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.

Parliament fails us again

Under pressure from the Conservative Party whips MPs fail yet again to mitigate the disastrous consequences of Brexit.

"The government has survived an attempt by pro-EU Conservative MPs to change its post-Brexit trade strategy.  The MPs wanted the UK to join a customs union if it does not agree a free-trade deal with the EU.

But the government won by 307 to 301.

Ahead of the vote, Tory MPs were told a defeat would lead to a vote of no confidence in the government" (and so they might lose their cushy jobs in the subsequent general election).

These pathetic losers remind me of the Norman Davies remark about an earlier group of Conservative politicians.

"Under pressure from the ruthless, the clueless combined with the spineless to achieve the worthless."

Plants that changed the World

Many years ago I stopped off in Fiji on my way to Australia.   What struck me most were the differences between the two groups that inhabit the islands.  The native Fijians are Polynesians who came to the islands before 1000 BC. They had exclusive use of the islands until the late 19th century when indentured labourers from India  were brought to the islands  by the English  to work the sugar plantations.

The two groups are physically and culturally very different, and do not get on at all.  The unstable society that now exists is a product of the island's sugar industry.  It is an example of how a plant has changed a society.

One can also think of the movement of Africans to the Caribbean to produce sugar, and to North America to work on cotton plantations.

Historians tended to ignore  the effects of plants on human history until 1985 when Henry Hobhouse wrote 'Seeds of Change'. This book looked at five plants that had significantly changed the world, both politically and economically.

"The secondary title of Seeds of Change was Five Plants that Transformed Mankind and these were Quinine, that allowed Europeans to dominate the Tropics; Sugar, that changed the Caribbean population from Red Arawaks and Caribs to White Masters and Black Slaves; Tea, that inter alia, led to the destruction of classical China through the use by traders of opium in exchange for tea; cotton, that, like sugar in the Caribbean, led to a slave-economy in the Southern United States; and finally, the Potato, which produced huge increases in the Irish population and, when disease struck the potato, famine followed as did the greening of some of the United States.

A new edition has an extra chapter: Coca: how an Andean boon became a scourge on the streets, which tells the story of the Andean use of coca leaves and of the abuse of the modern concentrate, cocaine, which has harmed so many."

Hobhouse, H., 2006a. Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed Mankind, Shoemaker and Hoard. 

In 2003 Hobhouse produced another book, 'Seeds of Wealth', which covered a further four plants. The book was subtitled, Four Plants That Made Men Rich'. A later edition added a fifth plant, coffee.

"The chapter on timber is titled The Essential Carpet. In it, Hobhouse discusses how the shortage of timber in the United Kingdom led to the use of coal, which led to scientific advances and ultimately to the industrial revolution. On the other hand, the abundance of timber in the USA spurred the westward march of the country during the 1800s.

In The Grape's Bid For Immortality, the author discusses the growing of vines and making of wine from 600BC to the present. Wine has an enormous potential for the creation of wealth, multiplying profits wherever it is successful.

In the chapter Wheels Shod For Speed, he tells the story of rubber and how it changed the economies of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and indeed the world. 

More Than A Smoke is a fascinating account of how the colony and ultimately state of Virginia owes it wealth to tobacco. Initially this area had a monopoly on tobacco by decree of the king of England. This industry created a landlord class, which amongst them counted certain signatories of the Declaration of Independence, like Washington and Jefferson."

Hobhouse, H., 2006b. Seeds of Wealth: Five Plants That Made Men Rich, Shoemaker and Hoard.

Both are fascinating books.

Diving Andros- Over the Wall to 185'

Because the Caribbean is cut off by the cold Atlantic there is not the same rich variety of underwater life, and the coral and fish life in the Caribbean do not in any way compare to that in the Pacific or in the Coral Sea.

The islands of the Bahamas tend to specialize in other forms of diving. Some islands offer shark diving and the chance to take part in shark feeding sessions. Andros Island’s unique feature is that it has some of the best wall and cave diving in the world. The only area I know that has better cave diving is the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

The underwater caves of Andros are called blue holes. Some of them are accessed from the sea, others have a land entrance. I have written a separate posting  about one of the best inland sites, the Guardian Blue Hole.

On the east side of the island there is an almost vertical wall which falls down 6,000 ft into the Tongue of the Ocean. One of the best dives on this wall is a night dive to 185 ft. The usual procedure with this dive is to first do it as a day dive to check out ones susceptibility to nitrogen narcosis. The effects of nitrogen narcosis start to occur at about 100 ft, though individual resistance varies considerably. The symptoms are similar to those of drunkenness. These include a loss of coordination, a sense of elation and poor judgment. As the condition gets worse a diver may believe he can safely go deeper, or dispense with his breathing apparatus. The onset of nitrogen narcosis is rapid and recovery is equally rapid.

There are other risks associated with diving at this depth. One hundred feet usually is considered the maximum depth for safe diving. At 185 ft there is a very small margin for error.

The night dive starts with a boat ride out to the edge of the underwater wall. After anchoring and equipment checks it’s just a matter of going straight down until you get to a ledge at 185 feet. During the day dive you can hover at this point and look straight down into the abyss. The view is stunning.

At night there is another trick. If you cut open a Cylume [a chemical light stick] the contents of the stick disperse into the water and provide a psychedelic light show. This is a spectacular effect but you have to constantly monitor your air consumption [at this depth you use a lot] and the progression of nitrogen narcosis. You will certainly be suffering from the ‘narks’ but the trick is to start your ascent before the condition gets beyond recovery.

You also have to keep a very good eye on your buddy in case they start showing symptoms, and hope they are doing the same for you. Any mistakes at this point and it is a long fall down to the bottom of the wall at 6,000 ft.

More Fake News

Time had the following on their front cover.

That Trump, what an heartless bastard. Separating a mother and her child. Making a little girl cry.


The reality is rather different. The BBC has the correct story.

Mr Valera said his daughter and her mother, Sandra Sanchez, have been detained together in the border town of McAllen as Ms Sanchez sought asylum. 
Honduran Deputy Foreign Minister Nelly Jerez verified Mr Valera's version of events to Reuters.

Carlos Ruiz, the Border Patrol agent who stopped Ms Sanchez and her daughter, said the mother was asked to set the child down so she could be searched.

"The kid immediately started crying as she set her down," said Mr Ruiz. "I personally went up to the mother and asked her, 'Are you doing OK? Is the kid OK?' 

"And she said, 'Yes. She's tired and thirsty. It's 11 o'clock at night.'"

The BBC published an objective report.  At the time of posting the libtards at the Guardian are still silent.

I wonder if Time will apologise for publishing fake news?

It is remarkable how the libtards are so obsessed by their hatred of Trump that they cannot help stepping into his fake news bear trap.

Amazons second hand ripoff

For the third time this year Amazon has sent me a second hand item, presumably a return from another customer,  when I actually ordered and paid for a new item.

If Amazon wants to sell its returns it has to make it clear that that is what it is offering and price them accordingly.

I think it is dishonest to charge a new item price but actually deliver a second hand item.

When I have tried to mention this in feedback Amazon emails back saying they cannot publish the post.

Mrs May's Kutusov Strategy over Brexit

Many commentators have accused Prime Minister May of being weak and indecisive over Brexit [Britain's withdrawal from the European Union].

Perhaps they are right, but it could also be that she is following a Kutusov strategy. I think she is a remainer, but knows that she is not strong enough in Parliament or the Conservative Party to win a confrontation.

Field Marshall Mikhail Kutuzov was the commander of the Russian Empire's forces during Napoleon's invasion of Russia. His strategy was to avoid as far as possible a confrontation with Napoleon's army. He fought at Borodino in 1812 but the battle was inconclusive. Otherwise Kutuzov's strategy was to draw Napoleon deeper into Russia in the belief that his enemy's situation would worsen with time.

For the following reasons Mrs May has good cause to think that the Brexiteer's situation will weaken as time passes.

1.  The old favoured Brexit and the young favoured EU membership. The old are dying off and more young people are becoming eligible to vote.

2.  The difficulties and disadvantages of Brexit are becoming more apparent over time.

3.  More attention is being paid to some of the people who funded the Brexit campaign and acted behind the scenes. Was Brexit a Russian plot? I do not know but there are obviously questions to be answered.  As more dirt emerges some of the less rabid Brexiteers may begin to quietly slip away into the night and fog.

Cigarette product placements in US films and TV

Have you noticed the increasing number of on-screen smokers in US films and TV series?

I recently watched an episode of a US TV series in which almost everybody lit up a cigarette at every opportunity. That seemed  strange since less than 16% of Americans now smoke tobacco.

I suspect we see so many on-screen smokers because the tobacco industry is paying for product placements. Presumably they are spending their money because they think on-screen smokers make smoking look cool and to persuade the young and gullible to take up this stupid, expensive and very dangerous habit.

The UK has effective legislation on tobacco advertising. These product placements are subverting that legislation.

There is not much that the British government can do to stop this product placement in the US. What it could do is stop smoking scenes being shown in the UK by insisting on the deletion of such scenes from any production being shown in UK cinemas or on UK television. The BBC could take the lead by adopting this policy now, without waiting for government action. [The government might be slow to act because it would have to ask for permission from the US Viceroy Ambassador.]

If a no on-screen smoking policy was in place many US productions could not be shown here. US producers would then have to weigh the money they get from product placement against the loss of UK revenue.

QUIZ - name the product

This is part of an advertisement. What is the product?

Here is another one.

The Addiator

This is an Addiator; a German manufactured mechanical pocket calculator. They were made from 1920 to 1982. A Frenchman called Troncet produced a similar device and such calculators are sometimes known as Troncets.

 Users could add and subtract by moving metal sliders with a stylus. The simplest troncets only did denary [base 10] arithmetic. 

The one shown is a pocket model. There were more substantial desktop models.

 The Addiator company advertised their machines as also being capable of multiplication and division. This was stretching the truth since they could only do multiplication by repeated addition and division by repeated subtraction.

To overcome this limitation Castell produced an Addiator with a slide rule on its other side. I bought one in an antique shop in Prague many years ago. This was before eBay made collecting such devices much easier [and cheaper].

Some devices could add or subtract eighths of an inch, inches and feet. Others could add or subtract time.

One variant could handle pounds, shillings and pence. [Before Britain introduced decimal coinage in 1971 there were 20 shillings to the pound and 12 pence to the shilling. To add to the fun there were four farthings to the penny. The pound sterling was a character building currency when it came to mental arithmetic.]

Companies in the USA and Germany produced versions for programmers which could do hexadecimal [base 16] and Octal [base 8] calculations. These are very rare.  Link

Shopkeepers and tradesmen would not have used addiators. If they had to calculate the cost of seven items at £3/17/6d each they would have turned to a ready reckoner [a book with lists of common calculations].

I have one by me as I type. The calculations were done by a Mr. J Gall Inglis F.R.S.E. and the book was printed by Gall and Inglis of Edinburgh. I suspect they were not only a lot cheaper than Addiators, but also more useful.

Troncets and ready reckoners were gradually displaced by affordable electronic calculators from the mid 1970s onwards.

There must be many people who remember using such devices, but I have never seen them as a prop in an historical film or TV programme.

See also

Volvelles, Wheel Charts and Slide Charts

Planning for the past

In the 1830s the Swedes discovered that the island of Visingso had ideal conditions for growing oak trees. The Swedish Royal Navy thought it might be a good idea to have a source of oak for building sailing ships and particularly for use as masts and spars.

Over the next ten years some 300,000 oak saplings were planted. To ensure that the oaks grew straight and tall other, faster growing species, such as ash, elm, maple, beech and silver fir were planted between the oaks.  If the oak trees wanted light for photosynthesis they had to grow straight.

Today the 900 acre forest has immensely tall and unusually straight trees. Ideal for building Sweden's wooden walls. Unfortunately, oak trees take about 150 years to reach maturity and in that time shipbuilders moved to using iron and then steel for hulls.

In 1670, Louis XIV’s finance minister, Colbert, demonstrated similar foresight and ordered the planting of oak trees to provide masts for the French Navy of 150 years hence. He created the 26,000 acre Forest of Tronçais.  As with Visingso the oaks were planted with beeches and larches to encourage them to grow straight, tall, and free of knots.

As with Visingso, by the time they matured they were no longer necessary. Historian Fernand Braudel wrote, “Colbert had thought of everything except the steamship.”

Over the centuries the trees have been used to make charcoal for iron making and other uses. Only 13 ha of Colberts original forest remains and is now protected. The rest of the oak trees in the forest are the product of regeneration.

Now the older oaks  of Troncais are used to make high quality casks for the wine trade. Coopers use the most suitable parts of  the old oaks and sell their casks to a select number of wine makers.

The Forest of Tronçais is considered by many to be the finest oak forest in Europe.

Other oak forests have been more successful. There are over six million acres of cork oak trees in Southern Europe and North Africa. In Portugal a cork oak cannot be cut down without permission from central government.

The bark of the cork oaks of Portugal is peeled off and used to produce wine bottle stoppers, cork flooring, the cores of cricket balls, badminton shuttlecocks and the  handles of fishing rods. Their acorns are used to feeds pigs which are later converted into delicious and very expensive Jamon de Bellota.

On a different time scale, it used to be the custom amongst the English landed class to plant some willow trees when a daughter was born. Willow trees take about twenty years to reach maturity. When the daughter married the trees would be sold to a cricket bat maker to pay for the wedding. A mature willow tree can be sold for about £300 so several would be needed.   Link

Some other tales of old trees. Link