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Britain’s first ‘poo bus’ has gone into service. It runs a dedicated route between Bristol and Bath. It’s powered by a methane/propane mix, methane generated by anaerobic bacteria fed a mix of human and food waste.

The engine design is not much different from a diesel bus. The gas is stored in that bulgy bit on the roof; it’ll go 186 miles on a tankful.

Well. I dunno. I’m not opposed to things like this on principle, just on account of I’m a heartless gaia-h8r. I’m opposed to things like this because every time you look closer, it’s a shell game. Wonderful clean free energy comes out one end, but grubby wasteful things go on behind the curtain first.

There are clues in the article. It says the fuel burns with 30% less carbon emissions, for example. But it says earlier the methane is “upgraded” by removing carbon dioxide and adding propane. So, is the carbon comparable but simply unlocked during manufacture rather than use? Not that I object to a bit of good old CO2, y’unnerstand, I’m just doing a veracity check here.

It says one person’s annual food and personal waste will fuel the bus for 37 miles, so five people for a whole tank. A year’s worth of solid waste from five people for one refueling. That sounds like a big process. I mean, big tanks, big mixers, big energy consumption. Big investment.

The Bristol sewage treatment plant processes 35,000 tonnes (that’s a fancy British metric ton) of food waste and 75 million cubic meters of shit every year. In the process, they make 17 million cubic meters of this here biomethane. So, eh. Maybe they have figured out a way to do their sewage treatment job and squeeze some free energy out of it in the process. If so, good for them.

But I wouldn’t mind seeing some numbers on that.

November 20, 2014 — 5:55 pm
Comments: 3


See? Googly eyes *do* make everything better.

What I like best about this one (in Brockley, London) is that the eyes appeared first. Then later, eyebrows. Then later, teef. Meaning either several people had fun with it, or one person perfected his vandalism slowly over time.

Yep, we still do have these iconic letterboxes all over the country, in several styles and shapes. You can tell the era of a letterbox by the name of the monarch cast into it, beginning with Victoria.

I love these things. Uncle B has a special lobe of his brain devoted to the location of post boxes. Which is impressive, as they are sometimes stranded in the damnedest places as neighborhoods have changed.

They never move them, I guess because it’s hard to. Sometimes they’re in spots that would be suicidal for motorists to stop.

Sadly, thieves move them rather a lot. We’ve had a wave of post boxes lost to scrap metal collectors in the last few years — including, I’m sorry to say, the one closest to us. We all made a point to use the local one because a posting point makes us a proper village. They promised us they’d replace it but they haven’t and I don’t believe they really will.

Metal theft was a terrible issue locally for a while. Farmers were losing gates (and hence livestock) and underground water pipes. Our local church painted all its exterior metal with Smart Water — a forensically traceable, invisible paint that gets all over thieves. Clever stuff. It works, too.

Oh, hey — did you see that the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign that hung over Dachau got nicked? So either there’s a rich pretend Nazi out there with the sign on his wall, or — and you have to love the irony of this one — Romanian scrap thieves nicked it for salvage.

November 19, 2014 — 11:41 pm
Comments: 5

It’s art

No, really. This guy makes these awful little clay-and-acrylic sculptures that look like unholy mashups of skin, teeth, toenails and secondary sexual characteristics. And hair. And at least one eyeball. And there’s a tongue covered in teeth. Oh, just go look.

They’re like poorly thought out souvenirs from the Mütter Museum.

They don’t fit my idea of fine art, exactly, but I must admit…they have a certain appeal. Okay, appeal is probably the wrong word. They’re very well done and. You know. Interesting.

Though I have to confess, it is my highest ambition to be a brain in a jar some day. Animate or not, I’m not fussy.

November 18, 2014 — 4:55 pm
Comments: 15

Meanwhile in Tonbridge…

So, somebody is leaving £5, £10 and reportedly even £20 notes under rubber ducks on Tonbridge High Street, with notes that say things like

“I am a duck and I have a present for you. Why not buy a coffee or treat yourself. You can do whatever you want. Keep me in your pocket and when you can, put something else under me and hide me in town for someone else to find and benefit from your kindness. Let’s be nice. Go be nice.”

I find I don’t have anything to add to this story.

Changing the subject, I dropped by the fruiterer for some physalis today. You have no idea how much it pleases me to say that.

They do actually call them fruiterers here; fancy old-fashioned little fruit and veg stores. There’s a nice one near work where signs tell you where it all comes from, including sometimes the actual farm.

They sell local stuff, but also wild mushrooms and fresh herbs and heavy cream and exotic things. I love that shop. But mostly I love saying “fruiterer.”

November 17, 2014 — 8:53 pm
Comments: 17

très embarrassant

Hunt called off.

The tiger – at first described as a large maneater, then as a 70kg young tiger, then as a lynx, and then as a European wildcat – may now be nothing more than a fat house cat.

To be fair, I think this picture is a piss take.

Good weekend folks!

November 14, 2014 — 8:45 pm
Comments: 16

Mon dieu!

So, there’s a tiger on the loose near Paris. After puss had been spotted by several people, they brought in specialist trackers. From the prints, they reckon it’s a young adult, a year and a half or so old. They’ve tracked it to a small wood near Montevrain, where they are lying in wait with tranq guns.

It’s a little strange they haven’t worked out where it came from. They’ve ruled out a circus that blew through town, but they mention a big cat park nearby. What’s so hard about *ring-ring* “‘Allo, are you meessing a poozycat?”

Spare the poor beastie a thought tonight. It might be reduced to eating Frenchmen to stay alive.

Another one for your browsing pleasure: the East Sussex Records Office has a new, awesome state-of-the-art facility called The Keep. Among their toys is a giant copystand for digitizing old maps and big books. Anyway, searchable database, lots of things online. Enjoy!

November 13, 2014 — 9:25 pm
Comments: 7

Ut oh.

It is never a happy thing to capture the attention of the Daily Mail.

The effigy burned at the bonfire every year — the Guy, as it were — is usually a satirical portrait of one of that year’s numero uno pains-in-the-ass. Burning the figure is a two-fingers-up to the pope or the prime minister or whoever got on local society’s collective tits that year. Rye goes one further and generally starts the bonfire by blowing up the guy with a grand, window-rattling boom.

This year, Rye Bonfire Society decided to do something else. Instead of an effigy, they made a large three-poppy display on the front of the bonfire, in commemoration of the WWI centenary. They didn’t blow it up, they burned it in what I imagine they thought of as a sort of grand and honorable Viking funeral.

Unfortunately, burning, snatching, crumpling and otherwise disrespecting poppies has become the Brit equivalent of flag burning, so the display hit some people wrong. They — the organizers — should have seen the likelihood it would be so.

Still, I am an unfan of the Mail, a shit-stirring rag. It’s pretty lousy to make a big deal of this; Rye is the last place that would deliberately disrespect the Great War. I’d hate to see ‘our side’ become as tetchy as the opposition about unintended slights.

November 12, 2014 — 9:19 pm
Comments: 9

Welp, I’m about to steal your evening

Okay, the Portable Antiquities Scheme is one of the bestest British things ever. They set it up in ’97 when they realized metal detectorists were finding all kinds of historically important stuff in the field, and almost none of it was being recorded. Treasure — which has a very specific legal description — has to be reported to the authorities by law, but the ordinary run of amateur finds don’t classify as treasure and were legally just walking away.

So, instead of stomping in with heavy government boots and strong-arming the finders into compliance with more restrictive rules, the government set up a totally voluntary scheme. You find something, you report it, they identify it, photograph it, feed it to the database and hand it back to you. Very high compliance rate, because — why not? Not only do you get your stuff back, but they can help you validate it and sell it on if you like.

The scheme was introduced right about the time I discovered I’d be moving to England, so I followed it from the beginning. Uncle B bought me a metal detector almost first thing. I didn’t turn up anything interesting in our garden (it’s been dug over so many times in the 20th C) and our closest detector club closed down and…I just back-burnered it, I guess.

Tonight we went to a talk by our local Finds Officer. Boy, have things grown since I last checked in! The Scheme is now overseen by the British Museum and the database has just logged its millionth object. She said the things they’ve learned from these small finds have widened the view of the history of this area considerably. (In passing, have you ever noticed how new finds in archaeology always, always, always show our ancestors were more, not less, sophisticated than we had believed?). Nobody else is building anything like it.

For your geeking pleasure, here is their searchable database. Dates, places, materials. Maps. Photos, free to use. Yay, another timesuck!

November 11, 2014 — 11:01 pm
Comments: 4


We did go to the bonfire in Rye on Saturday. We usually watch the fireworks from a ways down the road to avoid the crush of traffic, so this was my first (second?) time seeing the procession through the town.

It was awesome! Rye is quite small and hilly, with ancient buildings and little twisty cobbled roads. The parade winds through the town twice before ending in a field by the river for bonfire and fireworks.

It’s all drums and fire and spooky costumes. So much noise. So much fire. I’m amazed nobody goes up like a Christmas tree — all the crews are carrying proper torches, the kind with oily rags on sticks. They throw them down in the road when they’re spent and light new ones, and men with loud rattly metal carts come last, picking up the torches and making bonfires in the carts. Tons of pyrotechnics they let off in the town as they wind through.

Oh, and THIS GUY. The dragon. I was unprepared for him. His head turns side to side, fire shoots out his nostrils, he opens his mouth with a hiss and more fire comes out his mouth. Beautifully done. I’m in love. I circled back around to get video of him, but they dropped him off before the final lap, so no good pictures.

And then the bonfire and the fireworks and it rained like a bastard and we got soaked walking to the car. The end.

November 10, 2014 — 9:47 pm
Comments: 15

Shoo, ye witches!

You might have seen this story floating around this week. They’ve been doing some work on Knole House, the enormous Grade I listed pile in Sevenoaks, Kent.

They were renovating a room that had originally been remodelled for a visit from King James I and found these crude gouges in the wood on the beams under the floorboards and around the fireplace. Specifically, they found straight lines and crosshatches and V marks cut deep in the wood. Experts say these are apotropaic marks — folk magic intended to ward off witches and other evil.

What’s interesting about them is they’ve done tree ring analysis on the wood and they reckon they can pin the beams down to 1606. That’s just after the Gunpowder Plot. So, they figure, these marks were made to keep evil away from the King at a time he had just survived an assassination attempt.

Actually, I’m lying. That’s not the most interesting thing about them. The most interesting thing is, the picture above isn’t from Knole House, it’s from this house. That carving is on an exposed ceiling beam about ten feet from where I’m sitting right now. We always assumed they were just marks the workmen made to tally something or identify the piece of wood, but they look exactly like the marks at Knole.

No wonder the witches never come to visit.

How impossibly cool is that?

Good weekend, all!

November 7, 2014 — 10:20 pm
Comments: 26