Monthly Archives: November 2012

A BLOT ON THE LANDSCAPE?

I was looking at the wonderful local scenery the other day and thinking about Wind Farms. One of the main arguments against them appears to be the assertion that the erection of wind turbines spoil the beauty of the natural landscape. I absolutely love the views that I see when I travel about the Scottish Borders, but how much of it is truly 100% natural.

I took a closer look at one of my photographs taken from Scott’s View; just how natural is it?

Well, the skyline silhouette and the sky above is certainly pretty much unaffected by man, although there will be times when aircraft vapour trails are temporarily visible.

On the other hand virtually everything else, apart from the general green colour and the course of the River Tweed, is in some way the result on human intervention. Without human intervention the whole landscape would probably be covered by wild forest, instead we can see patterns resulting from some areas having been cleared to create pasture and arable zones. At least one of the fields appears white due to the fleece covering to maximise crop growth. Other photos in my library show patchwork heather patterns on grouse moors, shooting butts, dry stane dykes, fences, roads, farm buildings, telegraph poles and electricity pylons. In fact, I would contend that the vast majority of the landscape here, although rural, is very much shaped by previous human intervention. Virtually all of the modifications have been as a result of humans seeking to create a more comfortable life for themselves and their families.

As we now seek to secure ongoing energy provision for the future, wind turbines offer a sustainable and less polluting method of generating electricity but the main objections seem to focus on the perceived effects on the landscape, despite the fact that so much of what is alleged to be natural landscape has been comprehensively modified by humans already. As a relatively new technology, we need to be very wary of less obvious problems, evidence is now suggesting that draining upland peat bogs for wind farm construction can increase carbon emissions from the drying ground. Personally, I find the sight of wind turbines to be rather reassuring as an example of humans working in tune with nature to harness the potential energy contained within our weather system. In the same way, a sympathetically designed dam will dramatically alter the upstream landscape yet will ultimately provide a fairly benign energy supply. I do accept that in the short term wind turbines may offer a very inefficient and expensive source of energy whilst the technology is developed. In the long term, however, we must learn how to best capture all sustainable energy sources that we can.

As we look to the future, and consider how we might ensure that we all have sufficient power to allow us to continue to benefit from the wide range of electrically powered equipment that enhances our lives, perhaps we should also look back and understand just how much of our environment has already been changed by human intervention. A great deal of what is accepted as going to make up engaging and wonderful scenery is very much shaped by human hands. I do believe that it is important that we continue to scrutinise construction and locations, but unless society can be persuaded to revert to one which consumes less energy, we will continue to need generation facilities, and they must be sited somewhere. There is a well known saying that ‘the camera never lies’ – that may not be entirely true, editing certainly can aim to influence; one photo that is widely published on the internet relies on the extreme foreshortening effect of ultra long zoom lenses to emphasise the appearance of the wind turbines at the Braes of Doune, which are around 14 miles away from Stirling.

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ROAD TRIP

I’m writing this and thinking back one week. I had just woken up around ten hours after arriving in South East London. I had driven from the Scottish Borders to give our daughter and her cat a lift to enjoy a short break in Scotland. We waited until nine o’clock in order to miss the worst of the local school run traffic before setting off for the M25. As we approached the junction to join the orbital motorway, the radio brought us the news that one of the two tunnels at the Dartford Crossing was closed following an earlier accident; not the best thing to hear when Dartford is the only real option for getting to the north bank of The Thames, without a major detour. Thankfully the news was updated almost as soon as we joined the end of the queueing traffic, at least we knew that we were now heading towards two open tunnels.

Although we had a long journey ahead, at least we had no deadlines to meet. I quickly identified the silver lining to the cloud presented by this slow moving queue, at least I didn’t have to contend with this type of traffic on a daily basis. Once we got through the toll barrier and entered the tunnel, things started to go fairly smoothly. As we crossed the M11 to join it, we noticed another backlog of traffic below, but as that was heading into London it didn’t cause us to worry. After a very free-running drive up the M11 and on to the A14, we took our first stop at Cambridge Services. This gave us a chance for comfort breaks and breakfast, in my case a fairly un-Mexican tasting ‘Mexican MacDonald Burger Sandwich’, tasty enough but I wasn’t too sure about the description.

Shortly after leaving the service area we were on the A1(M) and soon into even lighter traffic. Whilst I always have the option of the M1 and even the M6, I do prefer the A1 route as I find it to be a more interesting journey with much more variety than many miles of dedicated motorway. Weather-wise, we fared fairly well until approaching South Yorkshire when it became a bit bleaker with rain and spray to drive through. The seem as we passed the cooling towers and coal heaps at Ferrybridge was particularly uninspiring, but we were soon into brighter weather as we turned off into Wetherby Services. I took this opportunity for a ‘powernap’, and to share a lovely M&S sandwich.

We continued to make good time as we proceeded up through Yorkshire, the overhead cloud cover meant that it was quite dull as we passed the ‘Angel of the North’ but shortly after a setting sun made a welcome appearance meaning that we were still able to enjoy the sight of the Cheviot foothills after leaving the A1 and driving along the A697 through rural North Northumberland. Then it was dark, and we were crossing the border at Coldstream. Ten minutes later we were in Greenlaw, twenty seven hours after I had left the previous afternoon. I always enjoy that journey, which is now quite familiar to me. I still think that my favourite option is to leave Scotland around ten in the evening, this allows me to enjoy very clear roads virtually all the way – and I find it rather special to be arriving in a city early in the morning as it is beginning to wake up.


I’VE ‘AD’ IT (YOU CAN SKIP THIS ADVERT IN 5 SECONDS)

Every now and again I will notice a post on FaceBook by somebody complaining about “all the adverts” that are appearing on FB walls. I always have to revisit my computer screen at such points in order to look at how many adverts really are there. When doing so I reassure myself that I must have some form of inbuilt ‘advert filter’. Under normal use I am fairly certain that I automatically ‘blank out’ adverts. With regard to search engine results I am definitely a bit more pro-active; when the results list first appears, I first of all scroll down past any obvious ‘promoted’ and ‘sponsored’ results, before beginning to select options to click through on. The next consideration is what happens on sites such as YouTube, often my chosen video is loaded and preceded by an advert – without paying any attention to what is being advertised I immediately look to see if there is an option to ‘skip the advert’ and as soon as possible do exactly that. If I can’t ‘skip’ then I usually find myself checking back to other open windows to see if there might be anythin g useful I could be doing whilst waiting for the ad to finish. I tend to treat adverts that intrude too overtly on web pages in much the same way as I deal with pushy sales staff in shops, should a salesperson become too forceful it doesn’t take very long for me to decide to do an about turn and walk out.

I occasionally find myself thinking that the retail world would rapidly have to change drastically if most people were like me. I can appreciate that subliminal advertising might reap some success but it does seem clear to me that advertising on web-pages is proving to be a less certain investment than those published via non-electronic based media. I can only imagine that with millions of potential customers out there, there must be some financial return to be gained by succeeding in catching the interest of a fractional percentage of web-site visitors.

Given that I seem to be able to ignore most intrusive advertising, and cannot really think of anything significant that I might have paid out as a result of advertising, I am quite relaxed about advertising being used to allow me to continue to be able to use services such as FaceBook without having to pay any regular subscription . I generally feel that I get a very good service from something that appears effectively free to me. Regarding the people who felt moved to invest in FaceBook in the hope of reaping major financial returns – if you can’t afford to lose it, don’t invest it!

 


OH DEAR, OH DEAR!

Prior to David Cameron’s fairly recent Cabinet reshuffle, I heard Tim Yeo MP question whether the PM was a ‘man or a mouse’ regarding his continued resistance to a third runway at Heathrow despite a manifesto commitment not to approve one during the current parliamentary term I then saw an interview on BBC Breakfast the morning after the reshuffle during which he continued on that theme and expressed his hope that the Government might now re-think its policy regarding a third runway for Heathrow. The Cabinet re-shuffle had fuelled speculation that this might be a real possibility. The interviewer pointed out that the Conservative manifesto, prior to election, had included a clear promise not to back such a project; “wouldn’t going back on that promise prove detrimental to any future re-election chances?” Not so, claimed Mr. Yeo, it would demonstrate a particular strength of David Cameron’s leadership. Given the number of ‘u-turns’ that have already been performed by the current Coalition Government, I contend that this simply helps to confirm that it is very difficult to believe anything that politicians say, particularly when they are canvassing for votes.

 

Alex Salmond MSP continues to seek to explain his position regarding legal advice regarding the likely position of an independent Scotland with regard to membership of the EU. A close examination of his words during the oft-quoted interview with Andrew Neil might suggest that he was attempting to answer “no” by saying “yes”, I find this to be simply another example of ‘weasel word politics’, where much is spoken whilst little of true substance is actually being communicated.

I am also ‘sad’ enough to be following the US Presidential election campaign which should finally reach a conclusion in a few days. As a non US citizen I still have major concerns about the nature of the elected President who will ultimately have his (no her option at present) finger ‘on the nuclear button’. Having attempted some manual tasks whilst wearing gloves I know how they can often reduce fine control – mitts , by comparison, might offer a sense of security and comfort but do massively reduce sensitivity at times.

One of the arguments often employed by challenging political parties is that the incumbent government shouldn’t be re-elected because they failed to deliver on some of their electoral pledges, but given that the allegation can generally be applied to all parties I find it a rather illogical one to place too much emphasis on. Another example of flawed logic must surely be Mitt Romney’s repeated assertions during the second debate that he would create “millions of jobs” if he got to lead the government – only to end by stating clearly that “government doesn’t create jobs”!

Perhaps a new approach should be considered – parties pledging to work together wherever agreement might be reached rather the current default of appearing to automatically oppose every suggestion by any other party regardless of the merits. We will never all agree on everything (what a boring world it would be if we did), so why not at least try to agrees on some things, and not just agreeing to differ. Maybe I should just be quiet and get back to ‘cloud cuckoo land’!