Illumination

Diagram showing the major parts of a modern in...

Diagram showing the major parts of a modern incandescent light bulb. Glass bulb Inert gas Tungsten filament Contact wire (goes to foot) Contact wire (goes to base) Support wires Glass mount/support Base contact wire Screw threads Insulation Electrical foot contact (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lighting up your life used to be fairly simple. There was a ceiling rose in every room into which you plugged a standard incandescent bulb. You only really had two choices. Firstly, the brightness, so wherever you wanted a lot of light, you would go for a 100 watt bulb. If you wanted more subdued lighting, a 40 watt bulb would do. If you were looking for a halfway house between the two, there was always the 60 watt bulb. The only other choice you had was either a bayonet or a screw fitting.

Unless you lived in a chaotic household, the fitting was always the same so a stash of bulbs of various wattage beneath the sink was enough to keep the lights glowing.

Things have changed. The incandescent bulb is woefully inefficient, so greener bulbs are now in vogue. These come in a myriad of sizes, from the ones that are so tiny you almost need tweezers to get them into place right up to fairly butch bulbs with industrial fittings. Fashion has also changed. The single dangling rose from the ceiling has been replaced with lamps made up of a multiplicity of light sockets.

We have one in our hallway with 12 bulbs. In an idle moment in our local DIY store, I read the outside of the box containing the bulbs. A quick bit of mental arithmetic told me that I would be up on a ladder changing a bulb in that particular fitting every month. We only have a handful of bedrooms and yet, there are 40 or so bulbs in our property.

Who thought this would be a good idea? I can imagine that the lightbulb industry loves it. Buying a bulb used to be like buying a commodity. Buying a bulb now is a bit like buying a water filter for a 1940 Traction Avant. There are only so many places you can get them and there is a hefty price to pay.

All of the packaging of these bulbs screams out how energy-efficient they are, but I can’t help thinking that there is an awful lot more waste. Although each individual bulb is more energy-efficient than an equivalent incandescent bulb, we now have so many more of them, which means we throw many more away. Surely that has an environment impact. Not to mention the packaging and the transport costs.

Maybe we’ll go back to candles.

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The hypocrisy of hotels

Towels on a rack in a hotel room

Towels on a rack in a hotel room (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am not a raving tree hugger, nor do I walk the streets campaigning on green issues, but I do appreciate the little efforts here and there to make our lives on the planet a bit more ecologically sound. Everyone should do their little bit and all those little bits should add up to something.

Invariably, when you stay in a hotel, there will be a notice tucked away somewhere in the bathroom which explains the hotel’s policy on cleaning towels. It will wax lyrical about how seriously the hotel chain takes environmental issues before petitioning that guests help in this endeavour by choosing when to have their towels washed, thus saving on all that nasty ecologically unsound detergent.

Sometimes, it’s not just the towels that get this treatment, in the hotel I am currently writing this, they also ask you to be a bit more economical with the sheets too. I don’t have a problem with the policy because who washes their sheets and towels every single day at home?

But I can’t help feeling that this practise must save the hotel a fortune in laundry costs, so they are not making this plea out of the goodness of their hearts. I would be a lot more impressed with their green credentials if they donated the money saved by this laundry frugality to some worthy ecological cause.

I find it amusing that the very same hotel that is lecturing me on my impact on the planet, with no sense of irony, replaces my soap every day with a brand new freshly wrapped bar. I can cope with using the same soap two days in a row. If they really cared about saving the planet, they wouldn’t make the tap water so poisonous that you are left with no choice but to imbibe the bottled variety which can be as much as 1,000x more damaging to the environment. Not only that – but it’s damned expensive too.

I like the individual jars of jam and honey – but they can’t be too good for the environment either. Nor can the two-inch bottle of ketchup that contains exactly enough for one breakfast. My room has 11 light bulbs and they are annoyingly controlled by a complex interplay of switches that means you need to go through a painful deductive process to get them all to switch off at once. I suspect most people try for a while then give up and go out leaving some on.

Maybe I’ll bring a tent next time.

What will archeologists make of the here and now?

trowel

trowel (Photo credit: turtlemoon)

It has been a while since I visited the dump – sorry, municipal waste processing plant. The last time I was there, all the metal containers were for household waste. You parked up, selected the container closest to the car, and lugged everything you wanted to dispose of up the metal stairs and over the side. Today, things have changed. The first clue is the name. It has changed to the household waste recycling centre. The second clue is the sign outside which explains what goes where.

No longer is every container for household waste. There is but one such container and it has a guardian. Many climbed the steps to the household waste container, but few were deemed worthy by the guardian. They were dismissed with such mystical words as “no mate – electrical” or “sorry mate – that’s timber”.

Sometimes I thought he was being cruel by waiting until the poor soul had struggled up the steps with something particularly heavy or awkward before making his assessment. But no – he took his job very seriously and sometimes he needed a closer look before deciding whether to consider the item worthy of entry into his household waste container.

It was a bit bewildering at first, but the operatives were incredibly patient and when asked (for what must have been the hundredth time that day) where something went, they politely pointed in the right direction. I’m all in favour of anything that makes our meagre resources go further and the less stuff that ends up as landfill, the better.

If we get really good at this though, the future archeologists of the world are going to struggle. I once took a part-time archeology course and they live or die based on what they manage to dig out of the ground. If we become so efficient that we recycle absolutely everything, there will be nothing to dig up. I guess graffiti, the modern equivalent to cave painting might give them a few clues, but otherwise, they will be stumped.

It doesn’t help that so much of what we live and breathe is now digital either. Formats change so often that given enough time, any form of media will prove impossible to read. Books and paper degrade too, so it’s highly unlikely that an archeologist will be digging up a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey in a thousand years, although what they would make of a society who read such literature is hard to say.

The volume of data we produce and the rate at which it grows is unbelievable. We currently measure that data in exabytes, but how long until that becomes zettabytes or yottabytes is anyone’s guess. The ironic thing is that if we recycle everything and all media is left unreadable, a future archeologist might conclude that we were no more advanced that our stone age ancestors.

The slowest, most amazing thing in the world

English: Mount Everest North Face as seen from...

English: Mount Everest North Face as seen from the path to the base camp, Tibet. Español: Cara norte del Monte Everest vista desde el sendero que lleva al campo base en el Tibet (China). Français : Face nord du Mont Everest vue du chemin menant au camp de base. Tibet. Italiano: Faccia Nord del monte Everest vista dal sentiero che porta al campo base in Tibet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every so often, Mother Nature gives us a short, sharp lesson in who’s boss. Whether it is the enormity of Hurricane Katrina or the tsunamis that have struck twice in recent history in Asia, these brutal events unfold with ferocity and yet when you see the video coverage, they seem to  move incredibly slowly. No doubt for the people on the ground facing them, they move plenty fast enough.

The sheer power of the forces involved is difficult to comprehend because most of the time, our landscape changes so very slowly. Our tectonic plates shift and collide (or separate) by distances that can be measured in centimetres every year. London sinks whilst the West of the UK rises. But when you look around at the scenery that surrounds us, every mountain, every hill and every valley has been formed by elemental, natural forces over an incomprehensible time period.

There is no shortage of impressive natural features in this world and they look wonderful in their own right, but once you understand how they came to be formed, they become even more epic in scale. The fjords of Norway were all cut by glaciers over millennia. The Grand Canyon was carved by the endless erosion of the Colorado river. The Alps and Himalayas formed by two tectonic plates squeezing together for a very long time.

There are experts who argue that mankind is causing irreversible damage to the planet and that climate change is a very real phenomena. The average temperature is rising and so are the sea levels. But there are as many experts that argue against climate change citing that temperatures and sea levels have a history of changing on a geological scale. I’m no expert but I’m certainly getting fed up of being rained on and I can’t help but feel that we’re not doing the planet any good.

I can only imagine that it must be frustrating to be a geologist – knowing that all these elemental forces have shaped the entire planet and that the best you can hope for is to see Mount Everest grow by about a foot in your lifetime.