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Top searches 1 September 2011

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In case anyone was wondering after yesterday’s reference to the top most searches that bring you to my blog – no they have not changed. Today, they are:

ikea vietnam hanoi, ikea hanoi, ikéa hanoi, ugg clogs won’t stay on, street racing blog

So there you go.

Dolphins hunting 28 January 2010

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Keeping to the animal theme today –

How incredibly fun does this look? Dolphins hunting in mud circles

Dogs that ride trains 28 January 2010

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This post on the Daily Dish regarding dogs that ride trains made me recall a similar dog which I encountered in my youth.

Norway hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1952 in Oslo, and at that time, near their famous ski jump, Holmenkollen, they also created their bob sleigh run. Nowadays, it is known as ‘Korketrekkeren‘ (the Corkscrew) and when it snows, this run is open for kids of all ages to sleigh (toboggan) all the way to the bottom, and then catch a train back up to the top, to do it all again. It is a fantastic day, with loads of fun, I would highly recommend it.

When I last went tobogganing down Korketrekkeren, in around 2000, when I mounted the train with my toboggan, there was a dog that entered the train as well. He had a collar with writing on it, so I went and read it. It said something along the lines of

“Hello, I am (Dog’s Name). I like riding the train, I am not lost. Please don’t worry, when I am sick of getting on and off the train, I will make my way home again”.

And sure enough, at the top of the mountain, the dog got off the train, crossed the train line, and waited for a train to take him back down again. He would then also get off the train again at the correct stop down the bottom, cross the train line again, and wait for a train to ride to the top again.

I wonder what happened to him, I have not been back since then, so I do not know if he is still riding the train every day.

The Madeleine Awards 13 January 2010

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The inaugural Madeleine Awards have been announced by the Lowy Institute – it is an award meant to highlight and reward “the best use of symbol, stunt, prop, gesture or jest in international affairs last year.”

The Madeleine’s have been named after Madeleine Albright, who apparently used to wear brooches in her left lapel during international meetings which symbolised or indicated subtle messages towards the counterpart.

And the winner this year went to the Maldives Cabinet for conducting the first underwater cabinet meeting in the world.

But the part about this particular blog entry (because I recommend the Interpreter as an everyday read to anyone anyway) that caught my attention were the unsuccessful nominations and their descriptions, especially this one:

To prove everyone has a chance, Barack Obama gets a nomination for bowing to Japan’s emperor. Some US pundits called it a grovel. We prefer to see it as good manners, perhaps even old fashioned courtesy. And as the President already has a Nobel Prize just for being polite, we can’t reward him with this award as well.

Thank you, for making me smile today.

Hate Mail to a Fellow Blogger 10 August 2009

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I don’t receive hate mail. And I am happy for it. In fact, no one probably reads my blog. I don’t mind, I just do this to practice my writing skills.

But this blog post about recent hate mail received from a reader of a blog made me smile. Probably not the reaction the sender-innerer had in mind when drafting the (quite articulate) email to the blogger. But still, I giggle.

Prickly Pear 3 August 2009

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If you are at all familiar with Australian flora and the threat it faces by pests, you will be familiar with the Prickly Pear. You may not, however, be familiar with the numerous suggestions that were made on how to combat it.  Here’s the story.

Background

In short (and I paraphrase the information from this site in the interest of keeping it short), the Prickly Pear is a cactus species native to the Americas (and even features in the Mexican Coat of Arms). It became one of the most invasive weeds that was ever imported to Australia.

When the First Fleet came to Australia, (and for you non-Australian history buffs, the First Fleet was the first colonial fleet of European Convicts to arrive in Australia in 1788) it already brought with it the first specimens of Prickly Pear.  The Prickly Pear has little insects on them called cochnieal insects, which, when squashed, produce a red dye which in Europe was considered to die for, even used for the famous red coats of British soldiers. Little is known of the fate of those first plants, but it has been established that that particular variety of prickly pear is still found along coastal areas of New South Wales, and is classified as a noxious weed. 

In the early 1800’s, it is believed that other varieties were introduced as stock fodder, because they could be used during drought years.   Prickly Pear then acclimatised and spread at an alarming rate. By 1925, prickly pear was infesting some twenty-five million hectares in New South Wales and Queensland.

Effective Treatment 

The answer to the main prickly pear problem came in the form of biological control. The first liberations of cactoblastis were made in 1926, after extensive laboratory testing to ensure they would not move into other plant species.

Within six years, most of the original, thick stands of pear were gone. Properties previously abandoned were reclaimed and brought back into production. 

That is not to say that the problem is completely addressed, as Prickly Pear is still extant in Australia, however, it is not such a pervasive pest anymore.

Suggested (and not so effective) Treatments

And now for the fun bit that made me want to blog about the Prickly Pear:

The National Archives of Australia, has some real gems as to the documented background on the Prickly Pear. 

Some of the tamer suggestions anno 1917 included poison (apparently, chloride of arsenic is cheaper and more effective than arsenite of soda), crushing the plants with steamrollers (which, for someoner who knows as little about botany as I do, sounds like a bad idea, wouldn’t that just crush the seeds into the ground for them to resprout?), use the weeds as cattle feed (in 1927 there was a patent application for a more effective machine for mincing pear into fodder) or to turn the weed into commercial products (such as a bio fuel, aka ‘spirits for combustion’, or paper pulp).

There were Legal Acts promulgated which encouraged landowners to shoot and kill animals that ate the pear and thereby spread the seeds (including emus).

More exciting suggestions were:

In 1917, someone suggested that modified tanks would be the best solution to the prickly pear problems when the war was over, because they could “let (our soldiers) attack the prickly vegetable with the same vigor as the spiky helmet.”

Yes. TANKS.

And yes, the weed was compared to the enemy in Europe.

In 1919, SGD A. Pentland of the Royal Airforce wrote a letter to the Government suggesting that they should reconsider the use of tanks to clear infested country in Queensland. Because, the argument goes, the war is over, and tanks are being scrapped, and should be freely available to any colony (sic.) asking for them.

See letter here:

Destroy prickly pear with tanks page 1

 Destroy prickly pear with tanks page 2

Another idea that was floated after the war was: Flamethrowers (and why not?)

Flammenwerfer

 Clearly, Prickly Pear was (and remains) a serious issue in Australia. And many people had the issue at the forefront of their minds. Most suggestions were useful and seriously made, even though they sound a little crackpot to someone with the benefit of hindsight.

I wonder if the Governments of the world are still receiving these kinds of letters with solutions to problems they are facing. Probably. More solutions, however, need to incorporate flamethrowers, I say!

Best car ever 3 August 2009

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I have a real affinity for minis. Mini Coopers that is. And this one is cool! Mini in Antarctica, anno 1965. Enjoy!

Bad ass Mini

Hat tip: National Archives of Australia

Larmes Bataviques 19 May 2009

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During my recent reading of an Australian classic, Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey, I was introduced to a marvelously interesting, well, thing.  The Larmes Bataviques (lit. the Batavian Tears) or the Prince Rupert’s Drop, has something so strong yet so fragile about it, that it has become my first blog entry.  They were supposedly first discovered in the Netherlands in the mid-1600.

Imagine a drop of glass.  Any type of glass, it can be see-through or opaque, coloured or not.  The drop is shaped like a tadpole, with a head and a long, sometimes twisting, tail.  The interesting part of this utterly useless, but rather pretty, thing, is that it is made of glass, but should you exert force on the thick, head-like part of the drop, you will not be able to break it.  You can hit it with a hammer, and it will not break.  It is as if the glass has become stronger than steel, with its own mind, its own will.

But were you to nick the tail, even a little, or break it, the entire drop will explode, and disintegrate into so many pieces that you would be left with a substance more akin to sugar than to glass.  What a marvelously romantic notion.  A strong, powerful body, with a tail that provides its achilles heal.

The physics behind larmes bataviques (thank you Wikipedia) is rather simple:

[Larmes bataviques] are created by dripping hot molten glass into cold water. The glass cools into a tadpole-shaped droplet with a long, thin, tail. The water rapidly cools the molten glass on the outside of the drop, while the inner portion of the drop remains significantly hotter. When the glass on the inside eventually cools, it contracts inside the already-solid outer part. This contraction sets up very large compressive stresses on the surface, while the interior of the glass is placed under tension.

The very high residual stress within the drop gives rise to unusual qualities, such as the ability to withstand a blow from a hammer on the bulbous end without breaking, while the drops will disintegrate explosively if the tail end is even slightly damaged.

I am excited to report that the romanticism of such a fleeting and fragile contraption is not lost on the poets, either;

And that which makes their Fame ring louder,
With much adoe they shew’d the King
To make glasse Buttons turn to powder,
If off the[m] their tayles you doe but wring.
How this was donne by soe small Force
Did cost the Colledg a Month’s discourse.

The latter is the 10th verse of the Ballad of Grimsham College by Dorothy Stimson.  And although I am no fanatic of poetry, the above did capture the marvel of the teardrops.

From the (probably) accidental invention of the batavian tear in the Netherlands, to the inclusion of them in a famous and acclaimed Australian novel on the other side of the globe, how could I but be charmed?