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The Wonderful World of Three-Dimensional Printing

I started work in 1975, as an apprentice communications engineer. During that wonderful autumn, I spent my time happily cruising around the local area with my supervising engineer, learning the art of installing and repairing telephones to residential addresses.

In the sleepy West Sussex town of East Grinstead (which was reasonably affluent), and the surrounding villages, many of the houses were large, and a number of our calls were to fit extension phones, extension bells or small House Exchange Systems.

House Exchange Telephone, circa 1970

Several customers worked from home, and their business needs in terms of equipment were relatively simple. Most had a second telephone line, and extension phones running from each. Some had a Telex machine, and some even had a very basic facsimile machine.

A good old fashioned Telex machine, circa 1970

No computers – all documents were created using typewriters, and I saw anything from a basic “sit up and beg” manual machine through to upmarket IBM “golf ball” typewriters.

IBM Selectric Electric Golfball Typewriter

It may appear strange to think that a home office could be so simple.

Surrounded by high tech, virtually every modern home has equipment that would make a 1975 businessman green with envy.

Inkjet printers that deliver reasonable quality may be bought in your local supermarket for under £100, and a home computer (with a massive 1 Terabyte of memory) will cost only £279.00 from PC World! Wi-Fi connectivity, and the ability to stream feature films in high definition is now commonplace.

My first printer was a Canon Bubble Jet printer, which occupied a corner of my desk. It was hard wired to my very basic desktop PC.

My latest set up is a full colour laser printer, which is attached to my home network by Wi-Fi, meaning that I can send a print request from my iPhone or iPad from anywhere in the house. It also has its own email address, so I can even send a document to be printed from anywhere in the world – not that I see much demand for this feature.

Laser printers used to cost thousands. They can now be obtained for a few hundred pounds.

Advances in software and computer processing, and a good deal of lateral thinking has enabled the development of three-dimensional printers.

In a previous article, “What do Mars and Bicycles Have in Common?” I asked whether science fact followed science fiction, or vice versa.

One of the original “Pulp Sci-Fi” magazines that my dear old Dad used to read, and give to me… 2/6d (12.5p)

It seems that in the case of three-dimensional printing, fact followed fiction.

The first documented reference to three-dimensional printing, (as far as I can prove) was made in the Sci-Fi story entitled “Tools of the Trade”, written by Raymond F Jones, and published in the November 1950 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. In the story, the author describes 3d printing as molecular spraying, but the principle was similar to what we now commonly refer to as 3D Printing.

During the early 1970s, a patent was filed by Johannes F Gottwald which described the principles and processes of 3D printing using liquid metals to form reusable structures, however, the technology and materials to develop the concept was unavailable.

It wasn’t until the 1980s, that the concept of 3D printing was seriously considered, and a number of early prototypes were under development from different designers and printer manufacturers.

As the technology was in its infancy, costs were very high – a basic 3D printer in the 80s would have cost upwards of 300,000 US$ (£217,000). In today’s money that would be in the region of 742,000 US$ (£539,000) – so not a realistic proposition for a home office.

By 1993, however, 3D printers using inkjets that sprayed liquid polymers were being manufactured, and by the 2000s, the technology was being developed and refined, and industrial applications were launched that enabled metals to be printed.

Think for a moment, about the way that many metal items are manufactured. Molten metal may be poured into a mould, and the resulting casting must be machined to create the shape of the part required. This is normally performed by using lathes, milling machines under computer control, from a computer-produced 3D design. (CAD/CAM – Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing).

This may be referred to as subtractive manufacturing, where unrequired material is machined away, leaving the part completed. Whilst the waste product may be recycled, this takes effort, and incurs cost.

On the other hand, using a 3D printer to produce a part, say an engine mounting bracket for a car, is an additive manufacturing process, where the part is created from nothing, and built up in the correct shape, layer by layer.

No waste, and incredibly flexible, the 3D printing process allows complex shapes to be created in one hit, rather than a number of different milling machine processes.

3D printing is rapidly penetrating all sorts of new markets, some of which may surprise you.

How about 3D printed food?

Sound crazy?

Maybe not – several companies have developed 3D printers that print Vegan “Steaks” using vegetable proteins. If a mass-produced artificial steak has the same texture, taste and appearance as an animal steak, then many people may switch to the alternative, which may be better for personal health in terms of eating less red meats.

From a sustainability perspective, globally, livestock produce 14.5% of climate change gases, so if meat consumption may be reduced, then there would be a proportionate reduction in intensively farmed cattle.

A 3D food printer which uses plant proteins as ink, and mimicks the texture and taste of meat….https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giuseppe_Scionti

Would I try one?

Yes, without a doubt, and if they truly were a realistic alternative, and didn’t taste like Linda McCartney’s sausages, then I would no doubt enjoy the experience.

What else then?

How about using a 3D printer to build a house? Already, large scale 3D printers exist that extrude concrete, and 3D house are now being built as new developments, particularly in the USA.

This is quite groundbreaking, and an exciting development. Printed homes can be simply built in a fraction of the time that a conventional house takes. 3D printers can not only build floors, and walls, but can precisely extrude integrated channels for utilities, and mould ducting for air conditioning and electrical services.

A Concrete 3D printer constructing the walls of a building. How cool is that?

They also require far less labour to construct and are considerably cheaper than a conventional home of the same size.

The medical industry is also interested in 3D printing. Imagine being able to print a tablet which contains multiple medications, custom built for each patient. Instead of taking several tablets, a single multi-purpose pill could control a variety of medical conditions.

Imagine constructing an artificial heart, made of medical proteins and stem cells to recreate an exact replica of the patient’s original?

Prosthetic limbs printed quickly that precisely match a patient’s physiology!

Severely burnt individuals treated by repairing damage using artificial skin contoured and printed using a 3D printer delivering layers of bio-ink…

Science fiction?

No – Science Now!

Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh USA) have printed a 100% accurate replica human heart, which exhibits the same levels of elasticity as human heart tissue. Only as a pilot project so far, but this technology can and will take off.

A 3D printed human heart – Pilot now, future of transplants? Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University PA USA

So, from the humble inkjet printer for bashing out a letter to Great Aunt Maud, to printing a three-bedroom house, 3D printing is here to stay.

Thank goodness for technology, eh?

Go Well…

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What Do Mars and Bicycles Have in Common?

It’s a lovely day.

The sky outside is an impossibly brilliant blue, with just the occasional cloud to add texture and remind me that nature is hard at work, even if I am not.

This is an absolutely perfect day for flying. Definitely VMC (For my non-aviation friends and readers, that is Visual Meteorological Conditions, meaning that navigating and staying in control of the aircraft is performed by looking out of the windscreen – rather than flying in cloud or above the cloud, thereby having to fly by using the aircraft instruments, known as Instrument Meteorological Conditions).

The perfect day for a fifteen minute trundle over to the airstrip, to pull my aircraft from the hangar. A quick but thorough pre-flight inspection, and then away up into the sky, to meander through the air, with no particular place to go.

Maybe a leisurely buzz south to the coast, then east to Beachy Head, and then back over the sunlit rolling chalk and downlands that make up large swathes of Sussex and Hampshire.

So, why then, am I sitting here in my den, hammering an article into my keyboard.

Well, for one thing, my aeroplane is currently being reassembled after a major rebuild. It’s sitting forlornly in the gloom of the hangar, its wings rigged, and its engine and systems all fitted. However, with no flight control surfaces rigged, she might as well be a boat.

Fully rigged, engine and systems up and running – but no flight controls…

Secondly, I am awaiting the arrival of the technician from Autoglass to change the windscreen on my car.

Travelling back home from work one afternoon, I thought that I had come under machine-gun attack, and the volley of stones that hit the screen might as well have been real bullets, as they plunged deep into the laminated glass, and with a noise like a pistol shot, three long cracks propagated across the screen.

A short phone call to my insurers and £75.00 lighter, and the windscreen would be fixed. It appeared that as I had previously had two chips repaired, this would be a brand new screen.

Well, I was expecting to have to make an appointment to drop the car off at a repair station, but no, it would be changed on my drive, and all in about an hour.

So, staying with the vehicle theme, some of you may have read my previous article on the levels of pollution that is caused by the interaction of car tyres on roads?

No?

It may be worth a read if you are interested in sustainability, climate change and pollution.

Vehicle tyres degrade with use, and the erosion of the tread causes the release of micro-particles that wash into waterways, and ultimately into the seas and oceans.

So, a new piece of space-age technology caught my eye.

My first exposure to NASA[1] was as a barely-ten-year-old boy watching the launch of Apollo 11 on the 16th of July 1969, and subsequently watching recorded footage of the lunar landing on school TV on Monday 21st July.

To say that I was awestruck was an understatement.  Subsequently I couldn’t read enough about space, and became an avid reader of the science fiction pulp magazines such as Astounding Science Fiction and Amazing Stories that my dear old Dad used to buy from the secondhand bookstall not far from the tube station.

I think that by the time I was 13, I had the complete works of the mighty Isaac Asimov on my bookshelves, and was familiar with all of the Sci-Fi greats; Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Philip K Dick.

A few days before the launch of Apollo 11, the BBC aired it’s first episode of Star Trek, and I had become a fan almost instantly.

The Crew of NC-1701 Starship Enterprise – Star Trek the Original Series

And I have been a real fan of quality science fiction (not to be confused with science fantasy such as the Marvel Superheroes) ever since.

There has always been, however, a blurring of the lines between science fiction, and science fact. Which drives which?

In Star Trek, (the original series) we saw Captain Kirk being presented with what looks like an iPad tablet for him to sign. Uhura, the Comms Officer wears what looks like an ancestor to a Bluetooth earpiece, and Motorola designed a flip phone that looked suspiciously like a Star Trek communicator.

Lt. Uhura, wearing her early Bluetooth earpiece… Photo Courtesy ViacomCBS

I have to admit, that I am REALLY looking forward to using a dematerialisation transporter. Imagine just setting the co-ordinates of a friend’s house in California, and hitting the button and arriving microseconds later.

A universal replicator that ends poverty, and makes the use of money totally redundant…?

I digress…

So, it seems that Science Fact is now about to follow what was Science Fiction up until a few decades ago.

The continuing exploration of Mars has been conducted to a great extent by the Mars Rover vehicles, which have been sedately pottering over the Martian landscape since 1997. Kitted out with sensors, cameras and communications equipment these vehicles have been surveying our nearest planetary neighbour.

Perseverance, the Mars Rover – Photo Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

In order to traverse the hostile terrain, the current rover, Perseverance, is equipped with six 52.5cm (20.7 inch) wheels made from aluminium and springy titanium spokes. The wheels are fitted with cleats for additional traction.

Well…

It seems that the NASA-developed tyre technology may be coming to a vehicle near you – well, initially, a bicycle near you!

NASA – Not just a Space Agency! Designers, Developers and Scientists

These highly advanced tyres are designed by the SMART (Shape Memory Alloy Radial Technology) Tire company, and manufactured by NASA using a highly elastic material called NiTinol+.

The Rover’s wheels – Light, and very robust! Photo Courtesy NASA/JPL-CalTech

Virtually all elastic materials will stretch, and then they may almost revert back to their previous shape and strength. Most will lose their resilience and potency – think of a well-used bungee strap.

The clever thing about the metal alloy used in the construction of Perseverance’s wheels is that it actually changes its molecular composition when it is flexed or distorted. Once no longer subjected to any loads, the material simply returns to its prior profile, and the molecules are rearranged to their previous composition.

Tyres constructed from this material would no longer need to have inner tubes, or be inflated with air – no more punctures, less weight, and the added strength of Titanium.

The outer surface of the “tyre” may be coated with a highly resilient synthetic rubber called Polyurethanium.

The robust nature of the tyre combination means that a SMART tyre will probably exceed the life of the vehicle to which it is fitted! There will be no risks of punctures, and deflations, no need to use sealants or carry a spare wheel.

In comparison to conventional steel, this new alloy, known as METL, is thirty times quicker to recover to its original profile. This made it ideal for use in the hostile environment and rugged terrain of Mars.

Now the good news!

These revolutionary tyres are about to be launched – initially for bicycles, which will enable further development to be carried out for heavier vehicles.

SMART Tire prototype clearly showing woven metal construction, Photo Courtesy SMART Tires

SMART Tires has already collaborated with the Micro-mobility scooter provider, Spin (owned by the Ford Motor Company) to develop tyres for electric scooters.

Currently, this is a small-scale project, but in due course, it will become a primary challenge for the $250 billion global tyre industry to adapt to and deliver. This will be driven, in part, by the ever more urgent need to reduce emissions of any kind.

SMART Tires aims to launch their range of tyres to the cycling community by 2022, and once in full production, will no doubt start developing wheel/tyre units for the automobile and motorcycle industries.

Prototype SMART Tyre designed for a bicycle – Photo courtesy SMART Tires

I imagine that the launch range of bike tyres will be expensive initially, and will appeal to only the upper echelons of competition cyclists, but the economy of scale will undoubtedly reduce prices to the level where they may be bought in your local high street bicycle shop.

So, in the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard…

“Make it so!”

Well, Maybe buy one of these after I have bought the tyres! If I have any cash left!

[1] National Aeronautics and Space Administration

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English Culture HEALTH internet Mobile Communications opticians Science Society Technology Vision Wearable Technology

A Book at Bedtime? Yes, but don’t use your iPad!

Following on from my most recent publication, one of my most loyal and long-standing readers (and good friend) commented that it was “A particularly (expletive deleted) gloomy blog today, Mr. Charlwood. Glass half empty is it?!!”

My Glass is never half empty – it just needs topping up regularly. Photo: Mark Charlwood©

OK, I admit that it was unlike most of my articles and was a little doom-laden, but I was, indeed, trying to make a point – and that is we really don’t take our personal data security that seriously.

During the text-based conversation that followed, we got around to talking about social media, and how much time it absorbs without our awareness.

When I used Facebook regularly, I could easily spend an hour and a half scrolling through my news feed, and commenting on friends’ activities and responding to posts mentioning me.

It shocked me when I analysed my Screen Time app on my Apple iPhone to see just how much time I was investing in what is, to all intents and purposes, a solo activity.

It seemed that I was spending 5 hours a day staring into my screen. To be fair, 2 hours of that was using the satnav function of the ‘phone in the car.

I hasten to add, that it’s not that I forget how to drive the 44 miles to work, but for updates on traffic, and route optimisation, but the Screen Time system still includes it in the tracking. I must remember to re-configure the Screen Time app so that it ignores screen use when I am using Waze.

So, 3 hours!

3 hours is a lot. Over 95% of that time was using Facebook. 2% was using LinkedIn. Luckily, Facebook was the only social media I really used – I could have been spending far more time if I also used Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat.

I stopped using Facebook three weeks ago. This was as a direct result of Facebook’s “bully-boy” tactics of denying both local and international news from being shared on its’ Australian service. This was pretty much the straw that broke the camels’ back. I had been getting increasingly uncomfortable with the way that the platform harvests my personal data.

Since then, the time I spend locked into my ironically isolated world, whilst I “engage” socially with my friends has reduced enormously.

My Screen Time has plummeted by 70% – and my daily average screen time is 2h 41m which includes 1h 54m of travel.

Screen Time app, resident on iPhones and iPads… Photo: Mark Charlwood©

I note that my most used apps are WhatsApp (soon to be deleted and replaced with Signal), Messages, Safari, LinkedIn, and Mail.
Not surprising really, as without the need to be locked into social media, I am spending time on the phone actively communicating.

It seems that I am not alone. My friend was also shocked that he was spending over four hours daily looking at his ‘phone screen. Like me, it seemed that he imagined his usage was “maybe an hour a day”

What was more shocking, according to him, was that he doesn’t use social media!

Having looked into this, my research suggests that 4 hours a day is about the average amount of time for adult individuals to spend on their smartphones. I’m pretty sure that all of these people would also be surprised to discover how much time they were spending locked in cyberspace, rather than existing in reality.

No man is an island… Or is He?

Since I discovered the true value of the Apple Screen Time function, I am much more aware of my device usage. The system is self-managing, and it’s simple to configure using the settings menu.

I also use an iPad, and a MacBook Pro computer, so I have set the system up to combine my usage across the devices, so that I get a true picture of how I am spending my time.

Apple iPad with Retina OLED display – Easy to Read, but not for a book at bedtime! Photo Mark Charlwood©

For those of you who use Apple products for the whole family, the app will even be able to show individual family members times, which would be useful to monitor the time that children spend on their phones or iPads.

There is an important factor to this, as there is well-documented and respected research that clearly shows that excessive use of computer screens may be injurious to health.

There are several aspects to this.

Firstly, the display screens of modern computers, smartphones, tablets and e-book readers are backlit by LEDs. This gives a crisper, brighter image, but at the same time emits powerful light in the blue colour spectrum.

Screens bright enough to see even in sunlit conditions Photo Courtesy Senado Federal under CCA 2.0

Fluorescent lighting and the newer LED bulbs being used for environmental reasons also emit light in the blue spectrum, as does the sun.

In our natural environment, the amount of light that we receive regulates our circadian rhythm – our sleep to awake cycle.

As the sun begins to set, the reduction in solar light eventually triggers the pineal gland, seated deep in our brains to produce melatonin, a hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle.

In most cases, the release of melatonin will cause the individual to fall asleep. As light levels increase at dawn, we wake up.

Melatonin not only regulates our sleep to wake cycle, but in vertebrates, it also synchronises seasonal rhythmicity, and triggers such biological factors such as the time to reproduce, and hibernate. Clever stuff from Mother Nature.

However, using our screens late at night (who hasn’t laid in bed watching a Netflix movie on their tablet?) interferes with our brain chemistry and makes it more difficult to fall asleep and may cause disrupted sleep patterns.

Blue light is also injurious to the retina, and a recent Harvard study concluded that the output of high energy blue light from modern screens may cause eye health problems.

The retina is located at the rear of the eyeball, and is made up of multiple layers of very thin tissue. The retina also contains photo-receptor cells which capture the images of what a person is looking at.

A small proportion of cells, known as Retinal Ganglion Cells are not used directly by our vision systems, but they do monitor ambient light levels, and feed this information into the brain to assist in controlling our circadian patterns (sleep/awake) and for controlling the light response of the eye pupil – dilating it in lower light, and constricts the pupil in brighter conditions.

Very clever!

However, High Energy Visible (HEV) Blue light may harm the retina. Some of the potential damage may be prevented by a group of cells known as the macula. The macula is a tiny yellow area in the eye which absorbs excess blue and ultraviolet light.

Should the yellow pigment become too thin, then blue light can bombard the retina.

The Harvard medical study suggests that after chronic exposure to HEV blue light, (overusing our tablets, phones, laptops etc) there will be a predicted rise in the number of age-related macular degeneration conditions, Glaucoma, and retinal degenerative diseases.

So…

Maybe we should schedule a sterile period each day, during which we have no interaction with our technology. Maybe dump Facebook? Instead of sitting slumped on our sofa, living our lives vicariously through the activities of others, we should go for a walk, or ride a bike.

Maybe use our phone to, dare I say it, make a voice call?

You decide!

Anyhow, just in case anyone finds this article too gloomy, here are pictures of a rabbit riding a motor-scooter, and a dear little fawn.

Go Well!

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Civil liberties Crime English Culture HEALTH internet Mobile Communications Politics privacy Science Security Society Technology Telecommunications Transport Vehicle Safety Wearable Technology Work

The Internet of Things – Friend or Foe?

Who likes history? If you do, then I invite you to take a little journey with me…

Cast your mind back to the early 1990s.

If you were one of the 10% of the UK population that possessed a cell-phone at that time, then you may well have owned one of these – a Nokia 1610.

The Nokia 1610 Cellular Telephone

It was a simple device – able to make and receive telephone calls, and send and receive text (SMS) messages. I was using this model of phone back then, and at the time it was regarded as one of the top phones available.

It had a tiny screen by today’s standards, and was quite bulky. The antenna, whilst small, was still an intrusion, and would often malevolently jam the phone into my pocket.

In 1996, 27% of the UK population owned a PC (In 2017, 88% of us had a computer at home). Mine was a Packard Bell desktop system that I bought from the now-vanished Dixons.

Packard Bell – The workhorse for the British Public in the mid 1990s, Bought from Dixons, long since gone from our High Streets.

I can’t remember how much the system cost me, but I do remember that I was entitled to a Freeserve email account, which I used for a good few years before moving over to web-based systems such as Outlook, Google or more recently Imail.

My home set-up was ludicrously simple. No passwords, or hunting for that elusive Wi-Fi router.

Just plug the Modem into the network port on the PC, plug the other end into the phone line using an adapter, and the system was ready for use.

Old-School. A dial up modem – Looked cool with flashing lights and that wonderful connection sound

Getting onto the internet though, was a whole different matter. This was the heady days of Dial-Up Internet.

Simply open the web browser, and hit the connect button. The auto-dialler inside the PC would dial the number for the Internet Service Provider, and once connected, you would have been treated to the squeals and squawks of the computers setting up the connection.

Ahh, Yes, I remember something similar!


Once connected, the upload and download speeds were truly awful. I well remember downloading a detailed photograph. It appeared line by line, and eventually, after five minutes or so, I got bored with waiting and went downstairs to make a cup of tea. I came back twenty minutes later – and it was still not finished.

Today, with fibre broadband, images appear almost instantaneously!

The internet was pretty simple too. Basic browsers that contained a multitude of adverts, and rather unsophisticated email. Shopping online was in its infancy – eBay had only been started in 1995.

So, the interconnected world really consisted of a computer, hard wired to a modem, and the embryonic world wide web.

The only real risk attached to surfing the web, was that of unwittingly downloading malicious software (malware) or computer virus.

The first computer virus was designed in the early 1970s. It was created as part of a research programme conducted by BBN Technologies in the USA.

Researcher Bob Thomas designed the programme to be self-replicating and was targeted at DEC computers that shared the ARPANET network. This virus was called Creeper.

Bob and his team then designed a programme called Reaper which, once released into the ARPANET, hunted out the infected machines, and then killed the virus by deleting it.

Obviously, breaking into computers was seen as a target of opportunity to the less honest members of society, and viruses started appearing more frequently.

Some were just mischievous, such as the Elk Cloner virus (written by a ninth grader in a Pittsburgh High School in 1981) which upon its 50th opening would display a poem, the first line of which was “Elk Cloner: The program with a personality.”

Others were more malevolent, and were designed to either destroy records and data from the infected computer, steal personal data, record website access passwords and log keystrokes. Ransomware enables the attacker to hijack a computer, and then demand payment to unlock the machine.

The resulting loss of public confidence saw the arrival of cyber-security, specialist organisations that analysed the emerging viruses, worms, trojans and malware and wrote anti-virus software, which could be loaded onto a computer and which could then subsequently scan it for infection and quarantine any suspect viruses into a part of the disc not readily accessible by the user, or by the system.

Fast-forward to 2021.

The internet has evolved – and BOY has it developed! If you are privileged enough to live in a developed country, you may already be using fibre-optic broadband, offering speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second.

According to recent UK survey Hyperoptic offer a 1GB service for an introductory offer of £45.00 per month!


This is jaw-droppingly fast. To put it into perspective, it would have taken about 3.5 days to download a 4K film (about 2GB) using a 56kbit dial up service.

My previous broadband was copper-wire based, and the fastest speed I ever achieved for a download was 8Mb/sec – and that same 4K film would have been delivered to me in 35 minutes.

My latest broadband is totally optical and is Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) and my download speed is a minimum of 71Mb/sec – that 4K movie is now mine in about 4 minutes.

One of the major advantages of broadband, is that unlike a dial up service, the system is “always on”. The old modem has been replaced with a router, which essentially does the same job, but additionally acts as a network hub, through which multiple devices may be connected simultaneously.

BT Hub – A home router, Wi-Fi enabled, with 2GHz and 5GHz Channels

Whilst is it possible to connect equipment to the router using a network cable, most routers offer Wi-Fi connection, and this allows several Wi-Fi/internet-enabled devices to connect to the internet simultaneously.

With a sufficiently fast connection, it is possible for SWMBO to watch a movie on Netflix, whilst I catch up with a friend on a video call, or listen to the internet radio.

Why am I rambling on about this?

Well, technological advances never stop, and there is much publicity about the new 5G (5th generation communications network) which will increase the speed and capacity of the internet even further.

In my previous article, “Who is Driving YOUR Car?” I explored the embryonic Intelligent Transport System, which relies on internet-enabled vehicles and sensors in the fixed transport network, communicating with each other to provide optimised traffic flows and traffic safety management.

This is only made possible with 5G communications and ultra-fast internet systems, and the Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things is the medium through which our emerging “Smart Society” will operate.

In essence, the IoT consists of items that have the capability to connect to the internet, and communicate and exchange data with other similarly enabled things. These “things” may have sensors, software and other systems to support their intended purposes.

It could be a device as simple as a smart lightbulb that is able to be activated by a smart assistant such as Alexa or Siri, or from a suitably equipped smartphone – located perhaps many miles away.

Such items are already used in intelligent Building Management and Control systems, which employ an array of interconnected sensors to monitor heat and humidity, occupancy levels, lighting, lifts (Elevators for my US readers 😁) and security within a building.

Intelligent Healthcare uses the IoT to monitor medical data such as cardiac performance and blood pressure, or blood glucose levels. This enables improved management of an individual’s medical conditions. Significant research is being conducted in this area, and there are already several emerging disciplines and specialities.

The Internet of Things is also used in industry and manufacturing, to monitor and control processes – making use of internet-enabled sensors.

We are now seeing “Smart Homes” being built, which use the same type of Wi-Fi-connected IoT devices to control home environmental systems.

Smart Home hub

I imagine that a fair percentage of you may well be protecting your property with Closed Circuit TV Cameras. It’s probable that most of these cameras will be Wi-Fi-connected to your home broadband – and from there out onto the web.

A Wi-Fi enabled Internet CCTV Camera – A hackers back door into your systems? Photo ©Mark Charlwood

Maybe some of you will have an App on your smartphone or tablet that enables you to remotely view the camera feeds.

Smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Homepod and Google’s Home are wirelessly connected to home networks, and are continuously monitoring their environment for their wake-up command (such as “Alexa”)

Smart doorbells enable us to see who is at the front door using integral video cameras and transmitting the footage over the internet via the home router and to an app on a smart phone.

Smart appliances, such as Samsung’s Smart Refrigerator now offer us the ability to manage our food.

Smart Fridge – Whatever Next?

An internal camera within the fridge compartment enables the user to view the contents by using a smart phone. The system will also monitor food expiry dates, without the door being opened, thus saving power.

Some models also enable groceries to be ordered via the fridge – a rather redundant feature in my opinion, as you can order your groceries online from your phone, tablet, laptop or PC.

Or, for the truly bold and adventurous – take a risk, and actually go into a shop and buy your groceries.

A large LCD screen is provided in order to display a family calendar, and if you really haven’t got enough tech in your home, it’s also fitted with a 5W Stereo sound system to play your favourite music tracks.

Poor Alexa… She may feel quite outranked by the domestic white goods!

Smart Washing machines are able to connect to the home network, and may be controlled remotely using an app, and are able to automatically sense loads, apply the correct dose of detergent, and add the optimal amount of water.

On some models, the best programme for the laundry load may be selected by filling in a few pieces of information on the app.

I’m sure it won’t be long before your garments will be fitted with a passive RFID tag, or a label barcode, and the machine will scan the items as they are loaded, and then set the correct wash programme.

Should an item that is not compatible with other items in the load be added inadvertently then the machine will inhibit the washing cycle from starting until the guilty culprit is removed.

No more business shirts stained girlie pink then!

Result!

As a society, we are all used to smart watches, and fitness trackers, (which all fall within the scope of wearable technology) and have become very complacent about the interconnectivity with our other tech.

And this is where the real problem lies…

Security MUST be one of your top priorities these days. I have removed my profile permanently from Facebook, as the platform discretely harvests everything I “like” and every comment I make. My preferences and personal data are then sold to other organisations, without my permission and regardless of the ethics involved.

Think about why Google and Facebook are free! There really is no such thing as a free lunch.

Most of you will already be protecting your data and PC behind an encrypted firewall, with passwords, multi-factor authentication, and PIN codes. In all probability, you will be paying for some kind of anti-virus protection which will (hopefully) prevent your data from being compromised.

The IoT makes this a lot more difficult.

The processing power inside some of the connected devices, and to an extent, their size may well prevent them from having all but the most basic of security protection – if any.

The CCTV you bought to protect your home may well be being used by the manufacturer, or a malicious hacker to access a backdoor into your router, from where it can monitor data passing up and down your comms link.


So, all of these innocent devices are hooked to the web via your router.

Lots of individuals I know never both changing the default password supplied with their devices, and will happily discuss bank details, finances, and other personal details within “earshot” of their smart speaker.

So, nasty hacker chap decides to wage an attack on his ex-employer. By harnessing the combined IoT devices of many households, and requiring all of them to connect simultaneously to the target company’s website will cause it to crash.

This is an extreme example of a Distributed Denial of Service Attack (DDoS), where innocent PCs and devices are hijacked to overload the target’s website.

Many large and respected companies have been attacked in this manner, despite having the financial clout and technical expertise to surround themselves with multiple layers of digital security.

In 2017, Google came under a sustained DDoS attack, originating from China, which, according to Google, lasted for up to six months.

In 2020, Amazon Web Services (AWB) was taken down for three days following a similar, yet more sophisticated attack.

Internet security expert Brian Krebs was attacked in 2016, when his website was assaulted by the Mirai botnet, executed by about 600,000 compromised and suborned Internet of Things – such as Internet CCTV cameras, home routers, and other simple IoT devices.

This may be the tip of the iceberg.

Cisco, the internet systems company predicted in its annual report (2018-2023) that sophisticated DDoS attacks will double from the 7.9 million in 2018 to 14.5 million in 2022.

Now the truly chilling bit…

In our increasingly technological world, we rely on the internet in so many ways – from grocery shopping to building control, from home banking to healthcare. Connected vehicles – not just cars, but ships, aircraft, tankers, trains.

As I have said, many of these devices are so simple and un-assuming, that we don’t regard them as a potential threat.

That simple fitness tracker that you wear all the time. The silly old fridge, just sitting there in your kitchen, keeping your food safe and edible. The CCTV that you use to monitor your car in the drive.

The ease and convenience with which you access your bank to pay a bill. The ability to have a video call with your dear old Mum from miles away.

And yet, in the stygian, gloomy murk of the deep, dark web, there lurk hackers, thieves, and criminals. Hackers who are willing to mount cyber-attacks from as little as 7.00 US$ per hour.

Foreign states, and terrorist organisations that are willing – and able – to hijack your IoT devices to wage an attack on society.

Imagine, if you dare – a world where the bad guys can hack into your car, and disable the brakes.

A world in which someone can access your pacemaker, and shut it down…unless you pay a ransom.

A world in which a hacker can eavesdrop on your home, and record everything that you say and do, and record everything about you?

It’s not as far-fetched and dystopian a reality as you think!

Go Well!

Categories
College Deafness English Culture Mobile Communications Science Technology Trains Transport Wearable Technology

Am I reading the Signs Correctly?

A sign of the times…

A few years ago, I had to attend a meeting in the London offices of the CAA, and rather than pay the congestion charge, and then fight it out with the city traffic, I decided to catch the train to Waterloo, and then use a Boris Bike to cycle the last mile to the office.

Boris Bikes – I love using these! Cheap, and only a seven minute cycle from Waterloo to Work!

It was a lovely sunny morning as I stood on the platform waiting for the 09:09 Liphook to Waterloo service.

The 0909 from Liphook to Waterloo. A mobile office – A mobile reading room…

The carriage that I boarded was almost empty, and I chose a table seat, and sat by the window, and took a sip of my coffee.

I smiled. I had bought my coffee from the young, attractive blonde woman who operated the coffee van outside the station.  

I had flirted outrageously with her, and she had charmingly flirted back, despite the fact that I am probably double her age (at least!). No wonder she always has a queue for coffees. She is always cheerful and happy regardless of the weather. And the coffee is great too, so a win-win for everyone.

The best coffee for a pre-commute journey, and served with a smile and a flirt… what more could a chap want for?

The Liphook train is never in much of a hurry to get to Waterloo. It meanders through Haslemere, Guildford and Woking, stopping at the many small towns and villages that constitute commuter-land.

By the time it clatters into Godalming, my carriage is starting to fill up. In compliance with the average Brits’ reluctance to engage with any strangers, many people passed through the carriage, despite the fact that there were three empty seats at my table.

Eventually, three young women shyly sat with me. I budged over to make room and reassure them, and fished my battered paperback book out of my bag. 

They all pulled files and folders out of their bags, and set them on the table, and busied themselves with their textbooks. Obviously, University of Surrey kids on their way to a lecture.

I returned to my book, and attempted to read, but something was not quite right.

It took me five minutes or so to realise that they were not making much noise, and I surreptitiously glanced over at them.

It suddenly struck me that these young women were all deaf, and were enthusiastically signing to each other – their hands moving constantly; some gestures as soft as butterflies, some more direct chopping movements.

British Sign Language being used to translate the Welsh Assembly’s COVID Briefing.

One of them caught me looking at her, and she fired a smile at me that was as bright as the sunshine pouring into the carriage, and I found myself disadvantaged in not knowing how to respond, and all I could do was offer a grin back. Embarrassing or what?

They departed the train at Guildford, still signing happily. I watched them wandering off up the platform as the train finally decided to recommence it’s groan towards Woking.

This did get me thinking. I had felt quite disconnected from three fellow human beings. If they had required my help, they would have had to write their request down, as I couldn’t sign, and I never heard one of them utter a single word.

I promised myself that I would learn British Sign Language one day.

Well, like most people, one day has still never come, and I still don’t know how to sign. 

Good news is now on the horizon, that will enable those who are unable to hear, to communicate with those that can’t “speak” in sign language.

It’s the white knight of wearable technology to the rescue!

There is now hope for easy communications between those that sign, and those that can’t. The communications barrier has finally been breached!

Recent research published in Nature Electronics shows that wearable technology is able to offer a highly accurate real-time translation of sign language into speech, and delivers translations that are about 99% accurate and with a translation time of less than a second on average.

To put it simply, Yarn-based stretchable sensor arrays (YSSA) are used to track the movements of the hand, and will monitor the position of fingers, thumbs, and the movement of hands through the air. 

These clever sensors are lightweight, cheap and highly sensitive. They offer stretchability and are durable and hard wearing, so they are ideal for incorporation into a wearable tech system.

Using artificial intelligence, and a specifically targeted algorithm it is possible to calculate the underlying meaning of the hand gestures and movements.

To put it simply, the sensor array is woven into a lightweight simplified glove, which flexes with the movement of the hand, fingers and thumbs. The movements of the glove generate electronic signals that are processed by the receiver and then translated into the speech equivalent.

To add even more accuracy, it was possible during the tests to stick a YSSA sensor to the side of the mouth, or near the eye of the wearer to monitor facial expressions, all of which are essential subconscious enhancements to language.

The Yarn-based Stretchable Sensor Array, in the form of a lightweight glove.

All of the data is then transmitted to a very small wirelessly-connected receiver which is worn on the body in an inconspicuous location. Once the data is received, it may be transmitted to a software application on a smart phone, and the “app” will convert the data to human speech and synthesise the words as audible and recognisable speech. 

According to the report, the system is 99% accurate, and has a gesture-to-word processing time of less than one second.

At the moment, the system is in its infancy, and is a bit agricultural to look at, but in time, it is possible that the components will be small enough and discrete enough to be worn confidently by a person with a serious hearing impairment.

It will also ensure that people like me won’t miss out on having our lives enriched by being able to converse easily with someone who signs.

How fantastic is that?

The photo that I have chosen as the cover image, is of a sculture on a wall outside a school for the deaf in Prague.

It translates as “Life is beautiful, be happy and love each other”

The sculture was created by Czech Zuzana Čížkové. Photo by ŠJù under CCA-SA 3.0

Go Well!

Categories
Charitable Agencies Charity Climate change Environment fashion HEALTH International Aid opticians Poverty Relief Recycling Society

Are We Being Ripped Off For Our Spectacles?

I was in my mid-thirties when I decided that I would make flying my profession, rather than a hobby. As I thought that there was no point in training for a Commercial Licence, I was going for the full monty – the Airline Transport Pilot Licence.

Being a naturally cautious person, I read up on the CAA’s Class One medical requirements, and thought that I would meet most of them, but before wasting the not inconsiderable fee, I decided to have an eye test at my local opticians.

It turned out that I needed some correction, as I was astigmatic, so I duly ordered two sets of spectacles (as required under the CAA regulations). Luckily, my eyes have remained relatively stable for many years, and I only needed infrequent changes.

When I did need a change of lenses, I used this as an opportunity to buy new frames – not that I am a dedicated follower of fashion – just that as my hair decided to part company with me, aviator-style teardrop glasses looked a bit odd.

As the years have gone by, my hairline has stabilised at what us aviation professionals describe as “bald as a billiard ball” but my prescription now changes much more regularly, with presbyopia adding to my astigmatism.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, it’s about waste, and sustainability.

I attended my annual sight test at the local branch of a well-known high street optician and, as expected, my prescription had changed, and I needed some additional correction.

Now, I paid a lot of money, relatively speaking, for my last set of glasses, and the frames were comfortable, lightweight, and suited me, as they sat comfortably under aviation headsets, and weren’t uncomfortable whilst wearing a motorcycle helmet.

“May I have these frames re-glazed with my new lenses?” I asked the sales assistant.

“Let me check” she responded, tapping away at her keyboard. Frowning, she looked up at me, saying “I’m sorry, but it’s more expensive to re-glaze your glasses than to buy a new pair.”

“These frames are only two years old!” I exclaimed, “and I like these ones.”

She squinted at the arm of the glasses, reading the name off. A flurry of further whacking on the keyboard, and she eventually looked up. “Good news – the frame is still a current model.”

“OK” I said. “How much?”

“”Well, for the first pair, with all of the lens options (Varifocals with photochromic tinted lenses, and anti-glare and anti-scratch coatings), it comes to £407, and the second pair with a plain lens is £165.00”

I thought about this for a Nano-second.

“No.” I said firmly. I needed to think about this.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

So, if spending almost six hundred quid on new glasses was the cheap option, and reglazing was more expensive, then I would consider cheaper frames. I didn’t have the time to select alternative frames that wouldn’t cost the equivalent of the GDP of a small country, so thanking the staff, I left to return home.

I thought about the incredible waste going on here. A perfectly good frame essentially being scrapped. Maybe this was a cosy arrangement with the opticians as the frames were their own brand and they were effectively influencing customers to buy new frames. New frames = better turnover = more profit.

A few days later, I was sitting at my laptop with a mug of tea in my hand, idly watching two Robins fighting in the garden. I realised that I was squinting, so I slipped my glasses on, which improved things a lot, but not 100%. This reminded me that I needed to do some research into the wastefulness of planned obsolescence in the optical trade.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that there is a solution.

I came upon a website called Lensology. Previously known as Reglaze My Glasses, this company specialises in fitting new prescription lenses into existing frames.

The company have no retail outlets, and are in fact an optical laboratory, producing lenses for the optical industry.

A bit of background here – consider this; The Association of British Dispensing Opticians reports that about 3.2 million pairs of glasses (which were no longer adequate due to prescription changes) were collected by their members annually. ABDO no longer collects them as the charity to which they were sent can’t make their collection financially viable any longer. Even so that is a lot of glasses.

Suppose that the average cost of a pair of glasses is £150. A staggering £450 million being thoughtlessly discarded.

Many spectacle frames are plastic, and contribute to the problem of global pollution and climate change.

Since 2010, a charity called Vision Aid Overseas collected these spectacles, which were then processed in order to raise funds for improving eye health in developing nations, such as Africa.

This would include recovering precious metals such as gold from spectacle frames, selling on appropriate frames to vintage and retro outlets, and recycling the other components such as lenses, and the metallic parts.

This was until august of this year, when the scheme stopped due to being economically unviable.

As a result, VAO report that many people will now just dispose of their redundant spectacles by throwing them in the refuse.

So, I decided to act, and get my perfectly adequate frames re-glazed with my new prescription.

Lensology’s process is ridiculously simple.

I registered on-line, and within a couple of days they sent me a flat packed cardboard box in the post. Filling in the enclosed form, I selected my lens type and my personal options (Varifocals, photo-chromic, together with anti-glare and anti-scratch coatings). and a copy of my optical prescription. The last thing was to email the company a photograph of me wearing my spectacles in order that they could measure my inter-pupil distance. This ensures that the glasses will be a perfect match.

I then put two frames into the box, and using their Freepost address, I popped it into the post.

The next morning, I received a friendly email from one of the staff at Lensology, who informed me that they had received my frames, and including a quote for the re-glazing of my frames.

The quote was exceptional. I could have my primary glasses with all the bells and whistles and a spare with just a plain varifocal lens for £334.75!

A saving of £237.25

I immediately placed the order, paying online, and a few days later, received my glasses.

The glasses were an excellent fit.

And the best surprise?

Inside the box, was a handful of chocolates.


This is, without doubt, the best way forwards. No waste, money saved, and chocolate.

Go well.

Mark Charlwood © 2020

Categories
Climate change Econonomy English Culture English History Environment HEALTH Nostalgia

Is it Possible to be Green and Clean?

People of my generation grew up in 1960s Britain. They will remember many things that were unique to their age group. I well remember the Saturday morning pictures at the local cinema, free milk at school during playtime, playing football in the street and the weekly ceremony known as “Bathnight.”

In many homes, this ritual was carried out on a Saturday evening, and lots of you will remember being ushered into the bathroom by Mothers or Fathers, where the white enamel bath would be a third full of steaming water. No bubble bath, no liquid soap.

I still remember the pungent smell of Wrights Coal Tar soap, and Vosene Anti Dandruff shampoo – with which my scalp was scrubbed, despite me not having the condition,

Sinking down into the hot water would be a relief from peeling off in the cold bathroom, and most of us would splash about, soap up, wash, dip their heads in the tub, and quickly shampoo and rinse. It was a process that would probably take less than 15 minutes.

A shivering, wet kid would then climb out of the bath, to be wrapped up in a towel that was as stiff and unyielding as a plank due to it being air-dried on the washing line.

A Typical Bathroom in the 1960s

A vigorous rub dry, followed by a dusting down with Yardley’s talcum powder and that was cleaning over and done with for a week, except of course for the normal wahing of hands after using the lavatory, or before eating.

Most of the older houses on the street where I grew up only had baths. Showers were seen by many as continental indulgences. Most of the kid’s growing up in the early 1960s experience of showers was limited to those that they used in the school changing rooms for use after sports, games and gymnastics.

School showers. Tepid water at best. Carbolic soap only. I hated these!

I seem to recall that the water from these feeble showers was only ever tepid, even in the deepest winters.

Coming back into the school after 90 minutes of playing rugby in the snow a hot shower would have been welcome.

OK for professionals – but only if there is HOT water after the game!

The world changes a lot in a few decades.

In 2014 a study conducted by the University of Manchester in the UK it was revealed that only 10% of Britons took a daily bath, 50% never used a bath, choosing only to shower, and 20% only showered or bathed every four days.

Using a bath as a means for achieving cleanliness has been replaced by using a shower.

Showers have been promoted as being far more economic and eco frindly, with claims that they use much less water and energy than that required for a bath and were quicker to use.

Many people regard bathing in a tub as a relaxing activity, enabling them to unwind, maybe read a book, maybe meditate with candles, or a peaceful respite to enjoy a glass of wine, and listen to music – all activites that can’t really be undertaken in a shower – unless you like watered down vino!

Now, lets look at the realities of this.

A recent study by Unilver which manufactures Radox and Dove personal hygeine products shows a different story.

Using dedicated high-tech shower-monitoring systems backed up by user surveys, the company analysed the bathing habits of 100 families over a ten day period. The sensors recorded when the showers were activated and for how long.

For a start, the average shower is about eight minutes long!

Eight minutes!!!!

I am in and out of the shower in about three and a half minutes. I favour the military style shower. Shower with hot water to get wet. Turn shower off and apply shampoo/body wash or soap (according to taste). Wash vigorously. Turn shower on and rinse off. Clean shower off, and dry myself with a towel. Dress, and ready to rock.

I have many fiends and family that stay with me who seem to prove the eight minute rule and in some cases double that, so this is no surprise to me.

The study reveals that an eight minute standard gravity-fed shower uses nearly as much energy and water as a bath. (62 litres or 13.64 gallons of water, compared with 80 litres – 17.6 gallons for a bath. This costs an average UK family of four about £416.00 per year (520 US $).

Ahh…. That’s more like it – with proper hot water too…

Using an electric power-shower for eight minutes uses up to 136 litres (30 gallons) of hot water almost the equivalent to TWO baths! This works out at £918.00 ($1147 US) per year for that happy UK average family of four.

So – this effectively demolishes the myth that showering is better for the environment than taking a bath.

The study also disproves the common argument that women and girls are unique in occupying the bathroom for long periods of time.

It appears that young males are the worst offenders for taking very long showers – with boys under the age of 12 taking around ten minutes on average to clean themselves up.

I wonder if this is a result of carrying frogs, toads, insects and other unspeakable items in their pockets?

If you assumed that it was teenage girls that hogged the bathroom, then you would be right.

Before they hit their teens, girls seem to be efficient shower-users, taking around six and a half minutes to wash.

The bad news is that by the time they metamorphose into teenagers, they will be taking nine and a half minutes in the shower – costing their parents £123.00 ($153.75 US) per year.

The ladies in our lives would appear to be the most efficient all rounders in the bathroom.

Whereas your typical bloke – me included, just showers for a sole purpose – washing, our ladies excel at multi-tasking (as usual), with many of them combining washing their hair, shaving and even cleaning their teeth!

Maybe its time to start taking shorter showers if we want to save energy?

You decide!

Go Well…

Categories
English Culture HEALTH Interview Living Organ Donation Organ Donor Organ Transplant Science

Giving the Ultimate Gift – The Gift of Life

A few years ago, SWMBO’s sister and her husband came to stay with us in rural Hampshire. They were taking a break from their round the world travels in their motorhome.

They had made their momentous decision to spend the rest of their lives travelling around the world, sampling local cultures and cusisines, scuba diving and backpacking – and all whilst doing this in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Trudy – Marianne and Chris’s home for their global trekking TREAD the Globe! Resting in my front garden.

This article isn’t intended to tell the story of their travels. That may be done by visiting their website Tread The Globe or visiting their YouTube channel here. I can say that they are definitley achieving what they set out to do.

Marianne and Chris Fisher – Now Wandering the World in Trudy. This is not how they normally dress….

This article is actually all about Marianne, my Sister-in-Law. (Sorry Chris!)

The word awesome is really overused these days. it seems that a nice meal is awesome. A film is awesome. Is this overkill?

When I use the term to describe Marianne Fisher, it’s actually well-deserved.

Why do I say this?

Well, Marianne took the astonishingly brave decision to become a living organ-donor, and gift one of her kidneys to a very seriously ill friend.

As she was staying with us, she was a legitimate (and captive) target for me and I used the opportunity to ask her a few questions about what was involved in her decision and with her permission to share it in an article on my website.

Marianne and SWMBO. Overlooking the river in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, UK

Now, I’m no Michael Parkinson or Jay Leno, but I think I managed to do a reasonable job…

A shaft of gloden sunlight streamed through the window, illuminating the compact living area of Marianne Fisher’s Motorhome, bathing us both in a warm yellow glow. Looking round the small area, I was having trouble visualising Marianne and Chris giving up all of their possessions and travelling the world in such a small vehicle.

For goodness sake! – my postman drives a bigger van!

Leaning back into the small sofa, Marianne smiled impishly, and said: “You better crack on then!” so I duly obliged and ‘cracked on’.

The first thing that I really wanted to know was what led her to make the momentous decision to become a living organ donor?

A serious look flits across her face, as she don’t switch tenses explaining to me that her long-standing friend – let’s call her Jane, had suffered from serious health problems for almost all of the thirty years she had known her. 

In a quiet voice Marianne continued, telling me that Jane had been the recipient of a kidney and pancreas transplant some eighteen years previously, but two years ago, the transplant started failing.

This resulted in her becoming diabetic, needing permanent regular dialysis. She had been placed into a medically-induced coma to increase her chances of surviving a successful medical intervention should another replacement kidney be found.   

“That sounds very serious – what happened next?” I prompted.

Regarding me levelly over the rim of her mug, she continued, explaining that there was another important factor that needed to be considered.

Jane was dying.

She was in such a fragile state of health, that a deceased donor was no longer an option, and only an organ from a living individual could be used.

Whilst Jane had a sibling, he too was in a fragile state of health, and Jane’s parents, whilst willing, were considered too old for the procedure to conducted safely.

Jane also had a fifteenyearold daughter, who would be left an orphan if no-one could be found.

Marianne appeared to brace herself, and told me that her own Mother passed away when she was just six years old, and that she subsequently went through a dreadful period which evidently still affects her today.

“I couldn’t let her go through that,” she murmured. So, she asked the medical team at Guys Hospital whether she could offer one of her kidneys to Jane.

“How did Chris take that decision?” I asked.

“I didn’t tell him at that point,” she said. “I needed to have all of the information before I wanted to discuss it with him.”

She went on: “I did tell him once I had that knowledge, and could answer his questions and needless to say, he was very concerned – not only for my safety but also for our family’s welfare.”

“Were you worried as well?” I asked, taking another gulp of my coffee.

She laughed. “Not at that point, because I didn’t really think it would happen.”

“So, you weren’t frightened by the enormity of what you were offering to do?”

She absently pushed the opened packet of Rich Tea biscuits towards me, and I welcomed the brief distraction whilst she gathered her thoughts.

She carried on, explaining to me that the transplant team at Guys Hospital were, “absolutely fantastic”, and took the time to explain patiently every aspect of the surgery, and to reassure her continually that she was able to back out at any time.

Guys Hospital – Treating the sick since 1721. Not in this building though!

“What worried you most about the procedure?” I asked.

“My biggest fear was that I would end up having to wear a colostomy bag should the operation not go as planned, or that I would react unfavourably to the anaesthetic.” .

The sun had begun remorselessly advancing towards dusk, and the shadows were slowly moving across the small dining area, as I asked how she had prepared for the other issues, such as only having one kidney left to survive on.

Drawing her knees up under her chin, she told me that she had conducted a lot of personal research into organ donation, and had checked things including post-surgical survival rates, bacteriological infection rates, statistics for Guys Hospital, and probably most importantly, whether she be able to continue to enjoy her passion of Scuba diving.

She also discussed all of this with Chris, who, whilst worried, knew that he was dealing with an unstoppable force – so fully supported her decision, as did her sons.

“So,” she summarised, “My boys were off my hands, and living adult lives, my chances of living life as normal were very high, and Jane was dying. So, I was going to do it.”

That is what happened. Marianne underwent surgery in August 2017. After a short time recuperating in Hampshire, she was soon given the all-clear to Scuba dive, and flew to Borneo that autumn to swim with turtles.

And Jane? 

Well, Jane is off dialysis, and is now actively improving her health with physiotherapy, swimming and enjoying quality time with her daughter.

Marianne stood, as if to leave. “One last question?” I asked.

She raised an eyebrow, saying “Go on.”

“What would you say to anyone who is considering becoming a living organ donor?”

Laughing, she said: “That one is easy. Talk to someone who has done it, as it’s a huge decision, and they will need lots of love, guidance and support.”

I picked my notebook up, realising that I hadn’t written a thing in it, and shoved it back in my pocket as I stepped down from the camper van, and walked back into the early evening sunshine,

The word awesome is not one that I use often, but in this case, it sums this lovely lady up.

Marianne – You Rock!

Go Well…

You can follow Marianne and Chris’s travels by visiting treadtheglobe.com

Categories
Climate change Corona Virus COVID 19 cruising Cycling Driving Ecological Electric Transport English Culture English Literature Environment HEALTH Motorcycling Motoring Society Trains Transport Travel Vehicles

If You Think Humanity Is Stupid Now, Keep Polluting and See What Happens…

Climate change.

We have been hearing about it in the news almost every day, until it was supplanted by other issues. The run-up to BREXIT, the general election, floods, and now the Coronavirus pandemic have made us all temporarily dump the issue and public attention is now fully occupied with the control of the global pandemic.

The mainstream media have highlighted the drop in climate-change gases – a direct link to a significant reduction in both travel and manufacturing following global lockdown.

From a planetary perspective, the drop is not highly significant and as soon as lockdown finishes, we will probably revert to our old ways very quickly. 

Having said that, I am hopeful that state governments will use the opportunity to consolidate some of the steps that have been taken to enable the use of alternative means of transport – making that small reductions permanent. 

We have seen cities around the world banning vehicular traffic from city streets, together with enhancing cycle lanes and pedestrian routes, making it easier and cleaner to travel.

Electric Bicycles – the best of both worlds – and you can take them on the train!

This is nowhere near enough, but at least it is showing that people can get around large cities safely without using a car or public transport.

All the media focus revolves primarily around the ever-increasing levels of air pollution that are triggering climate change, rising sea levels and rising temperature.

There is, however, an interesting health issue that lurks in the sidelines.

As a species, we rely on breathing air, from which we extract oxygen, and then exhale CO2, together with other gases such as Nitrogen and Methane, and some organic compounds.

In order for our bodies to function correctly we rely on our lungs to absorb oxygen and exhale the COin the correct ratios. 

The composition of the air that we breathe is 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, and 1% Argon. There are also traces of CO2, and rare gases such as Xenon, Neon, Helium, Methane.

As we increase the levels of CO2 in the air, our lungs will be unable to exhale the surplus and this will be absorbed into the body, which will have an effect.

According to a recent study conducted by the University of Colorado in Boulder, The Colorado School of Public Health, and the University of Pennsylvania, evidence suggests that future levels of CO2 may severely impair our cognitive ability.

The study based its research on two scenarios; one, a world where human society reduces the amount of CO2 it releases into the atmosphere, and the other where we don’t – “business as usual.”

Alarmingly, even when we do reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that we release into the ecosystem, by the year 2100, individuals would still be exposed to elevated levels (by today’s standards) of CO2 leading to a 25% decrease in cognitive abilities.

The reduction in mental ability is caused by an increase in CO2 in the brain, a condition called Hypercapnia. which leads to a reduction in brain/blood oxygen (Hypoxemia).

The result is a reduction in brain activity, decreased levels of arousal and excitability. On top of this, it induces sleepiness, and anxiety, the result of which is an impact on our cognitive functions such as learning, memory, strategising and crisis management.

Lost Concentration…? Foggy Brain…? Maybe thats Air Pollution for you…Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on Pexels.com

This is easily understood. Who hasn’t been in a lecture room, classroom or meeting room, where our concentration wanders, and we get tired and disengaged. The result of excess CO2 released by a lot of individuals. The solution is normally to open a window to let in some fresh air.

But what if the air outside was not really fresh at all? 

A report in 2001 (Robertson) argued that even slightly elevated levels of CO2 (720 parts per million) could cause lowered pH in the blood (acidosis) leading to restlessness, mild hypertension and ultimately confusion.

The report concluded that if we continue with “business as usual”, flagrantly releasing megatons of COinto the atmosphere, by 2100 we could see our cognitive functions reduced by as much as 50%.

Unless we build on this virally-induced reduction in CO2 and continue to decrease global pollution, we may survive this.

If not, we, as a race, are doomed to become the joint recipients of the last-ever Darwin Awards.

Charles Darwin, Author of The Origin of Species.

Go Well…

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COVID 19 – Lockdown and Walking with Nature

I’m sitting here in the early evening enjoying my back garden, listening to the birds as I mull over this article. My terrace is bathed in warm, golden sunlight, as Sol starts to dip majestically behind the trees lining the nature reserve.

I am so very fortunate. I have managed to make the right decisions – either by luck, intuititon, or skill, that have resulted in me living in a beautiful part of the UK. Or it could be SWMBO’s excellent judgement.

I don’t question SWMBO’s judgement – she is, after all, with me, so her decision making and judgement skills are refined.

I live in Hampshire which, like most of the UK, has a timeline of civilisation that extends 14,000 years into the past.

Roman Emperor Claudius invaded Britain in AD 43 and shortly thereafter (in the larger scale of things), Winchester became the County Town of Hampshire.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the British concept of county towns – a county town was the ancient equivalent of of a capital city, but at county level. Traditionally, a county town is the most important or significant town in a county.

Winchester is not only the county town of Hampshire, but also a city in the truest sense of the definition.

In the UK, most people use the term “city” to describe any large town, but the status of a city was traditionally only given to towns that had a Cathedral – King Henry the Eighth establishing the first ones during his reign. To this day, the UK’s monarch has to grant city status to any town.

Winchester cathedral was consecrated in 1093, and is a wonderful old building, which seems to have history seeping out of its walls and emanating from its very fabric.

The opulence of Winchester Cathedral

Winchester is about 24 miles west of where I live. It is a beautiful old city. It is where the ancient English King, Alfred had his royal seat.

King Alfred the Great – Still watching for marauding Vikings…

The old part of the city, in which the ancient cathedral sits, is a maze of tiny cobbled streets and lanes.

Winchester City centre. Disney or Universal take note…

I digress.

The area in which I live is also historic. There has been a human settlement here at least since the 14th Century; the Roman army crossed the River Wey at Lindford, about 1 mile away, whilst en-route to battle in the west of the county in the early part of the the last millenium. The crossing over the local stream has been here since 1350, but the current bridge was refurbished in 2008.

So, we are in Lockdown.

According to Her Majesty’s Government (HMG), we are allowed to exercise once a day. So, this last Sunday, SWMBO and I decided that we would partake of some gentle exercise in the form a walk through the Deadwater Valley Nature Reserve.

It was a beautiful afternoon, with a light zephyr tousling the crowns of the trees as we left the house. A six minute walk up the hill took us to the entrance of the nature trail.

The trail is cool, the smell of damp sphagnum moss mixed with that wonderful, rich, loamy, peaty aroma. The sunlight pierced the canopy with spears of golden light, impaling the shy bluebells and forget-me-nots hiding on the floor of the woods.

Quiet – and with no risk of bears or vampires…

We continue wandering, sowly, drinking in the scents of the woodland. The information board informs me that this is a home to Stag Beetles, Slow Worms, Sparrowhawks, Red Admiral butterflies, Nuthatches and Goldfinches – together with the occassional Roe or Muncjac deer.

We plod on, hand in hand, humbled by the sheer abundance of plants, insects and wildlife.

The Deadwater Sream, slowly meandering its way towards the River Wey…

We see few people on the trail; those that we do are keen to ensure that we all comply with the two metre separation. Sometimes, we yield to walkers coming towards us, standing in the undergrowth so tha they may pass. Natural selection seems to ensure that next time we meet fellow walkers, they hold back for us to pass.

However, the social niceties are maintained, with many “good afternoons”. “please”, “thank you” and “have a good one” as we contine our walk.

The trail isn’t crowded by any means; we are in solitude for most of it – just us, walking, talking, laughing. Soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying nature.

Bluebells carpet the walk – just about everywhere. I love Spring – my favorite season

We continued on, walking generally north until we reached the exit point, where the new housing estate starts.

Not wanting to just return on the same route, we decide to wander through the small town suburbia and re-enter the reserve a little further down.

It’s a relief to leave the road once more, lined as it is, with high density housing, and populated with bus stops, garage blocks and parking bays.

We re-enter the reserve, skirting the sticky muddy morass near the stile, and test the waterproof capabilities of our footwear as we stride on through the silty puddles that surround the more glutinous mud.

Looking at the tracks in the earth, I immediately deduce that the trail is used by mountain bikers, hikers, walkers, children and dogs.

Eat your heart out Sherlock Holmes. Go back to your flat Hercule Poirot.

Whilst the nature reserve isn’t large, we have never visited before, so I was happy that I had a fully paid up account with the Ordnance Survey, and had access to excellent charts.

Using the app, we quickly planned how we would return to the end of the park nearest our home.

Our route back took us past a picturesque pond, which, according to the information board, was home to Toads, Frogs, Herons and Dragonflies.

The pond, basking in the sunshine, as it has done for over 100 years.

Sadly, we didn’t see any of them, but it has given me an excuse to come back again to check it out more regularly.

I would not necessarily have discovered this wonderful place if I hadn’t been on lockdown – so something good has come about as a result of COVID19.

My day today has been filled with catching up on various tasks around the house, so maybe tomorrow I will dig my bike out, and go and explore in a bit more detail.

A great way to do an hours exercise without having to go to the gym, which I find abhorrent at the best of times.

Go Well…