Sunday, 7 August 2005
The Russian Mini-Submarine
Topic: In the News
Some good news at last! After three days on the seabed tangled up in fishing nets, the seven trapped Russian seamen
are safe. I can't imagine anything worse than having to sit still for 76 hours in a confined dark space, in freezing cold conditions, whilst you wait for your oxygen to run out! Three cheers for the six-man team operating our British Scorpio
underwater robot craft, which was flown out to Kamchatka and delivered to the site of the rescue operations by a Russian ship. Thank goodness they were in time to save the men who reportedly had about 10-12 hours of oxygen left.
Apparently all the Russians were very brave and never complained during all that anxious waiting time. The memory of what happened to the Kursk in 2000 is still very fresh in Russian minds and they all feared the worst. I felt so sorry for the wife of the mini-submarine's commander, who was shown on BBC news last night as she tried to reassure their small twin girls that 'daddy was on a ship and would be coming home'. Well, now he is
coming home and she has told Russian TV that, "I danced. I was glad, I cried and I danced for joy
". A really 'happy ending' to a potentially tragic disaster.
Saturday, 6 August 2005
Amazing Animals: The Sturgeon
(No. 4 in my series)
Now Playing: The Song of Hiawatha
Topic: Nature and Our World
My father once gave me a beautifully illustrated leather-bound book of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
's poems. It was old and the cover was falling apart but I took it to school as we were studying poetry in the sixth form. Stupidly, I allowed myself to be persuaded to lend it to another girl towards the end of term - and that was the last I ever saw of my book! I particularly loved, "The Song of Hiawatha", and that was where I first learnt about the sturgeon, that most ancient of fishes:-
On the white sand of the bottom
Lay the monster Mishe-Nahma,
Lay the sturgeon, King of Fishes;
Through his gills he breathed the water,
With his fins he fanned and winnowed,
With his tail he swept the sand-floor.
There he lay in all his armor;
On each side a shield to guard him,
Plates of bone upon his forehead,
Down his sides and back and shoulders
Plates of bone with spines projecting
Painted was he with his war-paints,
Stripes of yellow, red, and azure,
Spots of brown and spots of sable;
And he lay there on the bottom,
Fanning with his fins of purple,
As above him Hiawatha
In his birch canoe came sailing,
With his fishing-line of cedar.
Hiawatha's 'Mishe-Nahma' was the North American Lake Sturgeon
) which, despite its name is actually a river fish. Found mainly in Lakes Michigan, Huron, Ontario, Erie and Superior, it once ranged widely throughout the Mississippi River, the Great Lakes and the Hudson River. Gelatine from its swim bladder was used in the past for making isinglass
, a semi-transparent substance which was widely employed commercially for clarifying jams, jellies and alcoholic drinks, as a size for handmade paper and in the making of isinglass windows for carriages and early cars. Its skin was made into leather and its meat and eggs sold commercially.
Sturgeon belong to the order of Acipenseriforms
, family Acipenseridae
. There are twenty-seven living species - all in the Northern Hemisphere and all in serious decline. According to WildAid
, only three of the species is not critically endangered
due to the demand for caviar. This is a sad state of affairs as, together with their cousins, the Paddlefish, Sturgeon are the only survivors of an ancient group of fishes from the Upper Cretaceous period (135-200 million years ago) which, with five extinct species, formed the infraclass Chondostrei
. These ancient 'living fish fossils' are, therefore, one of the oldest vertebrates on Earth. The sturgeon is also the largest of freshwater fishes and the longest lived. The greatest recorded age was 154 years for a Lake sturgeon caught in 1953.
Some Sturgeon live in the sea but migrate to freshwater to breed (anadromous) and others live entirely in freshwater. These primitive fish have an almost entirely cartilaginous endoskeleton with a flexible cartilaginous rod called a notochord running down the back instead of a backbone. They have heavy tube-like bodies with five rows of large bony plates or scutes along their sides instead of scales and, in common with many other primitive fish, they have an asymmetrical (heterocercal) caudal fin or tail.
Sturgeon have short, highly sensitive fleshy barbels on their slightly flattened upturned snouts which they use to find a wide variety of food including insect larvae, bottom-dwelling worms, shrimp, small fish and molluscs such as crayfish, clams, and snails. These are sucked up through their large toothless mouths which they can extend into a funnel-shape. Both anadromous and freshwater species cease feeding during the spawning season. It takes a long time, anything between 8-25 years (depending on the species), for females to reach sexual maturity and then spawning will only occur every 2-4 years or more. Their slow growth and infrequent spawning make it extremely difficult for this animal to recover from decline. Together with over-fishing and degradation of habitat, this is one of the reasons why these amazing fish have become so endangered. When they do spawn, eggs are produced in millions - some three million in the Atlantic sturgeon and up to seven million in the Beluga sturgeon. The eggs are highly adhesive and attach to vegetation or stones. Hatching takes about one week. Growth is probably quite rapid for the first five years providing the hatchlings survive, which not many do.
The Beluga (Huso husa
), is found principally in the Caspian Sea with spawning occurring mainly in the Volga River and also in the Black, Azov, and Adriatic Seas, as well as the Dnepr and Danube rivers. However, access to the old spawning grounds has been blocked since the building of the Volgograd Dam, (note
: from 1925-61, Volgograd was known as Stalingrad). Beluga can live up to 100 years or more and it is the largest sturgeon in the world, and probably the most famous because its roe (unfertilized eggs) is highly prized as caviar. Beluga can reach lengths up to 30 feet and can weigh up to 2000 pounds; one fish, caught in 1926, weighed 2,200lbs (over 1,000kg) and yielded 396lb (180kg) of caviar - it was estimated to be at least 75 years old. Nowadays, fish are much smaller because the 'old' population has been exterminated by over-fishing and poaching.
Without commercial hatcheries, the Beluga would probably be extinct today. Interestingly, some aquaculturists have been developing methods to surgically remove eggs without killing the fish - a piscine 'caesarean'! However, many fish still die after this operation and more research is needed. I hope you don't eat caviar but, if you must, then please purchase your supply from an outlet which supports conservation and ecologically sound harvesting
Tuesday, 2 August 2005
The Tower Subway
Today is the anniversary of the official opening of the Tower Subway
in 1870. This deep tunnel, which took ten months to build and cost £16,000, was the world's first underground tube railway. The tunnel was lined with cast iron tubes in 18-inch sections 7/8th of an inch thick. It took passengers underneath the River Thames from Tower Hill on the north bank to the south side. The tunnel was designed and built by the English civil engineer and bridge builder, Peter William Barlow
, in conjunction with the engineer, James Henry Greathead
. Greathead developed Barlow's new method of digging deep tunnels, originally based on an earlier design by Marc Isambard Brunel
, (the father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel
), using an extremely efficient circular drilling shield. His improved design later became known as the 'Greathead Shield' [see this page on the history of Tunnelling
]. Before this invention, all tunnels had been built by the 'cut and cover' method. The expertise Greathead gained in building the Tower Subway was invaluable when later tube lines were built.
Unfortunately, the Tower Subway only operated as a tube railway for about three months as it didn't make enough money and the company went bankrupt. The problem was that it was a narrow single bore tunnel (7-ft in diameter) using one small cable car, which ran on a 2-ft 6 track. The railway was powered by a 4 horse power stationary steam engine on the south side of the tunnel which pulled the cable car along on an endless cable. The conditions were cramped and the car, which only carried twelve passengers at a time, had to shuttle back and forth along the 1,430-foot long track - each journey taking about 70 seconds.
The tunnel was immediately converted to a pedestrian walkway, with the cables ripped out and gas lights installed, and it re-opened in November 1870. It became a very popular way to cross the river averaging some 20,000 customers a week each paying one halfpenny for the privilege. This was in spite of the fact that there was little headroom and the conditions were said to be 'creepy'! However, the subway eventually closed to the public shortly after the newly constructed Tower Bridge
was opened in 1894.
In the 1920's, the tunnel was re-used as a route for water mains and hydraulic tubes, a major source of power in London at the time. Surviving damage during the bombing of World War II, the tunnel still carries water mains today and telecommunication cables instead of the hydraulic tubes which became obsolete in 1975.
Monday, 1 August 2005
Topic: Health Issues
It was just after twenty to nine this morning when I set off this morning for my 10 am appointment at the Surgical Pre-Assessment Clinic at Worthing Hospital. A clear run from Chichester with no traffic hold-ups so, of course, I arrived in the hospital car park at twenty past nine, forty minutes early! As I had missed breakfast, I briefly considered getting a cup of coffee but decided not to in case I might need the loo at an inconvenient moment! That is always a worry for me as I have a bit of a problem with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and my letter had said to "allow 3 hours for this visit
". Settled in the waiting area at half-past nine with my crossword puzzle book - a good way to take my mind off things. Especially as there was a TV fixed on the wall showing one of those awful talk shows - thank goodness the volume was low! Nine forty-five, my name is called; just as well I was early then!
The nurse went through the form I had filled in with details of current medication and medical history whilst she took my blood pressure. Then round the corner to be weighed and measured before going in to see another nurse. She asked me to sign a 'Disclaimer' advising me not to bring valuables into the hospital and then I had to lie on the couch for an electrocardiogram (an electrical recording of the heart used in the investigation of heart disease). All normal she said. Back to the waiting area for another few minutes before I was called in another room to see a young doctor. She listened to my chest and back, told me to take deep breaths and pronounced everything fine. It's good to know I am still alive! She noted that I had had anaesthetics before as I had had a tonsillectomy when I was about three-years-old. She looked amazed when I said that I had had Chloroform! (I never needed that operation! My parents had it done as a precaution because one of my much older sisters had had to have hers removed at nineteen and had a very bad time).
The doctor gave me an information sheet about my admission and reminded me that I have to ring the ward before I leave home on the day of the operation to check that a bed is still available! I asked her if I would be able to drive immediately afterwards as I was planning to drive myself in on the day (I have to check in at 07:30 am) and then drive myself home the next day. She thought it would be okay but advised me to have a back-up plan just in case! And that was that - all over by a quarter to eleven.
Made my usual beeline for the hospital refreshment area for a coffee and, 'oh goodie, they have some' - a jam doughnut! I love jam doughnuts and that was probably the first one I have had this year (although I did have an iced doughnut last time I was in the hospital).
Will speak to my daughter about possible 'back-up' transport after my discharge. She had offered to drive me in but that would have meant her leaving home around six in the morning to come and collect me, drive to Worthing and then drive back to her office in Littlehampton. The only problem I can foresee is will I be able to use the seat belt? Must raise the car seat a bit, I think.
Saturday, 30 July 2005
The Coal Delivery
I woke up the other day with a childhood memory vivid in my mind. Why does that happen? Is it because one of my old brain cells fired a last message before it expired so that another brain cell could download the information and save it?
The memory I recalled was watching a man delivering sacks of coal. We had two entrances, the front door and the kitchen door. To get to the kitchen door, you had to walk past the front garden, down the side of the house (the length of our front room) and past the entrance to the coal cellar, where the deliveryman was unloading our coal.
Before and probably during the war, the coal deliveryman would have used a horse and cart but I remember that this man arrived in a flat-bed lorry with the one hundredweight sacks of coal neatly stacked on top. So, I was probably seven or eight years old. I remember he had to climb onto the lorry and move the sacks to the edge ready for unloading. His face and hands were completely black from coal dust and he was wearing a sort of cap or head cloth, which hung down his back. He would grab hold of a sack by the 'ears' at the top, turn round, bend forward and pull it onto his back. He then had to walk quite a few yards to the coal cellar, down some steps and then 'pour' the coal out of the bag. The poor man must have had lungfuls of coal dust doing that! He was certainly at risk of getting chronic Bronchitis or Emphysema
(especially if he smoked as well) or Black Lung Disease
, a form of chronic lung disease affecting coal miners.
It was probably late autumn - that was the time when my Dad would have been thinking about stocking up on coal for the winter. However, the man was very hot; I could see the effort he made to pull a sack onto his back and the strain on his face as he took the weight. A hundredweight is equal to 112lbs or 8 stone and, after delivering ten of those, anyone would be feeling somewhat weary! He must have been relieved when the last empty sack was folded and placed on his lorry. I remember his cheery voice as he knocked on the kitchen door to confirm all was done and to get his delivery note signed.
There are some very interesting historical photographs here
, including a photograph of an old receipt for one ton of coal delivered in December, 1934, and costing just £1-2s-6d — £1 12½ pence in decimal coinage! Today, most house coal is delivered in small clean 25kg bags (about 55lbs) costing between £5.40 to £6.65 although, I believe, you can still get loose coal delivered in sacks.
Wednesday, 27 July 2005
Spyware and Anti-spyware
Last week, I started getting pestered with more pop-up ads than usual. In particular, one full-page advertisement about gambling. Every time I closed it down, up popped a little warning box asking me if I was sure I wanted to download "surfya". I most certainly did not
as it is probably spyware. A quick check on Google implied that it had caused no end of trouble to many unfortunate people. Thank goodness my system warns me before installing unwanted programs.
I checked all my anti-spyware programs and made sure they were up to date and, in so doing, discovered that SpywareBlaster and Ad-aware both had new versions available. Downloaded and installed the new versions then I ran Pest Patrol and Ad-Aware just in case I had picked up an unwanted 'nasty'. Apparently, a clean PC - but "surfya" was still trying to install itself. Then I remembered that "Spyware Warrior", Eric Howes, who operates the Rogue/Antispyware Website
, had recommended installing at least two of everything from his list of Trustworthy Anti-Spyware Products
. I had installed SpywareBlaster some time ago. I went back to his site for advice and promptly downloaded SpywareGuard as well. Hey presto - no more giant advertisements appearing and not one hint of "surfya" trying to install. Peace at last!
Don't forget to update ALL your anti-virus/anti-pest software at least twice a week or even daily. My Norton AntiVirus does this automatically which is a great help. Remember, new 'nasties' are appearing all the time and, if you do not keep your programs updated, your protection will become completely useless in a very short time.
Tuesday, 26 July 2005
Getting Enough Sleep?
Topic: Health Issues
My daughter sent me a link the other day to this BBC Interactive Game, Sheep Dash
, part of the BBC's section on Sleep
. The game is designed to test your reaction time and see how alert you are. Five sheep will leave the flock and dash for freedom and you have to hit them with a tranquilliser dart! You are then rated as a Sluggish Snail, an Ambling Armadillo, a Bobbing Bobcat, a Rocketing Rabbit or a Turbo-charged Cheetah! If you make a mistake, you get a 3-second penalty. Well, I've had several goes at different times of the day. Mostly, I score as an "Ambling Armadillo" although a couple of times, I did reach "Bobbing Bobcat" - and a couple of times I was a "Sluggish Snail" because I got a penalty! So my reactions are slow and I am probably tired. Is it possible for anyone to score as a "Turbo-charged Cheetah"? To me it seems impossible but then I was never any good at Space Invaders either! Do let me know if you get there.
I did a little better on the Face Memory
test which assesses your ability to remember how long ago something happened - your 'temporal' memory. If you're tired you won't be as good at remembering when you saw or did something. The test is in three parts so you need about 20 minutes to complete it, as you have to take a break of five minutes between each part. In each of the first two parts, you are shown photographs of twelve faces. Then in the third part you are shown 48 photographs and asked to decide which you have seen before and whether in part one or part two. My 'Recognition' score was 100% - I recognised all 24 photos. However, I only matched 18 photos to the correct part - a 'Temporal' memory score of 75%. The average recognition score is 92% and the average temporal score is 68% so, considering my age, I didn't disgrace myself.
Apparently, recognition memory for faces is unaffected by sleep loss. However, the area of the brain that controls temporal memory can be affected by prolonged sleep loss and/or ageing. The BBC tells me; a healthy 65-year-old who sleeps normally would be able to perform this test similarly to a 20-year-old who has gone without sleep for 36 hours!
I probably average around 6½ hours sleep. Obviously not enough so, I off to bed right now. Goodnight!
Saturday, 23 July 2005
An Insidious 'Cancer'
There is a cancer eating away at all of us. It started, as many cancers do, as one or two small insignificant eruptions. They appeared to heal but unbeknown to us, the cancer continued spreading its invasive destruction beneath the surface. Then it erupted again with a huge devastating effect. The cancer would need to be cut out. However, it seems that all the operation succeeded in doing was to divide and spread the cancer further. Will it ever be cured?
I am talking about the cancer of terrorism, about Al-Qaeda. It probably all started with the bombing of the World Trade Center
in February 1993 followed by the killing of American soldiers in Somalia in October of that year. Then a truck bomb blew up outside the Khobar Towers military complex in Saudi Arabia in June 1996 killing another 19 US servicemen and injuring hundreds more. Two years later, in August 1998, US embassies in East Africa were bombed - 224 people died, including 12 Americans. In October 2000, the USS Cole was bombed in the port of Yemen - 17 US sailors died. In September 2001, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York were destroyed - at least 2,985 people died in this horrific attack.
In April 2002, there was an explosion at an ancient synagogue in Tunisia, the following month a car exploded outside a hotel in Karachi, in June a bomb exploded outside the American Consulate in Karachi. In October, bombs destroyed a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, killing 202 people, most of them Australian citizens. There was also an attack on a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya.
In 2003, suicide bombers killed 34 at housing compounds for Westerners in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Bombs went off in Casablanca, Morocco. There was a suicide car bomb at the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. More explosions in Riyadh, suicide car bombers attacked two synagogues in Istanbul and a week later, a British bank was bombed. In March 2004, ten terrorist bombs exploded on trains during the Madrid rush hour. In Iraq, there have been countless bombs and suicide attacks, Muslim against Muslim. It seems that civil war is imminent and that no one can stop it.
Now, this cancer has reached London with the attacks on 7th July followed by more bungled attempts to cause yet more carnage last Thursday. I hope they catch them - those four would-be suicide bombers. Thank goodness their bombs failed to detonate. These particular terrorists were weak mutations of the original cancer. It seems that they were ignorant, unskilled and probably stupid as well - 'Homo Hostilis Inscitus
' an offshoot of Homo Hostilis
! Unfortunately, it is the stupid and the ignorant who are dangerous, who are most likely to be 'brainwashed' into committing terrorist crimes. Now they have struck again in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh.
What on earth does Osama bin Laden
hope to accomplish by all this? It seems that their principal stated aims are to drive Americans and American influence out of all Muslim nations, especially Saudi Arabia. They also want to destroy Israel and to topple pro-Western dictatorships around the Middle East. Bin Laden has also said that he wishes to unite all Muslims and establish, by force if necessary, an Islamic nation adhering to the rule of the first Caliphs. According to his 1998 fatwa (religious decree), it is the duty of Muslims around the world to wage holy war on the U.S., American citizens, and Jews. Muslims who do not heed this call are declared apostates (people who have forsaken their faith).
I used to think that other religions were just different paths leading to one God and that all religions were intrinsically good. I was naive. The Muslim hatred of Jews as stated in the Koran
is particularly unbelievable - see Stephen Pollard's article of 20th July, "Ban the Koran?
", in which he highlights the stupidity of the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill. My dictionary defines 'religion' as:-
- The quest for the values of the ideal life.
- A particular system in which the quest for the ideal life has been embodied.
- Recognition on the part of man of a controlling superhuman power entitled to obedience, reverence and worship.
- The feeling or the spiritual attitude of those recognizing such a controlling power.
- The manifestation of such feeling in conduct or life.
- A point or a matter of conscience.
Perpetrating acts of terrorism is hardly the 'ideal life'. So why has the terrorists' Fundamentalist 'religionism
' taken a wrong turning? Why is it that this evil branch of one of the world's main religion seems to be stuck in the Middle Ages? And what about suicide bombers? They are like small greedy children believing that if they die a 'martyr's death', they will be rewarded by meeting 70 virgins in the after-life. I actually find this particular bit of the Koran a real insult to women. If there is an afterlife for these self-styled martyrs, I believe it will be the opposite of the eternal debauchery they expect because they will discover that they do not have a corporeal form after death! No, they will be in a hell of their own making.
That reminds me of a marvellous description I once heard of the difference between heaven and hell. In hell, there was a very large banqueting table full of marvellous food laid out in the middle of the table. The people sitting around it had been supplied with very heavy long-handled spoons, spoons with which they could reach the food. But they were starving and screaming with anger and desperation because they could not manage to put one spoonful of food in their mouths to ease their hunger. In heaven there was an identical banqueting table and identical spoons but, unlike the inhabitants of hell, the people seated at the table were happy and laughing. Being good and kind, each person was busy using their long spoon to feed the person sitting opposite them on the other side of the table. The moral here is that the state of heaven or hell is a reflection of a good and generous nature or of an evil and selfish nature.
Sadly, there is no easy inoculation against the cancer of evil but we will continue to fight it, to tease it out wherever it erupts. We will show the terrorists that we are not afraid and we will prevail because we have right and justice on our side.
Wednesday, 20 July 2005
Americans First On The Moon
Eagle touch-down in 'football pitch'
On the 20th July 1969, history was made when the Apollo ll mission became the first manned lunar mission to land on the moon. This is part of the leading article in The Daily Telegraph, a London newspaper, for Monday, July 21, 1969.
Two Americans became the first men in the moon last night when Apollo ll's lunar module Eagle touched down on the moons surface at 9.18 p.m. B.S.T. Aboard were Neil Armstrong, 38, mission commander, and Col. Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, 39, Eagle's pilot.
As the lunar module settle gently on the Sea of Tranquility, Armstrong reported: "The Eagle has landed. We are breathing again. Thanks a lot".
Almost immediately, Mission Control began referring to Eagle with a new radio call-sign of "Tranquility Base". Armstrong radioed that the earth was "big, bright and beautiful."
He said: "We are in football pitch-sized crater." Houston congratulated Eagle with: "Beautiful job, you guys." A voice from Eagle replied: "Don't forget the one in the module."
Overhead at a height of less than 70 miles, Col. Michael Collins, 38, orbited the moon in the command module Columbia, to which Armstrong and Aldrin are due to return tonight.
P.S. If anyone is interested in the whole article, please let me know.
Tuesday, 19 July 2005
"The Lion King"
Our grandchildren, Stephanie and Elliot, have been very busy for some time rehearsing all the songs for their summer term school play. So, this afternoon, it was off to Aldingbourne County Primary School to watch them performing in the production of "The Lion King". Every child from the Infant School had a part and the staff did a really fantastic job with all the make-up; it must have taken all morning to 'do' all the faces! As usual, all the children with speaking parts were exceptionally good - there are some budding actors there - and not one mistake! Stephanie, who had the main role in the Christmas play, had to be content this time with being one of the pack of 'hyenas' and Elliot, who also had a speaking role in the Christmas play, was one of the 'giraffes'.
Despite arriving over 25 minutes early, all the seats on the aisle were taken. So, rather than sit somewhere in the middle, I went to the back where I could stand up without blocking the view when I wanted to take some pictures. Well, if you don't stand up, all you can see is a sea of heads even though the stage is slightly raised. It definitely wasn't the best vantage point as the flash on my camera wasn't powerful enough from that distance and all my pictures came out rather dark! Oh, well, there is a tool called Paint Shop Pro - trouble is, I am not a 'pro' when it comes to using it! Still this picture of Elliot hasn't turned out too bad after adjusting the brightness a little. He certainly looks as if he is enjoying himself. Sorry, Stephanie - the one of you is really, really dark!
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