Monday, 16 October 2017

Theresa and Juncker Accelerate. Red Sun and Ophelia's Sting Jet

Ophelia's Red Storm Sun 
Prime Minister Theresa May made a series of phone calls, to Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Emmanuel Macron and Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. This was in advance of todays trip to Brussels to meet with Jean Claude Juncker over dinner in an attempt to push for movement on Brexit. The result of the talks was an agreed statement, “The prime minister and the president of the European commission reviewed the progress made in the article 50 negotiations so far and agreed that these efforts should accelerate over the months to come. The working dinner took place in a constructive and friendly atmosphere.” A very ambiguous statement that covers the views of either party without making any concessions.

Woke at 4:30 am and, unable to sleep, started work. Completed the last changes for the cover to the Roman catalogue and sent them off. Then worked for rest of day on Bulletin, including the book review. Now only need to complete cover.

There was an eerie sky over Milton today with light cloud and a definite red tinge to sun and clouds. I took a break to take a series of photographs to try and capture the phenomenon.  Similar red skies and sun have been created in the past by Saharan sand whipped into the high atmosphere and blown across to the UK. This time fine ash from fires raging in North and central Portugal and Galicia in Spain were also carried along by storm Ophelia as it hurtled to hit Ireland. We were just seeing the far outriders of the massive storm.

Storm Ophelia with evidence of building Sting jet. Photo EUMETSAT and Severe Weather Europe site
According to the Met office, a sting jet is a hook like formation in a storm, like a scorpions tail. Rain and snowaccompanying a falling mass of air cool it further generating very high winds (more than 160 kmh or 100 mph) in an area that may be only 30 km across. It was a sting jet that caused the major damage on this day 30 years ago. Similarly, Ireland has been hit by a sting jet from Ophelia. Key facts from Met office website
  • The 'sting in the tail' is produced by a distinct jet of air - the sting jet.
  • It starts out three or four kilometres above the ground and descends over three or four hours.
  • Snow and rain falling into it evaporates and cools it as it descends, helping to accelerate it to high speeds.
  • It can accelerate to more than 100 mph.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Tillerson's NK Interpretation. Grayling's Glowing Agri-Vision. Crokinole Games

Oak (European) leaf underside with galls
North Korea's Kim Jong-un reacts with angry rhetoric to the American Jet fly-over last week and the expected arrival of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its carrier strike group at the Korean Peninsula. Rex Tillerson, strikes a more measured tone than the President in the past. "Those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops," Tillerson said on CNN's "State of the Union.". Am I supposed to be reassured?

Cabinet Minister and Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, took an optimistic view of a hard Brexit and it's impact on agriculture. "What it would mean would be that supermarkets bought more from home, that British farmers grew more and that they bought more from around the world." What he failed to mention is that this takes a while to adapt to. Supermarkets might scramble and succeed in  finding alternative food sources to make up for the cut-off of 70% of incoming agricultural products, mainly from the EU. However, expect tariffs of up to 22% on average, according to
Sainsbury's chairman David Tyler in the Sunday Times.

Furthermore, farmers actually have to plan ahead to choose commercially viable crops to grow  AND THEN GROW THEM. Which, contrary to Mr Grayling's optimism, actually takes months or even a year or more. Mind you, I look forward to the mandarin and lemon orchards in Kent, global warming permitting. It only takes three to six years for the orchard to mature sufficiently to bear fruit.

Modern Crokinole board, photo Alessio Sbarbaro
We, including visiting family, had a good lie-in today. I cooked a roast chicken lunch, followed by Yorkshire puddings with stewed apples for desert. Followed on with an afternoon of conversation and team battles of a gaome known in the family as 'Shove it', which has been in the family for a long time. The game is more commonly know as 'Crokinole' (pronounced Kroh-ki-nole perhaps an derivative or invention of 'Crock-in-hole!').

The earliest known crokinole board was made by craftsman Eckhardt Wettlaufer in 1876 in Perth County, Ontario, Canada, and we wonder if the idea of this game came into the family through a Canadian connection.

We played with either two players on opposite sides of the board or two teams of two on the quarters of the board. The circualr playing area is divided into three circular scoring rings with a central cavity which fits a puck. The inner ring and the central cavity are surrounded by 8 rubber protected nails. Each team has a set of 12 pucks, identified in two team colours. each puck is about an inch in diameter and has slightly concave sides to reduce friction. We wax and polish the board. The aim is to use a finger flick to get as many of our own pucks into high scoring areas. As shots alternate between teams, there is ample opportunity to try and remove opponent pieces whilst trying to score.

The game was originally thought to be of Mennonite or Aimish origin as it was popular in their communities. Rather than a game of the devil-like cards, Crokinole was considered a harmless pastime, misleadingly so when you consider the playful viciousness and guile that a flick generates, with considerable schadenfreude when the opponent is knocked off the board. Wikipedia has an entry on the game and it should be easy enough to build by any competent home DIY enthusiast. Game dimensions and rules available here

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Visit to the Fossils Galore Museum in March

Ammonite, colour enhanced
The Chancellor Phillip Hammond and various EU officials continue to raise the ire of hard-line Brexiteers, baying for their blood. President Trump's decisions on Obamacare and the Iran deal are also being picked over. The main news is still about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein's sexual predation and also the wildfires that are still raging across California. Former hostages in Afghanistan Joshua and Catlin Boyle return safely to Canada with their three children after being rescued by Pakistan.

We made an afternoon trip to March, to visit the Fossils Galore museum. The entrance was a bit misleading as it simply looked like a shop selling fossils and crystals. However, there was much more. Curator Jamie Jordan had just offered to give us a tour once he'd completed a task when a confident and earnest voice piped up 'I can give them a tour of the exhibits'.  The White painted face with black patches belonged to a nine or ten year old who added 'Today, I'm Dalmatian'. She was one of the 30 or more volunteers of all ages who regularly came to this museum to help. We followed the skipping figure to find that the rooms of the large high street house had been filled with displays of fossils from mammoths to ammonites, many from our region.

Jamie took over and showed us one of the prize exhibits, the left hand side of a woolly rhino jaw and part of the skull which, he assured us, still contained remnants of soft tissues in the ear canal. Behind the scenes upstairs, there was a small laboratory where two volunteers were working on cleaning individual fossils. Opening a box of recent acquisitions, we admired the partial tooth of a Mammuthus trogontherii or Steppe Mammoth and I took a picture with a ruler as a future reference to compare with the Norris finds. Also had a chance to inspect a woolly rhino tooth, which had apparently still had remains of plant material caught within it when found.

Perhaps the most interesting thing for me was seeing work being conducted on extracting the bones of a complete Iguanodon from rock recovered from a Surrey quarry. Fossils Galore has a small fishbowl lab where you can see trained volunteers painstakingly removing the rock to reveal the bones of the dinosaur. Remarkable was the find of fossilised tendons with the bones, a rarity. There is still at least five years of work to reveal the full skeleton bones which will then hopefully be reassembled into a final display.

The whole venture is self-financing, using the shop front to generate income and relying on enthusiastic, trained volunteers. A remarkable success in an era where museums are struggling to survive.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Breaking the Nuclear Deal. The Cost of Care Homes

Can't be bothered with the fuss today
Yawn. It was inevitable after the 'Brexit Deadlock' comment by Michel Barnier yesterday that their would be a flurry of activity. Junker made an analogy about ordering a round of drinks at the bar and then walking away without paying - earning snide remarks in the UK. Hammond inadvertently called the EU the 'Enemy' and then retracted. On top of this Labour pointed to the most recent YouGov poll that the majority of people surveyed (47% v 42%) regretted the leave vote. It is still a small difference. However, the same poll showed that 64% v 21% thought the negotiations were going badly.

President Trump refused to continue signing off the Iran nuclear nuclear deal, threatening to withdraw if further concessions were not made, alleging that the Iranians had not been complying with the international agreement. This is despite the fact that his own experts and military, as well as the other international partners in the UN including the EU, the UK and Russia all agree that Iran IS complying with the deal. However, the President has put Iran at the top of his list of enemies of the state after ISIS, and has passed the buck to Congress. They now have the unenviable talks of finding a solution. If international agreements are broken so easily by the US, what is the point for North korea to engage in any negotiations.

Considering that it was Friday 13th, the day started well with bacon butty, tea and conversation at the A14. Talked mainly with Margaret who had a major role in health administration before hitting the salary glass ceiling in a cash strapped public sector.

We got onto talking about the cost for care for the elderly.  I hadn't realised that the cost of care varied across the country. Checking this evening, whilst the average cost of a care home in the UK was about £29,300 per year in 2015. But in the East, the average price was £33,800, whilst in the Midlands it was £26,900. In the North it was as low as 26,300.  The same discrepancy exists for care with nursing. The worrying thing is that on average the costs are rising faster than inflation.

Snapped away happily at the Norris Museum, searching through old newspapers for a new volunteer project. Late afternoon, wandered over to the College of West Anglia to talk over plans for the two 1 h microscopy sessions that I'll be running next week. Bring on the weekend!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Brexit Brick Wall. Undermining Obamacare. Relative Hyperlinks.

Brickwork at Windsor Castle 
The most recent EU-UK Brexit round of talks came to an end today with different perspectives  on both sides. Today's allegory would be the discussions viewed as a debate over a brick wall. Michel Barnier gloomily notes that we still have a wall, that it hasn't moved, and that it is worrysome that dismantling it has not yet started. We don't know how much it's going to cost and who's going to pay for it.

David Davis, on the other hand is a lot more positive. We've made a lot of progress. We've measured the bricks, determined their sizes and have been able to agree on the colour of some of them, but we don't want to actually talk costs until we've seen what is on the other side.

There was one definite outcome - the pound plunged to Euro 1.11 after Barnier said the talks were in deadlock. however it recovered and stood higher at the end of trading than at the beginning, reaching the dizzy heights of Euro 1.12!

President Trump has lost patience with his recalcitrant Republican partners over their inability to remove Obamacare. Today he signed a presidential order expanding the access to cheaper and less comprehensive health insurance. “This will cost the United States government virtually nothing and people will have great, great healthcare,” he said. “And when I say people, I mean by the millions and millions."

Critics worry that with less comprehensive insurance, when illness strikes, or goes on for a prolonged period, patients will find they are not covered or bills rise dramatically.

According to the Guardian, there have been other steps by the Trump administration to derail the ACA. These include cutting the sign-up period for insurance by half; shutting down for maintenance the website people use to sign up for health insurance; slashing funding for outreach; and repeatedly threatening to end subsidies to insurance companies who cover the poor.

We were finalising the Votive Treasures catalogue today. One of the last minute touches was to link some of the key images within the document to the actual image files in a separate folder. Hyperlinking is the obvious solution, but we had to get our head around how to do it properly. we needed the final PDF to use 'relative' hyperlinks.

Relative hyperlinks will work as long as the file from which you are linking and the linked-to file are transferred to the same location on a different computer/DVD/memory stick. Having created the files and burning them to DVD, the disk was tested on a variety of computers and laptops just to be sure. It worked.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Treasury Lords' Brexit. Meddlesome Press. Fraud Epidemic

The Tory party continues its internal battles. Chancellor Philip Hammond, 2nd Lord of the Treasury, told a parliamentary commission today that he was minded not to divert money to soften a hard Brexit unless absolutely necessary. Prime Minister Theresa May, First Lord of the Treasury, stated that of course money would be diverted to planning for the catastrophic event, when asked a planted question in Parliament later. Apparently there was a slight disagreement/heated row at the cabinet meeting. Yet again, the government fiddles whist Brexit looms.

In the meantime, President Trump, irritated with the annoyingly unsycophantic press tweeted  "With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!". Something that Henry II would have sympathised with and perhaps paraphrased as "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome press?"Though Simon Sharma might correct me with the more historically acceptable version "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born falsee news". This was originally reported in Latin, which Google Translate gives as "Quid sum miser ignavom fucos pecus, et non enutrivi et exaltavi crimine lese maiestatis in domum, quis eorum dominus sit tam indignas tam contemptim tractari per falsum nuntium humilis primogenitus" (please feel free to send any Latin corrections). Mind you, as a Norman, Henry probably used Norman French (no translation available)!

The real plague of fake news, is online and other fraud. Spent morning on ActionFraud reporting line. Practically everyone I know has probably experienced it, even if its simply that call about your computer, allegedly from Microsoft. Last year's statistics are 3.6 million instances of fraud in the UK plus 2 million misuses of computers. The Chief Inspector of Constabulary for England and Wales, Sir Tom Winsor,  said on BBC Radio 4: "The amount of fraud that is taking place now is probably in epidemic proportions.The police are having to work very, very hard to keep up with even the ones they know about. The capability at police forces is quite skeletal and that needs to change and change a great deal."

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Quiet BrexiTrump day. On the Radio and Positive Responses

Mammoth hair at 100x magnification using polarised light
Across the pond, the important debate of the day is President Trumps challenge to his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson to take an IQ test to see who is the moron. Here the trick question the Prime Minister had to ignore in a radio interview was how she, a previous remain voter, would vote now in a Brexit referendum.

EU negotiators state that they are available 24/7 and that there seems to be an absence of UK negotiators this week.Obviously refuted by UK.

I had an interesting conversation at a meeting in the country park cafe with a potential client. No immediate work but it was fascinating to talk through their challenges and possible routes forward, whether we were involved or not. Part of being a small business is that you constantly learn from others and can in turn offer insights that might be useful.

Received a message from Sue Marchant that our interview would be on today's program at 3 pm. This gave me time to check I could record from the radio in the PC before doing so in earnest. Hmm, I could have spoken slightly louder. at least I didn't come over as a total muppet! As part of the interview, I talked about RAF Witchford and the book we helped Sue Aldridge produce. The program had hardly finished when Sue gave me a call and it was great to catch up with her again. On Facebook, the Mammoth story initiated an invitation to the Fossil Galore Museum in March.

Battled on with setting the Bulletin. At 50 pages of content and pictures. The end is in sight.