Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Your bus journeys will never be the same

After reading this post and looking at the pic.

Your bus journeys will never be the same 🙂

THEY are already here!

THEY are watching you, every time you get on one of ‘their’ buses.

And THEY’RE pink, just to make you think THEY’RE cute.

From now on, you’ll always think THEY are staring at you whenever you sit in from of one THEM.

THEY are always watching

THEY are always watching

22/06/2019 Posted by | Civilian, photography, Transport | | Leave a comment

We’re Really Not About To Run Out Of Helium–No, Please, Stop It, We’re Not

I seem to have been reading stories about the impending end of helium supplies for some years, if not decades.

It seems to be one of those recurring classics that journalists (or whatever they are called now) come up with every so often, if they’re stuck for a sensational headline.

This was the most recent manifestation of story that I saw flagged up in one of my feeds recently.

The world uses around six billion cubic feet a year and without it, life-saving MRI scans which rely on magnet-cooling liquid helium would be impossible. In recent years, interruptions to the helium supply have caused disruption to medical research projects, prompting experts to calling for urgent action on rationing.

The shortage of an element that is used widely in science and industry could also mean no more helium-filled party balloons. Last month, US retailer Party City announced it was closing 45 of its 870 stores, citing in part the increasing scarcity of helium. The firm later announced that it had found another supplier to meet demands for the lighter-than-air gas that fills its balloons.

The world’s supply of helium, vital for MRI scanners, is running low – but a lucky find may prevent disaster

You may want to stop and think for moment, at the inconsistencies in that quote.

If helium is so vital for ‘life-saving MRI scans’, shouldn’t there be some sort of legal protection in place for supplies if they really are running out and are so vital?

If helium really is running out, then shouldn’t there be a ban on filling frivolous party balloons with what little there is left, since the helium in them is going to be lost when they’re burst, or discarded?

On the other hand, society is sometimes pretty stupid when it comes to looking after scarce resources.

If I wanted to spend the time, I could probably waffle on about this, and even be in danger of ‘preaching’, but don’t worry, I won’t (as I have better things to do with my time).

Others have prepared better explanations than I could, and that’s where the title of this post came from.

This one’s worth a read whenever the “The Sky is Falling – Helium’s Running Out!” story is given its regular now  regular airing…

One of the old favorites among the we’re going to run out of resources stories appears to be raising its head again. The idea that we’re about to run out of helium. I’m afraid this is simply untrue and the reason that people don’t get this is because people just aren’t understanding what a mineral reserve is. The general idea that most people do have is that it’s the reserve of some mineral that’s available to us to use. Which it isn’t: a mineral reserve is an economic concept meaning the amount of a mineral that we’ve got prepared for us all to use in the near future. And it really is an economic concept too: the origins come from stock market listing rules so the entire concept is firmly rooted in the idea of profitability.

Given that I’ve just published an entire book (see the signature link) on this very point I should probably be the person to point out the error in this story. We get a mention of it at Boing Boing and their reference is to Priceonomics. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the piece except that it entirely fails to get to grips with the most basic points about the subject under discussion. They’re right about the National Helium Reserve and so on, but those are the details, not the major points.

So, our definition: a mineral reserve is that amount of some mineral that we have identified the location of, weighed, measured, tested the extraction of and proven (and the proof is the extremely important part here) that we can, with current technology, and at current prices, make a profit by extracting it.

The reason we use this economic definition is because we don’t want people investing in mining stocks to be ripped off any more than they already are. So, if someone says “I’ve got some gold reserves” they’d better be able to prove it. To a known standard, one that’s signed off by a reputable engineer. A mineral resource is a slightly weaker version of this (we’ve proven that we can probably etcetc.)

Neither mineral reserve not mineral resource have anything at all to do with the amount of whatever mineral is ultimately available. Not just not a very good guide, but there’s no relationship at all between mineral reserves and how much of a mineral there is.

We’re Really Not About To Run Out Of Helium–No, Please, Stop It, We’re Not

Isotpes matter

I should probably also mention helium isotpes, relevant to some of the more advanced uses of helium.

Hopefully this table displays properly, and shows the relevant percentages of the two stable isotopes.

Isotopes Isotope Atomic mass Natural abundance (%)
3He 3.016 0.000134
4He 4.003 99.9999

Clearly, there’s not a lot of helium-3 around.

I mention it because it’s how I was alerted to the ‘silly’ helium shortage story, by someone involved in the detection of neutrons, as their instruments depend on the stuff, and it was given a boost by the Cold War (don’t you miss the Cold War, it brought is so many goodies).

Helium-3 is made up of two protons and one neutron and the isotope is rarely found in nature, although it is produced as a decay product of tritium, a component of nuclear weapons. During the cold war, the US, Russia and other countries stockpiled tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, and in doing so accumulated vast amounts of helium-3. Initially, this resource was barely tapped – in fact the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and its predecessor agencies, which have maintained the US tritium stockpile, used to consider the gas so useless that they vented it into the atmosphere. In the 1980s, however, scientists began to realise the potential of helium-3 as a neutron detector.

Interestingly, while stories that reported panic over helium-3 supplies used to accompany the airing of the “Running Out of Helium” airings in past years, I don’t see them in the recent panic alerts.

Is it no longer an issue?

Or just too much effort, or too technical an issue, for the journalists trying to whip up some interest (or panic) nowadays?

I hate writing about chemistry type stuff (remember, I’ve mentioned it’s the one subject I was never taught, at all).

I know the physics side, but chemistry remains a mystery to me, even when I try, there’s no ‘intuitive’ insight ever kicking in for me.

Helium-3 and Helium-4

Helium-3 and Helium-4

22/06/2019 Posted by | Cold War | | Leave a comment

Kelvingrove should sell these T-shirts – they’d make a fortune

It’s a while since I was able to get to one of Kelvingrove’s daily lunchtime organ recitals.

The last one I made it to was completely ruined by four groups that stood, in turn, beside me on the balcony that day.

One had the inevitable collection of sorted offspring dragged there, uninterested, but still given a lecture about organs during the recital, as they fidgeted and bumped into me.

Of the other three, one babbled about organs operating principles, while the other two just used the balcony as somewhere to lean their elbows as they carried on conversations they could have held in the street.

Some days are like that, while others have people who show some consideration.

I had a quick play with a T-shirt pic I came  across.

Organ interference T

Organ interference T

Kelvingrove should sell them.

Along with ‘Time Out Bottles, which I came across on a ‘Parenting’ web site.

Coincidentally, in a similar colour (I didn’t alter it to suit).

Time Out Bottles

Time Out Bottles

I’d probably add beating the parent with the bottles too 😉

Here’s the original T, if you’d like to make your own version.

Silly me. Although there seems to be surprisingly few examples, you can find some variations on this by searching online.

22/06/2019 Posted by | Civilian | , | Leave a comment

Today is Chocolate Éclair Day

22 June is Chocolate Éclair Day.

Another easy one.

But I have to confess to a love/hate relationship with this creamy chocolate treat.

Éclair can be translated to ‘flash of lightning’, and this is a fair description of the speed these delicacies can disappear if not well guarded.

It also describes the way a well prepared example disappears in your mouth, and good ones are gone in a flash!

The chocolate topping, cream filling, and pastry just melt together in a good one – and that’s both good and bad, all at the same time.

Oh well.

Chocolate Eclairs

Chocolate Eclairs


Peace eclair

I’ve been told these were first invented by French Chef Antonin Carême, a man who had a sad beginning n in the early 19th century.

Abandoned by his parents during the French Revolution, he was lucky to find work as kitchen boy, which meant a place to live and food to eat.

This eventually led to him becoming apprentice to famous pâtissier Sylvain Bailly.

He developed into a very talented chef, so good that when he left Bailly’s he was able to move as he wished from employer to employer.

This was unusual. In those days, employer almost owned their workers. Being able to move freely then was a rare privilege.

And the treat he created remains ours to enjoy today.

22/06/2019 Posted by | Civilian | | Leave a comment


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