Friday, April 30, 2010

Airport Security Sense

Metro has a story (p12) this morning on the end of the airline liquid ban.

Finally, 4 years after the ridiculous bans were introduced to prevent the Movie Plot Threat of binary liquid explosives which explosives experts say could never have worked, we're going to be rid of this stupid and arbitrary restriction on air travel. Well, within 36 months, anyway.

Liquids will now be screened, presumably in a non-invasive way. Perhaps by NMR (magnetically 'pinging' atoms and measuring their vibrations to determine what they are) or IR spectroscopy (shining a light through the bottle and detecting, from which patterns of 'colours' are absorbed, what it contains). These technologies are relatively stable and well-understood, and spectroscopic techniques in particular are a staple of astrophysics - we can't yet go to moons and exoplanets, but we can see light shining through their atmosphere and hence detect the presence of various chemicals.

This is a much better option than simply banning liquids (which can be smuggled in body cavities, "smurfed" across 1oz make-up containers, etc.). It also means that, as well as looking for explosives, security can look for such completely harmless things as dimethylmercury, wolfsbane, potassium cyanide, arsenic, polonium-210 and concentrated nitric acid. Sure, none of those would make the plane go "boom" and fall out of the sky, but they're all lethal in their own ways.

Of course, we will still - in the words of the great Dara Ó Briain - "have to show our genitals to a man in a box before we can go on holiday", so there's a long way to go yet.

- KoW

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Unintended Consequences

Another example of the Law of Unintended Consequences can be found in this morning's Metro.

Paper recycling and eco-friendly paperless offices, apparently, have grown to such a significant proportion that high-grade office paper waste is hard to obtain. This means that toilet paper manufacturers cannot get enough pulp of sufficient quality to produce soft toilet tissue.

Which means that the next time you're on the throne and wondering why the bog roll is the hard and shiny type favoured in schools everywhere, spare a thought for the fact that it's your own fault for not using enough office paper.

I shudder to think what we'll have to use if iPads and the like really take off...

- KoW

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Why recycling is wasteful

Today's Metro has a story about recycling - apparently some 200-year-old bottles were saved from being thrown in the recycling bin and have sold at auction for £5000. Which raises an interesting question: how many times has the same mistake been made but without anyone noticing?

I've long felt that the cult of recycling is harmful, and this story is an example of why.

We use huge amounts of energy turning sand into glass bottles, then when we're done we shatter the bottles into fragments and waste huge amounts more energy turning the fragments back into bottles. Why? If you have a bottle, and you want a bottle, why go through all that hassle instead of reusing it?

The simple fact is that people don't think about it. Recycling salves their consciences and makes them feel that they're helping the planet, when it's in fact making sod all difference to the energy consumption or waste levels - and may even be worse given the costs of separating waste. It's become second nature now, though, people don't even think about it. They recycle because recycling is good. Centuries-old antique glass is clearly glass which can equally clearly be recycled, and because recycling is good, it should be done.

Recycling has become a religion, and demands regular sacrifices to its ecological god such that consumerist crap can be reborn and the cycle begun anew.

- KoW

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Extremely Extreme!

According to this morning's Metro, the combination of Free Climbing and BASE Jumping is known as "freeBasing" - which might come as a surprise to people who are more used to hearing the term in a drugs context. It certainly makes Richard Pryor seem more interesting - though setting yourself on fire freebasing cocaine and drinking overproof rum might well qualify as an Extreme Sport...

- KoW

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Holy shit, it's been a month since I last posted. How did that happen?

So, today's news is that inflation has jumped up again: 3.4% CPI (up from 3% last month), 4.4% RPI (up from 3.7%). My prediction at New Year's, of double-digit inflation, seems possible.

In this evening's Evening Standard, James Hughes of Black Swan Capital wealth management is quoted as saying
This sharp increase in UK inflation is possibly just the start of an inevitable and unstoppable slide towards double-digit inflation and interest rates within the next few years

Good name for a company, Black Swan. Presumably taken from Taleb's book. Still, we'll have to wait and see - I only win my pint if RPI is over 10% by mid November.

- KoW

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