Archive for October 2007

The Tuesday Effect

Posted on Tuesday 30th October 2007 at 00:00
Why is it that the morning rush hour is always worse on a Tuesday than on any other day of the week?

This is a phenomenon I've been noticing over the last few weeks and months, ever since I started working full time. As any commuter will tell you, the morning rush hour in Bristol is not an experience many people relish, and the area around Frenchay, Filton, Downend and Hambrook is especially bad. To put things in perspective, outside of rush hour it takes me 20 minutes to drive from home to work, yet a minimum of 40 minutes during the rush hour.

Fair enough, no mystery there. Rush hour traffic = longer journey times. Fine. Where I get a bit confused is the bit where on a Tuesday and only on a Tuesday, my time spent behind the wheel shoots up to a full hour. On one particularly bad Tuesday about a month ago, it took me an hour and a half to drive the 8 miles to work. Worst of all, the traffic reports on the radio didn't even mention that there was any unusual congestion to be had anywhere.

Can anybody suggest any reasons why at least a 3rd more people drive to work on a Tuesday than on the other 4 days of the working week? Does anybody else experience this unusual situation, or is it just a Bristol thing? Does the traffic do anything bizarre where you live?

Answers on the back of a speeding ticket please!

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Posted on Wednesday 17th October 2007 at 00:00
I've just realised that it is a full week and a half since I last posted anything here. This is pretty poor even by my standards, which have themselves, slipped in recent months.

I think there are a few reasons for this. Firstly, very little of interest happens to me most of the time. Keeping an accurate record of what I do every day is really not what I'm into here and wouldn't be even if I had a more interesting life. For me, as for so many others, most of my waking day is spent at work, even on the weekends. I do a job that I quite enjoy, but which is largely repetitive and unlikely to ever change in a way worth recording. Ok so on Monday my hours were changed to allow me to alternate between two different bars throughout the day and today I was switched back to just my usual bar for the time being, but that is about it.

Another reason is that the nature of my time at work, which tends to constitute my entire social life, is such that whenever anything interesting does happen, I have to repeat the story to half a dozen people individually; to be sure that everyone has heard it. After that, the last thing I feel like is coming home and writing it all out for you to read, even if it's something quite exciting, such as my near death experience in a taxi last Saturday, or the wonderful time I had seeing the musical Wicked on the same day.

When I do come home from work, all I really want to do is watch a bit of TV and have something to eat before I have to go to bed, so once again little time for writing.

I really do regret not putting anything here, and I know it makes me a rubbish blogger, but even this short little piece & a trifle over 300 words & has already taken me 20 minutes to type up. Once I've finished I then have to proof read it and post it up, possibly with a picture attached. In total it'll be at least 30 minutes, which is too long for a 'quick? post, never mind a real, interesting one.

Oh joy, I've not bothered to update my Twitter status for 24 hours. Now there's a surprise.

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Ignorminious On The Environment

Posted on Monday 8th October 2007 at 00:00
The other day I was in my local Wetherspoons having a spot of dinner, and trying not to look like a complete loner.

As is common place on a Friday night, the pub was packed, and I must have looked terribly selfish having that small, square table by the pillar all to myself. So as not to come across as having been stood up by anyone, I occupied myself by reading the in house magazine that 'Spoons bring out every couple of months or so. It is mostly a fairly dull affair, full of articles about which pubs in the chain have won awards for this, that and the other, but in this issue, two articles court my eye.

The first was the forward to the magazine, written each month by the Chairman, Tim Martin. He was complaining about the double standards of the Government in trying to tackle underage drinking and how actually all they were doing was driving the problem underground and away from the watchful eye of the local landlord. He then admitted that he himself had recently been refused entry to one of his own pubs because his 22 year old daughter, whom he was with, wasn't carrying any ID. She herself had worked in that very pub not 4 years previously, which made the whole scenario even more bizarre.

The second and far longer article was about a new 'Spoons pub that has been built using the latest technology to make it environmentally friendly. The two page piece went into some detail about what bits of kit are being installed and how they will be used. They have put everything into this pub, from double the legally required amount of insulation to solar panels, wind turbines, sun pipes, ground source heat pumps and condensing boilers. I'm no expert on green technology, but I do know a bit, and they have really gone to town to make sure that this place uses as little conventional energy to power it as possible.

As I finished the article I began to think about how important it is to start using these new technologies as an interim measure in our little battle with the future of the planet and how bizarre it is that their take up has not been more wide spread.

The building I live in was completed in summer 2006 and opened shortly thereafter, so it's not exactly old. Certainly, the technology used to make the new Wetherspoons an environmentally friendly pub were well established by the time the plans for my home were drawn up, and yet as far as I know, not one of these great new innovations have been incorporated into this apartment block.

This saddens me, as it'd be nice to think that new builds at least could be making an effort, even if older housing stock is a little trickier to convert. Ok so the insulation here is pretty good. It's October and I'm sat here in a t-shirt with the heating off and my desk fan whirring away to stop me melting, but who knows how much power that is using?

The thing about global warming and climate change etc though is this: here am I, complaining about how many energy efficient light bulbs there are in the room and towing the Government's line on environmental issues, when I myself don't believe the argument.

No matter what politicians may try to tell you, the solution to global warming is not to turn off the kitchen light every time you leave the room. No, it isn't. Nope. No buts. It just isn't. You want reasons? Ok, here are two of them:

First off, you cannot change human behaviour to that extent that quickly. We are all used to living a comfortable and pleasant life where we have as much electricity as we want, whenever we want it. Right now I am sat here with 8 lamps on, my desk fan, my computer and my digital photo frame on top on the TV, and you know what? I have no intention of ever giving up my right to waste that electricity as I please. Why should I? It is mine. I pay for it though the nose so that I can do just this. And that will never change. I don't mind switching from regular bulbs to energy efficient ones, because as I see it, they are just as good. But there ain't no way I'm going to sit in the dark just to save the planet, and nor should you.

The second reason is that it just won't work. That's to say if everyone in the world did everything being suggested to minimise our carbon foot prints, we would still be pumping out too many green house gases to reverse climate change. It's a fact. This planet has over 6 billion human beings on it. 6 BILLION. That is too many. We could switch the whole world over to low power light bulbs, give each of them an A rated fridge and make everybody walk to work and we'd still be up to our necks in unwanted carbon.

The Government pedal this as the solution because it is the cheapest option. They do it because the alternative is that they will have to pump billions of pounds of tax payers? money into researching real clean technologies, and if they did that, how would they ever be able to pay for all the new stationary, every time they decide to rename one of their failing departments?

You see, for all the campaigning by the Green nuts to get us to turn our TVs off at the wall, electricity is not actually a bad thing. In fact it is the single cleanest and most versatile energy form there is, and there is absolutely no environmental argument against using it as much as we can. There is a good economic one of course, namely utility companies love to fuck us in the arse and the wallet every time the quarterly bills come round, but that is another matter. There is nothing environmentally wrong with electricity.

What is wrong is the way we produce it. Burning fossil fuels to generate electricity is a very messy business, and thanks to the problem of radioactive waste, nuclear fission isn't looking any better. But why are we bothering with either of these two methods anyway? Follow an energy trail back through time and no matter what route you take, you will always end up with the same common source: the sun.

The sun is a true God send. Day after day it continues to pump out more energy than a trillion of us could ever use, even with all the lights on at the same time. It really is the best place from which to harness energy and convert it into electrical form, and yet at the moment we are being really shit about getting it directly.

Solar technology is a fantastic invention, but recently it has hit something of a road block in its development. As I'm sure you know, white light is made up of a spectrum of colours, each operating on a slightly different wavelength. What you may not know is that 90% of the energy in light is tied up in the red wavelength, and that current solar technology is completely unable to extract this energy.

The reason why solar technology has had such a poor reception, with people complaining about the panels not working on a cloudy day etc is because almost all the energy available in everyday light is being wasted. If we could find a way to harness that red light, our problems would be solved! There would be so much energy coming in from these solar panels that even on a gloomy day, enough electricity would be being generated from half a dozen panels on your roof to power half the street.

What's more, a recent technological breakthrough means that solar panels can now be printed onto surfaces as easily as ink is onto paper. This means that more or less any surface can become a solar panel, without the need of all that heavy and fragile glass. It also costs almost nothing to do.

Now, if I were in government and faced with the current crisis, I'm pretty sure where I'd be wanting to invest my money.

The other big issue with climate change is transport. Our cars will be the death of our planet we are told, and yet where is the alternative? Forgetting road congestion, which is a completely separate issue, we are faced with yet another technological dilemma. Petrol is bad for the environment, and yet we need it to get around. Or do we? The other week I saw an episode of Click, the BBC's flagship technology short on BBC News 24. They did a feature from Silicon Valley that looked at the latest advances in electric cars, and boy have there been advances!

I don't know about you, but when I think of electric cars I'm reminded of the prototypes they built and tested about 20 years ago. They were oddly shaped, drove no faster than a milk float and ran out of power after about a mile. Not anymore. Thanks to some extraordinary advances in battery technology, fuelled in part by the boom in portable consumer electronics, it is now possible to draw very large amounts of power from very small cells.

In the example we were shown on Click, an American firm have built a Roadster. It looks as good as any Ferrari and does 0-60 in 4 seconds flat, with a top speed of 130MPH. It can do 200 miles on a single charge cycle, which by the way is about what I get out of my Fiesta going back and forth to work each day. It runs silently and is powered by a battery pack no bigger than a conventional fuel tank, so you don't lose a lot of space. If this was freely available on the market today at a reasonable price, I honestly doubt anyone would ever buy petrol again.

In fact, combine this with the solar technology we were talking about earlier, and it would be possible to drive around without ever damaging the environment. There has, I admit been some concern about charging such cars if you live anywhere where running an extension lead to the car is not safe or practical, but here we look to the world of boats and caravans for a solution. In marinas and caravan parks alike, electricity is provided by a small pillar poking out of the ground next to each vehicle. This pillar contains mains power sockets covered by a water tight lockable flap, similar to the ones you get on outdoor sockets for homes.

These could quite easily be installed on streets outside homes with very little fuss. They'd be placed on the curb side next to where you park your car and would be connected to the mains supply for your house via cable buried under the pavement. The flap would be held down by a lock, to prevent anyone else from stealing your power, and all you would need to do would be to plug it into your car when you came home at night and unplug it in the morning. Simple.

Ok, looking back up the page I seem to have written rather a lot on this subject, but hopefully you've got my point. All the technology we need to reverse climate change is either freely available or just around the corner, and all that is lacking is the will power and a little investment by the Government to ensure that our children won't have to wear plugs in their bottoms to make sure that no one farts and upsets the delicate atmospheric balance that we are currently in the process of creating.

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Count Down

Posted on Tuesday 2nd October 2007 at 00:00
Every morning at around 08:55, I drive my car up the curb and onto the pavement, in order to drive around the barrier at the entrance to Car Park 6 on the Frenchay Campus of the University of the West of England. What follows is a brief account of the first hour or so of my working day, as I like it to pan out:

08:55 & 65 minutes to opening (MTO) - Car Park 6 is about as small as a car park can be without becoming a lay by, bay or road with the double yellow lines removed. There are perhaps 20 bays in total, and one area by a hedge which isn't marked as a bay but is sufficient in size to allow the desperate motorist to park there without upsetting anyone. Having failed to find a bay I will manoeuvre my vehicle into this space, just as a colleague pulls up behind me and attempts to do the same. On occasion The Boss will shout instructions from an upstairs window so that we can both fit in without running the risk of being towed away.

09:00 & 60 MTO - I arrive in the kitchen and deposit my bag in the changing room. Next I proceed to rant and rave about the awful parking/traffic/something I heard on the radio that morning to anyone who'll listen, whilst simultaneously greeting everyone in the room, finding out how they are and enquiring about their weekend/evening out/bad back. Conversations at work can prove confusing to the casual observer.

09:05 & 55 MTO - I go round the room once more to enquire who would like a caffeinated beverage of one kind or another and how they take it, before wrestling with the trolley laden with equipment to be taken to the bar, so that it is persuaded to travel in that general direction. This usually involves ricocheting off of other trolleys, tables, walls and people until we reach the door to the bar.

09:10 & 50 MTO - Making coffee in the morning is the best way of ensuring that all the necessary equipment is present and correct, and that nothing has broken since the previous day. The basic list usually looks something like this:
  • 3 filter basket arms for the espresso machine. These are the strange handle things that get removed from the machine and banged over bins before your coffee is made. We have three at work, two double shot and one single shot;

  • 3 inner filters for the filter baskets. These are basically small metal bowls with holes in that hold the shot of ground coffee whilst water passes through it and into your cup;

  • A large metal jug for frothing milk. This comes complete with a thermometer and what can best be described as a small, flat-bladed spatula used for alternately scooping the froth off the milk and holding it back whilst pouring;

  • An assortment of cups and saucers, mugs and teaspoons;

  • A pot and filter tray for the filter coffee machine;

  • The special box into which spent coffee is deposited.

  • 09:20 & 40 MTO - Coffee is distributed to those who requested it. I always have a latte in a mug, where as the others usually have sachets of instant coffee, the filter machine being switched off at this stage. At this point The Boss or another supervisor is opening the tills and counting the float.

    09:25 & 35 MTO - Even when care is taken, coffee granules tend to get trodden into the floor of the bar throughout the day, so this is the point at which I sweep and then mop the floor. Whilst I'm doing this, I've set the espresso machine to perform a maintenance task known as 'back washing.? This involves blocking up the filter baskets so that the water that is normally forced out through the coffee is made to cycle back through the machine and clean it out. I also switch on the glass washer so that it has time to warm up.

    09:35 & 25 MTO - Next the fruit bowl. This must be filled with a selection of fresh fruit that will sit on the bar all day and largely be ignored by the majority of customers. At the same time crisps must be acquired to fill the basket that sits next to the fruit bowl. When this has been completed the specials board needs to be wiped clean, as do any tables that have been used by the 'cleaners? in the night.

    09:40 & 20 MTO - Time to stock the fridges behind the bar with all the bottles of beer, water, fruit juice and coke sold on the bar. Whilst I'm making out my list I'll also be removing the nozzles for the draught coke machine from the soda water they are stored in at night and reattaching them to the machine for use. The bottles are all stored in one cellar and a single trolley is usually enough for a day's worth of stock. Whilst there I will also grab as many cartons of fresh orange juice as I require and a dozen or more pints of milk. Once back in the bar everything must go into the fridges as quickly as possible.

    9:50 & 10 MTO - On with the filter coffee, which will take around 10 minutes to drip through into the pot. Whilst it is going I'll fill up half a dozen glass jugs with the orange juice from the cartons.

    9:55 & 5 MTO - I switch on the stereo behind the bar and set it to playing the first of five CDs that have been on repeat quietly in the background since last Christmas. As the first track - California Dreamin? - begins to play, I raise the bar shutters and remove the post between them. I switch the lights on in the restaurant and spend a minute or two checking that everything is ready, and that the water jug is filled with a fresh supply of cold water.

    10:00 & 0 MTO - I march importantly to the main door and unlock it, bracing myself as I do to deal with the rush of early morning customers all desperate to come in for their morning coffees.

    There aren't any of course. I've never once unlocked that door in the morning and found people waiting to come in. Two reasons for this: firstly it is a busy university and people just don't have time to stand around waiting, and secondly there is a coffee shop less than a minute's walk away which opens at 8.

    Over the next couple of hours there will be a slow trickle of regulars. On a good day we might see as many as 20 sales by 12:00, but it is usually closer to a dozen.

    We refer to this as the calm before the storm....

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