Monday, 31 March 2008

Chase the waste

Photo by Flickr user Hervé Photos. Creative Commons licence.

Two nights before Earth Hour, Greenpeace made their presence felt on some of the brightly lit shopping streets of Paris, though not including the two famous stores Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette on the boulevard Haussman.

Photo by Flickr user Hervé Photos. Creative Commons licence.

The object was to put tape over windows of any shop which had been left with lighting on at that time, 10 pm till midnight, to point out the opportunity for energy reduction.

The aim was to let the hundreds of shopkeepers in the rues Rivoli and Rennes, and the boulevard St Germain, that it is not too late to reduce energy consumption, that it is everyone's business to be careful, and that with care, renewable energy could provide half the world's needs by 2050.

Nothing was defaced or harmed. All the proprietors had to do next day was to remove the biodegradable tape and the chlorine free recycled paper. With luck they will have taken in the message that they could save 30% of their consumption by turning lights off at night. Doing anything else is just a waste.

Any shop with lights already out, received a message of congratulations.

Greenpeace are of course firmly against nuclear energy, which provides a very large proportion, 70%, of France's needs. Eléctricité de France, EDF, is the world's largest nuclear operator and is set to invest in four new plants in the UK.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

St Swithun's Church

St Swithun was a bishop of Winchester from 852 to 862. There are many churches dedicated to him, and one of these is the little church in Headbourne Worthy which I often pass when going to visit my mother in the nursing home near by.

lych gate

It is close to a very busy road but largely sheltered by trees. This is the lychgate at the entrance. It also acts as a bridge over the Hyde Bourne, a stream which surrounds the church on three sides.

church and streamIn spite of being at the side of the road, once inside the grounds, you could be deep in the countryside. Although it was a lovely day, there has been a lot of rain recently, the stream was high and the ground soft and wet underfoot.

side of church and stream

The building probably dates from the 10th - 11th century, with the tower added in the 13th century.

rear of churchThis gravestone, like several of the older ones near the church, is tilting, no doubt because of the wet ground. I love the colours of the lichens on it.

Celandine. Learn to love your celandine because you'll never get rid of it! I heard that advice many years ago, but I haven't quite achieved it.

Primroses in the grounds, possibly my favourite spring flowers with their delicate shade of yellow.

Buds starting to burst, and the thorns I didn't notice until a little to late.

I would have liked to have gone into the church but my feet were extremely soggy by this time. I'll save it for some future day.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

20:00 GMT 29 March 2008

Lights off!

Earth Hour 2008

I've post-dated this so that it will stay on top for the next two weeks. For newer posts including Photo Hunt, scroll down.

On 29 March 2008, at 8:00 pm, wherever you are in the world, turn off all lights for one hour.

candle flames

Earth Hour uses the simple action of turning off the lights for one hour to deliver a powerful message about the need for action on global warming.

PhotoHunter: high

aeroplane in sky

High flyer?

statue on cathedralIn high places - a bishop's statue on top of Winchester Cathedral.

river breaking bank High water - a river near us breaking its banks two years ago


Higher still- shortly afterwards I had to retreat to higher ground.

high rise buidings at night High life in the high rise buildings of Dubai. Just look at all those lights. I hope they remember Earth Hour.

Find other players:

Friday, 28 March 2008

Plastic in the middle of nowhere

Photo by Flickr user angrysunbird. Creative Commons licence.

The plastic waste pictured above was found in the skeleton of an albatross chick which starved to death because its parents fed it too much plastic flotsam. This plastic flotsam fills the stomach, making the chick feel full when it wasn't. The parents collect the flotsam because flying fish lay their eggs on it.

The BBC recently reported on the Midway Islands, which is more or less in the centre of the North Pacific Gyre, clockwise currents in the Pacific also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch because of the amount of plastic waste that accumulates there.

The Midway Islands are the home to many endangered species including the Laysan albatross and all are in danger of choking, starving or drowning because of the plastic in the area. It is thought that every single one of the two million albatrosses living there have some plastic inside them.

That story is horrifying enough, but another telling of the toxic threat brings it even closer to home. Researchers have known for a time that plastics in sea water will accumulate toxins such as DDT in concentrations several thousand times greater than in the water itself.

Research on stretches of shoreline has shown that, at the microscopic level, plastic pollution is far worse than feared. The risk is that the toxins may be released when inside any animal which eats the plastic, with the potential of it entering the food chain.

The most worrying thing is the durability of plastic, and the very long term threat it may impose on our own heath as well as that of marine wildlife.

There are some superb photos of albatrosses in flight on A Fish Blog.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Playground power


Photo from Flickr user Maitri. Creative Commons licence.

Just like the PlayPump, a seesaw has been developed to harness children's energy in a productive way.

Coventry University design student, Daniel Sheridan, has drawn up plans for a seesaw which will generate electricity when children play on it. He thought of the idea when he was working in Kenya as a volunteer, and saw the immense need for electricity to enable development.

Now that he has won a £5,500 prize for his idea, he hopes to build a working prototype and attract further interest and investment.

As an example, he has calculated that five to 10 minutes use on the see-saw could generate enough electricity to light a classroom for an evening. He says, "Ultimately I would love to design a whole playground of different pieces of equipment that could enough generate electricity to power a whole village."

Thanks to J. for pointing out the BBC article to me.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

A small world

If the world were made up of 100 people:

  • 61 would be from Asia
  • 13 from Africa
  • 12 from Europe
  • 8 from North America
  • 5 from South America/Caribbean
  • 1 from Oceania

  • 42 would have no basic sanitation
  • 18 would have no improved water source

  • 6 people would own 59% of the community's wealth

  • 14 cannot read
  • 7 have reached secondary education
  • 12 have a computer
  • 3 have an internet connection

  • 18 struggle to manage on US $1 or less a day
  • 53 struggle to manage on US $2 a day

And if we saw, for instance, any of the 18 who were struggling to manage on $1 or less a day, would we not help?

Just a few of the figures from The Miniature Earth video which I found via Things I am Grateful For (a very interesting read, for which I am very grateful ;) ).

Sunday, 23 March 2008

A Magical Mystery Tour

Psychologists from the Leeds Memory Group at the University of Leeds are asking people to blog their memories of the Beatles to enhance understanding of human memory.

Psychologists know that certain cues will trigger memories and that music in particular is a strong trigger. This will be the first time psychologists have attempted to gather a huge database of memories by tapping into the influence The Beatles have in shaping our personal identities.

The survey is aimed at anyone, anywhere who has a memory relating to the Beatles. It doesn't have to be from that era, nor do you have to have been a fan.

Go to the website and add your memory(ies). Go on, you know you want to!

Happy Easter

Saturday, 22 March 2008

World Water Day

Today, World Water Day, will be the first showing of Ali Hobbs film, To Begin. It tells the story of the women in Ethiopia who have to collect water every day for their families.

women collecting water from reservoir

Photo from Flickr user gordontour. Creative Commons licence.

66% of the rural population in Jarso, southern Ethiopia, are still using unsafe water from rivers and ponds, and it is women and girls who are responsible for fetching the water.

It takes anything from 30 minutes to four hours to make the round trip with a wait of up to 50 minutes to fill the container. The film shows the women as they tell their stories.

Part of the film can be seen on The Guardian website. I urge you to watch it and then visit WaterAid to see their work to help.

PhotoHunter: metal

I'm very late again (and I'm cheating again, though I prefer to describe it as lateral thinking).

The first two (scanned) photos are from our trip to the Copper Canyon in Mexico 1997.

copper canyon

An incredibly spectacular place.

copper canyon

This was not our first visit to Mexico. About two years earlier we visited Taxco, the Silver City.

view of Taxco city

A beautiful place on the hillside, it used to be a centre for silver mining.

twin spires

And finally, just to prove that I can do things properly, a brass bowl from Bida in Nigeria.

brass bowl

This, along with several others, was bought by my parents when we lived there.

Find other players:

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Be careful what you blog about

I grew up in Africa on a porridge made from something called mealie meal. I loved it and can still remember the taste all these many years later.

This same mealie meal, ground white corn, can be thickened further into nsima (Malawi), nshima (Zambia), ugali (Kenya), or sadza (Zimbabwe). All of these are basically the same thing with slight regional variations. It is a staple of the diet mainly in southern and eastern Africa, but found elsewhere too. According to this BBC report, wars have been fought over it.

woman cooking nsima over wood fire

Photo from Flickr user Equi. Creative Commons licence.

So perhaps it's not surprising that there has been something of an uproar in Malawi about a young European woman who was visiting the country, and who made some pretty derogatory remarks about local food, nsima in particular but also goat, in her blog. She has upset so many people it has even been reported in the Nyasa Times. The original post on her blog has been removed and replaced by an apology, but a copy of the text is still available on Stories from Malawi. The comments on both the Nyasa Times and Stories from Malawi give an indication of the feelings roused.

The behaviour described is bad enough, but then to post it on a Travel Pod blog for all the world to see shows a complete lack of .... something. The whole purpose of travelling, I would have thought, is to learn about other countries and cultures, to broaden your horizons, to open your mind to new ideas, and most certainly not to ridicule anything about your hosts' way of life.

It is distressing to think that this could be taken by Malawians as representative of all European behaviour.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Spirit groves

patch of forest

Photo from Flickr user King Coyote. Creative Commons licence.

Once Malawi was covered in forest. Various pressures have cut back the forest area further and further.

  • Tea plantations
  • Tobacco plantations
  • Maize fields
  • Timber for building
  • Firewood gathering
  • Wood for making charcoal
  • Wood for curing tobacco

From time to time though, you come across large patches of original forest still standing untouched. These are spirit groves, or cemeteries. The local people believe that if they cut them down, they will be haunted by spirits.

These groves are the remnants of once-extensive tropical evergreen forest (the forest is evergreen, not the individual trees). As a result of protecting these cemeteries, species of trees, plants and wildlife have also been preserved. They are an important part of conservation and can have other cultural values too. In Ghana, 80% of spirit groves act as watersheds for clean drinking water.

Nevertheless, even though these groves exist, for the sake of the planet, there have to be considerable efforts to help reforestation such as Trees for Africa, One Parisian, One Tree.

Since tobacco appears to have dealt the forests a double whammy (does that translate?), it would be nice to think that from their wealth, they could play a very large part in replacing what they have helped to destroy. I can find no evidence of it, but please correct me if I'm wrong.

Sources: Kim in Malawi, EPOW

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Photohunter: I spy

I spy a kitten - bored with all the paperwork, not a bureaucratic kitten.

kitten asleep in a desk

I spy a bibliophile kitten. An interlekshull in the making?

kitten on a bookshelf

I spy a black hole - an astronomer in the making?!

kitten in a bath

I spy David Beckham - not an interlekshull kitten after all ...

Friday, 14 March 2008

Dietary diversity

The theory behind preserving and protecting seeds at Svalbard and the banana species in Belgium and Montpellier sometimes seems a bit remote. The genetic material preserved in all these different species may be used to breed crops, trees, animals, which may be better able to withstand conditions which may occur in the future.

At times it all seems a little theoretical, even though we know that over the last 50 years, crops have become more uniform, and in the last five years, 60 breeds have been lost. Many breeds have not yet been identified and may be lost before anything is know about them.

However the meaning of it all is more immediate when we look at some of the traditional fruits, vegetables and condiments used in the world. For most of the world’s food crops, information about the nutritional properties of different varieties does not exist.

grains of black rice

Photo from Flickr user ijnek29. Creative Commons licence.

  • Korean black rice contains five times as much iron as white rice.

Karat and Manila bananas

Photo from Lois Englberger, Bioversity. Creative Commons licence.

  • The karat and other orange fleshed bananas contain 25 times more vitamin A pre-cursor than the standard variety.

  • dried turmeric roots

    Photo by Flickr user Zero-X. Creative Commons licence.

  • Turmeric, the dried roots shown above, is a spice often used in curries and has anti-glycemic properties that make it ideal for diabetics.

  • filed of pumpkin leaves

    Photo from IPGRI, Bioversity. Creative Commons licence.

  • Lutein, found in leafy green vegetables, such as the pumpkin leaves above, is known to provide significant protection against cataracts and other eye diseases.

Efforts to use these traditional crops to fight malnutrition may have the added benefit of the same crops helping to counter the deficiencies of the modern "affluent" diet.

Will there be a demand for these fruits and vegetables I wonder. I do know that I try to eat my five portions a day and the thought that there could be even more benefit with a wider range of produce is really quite encouraging.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Gender gaps

Mind the gap sign on platform

Photo by Flickr user CraigOppy. Creative Commons licence.

An article published for International Women's Day discussed the ten worst and best countries for women, using the United Nations Human Development Reports as sources.

One of the huge number of different indices is the gap between female and male literacy.

  • Mali - 49% (52%)
  • Benin - 49% (56%)
  • Yemen - 47% (65%)
  • Mozambique - 46% (61%)
  • Ethiopia - 46% (62%)
  • Guinea - 42% (57%)
  • Niger - 35% (44%)
  • Chad - 31% (42%)

These figures give the adult female literacy rate compared to male, with the youth rate in brackets. Although they are improving, there is a very long way to go.

The literacy rate is of course tied to potential for earning. The article then went on to compare, rather selectively, the income gap between female and male as a percentage, the following all being countries where women on average earn less than half as much as men.

  • Benin 48 %
  • Bangladesh 46 %
  • Sierra Leone 45 %
  • Equatorial Guinea 43 %
  • Togo 43 %
  • Eritrea 39 %
  • Cape Verde 36%
  • Yemen 30%

Looking at some of the rest of the countries in the UN report is even more interesting:

  • Kenya 83%
  • Mozambique 81%
  • Sweden 81%
  • Malawi 73%
  • Norway 77%
  • Mali 68%
  • UK 66%
  • United States 63%
  • Italy 47%

I found that really startling but I suppose if you are near or below the poverty line, earning a greater percentage of men's earnings doesn't really amount to much. In other words it's probably easier to give equal pay in a country where pay is minimal.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Scientific tourism

After eco-tourism, a French tour operator Escursia has teamed up with the Fondation Nicholas Hulot (FNH), to offer holidays aimed at a better understanding of nature from a scientific point of view. The Nicolas Hulot Foundation actively seeks to improve the general public's understanding of the ecological state of the planet and raise awareness of the importance of environmental preservation.

old sailing boat

Photo by Flickr user Drewhound. Creative Commons licence.

The holidays offered will involve sailing on the Fleur de Lampoul, a restored sailing boat from Brittany and used as an educational ship by the FNH. The holiday makers will be able to help sail and maintain the ship, while learning about the marine ecosystems and preserving the coasts. Holidays can last anything from 4 to 15 days, sailing along the French, Spanish or Portuguese coasts.

I first thought scientific tourism sounded a little off-putting but in reality it means an activity holiday with an interest in nature and the environment. Looking at the other destinations that Escursia offers, they really are quite appealing. They aim to attract the general public looking for original and different holidays. No need for any prior knowledge, just sufficient curiosity!

I'd love to try one of the shorter breaks to see if we like it. The nearest we've been was canoeing down the Ardèche which issn't quite the same. I tend to like my home comforts, though I don't suppose they need be mutually exclusive.

Monday, 10 March 2008

La Meute: sexism in advertising

La Meute have published their awards for advertising which appeared during 2007. As in previous years, the Prix Femino is awarded to the advertisements seen in France that promote the most positive images of women, while the Prix Macho is the opposite. The site is in French.

As Blogger is allowing only one picture to be uploaded at a time, I will show the three that I particularly like.

The first prize went to this one of a man with a tattoo saying "Not my mother, not my sister" with the caption "Prostitution: neither for mine, nor others". La Meute praises it for approaching prostitution from the angle of the man who pays. It marks the first national campaign in France.


Third prize went to this, with the caption "You sponsored her as a child, now it is she who gives the lessons." La Meute likes the promotion of the independence of women and the assoication of women with a scientific discipline.

woman teacher

This recruitment advertisement for a scientific and technical company is liked because it shows a normal woman in a professional environment, and who appears competent and pleasant.

newspaper ad - ordinary woman

Dolce et Gabbana is kept out of the Prix Macho because for years it has produced images which could be described almost pornographic.

The first prize went to Volkswagen for a series of three ads showing girls of the "ravissante idiote" type (does that mean bimbo?). In one she is choosing a car which is goes perfectly with her new shoes. I can't find an illustration.

Another, intended to promote technology in the département of Yvelines (which dismays me because I used to live there) shows a girl in a sleeveless top with the slogan "I [heart] techno". It doesn't show much else other than her chest, and the connection with technology escapes me.

I have to presume that some of it is an attempt to shock, such as the Ryan Air one recently which had to be withdrawn because of the sexualised portrayal of a schoolgirl. Really, why can't some of these very creative brains put them to more constructive use. I have come across some excellent advertising for good causes which I am keeping for a future post. So it can be done.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Twin tower turbines

Bahrain World Trade Centre under construction

Photo by Flickr user Pricey. Cretaive Commons licence.

The Bahrain World Trade Centre, under construction above, is being hailed as the world's first with an integrated wind turbine power source. The turbines will deliver 11%-15% of the building's energy needs.

The building is really spectacular, but the amount of energy saving is considerably less that the estimated saving for the Carpe Diem tower designed for La Défense in Paris, so, could do better.

We have to hope it will fare better than the Palestra building in London, which was also hailed as the world's first with integrated wind turbines. The turbines weren't as well integrated into the overall design, just lined up on the roof, and they had to be removed after some months because of a failure.

turbines on top of the Palestra building

Photo by flickr user mondoagogo. Creative Commons licence.

They are being replaced with two new sorts which are to be tested to find the more successful.

They are much smaller turbines than the ones in Bahrain, producing only 4% of the building's needs. The photovoltaic panels increase the savings to 10%.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

PhotoHunter: different

A very different day, for me: I had to travel to the Isle of Wight for work.

I started off on a high-speed and really very comfortable train, but at Brockenhurst had to change on to a different train, and I swear everyone looked up as I got on, wondering who this stranger could be - someone different!

station platform

On arrival at Lymington pier, I found the station, shall we say small, then I noticed the flower beds which were different from any others I have seen.

Wightlink ferry

Bearing in mind that I am used to cross channel ferries which can take up to 700 vehicles, I found this one a little odd, different - it looked as though it had been put together with matchsticks and string.

Lymington harbour

We set off leaving Lymington, a great yachting centre, behind.

Morning light on the sea

Into the morning light.

dinghy with sail furled

Hurst Castle

In the distance I could see Hurst Castle, a different sort of castle, built by Henry VIII as one of a chain of coastal fortresses and completed in 1544, on the Hampshire side.

The Needles and Fort Albert

On the other side on the island, again in the distance, were Fort Albert and The Needles. Fort Albert was built in 1856 but because of armoured ships became obsolete by 1858. It has been converted into housing, a different place to live.

So that was my journey, different from battling down the motorway, and if Blogger ever starts working agin, I'll be able to upload this post!!!!


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