All entries for October 2005
October 28, 2005
October 23, 2005
I am currently considering purchasing a Snooper S6-R radar detector for a very simple reason – I am tired of spending my entire driving constantly monitoring the speed limit and my speed, watching out for speed cameras and police vans etc. It is getting to the stage now where I am concerned that my ability as a driver is being impaired because of the amount of attention this takes off of the road and onto just monitoring the speedo and what's parked in the next layby. So this is where the detector comes in. By having one of these devices, it will constantly have a display of my current vehicle speed, the current speed limit (often hard to spot in areas of speed camera enforcement due to lack of signs!), I can set audible alarms for when I am over the speed limit so that I know when to slow down without having to concentrate on every single speed limit sign with the constantly chopping and changing speed limits that exist on our road network today, and I won't have to scan behind every bush and tree and on top of every motorway bridge for cameras and enforcement officers.
Aha, I hear you say, you want one of these just to break the speed limit. Well partly I do want one of these so that if conditions allow I can break the speed limit safely by not having to concentrate so hard on cameras etc yes. I'm not going to try and feed you all a rubbish story that it's all about ensuring that I never break the limit. But on the other hand, a lot of the time my concentration problems are related to the fact that there are speed cameras everywhere and I haven't spotted the single speed limit sign that was 4 miles back half covered by overgrowing trees. And if you've driven on British roads recently you'll notice that the speed limit changes rather a lot. Hence by having this system in my car I will not have these troubles anymore, and consequently make me a safer driver.
The government doesn't seem to agree though. The current road safety bill seeks to ban detectors (although GPS-based systems will remain legal). The argument is that detectors are used by drivers to basically exceed the speed limit where they see fit, and as such make our roads more dangerous. Given the number of statistics and numbers thrown about by road safety groups, it's perhaps surprising that in this bill they evidently haven't read the largest survey into radar detector use, conducted by MORI in 2001 and sampled just over 1,000 drivers, about 50% of whom had a detector and 50% hadn't. Read the report and it's findings here if you wish. To summarise, there is a stark contrast between the profile of a driver who has and a driver who has not gone to the effort of purchasing a radar detector. This is perhaps unsurprising, as it takes someone who cares about driving/keeping their licence a lot more than your average motorist to voluntarily go and invest several hundred pounds in a detector in the first place. The average distance driven between accidents however was just over 217,000 miles for a user of a detector compared to a little over 143,000 miles for non-uses. This means that the user of a detector is approximately 50% less likely to have an accident in a given journey than a non-user. This has to be in part down to other factors – for example, the users tend to clock up a far higher annual mileage. However, it does fly strongly in the face of the suggestion that detectors make our roads less safe, because either they are making "bad" speeding drivers safer (in this instance we would expect to see a reduction in accidents) or that the users of detectors (who seem to be those who speed more in the first place according to the poll) are actually pretty safe and competent drivers to start with (rubbishing the idea that drivers who speed are the spawn of satan and cause no end of damage on public roads compared to Mr Joe Public).
Either way, the move to ban radar detectors seems to be based on statements related to road safety that are completely contradictory to the evidence that actually, if anything, detectors make our roads safer to be on in the first place. Furthermore, our sterotype preconceptions of road safety and speed, particularly when related to the issue of cameras and detection, are deeply flawed and long overdue for revision. Most of all, the Road Safety Bill requires amendments and fast.
October 20, 2005
Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view
There seems to be another alphabet quiz doing the rounds of blogs. And who am I to stem the tide of popularity?
A: The most Audacious thing you’ve ever done
I don't know really. Nothing springs to mind – how dull! The most fun thing I ever did was aerobatics in a WWII fighter, but that was hardly audacious.
B: Favourite Badger joke
Never heard one. But the online thing is funny.
C: Favourite Curry
All curry should be filed under b for bin. I hate the stuff.
D: Number of drinks it takes to get utterly Drunk
Well the only time I got utterly drunk I don't know because I had about 10 different kinds of spirits not in measures and I don't remember much about the end of that… I would say something greater than 15 units.
E: Your most Effeminate characteristic
I can be quite fussy about my hair sometimes. Not overly so, but a bit (not that you'd tell…)
F: The last thing that you got for Free
Lorna bought me a drink last night
G: Number of times that you’ve visited a Gym
As many times as I had to in P.E. lessons
H: Where you call Home
Middlezoy, Somerset. Despite the fact that there's only one house owned by the family there now, and that's my grandparents. Ours was sold a few years ago :'(
I: (leaving things open for dodgy minds…) Any Instruments that you play
Guitar badly – haven't played in years
J: (and again…) Favourite Juice
K: Song that you would sing Karaoke to
Never ever ever will I sing Karaoke. If I was forced to under pain of death, Bryan Adams – Summer of '69
L: Number of times you’ve Laminated – and if you’ve achieved your laminating qualifications from the MC Office yet
M: (As seen on the BBC News website:) How much Money do you think you’d need to be happy?
Depends on personal circumstances. If they're good – enough to live what I call comfortably. Maybe £300,000 for a nice house, a few thousand on a couple of nice cars. If things don't work out, a few million to amuse myself with
N: Favourite Naan to have with aforementioned curry
Hate currys. Like garlic Naan though
O: Your Oldest possession
My teddy bear from when I was born. He looks a little worse for wear but still have him at home somewhere.
P: Your worst Phobia
Not bothered by most things, but I never cared much for creepy crawlies. Dunno that I actually have a phobia though. Does a phobia of failure count?
Q: Something that makes you feel Queasy
Smell/sound/sight of vomit is about the only thing guaranteed to make me feel really sick
R: Recent New Year Resolutions made, and how many still going
I don't make them anymore
S: Favourite Season
Tough one. Early spring mornings when the air is cold and crisp, a bit of frost but everything is getting into life and the sun is about are to die for.
T: Number of cups of Tea consumed per day (on average)
Zero – tea's yucky.
U: The most Useful lesson you’ve ever learnt:
Not to take more than you give, and not to ask anything more of anyone else than you ask of yourself.
V: Number of Valentines cards received (either in your life or in the last year – depending on how popular you are!)
Excluding fake ones, zero.
W: A film that can make you Weep
Do I have to admit to crying at a film? I'd really rather not…
X: Have you ever dyed your hair to become Xanthocomic (Blonde: link)
Ummmm surprisingly no
Y: The first memory you had, at your Youngest
My first memory is when we were building a patio, I must have been about 2 or 3 at the time. Dad was driving the old Rover V8 with the trailer on the back and I wanted to go with him to get some sand from Dunball Wharf, partly for the ride and partly to look at the diggers they have there.
Z: Favourite animal you could see in a Zoo
I love most big cats, my favourites are probably Tigers, Leopards and Jaguars.
October 18, 2005
In my opinion, today the world can do this:
October 16, 2005
Ok so I said I was going to wait for the re-run, but given that it's started so anyone watching it will not be reading this until it's over anyway, and also that I'm exceptionally bored right now, I feel like writing this now.
Overall I think it's been a smashing season for 2005. The reign of Ferrari and Michael Schumacher has finally been broken, and we saw a title fight that was only decided a couple of races before the end of the season and a constructor's championship that could have gone to either of the top teams going into the final race. My driver of the year has undoubtedly got to be Alonso. His consistency all season and the ability to maximise opportunity where it presents itself are what has won him the title over Raikkonen. Not only that, but he's a very modest chap who comes across as genuinely seeming like he's having the time of his life. By comparison, Raikkonen shows moments of genius and on a good day no-one can get near him. However his complete lack of expression and emotion, combined with his variability on bad days, meant that I spent the whole season rooting for his failure. Many people might argue that it was the car and not the driver that won it for Alonso this year, but I don't accept that. Yes the Renault has been more consistent, and initially it showed pace far in excess of anyone, but McLaren's car by mid year was ultimately a much faster one and Renault did well to maintain their lead, aided by both McLaren's reliability which has in some places been patchy, and the driver's errors (such as Raikkonen's suspension collapse on the last lap of a race earlier this year because of his braking errors throughout it's duration).
Other drivers and teams that I wish to mention: Montoya suffered badly this year from his inconsistency and injury. If he can calm himself down a bit and get some consistency into his performance, I think his talent would at least equal Raikkonen's. Come on Montoya, you have it in you – sort it out. Webber has had a disappointing year at Williams, which I don't think he deserved really because he really is a solid all-round driver. His pace in qualifying and race craft are pretty exceptional – just look at what he did at Jaguar last year. Hopefully Williams will make a comeback next year and give Webber a car to truly demonstrate his talents. A similar story for Jenson Button – his talent is evident by just how much he outperformed teammate Takuma Sato this year, although this is partly due to Sato being a bit useless. I don't think Honda will be sorry to see him go. I still think Button is somewhat overrated, but if Honda can put a car under him that has the race pace to match it in qualifying then he should be right up there with the title contenders. Coulthard has demonstrated this year that it's not all about youth by doing a sterling job with Red Bull, and the engineers there are also to be highly commended for taking the Jaguar team and really moving them forward. Thus sums up my thoughts on faces for this year.
Looking forward to next year, in many ways I'm going to feel like F1 will never be the same again. The biggest rule change is undoubtedly the change in engine ruling. Currently the 3 litre V10 engines push out close to 950BHP and rev to near as dammit 19,000 RPM, but from next year there will be a compulsory move to 2.4 litre V8's. While these should rev faster, it will represent about a 200 horsepower drop over the current units; and not only that I have a strong feeling that they won't be nearly as loud or sound as nice. This disappoints me greatly. They are also imposing many more restrictions on engine design – the V angle is to be fixed at 90 degrees, the engine must weigh a minimum of 95kg (currently the best 3 litre engines are under 100kg so this is a pain), a maximum bore of 98mm and a maximum of 2 inlet and 2 exhaust valves per cylinder. All of these rule changes are designed to reduce speeds and costs, but I don't see really why this is necessary. The speeds F1 currently runs at are not unsafe, as has been demonstrated again and again by the crashes that the drivers walk away from. Costs are also not such a problem – although the FIA claims that it is necessary to improve competition, it is constant innovation by the teams that brings down long term dominance of teams like Ferrari. This year for example, the gradual building up of the Renault and McLaren teams has resulted in them overtaking Ferrari in the constructors championship, which has nothing to do with costs. So all in all, I feel that F1 from next year onwards will suck somewhat more. The main other rule change I've heard banded about is a potential move back to allowing in-race tyre changes in pit stops, which is at least a move in the right direction rather than the wrong one.
October 14, 2005
Chris recently raised a debate on energy sources and the future of gas supplies. One of the main points that seem to have spun off from this is rather predictably the nuclear debate. In this post in response to some comments, I will attempt to outline why I feel that nuclear fission is the most viable stop–gap until fusion power can be fully developed to commercial levels hopefully sometime in the middle of this century.
The first point I wish to make is to alleviate a public misconception about nuclear fission – the association of nuclear power generation with nuclear weapons and explosions. Now I know that many people who will be reading this will already be well informed on this so if you don't want a basic talk through the differences then skip the next couple of paragraphs. Now, in order to understand why nuclear reactors cannot explode it is necessary to understand some basic things about nuclear reactions. Fission (the splitting of atoms to create smaller atoms and release energy) releases energy because unstable nuclei (uranium 235 in power generation) split to form two stable nuclei, releasing energy because of the difference in something called the binding energy per nucleon between the unstable and stable nuclei. The reaction is initiated by the absorption by the uranium nucleus of a neutron. The fission process for uranium 235 releases on average 2.4 neutrons per fission reaction (called the reproduction rate), so you can see that in theory the reaction rate would increase with each fission reaction starting another 2.4 fission reactions. This is what happens in a nuclear explosion – a neutron source is put into contact with a mass of fuel greater than the critical mass (minimum needed to sustain a reaction) and the reproduction rate explodes at very high rates. The usual fuel for this is Plutonium 239.
However, naturally occurring uranium is only 0.7% Uranium 235, with the rest being a stable isotope Uranium 238. Thus, most of the neutrons are absorbed by this and do not initiate further reactions, therefore the reproduction rate is much less than one and a chain reaction does not occur. For power generation the target reproduction rate is obviously exactly 1, because then the reaction is happening at a constant rate. In order for this to happen, we first enrich natural uranium to higher levels of Uranium 235 so that a chain reaction can occur (but nothing like the enrichment levels in nuclear weapons). Furthermore, we utilise control rods (usually graphite) to absorb excess neutrons as well, which we can move in and out of the nuclear fuel to control the reproduction ratio to exactly 1. The reaction is very stable and simply controlled, and even if the control rods are completely removed the reaction will not explode out of control because the fuel is not rich enough. Instead, what happens is something like happened at Chernobyl, where the control rods were almost completely removed in an experiment where the safety features were disabled and the reaction rate increased dramatically, causing the temperature to rise and the reactor to fail. This incident was a meltdown, not a nuclear explosion. The whole incident was a catalogue of errors which went right back to the design of the reactor itself, and would never happen in a more modern reactor. For a more in-depth look, check out this site. Essentially, it was a catastrophic operator error incident that actually caused the reactor to fail, something I would not unfairly liken to trying to get a child to loop the loop in a 747 jet (in case you're wondering, such a thing is technically impossible – either the wings would fall off or the plane would stall).
There are three other concerns raised by most members of the public – costs, long term waste disposal and leak risks from accidents or terrorist attacks. Long term waste disposal is perhaps the single largest of these. High level waste is actually produced in very small quantities, and is difficult to deal with. The best idea I have seen to date is a system involving a facility called a geological repository. The waste is safely buried in a stable rock formation deep underground in a deserted area, a long way from any water tables or risks of geological movement. This is a very high initial capital cost solution in one respect, but overall I believe the economies of scale of having a one–off disposal cost at a site that could hold many thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste would pay off very well. The threat of radiation is solved by the natural barrier of hundreds of metres of rock, and let us not forget that the earth itself is highly radioactive underground. The best place to put the stuff is back where it came from, where it can't hurt anybody and can't go anywhere. If anyone has reasons as to why this would be unsafe, please let me know. To give you an idea of quantities, low level waste accounts for 90% of the volume of radioactive material, intermediate level waste a further 7% and high level waste 3%. This equates to about 3 cubic metres a year for a typical large nuclear reactor. Compare this to the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of CO2 a comparative fossil fuel station emits, and we start to see an argument stacking up in favour of nuclear power. High level waste is solidified by mixing with glass–forming compounds, which are then poured into stainless steel containers and welded shut. After a period of approximately 40 years (during which these "vitrified" wastes are held in dry concrete casks or underwater in specialised ponds), the material has dropped to 0.1% of its initial activity. It is then suitable for storage deep underground. In the US, a facility in Nevada for long term storage has been costed at about 0.1 cents per kWh, which is comparatively low to the consumer price, which is in the order of 100 times this, thus the long term storage represents about 1% of cost.
Only about 3% of spent fuel from a reactor is actually waste. In Europe (primarily at Sellafied in the UK and a similar site in France), most fuel is reprocessed with the 3% waste removed, and the remaining 97% returned to rods to be used again as fuel. In this way, we both extend our fuel supplies dramatically and at the same time cut down on the amount of high level waste that requires burial. For more information on wastes check out this site (my specific data on wastes has largely been sourced from this article).
It's worth mentioning as an aside how long known uranium ore supplies would last. It is estimated currently in the 100's of years (although I couldn't find specific data); and that is without fuel reprocessing and the use of breeder reactors, which would increase reserves by a factor of 60–70. In short, fuel supply is not a problem for the foreseeable future of nuclear power.
Cost issues are also another commonly raised concern, with many opponents to nuclear power arguing that decommissioning is not taken into account and is hugely expensive. I already gave some ballpark figures for long term storage costs for nuclear wastes (although this is the storage cost itself; the solidification process and 40 year storage period is not costed into this). Exact costs are hard to find and calculate, as of course it is a long term decommissioning process, and varies depending on reactor type. Furthermore, there are multiple options to take in the decommissioning process, and the whole task itself is still one which we are gaining in experience all the time, making long term reductions in costs even harder to calculate. Because of this complexity, facts are often misreported and twisted by opponents of nuclear power. At present, nuclear generators in the US are collecting between 0.1 and 0.2 cents per kWh to cover decommissioning costs, again not a huge sum. This site explains decommissioning including costing in much more depth that I will go into here, but suffice to say that if you want to know more about decommissioning then it's a pretty good introduction. Another cost analysis is available from the same website here if you wish to compare generating costs with rivals.
So what about safety? Well again I refer you to my favourite website for more information, but I'll summarise here. All modern nuclear power stations must have containment systems built around the reactor (Chernobyl did not have this). Current standards state that reactors must be built with a one in 10,000 year core damage frequency, however modern designs exceed this by a factor of between 10 and 100. Designs in the next decade are likely to see this increase by a factor of 10 again. In 12,000 years of combined reactor operation, there have been two major accidents; one at 3 mile island in 1979 where the leak was contained by the built in containment around the reactor, and the Chernobyl incident discussed previously. Other factors need to be considered against other industries too. For example, every year around 1,000 people die mining coal. Long term damage to the environment of CO2 and the health implications that this will cause to mankind – increased environmental disasters killing many people etc etc. Quoting directly from the above site, optimum safety is achieved by:
- high quality design and construction
- equipment that prevents operational disturbances developing into problems
- redundant and diverse systems to detect problems, control damage to the fuel and prevent significant radioactive releases
- provision to confine the effects of serious fuel damage to the plant itself
The safety systems include a series of physical barriers between the radioactive reactor core and the environment, the provision of multiple safety systems, each with backup and designed to accommodate human error. Safety systems account for about one quarter of the capital cost of such reactors."
Other safety features of nuclear power stations include things like automatic shutdown in periods of seismic activity. Post the WTC attacks, various studies have concluded that nuclear power installations are amongst the safest civil buildings and most resistant to terrorist attack. Even when models were generated of the largest civil aviation aircraft impacting at high speed while fully fuelled, there was no perceived risk of a breach to either the reactor fuel or storage for wastes, or transport casks.
It's also worth putting the severity of nuclear incidents into perspective. In the case of the Chernobyl disaster (by far the most catastrophic on record), the incident killed 31 people, 28 of which died within weeks of radiation exposure. It also caused radiation sickness in between 200–300 emergency workers. About 130,000 people received doses above internationally accepted limits. About 800 cases of thyroid cancer in children have been linked to the incident, of which most have been cured, around 10 have been fatal. No detected increase in other cancers has yet shown itself, although there is an expected rise. The WHO is still closely monitoring the after–effects to this day. We can conclude that while a terrible and tragic incident (and even more importantly, avoidable), it's hardly a doomsday end of the world type scenario as is often predicted by those who wish to over–dramatise the effect of nuclear catastrophe to strengthen their anti–nuclear case.
Perhaps the most pertinent question of all though remains – do we need it? Well, the UK has a base demand of approximately 47GW of electricity. This has to be generated somehow. By the government's own targets, even by 2050 so–called renewable energy sources, which are comparatively new and untested on the scales necessary to satisfy such base loads, potentially expensive and unreliable and also require backup generation, will only satisfy 60% of UK demand, and compared to many other parts of the world this is a pretty high target, although not the highest. In the meantime, where are we going to get our energy? Renewables cannot satisfy the interim demand, and in my judgement cannot meet long term demand and expansion either, certainly not without large areas put down to expensive wind farms or damming off rivers etc. Biomass schemes are new, not accelerating in growth fast enough and in any case are unlikely to be able to sate our generating demands (although I believe the future of transport lies in bio–fuels, I may make a post on this in the near future). Our options remain to be nuclear or further depletion of fossil fuels, along with associated CO2 emissions. These are the only choices for the short to medium term, regardless of what alternatives you might have faith in. I have put the case for nuclear here. What's your choice?
October 12, 2005
October 10, 2005
Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view
Ok so it's about three weeks since I did the last one or something, but I'm bored and want something to occupy myself before I eat.
A – AREA CODE YOU ARE IN RIGHT NOW:
14th August – always in the middle of the holidays, and unusually for the middle of the summertime in the UK usually hot and sunny. And 6 months either way to Valentine's…
C- CURRENT CRUSH:
You'll have more chance of me making public N!
D- FAVOURITE DRINK:
E- LAST THING EATEN:
My lunch. This consisted of a mayonnaise sandwich (not an accident – I like mayonnaise sandwiches!), a packet of wotsits, a twix, a quaker chewee white choc chip cereal bar and an apple.
F- FAVORITE FOOD:
You can never go wrong with good steak, although if I think hard I probably like some other things better. Like Lemon Meringue pie
G- WHAT GRADE ARE YOU IN:
Fourth year finalist – job hunt argh!
H- CURRENTLY HATE:
Actually very little has riled me recently. I'm struggling to think of much. So I'll just go with my long standing hatred of stupid people who annoy me and get in the way, road safety campaigners who claim speed cameras are a good thing, environmentalists who want to ban cars and anyone from the health and safety executive
I- I THINK:
Far too much
J- CURRENT JOB:
Student, surprisingly. My last job as a tractor driver ended three weeks ago today _sobs. _ Apart from that, just job hunting
K- ANY KIDS:
L- I LOVE:
My family, my friends, driving fast and loud engines. And some other things too
M- FAVORITE MOVIE:
N- YOUR PHONE NUMBER:
I don't even give out my MSN on here. So you think I'm going to publish my phone number?
O- OVER OR UNDER:
I have no idea what this question means. Over
P- FAVORITE PERFUME/COLOGNE:
For me – well I only ever wear Lynx Africa. I'm considering looking around for a cologne I like for going out. Girls ones – how should I know! One that smells nice
Q- ANY LITTLE QUIRKS ABOUT YOURSELF?:
I don't know – I never consider myself to be quirky. Errr, my left arm bends the wrong way
R- LAST ROAD TRIP:
I don't know that I've ever been on a road trip in the true sense of the word, although obviously I make many trips by road. I guess the last time I ever made anything close to one was when a few of us went down to Chris's holiday house in Devon in the second year, which was a lot of fun
S- DO YOU SMOKE?:
T- FAVORITE TV SHOW:
Top Gear of course!
U- COLOR OF YOUR UNDERWEAR:
Mid blue today
V- LAST TIME YOU WERE IN VEGAS:
Never been. The closest I've gotten is Colorado. Although I'd like to go to Vegas someday, and see quite a bit more of America in general
W- YOUR WISH:
I have many wishes, but the point is that they're secret surely so that they can come true?
X- X-RAYS TAKEN THIS YEAR:
None so far. I think the last time I was X-rayed was when I was 14 and I fell off my bike, quite nicely knocking myself out for over 10 minutes
Y- NAME THAT STARTS WITH A Y:
Z- ZODIAC SIGN:
Leo – and mostly it seems to tie in with my character quite surprisingly. Not that I buy into Astrology but there you have it
October 08, 2005
Today I had my 21st birthday present from my mum and her sisters – a driving day with a Lamgorghini Murcielago. If you don't know what one looks like, click here. Technical-wise, it's got a 6.2 litre V12 engine, develops 572 BHP, gets to 60 in 3.8 seconds and goes onto a top speed of over 200. And I would like to confirm that it is one of the best ways to spend £160k that you can think of. It sounds even better (and louder) than it does through a decent speaker system on the telly, it's rib-crushingly quick, grip levels are astounding, it's brilliantly balanced and I want one. Hence the offer for anybody who needs a kidney etc... The day started out with two laps driven by one of the staff in a Subaru Impreza to see the track, followed by three laps in a Focus RS to get used to the course itself, for which my instructor was none other than BTCC driver Fiona Leggate. This in itself was pretty fun – catching up Ferraris etc in a really very quick hot hatch. By the end of the three laps I'd just about got the hang of the lines through the corners and also the idea of braking before a corner and basically driving flat through the entire turn – a very weird sensation and totally different to how I've driven before. The Lambo itself was utterly sensational – I left it in fourth for pretty much the whole lap, down the longer straights I was up pushing 120mph which I was quite pleased with. Given more than four laps (by which time I was beginning to get the hang of braking later and applying more power earlier) I may have gotten a lot better still. As it was, I was informed that I was the best driver of the day, which surprised me immensely as I didn't think I was all that hot, but nevertheless I was immensely chuffed with.
On a seperate note, the blog social last night went well. I ran into Laura and Lorna who weren't even at the social, who provided great company along with the blogging community of Victoria, SiY, Adele, Chris, Mat, Jill, Holly (who only grinned at me manically) and the rest of the crew who I didn't get a chance to speak to. And apologies Jill for calling you Jim in a state of tiredness and over-painkillered delerium…