In May we always have an abundance of rhubarb. It’s a fantastic vegetable for crumbles, jam, cakes or just stewed with a bit of ice cream. We appreciate it even more because there isn’t much else from the garden at this time of year. Here’s a cake I bake a lot when there’s rhubarb about.
- 18 oz fresh rhubarb
- 12 oz self raising flour
- 6 oz caster sugar
- 6 oz butter
- 3 eggs
- Sprinkle of Demerara sugar
- Pinch of salt
1. Preheat over to 180 ºC and line a large loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
2. Sieve flour and salt into large mixing bowl.
3. Add butter and rub in until you have breadcrumb texture.
4. Add sugar.
5. Cut rhubarb into chunks less than an inch long and add to bowl.
6. Crack the eggs into the bowl, break the yokes and stir the mixture.
7. Don’t be worried about how dry the mixture is at this stage, there’s a lot of water locked up in the rhubarb! Just mix it all together.
8. Transfer mixture into tin, firm it down and sprinkle with Demerara sugar.
9. Cook for about an hour or until it generally looks done! Leave to cool for at least 20 mins before turning out of tin.
Last weekend I spent a day with The Bristol Bike Project in Strawberry Cottage Wood. This is the wood Rob Penn has been managing for the BBC TV series Tails from the Wild Wood. Our job for the day was to plank a couple of ~110 year old ash logs and return the wood to the project for our new bike shed.
It was a beautiful day for my introduction to chainsaws. I was particularly impressed with the Logosol M7 mobile sawmill. It just screws to each end then the guide can be moved up and down about a foot before having to re-screw it. It can be rotated 90 degrees to release the planks. The saw has a bracket which slides along the guide. It was still a big job!
Click thumbnails below to enlarge:
More photos on The Bristol Bike Project blog:
Planking in Strawberry Cottage Wood for the new bike shed.
I’m on my way home from my first EGU conference, taking a sleeper train from Venice to Cologne, then on to Brussels, to London via Eurostar and finally back to Bristol. It takes 23 hours with fairly slack connections. It’s a lot more civilised than flying and, especially important when attending a geoscience conference, has a lower environmental impact.
Secondly, the session on Blogs and social media in scientific research. This was a panel discussion including two PhD students, a postdoc and a professor. All were passionate about blogging and tweeting their science, highlighting the many benefits; build network of contacts, raise profile, public good, improve communication skills, twitter is friendly place, can approach people, opportunity for collaboration, awareness of job opportunities, keep up with what people are doing before publications, exposure, fun, educational… but also offering some advice. Be professional – more so than in scientific life! Be measured and maintain higher ground, explain concepts carefully, invite contributions but vet them, don’t duck key issues – but don’t get drawn into unwinnable discussions, correct errors, don’t blog primary research before publication, have separate Twitter accounts for professional and personal life, think about what audience what to know and don’t tweet too much!
There are a few Twitter hash tags worth catching up on:
#EGU2013 is the main comment feed
#EGUSMEDIA for discussion arising from the blogging and social media discussion and
#EGUFrack for the fracking debate.
Videos of the press conferences are available here: http://media.egu.eu/press-conferences/
I’m in my tenth year of blogging and I’ve been tweeting for around four years. Social media has been very valuable for me. My main challenge is how to cover my science, along with beekeeping, bicycles, growing, amateur radio etc.I attended a fairly broad range of sessions, focusing on climate, interglacial climate, arctic climate, snow and ice energy balance and ice shelves but also including energy meteorology, geoenergy and results from Mars. In addition to these conventional sessions, I also attended the great debate on shale gas: to frack or not to frack and another short course on Tipping Points in the Geosciences.
A few messages: Greenland did not contribute more than 2m of the 6-8m sea level rise during last inter-glacial according to Dorthe Dahl-Jensen’s work on the NEEM ice core. Katy Pol told us evidence from Antarctic core (EPICA Dome C) suggests a warmer climate (last interglacial) may be more variable than today’s. Contrails reduce solar power by 60% when sun blocked but small enhancement when not actually blocked, net negative effect though, P. Weihs. Alan Robock explained how a 50 nuclear bomb war between India and Pakistan would cause global cooling of ~1.5 C for a decade and devastate agriculture. 4000 bombs (most of them) would cause -8C global cooling, using nuclear weapons would be suicide through starvation/nuclear winter. F. Lott from the MetOffice used event attribution analysis to suggest the East Africa drought in 2011 was more likely as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Arctic sea ice would have reached minimum without ‘The Great Arctic Cyclone of August 2012′, Irina Rudeva. K. Kjeldsen showed how Southern Greenland been losing ice since little ice age but there’s been a factor-2 increase in loss rate in early 21st Century.
Meeting up with friends and colleagues I hadn’t seen for a couple of years was good – but especially valuable was meeting two of my co-authors for the first time. It’s great to finally meet face to face with people I’ve only been working with through email for the last few years. It’s amazing how productive ‘virtual teams’ can be but those 15 minute chats in person are invaluable.
On Thursday I had a poster presentation. We had the opportunity to give a two minute ‘poster flash’ in the main oral session. This worked really well, as it gave us the chance to let everyone know who we were and the main thrust of our work. Here’s the poster I presented:
Finally, I’d like to finish with a plug for the conference I’m co-organising in Edinburgh this summer. It’s the Global Energy Systems conference, a three day event examining the challenges facing our energy system in detail including supply side constraints, energy-return, renewable energy and the rate-limit of non-conventional fossil fuel. All issues that will drive future energy prices. We have a really top speaker line up including Sir David King, Lord Ron Oxburgh, Dr. Jeremy Leggett, Prof. Stuart Haszeldine, Dr. Michael Kumhof, Dr Peter Jackson and many more. We still have space for poster presentations, register here.
Ciabatta’s wonderful, especially dipped in balsamic and olive oil. We had a go making some the other day with great success.
- 375 g strong white bread flour
- 125 g semolina, plus up to another 200 g for dusting
- 5 g fast dried yeast
- 10 g salt
- 400 ml warm water
- Olive oil
1. Mix the flour, semolina, yeast salt and water together in a large bowl, then add a good slug of oil. This will be a very wet dough, too wet for kneading. It needs mixing by hand or alternatively with the dough hook of a food mixer for 5 minutes.
2. Put the bowl in a plastic bag to ferment for 3 hours. Every half hour or so remove it from the bag, add a bit more olive oil, smooth it all over and fold the dough over itself a couple of times. Yes it’s very sticky at first but it gets easier.
3. We don’t have a baking stone or peel, we just sprinkle two baking sheets with a good covering of semolina.
4. Sprinkle the work surface with semolina and turn out the dough onto it. Separate into two equal lumps. Dust everything with semolina. Taking one lump at a time, flatten it and stretch it out into a rectangle. Roll this up into a cylinder four times as long as it is wide and place on the baking sheet to double in size.
5. Heat the oven to maximum.
6. Once risen, put them into the oven quickly, baking at maximum heat for 10 minutes before turning down to 200 ºC for another 15 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven, drizzle a little oil on top and allow to cool on a rack.
Last week our local beekeeping association ran a mead workshop. We’d never made mead before and only tasted it a couple of times. Mead, or honey wine, is an ancient fermented drink made from fermenting honey and water. It uses quite a lot of honey, so typically beekeepers use honey that might otherwise go to waste, such as the cappings. Cappings are the thin layer of honey soaked wax that’s cut from the surface of the honey frames during extraction.
The process we followed was straightforward. Into a demijohn we put around 3 litres of water (mostly filtered and boiled rainwater, but topped up with some tap water, not ideal). We then added ~100ml of ‘starter’, a yeast solution that had been pre-prepared for us, ~100ml of lemon juice and approximately 1 kg of honey. The starter was Lalvin D-47 yeast, water, honey and lemon juice prepared a few days earlier. The water wasn’t quite warm enough for the honey to dissolve, it just sat in the bottom of the demijohn.
Once home we sat the demijohn in a sink of warm water and gave it a stir, this was enough for the honey to dissolve. On went the airlock and for two days nothing much happened. On the third day, the yeast had got into its stride with CO2 being produced and bubbling through the airlock every 30 seconds or so.
Apparently we should now wait several months until fermentation has completed before racking into smaller bottles and leaving to age. Watch this space.
When is a mead not a mead?
Whilst looking around the Internet for mead, the first things Google found for me were Cornish Mead Wine from the Cornish Mead Company and Lindisfarne Mead. Neither of these products sound like mead to me, as they are based on a fermented grape base, making these products pyments:
Pyment in modern usage refers to a fermented beverage made with grapes as well as honey; it can be considered as a grape mead or a honeyed wine, depending on the relative amount of fermentables from each source. Red or white wine grapes may be used.
My understanding of mead is that only honey, water and yeast are traditionally used. Maybe ‘mead’ is just an easier term for marketing these pyments as few people know what pyment is?
I have just one simple response to High Speed 2 (HS2). Why do we need to invest a lot of money, many billions, in further facilitating long distance national travel? This seems like a bad idea. We would be better served by re-engineering the country and economy to reduce our need and indeed our desire for long distance travel.
We’d do well to focus on the Proximity Principle as described by Dr David Fleming in Lean Logic. The principle states that the need for transport is reduced by using space more intelligently, producing goods and services – especially food – where they are needed, rather than having to transport them over long distances. The objective is to build competence across the whole range of economics and culture, and to enable personal lives to be organised so that routine travel and transport are no longer a necessary condition for material needs, nor for leisure, friendships and work.
The HS2 proposal misses this entirely, it seems to be based on the single, dumb, assumption that there’ll be more travelling in the future. To what end? I and I expect most others don’t want to travel more. In fact what we’d all really like to do is to meet all our needs as, Fleming describes above, without having to spend good time, and good money travelling.
Sadly, HS2 is another case of treating the symptoms, not the disease. Something to which transport policy is particularly susceptible.
The unanswerable question at the heart of transport is the one asked by the farm labourer standing bemused one day in the mid-eighteenth century at the side of the Liverpool-Manchester turnpike, crowded with urgently-speeding coaches: “Who would ever have thought that there were so many people in the wrong place?”
From Lean Logic ~ David Fleming 1940-2010
We have a problem. I’ve known we’ve had a problem for a long time. It’s only in the last few years though, after I left my career in engineering to take a PhD in glaciology, studying the changing Greenland ice sheet, that the magnitude and timeframe has become clear. It is now all but impossible to limit global warming, the warming of mean surface air temperature, to less than +2°C from pre-industrial temperatures [1, 2]. Understand also that temperatures over land rise more than this global average, and extremes are likely to be further exaggerated by positive feedbacks. All but impossible because to have even a fifty-fifty chance of keeping warming below that somewhat arbitrary threshold, global greenhouse gas emissions would have to peak within the next five years or so then fall rapidly for decades: “…the threshold of 2°C is no longer viable” .
This fall in emissions would have to happen against the trends of increasing wealth in growing economies and growing populations. Recent history, even with the largest economic slowdown in decades, offers us no hope as global emissions are currently rising faster than ever . It is a fantasy to suggest that the global community is able to collectively choose to peak and decline emissions within the next few years.
The lack of action is not for lack of knowledge. The data and scientific understanding have been clear for a long time and yet over the last decade carbon emissions have increased by a greater amount than in any previous decade (between 2002 and 2011 emissions increased by 2.5 GtCyr-1 from 7.0 to 9.5 GtCyr-1 ). There is nothing in the data to suggest that we have recognised the seriousness of our situation. In fact the reverse is true: we are accelerating into disaster faster than the scientific community thought possible even a decade ago.
As a scientist, I’m not supposed to use emotive words like disaster; however, that is what we are facing – an avoidable disaster of our own making. Reticence amongst the scientific community has probably contributed to our civilisation’s inaction. We know enough to say, and importantly to do more. As I write this, however, my office is quiet, half empty. My colleagues are attending a conference on the other side of the planet, elevating their carbon emissions to some of the highest in the world.
Two glimmers of hope I held until recently are fading. The first was offered by researchers quantifying the Earth’s endowment of fossil fuels. Their evidence suggested there simply weren’t the hydrocarbon reserves available to greatly perturb the climate system . This is the question I explored for my master’s thesis  a few years ago. However, as extraction of unconventional resources continues to expand and as Arctic melting unlocks probably significant northern reserves, the hope of these resource limits applying any meaningful and timely brake diminishes. Secondly, our emission growth is linked to our economic growth. Without increasing demand from the expanding wealthy population the hydrocarbon reserves will remain unexploited. The threat of economic collapse, in our case linked to unserviceable debts, is familiar and appears plausible at least for developed Western economies. Exactly three years ago I blogged, with evidence, about the economically induced 2008 emissions peak. The global economy has proved far more resilient than I imagined. In any case, were western economies to collapse, the remaining four fifths of the global population are unlikely to need asking twice before taking up any hydrocarbon supply slack and attempting to resume the emission growth trajectory.
The time for hope is over; it is simply illogical to continue believing that dangerous future climate projections can be mitigated through national and international agreements, or through pro-active action. We now have to consider life in a 4 °C warmer world, described here in a report for the World Bank .
Our global civilisation appears to be facing a protracted period of decline. Most likely this will be due to the damaging impacts of climate change but if, against the odds, we are spared the worst climate impacts it will only be due to decline from crippling energy shortages or global economic collapse. There is no easy way down for our seven, going on nine billion population, not from the height we’ve now reached. The first half of the 21st century is likely to represent a new peak of human civilisation, the first truly global civilisation, eclipsing our species’ many previous peaks. From here, we can only now hope the cost of climbing so high won’t be so damaging as to deny our distant descendants their own future triumphs.
 PriceWaterhouseCoopers, November 2012.
Too late for two degrees? Low carbon economy index 2012.
 Peters, G. P., Marland, G., Le Quere, C., Boden, T., Canadell, J. G. & Raupach, M. R. 2012. Rapid growth in CO2 emissions after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. Nature Climate Change, 2, 2-4.
 Anderson, K. & Bows, A. 2012. A new paradigm for climate change. Nature Climate Change, 2, 639-640.
 Boden, T.A., G. Marland, and R.J. Andres. 2012. Global, Regional, and National Fossil-Fuel CO2 Emissions. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tenn., U.S.A. doi 10.3334/CDIAC/00001_V2012
 Nel, W. P. & Cooper, C. J. 2009. Implications of fossil fuel constraints on economic growth and global Warming. Energy Policy, 37, 166-180.
 Vernon, C., Thompson, E. & Cornell, S. 2011. Carbon dioxide emission scenarios: limitations of the fossil fuel resource. Procedia Environmental Sciences, 6, 206-215.
 Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, November 2012. Turn Down the Heat: why a 4C warmer World Must be Avoided. Report for the World Bank.
I last wrote about bicycle maintenance almost a year ago, here’s the next instalment.
Last month I spent two weeks at the wonderful Cycle Systems Academy in London. I was there to take a level 3 training course in cycle maintenance, officially the Level 3 VRQ Diploma in Cycle Maintenance (QCF). This builds on the level 2 course I completed some 18 months ago with Alf and Teresa Webb at The Bike Inn. The two institutions are quite different, not least as one is in rural Lincolnshire, the other in north London! However, the training offered from both is top notch.
The syllabus of the level 3 course spends a few days on each of the following technical areas; hydraulic brakes, fork suspension, full suspension systems, complex wheel systems and advanced groupset set up (including Campag, Sram, Shimano and Shimano Di2). First time I’d worked on the (ridiculously expensive) Di2 system and I can’t say I’m totally convinced electronic shifting is future however prices are likely to fall quickly.
There was lots of hands on experience working with the Avid, Hope (excellent British company) and Shimano hydraulic brake systems, servicing coil and air sprung forks from RockShox and Fox, X-Fusion and Fox rear shocks, building wheels from Fulcrum and the crazy ‘Cobalt’ wheelset from Crank Brothers to name just a few. Our tutors knew their stuff. I’ve never actually owned a bike with hydraulic brakes, let alone one with full suspension (wasn’t a big mountain biking scene in the Lincolnshire flatlands where I grew up!) but after getting to know the product well, I’d be very happy to run the Hope brake system.
There’s also a significant written element to this qualification with an essay on customer service and for each technical area there is a short answer exam and report to write. A multiple choice health and safety exam is also required for one unit.
The workshop is very well equipped with each work area having its own high quality tool set and the bikes we were working on were modern and of high quality. Although some had unusual wear associated with being dismantled dozens of times and yet hardly being ridden! It’s a pleasant 15 minute walk along Regent’s Canal from Angel tube station to the academy, just what’s needed after a Northern Line rush hour commute!
These bicycle maintenance skills complement the frame building I’ve been doing. I’ve built frames with Dave Yates, Dario Pegoretti and The Bicycle Academy this year. After all this fancy kit, I’m thinking to build myself a minimalist frame for a single speed next!
New Scientist magazine are running a special feature on climate change this week. Five years on and climate change is looking worse than almost anyone projected. It’s a reasonable article, sure, there is the expected sensationalism (linking Greenland with >1m sea level rise by 2100 for example), but the general message is on the money. From Arctic sea ice through extreme weather, food production and especially human emissions the situation is deteriorating rapidly. Prof. Paul Valdes of the University of Bristol was quoted “Our emissions are not slowing, that’s the most scary aspect of our future.”. Echoing the message From University of Manchester’s Prof Kevin Anderson speaking in Bristol a few weeks ago.
The issue here is that as I read this article, on the New Scientist website, it’s surrounded by no fewer than three large adverts from Statoil. The magazine, possible even this very article is in front of me thanks to Statoil’s marketing budget – which presumably works, or they wouldn’t do it – facilitating their business. And their business in this case? Discovering and extracting new oil reserves. They are advertising for staff with the tag lines “We are looking for engineers who want to go longer, deeper and colder” and “Our megaprojects are waiting for you”. I can only assume they are talking about frontier activities, deep water or Arctic drilling.
Two problems; firstly New Scientist are part of the problem not the solution if they continue to support activities like this, providing their readership to Statoil’s HR department. Secondly, the very activity of prospecting for further hydrocarbon reserves is bankrupt. In the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2012, published this month, they state that total carbon in known fossil fuels reserves equates to 2860 Gt CO2 if combusted, going on to say less than 900 Gt can be emitted up to 2050 for +2°C world (what they actually mean is a ~50% change of warming being less than 2°C). To put this into context, the World Meteological Organization’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin (published this week) states 375 billion tonnes of carbon (equivalent to 1375 Gt CO2) has been emitted since 1750 and that approximately 37 Gt are being emitted annually. 24 years of current emissions uses up that 900 Gt budget, but as Valdes points out emissions are still rising with no near term peak in sight shortening this period. As I wrote earlier with regard to North Sea oil and gas “…already discovered reserves of fossil fuels are more than sufficient? If in fact it would be very unwise to burn all the current reserves, why bother looking for more?”.
We’ve had a lot of success growing pumpkins this year. 111 kg in total, 100% organic, and not those no-taste wannabe pumpkins the supermarkets sell for carving! Here’s the recipe for the pumpkin pies I’ve been making weekly for the last six weeks or so. It’s based on a 30 cm flan tin:
- 165 g plain flour
- 75 g butter
- pinch of salt
- 145 g golden syrup (of maple syrup if you’re feeling posh)
- 150 ml evaporated milk
- 2 eggs
- cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg to taste
- ~1 kg of pumpkin
- Sugar for sprinkling
1. Make the pastry in the usual way: rub butter into flour/salt, add very little water so it can be brought together with a cold knife. Then, in a plastic bag/cling-film and put it in the fridge to cool.
2. Roast the pumpkin in chunks with a little oil for around 30 minutes at 200 ºC.
3. Mix the syrup, evaporated milk, eggs, and spices all together, keeping a little egg back for brushing on the pastry.
4. Line the base of the tin with greaseproof paper and butter sides.
5. Roll out pasty, line tin, paint edge with egg and blind bake at 200 ºC for 8-10 minutes. Keep a little pastry back for the lattice.
6. Once pumpkin is soft, mash it into filling, leaving out the skins.
7. Add the filling to the tin and lay out the lattice on the top. Brush the top with egg and sprinkle with sugar.
8. Bake for around 30 minutes at 180 ºC