature solves our problems so undermining nature is self-defeating. Having stopped using CFCs, the hole in the ozone layer is healing naturally and without intervention. This is an example of the world tending to a natural equilibrium, with human activity deciding whether nature is allowed to run its course.

We cannot quantify exactly how much we affect the environment so it is prudent to leave as much of nature to its own devices as possible, because it acts as a restoring balance. The equilibrium situation suits us very nicely, so the closer we can get to that, the better.

To return to the question of whether the goal is achievable, I have said that not all animals will die out and global temperatures will not rocket out of control: the planet will not be destroyed. Thus by making measured, sensible changes to our lifestyle, we do not need to reduce our quality of life significantly and we can still achieve whatever goals we set ourselves.

3)Trying to achieve environmental goals lowers our productivity

As far as economic productivity and efficiency go, I showed in the first section, that steps to improve the environment often improve efficiency. We can integrate our improvements in industry with natural technological improvement so that it stimulates innovation and speeds up economic progress.
As individuals, we need not allow environmental concerns to slow us down. Many of the choices we make are between outcomes with equal direct benefit, but the indirect benefits of one outweigh the other. For example, you are holding a piece of trash, and need to get rid of it. Recycling, putting it in a bin, and littering all achieve the same thing, but for no difference in effort, you can make the world better or worse by your choice. A holiday, whether abroad or at home, serves to relax, but one may involve flights which pollute the atmosphere, while the other may not.
Helping the environment should not scare us into inaction. We can make progress without compromising our busy, successful lives.

The conclusion to all this is that the environmental cause is not a lost cause, and it is worth aiding. It just needs a bit of sensible thought.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Environmental Rubbish!

I have been really well behaved today [Sunday]. I haven't used the kettle, I haven't listened to any music, I didn't go anywhere that needed petrol-powered transport. But it didn't make me feel better. In fact, I had a hot shower, cooked dinner that had meat in it, and turned on the computer to check my e-mails. So I have actually not been that environmentally friendly at all.

That's the problem with the environment. It's a very negative issue. People talk about saving the environment, but what are they doing? In practice, the only thing we can do is limit the effect we have on the environment. Let's take a few simple examples. A drink of water has a negative impact due to the amount of chemicals that are used in the water treatment plants to make it drinkable. If your drink is tea instead, then above the environmental cost of the water, we can add the huge amount of electricity used by the kettle, and the energy used to transport the tea over the thousands of miles from India or wherever. Another example, if you read a newspaper, the paper comes from trees being cut down, and the printing process is a very dirty one environmentally. After the paper has been read once it is thrown away, and even if it is recycled, that takes energy too. Yes, nothing that you do is environmentally neutral, let alone environmentally friendly!

But it's not even clear what we are trying to achieve? A good way to make the issue more attractive would be to create meaningful targets.
One target could be that we want to use only as much energy as the world can produce... that way we are living sustainably. It is a long way off, but if we were to succeed in that and no more, the whole world would be farmland and plantations, with no wilderness and no wildlife to protect. For me, I don't like that scenario, I'd want to go further.
Another target would be to create a world that is unaffected by humans. That is to say, a world that functions as it would if humans were not here. This is not realistic, however. Humans are here, and there are several billion of us, so we will have an effect on the planet. We could think of negating this effect by efforts of conservation, such as by saving endangered species and encouraging species diversity through habitat maintenance. But we must remember that a goal of a world unaffected by humans is not the same as a the goal of an unchanged world. An unchanging world is not a natural situation, as woolly mammoths and dinosaurs can testify (well, they can't, but that's kind of the point, isn't it). There should be some animals that become extinct, and some change in global temperatures, but everything happens very slowly. As we cannot tell how the world would develop without humans, an unaffected planet is not possible.
This shows that even taking the most optimistic scenario (which is impossible to achieve in practice), we will fail in our goals and the planet will suffer as a consequence of human existence.

There is a more positive outlook: ignore all of the environmental propaganda and see the world from a realistic standpoint. All animals have their effect on their habitat and the environment in which they live. Humans are no different. We should not apologise for what is happening. Even in the worst predictions (except those in environmental propaganda), only a small percentage of animals are going to die out during the next century, and the world's temperature should level off in a couple of centuries too. We have nothing to worry about.

The environmental movement is counterproductive. Its only achievement is to make people less productive. You can't do anything, because "it's bad for the environment" to do anything. Don't travel, don't communicate, don't read, don't expand your horizons, don't carry out scientific research... our lives will shrink away to nothing. But you won't achieve anything by that, and your life will lose all meaning. Ignore them, and don't worry, the world is a big place... it'll look after itself.

For more on this check this page again on Sunday 12th.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Wo xi huan chi zhu rou!

If you take sausage, and cut it up into strips, and stir-fry it with vegetables and a traditional stir-fry sauce (like hoi sin or black bean), then it looks like stir-fry, but tastes of sausage! Amazing!

Friday, 3 August 2007

My apologies to cheese

A few months ago I posted a scathing review of cheese, claiming cheese hangovers were sweeping the globe, causing havoc.

I still stand by some of what was said then. Cheese is fantastic, and it brightens up every meal, and goes with things as varied as christmas cake, apples (especially on cocktail sticks), ham, pasta and brown sauce (although brown sauce goes with everything, so it's hard to say which effect is stronger)

Some cheese is best on its own -like y fenni, which has mustard seeds in it- but some is better with other things, like gruyere. A cheese and wine party needs experts in both cheese and wine, because there are equal amounts to know about each.

But the issue of cheese hangovers was not well-founded. These last weeks I have had cheese almost every lunchtime, and I have the hangover effect after sandwiches, but not potatoes, so it is the bread effect that makes you sleep, feel headachy and generally horrible. Apparently cheese does make you have vivid dreams or nightmares, but I don't think it makes many people become comatose for several hours at a time, so... sorry cheese, I hope your reputation has not been sullied too badly by this slander (or actually it is probably libel)

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Common Sense

Engineering is common sense. It involves some knowledge, but mainly the ability to take what you have and use your knowledge to achieve what you want to. You just have to pick out the important thing, and then solve the problem in the simplest way possible.

Of course, I make it sound easy. But I'm not an engineer, I'm just working with engineers this summer. And common sense is really hard to come by. Engineers have years and years of training, which means that they just see an easy solution to every problem. Common sense is not common, and it is not easy, and not everyone has it. In fact, it needs work to build it up until you can see all the simple logic that is staring you in the face.

Here are a couple of bits of common sense that people often overlook:

Don't take horse tranquilisers and think you are going to be ok.

Don't sell people weapons and then expect them to open fire only when and where you want.

Treat other people how you would want to be treated.

Environmentally, do the things that have no loss and only benefits. Take washing liquid... use Ecover and it will clean your dishes without polluting our water. Turn off things that aren't being used. Boil the amount of water that you need (it takes longer to boil more). It's easy to get hung up on details, do what is obvious!

Why do we have plug-sockets near the floor? Most appliances are used at around waist height, except a vacuum cleaner; people would unplug things they aren't using if it were easier. Put it by a lightswitch, then when you turn off the light, turn off your appliances.

Staying on the environmental theme... HSBC has apparently become carbon neutral. This means that they are planting trees or something like that, to offset their emissions. If they cut down on what they use, it would work much better. It's common sense to see that nature works well on its own, so why change it? A plane gives off carbon dioxide, and trees absorb it. So far so good. But you have to plant the trees in a place where there are no other trees or greenery, no buildings, the land isn't being used for something else, there has to be enough nutrients for the trees to grow... so where is this, precisely? Then, we forget that the plane gives off more than just carbon dioxide, it produces vapour trails for example, which contribute something else to global warming. Why not switch to envelopes that don't have the plastic window? That would save our precious oil, save on landfill, and probably reduce the carbon footprint too.

Go to bed when you are tired
like I am now... (and maybe I'll stop these stupid preachy blog posts)