Archive for Probably not a matter of national security

Offshore Wind – Tricky

Posted in Irregular Features, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , on November 5, 2010 by awickerman

The chaps at the Carbon Trusts have belatedly worked out that off shore wind farms are tricky beasts, particularly the upcoming ‘Phase 3’ lot of deep water wind farms. As we’ve used up all the easy to get to spots off shore, and as people are starting to complain about having a large, noisy, ugly bird muncher on land, we must head to deep water and that is a problem.

To solve this they have launched OWA, the Offshore Windfarm Access challenge. For obvious reasons the normal deep offshore approach wont work (helicopters and windmills go together almost as badly as birds and windmills) so they need to get there by boat. For the current generation pretty much anything will do as it’s not to choppy inshore, so the waves are small and currents low, while the windmills themselves are relatively small. It’s usually a small little 10m jobbie that uses a gangplang to get onto the access platform, no crew accommodation to speak off and fairly limited range and endurance.

In contrast the Phase 3 windfarms will be something like 300km into the North Sea, be far bigger and have to deal with high winds and big waves, the design scenario being 5m high waves and 30knot wind. Hence the need for a new shiny transfer system. And make no mistake a transfer system is important as offshore windmills run at only ~90% availability (not load factor, though availability is one of the components of load factor) and that’s for windmills in shallow water. In deep water and being hit by North Sea storms that figure will plunge, particularly when you consider the main causes of failure; the turbine controller trips out. No seriously, 70% of all ‘repairs’ are turning-it-off-and-on-again which apparently cannot be done remotely and needs a bloke on a boat to do. If the controllers get phased by inshore conditions the central North Sea is going to eat them alive, in all honesty this should probably be a contest to make hardened and competent control systems, but that would be too logical for the Carbon Trust I suppose.#

For those of you with an interest find here the project spec, you too could win £100,000 in development money and possibly millions to build a prototype. For everyone else fear not, windmill makers still need help building foundations (it’s deep, giant concrete pillars just aren’t cutting it), sorting out the wake effect of windmills (i.e. how far apart they have to be) and electrical transfer systems (how on earth to get the electricity back to the mainland).

As the Carbon Trust is very generously funded by the inordinately retarded Climate Change Levy (which is far too mind blowingly stupid to discuss here in detail) there will be plenty of money to be thrown at all these problems, not to mention the dozens of other problems they haven’t even thought of yet, because as I said at the top; Offshore Wind – Tricky.


The Death of the Guardian

Posted in Irregular Features, Tenuous Link of the Day, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , on July 13, 2010 by awickerman

The inevitable death of the hypocritical and tax-dodging Guardian drew a step closer as the parent group (which was itself set up to avoid death duties) announces another colossal loss.

If nothing else this is richly deserved on ground of hypocrisy. The Guardian has spent years  using every rule in the book to avoid tax while at the same time bashing everyone else for ‘tax dodging’, including getting things so wrong over Tescos they had to issue a grovelling apology and were damned near sued out of existence.

If not paying loads of tax is as ‘morally offensive’  as the paper’s columnists claim then damn well stop using off-shore trusts. Indeed the ‘moral’ thing to do would be to pay the death duties the paper’s owners so successfully avoided all those years ago, sure the penalty interest on the bill is probably quite steep but this is about morality not crass commerce!

Still with such epic haemorrhages of cash, and this is before the ConDems put all public sector jobs online for free instead of exclusively into the Guardian, I doubt they could afford they have the cash to afford their high moral tone. Which makes their coming bankruptcy all the sweeter.

A looming problem

Posted in Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming, Irregular Features with tags , , , on May 24, 2010 by awickerman

I think the ConDems will soon encounter their first real problem over these spending cuts. Not over the cuts themselves (though I doubt that will go smoothly) but over the language. After all if £6 billion is “Draconian” and sends “Shockwaves” through government how will they describe the remaining £150 billion of cuts? “Real very draconian” just sounds silly.

I fear they have wasted a great deal of their literary firepower too early, what language do they have left for larger cuts? A foolish error, probably due to inexperience. Look at the civil service, they’ve limited themselves to talking of ‘axes’ and the like, that still leaves open a vast array of escalation such as ‘savage axing’ and of course ‘blood soaked chainsawing’.

Normal engineering coverage will resume soon, as will the Wicker Man with a bit of luck

A Comparison

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Irregular Features, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , on May 23, 2010 by awickerman

The new Construction Minister has been announced, a fact I realise is probably of negative interest to most readers, but hey it’s a risk you take reading this blog. First off it should be noted Construction is never actually considered importance enough to get a full time minister, it’s normally combined with a few other areas and then given to a second string Minister of State (or worse an Under Secretary which I believe ranks below ‘tea boy’ in terms of importance)

However let us now compare the current chap and his predecessors and see what we can learn;

Looking over the last few years construction has rejoiced under;

  • Baroness Vadera – Investment Banker who saw ‘Green shots of recovery’ in January 2009. So not even a good banker.
  • Stephen Timms – ex-phone consultant for Logica who is probably most famous for thinking IP address stood for “intellectual property address” despite being Minister for Digital Britain). That or recently being stabbed by a nutter in a Burkha. One or the other anyway.
  • Most recently, Ian Lucas – a personal injury lawyer who has done a lot to work on producing documents on de-carboning construction. Sod all to stop the collapse in orders or haemorrhaging jobs, but maybe I’m being uncharitable. Perhaps he worked out the paperwork wasn’t helping so realised only by decimating UK construction can he cut carbon. No jobs = No carbon.

If these seem unimpressive idiots who know nothing about their brief don’t worry, with nine ministers in less than eight years they don’t have any time to do much serious damage. That also means they can’t do any good either, but that was only ever a theoretical possibility.

So who is the new chap? Well it’s Mark Prisk. He’s been shadowing the job for years, he’s a qualified survey and has actually has worked on construction sites and even ran his own surveying consultancy. Therefore there is massive pressure on his shoulders, should he fail the case for ‘Employing ministers who have had real jobs and who know about their subject’ will take a hefty blow.

Good luck Mr Prisk, a great deal rests on you not being an idiot.

Another Day In The Life of a Tunnel Engineer

Posted in Irregular Features, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , , on April 27, 2010 by awickerman

Today was varied and, as someone recently mentioned they liked the earlier Day in the life post I thought I’d do another.

The morning began with the vexed question ‘How do you stop a 20 tonne mobile crane smashing into a different fixed gantry crane?’ The simple answer to this conundrum is ‘Build a bigger fixed crane so you don’t need the mobile one’, those of you who thought that are henceforth banned from ever working with a certain large water company for being too logical. The correct answer is, of course, crash barriers, or more technically anti-terrorist rated crash bollards, which gives me another excuse for this outstanding link. (And if anyone knows what the name of that song playing at the start is, please put it in the comments as it is really bugging me.)

So after a morning of crash bollards and anti-terrorism standards I spent the afternoon sorting out the Network Rail tunnel inspections for the rail link to a well known London airport. This would have been a fairly standard job were it not for the recent change that now requires a ‘surface walkover’ of the route. While I’m sure this is OK for most rail tunnels in the UK (most rail tunnels being very old and so built in the days when the firm would just buy the entire hill in case something went wrong and they had to resort to an open cut) this is something of a bugger for tunnels in urban areas. In my case this meant working out who one had to talk to in order to wander around a gravel pit, several private farms, the A4 Bath Road, a major hotel complex, the M4, several Terminals and the runways.

This is in fact even harder than you would think as the first questions asked are normally “Why now after all these years? Is something wrong?”, a conversation that never goes well as people refuse to accept things are in fact OK. Given the history of the site you can hardly blame them, but still.

So there you are, a day in the life of a tunnel engineer that only peripherally involved tunnels, a sadly not uncommon occurrence.

And to the visitor who came here searching for “eurythmics sex crime” I have to ask; How many pages of results did you go through to get here? And why? I’m not expecting an answer, I just feel the question should be asked.

An Ignoble 2010 Candidate

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, And thus the Mystery was solved Watson! with tags , , , , on March 21, 2010 by awickerman

A bare 10 years of hard work has produced the shocking result that people go slower around roundabouts when it’s dark and rainy. For an added media-friendly twist they’ve managed to somehow link this to climate change. Apparently designers should bear this in mind, though buggered if I can see how, cover roundabouts in giant umbrellas perhaps?

However my favourite part lurks at the bottom, the contact is Simon Fullalove.

Educational Intermission

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, Irregular Features with tags , , , on March 4, 2010 by awickerman

This quite outstanding Leaflet came through the post today, begging that the teacher in my life voted for Mr Hank Roberts as the London (Outer) representative on the NUT Executive. Leaving aside minor quibbles (he’s gone to the effort of getting a campaign website yet still uses a Hotmail email account?) my major issue comes down to the fact the man can’t spell the word ‘Academy’ but is nevertheless very proud of fighting them.

Quite aside from the hilarity of a teacher not being able to spell, and lets face it who doesn’t find that amusing, it does somewhat undermine his case that there is no need to raise educational standards.

Unless of course he has actually organised the “country’s longest running anti-academny campaign”, in which case it’s been a stunning success; there are no academnys in Brent or indeed anywhere in the UK I’d wager. Academies though? There are at least four of them in Brent that I’m aware of with more planned.

On which note here is the vandalised wiki article of the day. The connoisseur will note that while the parts pointing out the school’s truly terrible OFSTED results have been removed, sections such as “Students can work towards 12 pieces of chicken examinations.” remain. Best of all, as far as I can determine the actual 2005 OFSTED report was a horror show, certainly the 2008 report talks about ‘significant progress’ but then awards only a satisfactory and lists a catalogue of problems. How bad must you have been to make huge improvements but still be only satisfactory. And isn’t that the wiki problem in a nut shell, facts are removed but the vandalism remains?

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