Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Vive la France!

This is funny.  I'm on a mailing list for stuff from Chris Davies MEP for somewhere up north, as a result of my support for Hugh's Fish Fight and all of that stuff.  Below is a bit I clipped out of his latest missive.

Well done France
It may not be much compensation for seeing yet another British cyclist win the Tour de France but I would like to express my thanks to the French government for standing up to the Germans.
Readers of these NOTES may know of my long running battle to get Daimler, manufacturers of £70,000 Mercedes cars, to apply the EU law that I helped shape requiring car companies to start using air conditioning refrigerants in their new models with a global warming potential (gwp) less than 150 more than CO2.  At present most cars have refrigerants with a horrendous gwp 1.430 greater than CO2.
I hope the torrent of parliamentary questions (PQs) I have tabled, and exchanges I have had with European Commission officials, have encouraged them to enforce the law as firmly as they can, but I also know that the legal process is painfully slow - especially when a member state (Germany) is claiming that there are 'scientific' reasons for their objections.
But now the French have cut the Gordian knot.  While our UK (Tory) minister has decided to leave it all up to Brussels, the French have stepped in and simply banned the registration of new Mercedes vehicles.  So in France you can buy one of the non-compliant vehicles but you can't drive it on French roads.
Daimler sell 29,000 of the relevant cars in France each year so they have gone ballistic!  I thought the French government or the European Commission might bow to arm twisting by Germany, but last week the Commission came out with a declaration that in effect said that France was within its rights.
Vive la France!

Monday, 22 July 2013

A week in Barcelona

Life's been a bit busy over the past few months, but at last we have a few weeks at home, so we can catch up on the garden and relax a bit.  The week before last we were at the 10th International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology in Barcelona, where Jenny and several of her colleagues were speaking.  Fortunately it was in a big, modern, air-conditioned hotel, as the outside temperatures rose to the mid-30's centigrade.  This is the view from our room!
This old palace now houses the National Museum of Catalan Art.  I didn't go in, but we did have a drink in the cafĂ© on the terrace outside the entrance.

I didn't go to many of the talks, so generally went rubbernecking in the mornings when it wasn't quite so hot, then retired to our room in the afternoon where I could work on the website from Jenny's project.  Since the hotel provided wifi and I'd taken my laptop, this was easy and I got a lot done.

I'd got the site pretty much completely translated into Spanish and just needed to tidy a few bits up, so it was a useful way to spend the time.

Naturally I also practised my Spanish.  Many of the locals don't speak any English, and the Spanish is slightly different from the Andalucian Spanish I've learned, so occasionally just understanding what was going on was a bit of a challenge.  Good fun, though!

We walked into the old city and visited the cathedral, but architecturally speaking, the high point was always going to be the Sagrada Familia, the church designed by GaudĂ­ and still a long way from completion.

This view, taken from a terrace of the palace above, shows the familiar profile, along with the resident cranes.  What's not obvious is that there are a further 10 spires yet to be built, making 18 in all, the tallest of which will be 170 metres tall.

We took the lift up the spires by the south doors.  They are only about 60 metres tall and there's not much space for tourists up there, but then they only let a few people up at a time.

It's advisable to book tickets online, which I did from the hotel and as a result we got in with almost no queueing.  A friend also booked online the previous day and had to wait an hour, so it's a bit of a lottery.  Definitely worth the effort, though.  Fantastic building.

Actually, there are quite a lot of really fascinating buildings to be seen just as you move around the city, with wide, tree-lined streets and interesting frontages in a wide variety of styles.

We ate lots of really great food, of course!  The best patatas bravas I've ever had.  In Barcelona they seem to dollop Marie Rose sauce on them, which works brilliantly.  Also slow braised calve's cheeks and excellent fish, of course.

One thing we won't try again was the ears.  We couldn't imagine they were real ears, so figured the translation was wrong and they'd probably be some sort of mushroom.  Wrong, they were pigs' ears!  There's really just skin and a bit of sub-cutaneous fat either side of the cartilage that shapes a pig's ear, and it was a rather tasteless, amorphous tissue.  One taste was enough!



Wednesday, 3 July 2013

De-scratching a camera LCD screen

Recently I bought a cheap compact digital camera to keep in my handbag for instant use, as the camera in my phone is pretty useless, and of course, I took it into the field last week to photograph whatever needed to be photographed.  I have a protective pouch for it, and when we were working at the new site shown in the middle photograph in the previous post, I kept it, in its pouch, in the breast pocket of my jacket.

After a while, I got fed up with constantly unzipping the pouch, so started just dropping the camera straight into my pocket.  This was a mistake, because I also stored a toothbrush in there, which I used to gently brush away loose dirt from the fossils we were trying to extract from the cliff.  Said toothbrush was of course, contaminated with dirt from the cliff.

On Friday afternoon I took some photographs in Burnmouth Bay in quite bright sunlight, and was horrified to see masses of scratches all over the LCD screen on the back of the camera.  They were so bad that in the bright light they partially obscured my view of what I was trying to photograph.  It took me a while to work out how I had scratched the screen so badly, and I was mortified when I realised how stupid I'd been.

On Monday, not wanting to throw away an otherwise perfectly good camera, I googled for ideas on how to remove the scratches and immediately found suggestions to use toothpaste.  Now as an amateur silversmith, I know that you can use toothpaste to do a little emergency polishing of silver jewellery, but that it's actually a bit aggressive, so I polished my LCD screen with Silvo, of the sort that comes as pink cotton wadding in a tin.

I rubbed away with the Silvo wadding for a short while, polished it up with a soft cloth and examined the results.  Seeing an improvement, I repeated the exercise several times until I felt I'd got rid of enough of the scratches. I did it in lots of short stages, for fear of doing some irreparable damage to the screen, but as it turned out, all was well.  There were still a few really deep scratches, but they were actually not the ones that had caused me so much trouble on Friday afternoon in the sunshine.  The masses of tiny ones were what had made life so difficult.

I also found some cheap, cut-to-fit protective film in my local supermarket in the mobile phones section (there was nothing in the cameras section) so once I'd got rid of the majority of the scratches, I cleaned the screen with the alcohol-impregnated cloth you get with the film, dried it off, cut the film to size and stuck it in place.  And it all seems to have worked rather nicely.

I did try the same trick on the 'big' Panasonic, which also has a three inch LCD screen, but first, that screen was rather more badly scratched, and second, I forgot to clean it with the alcohol-impregnated cloth, so when I applied the protective film, there was a speck of dust, which is still there.  I think I can still use it OK, but I might get irritated enough to rip the current film off and have another go. You get quite a lot of film for your £4.

Monday, 1 July 2013

A great week's fieldwork

Last week quite a few of us spent the whole week up in Northumberland and the Borders Region of Scotland doing fieldwork as part of the TW:eed Project.  Eight of us stayed in the same wonderful rented cottage a little way west of Berwick where we stayed in March.  There were four of us from Cambridge, three from Leicester and one from Southampton. On Tuesday afternoon we had a team meeting, so three from the National Museums, Scotland and two from the British Geological Survey came down from Edinburgh to join us.  It was a little cosy in the living room while the various teams reported their progress.

We had obtained permission from the relevant authority to remove about a square metre of rock from a specific site at Burnmouth, so Tim had hired a rock saw which he used to cut around the bit he wanted.  It was mounted in a cradle, which actually made it much harder to use than he'd hoped.  Here he is on day one, being assisted by Stig Walsh from the NMS.

Jenny and I didn't spend much time there, as there was nothing we could do to help, so we'd just have been sitting around. We extracted a couple of large bones from the same bed we've been digging through ever since we first started coming to Burnmouth.  The rate of erosion is quite fast, so this week's bones were completely invisible when  we were here in March.  One was a 15cm diameter lungfish operculum, but we don't know what the other one is.

Two geologists went to a new site to log the beds there, and Jenny and I went along just to take a look.  We were delighted to find some bits of rhizodont fish on the river bank at the foot of the cliff.

We found a bed in the cliff with more rhizodont and lungfish bones eroding out, but could not collect that as the bones were so friable they just disintegrated as we tried to remove them.  We bought some superglue, which the Americans sometimes use to consolidate the bone in the field, though UK conservators frown on that, since it's not reversible.

In the event, we couldn't use it anyway as it started to rain, and kept raining until the end of the week.  Superglue doesn't work well in the wet!  We're planning to go back later this month or
early in August for a couple of days to extract the bones, but will need to get the land owner's permission before we do so.  Not sure quite how we'll go about that, but I'm sure it's do-able.

We saw grey wagtails feeding chicks and also a pair of dippers, which were visiting this nest which we had to walk past to get to our site.  You could hear the chicks peeping when the parents went in with a beakful of tasty invertebrates!