Category Archives: Science and Technology

Thought for the Day: Water

Many of us in the UK have finally had a bit of rain which is finally soaking into the ground.  Anyone who has a garden will be grateful for this, although, of course, what we want is warm sunshine during the day and good old downpour at night. It is heartbreaking to see flowers and plants wilting during a hosepipe ban.

Just be aware though, that putting a garden water sprinkler on for two hours is the same as a family’s water consumption for a day.  If you love your garden, get some water butts or any old water container which can collect rain water or drain water and use that.  Washing up water that has had washing up liquid in is useful for pouring on paths and patios as it helps to keep down the weeds.

Another interesting fact that I learned recently is that the geology of an area can seriously affect water supplies.  We always raise our eyebrows in wonderment that somewhere like Manchester, where it seems to rain for 28 hours a day, could possibly suffer from drought. Well here’s the science bit.

The South East has a high proportion of chalk rocks which hold water in natural aquifers, while the North West has little natural underground storage, being predominantly sandstone, mudstone and shale,  so they experience regular cycles of drought and flood.

I like stuff like that.

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I hate digital television

I hate digital televisionWhen I moved into my house, I had to call out an Aerial Bod to sort out my TV.  As I was under the impression that we were all going to transfer over to digital at any moment, I opted to receive only digital signals, which was also cheaper.  I really wish I hadn’t. 

  • I am absolutely sick to death of sound blanks which often result in critical dialogue being missed
  • I am sick of the picture stalling
  • I am sick of momentary pixellations
  • I am sick of channels being removed with no notice, only to find that if I call out The Bod again, they can be re-tuned – at a cost naturally.
  • I am sick of not being able to record programmes unless I buy expensive and unwanted equipment
  • I am also sick of digital radio with it’s poorer quality transmission that is out of sync with analogue.

If it wasn’t for BBC4, Yesterday and Dave, I would be tempted to return to analogue – except it would cost me another £100 to call The Bod out again to change it.

Bollocks.

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Wills’ Cigarette Cards No 1: How to Make a Simple Barometer

Back in November I bought an (incomplete) pack of Wills Cigarette Cards, which I discovered to be from the 1930s.  They comprise 50 cards giving beautifully illustrated Household Hints – right up my street, but sadly many were missing.  I told you how to restore a crushed broom, but Rate My Sausage was disappointed in his efforts to make a handy rack for his (restored) brooms.

And then, miraculously, and generously, The Father of My Children presented me with a complete pack, which means that over time I will be able to offer practical and illustrated advice on making not only broom racks, but cycle brackets and dog kennels, I will show you how to lay linoleum and cement a path. You can be daring with distemper.

But for now, here is:

1.  How to Make a Simple Barometer


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Is it OK to build on Green Belt land?

In which the Wartime Housewife draws your attention to GASP, a pressure group in Buckinghamshire, and offers explanation and discussion about what Green Belt and Brown Field sites really are.
Recently, Sister the Second announced that she had been on a Demonstration.  Now, I spent large chunks of my late-teens to mid-twenties marching, demonstrating, campaigning and generally sounding off about a variety of political and social issues, but Sister the Second has never had an obvious militant tendency.  I beat her over the head with a placard and demanded to know what it was about.

The owners of Wycombe Wanderers and London Wasps Rugby Clubs want to leave Adams Park (their current ground) and build a new stadium development. Wycombe Air Park is their preferred site. This is Green Belt land next to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Wycombe District Council is proposing to support and part-fund the project through substantial ‘enabling development’ i.e. selling off land owned by WDC for housing development – possibly 2000 homes. The project is likely to cost tens of millions of pounds.

Group Against The Stadium Proposals (GASP) was officially formed on Monday 15th November 2010 when concerned representatives of independent groups representing some 13,000 residents came together to unite against the stadium proposals by Wycombe District Council and private enterprise. Groups include parish councils, residents’ associations, sports clubs and conservation bodies from both the local and wider area.

Whilst each group has their own individual concerns, many are shared by all groups, including loss of countryside in the Green Belt, concerns about access to and from the stadium and housing development.  To learn more about their campaign, log on to http://www.gasp-no.org
 

What does Green Belt actually mean?

A Green Belt is an allotted space of land that is held in reserve for an area of public open space and for recreational purposes. Greenbelt land is normally undeveloped or sparsely populated land, which has has been set aside to enclose developments, prevent towns from merging and provide open space.

The beginning of the Green Belt was in 1935 and was established by the Greater London Regional Planning Committee. It was not until 1947 that the Town and Country Planning Act allowed Green Belts to be included in their development plans and it was not until 1955 that the whole idea was beginning to be used throughout the UK.

There are a few set purposes for these greenbelt areas which include preventing large areas from getting larger and keeping them in one area, to keep neighboring towns from growing together, to protect the countryside from development, to preserve the character and history of smaller towns, and to help with the rebirth of derelict areas within the urban area.

Green Belt map of England

13% of England is Green Belt, the largest being the London Green Belt, at about 486,000 hectares. The smallest Green Belt is the Burton-Swadlincote Green Belt at just 700 hectares. There are around 14 Green Belts throughout England.

Green Belts were necessary because London and other major cities kept on expanding, and there had to be intervention to stop the countryside being concreted overIt has been said many times that once an open space has been built, on it will almost certainly be lost forever – no-one is ever going to look at a housing estate and say “Let’s knock this down – we could grow barley here”. 

There are five purposes for  designating Green Belt land: 

  1. Check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
  2. Prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another
  3. Assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
  4. Preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
  5. Assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land 

 There are also five threats to Green Belt land:

  1. Short term planning gain – over-riding the permanent nature of Green Belts by shifting the boundaries enabling towns to expand.  The 2005 draft Milton Keynes and South Midlands Plan produced for the ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) talks of shifting the Green Belt to enable existing towns to expand.
  2. Housing pressures.  For example, in the South East of England (Kent, Surrey, Sussex etc) the government is asking for 500,000 more houses.
  3. London overspill.  People who currently live and work in London and are finding it too expensive and too crowded to live in London which is reducing their quality of life.  As a result, they are moving out of London to live in surrounding towns.  This is increasing the pressures for more housing in the Home Counties
  4. It is easier and cheaper to build on green field sites because brown field sites can be expensive to decontaminate.  Technically, developers have to demonstrate ‘special circumstances’ to build on Green Belt.
  5. Inappropriate development which reduces the openness of Green Belt land.  For examples, click here for appeals against refusal of permission to develop on Green Belt land

Between 1 April 2009 and 31 March 2010 there has been a net decrease of 80 hectares when compared with the latest 2008/09 estimates. This is due to two authorities who adopted new plans which resulted in a real net decrease in the area of Green Belt.  Since these statistics were first compiled in 1997, there has been an increase in the area of Green Belt, but this is because a huge chunk of the New Forest National Park was redesignated as Green Belt in 2005.

So what is a Brown Field site?

A Brown Field site

Brown Field land development is previously developed land that may or may not have been contaminated. Today, you will find literally thousands of Brown Field sites that were previously used for industrial use. Because of this, these sites potentially present dramatic risks to people’s health, along with the environment.

With the problem of these sites being so significant, the UK government has stepped in, initiating programs to help redevelop Brown Field sites, calling these cleaned up areas Green Field sites. The program defined by the government is to take up to 60% of Brown Field sites and use them for new housing developments. The goal is to eliminate stress on green belt areas of the country.

Land that has not had industrial activity on it does not usually have contamination issues and its use is dependent on the regional councils having the will to use it and the impetus to encourage and incentivise developers to move into these areas.

One of the problems with Brown Field land development is that the public are much better informed and understandably wary about the potential liabilities associated with building a new house on previously industrial land.

Brown Field land development could be successful if waste and chemical risk is removed, making the land stable. Although new processes are being reviewed, the current steps involve redevelopment through a planning process for both environmental and economic relief and growth. This must include stringent surveys to ascertain the history of the land, groundwater testing, subsurface soil testing, and so on.

Landfill sites are going to become a huge problem in the future because it is so hard to decontaminate the site to use the land for anything useful.  Have a look at this previous post for more information.

Ultimately, we have to decide whether we are happy for our green spaces to be slowly but surely eroded.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone.  No going back.  No reclaiming land for agriculture or farming, no knocking down of stadiums to build a nature reserve or a green space to stop us all going bonkers.  And no more back-handers for corrupt planning officials.  Now there’s a thought….

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Back in the Saddle

I’m back – YIPPEE!!!!  After a week of TalkTalk ringing me and asking me the same questions over and over again, and doing the same tests, an engineer finally said, yesterday afternoon, “My diagnostics tell me that the BT line coming into your house is faulty.  I’ll have to call them out.”  “You do that!”, I said forcefully.

This morning I was at Viscount Drayton’s house when Ms Rozzer called me on the mobile to say that the BT engineer was unexpectedly at my house and was there a spare key.  There was, until Boy the Elder removed it, so I hotfooted it home.  After two hours and much climbing of poles, I now have telephone and internet.  “That wire was knackered” said the engineer, “and I bet your internet has been a bit intermittent” he added cheerfully.  I merely stared at him with big, round eyes as a tiny tear of gratitude rolled slowly down my quivering cheek.

Actually, it’s been a rather good day on the whole.  First thing this morning, I popped in for a coffee with The Father of My Children and just before I left he gave me a present.  A complete set of Wills ‘Household Hints’ cigarette cards.  Would you believe it?  Rate My Sausage will have his broom rack after all!!

Next, I managed to negotiate a situation with somebody completely on my own terms, as opposed to caving in and going ‘Oh alright then I’ll inconvenience myself in order to make you happy’ which is what I normally do.  Good work.

And to cap it all, I am now in possession of a working telephone and fully functioning internet access.  At this juncture I would like to thank everyone who has left comments on the blog and not deserted me in droves.  I offer particular thanks to Grooverider who wrote such a tremendous and comforting poem.  Rest assured, I have used this week to a) apply myself to thinking up new and interesting articles and b) go to bed earlier.

See you tomorrow.

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Giving blood is very important

This week, I toddled down to The Three Swans in Market Harborough, accompanied by The Boys, and handed over slightly more than a pint of The Wartime Housewife’s finest O Rh Positive.  I say slightly over, because an extra donation is taken in order to extract platelets and plasma.  I’m also on the Bone Marrow donation and  the Organ Donation registers and all this information is logged on the little plastic card I carry round in my purse – for my own use and also in case I go under a bus and someone needs my kidneys. 

I have given blood intermittently for years; intermittently because I couldn’t donate for a while after visiting the Far East and likewise after the birth of The Boys due to having caesarian sections.  I usually take The Boys with me so that they see loads of different people doing it, observe that it’s easy and I hope that it will encourage them to do it themselves when they’re 17.  They also get a drink and a chocolate biscuit which always goes down well.   

In the UK only 4% of the population gives blood and yet many of us will need transfusions due to surgery, illness or accidents. Last year they collected 2.1 million donations from about 1.6 million donors. Although that sounds a lot, that is 4% of the population, giving two or three times a year.

8,000 units of blood are needed every day to meet hospital demand. Blood comes in four main types – O, A, B and AB – Group O is the most common which means it is in high demand. Blood can also be subdivided into its main components – red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma. Unfortunately red cells only have a shelf-life of 35 days, while the shelf life of platelets is only five days, so the stocks constantly need replenishing.

The history of blood and transfusions is interesting.  The Greek physician and writer, Claudius Galen is a giant in the story of medicine.  Born around AD130 he wrote some 400 treatises on medicine and his work on anatomy was seriously impressive.  He understood that the heart regulated the flow of blood and although he had worked out that there was a venous and arterial system, but he thought the liver was the crucial organ of the blood and he never cracked the concept of circulation. 

In the Middle Ages, blood was known to be a vital component of human health and it was thought that disease could be caused by an excess of bodily fluids such as blood.  Blood letting became a main treatment and was often undertaken by barbers at public baths.  Sometimes a vein was opened to release the blood but often it was extracted using leeches or cupping vessels to remove ‘the viscious humours’.

It wasn’t until 1628 that William Harvey established that blood circulated round the body and outlined the mechanics of the cardio-vascular system.  The next major step occurred in 1665 by Dr Richard Lower who carried out the first successful blood transfusion in dogs.  He noted that dark venous blood injected into the aerated lungs of the recipient turned bright red and thus he came close to understanding the modern concept of oxygenation of blood in the lungs.

However, when he started performing transfusions on humans, he couldn’t understand why people receiving the blood kept dying.  In the early 1800’s a Dr James Blundell was attempting to transfuse women who suffered haemorrhage after childbirth; miraculously it sometimes worked, but not often.  It wasn’t until 1900 when Dr Karl Landsteiner discovered the ABO blood group system, that doctors understood that patients need compatible blood.  This discovery won him the Nobel Prize.

There were various small advances, particularly during the First World War when it was discovered that blood kept longer if it was kept in the fridge and also that by mixing it with sodium citrate they could prevent it from clotting.  In 1921 members of The British Red Cross volunteered to donate blood, which was the first step towards a voluntary donation system.  In 1936 the world’s first blood bank was opened in Chicago, USA, closely followed by Ipswich, UK.

The outbreak of the Second World War really focused the minds of the doctors and nurses treating the wounded and transfusion centres were set up all over the country. In 1946 The Blood Transfusion Service was born and when the National Health Service was established the following year, they immediately began to work in close partnership.  It is now called The National Blood Service.

From then on the service went from strength to strength.  Testing was introduced for hepatitis and HIV and more recently Nucleic Acid Amplification Technology (NATS) is used for detecting viruses in their early stages, making blood transfusion safer than ever.

If you make an appointment, giving blood can take less than 40 minutes.  You fill in a questionnaire, a nurse will take a drop of blood from your finger to make sure that you are not anaemic (low on haemoglobin), and you are then taken to a trolley on which you lie comfortably while a needle is inserted into a vein. There is a slight prick as the needle goes in, but nothing more than that. You flex your hand gently to ensure good blood flow whilst you’re lying there, then, when it’s finished, usually after about 20 minutes, you have a drink and a biscuit.  And they’re usually really nice biscuits.  I had an orange Club.

For the sake of 40 minutes of your time you will have saved someone’s life.  Fair swap.

Log on to the National Blood Service website now and find out where you can go to save a life. 

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Pylon the Power: A history of pylons

I spend a lot of time driving around the countryside and I love seeing the landscape change around me as the seasons progress.  The fields change colour, the hedgerows thicken and thin out again – this year I have been particularly aware of an increase in the wonderful practice of hedge laying.  Lambs are born and grow and the sheep themselves thicken through the winter and thin out again as shearing begins.

Over the last few months, there appears to have been a prolonged programme of power cable maintenance and every other lay-by has had warning signs urging us to watch out for site vehicles.  Large scaffolds appeared underneath the looped wires connecting the Eiffel-esque pylons with silhouetted workers perched artistically amidst the platforms and poles.

I have discovered, somewhat guiltily, that I love pylons.  There is something about the shape and nature of them that that I find strangely hopeful yet undeniably monstrous, like great iron convicts shackled by their cables doing hard labour carrying power to us across the landscape. 

I tried to do a little research into the history of pylons, but there is surprisingly little information out there.  In fact, other than a small piece about the history of electrical supply on a children’s educational site, the only information I came across was in Pastoral Peculiars by Peter Ashley (and I make no apology for this rampant act of necessary nepotism). I know that he will forgive me for paraphrasing his words as it might just whet your appetite to obtain your own copy of this invaluable and beautiful book.

If you had to design a tower to carry 400,000 volts worth of electricity, the pylon is not a bad solution.  Even at the start of the National Grid,  there were sensibilities about the impact of such things and they brought in Sir Reginald Blomfield to look at the design possibilities.  Blomfield had been on the Royal Fine Arts Commission that had chosen Giles Gilbert Scott’s design for the red telephone box and Scott, architect of Liverpool Cathedral and Battersea Power Station, has always been associated with the pylon project.

There are currently around 22,000 pylons marching across Britain and their average height is about 80 feet, coincidentally very nearly the number of years they have been in existence at the time of writing. 

A year or two ago there was an interesting television programme which invited the public to vote for their greatest Briton, the individual candidates being championed by enthusiastic celebrities.  I was saddened to see that Michael Faraday didn’t even make it into the top ten when, without him, we would still be fumbling around in Victorian non-tech gloom.  More horrifying still, you wouldn’t be reading this.

Faraday invented the dynamo (electricity generator) in 1831, and this was the first time that a useful supply of electricity could be produced.  By 1846 the carbon arc lamp had been developed by Staite and Petrie, an invention partly driven by the need for light in both streets and in the home.

The National Grid was first dreamed up in 1916 by some visionary engineers who foresaw a grid linking power stations so that electricity would be available to everyone rather than just the existing small power station supplying local areas. This also meant that they had to standardise the voltage to 240v as before this, local power stations all operated on different voltages.  In 1926 the National Grid started to be built in order to make electricity available to as many people as possible, as cheaply as possible.  In 1928 the first pylon appeared near Edinburgh and by 1933 one in three people had electricity in their homes. 

True to British form, in 1934 there was a massive power cut which caused the lights to go out in the whole of south-east England – it was still a pretty hit and miss affair.  In 1937 the National Grid was finally completed, with a national control room established at Bankside in London a year later to control the whole electricity supply from one place.  By 1944 two out of three households were supplied with electricity.

To me, this technology represents a real miracle.  In just over a hundred years, useable electricity had been invented and everyone has got some.  I’m not going to use this article as a platform for discussion about energy sources – that subject is far too big and ‘off message’ for the Wartime Housewife.  The fact is, that without electricity, however it is produced, we would be stuffed and I see the not-remotely-humble pylon as a striking and beautiful reminder of how wonderful and precious electricity is.

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