Archive for the ‘arcane’ Category

Calorie counting is stupid

February 25, 2016

I get really annoyed by TV pundits and self-styled health experts/professionals going on about the calories in food, as though Calories are little poison pills placed in various items, which we negligently shove down our throats.

Do any of them know what calories are, or even how the numbers quoted are measured?

Cast your mind back to your Physics lessons at school. A calorie is a unit of heat energy and the Calorie (capital C), the one associated with food, is actually 1000 calories.
The Scientific definition of the calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius.
So how do they measure the number of Calories in a food sample?
They use a device called a calorimeter, which burns a measured amount of food and measure how much heat is released.
The problem is that we don’t have a little furnace in our guts.
We don’t incinerate our food and turn it totally into carbon dioxide and water.

Our bodies don’t work that way.
Our bodies break foods down in specific chemical reactions. E.g. Bread tastes sweet, because we have an enzyme in our saliva, which immediately goes to work on the starch, breaking it down into sugars, which are more easily digested.

Conversely, paper is mainly cellulose, which is made from starch molecules, has a very high calorific value and will pass through our bodies unaltered.
It’s just like that other form of cellulose, beloved of nutritionists, roughage.
People eat it in brown bread and Bran cereals, because “it’s good for you”.
But our body can’t digest it.
All it does is pass through our intestines unchanged but thereby scraping the inner walls of our guts (like a scouring pad) loosening off any bits, which have stuck to them.
Those Calories don’t have any effect on you.

Consider wine.
If it’s a dry white wine, then it’s very low in sugars and its Calories are almost all alcohol.
Now, alcohol has a lot of Calories as can be seen when we flambé the Xmas pud.
However, when you drink it, you don’t belch flames.
Your body oxidises alcohol in stages.
In the first stage it’s converted into acetaldehyde.
A lot of that goes no further, because you breathe it out, as witnessed by the fact that this is what breathalyser’s measure. (I’d actually be interested to know whether any research has been done on how efficiently this is done by our varying  metabolism’s).
I don’t know the rest of the pathways possible.
The next stage would be to oxidise it to acetic acid (vinegar) and possibly onto Carbon dioxide and water; although some will sweat out.

Consider Lactulose. This is a sugar. It will not only burn but tastes the same as common sugar, yet it is used as a laxative, because our bodies can’t break it down and instead, it passes straight through like liquid paraffin, lubricating/softening solid waste “encouraging intestinal transit”.
There was a fat with a similar indigestibility, which was marketed as allowing people to eat cream cakes etc., without weight gain.
It was withdrawn because of the transit issue I.e. it caused what was politely termed anal leakage.
There needs to be better understanding of how different bodies treat different food stuffs, before we can judge what foods to eat and which to avoid.

Calorie counting is like a political truth:-  Deceitful.

The EU directive forcing lower wattage devices will mean a bigger carbon footprint, long term.

September 9, 2014
In California, they introduced severe anti-pollution legislation, for cars.
This forced manufacturers to reduce their exhaust emissions, ending the unhealthy smogs that be-devilled their major cities.
This was a great victory for Green activism, which other’s have constantly striven to emulate.
The EU’s directive on vacuum cleaner power sizes is a poor cousin of this triumph, which is unlikely to achieve the desired effect of keeping homes clean and reducing the need for fossil fuels (an admission that we will remain reliant on them, until alternative forms of energy can synchronise supply with demand).
The nature of vacuum cleaner design is such that effective, lower power devices will rapidly wear, losing effectiveness and requiring more frequent replacement (greater waste implied).
This view has as much evidential support as the proposed legislation and, so, is open to dispute.
The case for reducing the power of kettles is, however, a complete nonsense and must be a misrepresentation of EU intent.
A fixed amount of water requires a fixed amount of heat energy to boil. As the electrical energy for a kettle is intended solely to heat the water, the only way to waste energy is by heat escaping into the room.
A low power input would mean that it would take longer (Power = energy per second) to boil the water, meaning that more heat will escape into the room.
[Rate of loss of heat depends on temperature difference (kettle v room) and intervening insulation.]
Creating kettles with sufficient insulation to offset the extra time required would mean such devices would be too bulky for most purposes.
The need to prevent explosions through a build-up of steam pressure would require materials with the strength of metal, further increasing structural costs etc.
People will find it easier to return to old style gas kettles, or use pans to boil water.
This pandering legislation will be circumvented and cause the greater waste of time and energy that the electric kettle was invented to overcome.

Quite Interesting, or, intentionally, Bloody Irritating?

August 11, 2014

When QI was first aired, it was quite enjoyable.

Alan Davies’ non-stop babbling took some time before it began to get irritating.

The occasional nod to Stephen Fry’s sexuality was in the tradition of theatrical gaiety and took time to become so dominant a theme.

It may be the fact that I was a Science teacher, which makes me irritated that he steals all the best classroom demo’s (used in school lessons to brighten the burden of having to think and struggle to catch intellectually hard concepts) and fritters them away, so Davies can squeal about how if Fry had been his teacher, he’d have enjoyed lessons more (Pillock!).

It was Quite Interesting to find some long held belief’s shown to be unfounded but it becomes tiresome, when question’s were posed, so that they might be debunked;  or appear to be.

For instance the query, “how many moon’s has the Earth got?” is obviously intended to be debunked. A more honest question would have been to ask how many large, natural satellites it had but that would have been a not so interesting question. There may be more than the one , known as The Moon, but the fact that there are other rocks up there, which could be claimed to be moons isn’t really interesting, or accurate.

What about the man-made satellites, from paint flakes to the Space Station. Are the rings of Saturn made up of moons? At what point do people feel entitled to call a rock, a moon? Does it become a moon when it can be distinguished by the naked eye (rules out Phobos and Deimos), or when some sky-watcher rushes in to print with his new “spot”? I know Stephen Fry briefly acknowledged this but it’s the debunk that’s rembered and becomes accepted fact.

Ok! maybe that little rant is pedantry and jibes with the nature of the show but then why was Dara Ó Briain hauled over the coals for knowing about the Triple point of water? If the show is going to claim that precision is Quite Interesting, then it needs to be more precise by stating levels of tolerance and degrees of significance (a point at which most go to sleep, yet it is the essence of Science)

QI also needs to check its own facts such as the story given out about the origin of the Prince of Wales emblem, which an entry on the Prince of Wales’ regimental website discounts.

The big problem is that the sources of these “alleged” myths almost always present them with a disclaimer. Ordinary repeated conversation drops the disclaimer, for the sake of brevity. Some people may preface their repetition with an “apparently” but there’s always some pratt (thinking Alan Davies, again), who’ll immediately jump in with both left feet, shouting that it must, therefore, be a lie.

Now my concern is that Propagandists are using this acceptance of authorative debunking to destroy Folk History.  How do you know what to believe, if authorative and popular personalities are constantly debunking everything you were taught, or believed?

1984 may have been meant to parody 1948, with its scissor and glue copy and paste of books etc. but its idea’s will still work with electronic copy and paste. It’s just faster and easier to disseminate the niu facts.

@TheGreenParty It would be nice to see a catalogue compiled, of low tech sources of energy.

October 13, 2013

It would be nice to see a catalogue compiled, of low tech sources of energy.
At present, there are a lot of resources being neglected.
Some eco-friendly house building has exploited the use of running water to keep them above freezing, including black roofs with trickled water (under glass) taking up Sun’s heat to warm the house interior.

The Chief Engineer at the, then, Central Electricity generating Board, told me how he warmed his house by exploiting a small stream in his garden. Because of the anomalous behaviour of water, near the freezing point, there is always running water, at 4 C, under the ice. Add in the fact that friction inside a pipe causes the warmer (faster) water molecules to pass along the axial centre of the pipe. By collecting the water from a tube placed co-axially, inside a longer tube, lying on the stream bed, he was able to keep the temperature of his house above freezing in quite severely cold weather.

At present there is a lot of low level nuclear waste being buried in landfills, often having to be vitrified (expensive) to reduce leaching into ground water. Yet we have buoys, whose lights are powered by such low level radiation heating a thermopile. Surely such basic technology could be more widely exploited.

Pre-industrial we had water-wheels and windmills. Time to start building modern versions.

Humans have two vascular systems, whereby the movement of our muscles pushes fluid around our bodies. What about a third one, in/under our clothing to power a generator to charge a battery for the ubiqitous mobile phone.

There was a fad for kids to have lights in the heels of their shoes pwered by their walking. Further exploitation of this idea might be looked at.

And what about a low tech re-cycling catalogue:

Cover reservoirs with white floats to reduce evaporation.

Dump cars in the sea, where they will form the basis of coral reef’s and release iron to encourage plankton growth (researched in Californis but could work here).
Grind  up tyres to incorporate into road and playground tarmac to give greater traction and reduce road rumble (wasted energy)
There must be a myriad such bits of knowledge out there that need to be collated, foe when someone asks “what cab we do with this?”

@TheGreenParty Wind turbines shouldn’t be connected to the National Grid.

September 17, 2013

At school, I was shown that polythene, when heated, in the absence of air, will break down (pyrolysis) into the ethylene gas, from which it is made.  (A sidenote: ethylene is the gas used to rioen fruit brought in on cargo ships)

A recent you tube video (just Google pyrolysis) showed one Japanese promoter taking his kit to third world villages, where they crammed any plastic waste into the device, to produce liquid fuels to be used to run generator’s etc.

It was a little simplistic, neglecting things like production of HCl from PVC and the need for fuel to carry out the pyrolysis, but the process could be used, on industrial scale, here, along the same lines used by oil refineries to crack raw oil to produce pure chemical feedstocks.

This must be cheaper than conventional oil cracking and less  politically problematic than fracking. It has the advantage of automatically dealing with the additives, dyes etc. associated with used plastics.

The big draw back is the need to input energy to the process.

There is a solution, which ties in with the main drawback to most alternative/green sources of energy.

Devices, such as wind turbines, are sporadic in output and are actually a handicap in terms of being connected to the National Grid.

There is a serious mismatch between suplly and demand.

The solution needed is for a way to store the energy produced by these Wind Turbines, which seem to be the Government’s preferred option for showing Green credential’s.

By combining the pyrolysis with the sporadic output of wind turbines, we could reduce landfill and increase the viability of windfarms.

In some cases, such as the wind turbines in Liverpool’s Docklands, the transport costs for recycled plastics would also be minimised.

As an afterthough, one might even consider pyrolysing other organics, such as newspapers (and fastfood-flyer’s), to produce charcoal, to be used as eco-friendly fuel.

The above might not be a fully rounded solution but it would be better than paying rich people to shut down their wind turbines, on windy days, or shipping plastic waste to China.

Better to try turning water into wine than running a car on it.

August 2, 2013

Letter to Daily Express.

Fred Forsyth is such a knowledgeable and knowing man, that it is depressing to see him waste six column inches on the notion that cars can be fuelled by water.

If he had an education, which involved basic Science, then the relevant teachers would be spinning in their graves.

His Chemistry teacher would be concerned that the statement that Hydrogen and Oxygen were both flammable gases would betray the fact that he had not, successfully, put across the concept of combustion.

More disappointed would be his Physics teacher.

One of the most basic laws is that Energy can be neither created, nor destroyed.

All we can do is exploit the conversion from one form into another, invariably releasing/wasting some, as less useful heat and sound.

In the car, we turn high grade chemical energy into lower grade kinetic energy, releasing/wasting most of it as low grade heat and sound energy.

There are only two known ways of creating high grade chemical energy  from water.

Plants use Light (Plus Carbon Dioxide) in photosynthesis, to create sugars (and this is being researched).

The other is electrolysis (This would be a better way of exploiting wind turbines than the present dumping into the National Grid). 

This would necessitate an alternator, running off the car’s engine.

I’m sure Fred doesn’t believe in perpetual motion machines but that is what you would need here.

The alternator converts motion into electricity, creating Hydrogen, which is burned in the engine to provide the motion.

At each stage, most (70%) of the energy is released as heat and sound.

It’d be very hot, very noisy and, possibly, unable to pull the tanker of water needed for it to run for any length of time.

Superman is not wearing knickers over his tights.

June 3, 2013

It’s easy to understand why Superman appears to wear his underpants on the outside of his costume, if one places oneself back in the time, when he was created.
The strongmen of the day were the likes of Charles Atlas and Tarzan.

They weren’t wearing underpants but the equivalent of a swimming costume.

Even then, this was still rather risque, most men wearing less brief versions, to go bathing.

Now consider Superman as a super strongman, who has to walk around in such attire.

Paint him blue (a skin tight leotard, fashionable in his day).

Give him boots, rather than shoes, to look more dominating.

A cape to indicate the flying ability and then the logo to make him stand apart from any blue skinned weirdo’s.

The contrast of red and blue is striking and still dominant today in terms of football team colours.

Arcane: Quicklime, slaked lime and whitewash

May 22, 2013

On an episode of Sharpe, he used Lime to fight off a French column. The effect seemed to be no worse than if they’d got talcum powder in their eyes.

Nowadays, with H&S issues, pupils are unlikely to meet these, once commonplace chemicals, so let’s go through the basics.

Chalk comes in various forms such as marble, limestone, seashells, eggshells etc. Chemically, it is Calcium Carbonate (not Blackboard chalk, Gypsum, alabaster or talc, which are forms or calcium sulphate).

When heated, the Carbon Dioxide is driven off, leaving Calcium Oxide.

Mostly obtained from Limestone, (In the early days of gas lighting, pieces of limestone were placed in cages to be heated in gas flames. The result was the stones glowed very brightly and could be used in theatre to provide the stage footlights, or Limelight.)

Derived this way, gave it its common name of Quicklime.

The Quick deriving from it being “alive”. I.e. it was very reactive and, when poured over French soldiers, would have reacted first with the water in their flesh, then with the fat and then by searing what’s left.

It’s effect is so severe that it has been used at mass burials to help reduce the possibility of disease from the rotting flesh.

As a lad, I was called on to whitewas our backyard walls, to do which, we placed quicklime in a metal bucket and carefully added water. The reaction is very exothermic and the water could be seen to boil as the water was added. (adding the quicklime to the water would have been as bad as trying to put out a fire in a chip pan by throwing water on it).

The quitened mix would be stirred with a disposable piece of wood and then left to cool.

The slaked lime (Calcium Hydroxide) was still dangerous as it is a strong alkali and a small speck in the eye could blind one. (alkali’s combine with fats in the flesh to form soaps).

The slaked lime couldn’t be left as it would pull carbon dioxide out of the air and turn back to chalk, so it had to be applied to the walls the same day.

The whitewash, applied to the walls with an old yardbrush (but without goggles !) , had a threefold effect. It killed crawlies and moulds that thrived in the brickwork, sealed the brickwork with a weather resistant coating and “painted” it a bright white, to reflect the Sun into the patch of garden.



Arcane: Platinum gas lighter’s

May 20, 2013

This isn’t exactly arcane knowledge, so much as neglected knowledge.

That it’s neglected is even more bemusing with the advent of catalytic converter’s in cars.

(I was intrigued by Stephen Fry’s assertion, on QI, that the dust on our streets contain platinum at commercially recoverable quantities).

Many know that platinum wire will catalytically combine gas molecules but don’t bother to check out the details.

Basically gas molecules stick to the surface of the Platinum. Because of the distortion of their electron field and their close proximity. The combined molecule then breaks free.  So this is a catalytic (the Platinum remains unchanged)) process that depends on the surface area available.

By making the platinum into a thin coiled wire, you maximise the surface area available for the reaction.

Being in the form of a thin coiled wire has a secondary benefit in the following context.

The combination of Gas (i.e. the fuel) with Oxygen is exothermic, meaning that a thin coiled wire, having very low heat capacity, will quickly heat up to a temperature at which it will ignite the Gas from a Bunsen Burner. This was demonstrated to be very efficient by our Chemistry teacher, using a prepared wand.

I wonder why it’s not used on gas cookers, avoiding the need for push buttons and wiring. They would never fail unless damaged in some way and could be easily replaced by some sort of screw on spares.

An interesting, although not entirely relevant, footnote, here, is that I spent six month’s at Mullard’s Semiconductor Labs, where one of the sections in my department was making YIG and YAG crystals, using Platinum crucibles. These crucibles had to be hammered to get the crystals out and became badly misshapen. The point is that, as with Gold, the price of Platiunum rises and falls considerably, so by selling the mishapen crucibles, when the price was high, they could buy new crucibles at no cost.

Arcane: Acetylene lamps

May 20, 2013

This was mentioned recently, by Stephen Fry, on the TV program QI, as soething that went out in the Victorian age.

However my Chemistry teacher, showed us a bicycle lamp that used this principle during the blackout of street lighting in WWII. (the modern dry cell battery wasn’t available yet)

Essentially, coke made from coal, was heated with quicklime to produce calcium carbide. (

The rocks of calcium carbide were placed in a chamber where water from a reservoir tank  was allowed to pour through at a rate controlled by a tap. the resultant acetylene gas escaped through a small pipe set at the focal point of the lamp and lit with a match.

It’s worth remembering that the modern dry cell battery was not then available and in fact when I was young in the 1950’s. I recall carrying a rather unwieldy LeClanche cell down to the wireless shop to be replaced, for use in our transistor wireless. (A present from Uncle Harry, who’d jumped ship the USA).