Notes from the Green Party Candidate for South Norfolk, for General Election 2015. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...
Sunday, 22 November 2009
Why don't we all go up and down the stairs? I'm certainly going to make a policy of it from now on.
I thought, while we're on this theme, you would find this amusing.
Sunday, 15 November 2009
Simple devices and inventions with negative commercial potential II: disposable gaiters for cyclists
The solution: Tear off the leg of an old worn out pair of pyjamas, the leg end of a worn out pair of knee-high socks, the sleeve of an old shirt or sweater, or just any piece of discarded cloth garment or sheet. Pull it on over the lower leg end of your trousers/boots, or, if it is not a tube, wrap it round the leg and tie the corners together on the outer side at top and bottom. If it's too loose, tie it up with a spare shoe lace or an elastic band.
When you get to your destination, slip your leg(s) out of the gaiter(s) and roll the gaiters up in your pocket or bag. The sleeves of a silk shirt are particularly small and light weight for this purpose.
Now you're instantly smart and presentable... When the party's over, you pull the things on again before riding home (make sure they're not inside out!).
When the gaiters get too dirty, throw them away and find a new pair.
Friday, 13 November 2009
What about the marvellously simple invention that costs nothing at all, and saves you having to buy some gadget or equipment or tool that costs a lot? Something for free that does the job just as well or better? Is that worth inventing? I find myself doing so all the time.
Here's one from this week. "No-bracket bike lights".
The problem: you have more than one bicycle. One of your bikes has battery lights that clip onto brackets fixed to the cycle. Now you need to ride the other bike which has no brackets for the lights (because the lights came with just one set of brackets), and no lighting set of its own.
The solution: (1) clip the back light to your reflective belt, back pocket of your rucksack or back pocket; (2) find one of the red rubber bands that the postman drops. Fold it double and wrap it round the handlebars or steering column of the bike in such a way that there are two loops, one on either side of the bar. Rest the front light on the handlebar or against the column, and pop the two loops over the front and back end of the sausage-shaped bike light. Adjust the tension of the loops by moving parts of the band from front to back or the reverse, until your lamp is pointing roughly in the right direction. Hey presto: hands-free lighting.
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Sunday, 21 June 2009
Conditioner is a kind of sticky stuff that adheres to the hair and doesn't wash out when you rinse it. It adds bulk to the hair, because it's a kind of gunk, and because it attracts or retains moisture it makes the hair less prone to frizz and a little bit glossy. Unfortunately as well as attracting moisture, it attracts dirt and smoke. And because it forms a film over the hair it prevents the natural conditioning oils that the head produces from travelling along the hair properly, so you end up with very greasy bits near the head.
So the result is that you have dirty hair with greasy tops, and so you have to wash your hair after a day or two. And because you keep washing the natural oils away the hair gets thin and dry and fragile. So you have to put conditioner on it to make it look at all decent. But then it gets greasy and dirty and full of gunk. So you have to wash it. And so on.
This is good business for the manufacturers of stuff for washing your hair and rectifying problem hair, because you always have problem hair and it gets to be more of a problem the more you use their gunk.
Once you've got into this cycle it's very difficult to break out of it. Which is doubtless how the people who market the products like it to be.
It's much better never to get into it. It's a mod con, and once your conned into using it, you'll find it hard to stop. Without it, it's easy to look good by washing your hair just once a week—probably less if you don't live in a city— no conditioner, no fancy shampoo, nothing to paste on afterwards, just the natural gloss of your own hair oils.
Saturday, 20 June 2009
A long way down that article there is an interview with David Sedley (professor of ancient philosophy in Cambridge) who makes some pertinent points about the pressures on academics to travel.
In order to achieve promotion, for instance, one needs to show that one has a significant international reputation and that one is in demand as a speaker all over the world, and even if you're not looking for promotion this is what gives you high status both in your own eyes (it's nice to feel people have noticed that your ideas are worth hearing, and that they want to have you come and speak) and in the eyes of others when they judge your achievements, assess your grant applications, consider who are the stars in your university, choose who to feature as exciting globetrotters in their newsletters about the university's research successes, and so on. Besides, meeting and talking to other academics is important for generating and sharing ideas, so this is how we derive our intellectual stimulation—and that's especially so if you're the only one working in a certain specialist area in your own place. And universities tend to make you use flights for your overseas visits rather than alternative methods of travel, by providing only a small annual research and travel allowance, and by approving expenses claims only for travel by what appears to be the cheapest means. Indeed, I wonder if it would be possible to get a conference funded by the research councils and other funding bodies if one asked for the costs of travel by train and ship? I doubt it.
I have expanded a little here on the points that made it into the article about David Sedley, who has a very commendable policy of taking no more than one return flight per year and using the train for any other travel he agrees to undertake.
Well, the point is well made and Sedley is probably right when he says that most academics are still living the unexamined life in this respect, and that they regard his conduct as a little eccentric. Still, when he says (early on in the reported interview) that he's aware of few other academics who are trying to alter their style of travel, I thought it would have been nice if he'd mentioned this blog, because there is at least one other (and he remembered that enough to send me a message on Thursday to say he was being featured that day...). In the competition for green credentials, I may not be doing quite as well (I ended up with two sets of return flights to Europe this calendar year) but I did manage to avoid travelling to the USA altogether for the whole of the Bush era.
Besides, you should also bear in mind that Sedley already comfortably has his position at the very top of the academic field that we work in, and in a university that has an unusually large number of others in his field. His need for travel to establish his credentials as a major player in the field is not so great as it is for those of us who are still pleased, and even flattered, to be included in distinguished research meetings.
And for those who are really just starting out on an academic career (not that this applies to me but I'm thinking of those at the junior end, still looking to make a name) there'll also be the difficulty of finding the money to take the train, if as yet they have no permanent job and no secure salary, and are trying to find money for a house and to support a young family.
So we need to change the rules a bit, not just by asking academics to take the train at some personal cost in their reputation and status, but by slowing the pressure of academic life (we need to be able to find the time to add two nights on the train each way; so international meetings can't be held during teaching terms for a start), by having fewer and longer academic meetings (so that the extra time travelling is not out of proportion to the time once you get there), by funding the whole cost of the travel taking environmental cost into account, by requesting funding council grants that cover proper travel not air fares, and by providing adequate travel grants and child-care grants to assist early career academics to make the proper choices about their time and travel.
Comments welcome from other academics who think they deserve a place in this competition for the Green Professor.
Monday, 4 May 2009
I now have three bicycles in Cambridge and two in Norwich. In addition there is "Chris's bike" which is a man's bike, so I don't count that as mine.
Among these five (or six) remaining bikes is, of course, horrid pink bike. I thought for a bit that I had found someone who would like to use it, but it's come back to haunt me again. It's in Norwich, and it's not locked, and I'm waiting to see if it will ever find someone who loves it enough to take it.
Also in Norwich is a new blue bicycle, with a fine new basket and carrier and bell. This is a replacement for the green bike ("New Norwich Bike") which, in my earlier posts on this topic, I was just trying to take to Norwich. That New Norwich Bike is now no more, or rather it was taken by someone when I'd parked it at Earlham Road Shops, so I have it no more.
I've also lost the horrid black mountain bike, which is sad because it had a nice dynamo and two very fine new tyres. I took it to the bike man at UEA and asked him if he would buy it from me. He said I'd get more money if I advertised it, which was doubtless true—or would have been if I'd got that far— but I could hardly be bothered. But I did take it away and lock it up outside the Arts Building. Never saw it again: couldn't find it a week later.
So I've lost two bikes in Norwich and I'm trying hard to lose a third.
In Cambridge, I reclaimed the ten speed purple pioneer from Christian, thinking I would take it to Oxford and then to Norwich (to replace the one I'd lost at Earlham Rd Shops). But it was too uncomfortable to ride, so I traded it in for the new blue one.
In Cambridge I also have a very nice old fashioned green bike, three speed, with full chain case and rod brakes. Excellent: I bought it second hand from Kingsway Cycles a while back. Also my mother's bike (described previously) and spiffy bike (ditto). I don't really need three, but the one to lose would be my mother's and I don't think I can just discard that for sentimental reasons. Perhaps I should look for someone to borrow it, though at present it's the one to ride to the station on days when I have to go to Norwich with a brief case. Perhaps I do need it after all...
Of course, if you want chocolate chips in something you need to put bits of chocolate in. If you want a chocolate coating on something, you need to coat it with chocolate, or something that ends up like chocolate. In those cases it may make sense to start with something that is a bit like the finished article. But if you want to make something taste of chocolate, it isn't chocolate you want to put in it, but the stuff that makes chocolate taste of chocolate.
I mean, think of it this way. If you start with chocolate that tastes nice, nice and chocolatey, and then you mix it with something else that is not nice and chocolatey, the end result will be less nice and chocolatey than it was before. No matter how much chocolate you put into a pudding or a cake it will always be less nice than pure chocolate, because it will have a lower proportion of cocoa solids. So how do you increase the proportion of cocoa solids? Well, clearly the way to do that is to add cocoa solids. If you add more chocolate, you will also be adding sugar (mainly sugar) and fat and a few other tasteless things: this won't help to make your cake or pudding tasty. It will make it sweet and tasteless. Besides which it's difficult to use, because chocolate is made to be hard and snappy, so you can't mix it into a recipe without melting it first, and that is a very tricky job. Why choose to use that then? It's mad, because it wasn't designed for the purpose and is very ill suited to it.
Here's another mad example: someone gave me some supposedly luxurious "hot chocolate", which was supposed to be nice because it was made of flakes of "real Belgian chocolate". What a stupid idea! For, (a) flakes of chocolate do not melt well, and certainly don't mix into hot milk. There is no easy way to generate a mug of hot chocolate from a mug of milk and a pile of chocolate flakes. And (b) however much chocolate you put into the milk, it will never taste sufficiently of chocolate, because if the chocolate tastes right on its own it will taste of virtually nothing when you've diluted it with half a pint of milk.
The way to get something to be luxuriously chocolatey is to put lots of chocolate powder into it: by which I mean plain cocoa powder. Cocoa powder contains no sugar, just cocoa solids. 100% cocoa (not 90% or whatever the best of chocolate has). Cocoa powder contains 21.7% fat: that's the cocoa butter that comes naturally. It contains no sugars. It has 23.1% protein. 1375 kJ energy per 100g. It's good stuff: rich and tasty. If you put three 5 ml spoons of it in a mug of milk, and one spoon of sugar, THEN you get a really luxurious rich chocolatey drink. Yum.
85% plain chocolate (which is certainly among the best) has 2515kJ per 100g, 9.7% protein, 15.9 % sugars, and 51.5% fat. In most cases you will also find it has some rubbish in it, such as emulsifier and so on. And that's before you've mixed it with whatever else you are supposed to be adding in your recipe.
So why do we get tempted to buy something when it says "made with real Belgian chocolate"? There's no reason to suppose it will be at all nice. In fact, rather the opposite.
Saturday, 28 March 2009
The thing is a con, which makes us go on buying the thing that is making things worse.
I don't mean things that we could live without (with some minor discomfort). I mean things which we would be happier and more comfortable without, if only we could resist the pressure to have the thing we've been conned into having.
Here's an example: deodorant.
When I was a teenager I thought that there were some people who were lucky enough not to need to use deodorant (my younger brother for instance) but the rest of us were smelly and would be very smelly indeed if we didn't use deodorant every day.
Then I met a man who didn't use deodorant, and he persuaded me that all you need to do is wash your armpits at the end of each day. So I tried it, and sure enough, once you've washed off the weeks of bad chemicals from the deodorant, you become fresh and sweet smelling and you don't generate so much perspiration. Nor do your clothes get messed up by the deodorant, and they breathe better as a result, so you don't get hot and sweaty from wearing the clothes that had become non-porous from the nasty things you were applying to your armpits. And you don't need to wash your clothes so often, nor do you find that you need to buy new garments because the old ones have bad marks under the arms.
Perhaps it may be true that there are a few people who have some kind of illness or malfunctioning sweat glands, and maybe they might get a bit smelly. But it's my belief that most of us are fine with a bar of soap, a washbasin with warm water, a good flannel to wash with, and some well-chosen clothes...
I mean, obviously you don't want to be wearing clothes that cut in too tight under the armpits, or clothes made of nylon or polyester or acrylic. But such clothes are uncomfortable and look horrid anyway, and are another mod con, only suited to chavs.
I haven't used a deodorant for thirty years now.
Thursday, 26 March 2009
When they dig up the road they make a large hole. Then they park their digger next to the hole. Then they park their portable toilet next to the digger, or on the other side, next to the hole. Then they fence the entire thing round, enclosing any remaining space between their hole and the pavement. Then they put up a big notice saying that the road is closed (or, in this case, a sign saying go to the left of this blockage, as though there were still a way past). The fact that it was the only cycle route for you to get to work or to the station is, of course, not their concern. While I was taking this photograph (which is a picture of the ten minute route from here to the station, in this case through Kingston Street) sixteen cyclists came by, and every one of them had to dismount (luggage, children and all) hump up onto the pavement, walk past, hump down again, climb on again, etc.
Why did they still do that? Because the next nearest way round, involving dropping down to Gwydir Street and going round by St Barnabas road instead of Devonshire road, is about twice as long and involves three sets of traffic lights, making this a twenty minute journey instead of a ten minute one.
I didn't think to get any pictures of the similar works on King Street, which were helpfully timed to be at the same time as yet another set of (still ongoing) works on Jesus Lane, so that both of the two main arteries into Cambridge for cyclists from the East were closed at the same time. It's true that Jesus Lane is not wholly closed... but it has traffic lights, which are extremely slow and add a great deal to the journey time. What is more, whereas at an earlier stage it was possible to by pass the problem on Jesus Lane by going round by King Street, now they have gratuitously moved the Jesus Lane traffic light back like this:
This is the view of it where you come out from Malcolm Street onto Jesus Lane opposite Wesley House. This used not to have a traffic light, so you could turn left at will providing no traffic were coming from the right, and you could turn right into Malcolm Street from Jesus Lane even if the traffic light, which was a bit to the right of this junction, were red. Not so now. As you can see the traffic light here is quite isolated from the road works: the works are way down the road to the right. Why stop the traffic here? Just to make life difficult for the cyclists, to prevent them from avoiding the problem by way of King Street and Malcolm Street...
Which way would you go if you couldn't do Jesus Lane and Trinity Street, or King Street and ... (well where do you go from there? It's a designated cycle route, but then you're not allowed to go through Sussex Street, for some incomprehensible reason, and the police, just to aggravate everyone further, have been having a campaign to stop the poor cyclists from going through Sussex Street, which was their last resort... but just how are you supposed to get to Green Street, which is also a designated cycle route? and just how are you supposed to get from Midsummer common to King's)
Anyway, suppose you decide instead to go by way of Emmanuel Road and Downing Street. Now, this is what greets you:
In this case they have closed not only the left side of the road (we're looking East here) but also the contra-flow bike lane on the right. They know we won't like it, and that it is a crucial cycle route, so they specially put up a notice telling us we must dismount. I realise I haven't got a picture of the offensive blockade that they've put up at the Trumpington street entrance to this route.
What exactly is the city's policy with regard to encouraging cycling? I ask in genuine bemusement.
By the way, I've never seen anyone digging in these places. You'd have thought that they could at least arrange their digger and their toilet booth in a long line while they're off duty, so that the whole blockage was made long and narrow, with room for cyclists to pass on one side. Wouldn't you?
Sunday, 22 March 2009
Why are we to be deprived of the right to light? Presumably in the interests of saving CO2.
I wonder whether they've actually calculated the saving of CO2 correctly, though. The thing is, an incandescent light bulb produces both light and heat. A flourescent tube produces more light and less heat. The amount of energy put in (watts of electricity) is the same amount of energy as comes out (light and heat). Less energy in, less energy out. More energy in, more energy out.
If you use incendescent bulbs in a room that you are also heating, you will need less heating to keep the room warm than you will if you use a flourescent bulb. So in the winter, nothing is lost if you use an incandescent bulb in a room that is also heated by electricity. Your electricity usage will not go up or down by changing your light bulb.
Perhaps you heat your house by gas, and light it by electricity. Then your electricity usage will go down and your gas usage will go up if you change to cooler bulbs. But now, is this a good thing? It won't be saving CO2 if your gas and your electricity are both causing CO2 to be burnt off.
There is a risk (increasing as more of us join Green tariff electricity) that your electricity was actually coming from a renewable resource, wind power or solar or water or something, and not causing any CO2 emissions at all. So your incandescent bulb was giving you light and heat at no cost to the environment. Then the gas is worse than the electricity. In that case you are doing more damage to the environment by fitting the low wattage bulbs and adding heat from the gas fired heating instead.
So the only occasions on which you will assist the environment by going for the horrid low wattage bulbs is if the light is out doors, if the light is in a room you are not intending to heat or which tends to be too hot already, or if you are burning the light in the summer. But those are a tiny proportion of the occasions for switching on a light, and can be solved if we are all taught to fit a low watt light bulb in a room we never use or in outdoor fittings, and if buildings are built with adequate natural light so that no lighting is needed in the daytime, particularly on summer days. It can't be necessary to make incandescent bulbs illegal to achieve that!
And what about those of us who will have to resort to reading by candle light or gas or oil lamps, since we can't stand the flashing light of the flourescent lighting?
You don't think it flickers? Try this experiment. Sit in a room lit by a flourescent light, and try taking a picture with a digital camera (e.g. the one built into your computer if you have one). Now you'll see. That's why it's so uncomfortable to read by and why it makes you tired and brings on a headache.
My thanks to Bob De Wolf for pointing out how simple the physics of this is, and how dotty the policy is as a result.
Saturday, 7 February 2009
This is something we all need to be more aware of, and try to buy wine that has a real cork and when we go to a restaurant we should ask for wine that has a real cork. I haven't quite worked out how to discover which wines do have the right cork, but perhaps a good wine merchant will be able to tell you?
Now, what's all this about. Well here's a web site that explains it. Various parts of southern Portugal are major cork producing areas, and this involved traditional forestry methods that are crucial to the environment (but they'll only be maintained as long as the production of cork continues to be economically worth while). Cork oak trees help to maintain and hold the moisture in soils that would otherwise become desert very quickly, and they support a range of wild life including the Iberian Lynx which is an endangered large cat.
Portugal currently produces 30 million corks per day for the wine industry the world over. But every time you use a plastic cork, that's one less cork sold, and one step more in the direction of declining economic viability for the traditional way of life that maintains the delicate balance between agriculture, wild life and the general quality of all our lives.
More about corks and wine can be found here.
Monday, 26 January 2009
This one is about Roquefort cheese, which, so they tell me, Diderot described as the King of Cheeses (despite the fact that it stinks and is made by leaving it to moulder in the caves of Roquefort sur Soulzon).
The problem here is that the Bush administration slapped a huge increase in tax onto various European imports in the last days before Barack Obama took over (apparently as a punishment for Europe refusing to import beef from America). Roquefort cheese has been targeted in particular, with a tax at 300 %.
Good for the French I say: they resisted the Iraq war, and they refuse to have any American beef brought into the country (that is the beef from cattle raised on denuded rainforest prairies and fed on hormones and served in macdonalds).
So let's keep the cheese in Europe! If we all eat lots more French cheese, we can save the planet, support the French in their stand for common sense and good eating, and let the Americans eat fast food if that's what they want!
Tuesday, 20 January 2009
"But how do you do the shopping?"
Well, right now, with no children at home, there's so little shopping to do that it's almost never worth going shopping, least of all with a car. But with a family to feed, you'd certainly need to be able to source some supplies.
Here's how we do it/used to do it, and then some other suggestions.
- Use the milkman for daily deliveries. In our case this means that we never have to go to the shops for milk, eggs, bottled water (not that we need that), orange juice, grapefruit juice. That deals with most of the heavy stuff. In the past we also used to have the milkman deliver a large sack of potatoes for the winter (or you can have smaller bags of potatoes more frequently).
- Bake the bread at home, and have the bread flour delivered in a sack periodically by the local bakers.
- Walk to the local butcher for meat, baker for yeast and walk or cycle to the market for fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, cheese. In Oxford we used to go to the local Asian shop for loose eggs and a few other things. At Christmas, fetch the turkey from the butcher using a trolley or cart, or a sledge if it's snowy.
- Cycle to a local wholefood store, occasionally, or more often, depending, how far it is. That's for beans, rice, oatmeal, yeast extract, malt extract and other store cupboard stuff. In Oxford that was Uhuru. In Cambridge Daily Bread or Arjuna. In Norwich the Green Grocers.
- Cycle to Newmarket Road or Cowley Road or wherever the nearest convenient small supermarket is, for the residue of basic needs. In our case this means once a week, to buy flour, butter, toilet rolls, yogurt, breakfast cereals, coffee. Go on a bike with a basket and a back carrier (take a bungie or two to fasten the toilet rolls and other sturdy items to the back carrier). If there's some special occasion and there's a lot to buy take a second person as the donkey, with another bike with a very large basket.
- Grow some herbs in the garden.
- Order more things from the milkman: for instance, bread, yogurt, probiotics (yakult), potatoes in various sized bags, fizzy drinks, butter and so on can all be ordered as a regular or one off order. They also do organic vegetable boxes now.
- Have a weekly organic fruit and vegetable box delivered from a local farm.
- Grow vegetables and fruit in your garden or on an allotment.
- Order from the supermarket online.