1977 Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer

This handy tool can  be used to estimate your chances of acquiring a broken skull, glass fragments in your eyes and/or a severe lung haemorrhage in the event of a nuclear incident nearby.

If the US arms industry continues to promote arms sales by prodding the Russian bear you may need one sooner than you think.

The George Bush Wreck

Former US President George HW Bush has just died at the age of 94. He was the 41st US president and served between 1989 and 1993.

During WW2 he was a US Navy carrier pilot on the USS San Jacinto. This was at a time when being a naval aviator was incredibly dangerous. Many did not survive training. Flying off a carrier was dangerous and navigating back to a carrier after a mission offered many opportunities for fatal errors.

In 1943 Bush piloted one of four Grumman TBM Avengers that attacked the Japanese installations on Chichijima. He was shot down and spent four hours on a raft before being rescued by a US submarine. Several of those shot down during the attack were executed, and their livers eaten by their Japanese captors. He took part in another 58 combat missions when he returned to the San Jacinto in 1944. At least one of those must have been to Palau.

Some years ago I visited Palau on a diving expedition.  There are a lot of WW2 wrecks  of ships and planes off Palau. One of them is a 150 foot armed Japanese trawler that Bush sank on the 25th July 1944. It lies at a depth of 40ft in the  northern atoll of Ngeruangel. I did not dive it because it was too far away from the main diving areas. Palau has many more accesible non wreck dive sites, including the famous Blue Corners and Chandelier cave.

In 2002 an expedition visited the Bush wreck.  During the 1988 presidential election campaign in the USA some political figures claimed that the ship  was an unarmed fishing trawler and not a military vessel. The divers found boxes of ammunition including hundreds of standard rifle bullets and 40mm anti-aircraft  cannon shells. The remains of gun/canon mounts were also identified among the twisted metal. 

In 1944 the US was  conducting Operation Starvation to force Japan to capitulate. That meant all Japanese ships became targets. The trawler would have been a legitimate target for Bush, armed or not.

The wreck was first found by Dan Bailey. He has written books about and produced maps of  the wrecks of Palau and Truck. I have framed copies of both maps. The Truk map is still available online.

Printer Tracking Dots

Bet you didn't know about this.

Researchers Reveal Details Of Printer Tracking Dots

What3words dodgy downloads

'What3words is a geocoding system for the communication of locations with a resolution of three metres. What3words encodes geographic coordinates into three dictionary words. For example, the torch of the Statue of Liberty is located at "toned.melt.ship". This differs from most other location encoding systems in that it displays three words rather than long strings of numbers or letters.' Using three words is much more human friendly than systems like Google's Plus Codes which generate a alpha numeric string [e.g. 849VCWC8+R9]. Try copying that down or dictating it over a phone.

What3words is not very useful if a location has a postal address. It could be very useful for places that don't. For example, open country or sea,  or countries that have obscure address systems or no address system at all.

When I tried to install the app to my android phone I found that I was only available from the Google Play Store and I would have to sign in using a Google account. No thanks.

Linking phones to Google accounts is the Holy Grail for Google. They not only collect information from the app you have downloaded but also link your phone to other information on you that they already have in their account databases. Particularly valuable will be the location data they will be able to collect either from your phone or from What3words.

Google have amply demonstrated that they cannot be trusted. I don't plan to give them any more information than I must.

So no What3words until they provide direct downloads from their website and have a privacy policy that does not allow them to sell my data to Google.

Too bad. Short term greed for Google money will reduce the number of users. If they do not soon get a critical mass of users their business will never take off and their three words will become yet another obscure geolocation system and their company will become another failed startup.

Can you read?

Reading involves parsing meaning from symbols [e.g. on paper or a screen]. If you are writing down speech you are drawing sounds.

If someone asked you if you could read you might well reply; "Damn your eyes you impudent scoundrel. Of course I can."

I would have replied thus. Then I read Alberto Mangual's A History of Reading [1997].  He advances a rather wider definition of reading. One that made me consider just how well I can read.

I can read a sentence written in English using the English alphabet but I cannot
read a sentence written in another language. Cuneiform or Cyrillic make my head ache.

That does not worry me. My ancestors put a great deal of effort teaching Johnny Foreigner to speak English and I have exploited that by not wasting my time learning a foreign language [they understand English if you shout at them loud enough, don't you know].

Mangual asks about other symbols. Can I read music or mathematical symbols?

Can I read a map or a painting?

Could I read winds and currents to navigate between remote Pacific islands? The Polynesian and Micronesian navigators of the past had to be able to parse these subtle symbols if they didn't want their their boats to be lost in the great expanse of the Pacific.

Can I read the mood of a friend or the tells of gamblers?

The dangers of reading

In 'Concerning the Horrible Danger of Reading' Voltaire identified the political dangers of literacy.

"Books dissipate ignorance, the custodian and safeguard of well policed states."

He was right. Look at the case of the printing press, Luther and the reformation.

Change books to information and its still true. That is why states try to censor the internet.

Wheel chart of time


On a recent visit to Vancouver I went out to the University of British Columbia [UBC] campus. There is much of interest on the campus, including the Museum of Anthropology, the Nitobe Gardens and the Museum of Biodiversity. See my posts on the first two of these.

This post is about a recently added attraction. The Tallwood student residence. This building is the tallest wooden building in the world with 17 stories and accommodation for 400 students. Instead of using reinforced concrete most of the building is constructed using cross laminated timber [CLT].

CLT is like grown up plywood. It consists of strips of timber glued together to whatever thickness and shape is required. CLT is very strong and rot and fire resistant. Accommodation units were factory built off site and then just slotted into the building.

This video provides a time lapse of the buildings construction.

Using CLT speeds construction and is environmentally superior to concrete. Instead of using a lot of energy to produce cement the CLT building method locks up CO2 for the life of a building.

Canada has a lot of trees and is well equipped to lead in the construction of buildings like Tallwood. The amount of timber used in the construction was replaced in 6 minutes by the normal growth of Canada's forests.

A lot of Canada's cities have housing shortages. The situation in Vancouver is particularly bad. Some government contracts to build a lot of apartment blocks would be a way of developing the country's CLT production and construction industries.

New Zealand is another country with a lot of trees but not enough houses. I wonder if it is looking a CLT construction.

Visiting UBC

There are frequent buses from downtown Vancouver. It is a very attractive campus but also a large one. The Museum of Anthropology [shown as MOA on campus maps] and the Nitobe Gardens are close together on the edge of the campus. Tallwood and the Museum of Biodiversity more central and are fairly close together.

The Good Old Days

The good old days, when the natives knew their place.

British merchant and Sikkimese lady West Bengal circa 1903


Augustine of Hippo wrote two books about lying: On Lying (De Mendacio) and Against Lying (Contra Mendacio).
From his text, it can be derived that St. Augustine divided lies into eight categories, listed in order of descending severity:

    •    Lies in religious teaching
    •    Lies that harm others and help no one
    •    Lies that harm others and help someone
    •    Lies told for the pleasure of lying
    •    Lies told to "please others in smooth discourse"
    •    Lies that harm no one and that help someone materially
    •    Lies that harm no one and that help someone spiritually
    •    Lies that harm no one and that protect someone from "bodily defilement"
Augustine wrote that lies told in jest, or by someone who believes or opines the lie to be true are not, in fact, lies.

Volvelles, Wheel Charts and Slide Charts

The electronic calculator killed off most of the mechanical calculators that were in use until the early 1970s. When Hewlett Packard’s HP35 calculator appeared in 1972 [at a cost of $395] the writing was on the wall for slide rules, addiators, addometers and all the other ingenious devices that were used to add, subtract, multiply and divide.

One device did survive and is still being used to this day. That is the slide chart [or the wheel chart if circular rather than rectangular]. They were not really affected by the introduction of the electronic calculator and there are several companies which continue to design and sell slide and wheel charts for all kinds of purposes.

In ‘Reinventing the Wheel’ [ISBN 1-56898-596-7] Jessica Helfand claims that wheel charts [she prefers the archaic Latin name of volvelle ] have existed since the Middle Ages. Her book gives a history of wheel charts and images of over one hundred from her own collection. She has donated her collection to Yale University. A catalogue is available online.

Why have slide and wheel charts survived when slide rules haven’t? One reason is that they are about presenting information rather than about calculation. Information which can be read off scales [see the IBM slide chart below] or seen through die cut windows [as with the Kellogg wheel chart above]. Another reason is that they are specialized. There are charts about nuclear radiation, sports, profit and loss, dates, general knowledge and so on. A third reason is that they are often created for advertising or publicity purposes. A possible fourth reason is that they often attractively designed and interesting.

They are hand held devices so they are usually about 6-8 inches in diameter. Many are made of card, though plastic or metal devices are not uncommon. Some are very ingenious, and the older and quirkier ones are collectable.


Click on the volvelle tag for more examples

Bonny Scotland

This is the picture most tourists have of the Scottish countryside. They find it beautiful, but that is because they do not understand what they are seeing.

What they are seeing is a devastated industrial landscape. The bare hills and glens of Scotland are a product of the sheep farming and the sporting industries. Approximately 98% of the natural Scottish forests have been cleared. Neolithic farmers started the tree felling and it has continued to the present day. The bare green hills are now only good for sheep, deer and grouse. There are too many deer in Scotland and deer are very good at preventing forests from regenerating. If neither the sheep farming or shooting industries existed the countryside would look very different.

Sheep farming is not economically viable. Without subsidies farmers would be losing money on every animal they raised. Sporting estates are not much better. When I drive up to Edinburgh I pass through mile after mile of this industrial landscape. A landscape that is full of sheep farms that provide only a subsistence living to their owners.

What needs to happen is for the Scottish Parliament to introduce a scheme to persuade landowners to move away from sheep and grouse farming, and to start reforestation. To start replanting the Great Caledonian Forest that once covered Scotland. Once the forest started to regenerate we could start looking at reintroducing some of the species that have been lost.

A small step towards making this happen is being taken around Loch Katrine with a scheme to plant thousands of acres with broadleaf trees, such as oak, rowan, alder, willow, ash, and aspen. There is so must wasted land in Scotland that we could create a forest covering thousands of square miles. This would not only be a recreational asset for Scots, but also a tourist attraction. It would also do something towards alleviating global warming.

Mythical Creatures

A visit to Crespi d'Adda

Crespi d'Adda is a industrial heritage site a few miles east of Milan, Italy. Like Saltaire in England and New Lanark in Scotland it consists of a cotton mill and workers housing. It was built in 1875 by Cristoforo Benigno Crespi on the banks of the Adda. Like New Lanark [1786] it used hydroelectric power to run the mill machinery. Saltaire [1853] was powered by coal. All three are examples of 'model villages', where a benevolent employer not only provided employment, but good quality housing and other social amenities. All three villages are now designated by UNESCO as World Heritage sites.

All the mills are closed [Crespi in 2004, New Lanark in 1968 and Salt's Mill in 1986] but their housing is still occupied. I have visited New Lanark and Saltaire and had hoped to tour the Crespi d'Adda mills. When we arrived we found that it is possible to wonder around the village, but the factory is only open to pre-arranged tour groups. There is a Visitors Centre but when we visited it was only open in the mornings.  That was a pity because it appeared to have quite a bit of information on the mills and village.

The mill buildings are very ornate and appeared to be in good condition.

New Lanark provided tenement block accommodation fro its workers and Saltaire has rows of terraced houses. Crespi d'Adda had a policy of providing high quality individual houses for its workers. The owners believed it reduced the potential for industrial unrest. You can see the quality of the housing from the photograph below.

Urbino, Gubbio and Assisi

These three Italian hill towns are quite close to each other. We stayed in Urbino and visited the other two on the same day. All have a lot of superb buildings and are well preserved. Assisi is probably the largest and has the best architecture, then Gubbio, and finally Urbino.

In addition to the defensive advantages of building on a hill malaria also played a part. In many countries farmers live on their farms. In parts of Italy farmers live in hill towns and travel out to their fields each day. That is because the plains were once infested with malarial mosquitos and the towns were cooler and had fewer mosquitos.



The Dukes of these towns had much better taste than the Roman Catholic Church. I was surprised how poor the interiors of the churches were. A lot of money had been spent on the churches but the money had been spent by people who had little sense of artistic merit.

The Ducal Palace in Urbino.

Urbino at night.

The last straw in fake news

Some people have been getting anxious about the use of plastic straws. They should be banned, they cry.

The media have picked up on this and cited various statistics about the number of plastic straws that are being used.

'Each day, Americans use an estimated 500 million straws. The number has been used to illustrate the scale of the issue and modern society’s reliance on this ubiquitous piece of disposable plastic.

It turns out, however, that the number is imprecise and originates from Milo Cress, a young environmentalist who researched straw usage to come up with the 500 million estimate when he was just nine years old.

As a curious fourth grader who had just started an environmental project to discourage restaurants from providing straws by default, Cress decided to look online to find out how many straws are used each day in the United States. Not being able to find any statistics, he called straw manufacturers directly and estimated the 500 million figure based on numbers they provided him.'

 Read more on Tim Newman's blog.


Tracking you

Use this Electronic Frontier Foundation software to check if your browser is leaking information which will allow you to be tracked as you browse the web.


More information on browser fingerprinting  Link

Losing the right to smear

The singer Cliff Richard has won a case against the BBC for their coverage of a police raid on his house over a claim that he was a paedophile. He was never charged with any offence and both the police and the BBC have to pay him damages and his court costs.

The British media is moaning because the judgement in the case seems to rule that in future a persons name cannot be published until they have been charged with an offence.

They claim that "the case marked a "significant shift" against press freedom and an "important principle" around the public's right to know was at stake.

I don't agree.

Neither did the judge.  "In his judgement, Mr Justice Mann said a suspect in a police investigation "has a reasonable expectation of privacy" and while Sir Cliff being investigated "might be of interest to the gossip-monger", there was not a "genuine public interest" case."

A former chief constable for British Transport Police said: "Generally speaking, I see no reason for the public to know people have been arrested.  The person arrested carry the stigma of that arrest for a long time."

I think it is right that the media should not be able to damage a persons reputation by reporting they are being investigated and will now have to wait until they are charged.  If they are not charged their anonymity will be protected.

The media have lost the right to smear a person just to get a scoop.

Fran Unsworth, the BBC's director of news, said that the ruling is a "significant shift against press freedom".  No its not. Though it is a blow to the unethical who think their desire to get a scoop justifies invading someone's privacy and destroying their reputation.

Fran Unsworth
The Wikipedia article on Ms Unsworth observes 'In August 2014, Unsworth ordered helicopter filming of a police raid on a mansion belonging to Cliff Richard. The coverage led to the singer suing the BBC for breach of privacy. '

I have been following this story on the BBC web site and I cannot recall them ever mentioning who at the BBC was responsible for sending helicopters to spy on Richards home when it was being raided by the police. Could Wikipedia be right?  Was it The Franster?

I would now like to know who at the BBC decided not to settle Richard's claim out of court but instead take it to trial. The result of that brilliant decision has been legal costs and damages in the millions that will have to be met by the TV licence fee payers. Plus a court judgement that The Franster claims infringes 'press freedom'.

You might also have noticed how the BBC news department [headed by The Franster] has managed to spin the story so that it is about press freedom and not about two very expensive  and very bad decisions by the BBC.

The BBC defends

I listened to David Jordan, the BBC's director of editorial policy and standards being interviewed by a BBC journalist [senior BBC manager interviewed by more junior member of same organisation. That's the  way to get at the truth. I assume Mr Jordan's mum was not available to do the interview.]

His answer to almost every slightly tricky question was to say that the BBC would have to consider that issue. The police raid was four years ago. Haven't the BBC found time to think about the case and their actions during the past four years? No meetings? No time to put the old thinking caps on?

David Jordan said resignations were "not necessarily the right response to every mistake that every journalist makes in a news organisation". Oh, I don't know. I think applying a blowlamp to some BBC tootsies would do the organisation a world of good. If they have trouble drawing up a list of sackable people I can think of a few names.