Bristol sParkway

July 23, 2009

Just two years after the Department for Transport (DfT) seemed to be dismissing calls for more electrification of the rail network in a White Paper, there is formal announcement of the electrification of the Great Western route from London at a cost of around £1 billion. Admittedely, the DfT’s position changed somewhat when it was pointed out, inter alia, that persuading rolling stock purchasers to buy diesel-powered traction for a 30-40 year service life was going to prove difficult at a time when 30-40 years of affordable hydrocarbon fuel looked wildly optimistic, and that convincing them that fuel-cell technology would come to their rescue before existing diesel rolling stock had come to the end of its life was pretty much impossible. Needless to say, there are detractors stating that the scheme will cost too much, but what will probably be of more concern to many is the fact that this will place an even greater demand on the country’s electricity generating capacity – it does appear that more nuclear capacity is the only viable option in the medium term to meet the overall demand.

A related story reported by the BBC today concerned “Wireless Electricity”. Now this was first reported back in 2007, and without going into too much detail, the system is based on the fact that low frequency electromagnetic waves produced by one magnetic coil can cause resonance in a magnetic coil that is nearby; this transferred energy can then be utilised. Portrayed as an end to untidy wires, it may sound too good to be true, but it works. Just one small problem. At a distance of two metres between the coils, the system is around 40% efficient (or as I would prefer to see it, 60% inefficient). There may be a practical application, for instance in producing a “charging table” where you could leave your portable devices to charge, but as something that could be used effectively for mainstream electricity demands – for example powering a TV as suggested in today’s BBC story – the technology would be too expensive either to install (bury a coil in the wall immediately behind your TV – never to be moved!) or to run (just where else would you would hide your coil with its unsightly wires where it was close enough to efficiently power the TV).


Patriots and realists

July 11, 2009

One of the things that is fascinating for me as an Englishman is the marvelous ability of the Scots to be highly enthusiastic in their support for their national teams and players – yet realistic enough not to expect them to beat every other team or player on the planet. This is in contrast to the situation in England where the prevailing mood is one of expectation – that is when it isn’t disappointment verging on indignation at an expectation that has not been met.

To be fair, this is possibly because the English media do like to talk up their sportsmen and women; in contrast, the Scottish media are more circumspect, but wonderfully positive nonetheless; for instance, on the night of Andy Murray’s exit from the Wimbledon semi-final, the comments on the BBC Radio Scotland sports programme – digressing from its intended topic of football (what close season?) -went along the following lines. Yes, it was disappointing to see Andy lose, but he’s an excellent role model for kids like may other Scots sportsmen and women; and let’s look on the bright side, brother Jamie is still playing in his semi-final. If only the note of optimism could have helped Jamie -a matter of minutes later, he too was leaving the SW19 tournament for another year. However, their countrymen were proud of them both, and with a view of “There’s always next time”, it makes a change from the English meda’s frequent attempts to explain away an English loss.

Rail Franchises – Where To Now?

July 5, 2009

Earlier this week, the beginning of the end was signalled for the East Coast Main Line (ECML) rail franchise awarded to National Express (or more precisely, NXEC Trains Ltd. – but more of that later). The furore this has generated – at least in the railway world – is substantial. This is the second time this line’s franchise has been in this state, and broadly the reasons are similar. Read the rest of this entry »

Why a blog…?

July 4, 2009

Yes, the very same question I would’ve asked myself a couple of years ago. “Blogs are for people who think they have something to say to the world and probably haven’t”.  Before I get inundated with indignant responses from seasoned bloggers, I should say that there are some very good blogs out there – but also some not so good ones.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this blog ends up more like the latter group than the former.

Given this rather negative viewpoint, why am I bothering to blog?  What follows may be heresy in these parts, but it is probably more to do with laziness than anything else.  Let me explain.  Both Valerie and I suffer from the affliction that we work in IT – and in our time, both of us have been responsible for coding an organisation out of a problem or two.  Although I’m not the most extreme example you could find, I do tend to look at problems in terms of how I would write code to deal with it.  So, although I’m not coding in my IT job now (sorry, I’m not meant to be coding), when we first set up our website I did tend to go a little bit over the top. For example, developing a routine for the conditional dynamic application of variable weight digital watermarks to the images to stop them being half inched by person or persons unknown. Hmm, most of my photographs are of a quality that they are not in danger of being mis-used in this way; and so having a complex “home-grown” website has just meant that the updates have been rather infrequent. More or less annual, actually! In an attempt to get more photos, news etc. up on the web, I’ve decided to give WordPress a try with a view to being able to focus on content rather than the code.

We’ll see how it goes, eh? If nothing else, yawning gaps in the blog may prove to be embarrassing enough to make me keep on top of things!