Friday, 25 September 2009

Reflecting on Sunlight

There are some beautiful pictures, here, of the solar power plant in Sanlucar la Mayor, Spain. Reading the captions, I found myself wondering whether the amount of electricity to control the plant and move the mirrors so that they tracked the sun was less than the amount the power plant produced. I figured that nobody would be stupid enough to design and build a power plant that consumed more energy than it produced. When I arrived at the tenth and final image, the caption informed me that "Andalusia is one of the sunniest, driest spots in Europe, with an average of 1,500 hours of sunshine a year". 1,500 hours is an awful lot isn't it? The problem is, do you know how many hours there are in a year? It is 8,760. That means, assuming that this plant is capable of working all the time the sun shines, that the electricity is produced for just 17.1% of the time. Assuming the electricity is only needed during daylight hours, it still only produces electricity for 34.2% of the time. What bloomin' use is that? Can you imagine anyone in the Dragon's Den having a good reception when they revealed that the device they are attempting to market only works during daylight hours and then for only the one third of those hours when the sun chose to shine? When they say that it will provide the electricity for 180,000 homes, equivalent to the needs of the city of Seville, they don't say that they only do it for an average of four hours of every day. I wouldn't want my freezer to be relying on their electricity.

Not surprisingly, the plant was built with the help of 5 million Euro from the EU's 5th Framework Programme (no, I hadn't heard of it either). The EU seems keen on projects like this as illustrated by the EU Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs', comment that "These new technologies give Europe a new option to combat climate change and increase energy security while strengthening the competitiveness of the European industrial sector and creating jobs and growth,". Creating jobs and growth with four hours of electricity a day? I despair.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Today's the Day

I couldn't let this pass without comment, today in 1752 was September 14th however yesterday in 1752 was September 2nd. It was the day that the British Empire skipped eleven days in order to change to the Gregorian calendar.
It is called the Gregorian calendar after Pope Gregory XIII who described the new calendar in a Papal Bull issued on February 24th 1582. Spain, Portugal, Italy and France, amongst others, all adopted the new calendar before the end of the year. As you can see it took 170 years before Britain decided to adopt the calendar that we still use today.
Lady Day is on 25th March and was, prior to 1752, the first day of the New Year. This meant that, for example, 24th March 1700 was followed by 25th March 1701. This was the day that debts were settled and, in particular, the tax year finished. It was decided that the loss of eleven days in September 1752 would unfairly shorten the tax year so it was moved back to the 5th April which remains to this day as the end of our tax year.

Friday, 11 September 2009

I Don't Understand Polar Bears

I am having problems understanding this article in today's Daily Telegraph.
This graph shows the extent of the sea ice in the Arctic. As you can see it goes up in the winter and down in the summer. This year seems pretty consistent with the previous years this century.
This graph shows the daily mean temperature north of the 80th northern parallel, as a function of the day of year. The blue line is at what we call 0 Celsius. AS you can see there are only about 80 days of the year when the temperature gets above freezing.
This chart shows the status of the populations in 2005 and is the most recent I can find. Of the nineteen sub-populations five are declining, five are stable, two are increasing and there is insufficient data on the remaining seven.
What conclusion would you draw?

I'm Sorry

Dr. Alan Turing has long been a person I admired. Not surprising really given that he became an eminent person in the two disciplines I enjoy, namely mathematics and computing. I read Andrew Hodges biography many years ago, in fact my first cat was called Enigma after the title of that book, Alan Turing: The Enigma of Intelligence*. I have visited Bletchley Park on numerous occasions. In short I am fairly familiar with Dr. Turing's life.
Today I wake up to hear that the Prime Minister has written an article for the Daily Telegraph in which he apologises for the way Dr. Turing was treated. What nonsense is this?
I fail to see how one can say sorry for something that one has not actually had any part in. In fact Mr. Brown makes it worse by saying "we're sorry" as if he is speaking for me. He is not. I might regret the way that this country treated Dr. Turing but how can I possibly apologise for it?
This politically correct diatribe includes the phrase "his treatment was of course utterly unfair". What definition of unfair is Mr. Brown using? Not one that I can make any sense of. He was tried and found guilty of a crime. The fact that we no longer consider his actions to be criminal doesn't mean that he was treated unfairly.
Mr. Brown's apology is misguided and pointless. It is a waste of time to apologise to a man that is dead, where there are no surviving members of the family and the speaker has had no involvement in the act being apologised for. The words that sum up this folly are vacuous, illogical, misguided and a complete and utter load of bollocks waste of time.

* The version available today appears to have a shorter title, Alan Turing: The Enigma.

Friday, 4 September 2009