The Mincing Machine - Fort Douaumont, Verdun

In 1916 over 250,000 French and German soldiers were killed in the Battle of Verdun. A further half a million were wounded. In term of casualties it was one of the worse battles in human history. Some of the worse fighting was around the French fort at Douamont.

Fort Douaumont was one of a number of forts built [according to the Sere de Riveres system] near the small town of Verdun. The French had decided to abandon these forts because they believed they were too vulnerable to artillery. However, when the Germans easily captured Douaumont the French were seized by an overwhelming desire to get it back. Over 100,000 men were killed or wounded before the fort was recaptured.

I visited Fort Douaumont about 8-10 years ago, and revisited this year during a trip across Northern France. Visitors can stroll on top of the fort [which is heavily pockmarked from artillery fire], and tour the internal galleries. More galleries have been opened since I first visited and one of the gun turrets can now be visited.

The entrance to the fort.

The galleries


Whilst the Germans were occupying the fort a cooking fire ignited grenades and flame-thrower fuel and 600-1000 soldiers died [different websites give different casualties numbers. I think a sign at the memorial below gives a figure of 975]. The bodies could not be taken outside the fort because of French shelling so they were walled up in a tunnel. The site is now an official German war grave.


The toilets below were not installed until after the battle. One can only wonder what conditions were like inside the fort when there were over a thousand men inside and no sanitary facilities.


Fort Douaumont is one of the most important WW1 sites but it is deteriorating and the French government needs to spend some money on restoration and preservation.

Other WW1 sites nearby

Fort Douaumont is shown to the top right in the aerial photograph below. The large site is the Ossuary and is the subject of a separate post.

The site at Fleury devant Douaumont is a large memorial and museum [with a good library and shop]. All three are worth visiting. By following our GPS we managed to repeatedly get lost, though as can be seen from the aerial shot the three sites are close together.

There are many other relics of the war in the area.


Sterioscopic photographs

When I first visited Fort Douaumont they had a number of sterioscopic photographs on display. These were amazingly vivid, one in particular. It showed a French artillery crew resting by their gun. Though the photograph was only black and white the 3-D effect and sharp image made the Frenchmen look very alive. They looked like people you can see any day in the streets, but better looking and more sophisticated.  Probably most of them were later consumed by the 'mincing machine'.

The stereoscopic photographs had gone from Fort Douaumont when I visited recently but there were a large number on display at the Ossuary.

Fort Douaumont Ossuary, Verdun

Douamont Ossuary and adjacent cemetery contains the remains of some of the French and German soldiers who were killed in the Battle of Verdun. Different sources give different numbers but Wikipedia states that the remains of 130,000 unknown soldiers are stored in the Ossuary, and a further 25,000 buried in the cemetery.


Living on a pebble

Put your problems in perspective. You are living on a pebble that is orbiting an insignificant sun in an unfashionable part of a minor galaxy.

The BBC's 'A History of Ideas' podcasts

A  podcast series made by the BBC and the Open University

1.  60 short [about 12 minutes] talks on philosophy

2.  Short animations on philosophical topics

A review by the Independent newspaper.

This is the kind of thing that the BBC does well and justifies the licence fee.

Buying tyres online

I was never happy with the tyre buying process in the UK. After I had bought a tyre I always felt that I had been hornswoggled.

There was no way of determining which  brand of tyre was the best in terms of durability, safety and value for money. I usually used price as a surrogate for quality whilst well aware that it was not a good surrogate. There was also the suspicion that the garage or tyre fitting company was offering the tyres that provided them with the best commission and not the ones that were best for the buyer.

The problem was poor information.  To make a good  decision a buyer needed information on tyre quality and comparative information on a range of tyres.

The EU solved the first part of the problem by introducing a compulsory labelling scheme for tyres. The new standard gives motorists a way of comparing new tyres on their fuel efficiency, wet grip and noise.  The wet grip rating is particularly important.

The wet grip scale runs from A to G and each point represents 3 metres of stopping distance. The difference between a tyre rated A and one rated D is 9 metres, or the difference between stopping safely and sharing the drivers seat with the back of a lorry.

Of course, this labelling scheme is one of the reasons why Britain has to leave the EU. How dare those bastards in the EU dare give consumers information which is damaging to industry profitability. Without high profits factories will close and millions will be put out of work. When Britain is out of the EU our usual practice of  bribing lobbying politicians and civil servants will kill such schemes.

The established tyre retailers have not been enthusiastic about providing customers with comparative information so enter the online retailers, such as  These do provide the comparative information that has previously been unavailable. In addition to providing information they will supply tyres directly to the you or arrange for a nearby garage to supply and fit the tyres.

I checked the BlackCircles web site recently when I wanted two new tyres and was able to find a tyre with a rating of B/A/68. That is, a fuel economy rating of B, a wet stopping distance of A and a decibel rating of 68. Just what I was looking for and at a price of £65 per tyre [including fitting, tax and wheel balancing]. I rang my local garage and they quoted £73 for the same tyre and service, though they cut their price to £68 when I told them the Blackcircles price.

Blackcircles is not the only online tyre retailer. As more people become aware of them I would guess the existing tyre retailers, like HiQ, are going to experience some disruption.

 The old system gave tyre manufacturers no particular incentive to research and produce better tyres. The new system will and I expect that industry will also suffer some disruption, at least in Europe.


The British War Office used to notify next of kin of a servicemen's death by sending them a telegram.  A uniformed lad on a bike [later a red motor bike] would knock on a door and hand the telegram to a father, mother or wife.

As casualties increased  people began to understand the system and dread the appearance of a telegram delivery boy and a knock on their door.

The Streets They Left Behind web site has produced  a map of the homes of the 9,400 men  who died in World War I who came from the London boroughs of Highbury and Finsbury.  Each red poppy would have meant a knock on the door and a telegram.

The green poppies shows those  casualties who are buried in Islington Cemetery. I suppose those are men who were badly wounded in the war and died back in London.

This page has a link to the above map and also one showing casualties from Toronto.  'By the war’s end in 1918, some neighbourhoods were devastated. Shannon Street, a block running just south of College between Ossington and Dovercourt, lost ten men in the First World War. The Baron family, at 113 Langford Ave. north of Pape and Danforth, lost three sons – 28, 30 and 31 years old. Robert died at Ypres in 1916; Lawson was killed by a shell during a trench raid at Vimy Ridge in 1917; Thomas, gassed in 1915, lingered on to die in Toronto a few weeks before the end of the war.'

There is also an interactive calendar for Toronto's WW1 deaths.

Cameron makes UK an ISIS target

Interesting to see the disinformation campaign that lead up to the House of Commons vote to bomb.

First the terrormongering

Then the failure to learn from experience

1. Intervening in Iraq = disaster

2. Intervening in Afghanistan = disaster

3. Intervening in Libya = disaster

Then claiming there is no alternative

Yes, there is. It is none of our business. We are not the world's policeman. I listened to this Labour numpty on the radio saying that we are not the kind of country that would stand idly by. That is right. We are the kind of country that does as the US tells us to do.

Then deciding to train and arm terrorist groups in Syria

Just look how well this as worked out in the past. For example, arming rebels in Afghanistan during the Russian occupation of the country. Do you remember when Bin Laden was a CIA pinup?

My understanding is that the only groups that is might be reasonably safe to arm are such pussies that the big bad boys will soon come along and take away their new toys. Just as ISIS got all its good stuff when the Iraqi army ran away and left all their expensive weapons for ISIS to pick up.

None of the reasons that the government and their fellow travellers have given for going to war are plausible.  We have not been told the real reasons and once again we are being taken to war on the basis of a pack of lies.

How did the House of Commons ever come to vote for this nonsense?

When politicians claim to be upset that so few people vote in UK elections they might consider that it might be a consequence of them being a bunch of lying, self serving tossers.


Baume-les-Messieurs is a small village deep in a steep valley in the Jura region of eastern France. Limestone cliffs tower over the village.

In addition to the attractive Hobbit village there is an abandoned abbey which may date back to the sixth century.

In the early eight century the abbey and some surrounding villages were destroyed by Saracen raiders. The abbey was refounded in the ninth century. It is now open to visitors. There is a small tourist shop and a restaurant. It looked as if there was also accommodation available.

A river flows alongside the road into the village and there is an attractive  camp site by the river.

We visited in August and the village was not too crowded. Free parking was available.

Computers and productivity

It has been remarked that, “We find IT investment everywhere,
except in the productivity statistics.” The thought was occasioned by the observation that business investment in IT did not appear to be producing any measurable increases in productivity. This ‘Productivity Paradox’ has been investigated by a number of researchers and a number of possible explanations for the paradox have been developed.

1. Productivity has not increased but will in time. This explanation recognises the slow pace of innovation diffusion, and the even slower pace of organisational change. Both individuals and organisation, with the exception of a few neophiles, are slow to adopt new developments, particularly revolutionary ones. It has been remarked that the innovations which will cause significant change over the next 10-20 years are probably around now. The table below lists some innovations. It can be seen that we regard as new and modern have been around a long time. the first email was sent over forty years ago, and there are still people who do not use email.

1960’s Mailbox - first email
1965 Dendral - first expert system
1968 Engelbart’s demonstrated graphical user interface [lead to Windows]
1969 Compuserve – first online system
1972 Dialog – first online database
1976 Adventure – first computer game
1977 Apple II – first PC
1979 Visicalc – first spreadsheet

It has also been observed that people are even slower to change practices and processes to exploit new technology. The seminal work in this area is ‘The Dynamo and the Computer: An Historical Perspective on the Modern Productivity Paradox’ by Paul A David.

It should also be noted that significant innovations are infrequent. The technologies that disrupt existing business models or cause major changes in productivity and practices are very rare. Many innovations are little more than extra chrome, or minor evolutionary improvements on existing technology.

2. Productivity has not increased because IT investments are mismanaged. There is ample evidence that there is a low success rate in IT projects, particularly the larger ones.

3. Productivity has increased. The productivity paradox is a measurement error arising from the nature of the problem and the limitations of the research tools used by economists. Economists have attempted to find correlations between IT investment and productivity, but it may be that the data sets and tools being used are too crude to reveal productivity movements.

4. Productivity has not increased because IT is marginal to knowledge based activities. The argument here is that computers are good at data processing but ineffective in processing the knowledge and expertise involved in many tasks. There may be some truth in this argument, but it would not explain why improvements in data processing productivity have not appeared in the statistics.

5. Productivity has increased but the gains are being used to make qualitative improvements, rather than quantitative changes. The argument here is that productivity gains are being used to provide greater variety, or other qualitative improvements, in products or services [no longer can buyers have a car in any colour as long as it is black]. They are not being used to reduce employment levels or increase output. Productivity gains are thus being used to “fund” innovative procedural changes rather than directly affecting employment or output. Economists have tried to measure productivity changes in terms of reductions in employment or increases in output. If this hypothesis is correct it is not surprising that they have found no changes.

There are a number of models which attempt to relate productivity and employment.

Model 1

This model argues that new technology increases productivity and therefore fewer employees are required. This may seem simplistic but the model was used for evaluating the viability of many IT investments. Savings in employments costs were used to measure the rate of return on proposed IT projects. If this model is plausible there should be evidence of productivity increases from IT investments.

Model 2

New technology increases productivity and enables new products and services. Employment may fall in some existing areas, but the development of the new products and services will produce compensating increases. If this model is plausible there may be no overall measurable changes in productivity.

Model 3

As model 2 but the effects of the compensating mechanisms may be delayed, disproportionate or occur elsewhere. If this model is plausible then there may, or may not be, measurable changes in productivity.

Ukraine - is it all about gas?

What happened in the Ukraine?  Well, one group of pro Russian oligarchs was replaced by another group of [possibly pro Western] oligarchs. Interesting, but nothing to do with us. The Ukraine is a poor country with nothing much that we want. The sensible thing to do was mind our own business.

Instead, we appear willing to go to the brink of war to get involved. Already we have applied sanctions to Russia and they have retaliated. The retaliation looks as if it will cost some EU countries a lot of money. It wont cost the US or UK  because neither country buys Russian gas or sells much to Russia.

There are a lot of noisy warmongers at work in politics, the military and the media and I sense an organised campaign. But why, and who is behind the campaign?

If you want to know who is behind something fishy try applying the lawyers test of 'cui bono' [who stands, or stood, to gain from something, and so might have been responsible for it].

I came up with two possibilities.

1.  Corruption - the Ukrainian oligarchs are behind the campaign and have bribed a number of political, military and media figures to spread their propaganda.  They know they cannot oppose Russia so they are bribing people in the West to get their countries involved and do their fighting for them. The oligarchs are people with billions to spend. Tossing a few millions to some rent a ranters is nothing to them.

2.  Gas - because of fracking the US has lots of gas and it is looking for people to buy it. Germany imports $72 billion worth of gas from Russia each year.

 Do you think there might be people in the US who would like part of that business? If Germany could be persuaded to buy US gas instead of Russian gas some people would get very rich. There would also be a political advantage. Germany and the EU have been showing signs of having minds of their own. The US cannot tolerate that and making Germany, France and Italy dependent on the US for part of their energy would be a good way of bringing them to heel.

Of course, if the hidden hands get it wrong then this will be the outcome -

Don't worry. The people behind the campaign will not be anywhere near ground zero. You and I might be, but they will make sure they are in a different hemisphere. Read this post for a report on the Iron Mountain hideaway they had set up during the last cold war.

"From this New Yorker article on the Iron Mountain storage facility.

'In the sixties and early seventies, Mesick said, people sometimes slept in the mine: it contained fallout shelters, built and maintained by Iron Mountain for executives from Exxon, Shell, and other big companies.

One especially elaborate shelter, he said, had sixty-five hotel rooms, each with a private bath, and a large cafeteria with a commercial kitchen; in the mid-century-modern bedrooms, curtains obscured the concrete. According to Mesick, in the event of nuclear war, some executives, along with their families, would have been evacuated by helicopter from New York City. “They’d hired local folks to tend to them, to cook for them, to clean for them,” Mesick told me. “Their idea was to wait out the storm while the debris and radioactivity were going on overhead—then they were going to come out and sell oil to everyone who was left.”

Fortunately, in contrast to the rabid warmongering from some people in the NATO countries Putin appears to be acting sensibly and moderately. I think they are trying to provoke him into threatening gas supplies, but I think he knows that and will not bite.

The Trail of the Perched Cat

Dole is a small town in the Jura region of France. We visited it on a day trip from Besancon.

It stands on a limestone hillside alongside the River Doub.  It was the capital of the County of Burgundy before it became part of the French kingdom in 1678.

To guide tourists around the town the tourist office has created two circular paths. A short one of two kilometres that is marked with pavement plaques like the one above and a four kilometres one marked like this -

These are called the trails of the Perched Cat in  reference to  Marcel Aymé, creator of the  tales about the Perched Cat who spent his childhood  in Dole.  It is a good idea because the trails lead you by the most appealing parts of the town and searching for the next marker adds interest to the walk.

The tower in the background looks as if it might belong to a cathedral, but it is only a church, though an impressive one [Basilique Notre-Dame de Dole].

Tanners Canal
Pasteur was born in Dole. In his time  time many tanneries operated beside the canal and it must have stunk to high heaven.  Now it is very clean and one side is lined with restaurants.

Tanners Canal

ISIS v Rotherham

The UK government and their media lickspittles have been busy trying to get us worked up about ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The aim is apparently to persuade us to get involved in military action against these fiends in human form.  The latest device was to heavily publicise the murder of an American journalist. The ISIS fiends apparently chopped off his head. This is so clearly beyond the pale that we must bomb them asap. If we don't they will be over here chopping our heads off.

The BBC has been doing its best to promote the government line by making it a lead story and announcing ISIS activities in that tone of shock-horror that some of their people do so well.

However, there are a few problems with the government's cunning plan.

1. Nobody here cares about headless Americans.

2. If we bomb ISIS that will make it more likely they will attack us, not less.

3. We have had enough of lying bastards taking us to war to last us for a long time.

I don't really blame David Cameron. The UK is a vassal state of the US and Dave has to do what the Yanks tell him to do.  If he ever does discover his testicles he could tell the Americans that the civil war in Syria and the creation of ISIS was a result of an Israeli black operation to topple the Syrian government and cut off arms supplies to Hamas. Now it has gone wrong and produced something worse than the Syrian regime they, as usual, want us to do their dirty work for them.

Rotherham is a different matter. Fourteen hundred young girls have been sexual abused over many years by gangs of Pakistani men. The activities of these gangs was covered up by members of the local council and South Yorkshire Police. The government has shown little inclination to do anything about this and is apparently hoping it will all go away and they can get back to doing more useful things like obeying their master's orders.

However, there are a few problems with the government's cunning plan.

1. The British public really does care about Rotherham.

2. The government needs to launch a massive arse kicking operation on the council and South Yorkshire Police.  A lot of people need to lose their jobs and some need to go to prison.

3. The government, in their little Whitehall bubble, are completely out of tune with the British public.

Bergheim haut Rhin

There are many half timbered houses in Germany. Not in the cities. They were burned in the WW2 air raids, but in small towns and villages.  I have a post on Quedlinberg & Goslar in the north. Amusing Planet has a recent post on Freudenberg. In Bavaria there are towns like Nördlingen, Dinkelsbühl and Rothenburg ob der Tauber on the Romantic Road. Some of these towns still have all or part of their walls still intact. Germany promotes these towns. There is even a German Timber-Frame Road that runs almost 3,000 km and passes through dozens of half timbered towns.

Bergheim haut Rhin is typical of such towns.  Lots of well maintained half timbered houses and very clean and tidy.

It looks very touristy but it is not. The town is on a wine trail and there are several places selling local wines but otherwise there are very few places designed just for tourists. Many places have been ruined by a profusion of tourist traps. Especially in France. For example, Carcassonne, Mont Saint-Michel and Provins. The Germans are more careful.

Bergheim still has most of its walls

The backs of some of the half timbered houses

The most curious thing about this very German town is that it is not in Germany. It is currently in France. I say currently because it is in a region that has changed hands frequently.

Though it is in France I suspect most of the inhabitants are of German descent. Not only because of  the very un-French way in which they look after their town. When I looked at the WW1 memorial all the names on it were German.

We also called in Saint-Hippolyte which is only a few miles away and very different. It was an unpleasant place with traffic roaring through it all the time we were there.

Self addressed - Mr Bray's experiments with the post

At the end of the 19th century the young W R Bray started a series of experiments with the UK postal system. These included having his mother crochet an envelope and posting himself - three times. Later he became the Autograph King.

15 Sep, 2010. Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects, the First Edition edition., New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
The book is well written and has lots of illustrations of Bray's experiments.

I heard about Bray from a Futility Closet podcast.

There is also a Bray website.
More recently Harriet Russel carried out a similar series of experiments.

EuroVelo 6 - Cycling along the Doubs near Bresancon

The EuroVelo bicycle routes are a network of long-distance cycling routes criss-crossing Europe. Currently there are fourteen routes making up a total of  27,962 miles.

EuroVelo 6 runs 2,270 miles alongside several rivers, including the Rhine, Loire and Danube. It goes all the way from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. Part of it runs alongside the Doubs River by the French city of Besancon.

Looking down on EV6 and the Doubs from Vaubans fortress.

The Danube Bike Trail is part of EV6. I cycled a section of the Trail a few years ago [see this post].  This time I cycled east and west along the EV6, on either side of Besancon.

The path to the east and west of the city is joined by a river, foot and bike tunnel underneath Besancon's Vauban fortress.

 When I asked about hiring a bike the Tourist Office suggested two shops in the city but I found a much better one, called Lerelaisvelo [] right  by the bike path [see map]. The shop was run by what seemed to be a father and daughter team. The daughter spoke good English and was friendly and helpful. They had an excellent selection of cycles, including electric bikes and tandems. I chose an hybrid.

The Wikipedia page states that only 8% of the EV network is traffic free asphalted path and 56% is low traffic public roads. The section I was on was about 80% traffic free asphalted path and the rest  low traffic public roads. The paths were in very good condition and free of anything likely to cause a puncture. Though it was mid week there were a lot of cyclists and skaters on the path.

Some houseboats moored by the path
There was not a lot of traffic on the river. In theory the Doubs is navigable by boat. In practice there are many low falls, each with either a lock or a bypass canal.