Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

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

Slightly odd, maybe even worrying – St Kilda named by ‘leading travel bible’

While it’s never going to be the easiest place to get to, St Kilda is a place I tend to think of as being protected, if not subject to visitor restrictions.

It’s not very big either, and the ‘Points of Interest’ are few, meaning that any visitors (tourists) will tend to tread the same path, so the arrival of increased numbers could lead to serious damage and erosion. And, while NOBODY does it (aye, right), it would take many people collecting some little a souvenir of their visit to leave the place looking pretty poor.

I don’t pay any attention to social media, or online reviews, but that doesn’t mean I’m not aware that many thousands of people do, virtually worship the people or sites that they follow, and mindlessly following any recommendation they make.

I hope this accolade doesn’t turn into a Death Note for St Kilda.

St Kilda, the remote cluster of islands lying more than 40 miles off the coast of the Outer Hebrides, have been named one of the most beautiful places in Europe by one of the world’s leading travel bibles.

Conde Nast Traveler has hailed the “unforgettable ocean views and unique ecosystem” of the Unesco World Heritage Site, which is 100 miles from mainland Scotland and was evacuated by its last permanent residents in 1930.

However an estimated 5000 visitors now flocking to the largest island each year thanks to the growing popularity of boat trips from Skye and Harris, the quickest of which still take nearly three hours.

They are drawn to an abandoned village dating back to the 19th century, its spectacular coastline, the highest sea stacks and cliffs in Britain, and Europe’s most important seabird colony.

St Kilda, which has been owned by the National Trust For Scotland since 1957, is the UK’s only dual World Heritage Site, recognised for its cultural and natural significance.

The archipelago, which lies 40 miles west of North Uist, has now been rated alongside Biarritz, in France, the Dolomites in Italy, Lapland in Finland, and the Swiss Alps by Conde Nast Traveler, which has showcased what it describes of 20 of the most breathtaking landscapes across Europe.

The travel website states: “This cliff-dotted archipelago along the western coast of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides has unforgettable ocean views and a unique ecosystem.

“Visitors can encounter hoards marine life on one of the many ocean tours offered by local boating companies, while those without sea legs can also explore the area’s ancient ruins.”

St Kilda named one of ‘the most beautiful places in Europe’

Pity Conde Nast Traveller doesn’t have a proofreader checking their article.

Two absolute howlers are immediately obvious – not only did they use the wrong word hoards (stuff that’s been gathered or collected, possibly in secret) instead of hordes (a vast multitude), the didn’t notice they’d missed out the word ‘of’ after it!

Then they managed to misspell the name of the very archipelago they were featuring.

It’s name really is St Kilda *with no full stop after the St), rather than St. Kilda, which they unfortunately used.

This screen grab of their entry shows…

Conde Nast Traveller St Kilda name error

Conde Nast Traveller St Kilda name error

Probably better to go see the display in Kelvingrove, and not to any damage to the site.

Easier to get to as well.

St Kilda Goat

St Kilda

16/06/2019 Posted by | Civilian, Cold War, military, Transport | , , , | Leave a comment

Nineteen Eighty-Four at 70

1984 has come and gone with little in the way of Big Brother (although I suppose that depends on whom you ask), but George Orwell’s novel is still a key component of education and culture.

A point made by this stencilled sign I spotted stapled to a wooden pole not very long ago.

1984

1984

I’m not sure how those I’ll refer to as normal/ordinary people view the novel, but I can’t ignore it as it was one of ‘set texts’ I had to read and study in detail during the years of my secondary education, so it’s inevitably engraved in my memory.

One aspect I remember wondering about was if I would live long enough to see 1984 (which was a bit silly in some respects, as it wasn’t that far in my future, but kids don’t have much perception of time).

Another was my growing knowledge of electronics around the same time, when I concluded (rightly at the time, wrongly in the future) that the level of surveillance was, if not impossible, at least not practical. While I suppose a wholly dystopian state could have ordered and implemented it, the technology of the time would have seen the world immersed in a sea of connection wires (for all the cameras and microphones).

If you’re unfamiliar with communication wiring of the past (something almost invisible today), just look at this telephone wiring (and this is only 5,000 lines):

5000 telephone lines in Stockholm

5000 telephone lines in Stockholm

See more examples like this in the source: Photos from the Days When Thousands of Cables Crowded the Skies

They’re still there today, but in a different form since they are more likely to be carrying many (digital) signals: Bucharest: Cables

There would have been another problem – the power needed to run all that hardware, which would have been huge using the technology of the time (mostly valve based, transistors were still to become widely used). There would have been so many power station, and all coal powered, that we’d have been immersed in constant smog – and climate change would have arrived with a vengeance.

In fact, there would probably have been such a great demand for manufacturing the hardware, building power stations, installing the wiring, and mining the coal, that the wars described in the novel couldn’t have happened as everyone would have been too busy installing the surveillance system.

Of course, the arrival of the transistor, the death of the valve, and birth of the Internet around 1970 (but spawned just after the novel was published) meant that the technology to permit billions of point-to-point connections could be made was available, and just needed some software, and hardware, to be developed.

This seems to be the first British edition cover I found online.

nineteen eighty-four First British Edition Secker and Warburg 1949

nineteen eighty-four First British Edition Secker and Warburg 1949

It’s a bit of a long read, but this article saves me from rambling on further, as its consideration of the novel as a warning, rather than the more usual prophecy, makes a lot more sense.

Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House in January 2017 created, among other things, a golden opportunity for enterprising protesters. One designer created a version of the Trump campaign’s red baseball cap, replacing his slogan “Make America Great Again” with “Make Orwell Fiction Again”.

It’s a good, dark joke but it raises the question of whether Nineteen Eighty-Four, which turns 70 this weekend, was really fiction in the first place.

George Orwell first outlined his idea for a novel about the future, originally called “The Last Man in Europe”, around the end of 1943, and it would be another five years before he typed the final words. In the intervening period, he road-tested many of the book’s most important ideas, images and phrases in hundreds of articles for magazines and newspapers.

In fact, virtually everything he wrote as a journalist during that time had some relevance to his novel. By 1948, he was so determined to finish the book that he refused to retreat to a sanatorium to seek sorely needed treatment for his tuberculosis, a decision which probably doomed his chances of recovery.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published on 8 June 1949, to instant acclaim and alarm. Its author died less than eight months later at the age of 46. For Orwell, the book was nothing less than an obsession.

Orwell would not have gone to such punishing lengths to finish Nineteen Eighty-Four if it had been merely fiction. From the very start, it was his way of making sense of the totalitarian regimes that were tormenting Europe: Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

How did these tyrannies take root and could something similar – or even worse – emerge elsewhere, in countries that assumed their institutions and liberties were safe?

It was the first dystopian novel written with the full knowledge that dystopia was real. The phrases that Orwell invented were brilliantly, unforgettably new – Big Brother, doublethink, Newspeak, the Thought Police – but they were all satirical exaggerations of existing totalitarianism.

Readers behind the Iron Curtain – where the book was banned and possession of a smuggled copy could lead to a prison sentence – certainly didn’t categorise it as fiction. They found that Orwell’s concepts were all too relevant to their own restricted lives.

Nineteen Eighty-Four at 70: Orwell’s novel wasn’t a prophecy, it was a warning and a reminder

Interestingly, in 1984…

Apple advertised what they didn’t want to become, but they did.

Since the above didn’t actually include the full Apple commercial…

NOTE: the Apple 1984 piece starts at 0:09 – we wanted to show it in context of Super Bowl XVIII. This video was recorded on our CEO’s parents’ VCR on January 22, 1984, the 30th anniversary of Apple’s iconic MacIntosh 1984 ad, directed by Ridley Scott, and aired during Super Bowl XVIII. Midway through the 3rd quarter, the broadcast cut to a commercial, the screen momentarily went dark, and what aired next became part of marketing and tech history.

Update

More articles appeared later, and I liked this short review of how the novel has different relevancies at different times.

Why 1984 still matters

I’ll include the embedded video link from the BBC, but WordPress is now unreliable as regards playing embeds. Some days it like them, some days it doesn’t.

If there’s no embedded video below, then you can assume it was there when I wrote and reviewed this update, but then disappeared when I hit the ‘Publish’ button – in which case, Thanks a Lot, WordPress!

06/06/2019 Posted by | Civilian, Cold War, photography, Surveillance, World War II | , , | Leave a comment

The atomic secret of Nanda Devi

Nanda Devi is unfortunately being featuring in the news at the moment…

Nanda Devi: Hopes fading for eight missing climbers

But there was a time when the location was relatively unknown, yet was the subject of a story that would have probably have made even more headlines back around 1965 than it is making today.

NEW DELHI: Even as the world celebrated the golden jubilee of the human conquest of Mount Everest, a legendary Indian mountaineer and a CIA expert have come out with an authoritative chronology of how nuclear devices were planted atop high Himalayan peaks to monitor Chinese nuclear tests in the 1960s.

In an explosive book ”Spies in the Himalayas”, the mountaineer, Capt Mohan Singh Kohli, who had led these expeditions to Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot and other summits between 1965 and 1968, and CIA expert Kenneth Conboy chronicle the planting of nuclear-powered monitoring devices by the CIA with the help of intrepid climbers from India and the US.

That was the time when there were no satellites to monitor such developments from the sky.

One of the devices, which could not be planted atop Nanda Devi summit due to bad weather and was left cached on the mountain for the next expedition, went missing.

This caused serious concern about possible radioactive contamination of the environment and, in particular, the River Ganges.

Repeated searches could not retrieve the device which still remains missing, the book, published by Harper Collins, and said, adding that tests done subsequently at different spots indicated there was no cause for alarm.

The highly sophisticated and top-secret mission was kept under wraps for 38 long years, barring a “partial and inaccurate leak” made to a US magazine in 1978, which rocked the Indian Parliament at that time.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then Foreign Minister, declared in London on April 30, 1978, India would recover the nuclear device. To pacify agitated MPs, Vajpayee also made statements in Parliament.

A high-powered committee of scientists, including Dr Atma Ram, H N Sethna, M G K Menon, Raja Ramanna and Dr Saha, was set up to study and assess the risk of the missing device on Nanda Devi, the book said.

While CIA refused to comment on the news, US Congressmen asked then President Jimmy Carter to conduct an investigation.

Kohli also participated in the famous sailing expedition ”Ocean to Sky” in 1977 on the Ganga against the currents. The expedition, led by Sir

Edmund Hillary, was among other things reportedly intended to monitor radioactive contamination on the river as a fallout of the missing nuclear device atop Nanda Devi.

The book also mentions several interesting developments in that period, relating to these expeditions and the plans to install the nuclear monitoring devices.

These included unauthorised climbing of Nanda Devi twice, capture of an Indian Special Frontier Force commando by the Chinese in Tibet, the appearance of an American spy plane U-2 in India on a secret mission, use of the world famous Huskie aircraft for high altitude search up to 22,500 feet and Kohli”s seven close brushes with death.

The legendary Indian mountaineer, along with co-author Conboy, also recalls the involvement of leading intelligence officials, nuclear scientists and dare devil pilots of US and India and the CIA experts who participated in this unusual expedition.

CIA nuclear device atop Himalayas

Another article from the same source…

NEW DELHI: Soon after China detonated its first atom bomb in 1964, CIA tried to plant a nuclear-powered surveillance device atop Nanda Devi to spy on the communist nation.

Though the secret mission failed and the device was lost there, it created ripples in the Indian establishment 12 years later.

The espionage mission remained top secret till April 1978 when a news report published in a US magazine “Outside” claimed that the US intelligence agency had sent a team to set up a remote sensing device atop 25,645-foot mountain in the Himalayas in 1965.

But bad weather halted them 2,000-feet short of the summit and forced them to abandon the 125-pound device containing plutonium 238 that can remain radioactive for about 500 years. When the team returned to the site a year later, the device could not be located.

After a short-term “feckless effort”, the US government gave up its search for the device. Instead, the CIA covertly placed a second snap generator on another mountain, Nanda Kot, in 1967. After serving the agency’s purposes, it was also abandoned a year later, the report had claimed.

The revelations sparked a huge uproar in the country and even forced then foreign minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to say the episode might damage the “recently improving” ties between the two countries, according to recently declassified external affairs ministry documents.

The documents, available with National Archives, show how the Indian embassies abroad, especially in the US, had become active and kept on sending notes explaining how the issue was being played up by the media there.

At the time of this discloser, foreign ministry officials here were apparently unaware of the fact that the Nanda Devi mission was actually a joint collaboration between India and the US, according to the declassified documents.

CIA tried to plant surveillance device atop Nanda Devi

I’ve gone with somewhat longer than usual quotes from the source since I note that nearly all the other accounts I have bookmarked since coming across this story about 10 or so years ago have largely evaporated from the net.

Nanda Devi uncredited image

Nanda Devi uncredited image

The image came this info:

In addition to being the 23rd highest independent peak in the world, Nanda Devi is also notable for its large, steep rise above local terrain. It rises over 3,300 metres (10,800 ft) above its immediate southwestern base on the Dakkhni Nanda Devi Glacier in about 4.2 kilometres (2.6 mi), and its rise above the glaciers to the north is similar. This makes it among the steepest peaks in the world at this scale, closely comparable, for example, to the local profile of K2. Nanda Devi is also impressive when considering terrain that is a bit further away, as it is surrounded by relatively deep valleys. For example, it rises over 6,500 metres (21,300 ft) above the valley of the Ghoriganga in only 50 km (30 mi).

No wonder they thought of installing a surveillance device powered by similar technology to a space probe there!

The only surprising aspect I note is placing something in that environment, and expecting it to stay there.

I’ve also seen other stories claiming contamination (but none with real evidence), which seems rather unlikely given the construction of such devices. But then again, this was ‘new’ technology in those days, so it’s reasonable to assume the hardware may not have been built in the robust manner seen today.

It may even have just been cobbled together.

I wonder if it might have been copied from a Soviet design?

The Russians were always less squeamish about using nuclear power for remote applications, and used nuclear generators to power remote lighthouses, and have nuclear-powered ice breakers sailing in freezing waters to this day.

02/06/2019 Posted by | Cold War, Lost, Surveillance | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oh dear – even the BBC sometimes just repeats myths

I wondered if the recent tale of a ‘spy’ in the form of a ‘beluga whale’, kitted out with a GoPro and reportedly trained to approach vessels for food, would be picked up by any media sources, and it seems our very own BBC was the one lured in by this ‘honey trap’.

First rule of spying – don’t look like a spy.

The beluga whale – if that’s really its name – found in Norway’s waters can certainly tick that box.

But it appears to have committed an absolutely basic rookie sleuthing error.

The reason it’s causing suspicion among Norwegian fishermen and scientists is that it was wearing a harness and a label saying it was from St Petersburg in Russia.

Russia has denied any wrongdoing – and so far the beluga is refusing to talk.

Can’t or won’t?

Regardless of the truth, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time undercover animals have been used to spy.

It goes on to recount the tale of the now fairly well-known CIA’s ‘Acoustic Kitty’.

If there’s one thing we know about cats, it’s that they do whatever they want, whenever they want.

Admittedly, they’re inscrutable and impossible to second guess, so that’s possibly why the CIA thought they’d make excellent field operatives.

In the 1960s, it’s estimated $14m (£10.7m) was spent on a project to fit listening devices inside cats. The idea was for them to prowl around picking up vital Russian intelligence.

But it ended in failure on day one – when the cat was run over by a car outside the Soviet embassy in Washington.

Spying whales and other undercover animals

Sad to say, while that account is probably not wholly inaccurate, it’s probably also a bit of a myth.

There’s no disputing the creation and existence of Acoustic Kitty, and the chances are you can search online and find most of the story, and maybe even X-Rays of the cat showing the wiring and microphone.

And it’s probably also true to say it was a complete and utter failure, since the chances of convincing a free-roaming cat to follow instruction are at best, slim to nil.

However, I’m going to call ‘FAKE’ on the usual conclusion to the story, as given in the BBC article quoted above.

A few years ago a CIA officer published his memoirs, and these were quoted at length online, by the sort of web site that likes that sort of thing.

Acoustic Kitty came up in story.

The officer noted the project’s failure, but gave a completely different (and for its worth, far more believable account than that of the cat just happening to be “run over by a car outside the Soviet embassy in Washington.” Seriously, try working out the odds of that happening.

The officer’s account of the conclusion to Acoustic Kitty’s career was that, after the handlers found it impossible to control the cat once it was released (it went for a wander where it wanted to), they ‘recovered’ their asset, removed the radio/wiring/microphone (apparently fitted into the cat’s ear canal), and then retired it, after which it went on to live out its life somewhere more comfortable than a city.

I really wish I noted the web address of every article I read, which would make it easy to go find such items years later, but I do keep watching for this one, and if I do come across it, I WILL make a note.

Incidentally, to give you an idea of the credibility of the tale of  the cat being run over the first time it was released, I might add that the stories about this project report a cost to the CIA ranging from less than $10 million to over $120 million before it was cancelled.

Some say…

The Soviets were preparing countermeasures.

Serious Cat

30/04/2019 Posted by | Cold War, Lost, Surveillance | , , | Leave a comment

More fun for the mindless – ‘Heritage Crime’ is added to their list of hobbies

I’ve been watching the slow but steady increase in reports relating to crimes against historic sites and artefacts over the years.

I’ve been able to see this for myself as sites relating to World War II and the Cold war are vandalised and burnt-out, while anything more recent (such as memorials) has become a handy resource for metal thieves, who don’t like the idea of dying if they steal wiring from high voltage substations and train lines.

I’ve revisited some sites (which I might add are in isolated locations and can be hard to find) which were complete, intact, and well-preserved at my first visit, only to find they’ve been broken into, vandalised, and stripped, even if the contents have no real value. It’s enough gratification for the morons involved just to destroy them.

This increase has become noticeable, and is now in the news.

A campaign has been launched to raise awareness of “heritage crime” in Scotland.

It follows a series of vandalism attacks on ancient monuments such as St Anthony’s chapel in Edinburgh.

The Crimestoppers charity said such incidents were on the rise and that the cost to the public purse was thought to be “significant”.

It is now calling on people to report offences like graffiti, metal theft and fire-raising anonymously.

What is heritage crime?

Crimestoppers said heritage crime was when historic buildings, monuments and shipwrecks are criminally damaged. This can include:

•Fire-raising

•Anti-social behaviour

•Theft, including metal theft

•Metal detecting on scheduled monuments

•Recovery of objects from protected shipwrecks

•Undeclared treasure trove or salvage

•Illicit trade in antiquities

Fresh bid to tackle growing ‘heritage crime’

An example

The level of violence vandals will employ to destroy something, or gain access to a closed space is not limited, and even robust sites will be attacked.

Take this example I came across a while ago.

Compare my first pic taken in around 2001 with the second taken by another visitor to the same site some years later, in 2007.

Hatch 01

Hatch 01

Six years later.

Hatch 07

Hatch 07

18/04/2019 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian, Cold War, photography | , | Leave a comment

The Cold War – probably a better legacy than Glasgow 2014

The Cold War is always a handy fallback for politicians to get their names in ‘print’, and this week some of them decided to don their ‘Outraged’ hats and dig up some old stuff, and make it look as if they were ‘Doing Something’.

It’s always nice if you can kick a ‘Soft Target’ you know can’t fight back, and I’d say that’s the case here, as some politicians decided to resurrect the rather old story of the UK’s stored fleet of nuclear submarines, as if they had just discovered something ‘New’, and should be praised for being so diligent and caring.

In reality, they win either way, running the story they did, and jumping up and down while whining about the ageing boats being stored, or alternatively (had the MoD embarked on decommissioning them years ago, when there was little experience or practical expertise to draw on), they could today be throwing stones at the MoD for not carrying out the decommissioning properly.

MoD under fire over fate of 20 retired nuclear submarines

Gets better…

SNP demands public inquiry on failure to scrap decommissioned nuclear submarines

Still, these politicians are probably right to stick the boot into the MoD now, as I suspect the decommissioning work currently being carried out at Dounreay will provide previously unavailable tech to make decommission the nuclear boats practical in the near future, and they will lose their chance to score more ‘Free Brownie Points’ when that eventually happens.

More interestingly, and probably more use than the endless whining of politicians, the National Archives has started its season: Britain’s Cold War Revealed.

Launching on the 4 April with the opening of our brand new exhibition, our Cold War season explores the impact of the Cold War on Britain, in the corridors of power, in hidden government bunkers, and on daily life in the home. Discover the real evidence of what happened during this turbulent era of secrets and paranoia. Immerse yourself in the shadowy world of espionage, learn how menacing the Cold War became, and witness the experiences of the generations that lived through it.

More here: Britain’s Cold War Revealed

They also run other current events related to this, which can be found in this listing

This is when I miss the days I got to work down in London every few months, and could take the time to catch various attraction down there.

I just can’t afford to do that trip myself now, just for fun.

05/04/2019 Posted by | Cold War | , | Leave a comment

Today is Chocolate Mousse Day

03 April is Chocolate Mousse Day.

I don’t know how many ‘chocolate days’ we’ve had already, but apart from having to stop to write a post… I’m not complaining (I’m just enjoying).

Deeply rich, a thick creamy substance of that most decadent of flavours, chocolate.

In French, ‘mousse’ means ‘foam’, and that’s a pretty good description for this dessert, light and frothy, or creamy and thick, depending on how you prepare it. The origins of this delicacy are largely unknown, although it is known to have been a popular dish in 18th century in France. But the first written record of its appearance is said to have been found in an exposition in New York City in 1892.

I’d only say one thing…

Keep it simple!

Too often I’ve had chocolate mousse wasted by having to many ‘extras’ added, or things with rough textures.

More chocolate never goes amiss, but it has to be a chocolate cream, or very soft melt-in-the-mouth chocolate flakes.

Fresh cream or a really smooth custard usually doesn’t go wrong either.

Simple Chocolate Mouse

Simple Chocolate Mouse

03/04/2019 Posted by | Cold War | | Leave a comment

Today is Black Forest Cake Day

28 March is Black Forest Cake Day.

Rich layers of chocolate sponge cake held together with a whipped cream filling and an assortment of cherries, then coated and topped with more of the same.

Thank goodness we can refer to it as Black Forest Cake (or gateaux) rather than its formal name of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte – people would probably die, or suffer terrible injuries, if we had to wrap our tongues around that before getting to our treat.

It seems a true Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte is made using a rich liquor that comes from the region for which it’s named Schwarzwälder Kirsch(wasser). There a variety of tart cherries which gives the spirit its unique flavour is grown, and this, in turn, provides a notable and local flavour to the Black Forest Cherry-Torte.

This cake is said to have first appeared in Schwarzwälder (The Black Forest) in 1915 – at least according to Josef Keller, who told this until his death in 1981. Accurate or not, it seems the cake was linked with Berlin by 1931, from where it spread throughout the world to become the famous and recognizable treat known today.

There is also a simpler Swedish variation, consisting  of layers of rich chocolate and whipped cream. This Schwarzwaldtårta is completed by being decorated with rich slivers or plates of chocolate and dusted with cocoa powder to make another delicious treat.

It may not have any relation to the cherry-torte, but who cares?

Those recipes were made to be enjoyed, not argued about.

Black Forest Treat

Black Forest Treat

For what it’s worth, as far as I’m concerned this cake should be soft, sloppy, and messy, to be at its best.

I’ve had this presented as very expensive slices of gâteaux in posh restaurants, where the sponge was like cardboard, the cream was like wax, and the fruit was really fresh – so fresh it would have been nice if they had left it to ripen for a few more weeks!

28/03/2019 Posted by | Cold War | | 4 Comments

Albanian bunkers of the Cold War

Apart from any other irritating diversions I’ve enjoyed recently, I ended up with too much spare time, and too little paint to watch drying.

This let me reflect on the gradual disappearance of items related to the Cold War, said to have ended in 1989 (but I think really just changed to something else (unfortunately MUCH less obvious and observable, but just as dangerous), together with many of the people I used to be able to exchange comments and observation with on the subject.

That process was so gradual I didn’t really notice it happening, but have realised that all those people seem to have disappeared completely – no contact responses, plus their emails and nearly all their related web sites have gone, or gone dormant (no changes for years, if they are still online/visible).

One aspect that came up in the past was how some countries really embraced nuclear bunkers.

Not the type we would recognise in the UK, or perhaps the US, Russia, or even Canada, and related to government or mass population, but smaller structures, more associated with individuals, or families.

I’d all but forgotten about them, and how pervasive they were where they appeared, and it was nice to see this article about a book of photographs showing what happened to those in one country.

Photographer Robert Hackman has created a photo book that documents the many bunkers that were built in Albania between 1975 and 1989 amid fears of the Cold War.

Estimated to number up to 500,000, some bunkers are in states of dereliction or have been converted into cafes, homes, restaurants, swimming pools, barns, bridges and water tanks.

The Albanian bunkers built in the midst of the Cold War

I’m not a great traveller (and I certainly don’t have the funds to support this sort of fun), but I’d kind of like to be able to go look for stuff like this today, just to see what survives.

Hopefully this sample pic will give you an idea of the size of these things.

Albanian Bunkers Pic Credit Robert Hackman

Albanian Bunkers Pic Credit Robert Hackman

Britain’s remains from World War I

This reminded me of an article run just after the turn of the year, which reminded me of an explore I actually almost managed to make some years ago.

I’d been making quite a few work-based trips down to London, which had to be completed by car as I was ‘hand-carrying’ some fairly sensitive electronic gear which could not be entrusted to a carrier, or even someone not technically competent in handling the kit.

As I had to do this at least twice per annum, and each trip was double (I had to take the stuff down there, then go collect it a few weeks later), so I always organised it for the end of the week, so didn’t have to return immediately.

While I managed to visit a few interesting places on the south coast (of England) I never quite managed to create an effective route to the south west coast, which is surprisingly further away from the Glasgow-London route than it looks.

Unfortunately, while working on the best route for this trip, that particular piece of work came to an end – killed by ‘modern’ electronics and the retiral of the old precision gear we used to use.

Denge Sound Mirrors

Denge Sound Mirrors

They’ve appeared on some TV programmes, but not recently, and seem to be forgotten again.

I’d liked to have seen them up close.

It’s also a shame they were rendered obsolete by RADAR, so never benefited from any development work.

They weren’t particularly successful or effective (apparently), but didn’t benefit from any electronics (at least not as far as I’m aware), being dependent on stethoscopes and tubes to carry the sound to an observer.

Being made of concrete didn’t help either, as it would have been hard to build many prototypes quickly, to determine the best design to develop.

That said, later pics can be found of portable devices (at least if you had a trailer) which were intended for use in the field, and had huge trumpets which were pointed skyward to listen for aircraft.

Maybe it’s just as well RADAR came along!

24/02/2019 Posted by | Cold War, photography | | Leave a comment

The Doomsday Clock is stuck at two minutes to midnight – If you have anything left on your bucket list, do it now, because the world is close to annihilation

If you have anything left on your bucket list, do it now, because the world is close to annihilation. That’s according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Check the current Doomsday Clock here.

I can’t believe I see this as ‘Good News’, but with the Orange Moron still somehow in power in the US, we can only be thankful that the clock has not moved CLOSER to midnight.

As one who ‘came through’ the Cold War and has been to various nuclear bunkers that were active during their lifetime, it’s one of the saddest things to see that this clock spent most of that period so far from midnight, yet has now moved so close.

Perhaps there is some truth or wisdom from those who said the Cold War was actually a ‘Good Thing’, as it kept minds focussed on a common cause (to somehow end it), and that its demise was not, in fact, the great thing many hailed it as.

Little point in me wasting time rewriting this, a quote is all that is needed…

The “new abnormal” the world is facing from risks like nuclear war and climate change has led the symbolic Doomsday Clock to be frozen at the closest it has ever been to midnight.

The clock, created by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) in 1947, intends to warn of impending disasters.

Its 2019 setting was announced on Thursday – staying in the same perilous position it was set at last year.

The BAS has warned we are “normalising a very dangerous world”.

It marks only the third year the clock has been so close to midnight – first reaching the position in 1953 after the US and the Soviet Union tested highly destructive hydrogen bombs.

Why has it stayed the same?

In Thursday’s announcement in Washington, representatives from the Bulletin said the clock’s maintained position was “bad news indeed”.

Doomsday Clock frozen at two minutes to apocalypse

2019 Doomsday Clock

2019 Doomsday Clock

Comments on the ‘time’…

“Though unchanged from 2018, this setting should be taken not as a sign of stability but as a stark warning to leaders and citizens around the world,” BAS President and CEO, Rachel Bronson, said.

“This new abnormal is simply too volatile and too dangerous to accept,” Ms Bronson warned at the unveiling.

Former California governor Jerry Brown, who serves as BAS executive chair, also cautioned: “We’re playing Russian roulette with humanity.”

The group cites nuclear weapons and climate change as the two major ongoing threats to mankind – and warned their risks were being “exacerbated” by the “increased use of information warfare to undermine democracy around the world”.

Herb Lin, a senior research scholar for cyber policy and security from Stanford University, spoke about the particular risks from “fake news” at Thursday’s announcement.

“It’s a terrible world in which rage and fantasy replace truth,” he cautioned.

I think of my own observation, where those who spread the worst ‘rage and fantasy’ do so under the guise of ‘Free Speech’, which they claim as a ‘right’, and avoid all references to ‘responsibility’, as that aspect does not suit them.

See the disgusting Alex Jones and his toxic Infowars project to get an idea of what I have in mind.

Can’t wait for next year’s number – if we’re still here.

24/01/2019 Posted by | Civilian, Cold War, military | | Leave a comment

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