Varsity blues

daryanblog

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I’ve meant to comment more fully on the Varsity blues” case for sometime, where rich parents have been paying middle men to get their kids into university. This has involved faking documents or claiming athletic merits (in sports they didn’t even partake in), bribing of admissions tutors and the rigging of exams. We’re talking corruption here on a level that would cause even the most corrupt governments on earth to blush. I’ve heard of helicopter parenting, but this is ridiculous.

Oh and it turns out one of the students in question, going to USC (I assume that stands for the University of Spoiled Children), is basically using her time in uni (bought at such a high price) as little more than an opportunity to party, rather than study. Those millions were well spent then!

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Yet the thing is that this is…

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A not so slow news week

daryanblog

Wikifreaks

Of course the big story over the last week was the arrest of Julian Assange and his removal from the Ecuadorian embassy. To be honest, the only thing that surprises me is that this didn’t happen sometime ago.

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There’s an accepted wisdom that if you are offered asylum by a country, you don’t make waves for them. After all they still have to have relations with the country whom you are fleeing from. And that’s assuming you are in the actual country, not in an embassy metres from cops who want to arrest you! And you especially don’t want to go interfering in the affairs of the state who is protecting you, that’s just common sense. One has to assume that the historic distrust of many Latin American countries towards the US (thanks to its past policies in the region) is why they held this off for so…

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Parliament cracks on brexit

daryanblog

leak The roof of the house of commons leaks – insert brexit inspired metaphor or joke of your choice below

One of the founding myths of brexit was that at the last minute, the EU would crack and give the UK everything it wanted. Instead the opposite seems to be happening. Boris & Mogg, having derided May’s deal as “worse than remain”, “a betrayal of leave voters” or that it would turn the UK into “a vassal state of the EUvoted for her bill last time ….which probably had something to do with her offering to resign (which just goes to show their motivations have always been selfish opportunism).

May meanwhile, apparently troubled by the risk of the UK breaking up in the event of a no deal, seems to be trying to prevent it (at last!) by offering indicative votes (which she previously…

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The environmental impact of concrete

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A concrete cement mill in operation

What is the most destructive material known to humans? Plutonium? Cyanide? Whatever the hell they put in Marmite? No, it would have to be concrete. The Guardian recently ran a series on the environmental impact of concrete which is worth a read.

Much of the focus on climate change mitigation, or pollution in general, tends to focus on energy production. However, in truth this is merely one of several sources of carbon emissions. Agriculture and land use changes tends to be the next biggest headline at about a quarter of emissions (which is actually arguably larger than it looks given the amounts of fossil fuels used in agriculture both by farm machinery and the production of fertilisers).

After that its the acquisition of raw materials (mining, refining and processing of base metals and minerals). And concrete, as one of the mostly widely used materials in the world, tends to figure quite highly in this category. And at almost every step in its life cycle concrete has an environmental impact.

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As I discussed in a prior post, the world is running out of sand for concrete production. Hence, there’s now a whole series of “sand Mafia’s” emerging in the developing world to steal sand, so the issues with concrete goes way beyond just climate change. Then you have to transport all these ingredients long distances, which consumes a lot of energy (cos they are kind of heavy!).

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Then there’s the process of making concrete, which consumes rather a lot of energy. Making just the cement component consumes 1,700 KJ/kg and, due to chemical reactions, releases releases 750 kg’s of carbon dioxide for every tonne of concrete produced. And given its weight, simply pouring concrete entails yet more energy consumption and carbon emissions. Furthermore, poured concrete undergoes an exothermic reaction, which may require external cooling as it hardens.

And, at the end of the building’s life, when its demolished, you’ve got numerous environmental problems. Notably the disposal of masses of concrete rubble (at one point back during the boom in Ireland they did a survey and found that 4/5’s of all the material entering Irish landfills was builders rubble).

Of course, as an engineer I’d have to point out that there are good reasons why we use concrete. Its cheap, it can be moulded into complex shapes, its durable, easy to maintain and fire proof. Basically you can do your worst to a concrete building and it will still stay standing. Hell, there was even a concrete building close to ground zero at Hiroshima that took the full force of a nuclear blast and survived. And keep in mind, we’ve been using concrete since ancient times. So we need to move beyond the simple “concrete bad” narrative, same way plastics is a bit more of a complex issue than it seems at first glance.

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The glory of the Roman Pantheon, concrete at its best

While concrete can be recycled, its more a form of downcycling. That is too say, you’ll get a lower quality of concrete afterwards, so you can use it for say roads or backfill, but not build a new skyscraper from the stuff. Another alternative is to change the composition of the concrete, using other materials such as fly ash, shredded rubber, waste glass, etc. into the mix. The downside is that this is again downcycling, not recycling and its generally not going to have the same structural properties.

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The concrete recycling process, which isn’t 100% effective

Hence why other more radial measures are being proposed, for example a concrete tax. I’d point out that perhaps the problem here is the short life cycle of many modern buildings. I’ve seen concrete buildings that are maybe only 20 years old getting demolished. Sticking a carbon tax on, with the condition that some significant portion is refunded if the building stays in use for some extended period (e.g. at least a hundred years), or that its design life allows it to last that long, would create an incentive to only use concrete where necessary and make sure those buildings are built to last (as well as a financial incentive to refurbish rather than demolish).

There’s also alternatives to concrete. Wood as a construction material is something I’ve previously discussed. And while there are structural limits and issues with fire safety that need to be addressed (as well as where you source the wood from of course), these aren’t insurmountable. And there’s also the option of steel framed buildings. Now while yes steel, like most metals, is very energy intensive to manufacture, it has one unique advantage over concrete (or wood for that matter) – it can be recycled with 100% material efficiency (i.e. virtually no waste). So encouraging steel framed construction would offer several advantages.

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Wooden skyscrapers have recently been proposed

But as so often is the case with climate change we are confronted with a problem whose dimensions aren’t immediately apparent. And where there is no nice and neat one size fits all solution, just lots of hard choices.

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Ending the anarchy

daryanblog

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Back in the 12th century the UK went through a traumatic period in its history, known as “the Anarchy” where two factions of the ruling Normans fought for control of the country, each supporting rival rulers. In this 18 year period, the many commoners were left to fend for themselves, as the lords fought, brigands ravaged the countryside and “the saints slept”. Well brexit has now driven the UK into another anarchy, as effectively the country does not have a functioning government.

The latest nickname for May is LINO, leader in name only. Hard to nail down, but easy to walk over. She sits surrounded by a cabinet of fools, which she is not the leader of. The traditional UK policy of cabinet collective responsibility having been abandoned some time ago. Hell at one point last week the brexit secretary gave the cabinet’s…

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The fall of the Roman Republic: Lessons for the modern world

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I stumbled on this youtube channel, Historia Civilis which, amongst other things, presents the fall of the Roman republic in quite an interesting and entertaining way. Worth a look, if you are a history buff. It occurred to me however, that the downfall of the Roman republic presents several valuable lessons for us in the modern world. As one can see parallels with current events and those leading up to the fall of the republic.

At the heart of the matter were three men, Julius Caesar (who presumably needs no introduction!), Pompey (the veteran general, not the football team) and Crassus (the richest man in Rome and victor over Spartacus). These three men formed the a loose alliance known as the Triumvirate in order to help push their various political agendas through the Roman parliament, the senate.

Key among there demands was money. Pompey and Caesar…

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A comment on mountain safety

daryanblog

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There’s been a string of tragic accidents on the Scottish mountains this winter. Which is a little strange given how there’s actually been very little snow and fairly mild conditions (climate change I suppose, rather that a steady build up it all comes at once and then melts or avalanches off). A few weeks back two highly experienced climbers died on Ben Hope, while Ben Nevis has now seen three accidents with multiple fatalities, notably a fall off the ledge route and just the last few days three were killed in an avalanche in nearby number 5 gully.

Now inevitably the media position is, oh mountaineering, in particular these adrenaline junkies hanging off of cliffs, its really dangerous and should be banned. Well statistically, climbing is still safer than sports such as cycling, field sports, horse riding or water sports. So if you’re going to ban mountaineering, you’d…

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