Monday, 25 May 2009

EnvironMentalism – or – Shouldn’t the Netherlands be underwater by now?

Shouldn't this be Holland by now?

Jeremy Clarkson wrote a recent article about how he recycles; amongst other more unClarksonesque character traits (slowing down for school zones, smiling at pensioners) even though he’s not sure about his reasons for doing so.
I’ve been trying to do my bit for a while. The easy things – recycling, driving a bit more carefully – getting the insulation sorted, and turning the thermostat down (and putting on a jumper when necessary) but most of this is for selfish reasons. It keeps the bills down, keeps me out of petrol stations, and stops me needing a bin that takes up the whole (pretty small) kitchen.
I’ve been doing some reading recently, and I’m becoming more and more convinced that humankind’s impact on the planet isn’t quite as devastating as was once claimed. Having a quick search on the internet – I found sites such as this, which are pretty heavy conspiracy theories about how governments and industry are making up the whole climate change “myth”. It seems that they believe the melting of the ice caps, depletion of the ozone layer and the overall increase in the global temperature are cyclical changes, which have been used as an excuse to increase taxes, control oil production, and generally have an excuse to change how we live our lives – increasing control and surveillance (microchips in wheelie bins anyone?)
There are a few pretty undeniable facts (unless you are a creationist – they’ll deny anything) which certainly add weight to their theories.
A few thousand years ago, there was an ice age. In fact I seem to remember (from books – I wasn’t there) that there were four of them. Mammoths and rhinoceroses were woolly (I can’t get my spell checker to make that word look correct. I want an h in there). In between each ice age it goes to figure that there was a warm bit. Maybe this is just one of those warm bits.
The thermometer was only invented pretty recently – certainly not while ice ages were happening. When they mention that it is the hottest day “since records began”, they mean – “recently” or “in the last few hundred years”, not “since man didn’t have to wear clothes as it was so freaking hot” or “since man had to find a decent tool with which to remove the wool from a mammoth cos it was a bit nippy out there”.
Melting the ice in my cocktail doesn’t give me a wet hand. Melting the North Pole won’t raise the sea level. However – melt the South Pole, or big chunks of Greenland, and you might be in trouble. Of course – if the temperature is hot enough to melt so much ice, it is probably going to be hot enough to evaporate some of that extra water – creating more clouds, and making it rain more, filling the rivers and the oceans and raising the sea level. Maybe. I don’t have a doctorate in enviroclimatology – can you tell?
We aren’t the only ones producing greenhouse gasses. Even Greenpeace admit (possibly the wrong word – they are stating facts as they understand them.) that natural sources of greenhouse gasses are causing a large proportion of the changes. Methane is twenty times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – and there are massive amounts of that under the oceans and generally locked away. Imagine if it all bubbled to the surface of its own accord. Then there would be trouble.
Here’s a theory – lets but combi boilers into the atmosphere – gathering the methane, and burning it into CO2 – hey presto – each methane molecule becomes a CO2 molecule and a bit of water, and that CO2 is far less of a greenhouse gas. (I have no idea how much oxygen would be needed in burning off all the atmospheric methane – possible more than we have to breathe. Please don’t take this idea seriously until you’ve done the appropriate calculations. It might end up like the environmental equivalent of the (awful) movie “vertical limit” which I’ll spoil for you now – it is apparently worth sending 20 mountaineers to their deaths just to save one relatively pretty (but also pretty inept) girl.)
Remember when we were first told about this impending catastrophe? It was about 1990, and the figures quoted were that fossil fuels would run out in the first 25 years of the 21st century, that sea levels would rise significantly within 10 years, Holland, Norfolk, and large chunks of other low lying countries would sink – (of course – New Orleans did – but this would be due to a hurricane – not a gradual increase in sea levels – they were a bit mad to build a city below sea level anyway, and it did give the media an excuse to come up with a new phrase – climate chaos.)
It doesn’t help that with approximately 436 24 hour news channels, we now discover every detail of everything that happens everywhere. With more cameras than there are atoms in the universe (ok I made that up) we see all these horrific images of polar bears looking like the Glacier Mint advert – floating through the ocean on their own personal iceberg.

Every time a bit of ice falls into the sea – we know about it. Maybe this is because of the MTV generation. Who wants to watch a glacier form over 10,000 years, when you can watch one melt in 30 seconds? Which is exciting – which is more fun? Glaciers may well still be forming – the ice will refreeze, and the polar bears will find some more to sit on, and keep on eating the seals.

I don’t think there is 100% certainty that we’re making all the difference. Of course – I also can’t deny that we aren’t helping. Setting fire to large chunks of the world, and killing the aspects of it that would be helping produce the oxygen we breathe are undoubtedly really stupid things to do. So I’m going to keep on doing my bit.
Except for carrier bags. We're always being told about "fixed carbon" and "carbon capture" - what better way to fix carbon than to make carrier bags out of it, and leave them lying around my house. we should be stuffing our cavity walls with them, and insulating our lofts with them. Every extra carrier bag is another 0.000001 tonne of carbon fixed.
Recycling raw materials. Not filling holes in the ground with potentially useful stuff. Not burning fuel we don’t need to burn. Using power obtained in a more natural way. All these things make sense to anyone – whether you think we are to blame or we aren’t – these are easy things I’ll keep doing – they certainly won’t do anyone any harm.
And the world would be a better place with more polar bears. Unless you are seal.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The fickle world of Football

I’m relatively new to the world of football fandom. I started really paying attention to West Ham about 10 years ago. I’d always known of a loose family tradition (loose in terms of my dad going when he was a kid and local, and when going to the football (and no doubt having a fish supper and paying for the bus home) would give you change from half a crown.

When growing up in Gloucester (where the locals seemed more interested in getting muddy, losing teeth, and allowing their friends to use their thighs to change the shape of their ears) I encouraged my dad to take me to a match. Not a West Ham match necessarily, but any match. Hereford wouldn’t have been that expensive, but it never happened. Moving to Dorset didn’t help either – nearest team – Salisbury. Indeed.

It went to the next level when I was living in Cardiff. The Welsh don’t do football. They seem to do egg chasing quite a lot, and although they have a national football team – Wales, but no-one goes to see them. They have a mighty stadium (which they borrow off the chunky blokes) and even when they play against countries the rest of the world has heard of, like Germany, only about 19 people go, as they think that 19 people paying £30 a ticket is better than 70,000 people paying a fiver. When I was there – they had better ideas, and would at least half fill the stadium by charging a tenner.

My first match was Wales vs. Norway (I think Wales lost one nil – it can’t have been very memorable. OK I’ve just gone and checked – it was one all – so I saw a goal. Nathan Blake scored. Un-memorably. It was in 2000. It’s unusual for me to check facts, but I’m probably going to put this on a football forum. I think this completely vindicates my dad in not taking me to a match earlier in my life. If I can barely remember my first football match, at the age of 23, what hope was I ever going to have at 9. None.

I won’t bore you with a lot of inbetweens, but this season I shared a West Ham season ticket to West Ham with a guy I met on the internet. I’d been to a few games, and decided to extend my investment. We split the big games, (although neither of us could do arsenal, so I took Spurs instead) and my last big one was Liverpool last weekend.

I’d noticed a strange phenomenon with West Ham, and other teams who don’t always sell out their games.

1 – West Ham charge more to get in when it is a game against a big team. ManU, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and I think they reserve the right to add another to the list – often the last game of the season.

2 – These games almost always sell out.

3 – West Ham are far more likely to lose these games.


4 – More people end up paying more money see the team lose.

It made me wonder what the motivation of going to these games is. Of course, last season, we beat Man U and Liverpool. Last season, these were heroic victories, and if I’d known then what I know now, I would have spoiled the end of the result for myself (knowing the result before you get to the game would be very odd. It would make football like WWE wrestling. Of course, going to see man U at home is pretty much like that – but it doesn’t stop about 400,000 people doing it every couple of weeks...

That is the motivation. Not seeing your team lose, but potentially seeing your team win, and win big time.

My dad once told me he’d rather see us lose, than see a boring nil nil draw. I laughed at him. Surely it is better to get a point than to get no points.

I took him to the West Brom game in March. Thinking this was a good opportunity to see us win, and it was cheap (£35 a go seemed cheap enough) and it was his birthday.
Worst. Game. Ever.

I think that match will go down in premier league history as the most boring game played. Neither side could be bothered. West Brom were resigned to go down, but defended a lot, West Ham had reached the safety zone, but didn’t realise European football was an option, we’d lost our star striker, and didn’t really have a clue. There were two highlights for me – I got to spend some proper time with my dad, which we hadn’t done for years, and Carlton Cole was sitting in front of the executive boxes above our heads, and someone in the crowd shouted “wake up Carlton” and he did. For about a minute. Dreadful.

Last week it was the Liverpool game. A sell out. Cheapest seat was £45, and much singing of “sign on sign on with a pen in your hand ‘cos you’ll never get a job” and “the referee’s a scouser” and other songs I wouldn’t repeat on the internet (my mum reads the internet!) and a scuffle in the stand above us where a Liverpool fan seemed to be doing a bad job of blending in with the crowd when Gerrard scores their first, we didn’t really turn up, but it didn’t really matter. Yes it was a demonstration of “men against boys” and yes it was obvious why they are second in the league and we (by then) were 9th, but one of the great things about being a West Ham fan for me, is that no-one expects you to do any better.

When we lose three nil to Liverpool, or draw nil nil to the whipping boys of West Brom, the response is the same. “what do you expect – its West Ham”. I’ll be doing a whole season ticket to myself next time. I’m hoping of course, that I’ll get the opportunity to see us turn over some of the big boys, but I’m also expecting a hatful against Birmingham and Wolves too.

Friday, 8 May 2009

iPhone Defence

It’s about time I did a boring iPhone blog. The BBC went mental on iPhones for a while, then they went mental on twitter, I’m on both, so I think I should go mental on one (and mention it on the other). People are consistently knocking the media (and notably the beeb) for the coverage of a product that isn’t really doing anything new. Everything the iPhone does was already possible on other phones.
I’ve had my iPhone for a few months now. I’ve commented on other blogs about how it may not be the best phone (it can’t hold a call in our own lounge for longer than 25 seconds) the best web browser (it can’t manage java/flash – in fact – many websites are now reverting to not using certain technologies to satisfy the iPhone’s browsing deficiencies) the camera is only 2 mega pixels, you can’t do picture messaging (until July, but a friend of mine has the new software and we still can’t work out how it works), you can’t forward text messages (which would have been very useful with all the superb swine flu/Maddie MacCann/Alan Shearer jokes going around at the moment) it will cost me £730 over 18 months (but I was paying £25 a month anyway and now I get so much more) it doesn’t do turn by turn GPS navigation (it can find me on the map though!) and you would be lucky if the battery lasts longer than 8 hours (but that is only because you use it ALL the time, as it is SO useful).
Useful. That’s the thing. What the iPhone manages to do, is make everything it does fit together, and make life easier. My last phone (Nokia n80) had Wi-Fi, and would do 3g browsing – (although 3 would have charged me a fortune to use the net over 3g) and was a pretty decent phone in itself. But none of it was particularly useable. 3 main (tiny) buttons for doing everything on the screen, and a pretty small screen at that, meant it wasn’t amazingly usable. Nothing seemed to communicate internally. I never fathomed out the music player (or how to get it talking to the computer).
The iPhone is usable. No need for a manual (although my Dad had taken his iPod back to the shop and got a refund as his episode of Mastermind winning/Sinclair Spectrum game writing brain couldn’t get round the easiest operating system in the world and put music onto the bugger.)
If you receive an email with a link to a website in it – you click on the link and it opens the browser. If the website contains a phone number, press it and it dials. If it contains an address, press it, and it shows you that address on a map. Press “route” and it will GPS locate you and show you the best way to get there, (by car, walking, or even public transport – the only thing that it doesn’t do is buy you a ticket for the train, but it will tell you how long the train takes!). you can then click on the map, and go back to the website for the business you are headed for.
The music player is amazing (obviously) and web browsing and the like work really well and really quickly.
Its sleek and feels nice, and has a shiny black back with a chrome ring round it, and a shiny black apple logo on the back. It slips into the pocket and even when listening to music on it, I forget I have it there.
So why are there so many accessories available for it which protect it from the elements? Several colleagues in the office have iPhones, and they were comparing the cases and protective shields they had bought, to keep their iPhones shiny and new looking. All very well, but I had to wonder who they were protecting it for?
What is the point of buying something so nice, so tactile, so small and light, and then putting it in a leather case, and putting an extra layer of plastic over the screen – or surrounding it in latex? If the designers had meant it to look that way, they would have sold it to you with a condom on (the phone – although mobile phone salespeople should use condoms as often as everyone else, if I was aware of them wearing one while selling me a phone, I probably would politely make my excuses and leave the shop...).
Remember the grandparents who left the plastic wrapping on the sofa, or worse – had a “best” room in which you must never enter? Who are they saving it for? If I have something nice, I want to use it. If you put it in plastic it may stay nicer for longer, but it will be in plastic. If I scratch my screen – so be it. If I have my phone on my desk and the back gets scuffed – that’s ok.

In 18 months, I don’t want to be able to trade my phone in for a better model, for someone else to enjoy my old phone in pristine condition, at the detriment of me ever enjoying it in that condition...

Sorry – I’ve gone off on a massive tangent before I even started talking about what I intended to talk about. That’s the way of these things though.

If you’d spent over 700 quid on something – you’d sing its praises too. If you had decided not to do such a thing (especially if you’d spent your money on a nice Samsung camera with a phone attached like the nice indian fellow at 3 told me I should) you’d be looking for an excuse to knock it too.