I’m over half way through a masters in renewable energy.

I keep reading or hearing comments like:

“Wind farms are NOT the answer to our energy needs.”

And I think, “Yes you’re right”. No serious proponent is suggesting wind power can in the near future supply all our energy needs. It is theoretically possible for the UK to extract enough energy from the wind to cover our entire energy budget. But there are practical difficulties- not least the fact the balancing of supply and demand. However there are already mechanisms and strategies in place to balance power on the grid, and cope with expected and unexpected spikes. Estimates are that the grid with these existing measures can cope with up to 20% penetration- that is 20% of our total energy use could be supplied by wind.

We are nowhere near that. There is not a rampantly aggressive and uncontrollable drive to build more and more wind farms to the point of our energy system relying too much on them.

The other thing I hear is:

“Wind farms don’t work”.

And I think, “Er in what sense?” Newspapers like The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph simultaneously complain about how wind power is highly subsidised and that it also doesn’t generate very much electricity. These complaints are contradictory if you’re talking about the same wind turbines. There are financial mechanisms to balance the playing field between old, established technologies like combustion, with newer technologies that have not been around so long that experience has honed the designs and reduced the costs. But these mechanisms, call them subsidies if you must, only work if you are delivering useful energy to the grid. If your wind farm is not working, you are losing money, and the companies developing and investing in wind farms are not in the business of losing money.

The problem is that despite energy efficiency messages, our energy use per capita keeps on rising. And our generating infrastructure is ageing, at its heart is a bedrock of decades old coal-fired generation that must be taken out of service some time soon with little prospect of an economically viable upgrade.

Energy efficiency and responsibility should be playing a key role, but there already a lot of effort spent on encouraging this that falls on deaf ears. Part of the problem is that people read and hear messages on energy use with words like “our”, “us” and “we”, and read it as a lecture from someone using words like “your” and “you” with a superciliously holier than thou attitude. Requests for people to take a little responsibility and care are often received as if they are being asked to make unreasonably herculean efforts, or drag our lifestyles back to the stone age.

Wind power cannot be the answer, it cannot solve all our problems. But it has a role to play in moving us to a more sustainable future.

I was just thinking right now about a rather odd turn of phrase. It turned up as a comment on an article about gaffes by Prince Philip.

Not gaffes, he is just not a signed up member of the PC Brigade.

Now while Prince Philip’s faux pas tend to raise a smile with me rather than anger or annoyance, I still recognize them as such. It wasn’t the suggestion of support for Philip’s behavior that rankled rather than the phrase “PC Brigade.”

It’s a widespread idiom, calling a group of people a “Brigade”. It usually seems to me to be a turn of phrase used by people describing a nice, positive form of behaviour or viewpoint that they don’t subscribe to. It seems to be an attempt to portray that nice, widespread quality as unusual and problematic. The use of the phrase “brigade” is almost always scathing, and an attempt to portray people that someone doesn’t like as a noisy and problematic minority. The brigade labelled is often trying to deny the fact that the attitude they despise is both positive and mainstream.

As Stewart Lee observes, Political Correctness is just a form of institutionalized politeness. Yes it can be done unthinkingly by idiots, but on the whole it is a positive thing that does more good than harm. Yes, I think there is a case to be made for humour that rises from offensive behaviour. But not for trying to make out that offensive behaviour isn’t offensive, or that those that are offended are kiljoys.

Using phrases like “The PC Brigade” and “The Human Rights Brigade” doesn’t make you look witty or down to earth, it makes you look like a loony and an idiot.

Yesterday, Saarland went to the polls. Saarland elects by a proportional list system, with the state split into three areas, any party gaining over 5% gets a share of the 51 seats.

As the opinion polls predicted the FDP Liberal party were wiped out, losing all five of their seats and going down from 9% of the vote to  1.2%. Their former partners in the coalition with the CDU, the Green Party were down 0.9% to 5% losing one of their three seats, and The Left were down 5.2% to 16.1% of the vote losing two of their seats.

The winners are the Christian Democrats- Angela Merkel’s party, who went up by 0.7% meaning they retain their 19 seats and their direct rivals the SPD (Social Democratic party) who didn’t do as well as the opinion polls predicted, but nevertheless went up by 6.1% to 30.6% giving them 17 seats. The big winners being the Pirate Party who went from nowhere to 7.4% gaining themselves 4 seats.

The Pirate Party in Saarland is a very young party, in terms of the time established, outlook and membership. Their leader is Jasmin Maurer who is 22 years old.

The CDUs leader in Saarland, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer now has to find coalition partners from their opponent groups.

Meanwhile the leader of “The Left” is blaming their losses on the pirates of stealing their votes, and the leader of the Free Democrats is putting their electoral collapse down to internal divisions.

(For a full list of all 11 parties competing see my post here).

Saarland, where I live, is just about the smallest state in Germany apart from the city states. In terms of population it’s actually smaller than Hamburg.

In January the ruling “Jamaica” coalition between Merkel’s CDU, the FDP, and the Green party  in the state parliament fell apart, meaning we have elections on Sunday 25th March. So every time I go to town I get pestered by political people, and have to say in my best German that I’m a foreigner and can’t vote.

There are *ELEVEN* parties contesting the election.

  • CDU
  • SPD
  • DIE LINKE (The Left)
  • FDP Liberals
  • BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN (Green Party)
  • The Family Party
  • NPD (I think the German BNP)
  • FREIE WÄHLER (Free Voters)
  • Direct Democracy Initiative
  • Die PARTEI
  • The Pirate Party

What I’m noticing is that they all have an allocation of A0 Posters on lampposts and on those posters only the FDP is going for negative campaigning. Well the Greens have a cartoon of a nuclear power station with the slogan “Tick tock tick tock” but it’s not a direct swipe at their opponents, it’s all about what they would do. The negative campaigning doesn’t seem to be doing the FDP any good, they’re on 1% of the vote, while the greens are only slightly down on 5%.

The other noticeable thing (to a foreigner) is The Pirate Party which here appears to be a sort of home for the more alternative people who in the UK would be members of the Lib Dems, is gaining votes. They’re actually polling higher than the Greens. And their slogans are nothing to do with IP, but more to do with votes at 16, family having multiple shapes (picture of a toddler with 2 dads), and the environment. And their best: “Don’t trust posters, inform yourself.”

Disinterested?

20/01/2012

There should be a word for what people mean when they say disinterested and don’t mean disinterested. Disinterested means something similar to impartial- you don’t have a view and can arbitrate the debate fairly. What people seem to mean is that they have an extreme form of negative interest in a subject. Uninterested doesn’t quite cover it, that seems to be to the concept of interested what amoral is to moral.

I’m talking about a vehement anti-interest that leads people to complain about the thing they lack interest in existing, and leads them to resent and despise people who are interested in it.

Hmm…

One thing that’s not being asked in this phone hacking scandal, is how did the hackers get into people’s voicemail? Is it some technically complex technique involving getting into the computer systems of the mobile phone network?

Largely, no. Much of the time people are accessing the mailbox in the same way a user can. When we get a new mobile phone account the voice mail is programmed to a default setting, including a default password with which you can “manage” your voicemail from a landline. A lot of the time voicemails were intercepted by journalists and investigators trying their luck with default and guessable passwords. It’s probably not the only way voicemails can be access, but it’s by far the easiest one.

The blame for the hacking, of course, lies firmly with the private investigators and journalists that accessed the phones, and the editors who either condoned the techniques or accepted stories with dubious sources without asking sensible questions. But there are ways that people can minimise the risk. Simple ways.

The message here is: set the pin on your mobile phone. Don’t rely on being to boring for anyone to take an interest in, you never know how things may turn out. Don’t rely on the media turning over a new leaf either, there will probably always be someone devious enough to try this trick on you.

Television. Television pictures are made of a series of dots. Standard definition TV is about 580 lines by 780 columns, meaning your crystal clear picture is actually a grid of about 450000 dots, in red green and blue. Sit too close and you can see the dots that the picture is made up of- it’s recommended that you sit at least 6 screen diagonals back to get the best viewing experience.

So… what has this got to do with being a Doctor Who fan?

I think as who fans we can metaphorically sit too close to the screen. We can pay too close attention to the mechanics of the plots going on in front of us, rather than just sitting back and enjoying it as intended. Of course there is nothing wrong in examining the plots in such minute detail, people can and do get a lot of enjoyment about it. I do. But if we do this we must always be aware of what we are doing, and be prepared to take a step back and a deep breath. We must always bear in mind that we are subjecting an entertainment product to far deeper scrutiny that it can reasonably be expected to sustain. And we must be aware that in our close reading of the subject matter we will be prone to missing parts of the bigger picture, that will be plain to the viewer sitting back and enjoying the show.

It’s fine to examine the plots and discuss them at length providing we remain aware of what we are doing and don’t go on about plot holes and lazy writing which really aren’t there for the regular viewer. The worst conceit of many sections of Who fandom is to assume it is the core of the audience, rather than a statistically irrelevant subset of it. And most of all we shouldn’t get annoyed if someone enjoys the show in a different way to us.

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