Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Mobile blogging, Douglas Coupland and the Bushbuddy wood burning camp stove

One of the things that tipped me over the edge into smartphone ownership was the possibility of mobile blogging; this is the third consecutive mobile blog. The other was the ability to suck podcasts directly from the ether onto the playback device, meaning that I am able to catch interesting radio programmes that I would otherwise miss. I've been using the Podtrapper app for Blackberry for this and highly recommend it.

A recent edition of the 'Books and Authors' podcast featured an interview with Douglas Coupland, discussing his novel 'Generation X', a favourite of mine that captures perfectly the spirit of the early 90s. In it he coined the phrase 'McJob' and made a number of cutting observations on the senselessness and futility of modern work.

In the podcast interview, Coupland, a Canadian, criticised American society for its insistence on turning everything into a product, a trait which he feels has resulted in them losing touch with their art.

It is fitting that the Bushbuddy wood-burning camp stove, a photo of which, topped by a boiling billy, accompanies this post,  is designed and manufactured in Canada. Rather than being a soulless product that consumerises that most elemental of human experiences - cooking in the outdoors - the Bushbuddy is a work of art that makes the cheer of an open fire compatible with zero impact camping.

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Beware the burning beard

Do you have a favourite tinder? Some prefer cotton wool or birch bark shavings, others favour the lint from their tumble drier. Availability plays a large part in determining such preference and here in the clean air of the highlands the trees hang heavy with my own tinder of choice, beard lichen.

I was lucky enough to be gifted a Bushbuddy wood-burning camping stove for my birthday recently. These stoves really appeal to me on aesthetic and ethical grounds as they mean that I will be able to cook outdoors without needing to buy, carry or recycle gas canisters.

Caught up in a wave of enthusiasm for minimalist traditional firemaking I went to the woods to gather tinder and headed home, my pockets bulging with beard lichen. So eager was I for matchless fire that I put my minimalist principles to one side and microwaved the lichen to dry it out. To my surprise it caught light in the microwave oven, filling the kitchen with acrid, choking smoke and necessitating a long overdue scrubbing of the oven's interior.

It seems perverse, but the first thing I did after carefully extinguishing the burning beard was to reignite it using my firesteel and boil up some water for tea on the Bushbuddy. I could have spared myself much effort (and fun) by using the microwave to heat the water!

So that's my top bushcraft tip of the week - don't microwave your beard lichen for any more than a minute.

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Tuesday, 9 March 2010

An experiment in mobile blogging

This post reaches you as I prepare to board a sleeper train from Crewe to Inverness after a couple of day's work in Birmingham. My experience of the place up until now was limited to sitting on the M6 wondering why the traffic wasn't moving, however I have now scratched below the surface to find the 'true' Birmingham and I didn't like what I found. Last night I took a stroll down beside the redeveloped canalside at Brindley Place and the Mailbox in search of something to eat. My original goal was something expensive but I couldn't hold off until the Michelin starred place opened at 1900 so I chose a thai place instead, a decision which I was to come to regret. The menu was excellent and nostalgia for moped riding round Pai in northern Thailand made me order up a green papaya salad to start with pad thai as a main. The papaya salad was very hot and even as I ate it I started to become concerned at the potential for ring damage. It is perhaps fortunate that the pad thai that followed was sufficiently flavourless and greasy that eating about a third of it meant that the papaya salad never made it anywhere near my delicate ring piece, instead it was vomited into a waste paper bin in my hotel room. There then followed a thoroughly unpleasant night of sweating, shivering and generally feeling very ill indeed. Thankfully I am now fit enough to leave the black country and head for home.

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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Fresh insights into the glaciation of Scotland: Tom Bradwell at the Inverness Field Club

A couple of weeks ago I attended one of the Inverness Field Club's winter lectures. Despite having very nearly used up half my biblical allocation, I was the youngest person in the audience by a considerable margin. I had been coaxed into this gathering of the grey-haired, this amalgamation of the aged, this exhibition of the elderly, to listen to Tom Bradwell of the British Geological Survey giving a talk entitled '150 years since Darwin and Geikie: what do we really know about the Glaciation of Scotland?'. Last year I announced that I was embarking on a quest to understand the glacial landforms of Scotland in more detail so the effect of this title on me was similar to the effect on a jakie of telling him that a cider lorry had shed its load round the corner. 

I expected it to be interesting but it was truly mindblowing. I discovered that many of the things that I was about to teach myself have been overturned by recent research findings. These new insights have resulted from the availability of new datasets; detailed maps of the sea bed that have been created using sonar data from GPS equipped fishing boats. The waters of Scotland are so well fished that the coverage of these maps is complete - fishing boats have sailed over every patch of seabed, save for a few areas very close to the coast. The maps reveal that the sea bed,  right out to the very margin of the continental shelf, is littered with glacial landforms. While this is good news for geologists and interpreters of landscape, one cannot help but feel that it is somewhat less favourable for the cod and his fishy friends who genuinely have nowhere left to hide from this industrial scale factory fishing. 

This is extremely exciting because it has allowed geologists to confirm, for the first time, the extent of the ice sheet during the last glacial episode. Great ice streams flowed into the sea, notably northwards up the Minch and out into the Moray Firth, the British Ice Sheet merging with the Scandanavian Ice Sheet in the middle of the North Sea and flowing northwest towards the margin of the continental shelf. This data, along with temperature data from ice cores, has been used to create animations of how the ice sheet expanded and receded. The animations are linked at the bottom of this page. The colours represent the speed of ice flow, with red indicating faster flow. The sea level is also represented. The image is below isn't the best quality because I photographed it from my laptop screen using my phone. Have a look at the full videos, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Image showing extent of ice sheet 22,300 years ago. From the Britice project

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