Archive for December, 2010

The correct use of puns

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, Irregular Features with tags , , , , , on December 29, 2010 by awickerman

In keeping with the habit of architects to give their buildings stupid names, see Darth Vaders Helmet, the moderately sensible Leadenhall Tower acquired the nickname The Cheesegrater. Some may say calling a building ‘The Cheesegrater’ purely on the basis of one of the sides being slightly sloped is a bit weak, and some may well be right, but these are architects we’re talking about; by their standards that is Oscar Wilde on the form of his life.

This has proved an irresistible target for newspaper sub-editors, alas some of them haven’t quite got the hang of it;


Honestly I’m not even sure what the Evening Standard was trying to do there, of course I can see the ‘Grater/Greater Good’ part, but damned if I know what that has to do with the rest of the headline. Frankly they should take a hard look at themselves, then go and read the Financial Times for proper cheese grating based puns;

The grater good

Which works perfectly for a story about how the Irish government is using EU social cohesion funding to distribute free cheese. Though be warned, merely being Irish and cheese based makes a pun work, see this horror in the same article;

opposition party Fine Gael’s agriculture spokesman Andrew Doyle said in a statement: “People on the breadline would rather the government’s ‘un-feta’d’ attention was on solving the economic crisis.”

Dear. Lord. No. I fear Mr Doyle used to work for the Evening Standard….


Snow, Concorde and BAA

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2010 by awickerman

So BAA has apparently refused to let untrained (and un-security checked) people amble about it’s airport cleaning up snow.

Can I suggest that this recent event may have concentrated minds at BAA, Continental getting a large fine (and staff getting a suspended sentence) is a timely reminder that very small bits of debris can bring down a plane. If the hordes of random staff bugger up the cleaning, maybe leaving tools on the ground or missing patches of black ice, and a plane subsequently falls out of the sky (or fails to take off) then it doesn’t take much imagination to see BAA in the dock and facing corporate manslaughter.

If I were BAA, running at 99% capacity most of the time and with a queue of airlines looking for landing slots longer than the runway, I’d not risk prison to get the airport open. It’s not like Lufthansa or any of the other whinging airlines are going to relocate to Luton is it?

Just to make it clear though, they are a bunch of inept idiots who really, really shouldn’t be allowed to run a major airport. But then what do you expect from Spaniards?

Heating at Heathrow

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Engineering, Tenuous Link of the Day, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , on December 21, 2010 by awickerman

As is painfully obvious Heathrow Airport doesn’t have heated runways, but then the excuse goes that back in the 1950s when they built them (and the 1970s when they rebuilt them for jets) how could they have known Global Warming Climate Change would cause so much snow?

It’s a good answer, only slightly undermined by the fact that 1968 saw the construction of the Heathrow Cargo Tunnel which, due to a fairly steep slope at one end, has an under road heating system to keep the approach roads ice free. A system they still keep in operation to this day and one which is working perfectly (Though sadly the surrounding roads are still buggered and the airport is frozen, but that’s not the point right now.)

Worth bearing in mind next time BAA put up a spokesman saying ‘It wasn’t worth money investing in equipment when we didn’t get heavy snow and bad winters’, because clearly the tunnellers they employed disagreed. Sadly the runway chaps, as always, just couldn’t match those high standards.

A Gift I Think Will Keep On Giving

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Engineering, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, The Idiocy and Ignorance of Gilligan, The Underground, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , on December 20, 2010 by awickerman

While it’s too early to be sure I think pointing and laughing at Andrew Gilligan is going to be a gold mine of lazy posts. Here is a gem from a couple of days ago;

Another interesting thing, though, is that several of the delays weren’t snow-related, but due to signal failures, train breakdowns and the like.

Without any information either way the options are either the signalling system and trains failed due to the extreme cold and snow OR all suffered unrelated failures at exactly the same time. Honestly which is more likely, not that I’m saying TfL have an excuse for being surprised by snow, but I think we can safely say pretty much all the problems were snow and cold related. But then what can you expect from an idiot who says things like this;

substantial proportion of its network is protected from snow by being underground (including about 95% of the Circle Line, which nonetheless still manages to suffer “severe delays.”)

What could possibly cause that problem? Let’s have a quick quiz, could it be;

  1. That the Circle Line, like all London Underground Lines is run at pretty much peak capacity so delays on the 5% above ground would quickly ripple through the entire system?
  2. That the Circle Line shares track with the Hammersmith & City Line, District Line and Metropolitan Line and so suffers knock on delays whenever they fail?
  3. That the Circle Line uses 1960s vintage ‘C’ stock trains that, barring the Metropolitan and Victoria Line stock that is being replaced at present, is the oldest and least reliable on the network?
  4. That it’s well established LUL procedure that the Circle Line gets knocked out first and suffers the biggest problem as it’s least-critical (i.e. doesn’t go anywhere other lines don’t also service).
  5. All of the above, hence why the Circle Line is historically the least reliable of all
  6. Something else

If you said anything from 1-4, you scored 5 points, well done. If you said 5,  you score 10 point, well done. If you said 7, you were doing a different quiz, well done.

However if you said 6 then I’m afraid you score no points. You’ve managed to stoop down to Gilligan’s level and can probably fake brain activity low enough to write his blog for him. Commiserations.

Making Yourself Look Stupid

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, Engineering, Rantings, The Idiocy and Ignorance of Gilligan, Tunnels with tags , , , , , on December 19, 2010 by awickerman

Let us say you are a journalist who’s got an axe to grind about High Speed  2. You want to knock of a blog post damning the project, do you do a very,very brief bit of research on the subject or do you just make something up that suits your prejudice?

If you chose the later option well done, there may well be a job at the Telegraph for you. Certainly they let Andrew Gilligan get away with making himself look an idiot by making things up;

And tens of thousands of Londoners in Primrose Hill, Swiss Cottage, Kilburn, Queens Park and Kensal Green are also at risk of vibration from tunnels under or near their homes.

No-one has ever suffered vibration from trains in tunnels 20m below ground level. Hell no-one suffers vibrations from tunnels a couple of meters below ground level, it is quite possibly one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen written about a train tunnel, and given some of the spectacuarly dense people I’ve dealt with over the years that is saying something.

The worst thing is if he’d wanted to do a blatantly unfair hatchet job on the scheme there were countless legitimate scare stories he could have used, problems that are actually possible and don’t make him look like a feckless idiot.

Looking at his other transport related posts I feel a series coming on – “The On-Going Dribblings of the Lazy and/or Ignorant Fool Gilligan”. It may need a snappier title.

A moral question

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Almost Beyond Words with tags , , , , on December 19, 2010 by awickerman

The ever investigative chaps at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (last in the news for poking their noses into the CIAs ‘extraordinary rendition’ programme) have looked into one of the many, many nasty corners of the whole Balkan mess and come up with this unpleasantness;

Inhuman treatment of people and illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo

Which essentially comes to the conclusion that the Kosovo Liberation Army probably did knock off quite a few Serbian prisoners and steal their organs.  So today’s moral question; is that better or worse than just killing them?

Given the sheer hatred on both sides the Serbian prisoners were dead regardless, at least by having their organs nicked they weren’t tortured too badly, it might damage the organs. Against is just my instinctive revulsion at it, but damned if I can put my finger on any objective reason why. From a strictly utilitarian view point they were dead either way, at least this way others got a chance at life. Is that worth the money that flowed back to the region that fuelled the war? I’m not sure, that is after all why it’s a moral question.

Well on that cheerful question I’ll leave it. Don’t worry it’ll be back to concrete and engineering f*ckups next time.

Windmills – Still Rubbish

Posted in Mining, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings, The Wicker Man list with tags , , , , , , on December 13, 2010 by awickerman

Durham University have sent one of their research students to look at offshore windmills, I’m not sure why, perhaps he had offended them in some way. In any event he has come back and worked out exactly how good/awful they are, using numbers rather than the vague insults and projections I’m usually forced to rely on. The summary is here with the bewitching title;

UK offshore wind farms: must do better”

Which, while accurate, is kind of like saying ‘Harold Shipman: must stop killing people’, it’s a nice idea, but it’s not going to happen.

So why must the windmills do better, well they were only actually available 80% of the time. That’s not generating electricity 80% of the time, that’s just potentially available to generate some electricity 80% of the time, the actual load factor (how much of the total theoretical production was actually produced) was far lower. As we saw last time on off-shore windfarms that ain’t good. The deep ff-shore windmills would hope to be available 90% of the time, if the ones in shallow waters can’t manage it what chance in the middle of the North Sea?

On the plus side the costs weren’t as bad as feared at a mere £70 per MWh (Not counting the fact taxpayers were been fleeced by the government to provide the subsidy to build the windmill, which then produces the expensive electricity your electricity provider is legally compelled to buy. Bastards).

Sure that’s more pricey than coal, say £45 per MWh for the average European coal fired plant, but it could have been a lot worse. You could be buying electricity in Germany where they have to contend with lignite power station trying to generate electricity by burning muddy twigs and costing fortune while doing so. Then there are the proper coal burning German power stations which have to buy coal from DeutscheSteinKohle, a company who’s mines really should be closed, but aren’t because the German government really likes miners and wants to carry on paying £200,000 a year per miner to keep them mining over-priced coal no-one outside Germany wants. Then there is the German solar industry which continues to cost a fortune, and of course they subsidies their own windmills.  Basically it all costs a fortune, apart from Nuclear and Russian Gas, which is probably why the Germans use so much of both.

Today’s thought for the day; Chris Huhne is a twunt who will be one of the first into the Wicker Man come the revolution.

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