11 Aug 2014, 2:52pm
reflections Suffolk:
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  • Supermoon reflections

    It’s not often that someone goes and moves a celestial body closer to us so we can see it clearer. The Grauniad has a far better series of supermoon pictures along with why it’s a supermoon, ‘cos decent photography is about the context and telling a story.

    However, although the tail of storm Bertha had been giving the region some stick it all cleared for the moon. I don’t know how your astronomer types get to see anything through a telescope, because when I stuck my birdwatching telescope at it it was far too bright to see much. However, it was easy to take a photo 1and I was surprised to see all the gnarly bits on the bottom. Taken a hell of a hammering, that has

    1408_moon_a_IMG_1410

    And I’d never noticed that in many decades of looking up at the moon. Obviously if you want a decent picture of the Moon you head over to NASA, cos they have better gear, my photo shows I’m not totally over the chimping of a tourist with their crappy smartphone photo – but hell, it’s my picture, I pressed the button. Kudos to NASA for a superior take, nevertheless :)

    NASA have better gear and get to spin it round a bit

    NASA have better gear and get to spin it round a bit

    While over at NASA I took a gander at their Apollo mission pages, I have fond memories of watching the July 1969 landing at school (we didn’t have a TV at home) at about lunchtime – they had dragged the great big set into the assembly hall. Either it’s me or we just don’t have big stuff like that with the widespread buzz of some Really Interesting Stuff Going Down now. Then I looked at the timeline, and thought of Jacob ERE

    How far are we?
    That depends on your perspective. If you take the view from 400000km, humans are no longer going to the moon and have not been doing so for 40 years. From an energy perspective, the available energy/capita ratio peaked 30 years ago. Real wages have been declining for a good 30 years as well (a connection?)

    and of course Tim Morgan on the same string in a different key. Basically the 1973 oil crisis pole-axed the world I’d read about in far too much crappy science-fiction where everything was going to get better and more exciting because people were going to boldly go into an ever-expanding space exploration.

    Carter and his solar panels

    Carter and his solar panels

    Then the price of oil went up, Jimmy Carter stuck solar panels on the roof of the White House, told people to ease off the gas 2 and the American people went bugger this for a game of tin soldiers. They considered that defeatist cheese-eating surrender-monkey cobblers and elected a B movie actor who told a much more cheerful story, which sort of stuck for the next 30 years, but I notice that humanity is still too skint to go to the moon. We last put boots on the ground in December 1972.

    Strange to think back at those fast and furious years of innovation and exciting stuff in my primary school years. It’s not like we haven’t made things a lot better and progress has arrested – if things had stayed like 1972 most of Britain wouldn’t have central heating, never mind a notable section being able to live like kings. Somewhere, however, I wonder whether that last footprint in 1972 wasn’t the day some of the vision died in the West, the first time we came up against insurmountable limits to growth… You can coast a long way from the peak with the engines out, and as ERE said, it took many years for Rome to fall. Maybe we are partying in the endgame…

    Notes:

    1. There was a surprisinglylarge amount of  light – ISO200, f/8, 1/250s
    2. the story of what happened to those panels is interesting, you can read it courtesy of the Scientific American
    2 Apr 2014, 4:26pm
    Suffolk:
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  • a little bit of Africa comes to Suffolk

    Noticed more dust in the air and it’s a git to get off the windscreen. Apparently a little bit of the Sahara is paying a visit, so the wipers are sanding the glass. The reports in the grauniad seems to be particularly dire, however – I walked four miles today, partly in search of the perfect black car to take this. Can’t say I felt particularly like this mother and child - it must be really bad in The Smoke!

    Leanne Stewart, from Eltham in south-east London, described feeling breathless after a routine half-mile walk to her son’s school this morning.

    “I’ve been doing the usual school run about half a mile from my house, which is usually quite an easy walk, but I’m still breathless now,” she said. “I could feel my chest getting tighter and tighter and my son, who’s eight, had to stop and have his inhaler.

    What I really wanted was a classic black Beemer with the dust on the bonnet but we clearly don’t have the wealth or the drug dealers in my part of town

    Saharan dust on a black car in Ipswich

    Exotic Saharan dust on a black car in Ipswich

    with London and East Anglia in the boresight of the winds bringing this sand

    incoming pollution aleart from DEFRA

    incoming pollution alert from DEFRA

    It’ll be interesting to stick a microscope slide outside tonight and try and catch some of this stuff and see if it looks like miniature sharp sand. It’s a shame that I didn’t try that when we had those lovely aircraft-free skies with the volcanish ash clouds from Eyjafjallajökull

    The Guardian has a bit more about where the dust comes from

    So just where does this pinky-red dust come from? Dr Steven Godby, a drylands expert at Nottingham Trent University, thinks he has the answer:

    The Sahara is the largest desert in the world and contains a number of significant dust source areas. Looking at satellite images captured last Thursday and Friday it seems the dust was generated from two source areas, one in central Algeria close to Tamanrasset and another in southern Morocco to the south of the Atlas Mountains.

    To generate dust storms large numbers of silt-sized particles are needed for the wind to pick up and transport and these two areas have been identified as dust ‘hot spots’ in the past.

    Google maps link

    All this talk of the winds from the south making the old ones feel lethargic brought this old Grace Slick tune from the cusp of the 1980s to mind :)

    Postscript 4 April – I got my Beemer in the end

    one dusty black BMW

    one dusty black BMW

    I left a microscope slide out in the garden for 24 hours to pick up some dust. The dust looks reasonably sharp and spiky through a microscope. It’s been a long time since I’ve driven a microscope, and the Ermine student microscope is probably not really up to the job ;)

    the odd sharp little bits

    odd sharp little bits of Africa

     

    dark field variant

    dark field variant

     

    6 Mar 2014, 4:31pm
    reflections Suffolk:
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  • Capitalism, crowdfunding and gadgetry

    Capitalism brings up thoughts of great big phallic buildings, a concrete forest of tall buildings thrusting towards the light to eclipse the others in a Darwinean struggle for urban domination. Loads of folks in sharp suits talking important stuff into mobile phones.

    God v Mammon contest - Mammon has the edge when it comes to size...

    God v Mammon contest – Mammon has the edge when it comes to size…

    That gherkin in particular dominates the skyline, it’s not just the sheer size of it, but the symbolism is all Wolf of Wall Street

    more tall buildings

    more tall buildings in the Wolf of Wall St

    A couple of finance guys from the Square Mile party.

    Couple of guys from a Square Mile press release

    Couple of guys from a Square Mile press release

    Seems to be a lot of guys, FinanceRomance sheds a bit of light on some of the issues. Maybe all this testosterone is why the buildings have a certain profile ;)

    still there, rising...

    still there, rising…

    And that’s all good. Finance is something that Britain happens to be good at 1, or perhaps I should say the future city-state of London is good at. Must unearth my birth certificate and apply for dual nationality when it secedes, and hope citizenship is jus soli. We’re good at it, and we have scale, but let’s face it, share-owning capitalism isn’t that widespread in Britain, because, er, you need capital to make it work for you. And you still need to be a pretty big fish to list on the LSE.

    Gonzo capitalism – no tall buildings and yachts needed

    However, there seems to be a curious form of capitalism rising, called crowdfunding. I’d already come across this phenomenon in the electronics small biz area. Getting a small run of electronic items made is dear, because you have fixed non-recoverable engineering costs for making masks for the printed circuit boards and assembly. These are sunk costs before you even start the project, they aren’t dependent on how many items you make. I’d used radio modules from Ciseco and they used kickstarter for one of their projects.

    Crowdfunding gets a bunch of ordinary people together to put up some of the money in small bite-sized chunks. It’s gonzo capitalism – or alternatively capitalism going back to its roots. The Stock Exchange originally started a few hundred years ago with a bunch of people coming together to share risk-funding of projects that were too big for any one individual to take on. I like the story that they got ejected from the original place for being too rowdy – looks like the high jinks that seem to go with the territory nowadays started a long time ago!

    Crowdfunding the Calf at Foot Dairy’s move

    The Ermine came across this again because I got to dig out my old MiniDV video camera a couple of days ago. This is seriously ancient, steam-driven technology from about ten years ago, and it was pressed into service to shoot a crowdfunding video for the Calf at Foot dairy, which has been given short notice to quit the place they’ve been for the last year and a half.


    It’s been an awfully long time since I worked at the BBC and saw how people pulled a programme together, and I was an engineer, not a creative sort. It’s no easy task to try and tell a story using video – you’re always fighting the tendency to run too much material and overrun. Plus the Ermine no longer has a working TV in the house, and much has changed in the 10 years since I last worked with video – HD has arrived, and computers and progressive scan seem to have muddied the waters. Culturally, it appears that attention spans are much shorter. Obviously what I needed was new video camera, but what the hell, I will see if I can tell the story with the junk that I had.

    Because in the end the story is one bunch of humans relating a tale to another bunch. The technology is part of it, and it would be a lot better with a HD camera. But there are some universals to video – hold the camera steady,  preferably with a tripod, don’t hosepipe , do not zoom on-screen. The elements of story-telling haven’t changed much from the original three act drama told around prehistoric campfires.

    A lot of the challenge here wasn’t technical. I grew up in a city, FFS. I am really, really scared of cows, indeed any animal bigger than myself. And cows are HUGE…

    Cows. They're big. And they're scary - could just crush you by sitting on you

    Cows. They’re big. And they’re coming to  get me!

    Crowdfunding seems to take two forms. The sort that the Calf at Foot use, and the sort used by Ciseco to get enough interest to do a prototype run is in fact fundraising to do a specific job or project. It’s the kind of co-operation that previous generations used for a barn-raising – everyone chips in a little to help get something to happen. In some ways it’s closer to a retail bond, but with the coupon paid in kind. These are relatively easy to qualify and secure against the natural fears of fraud because of the transparency. With Ciseco, if they achieved their target, you get a circuit board or kit, if not you get your money back. With Fiona’s dairy move, you get to see that the cows are up near Lowestoft rather than out near Hollesley – in this case it’s a straightforward support of the specific project, rather than a purchase as such.

    However, there is an equity form of crowdfunding that is in its infancy, that is closer to shares. There are strict conditions around both forms, but particularly the equity variant. After all, what do you get as an equity shareholder? You get a share in the company, and sometimes a share in the earnings of the company. Many of the equity crowdfunding projects are hard to measure value, and they are startups, so they are unable to produce money that the shareholders can take out of the company as income, just as in general you don’t go to the AIM looking for dividend stocks. Of course, this applies to stocks and shares too, but it’s particularly hard to qualify risk and do all the due diligence associated with qualifying counterparty risk. After all, over half of startups fail within the first three years. The FCA seems to require investors declare they don’t have more than 10% of their free capital 2 in equity crowdfunding.

    Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that there are attempts being made to democratise capitalism, that it isn’t all about massive buildings, that people are looking for ways to increase access to small scale funding. It’s to the stock and bond markets like Zopa is to the banking and savings market. And it’s where some of these large institutions had their roots. After all, building societies got their name because in more cash-straitened times, people banded together to raise the capital to build houses. The crowdfunding website Abundance Generation draws out this parallel in their blog. One of the things the original building societies got wrong is the concept of one member one vote (OMOV), which gave rise to carpetbaggers taking out a lot of accounts with the minimum amount of £1 or so. They then used their OMOV votes to force a demutualisation and get a hold of the fossil wealth accumulated by the building society. The moral of the story is allocate voting rights by invested capital, but the problems weren’t obvious in the 1700s. I don’t know how equity crowdfunding works, but if you see OMOV as an investor avoid. Or open lots of accounts funded with the minimum amount for lots of voting rights ;) OMOV is one of the problems with consensus decision making. It hamstrings it – in the end people who put more in should have more say, to build an effective system. Dunno where this goes with democracy, perhaps we have to live with the Churchillian democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

    One of the pluses of being in charge of my own time – I can say Hell Yeah if I want to

    I don’t know if this is the way of the future, or it is an evolutionary dead-end of the tree of capitalism. But it was an interesting diversion. And it’s one of the things that is a joy of being retired. It didn’t cost me anything apart from a couple of late nights to start with nothing and end up with something that might help someone take their cows to pastures new. An Ermine is capricious. If something tickles my fancy, I’ll have a go. If it doesn’t, I’ll pass. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to make a coherent story out of this. Of course the result could have been better if it were made by some indy video house somewhere. It would be better if I used a modern video camera, it would be better if I’d had more time and less coffee. But it’s probably good enough, and I learned about crowdfunding, something I had no idea about. I don’t personally have any application for it, but I have to say, looking at the projects on crowdfunder and kickstarter, that there are a lot of small enterprises that are in the extreme bootstrapping phase.

    Although I worked for a year in a 10-man SME firm at the start of my working life I didn’t realise it was so hard out there for entrepreneurs. I also ran a multimedia firm on the side for a few years, but that was purely selling the products of mind – I took on commissions but didn’t have the cashflow issues that are associated with doing real stuff, where you have to buy the supplies and services  to make the product. I have a renewed admiration for the grit of Britain’s SMEs!

    It isn’t all about your camera

    Oh yes, and one in the eye for consumerism. A lot of consumer goods like cameras and the like are sold with the promise that this gizmo, feature or gimcrack will make you creative. And I’m sort of susceptible to some of the siren song. But I don’t need the latest, I probably do want to upgrade to HD if I do more video, but ebay will probably be my friend – you can get now for about £150 what you’d have to pay £500 before. But what I do need is the ability to set the exposure to manual. And a camcorder sound is junk – I shoot separate sound with an audio recorder and separate furry microphone and resynchronise in post, so all I need of the camera is some sound to sync to. Eliminating any quality cares there saves me a load of cash.

    I did experiment with an iPod, my stills cam and with the last gadget I bought before I went into save for retirement mode, a Flip cam. All of those are great for shooting first-person simple stuff, and facebook here’s my mates mucking about in a bar, but they just don’t let you shift perspective. All of them can give a better rendition in that first-person up to 10 yards away scenarios that my 10-year old camcorder – two of them can even do HD. But I realised why they make me angry when trying to do anything else – the auto gain kills anything in the shadows and the lack of zoom is a massive handicap. A truly talented artist would probably be able to work within those limitations, but it would take them time. I ain’t got that sort of talent. But I’m not so gormless that I need face-tracking.

    So I learned something and had some fun. I saw a new form of capitalism in the making. And the cows didn’t crush me!

    Notes:

    1. yes, we did have a major snafu a few years back, but it seems we sort of survived that, and animal spirits seem to be back
    2. free capital excludes property and pensions. I am pleased to see that the FCA has adopted the Ermine’s policy – your house is not part of your financial capital assets. It’s official, and you read it here first :)
    22 Jan 2013, 11:02am
    simple living Suffolk:
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  • Scandinavian invasion – Waxwings

    This morning I heard a welcome noise, a fine trilling in the air. It can mean only one thing, Scandinavian invaders on the loose. Stand by your ornamental garden berries!

    Waxwings

    Waxwings

    These guys had come all the way from Scandinavia over here, in search of berries. And they parked themselves on a telephone pole at the end of my road. so I could go get a camera for a second look at these handsome creatures with their jaunty crests. They aren’t particularly shy, and tend to group in garrulous flocks, trilling away to each other.

     

    what they're really after is berries

    what they’re really after is berries

    They post some of the ranks on the telephone pole as lookout, busily digesting the spoils of war.

    waxwings massing

    waxwings massing keeping a lookout

    Sitting around also helps them digest :)

    They crap a lot too

    They crap a lot too

    It’s kinda rude to ignore something as lovely as these guys, and what’s nice about them is they are drawn to urban areas, because fo the ornamental berry crop. They aren’t particularly shy and have a penchant for supermarket car parks which have a lot of that as low ground cover. first time I’ve had them in my road!

    12 Nov 2012, 4:54pm
    rant Suffolk:
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  • Christmas is a time for … getting into debt and polluting the world with low-grade plastic tat?

    The nights are drawing in towards the end of the year. After the imported ghoulishness of Halloween we have the splendid and ancient tradition of -

    • celebrating the return of the sun’s life-giving light after the nadir of the darkest day 
    • honouring the birth of Jesus Christ, emulating the gifts of the three Kings
    • splurging on our credit cards, going into debt to buy stuff for Christmas, save retailers from going bust and keep the wheels of capitalism running for another year.

    More debt, more plastic, more trash. Ah, that’s what it’s all about, and I introduced myself to some of this when I took a wander into town to get a 5 x 2.1mm breakout power cable from Maplin. They seem to have displaced all the vaguely useful, if overpriced, stuff to make way for the Christmas gadgetry. No power cable for me, then. Perhaps I could get a cheap set of Christmas lights in time for our early December party then.

    We all seem to feel a bit poorer nowadays than in the heady days of the Goldilocks economy, but clearly this isn’t bringing out an attitude of make do and mend in us. We simply want our tat, but cheaper, so welcome to the Pound shops across the high street from Maplin.

    Yes, it's only £1, but you're still being taken to the cleaners

    intense competition in the sub-prime retail space

    Let’s take a look at what we’ve got here then. What really strikes me about Christmas in these pound shops is the absolutely execrable taste and design of this garbage. If this is the stuff that appeals to the children in the family, then the parents need to do some serious soul-searching as to why they are failing to inculcate any sense of taste in their progeny. Sadly however, looking at some of the customers, I fear that this is doing the underage population of Britain a disservice – it’s the adults that seem to have no detectable sense of taste.

    People filling their baskets with plastic Xmas trash

    People filling their baskets with plastic Xmas trash in Poundland.

    Makes you want to slap these folks around the chops with a wet fish and holler in their ears

    ‘Stop fixating on the price. You’re still being taken to the cleaners because this junk should have never been made, never been shipped over here and should have been sent straight to landfill if we’d failed on the first two counts.’

    But no. It’s only a pound, so what have you got to lose? Well, a pound, duh!!!! It’s actually worse that that, because you have to buy more house to store this crap!

    How about some inflatable Father Christmases over here on the left.

    Roll up, roll up, plastic rubbish for just a pound!

    I mean, really, when is an inflatable Father Christmas ever a good idea? How are you ever going to bring up your kids to appreciate two thousand years of Western culture when you sully your dwelling and their braincases with such addled, vile and ephemeral trash? Just Say No. See the top photo – there’s a convenient bin outside the store. If you find yourself outside Poundland having spent good money on such crap then for God’s sake repent now and cram it in the bin to save everybody any further embarrasment.

    Now there’s nothing particularly wrong with Christmas lights, and the move to LED lights is a welcome one, provided they are mains-powered via an adaptor. You reduce the power consumption, and the lights should last a lifetime. However, there is everything wrong with Poundland’s battery-powered LED lights flogged here.

    Poundland e-waste designed to help them flog you batteries

    Basically this is plastic e-waste that is designed to sell you their consumable batteries. Depressingly, if you try and be clever and use rechargeable batteries you will find that the 2.4V rechargeables gives a result dim as Toc H lamp compared to the 2.8-3V from disposable batteries, because there’s a  threshold effect on the LEDs. You’d either have to change the heat-shrink encased resistor in series with each and every LED to fix that, or chuck out the battery cases and use a three-cell battery case. Neither of which the punters are going to do, so you might as well add some of Poundland’s value packs of batteries. Because they presumably have them made to a £1 price you’ll be changing them all the time but at least it keeps Poundland in business.

    Notice these are all strings of 10 LEDs because Poundland get these made to their £1 retail target, so it’s a royal PITA to string up enough of these for a show worth doing, in itty-bitty short strings with a battery box every 10 lights. They ought to give the lights away free as they’ll make it up on the batteries. Where else other than a pound shop can you buy such a short-assed string of lights? That’s the price you pay for being cheap – if you pay a bit more for a 30 or 40-light string then at least you can rig a decent show. But hey, it’s only a pound, you can’t lose!

    Oh yes you can – saving money on lights at Poundland is going to cost you a fortune by Christmas – you’re gonna get through a lot of batteries by then ;)

    Strangely enough, I escaped from Poundland without buying anything. Let’s take a butcher’s hook at Yippee next door

    Classy shopfitting, perhaps some corporate social responsibility to give the local schoolkids something to do maybe?

    Here we have a cavernous cathedral dedicated to plastic tat that used to be a JJB Sports before it all went titsup

    Cavernous cathedral of tat

    Why do they have security alarms on the escalators? I thought Poundland was bad, but the stuff on sale here defies description; it makes Poundland look like a outpost of Design Museum. I’d have thought they’d be grateful if people lifted it.

    ‘Ello madam, did we pay for this plastic abomination? No? Please, please, take more, let me get you a boxful, get it outta here!

    Why? For crying out loud, why?

    It’s at times like this that serious questions come to mind. For the last three hundred thousand years humanity has been involved with an epic struggle to self-actualise. We stand on the shoulders of giants, previous generations used hand tools to carve things of timeless beauty.

    Saxon purse lid, Sutton Hoo, about 1000 years old. Where did we start going wrong?

    Surely someone, somewhere, in the long journey from plastic pellets in some Chinese factory to the placing of this vile cat-shaped kitchen timer in pole position on Yippee’s display, should have asked themselves why? What are we doing here? And ideally smashed the mould ;) For Pete’s sake, they couldn’t even line up the eyes and whiskers graphics with the nose button, or the zero marking.  Be competent at least, even if you can’t be tasteful. Talking of which, it appear that the town is short of Christmas -themed cowboy hats. Once again the waste of human potential struck me – somebody spent time ‘designing’ this for manufacture. Bet they’re going to wish they’d spent more time at the office designing such life-affirming tat when their time is nigh, eh?

    less bad than the timer.. just. Still begs the question, why…? Just why make it, why buy it?

    It was time to get outta there, before the cloying stench of decadence sapped any more of my will to live. People are wondering why consumers aren’t buying, perhaps its because the fire of aspiration of make things of value has failed in the face of the need to make a fast buck. People are getting themselves into debt to buy shit like this for Christmas.

    In a last attempt to find something of value I went to Wilkinsons, to see their Christmas lights. I am in the market for some lights to add to the party kit. It’s a pain needing to be able to rig this for 12V battery power for the summer parties outdoors, but Christmas LED lights are easily modified for that. Wilkinsons was a large bump up in the taste department, I’m glad to see. Kitsch I can forgive in Christmas decorations, some of that goes with the territory and is even necessary, it’s the downright fugly and the appalling taste that I can do without. Thomas Kinkade kitsch, OK perhaps. Malformed plastic garbage, no. Wilkinson’s are crafty buggers, too – I thought I’d clean up this January on discounted Christmas lights from 2011, but they don’t sell them off cheap, they clear the shelves, presumably landfilling the stuff.

    Looks like the Chinese manufacturers of this Wilko product  have found a use for their chicken feathers, probably doesn’t pay to dwell too long on what happened to the birds. They probably weren’t free-range ;)

    One of the reasons people are in such dire straits now is that we have unlearned our ability to do even the most basic things for ourselves. Take this, for instance -

    Wilko wreath, plastic pine, real-ish cones, yours for £10 fully loaded

    We appear to be so deracinated that we’d prefer to spend £10 of our heard-earned dosh on a plastic (yet again) simulacrum of pine, rather than getting ourselves and/or children into the pine forests that lie to the nearth-east and north-west of the town and having away with a few pine cones from the forest floor and some branches. However, if the thought of constructing our own wreath does occur to us, then Wilko have that covered over here at the make your own Christmas wreath experience. In a nod to Poundland, all the natural stuff, holly sprigs, pine cones come at £1 throw in six-up lots. At that rate my box of firelighting pine cones is worth about fifty quid.

    £50 worth of pine cones, at Wilkinson’s rates

    It’s barmy, you don’t even have to go to the forest – Access to Nature Ipswich is holding a Festive crafts event on the 15th December where they will show people how to make Christmas wreaths and provide the materials – all free of charge! These are wholly compostable and contain no plastic.

    I came away appalled at the sheer ephemeral waste of it all. None of this stuff is going to last more than a year at best. It wouldn’t be so bad if this were just a waste of money, but this plastic trash holds a darker secret, one that people who are buying disposable plastic trash for the children should know be aware of.

    Nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists today somewhere

    Yes, that includes biodegradable plastic other that that made of corn starch, it simply becomes smaller pieces. Plastic has only existed since the last century, and nothing on earth has yet worked out how to eat it and break it down. This TED talk has more:

    This alterative take by Brooklyn band Chairlift has something to be said for it too

    Even though I don’t have kids it made me think about trying to reduce single use convenience plastics. It’s about getting things into perspective. The plastic that keeps a hospital syringe needle clean is good even if only used once. The plastic in my computer serves me every day for about 5 years. But the plastic in a shopping bag is needless, in the face of good alternatives. And ephemeral, low-grade trash like from Yippee needs some thinking about before we continue to give the market the feedback that this is something we want more of in the world -

    Ephemeral, low-grade plastic trash from Yippee

    Perhaps something really bad happened over Halloween, and the town has been taken over by zombies, shuffling their abused plastic credit cards to the tills of Poundland and Yippee in exchange for these vile and tasteless plastic products of decadence.

    Yet again, I escaped the High Street with my wallet undented.  Not because I was dedicated to frugality, though unlike some of my fellow citizens I hadn’t come to spend money purely for the sake of spending money. No, I came away empty handed for one simple reason. I found nothing of value. This is the thing people are getting wrong when they crowd Poundland. Just as Ellen Ruppel Shell identified in her book Cheap, we have lost sight of the value side of the “value for money” equation. Without value, it doesn’t matter how cheap it is, indeed something value-free is worse than nothing, because it is an insult to dwindling resources and takes up space in homes and landfill.

    I needed cheer, and I have polluted the Web enough with pictures of trash. Two miles in the other direction from my house the crisp autumn day I cycled in the countryside for eight miles, looking for attractiveness rather than garbage.

    The light was crisp and low, and I rested my eyes on the delights of the natural world instead of the garish colours of tawdry Christmas items made in China.

    the way out of town

    Good honest crap, none of this plastic garbage. It will be returned to the soil and become something useful in due course

    Nightingale’s Hill

    I’ve lived fewer than three miles from Nightingale’s Hill for more than twenty years, and to my shame I’ve never been here before. It is remarkable how much more of the world, including the locality, I see once work is out of the way ;)

    I will come here in the Spring and see if it still hosts some of the dwindling stock of nightingales – down some 50% over the last decade. Most of the nightingales I have heard have been towards the coastal areas, though I did hear one on the way to work a year or so ago

    another place two miles from home I hadn’t observed in 20 years, though I often passed it on the way to work when driving ;)

    Finally time to head home at this tree

     

    23 Jul 2012, 12:33pm
    Suffolk
    by

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  • Now that the jet stream has moved to its customary position

    Isn’t in nice to have some sunshine back in Blighty :) Seems like the jet stream has been AWOL from its usual position, bringing us loads of rain and the US a drought in some parts. It seems to have returned to its usual position for the moment. No doubt we’ll be grizzling about having to irrigate before long, but it was time to seize the moment

    Orford castle

    The main car park near Orford quay gets well crowded but the castle grounds further back into the village are big enough to avoid getting overrun. English Heritage charge for entrance to the castle but not the grounds. The grounds are a pretty good place to laze and have a picnic, and close enough to Richardson’s smokehouse and Pinney’s shop on the quay. Pinney’s apparently have their own oysterbeds and DW tells me oysters are apparently really good value, though I can’t abide them myself ;)

    Pinney’s shop on Orford Quay

    It sounded like there were a fair few Londoners escaping the Smoke and the Olympics prep this weekend. Orford’s well set up for weekend visitors – I was tickled by the incitement to bend the parking regulations at the Crown and Castle

    Invitation to tweak the tail of the nonexistent traffic wardens here at the Crown and Castle pub

    I haven’t seen any traffic wardens either, but I’d be hesitant to generalise that there aren’t any at all. Maybe the landlord knows mroe baout the council spending cuts than I’m aware of. Either way, I admire his chutzpah in getting a sign all painted up professionally, it’s a state of affairs he anticipates staying for a long time.

    Orford castle from the seawall

     

    16 Oct 2011, 4:32pm
    Suffolk:
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  • Lazy day in Southwold

    Southwold is one of our favourite local haunts, and today it was the pier that called us. The pier strikes a good balance between child-centric amusements and places for a wider clientele. The Clockhouse tea shop does an excellent tea and cakes; in my case coffee and cakes because I don’t do tea before 5pm…

    Southwold from the pier

    Looks like today is the last day of sunshine before a cold spell, just the sort of bright sunshine with the hint of a nip in the air that Southwold pier is made for. Lunch was local Blythburgh sausages for me, we had passed the pigs on the way up from Ipswich, and Mrs Ermine went for the more adventurous option. I was kind of relieved that you don’t get to eat the heads…

    Prawns and white wine

    The amusements are at the start of the pier and the rest of it is dedicated to a classier, if somewhat twee and rinky-dink retail therapy. There are the quirky madcap Tim Hunkin’s Under the Pier Show  amusements halfway along that seem to work for adults and school-age kids alike. Halfway along the pier his water clock draws a decent crowd on the hour and half hour, as the repressed British middle-class psyche gets to idulge in a little toilet humour while watching Hunkin’s figurines pissing in the pots to start the mechanical action ringing in the hours and half-hours.

    Crowd assembling to watch Tim Hunkin's water clock strike the hour

    We normally manage to get out of the crafts and knick-knack shop without getting tapped but today was our day to be big spenders and get a wine bottle stopper for £4.25. It’s a dirty job supporting the British economy but somebody has to do it :)

    Crafts and knick-knack shop at the end of the pier

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    A tranquil Suffolk weekend away

    This post is about something which is about as unfrugal as you can get, gratuitous travelling. Maybe it’s the mad dogs and Englishmen sort of thing and summer is breaking out…

    The county of Suffolk is charming and pretty, and DGF and I though we might try going away at home so to speak. A long time ago she had stayed in a B&B in Southwold and was surprised at the number of weekenders from London who were up there, and also how well they seemed to know the county. We were trying to work out why, and came to the conclusion Suffolk is is quite a rural and tranquil county reasonably close to London and easy to get to from there. The relative isolation in the bulge of East Anglia such that nobody goes through it to get anywhere else, there are no motorways in the county for instance.

    We haven’t been away for a fair old time, but the weather looked good and there’s no point in living in a beautiful county if you don’t make use of it every once in a while :) So I thought I’d share some of the local treats.

    We started off near Aldeburgh on Friday night with some fish and chips from Aldeburgh Fish and Chips. This place has a seriously good rep, because the fish is fresh.

    Aldeburgh fish & chips, unfortunately eaten before I'd though to take a picture :)

    You do have to put up with a fair old queue, this next photo was taken on a chilly December day and there was still a long line.

    Aldeburgh Fish & Chips still has a queue on a cold December's day!

    Then if was off to find a suitable spot to eat next to the long shingle beach with the roar of the sea as a background. The beach at Aldeburgh is very long, and though of course at the town itself there will be enough other people, but it was easy enough to find seclusion here. We went a little way along the coast road north of the town towards Thorpeness, past the Maggi Hambling shell sculpture to more isolated parts of the beach.

    Our fish was very fine indeed. If you’re into self-catering instead and want really fresh fish then Aldeburgh beach is a good place to get it at one of the local fish stalls selling fresh fish just in

    Fresh fish stall selling locally landed fish at Aldeburgh

     

    Aldeburgh Beach

    This area is a nature reserve and as the dawn broke there was birdsong against the crashing of the waves, including this flock of linnets that appeared in the gorse bushes on the landward side of the road.

    Dawn breaking over the Aldeburgh coastline

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    9 Nov 2007, 12:46pm
    Suffolk
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  • High Water Mark at Woodbridge

    Storm surge on the east coast today, not as bad as anticipated

    high water on the Deben