Single-use plastics

Single-use plastics has been a hot topic this year. David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II has really brought the problem of single use plastics to the fore in the UK.

Meanwhile back in October the European Parliament emphatically backed (by 571 votes to 53) the European Commission’s proposed directive to ‘clampdown’ on the 10 most commonly found categories of single use plastics products found on European beaches. Details on the directive are published here.

The UK Government are making some commitments toward reducing single use plastics. Currently that mainly appears to be via plans to tax plastics that have less than 30% recycled material. The Budget claimed that the government is pursuing “a package of measures closely coordinated across government, that will deliver a sustained reduction in single-use plastics, without placing undue burden on businesses or consumers.“. This was stated in the Budget 2018 Single-use Plastics Factsheet. I suspect that there’s more rhetoric than commitment from the current government, with all their Brexit debacle distraction. Fortunately if consumer sentiment persists at the current level, that is likely to have more impact on the end of single-use plastics.

We will all have to adjust to a life with more considered use of plastics. The one single-use plastic innovation that I am struggling to see an alternative to, is plastic dental floss applicators. Prior to these becoming available I’ve really struggled to use dental floss. Fortunately dental floss applicators are not on the EU hit list, according to their factsheet, so I’m OK for now; hopefully someone will invent a suitable alternative.

Funds vs Shares

I’ve been actively learning about investing since 2014. Although primarily interested in investing in shares I have recently been investigating Funds. Funds invest on behalf of the fund holders into a diverse range of investments. There are a wide variety of Funds with different goals.

As a ‘retail’ investor I have more limited options in how I invest than a fund manager would. Fund managers have other markets they can access, such as investing in non-listed companies, infrastructure or property. Depending on the rules/constitution of a fund its managers can also access other financial instruments such as currency hedging or leverage (borrowing to invest).

There has been some debate about tracking funds, which follow market indexes, versus active funds that have managers making decisions that hope to outperform the market. Given the recent trouncing of share prices in the UK and US stock markets, it will be interesting to see if these tracking funds remain in favour.

Close run thing

Following a busy Boxing Day there is only 15 minutes left to get a blog post in. A buffet lunch with the family involving recipes from Nigel Slater along with game pie and the Christmas cabbage. We had three of the recipes from the ‘Nigel Slater’s 12 Tastes of Christmas‘ program involving salmon, mushroom and nut burger things followed by a fruit salad with pistachio nut ginger snaps.

We finished up the evening with games and a Christmas pub quiz that had been shared at work, whilst drinking Saxby’s Sloe Gin Slider over ice.


As a teenager I found that working with wood was incredibly frustrating. Wood being a natural material, has variant qualities with knots and other inconsistencies relating to changes in the grain across the materials. Metal and plastics, on the other hand, although each type has different properties when being worked have consistent qualities, each piece will behave pretty much the same as the next, work on one end of the piece and it will be the same as the other. Wood on the other hand insists on being planed in one direction and will cause gouging and ripping if pushed in the wrong direction.

More recently, I’ve come to appreciate the qualities of wood. Firstly using the correct, and high enough quality tools, along with the patience to learn how to use them properly and wood can be a really rewarding material to work with.

Wood has a beauty and quality that’s not present in other materials. See the grain patterns revealed in the slabbing of a white oak log.

Or see the craftsmanship that reveals the qualities of the wood in some of the guitars featured in this Crimson Guitars,’What’s on the Bench’ video.

Christmas Cabbage

Red cabbage is a traditional accompaniment to our Christmas dinners, not matter what the choice of meat, fish or nut loaf. Christmas cabbage has two functions, tasty accompaniment to the Christmas dinner and provides a marvellous aroma to the house when preparing it on Christmas Eve. So here’s the recipe:


  • One red cabbage
  • 3 onions
  • 3 to 5 cloves of garlic
  • 3 bramley apples
  • 3 table spoons of olive oil (or any other vegetable oil)
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  • one whole nutmeg ground fresh
  • half a dozen or so cloves
  • a good healthy sized splosh of sherry or white wine
  • a few tablespoons of water


This requires a large saucepan with a lid a chopping board and a big sharp knife.

  1. Trim, peal, and coarsely chop the onions.
  2. Set the onions in the pan to soften in the olive oil stirring occasionally whilst preparing the apples, keeping the lid on the pan (between stirring).
  3. Crush peal and finely chop the garlic and add it to cook with an onion.
  4. Peal, core and finely slice the apples.
  5. Once the onions have softened to a pale golden texture add the apples to the onions (you don’t have to wait until all the apple is chopped add it as you go) keeping the lid on the pan though.
  6. Add the sherry and the water to the softened onions and apple put the lid back on and continue to cook slowly whilst chopping up the cabbage.
  7. Add the chopped cabbage and stir in well.
  8. Now add the spices, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves then stir in again.
  9. Put the lid back on and simmer on low heat for an hour or so or until the cabbage is tender.

The key thing with this recipe is to have a big enough saucepan and not to worry about too much a quantities. If its a large cabbage then use large onions, or more onions. The same goes for the apples, garlic, sherry and spices.

The Advent of the Electric Car

It’s looking like we are reaching the tipping point for the advent of the electric car. The first practical affordable electric car was the Nissan Leaf, but the limited milage afforded by its limited battery capacity was not a practical proposition for many potential purchasers.

Tesla’s electric cars the Model S and the Model X whilst offering a good specification and workable range have been beyond the price bracket for most of us. The promised $35k Model 3 is still not with us, so to-date Tesla remains a premium brand for up-market purchasers only.

Despite the lack of an affordable alternative for the internal combustion car to-date Tesla has had a remarkable impact on the Automotive industry, taking the lions share of their market segment in the US market has shaken the automotive industry into addressing their electric future. The Tesla cars have proven not only that electric vehicles are a practical alternative but also for most cases has the potential to offer a better driving experience.

Whilst we have seen much publicity and hype about the recently released Jaguar and the imminent release of the Porche Taycan, these are only attempts to reclaim a portion of the luxury car market back from Tesla. As established incumbent automotive manufacturers they are able to produce a quality product with potentially a better quality cabin than Tesla. Despite the design being electric first the Jaguar iPace turns out to be an expensive electron guzzler with a higher drag co-efficient than even the bulkier Tesla Model S, and the Porche may well be aiming at a Tesla Roadster’s customers.

Whilst General Motors Bolt electric car has been a qualified success in the US it has become totally irrelevant to the European market, where they no longer have an interest due to their disposal of Vauxhall/Opel.

This year we have seen the release of two practical crossover style electric cars the Kia Nero and the Hyundai Kona. These have a practical real world range and less eye watering price. The Nero and Kona however are still multi-drive train platforms, designed to be built with either internal combustion engine (ICE) or electric drivetrain, so are likely still a compromised design with all the electrical workings sitting under the bonnet in the place of an ICE power unit. They also suffer from an inability to actually produce enough vehicles to meet demand due to constrains on battery production/sourcing. But they are almost affordable practical vehicles.

If Volkswagen can be believed, their production version of the ID concept to be delivered in late 2019 will be an electric first design and have sufficient supply of batteries to deliver an electric alternative to at the price of a diesel Golf. This might be the first real contender for the prize of a practical everyman electric car.

Battery cost and availability is the key that will tip the balance of automotive production from ICE to electric. Over the next 5 years we are likely to see the price per Kilowatt drop to a point where it becomes significantly less expensive to produce electric cars than petrol or diesel.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and an ASCII new year

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Cleopatra in Space

Reading comics is a different skill to reading books full of words, there is a visual grammar to the exposition of a story in a graphic novel. To get youngsters started on building this form of visual literacy, there is no better place to start than with the Cleopatra in Space books by Mike Maihack.

Zapped away as a teenager from her home era of 52 BC, Cleopatra VII found herself in the middle of a centuries’ long war in the far, far, really far, far future. Now she fights alongside P.Y.R.A.M.I.D. (Pharaoh Yasiro’s Research And Military Initiative of Defense), both human and alienkind’s only hope against the evil Xaius Octavian.

Cleopatra in space, a funny action packed graphic novel, began as a webcomic but is now a published in a series of 4 books, with a fifth being launched in March 2019. These books are great fun and have a compelling story line combined with Mike’s dynamic art style.

For those who are not sure, sample chapters are available as web comic ‘Book Previews’ on the Cleopatra in Space web site.

The books are available through Amazon by searching for Cleopatra in Space. There may still be time to get one before Christmas, or it may be a good way to spend any Christmas present Amazon gift tokens.

Assume positive intent

The most sage advice I have heard today, quoted below, is that one should assume positive intent.

I assume positive intent. I come from a place where I firmly believe everybody wants to do the right thing, based on their differences, their background, their experiences, where they come from, and their conscious (and unconscious) biases. People don’t start out from a place where they want to harm anybody.

This is a useful way to consider all kinds of interactions with others, be they the politicians making apparently disastrous decisions on our behalf, or our every day interactions with others. For the vast majority of circumstances this is a good initial stance to take.  

Restoring a spirit level

This spirit level was black and grimy, the original finish on the wood was decaying and sticky to the touch. It belonged to my father in-law and possibly originally belonged to his father in law. It had been sitting in a box of tools and junk in a garage for over ten years. It had been well used and had obviously been knocking around in a tool bag with other tools as the wood had plenty of knocks a bumps as well as some old paint on one end. It was almost thrown out with the junk.

Having seen the remarkable restorations of old musical instruments on Rosa String Works YouTube Site, I was inspired to see if the spirit level could be restored. After all this would be an easy job compared to fixing a musical instrument.

I carefully disassembled it removing the top plate and the two brass feet. I then cleaned all the debris off the pieces. For the wooden parts I used 180 grit sand paper to remove the old damaged coating, then smoothed the sides and the base with 320 grit sand paper. I cleaned the brass top plate and feet I with Brasso and for the stubborn corrosion a small piece of 800 grit wet and dry paper.

Once cleaned up and reassembled I coated the wood with teak oil to bring the wood back to life and provide it some protection. The restoration is not quite complete, I need to find a replacement for a missing screw in the top plate, and it needs a couple more coats of the teak oil. 

The horizontal level works fine and didn’t require any adjustment, although the vertical level doesn’t appear to have a mark to centre the bubble, but that could be fixed. Despite this, it is once more a serviceable tool, and is a much more attractive device than a modern plastic level.