It’s the second anniversary of my blog today! To celebrate, and trying to make up for the lack of Photo Friday posts, here are some fireworks I saw in California last year.
After my last recording was apparently well received, Viva Voce York invited me back to read another of my science-based articles, this time the Nuclear Misconception, a scientific argument in favour of fission power. Viva Voce are a student-run magazine creating content for blind and partially sighted students in York, and it was a pleasure to be involved with them again. Check out their channel for more pieces!
Whilst recording this article, the feed from the studio next door fed in and my solemn discussion of nuclear meltdowns was “enhanced” by some upbeat music. Unfortunately, that didn’t make the final cut.
I never did find out how the listeners find these videos.
Sorry – I haven’t blogged in ages, and again I’m putting the blame on a heavy workload. Fourth year is, as many people suggested, a bitch. Exams are coming up in a couple of weeks, and then I have to focus on writing my dissertation. I’ll probably need to get some workable results first too.
Besides the work, things have been going pretty well recently! Last month my search for a job finally came to an end, and as of September 2013 I will be working as a product development engineer for Jaguar Land Rover. I like to think I owe it to mentioning the model 1963 E-Type (what a car!) that I have on my desk back home, rather than my experimental experience. And to think it all started when I approached the JLR stand at a job fair with the snappy line “Hello; I like cars”…
This does of course mean that I will be permanently moving away from Hertford, to the faraway land of Royal Leamington Spa. About bloody time! Hertford has never had much going for it, especially after living in York, and it feels pretty great to be moving out into my own home within 2 months of finishing my degree. This has made me all the more determined to enjoy my summer, as it’ll be my last free summer until I retire. Or until I die crashing my F-Type whilst driving round the Nürburgring, of course. The other highlight is obviously earning a salary after four years as a student – I already have a long and quite expensive shopping list, from new speakers to a trip to Monaco!
I’ll try and post more regularly now; I have a few updates to post soon, but revision means they’ll probably be slow. It’s nearly my blog’s 2nd anniversary too, so I shall have to think of something appropriate. Anyway, thanks for reading!
Having been a bit stressed of late, I’d been wanting to get out of the house for a while. Today, it miraculously wasn’t raining so I decided to head out for a walk around York, and I took my camera with me! I’ve hardly been to the walls in my time here, which is admittedly a shame, so I decided to take a walk around the more picturesque areas of the city.
I started at Monkgate Bar, with it’s fantastic narrow medieval staircase up to the wall. The gatehouse has a small museum dedicated to Richard III, the last King from the House of York, and they were quite excited about his recent discovery! It was certainly drawing the tourists in, as I had to fight my way through to make it outside.
The walk east from Monkgate is probably the most scenic stretch of the walk, with some quite fantastic views of the Minster and a lot of medieval buildings behind it. The view across the moat is less exciting, although York St John’s manor building stands out against the Victorian townhouses.
The Minster is deservedly the most famous landmark in York, and the views from the walls are brilliant, especially with no buildings in the way at Dean’s Park. A lot of the other buildings around this corner of the city are over 500 years old, so it does make for some fantastic scenery.
Walking under the trees with these views was incredibly relaxing, which is exactly why I went for this walk in the first place. Benches have been installed on the towers, and are a welcome place to sit and watch the world go by, completely different to the usual city life.
As I headed towards Bootham, the views outside of the wall became more impressive – namely York Art Gallery and King’s Manor, owned by the university. Unfortunately at this end, the tourists had turned into quite an obstacle, and I had to jump out of the way of some excitable children, quickly followed by their very apologetic grandmother.
I left my first walk on the walls at Bootham Bar, the northernmost and probably prettiest gate in York, and headed across the square past King’s Manor and the Roman-built Anglian Tower towards the Museum Gardens.
I’ve visited the gardens several times whilst I’ve lived in York, more so than the walls certainly. Usually I’ve stayed city-side of the museum, so today I ventured into the uncharted territory of the north half of the park! And I found something new – the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, an 11th century Benedictine monastery. It had also been found by a pair of newlyweds, taking pictures in full attire before heading to the Hospitium for their reception. They certainly couldn’t have picked a better place to get married!
I left the gardens and headed across Lendal Bridge, where I rejoined the walls as they headed towards the station. The best views from this section were looking back across the river Ouse, towards the city. Once I made it to the westernmost corner of the walls, opposite the station, I decided to head back the way I’d come and take a walk around the Minster.
Due to me walking on a Saturday, the queue to walk up the Minster’s towers was stretched across the entire square, and so I made do with a walk through Dean’s Parks. Smaller than the Museum Gardens, they’re nonetheless very enjoyable to walk through, mainly due to being the grounds of the Minster. It also allowed for some close-up views of the Minster as I’d seen from the walls during my initial walk.
As I completed my circuit of the Minster, I rejoined the main city at High Petergate, around 90 minutes after setting off, and headed away from this quiet corner of York. As well as allowing me to see some great historical architecture, this brief tour also fulfilled my expectations of relaxing me perfectly. I’m still calm several hours later, even after doing some work!
I would definitely recommend a walk like this to anyone in York, and I’m sure I’ll head back if I need to relax again this year. It’ll be a shame to leave.
Is it strange to miss a place where I only spent three days? Quite possibly. But lately, I’ve been missing New York quite a lot. As I wrote in my series, it’s an incredible city where I felt completely at home, despite everything being so different. I guess it helps that everything I did there was really fun, and that I can’t think of anything bad from my time in Manhattan.
I could say the same for a lot of places I’ve been to – Boston especially was brilliant, and I could easily spend a long time there, more than the day I did. And the same goes for Montreal; and San Francisco; hell, even Baltimore. There’s always the old fallback of Monaco too, though I’m not sure if February weather would be that nice in the South of France – the UK’s covered in snow as I type.
Don’t get me wrong, I love York. I’ve been feeling really at home here this year and I’ll be sad to leave it when my degree ends; I love the city, I love the people, and I do feel like I belong here more than I do in the South. But still, there’s so much going on here – work, stress – and I’d love to just get away from it all. To go somewhere different, where I can just relax and not have to focus on this module or that application. And New York would suit that perfectly; even the name suggests an improvement on York. For now though, finances will not allow anything like a fun trip, so I’ll just look through old photos and dream. I’d also love a walk round the city walls when the weather clears up, I might even take my camera. I’m sorry for ranting, and I also apologise for ending with a film quote. I often do on here, but it does seem apt. Cheers.
I need a holiday – a very long holiday. And I don’t expect I shall return. In fact, I mean not to.
More scientific magazine writing – this time, my argument in favour of nuclear power for Britain, which attempts to diffuse exaggerated claims about meltdowns and the safety of the industry, and present a scientific case for fission power.
Nuclear fission has been used as a source of energy worldwide since 1951, and in Britain, where there are currently sixteen operating reactors, since 1956. Despite this long history of nuclear power, a huge debate still rages concerning its efficacy, and more commonly, its safety. Certainly in my opinion, a large factor in the opposition to nuclear power comes from misconceptions about the science behind the fission process, and the way in which the media exaggerates incidents such as Three Mile Island and Fukushima. Nuclear power is however trusted by many governments (130 to be precise), and currently generates 13% of the World’s electricity, putting it in fourth place behind coal, oil and hydro power.
So why does nuclear power have such a bad reputation? Ignoring such events as Chernobyl and Fukushima, which don’t exactly help matters, the science behind nuclear fission is incredibly complicated. Without meaning to offend, the average member of the public with no background in Physics or Chemistry would struggle to understand what happens in a reactor. Trying to explain just how safe the procedures are to someone with little knowledge of the subject, who might already be against nuclear power, is incredibly difficult. And the word “nuclear” itself often has negative connotations for most people – thanks in no small part to nuclear weaponry. It is somewhat ironic that the process within nuclear weapons, nuclear fusion, is completely different to that in reactors, which is nuclear fission. But awkward terminology is not the only reason for negativity – history has a hand too.
Despite the general reliability of nuclear power, there does exist the threat of nuclear meltdown; though it is far smaller than what the media suggest. In the 60 plus years that nuclear reactors have been in operation, there have only been three serious incidents: Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011. And the number of confirmed deaths directly attributable to these events? 65 – though some estimates for deaths over longer periods of time, due to radioactive fallout, put the number at a few thousand. These estimates are not overly reliable though, and despite this fossil fuels are still more deadly: the deaths arising from fossil fuel power, most often from coal mining, reached over 15,000 over the past 5 years in China alone. And bear in mind that this risk is only present in the event of a catastrophic failure.
Such failures are incredibly rare – Three Mile Island occurred because the workers on shift hadn’t been properly trained to recognise the signs of hydraulic machinery malfunctioning, which could have been quickly rectified to prevent the incident. Chernobyl was the result of the workers ignoring the safety systems in place, and the Fukushima disaster was a consequence of the fifth strongest earthquake in recorded history. Nuclear sites, especially in Britain and France, are incredibly safe, and there are many systems in place to prevent harmful situations. More recent reactors are designed so that if there was a break in the equipment, the fission process would be unable to continue, removing any danger. It is also worth noting that workers in British nuclear power stations are exposed to less radiation annually than people living in Cornwall (due to the Radon-rich rock formations in the region).
Given the increasing problem with climate change and reduction in fossil fuels, the world is in desperate need of long-term, low-carbon energy sources. With our current technological advancement, we have a choice between nuclear power and renewables such as wind and wave power. Many people who argue against nuclear power are staunch supporters of the renewables cause, but they simply aren’t advanced enough to meet the world’s energy demands. Yes they work, and yes they should play a part in the future of energy production, but we shouldn’t be throwing all our eggs in one basket. It should be noted that despite the low-carbon and ultimately very safe option that nuclear power provides, there is one major sticking point; namely radioactive waste, and what to do with it. This waste can remain radioactive, and therefore harmful, for up to tens of thousands of years (depending on the element). Currently, waste is stored in thick concrete bunkers in isolated areas, and whilst this seems adequate for today’s needs, it may not be sufficient to contain the radiation in a few thousand years’ time. This remains the last main issue regarding fission power, and if it can be solved then the future of the industry will be very bright indeed.
So we really have only one choice – invest in nuclear power, and convince the world that this is the right thing to do. Some countries such as Germany and Japan are scaling back their nuclear sectors, but others, including Britain, are investing heavily in a nuclear future. It is now the responsibility of nuclear scientists, as well as economists and politicians, to champion the cause, and convince people that nuclear power isn’t that bad after all.
After leaving Las Vegas, we crossed the border from Nevada back into California, and moved into some quite stunning scenery (thought perhaps not as stunning as the Grand Canyon). The first stop of note was Calico, a silver-mining ghost town refurbished to cater to tourists such as my good self. I’ve been getting quite into westerns lately, and visiting a town built in that era was petty fantastic! Especially when they played The Ecstasy of Gold (L’estasi dell’oro) as I was walking down the main street. Damn I wish I was a cowboy, and I’m not afraid to admit that. Preferably the Man with No Name! The wooden building style of Calico is so iconic, and whilst it’s a small town, I easily spent an afternoon there soaking up the atmosphere. Not to mention having a beer in a saloon and leaning up against the hitching post like the filthy tourist that I am.
Moving on from Calico, the next stop was somewhere quite different: Yosemite national park, and the Mariposa Grove, to see the giant sequoias. It seems whoever coined the name “giant sequoias” hit the nail on the head; these are indeed pretty big trees. And there’s only so much I can write about them in all honesty! There were some with tunnels carved into them easily big enough to walk through, and one I’m told a van could drive through. Or a pick-up truck, this being ‘Murica and all. As well as that there was a right monster of a tree, the Grizzly Giant, with a volume of almost a thousand metres cubed. Look how far my blog has fallen, I’m talking about interesting trees…
Thrilling foliage aside, Yosemite was incredibly beautiful, with rocky outcrops emerging from valleys and gorges. And only 200 miles from the parched desert around Calico; California really is a fantastic state. After Yosemite, we headed towards the coast and that most famous of cities, San Francisco – however, I did quite a lot there so I shall dedicate a full post to it later. But wait, there’s more!
The Californian coastline is again really scenic, with landmarks such as the Lone Cypress on 17-Mile Drive, the Bixby Creek bridge, and a very pretty cove (above) whose name I can’t find for the life of me. Rocky beaches were very prominent, and I even took a potential blog header picture standing on some staring out into the sea. One of many! The local wildlife was particularly impressive here, with colonies of elephant seals, pelicans and sea otters frequenting the beaches. The final stop before heading into LA was the town of Solvang, founded by Danish immigrants and retaining a very Danish feel, with northern European architecture and the Danish flag everywhere. The stand-out feature of the town, narrowly beating the clog shop, was a bakery which sold every variety of exquisite orgasm-inducing danish pastry imaginable. Many a dollar was spent there!
Soon to come, posts on San Francisco and Los Angeles.