Thursday 29 January 2009

Mutuals have better customer service.

Who'd have guessed that mutuals would have better customer service? The Times reports that six of the 9 banks with better than average customer service are mutuals - four building societies, the Co-operative Bank, and top of the list Smile - the coop bank's online subsidiary.

Number 10 in the list is HSBC, but they didn't manage to exceed the average for the industry.

Bottom of the list is the demutualised Abbey. Several more ex-building societies are now slumming it in the gutter with the likes of Barclays.

In the illustration to the right, mutuals are labelled with circles. Note how all the better banks are either mutuals, or online subsidiaries.

Monday 19 January 2009

Thursday 15 January 2009

Multi Milibands

Why do the Milibands sound so much like Tony Blair? Everything they say is qualified by "I think that's the right thing to do" (Ed at 0:29), and "There are legitimate differences to be had" (Dave at 4:50).

Anyway, nice to know that we've given up on the War on Terror. Now, I wonder whether we'll be able to convince the USA that it's a wrong policy?!

Sunday 11 January 2009

Solar power

For a while, I've been looking for a combi boiler that's compatible with solar water heaters. I'd heard that most combi boilers weren't suitable, but nothing more specific. Well, here's one: the Ferroli HE S boiler range seems to be compatible with their [pdf] solar hot water system, and their underfloor heating system. They use a solar panel to heat a small tank of water, and use that tank to preheat water on its way in to the boiler.
They seem to have some other nice products, like their "'Plug and Play' AquaSolXS", which combines various parts of a solar water heating system with a hot water cylinder, to make an easy to install system. That should keep installation costs down, perhaps even component costs, too.

Friday 9 January 2009

Camouflage - not what it seems?

Newsnight just showed footage of a transit station, where the Israeli army screen goods due to be imported to the Gaza strip - humanitarian aid. A soldier showed us "contraband" that they'd discovered in the aid shipment. What was it? Camouflage trousers. "Waterproof uniforms", apparently. Two pairs of trousers in amongst several tons of what could simply be second hand clothing. Not impressed! I'm sure that they'd have shown us something interesting if they could find it. This set me in mind of Colin Powell's devastating evidence of WMD - a satellite photo of a truck parked outside a building.

Thursday 8 January 2009

TTL meeting

I attended the Transition Town Lewes forum tonight. Heard that the currency group has £30,000 in circulation. Ovesco are doing good work using local contractors for energy efficiency works, and have great plans for the future. The waste group has been working with the County Council and Furniture Now! on an anaerobic digester, which will take food waste from local businesses. The transport group aim to set up a locally owned car club shortly. All good stuff, very encouraging.

Tuesday 6 January 2009


NoiseTube looks interesting. It's a way to use mobile phones (currently Nokia N95, iPhone soon) to map noise pollution, which makes a change from using mobile phones to create noise pollution.

I've signed up.

Monday 5 January 2009

Small World Reunion

50 years ago, the crew of the Small World balloon attempted a trans-Atlantic crossing. My dad, Tim, my grandfather Bushy, with Colin and Rosemary Mudie. They travelled four days in the air, then 20 days by sea between Tenerife and Barbados.

Artists impression of the Small world

On my father's birthday, after some time at sea and with some distance to go, they opened a tin of  evaporated milk to celebrate.

Here, Colin (left) and Tim meet again, in more comfortable circumstances, at a family celebration of Dad's birthday.

Colin Mudie and Tim Eiloart

Sunday 4 January 2009

A new spin on global warming.

Apparently global warming will slow the rotation of the planet. Water melting at the poles will migrate toward the equator, thus increasing the moment of inertia of the planet (ie, moving some of the mass away from the axis of rotation). To conserve angular momentum, the planet will slow a little. Days will become approximately one-tenth of a second longer, so don't lose sleep over this. 

Source: "Do Polar Bears Get Lonely", published by New Scientist.

Saturday 3 January 2009

Recycled insulation - how green is that?

I'm staying with my brother in St Ives, Cambs. He has a flat in a listed building, and is insulating the loft over his bedroom. After a lot of kerfuffle with the planning officers (more to do with staff turnover than anything else), he's finally got permission to go into the loft and insulate it. He's used a recycled plastic fibre, which you use like rockwool insulation.

The advantages:
1) it's very nice to use. In fact, it's like a fleecy blanket, not at all itchy.
2) it's 90% recycled bottles.

The disadvantage is that it's still plastic, and 10% new plastic. But, it keeps the old bottles out of landfill, and out of incinerators, and means that the CO2 from the plastic doesn't get into the atmosphere - at least not for another few decades.

I'd be interested to know what the real environmental costs are relative to the other options for loft insulation. Rockwool seems pretty benign, as does sheep's wool. But all three have their manufacturing costs, and sheep's wool comes with methane emissions and land use issues.

Friday 2 January 2009

Barak Obama

I've just finished reading Obama's "The Audacity of Hope". Pretty promising stuff, if he can deliver.

I just wish he was able to get on with it. In the UK, government can change overnight-but we've still got nearly three weeks to wait for Obama, even though it's nearly two months since he was elected. OK, so a newly elected PM here has a shadow cabinet waiting to go, but surely one month ought to be enough.

Thursday 1 January 2009

Newhaven to Seaford walk

We took a walk from Newhaven to Seaford, via Newhaven Tidemills today. It's a nice walk, once you get past the Newhaven industrial estate at Newhaven Town station. Newhaven Tidemills is the ruin of a village which existed to support the tidal power driven flour mills. The village had about 100 people living there, but the mills went out of business when the railways made it easier for farmers to ship grain elsewhere.

Nevertheless, there is the remain of a railway station at Tidemill, which evidently was dual tracked at one point. Now, a single track runs from Seaford the Newhaven. And there's a second railway track towards Seaford, running about 100 yards south of the current track, but largely paved over.

A lot of work has been done recently to uncover the remains of the old village, which was flattened in 1940 to prevent invading forces from finding cover there.

There's been some talk of building a new tidal power station there, but I don't think it would be of much use. They used to grind 3,500lb of flour a week. More feasible these days would be off-shore tidal stream power stations.

The walk is part of the Sussex Ouse Valley Way. A little way to the north of Tidemills is a new wildlife area - the Ouse Estuary Project - with this rather groovy bird screen overlooking reed beds. We saw a kingfisher, an egret, teals and more.

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