Monday, March 28

Taxi drivers.

So I'm driving home the other night about three in the morning on pitch-black unlit roads in heavy fog. Real proper fog that stops you using your full-beam headlights 'cause they just bounce off the fog straight back into your eyes and it's like driving into a wall. Fog such that, even though I've done this drive a hundred times and know the road intimately, I regularly have no idea where I am.

And then I overtake this taxi. And the guy immediately starts flashing his headlights at me in a highly irritating way, so much that I begin to wonder if it's not a taxi after all but the police trying to pull me over. He's flashing so much in my mirrors I'm having trouble seeing. And then the guy floors it and overtakes and pointedly flashes his rear foglights at me. The message was clear: "Turn your foglights off, you moron."

In heavy fog.

What the hell is it with taxi drivers?

Wednesday, March 16

Don't panic.

When you want proper coverage of physics-related news, written by people who actually understand physics and engineering, turn to The Register.

Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now!

Japan's nuclear powerplants have performed magnificently in the face of a disaster hugely greater than they were designed to withstand, remaining entirely safe throughout and sustaining only minor damage. The unfolding Fukushima story has enormously strengthened the case for advanced nations – including Japan – to build more nuclear powerplants, in the knowledge that no imaginable disaster can result in serious problems.

....

all plants are now well on their way to a cold shutdown. At no time have their operators come even close to running out of options. No core has melted down and come up against the final defensive barriers: the safety systems did not come even close to failing, despite being tested far beyond what they had been designed to take. One person has sustained a small dose of radiation which need cause him no concern.

The whole sequence of events is a ringing endorsement for nuclear power safety. If this – basically nothing – is what happens when decades-old systems are pushed five times and then some beyond their design limits, new plants much safer yet would be able to resist an asteroid strike without problems.

But you wouldn't know that from looking at the mainstream media. Ignorant fools are suggesting on every hand that Japan's problems actually mean fresh obstacles in the way of new nuclear plants here in the UK, Europe and the US.

That can only be true if an unbelievable level of public ignorance of the real facts, born of truly dreadful news reporting over the weekend, is allowed to persist.

Spread the word. And if you doubt us on any of this, please read this excellent early description of the events, or follow the reports from the IAEA and World Nuclear News. Very few other channels of information are much use at the moment.


Fukushima update: No chance cooling fuel can breach vessels

Thus far there are no reports at all of anyone receiving a radiation dose with measurable health consequences as a result of the Fukushima damage. The IAEA previously reported that one plant worker had sustained a dose equivalent to about a month's normal background radiation: the US Navy has also said that personnel returning aboard ship from relief work on the quake-stricken coast had sustained similar doses. The Japanese government has carried out a massive programme of radiation checks among evacuees and WNN has reported that so far nine people have been found to have sustained measurable levels of exposure.

Iodine pills intended to prevent radioisotopic iodine from being taken up by the thyroid gland have been distributed to centres in the area. However the pills have not been administered so far as there is no indication of a need to do so.

....

Damage to the Fukushima reactors and possible health consequences from that certainly appear to be totally insignificant to the other effects of the disaster in Japan. One provincial governor has predicted a death toll of 10,000 in his region alone. The lesson to learn here is that life is not made more dangerous by having nuclear reactors, not even in quake- and tsunami-prone Japan.

Nonetheless the reactor situation in most cases continues to lead the international media coverage, nuclear firms have taken stockmarket hits and it is being widely speculated that nuclear build programmes worldwide could be affected.


A lot of the ridiculous scaremongering is trying to paint this event as nearly as bad as Chernobyl — history's second-worst nuclear disaster, they're saying. It is worth bearing in mind when reading such reports that, contrary to what you may have heard from your friendly local Greenpeace activist, Chernobyl caused fifty-six deaths and zero birth defects. Second-worst after that really ain't so bad.

Like The Register says, spread the word. The last thing the Japanese need right now is the worry of worse to come, based on nowt but ignorant fiction.

Tuesday, March 15

Irish road signs, again.

When you drive over the border from Ireland into Northern Ireland, there's a big sign warning you that speed limits are now in miles per hour. When you drive from Northern Ireland into Ireland, there's a big sign in English, French, and German warning you to drive on the left.

I can't figure out whether this is an incredibly subtle and clever put-down or just the stupidest damn thing on the planet.

Of course, there is the possibility that the road planners of Ireland actually run a competition for Stupidest Road Sign Ever — it would explain a lot — and this is the winner.