A FIRE approach to air conditioning

One of the advantages of being an employee is that The Man usually air-conditions your cubicle. Well, for knowledge workers, anyway, rather than, say, brickies or landscape gardeners. And the heat is on in England at the moment.

Way back when, in the 2003 heatwave DxGF and I bought a standalone air conditioner and we thrashed that unit, but it used a horrific 3kW to sort of chill one room. It seems to take far more energy to cool something down through a certain temperature difference than it does to heat it up by the same difference, I guess these things are dreadfully inefficient, particularly standalone units that try and pump out the waste heat carried in air as opposed to dual systems with an inside and outside unit with the waste heat carried in a circulating liquid. So you get a 3kW heater in the room to add to the load. Not only that, you have to open the window a crack to get the exhaust hose out.

We were grateful for that in 2003, but it made an unconscionable noise and power was cheaper in those days.[ref]Americans will be tapping their heads, and go just get damn split system aircon, but I wonder how you have any hearing left. When I arrived in LA after a long flight and got to the motel the room aircon unit was on, and I thought I can’t hack this racket, so I turned it off. You don’t do that in LA in July – not getting any sleep was preferable to being fried 😉 Airconditioners I’ve come across in Europe are usually made by Japanese firms like Mitsubishi and are much quieter, but that thing was an all-American GE unit and made a terrible noise. Elsewhere in the city aircon seemed unwholesomely rowdy until you got to a Fortune 500 company offices or a bank. I guess people just get used to the noise.[/ref]

Dunwich beach

So it needs some lateral thinking. I need a large body of water, and the North Sea will do. Time to park myself down by the waterside and chill out to the waves –

and the peaceful sound[ref]the intermittent rumbling is sadly the wind, I only had a handheld rig as I wasn’t expecting to do any recording.[/ref]. There was a pleasant breeze off the sea – it was almost too cold.

I did look around and wonder why the other punters weren’t at work – some were retirees but half seemed to be families. I can’t really moan that the beach was teeming like Benidorm.

So the ermine air conditioning isn’t really that portable. But it does have some extra features, like the fine ruins of Greyfriars Friary

Greyfriars, Dunwich

and it seemed rude not to celebrate the moment with some fine dining

Local strawberries and cream from the Friday Street farm shop just off the A12

Londoners travelling up the A12 for a weekend break may want to note the  Friday Street farm shop, which is a few hundred yards detour off the A12 on the London-bound side. The strawberries and cream set me back £3.23 which I thought was a good deal for quality in both items, and they have a good range of foodie delectables. I paid roughly twice that in fuel. There are some that may carp that you can’t spend £10 for gratuitous decadence every day, but I have done my time of ultra-frugality now. No nightingales to be heard in Dunwich forest, where I’ve heard them in previous years, it’s probably too late in the season now

Dunwich is noted for mostly having disappeared into the sea. In 1250 it was a rich port town of 4000 souls. Since then the sea has gnawed away about 1.5km of the coastline, so most of the old town has fallen into the sea. It is now a village of about 100 people.

The last surviving gravestone from All Saints church, lost to the sea. This was Jacob Forster who departed this life March 12th 1796, age 38

The sound of the sea is not far from Jacob Forster’s grave. It’s coming for him after two centuries of undisturbed repose…

Mr Money Mustache will no doubt consider seeking air conditioning an act of pusillanimous weakness, but the trouble is that no part of Britain is very far from the sea, and in a maritime climate it always really wants to rain. Even on a hot day with blue sky – the inherent desire to rain results in high humidity. So things like swamp coolers work fine at the lower latitudes of LA, but are a waste of space and money here.

In LA at the same temperature this would be way down towards the 40% mark

So I am leveraging the fact that I own my own time, and summer is a good time to live like a king, reasonably cheaply. Strawberries and cream by the seaside is pretty good 😉

Incidental rant: why doesn’t Britain have proper cadastral records?

I came across this notice walking from the car park to the Friary:

No cadastral records, no bloody clue

Every other European country has a definitive land register of who owns what. But not in Britain. Because all the land was seized in 1066,  what the King didn’t keep for the Crown was handed out to the aristocracy, which hoards it and passes it down the generations, much of the land in the UK is not on the Land Registry, so you get situations like this.

In any French village you can ask to look at the cadastral records at the Mairie to know who holds a piece of land. Isn’t it about time that we sorted ourselves out and demanded of the aristocracy and anyone else that it bloody well registers every single claim to every piece of land it asserts that it owns, and if no claim is made after 10 years then tough shit, it belongs to us all? After all, if it isn’t registered then Lord Warburton-Smythe can simply make sure everyone looks the other way when his sprog Jimmy Warburton-Smythe-Pollock take over that part of the family estate when he pegs it because no bugger knows about that acreage, because it isn’t on the records. Decent cadastral records would help catch sneaky buggers avoiding inheritance tax and would be a prerequisite to introducing a land value tax. It smacks of dire incompetence not being able to find out who owns what of a scarce and finite resource, and one every other civilised country has solved. But since the lack of transparency serves the aristocracy perfectly well, they won’t let anything be done about out it, the piss taking bastards.

Advertisements

Spring at the Minsmere Bird Reserve

In this post I thought I’d share how I spent some of that time I bought back from The Man today. It’s also a little bit about Suffolk, and I get to play with audio on here – most of these recordings are binaural giving the bst effect on headphones. The sun was out and I felt like a bit of Spring at the Minsmere bird reserve, on the Suffolk coast. It was free but if you aren’t a member of the RSPB then it will set you back £9.

I’d say even at that price it’s worth it – they have put in a lot of effort over the last few years to make the areas around the visitor centre and in particular the information and some of the events child-friendly, but the place is big enough to get away from all that too, since it is clustered around the visitor centre, cafe and shop.

View over the Scrape part of the reserve

In general spending time in Nature doesn’t cost you anything other than the cost of getting there, but they have worked hard to make this accessible and certainly if you’re coming from a distance it’s worth the price of entry because they have concentrated a lot here. I wasn’t after anything in particular, just a whiff of Spring and a load of birds, what’s not to like?

Spring seems to come earlier at Minsmere. At home there are still a few winter visitors like Redwings in the trees and very few birds singing, other than our indefatigable Robin. At Minsmere I was greeted almost immediately with a Chaffinch in full song, which is the first I’ve heard this year

The main feature of the reserve is the Scrape, which is a very shallow lake filled with brackish water. At the beginning of World War 2 the farmland around Minsmere was abandoned to the sea to make it more challenging for a German invasion of the East coast. These defences is still there in the form of anti-tank defences

Minsmere concrete cubes – anti-tank defences on the sand dunes facing the sea from 1940

The flooding helped more welcome invaders though, the iconic Avocet started breeding again in the flooded region in 1947, and they are still there

The Avocet, with its upswept bill-tip

It’s about a three-mile walk around the Scrape, and there’s a right racket from all the birds on the islands in the Scrape. Many of the gulls and waders breed there, though it’s the gulls that make most of the noise

Birds on an island in the Scrape

and this is a quiet time for them, they get a lot louder later on in the year! It wasn’t particularly windy today, but the sea sounded good with long rolling waves

the North Sea at Minsmere

If you arrive in the morning at Minsmere and the sun is shining, then it is worth going clockwise round the Scrape (ie first head off from the visitor centre via the reedbed of North Wall by following the signs to East Hide. That way you have the light behind you rather than in your face, and it sort of follows you round if you take your time. The furthest point in the sluice – in Summer it is a good place to see swallows. I had indeed enjoyed seeing them close up in previous years

but I hadn’t realised they nested inside the sluice! A lot of water goes through this, it’s a terribly noisy place to make a home, but they don’t seem to mind the row.

and on the way back I got to hear one of these guys – this loud sound is made by something the size of a sparrow, the Cetti’s Warbler

Minsmere is a welcoming place, they go out of their way to highlight interesting stuff and there were some volunteer guides posted near a couple of adders lurking in the undergrowth. It was a bit cold for them, but they were out of hibernation and coiled up, although in the drab winter skins, so the devil’s own job to spot. I didn’t feel totally good about being a couple of yards away from a venomous snake, but it was worth a gander at some coiled trouble with the trademark flickering forked tongue. It was a good end to a morning reminding myself of better ways to spend a day than going to work 😉

Minsmere is just off the A12, about 80 miles from London.  Visitors from London might like to stay at Southwold for a pleasant weekend break, which is only a little bit further up the A12.

Minsmere at the RSPB website and on Twitter. That’s about the first worthwhile use of Twitter that I’ve discovered, kind of fitting in the case of a bird reserve 😉

the afternoon fog makes everything look luminous and lovely

The fog is getting some stick for the inconvenience, but as I wandered in the Suffolk countryside it struck me that it created a really fantastic quality to the late afternoon light. It made everything look really luminous and dreamy. Britain really is a beautiful place at times.

1511_fog_IMG_0412_lzn

1511_fog_IMG_0373_lzn

1511_fog_IMG_0417_lzn

the season of mellow fruitfulness is on us

Nutscape

and it’s time to look at the non-financial investments. In this case, indeed, the non-financial investments of the local Squire, the Fonnereaus. Not only did they build this gaff

Christchurch Mansion
Christchurch Mansion

but they planted some chestnut trees, and the chestnut harvest is awesome this Autumn. The recent winds have brought down a fine crop, and it’s before the weekend when World + Dog will have got to these. The trick is to win your chestnut harvest from the spiky hulls

Herein dwells a fine nut
Herein dwells a fine nut
Sweet chestnut
Sweet chestnut

with the minimum of cursing.

a fine  nut harvest
a fine nut harvest

and win a fine harvest of fresh, sweet chestnut from veterans like this tree

one of the chestnut trees
one of the chestnut trees

 

Now there may be some of you reading this that think to yourselves

goddamnit I earn £200,000 p.a which boils down to £125 an hour and I can get loose chestnuts from Tesco delivered to me for £7/kg so all round so WTF? Why would I be pissing about scavenging nuts in the park

And I would respect your opinions. But I would venture you’re missing out of some little piece of being human as you sit behind your  screens oblivious to the passage of the seasons. Being a flâneur is one of the good things about owning my own time and if I want to go pick nuts then I damn well can 😉 It’s the sheer optionality of it that adds to the sweetness. As summed up delightfully by The Escape Artist – the Ermine tips his hat and welcomes yet another soul across the event horizon of FI.

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[ref]There was a surprisinglylarge amount of  light – ISO200, f/8, 1/250s[/ref]and 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[ref]the story of what happened to those panels is interesting, you can read it courtesy of the Scientific American[/ref] 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…

Time for homage to the Holly King

Summertime in the city finds the good people at Monevator dwelling on thoughts of refreshment, but out here is the sticks while sipping my iced coffee I sensed a stirring in the Force and the distant laughter of the nascent Holly King, with thoughts of Winter. The old boy Thomas Tusser has something to say about summer idleness

Some of the Five hundred points of good husbandry, Thomas Tusser
From “Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry”, Thomas Tusser 1580 (link to Google books scan of reprint from 1848)

Even though the Oak King holds sway, the Holly King‘s powers are now rising. Hard to believe on balmy lazy Summer days when school is out, but this too will pass, and the nights draw in.

A depiction of the Oak King, on Lloyds Bank in Ipswich for some reason
A depiction of the Oak King/Green Man, in this foliate head on Lloyds Bank in Ipswich for some reason

Now, at the height of Summer, it is a good time to convert a pallet into the finest kindling known to Man – the wood is so dry the pieces are almost musical when they hit the ground, like the plates of a xylophone.

an axe, some wooden tongs to hold the piece upright, and some iced coffee
an axe, some wooden tongs to hold the piece upright, and some iced coffee are what’s needed to make a lot of kindling out of pallets

Sound of kindling pieces being moved – each almost has its own note, the tonality sounds different to me from ordinary bits of dry wood being moved.

Like so many things you can do yourself for modest cost, consumerism has a ready-made alternative – Wilkinson’s will sell you some in a plastic bag

Wilko kinding
Wilko kindling

but what’s the fun in that? The cynical part of me did wonder if the plastic bag might not have more calorific value than the product if you could use it without the noxious byproducts. I knew one fellow in an old house with an open fire and a massive inglenook who would toss an entire bag of coal on the fire, plastic bag and all. There was enough draught up the chimney that it didn’t stink the place out, but I still felt it a teeny bit on the coarse side of living.

Thomas Tusser would look askance at such effete consumerism, and I’m with him there. I now have a couple of great big garden bags full, probably about £200 worth of kindling at Wilko prices. And running it in July means it’s absolutely bone dry, I stow the bags in the garage so it stays that way. A fine alternative are pine cones which make good kindling, and they are to hand in the coming months.

£50 worth of pine cones, at Wilkinson's rates
pine cones – some people pour wax into them but if you collect them in summer they work just fine on their own

It’s the open structure and large surface area that seems to be the win here, rather than any particularly resinous property like fatwood. I figured I’d see why my kindling is almost musical in its dryness with a fine Chinese gizmo

what my cheap Ebay meter says for the kindling water content
what my cheap Ebay meter says for the kindling water content

Now you can’t rely on a cheap piece of Chinese junk traceable back to national standards of a finger in the air via an indirect measure (bulk resistance?) but comparing the kindling with

arbitrary piece of recently acquired pallet
arbitrary piece of recently acquired pallet
a piece of a joist that's been in a neighbour's garage since 1969
a piece of a joist that’s been in a neighbour’s garage since 1969
Biomass willow harvested earlier this year
Biomass willow harvested earlier this year
Log dropped off with us earlier this year and drying since
Log dropped off with us earlier this year and drying since

the kindling does seem pretty good! The willow is deceptive – the end I stuck the meter in is good (you can burn anything with less than about 20% water content) but further in it is too high, over 30%. They do generally say you have to season willow for two years to get the best of it.

The universal handy rustic construction resource – the wooden pallet

Loads of these get thrown out, and indeed I’ve seen many people on building sites burning pallets in the open to get rid of them. In the US they seem to worry about termites and stuff so they chemically treat them. I’d probably draw the line at using them for construction inside the house[ref]not only do you not know where they’ve been, but all the pieces are of slightly varying thickness and width. I’m not a competent enough woodworker to do cabinet making with decent regular sized wood, never mind all sorts like that![/ref], but for a log store extension they were neat

we need to finis the roof trim but this was done running ahead of an incoming thuderstorm so it wanted to be fast rather than great
we need to finish the roof trim but this was done running ahead of an incoming thunderstorm so it wanted to be fast rather than great

Unlike in the States the majority of pallets round here are untreated so they will rot, or maybe that’s just the result of scroungeable pallets tending to be one-wayers[ref]According to this in Europe we do not permit chemical treatment of pallets, which is why your pallet compost bin rots so fast. That’s good if you want to burn them, though avoid engineered wood bits like the compressed blocks of the side riser because the glue gives of bad stuff if it burns.[/ref]. This was constructed so the pallet used for the base and the side can be dismantled and replaced if need be. You can’t have too much wood storage, though most of our core drying is on the farm on a bigger scale. The one thing I am hopeless at is stacking wood – Mrs Ermine converted my efforts into something a third the size

I am just no good at this compared to Mrs Ermine
I am just no good at this compared to Mrs Ermine

That’s enough headspace allocated to the Holly King for now, time to consider the virtues of Pimms in the late afternoon like those decadent city folk 😉

 

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