Archive for March, 2011

Nuclear schmuclear

At the risk of going off topic a bit [like you’ve ever held back before – imaginary Ed], I have to pause here to sling some excrement at my colleagues reporting on the Fukushima nuclear plant.

As I’ve ranted at length on Freelance Unbound’s excellent post, the only people more ignorant of nuclear science than the average citizen are the journalists writing about it on his/her behalf.

It really is preposterous to scream, as the media do today, that plutonium has been found in soil at the Fukushima plant. It’s like reporting that arsenic has been found in the soil of a poison factory.

Reaction 1: No shit. Reaction 2: How much?

Well, as it turns out, the answer to the Reaction 2 question turns out to be “very little”. Er, like, very little. Not enough to cause any human health worries, anyway. So the headline is an utterly disgraceful bit of panic-mongering without the slightest justification. In fact, the whole story is totally and intentionally misleading.

But it’s worse than that. It’s not even a ‘story’. Reason: Reaction 1.

I’d be amazed if you didn’t find a few particles of Plutonium somewhere at Fukushima – or at Sellafield, or any other nuclear power station anywhere. It’s produced in all nuclear fission reactors, either intentionally in so-called ‘breeder’ reactors, or in small quantities in reactors running on ‘low-enriched’ Uranium-238.

In fact, about a third of the power generated in a typical reactor comes from the fission of Plutonium-239, which is not supplied as a fuel to the reactor, but derives from fission of the Uranium-238 fuel. Some of it is bound to turn up where it shouldn’t be – especially after a massive earthquake and tsunami.

Now Plutonium is undeniably nasty stuff. Very nasty stuff – when it turns up in more than trace quantities.

But here’s the thing: that troublesome quantity issue is not a trivial detail. It really isn’t. ‘How much?’ is the critical, essential, key question whenever you’re discussing radioactive substances.

You’re being irradiated right now. If you live in Cornwall, you’re being irradiated rather more than me (and you might even want to do something about it). If you’re in Ramsar, Iran, you’re getting a LOT more than me – up to the equivalent of 4,300 chest X-rays every year simply by living there (but don’t panic: despite getting a radiation dose many times higher than the maximum mandated for nuclear power workers, you may well be healthier and live longer).

The point is, radiation exposure is highly relative. Whether or not it’s dangerous depends utterly upon the quantity and the period of exposure.

“Locals exposed to radiation leak from nuclear plant!” sounds (to journalists) like a good story. “Iranian woman lives for a year in Ramsar!” doesn’t. But as you can immediately see, the second headline may involve a higher dose of radiation exposure than the first – yet still without necessarily being dangerous.

Which is a long way of saying: don’t believe everything you read in the press. Most importantly, don’t be panicked by it.

As the most authoritative survey of medical evidence from the Chernobyl disaster showed, the greatest damage to human health and happiness was caused not by the radiation (whose effects turned out to be much less pernicious than everyone feared at the time), but by the fear of it.

Posted on 29th March 2011
Under: Rants | 6 Comments »

At last: Laziness pays!

asparagus bedIn the finest tradition of only-just-in-time gardening, I prepared the asparagus beds today and made a pleasing discovery.

Turns out that if you’re too lazy to cut down the spent asparagus in November and just leave the old fronds where they are, they fall over and cover the bed… thus excluding light and preventing weeds taking hold over the winter.

Not only that, it’s 10 times easier to clear them up when they’re dry and dead in March than when they’re still bushy and damp in the autumn.

I’ve never done this before and it’s a joyous revelation. How often is the easier, softer way actually better? I’ll tell you: Bloody never.

To anyone who discovered this years ago, apologies for the grandma/egg suck lesson. But if you’re still cutting back your asparagus in November, STOP RIGHT NOW and be a lazy bastard.

You know it makes sense.

Posted on 26th March 2011
Under: Asparagus | 8 Comments »

And another thing

Since I’m apparently now asking you guys how to run my own website, I’ve got another one for you. In for a penny, in for a pound…

In the last year or two, I’ve been getting more and more approaches for advertising on soilman.net. I’ve always batted them away, for two good reasons:

  • I don’t need the money (well, obv it would be nice… but you know what I mean. I have an income already, for the time being. I don’t need supplements. Plus the cash on offer for small lineage ads ain’t gonna buy me a Ferrari)
  • I never intended to run a commercial website. I didn’t start it to make money, I don’t work on it for money. I do it because I love it, and believe in what I’m doing. If I recommend something to you, it’s because I genuinely believe in it. I don’t do affiliate marketing, I don’t have paid-for links anywhere. Because I don’t want you – ever – to suspect my motives or truthfulness. I fear that once I start to take cash for ads, or for links, I’m starting down a slippery slope

I mention this only because the small trickle of requests has turned into something of a flood recently. Why this changes anything, I don’t quite know. It shouldn’t. Principles are principles… right?

But somehow I feel like I should at least ask you guys what you think. Would you give the tiniest shit if I were making £58 a year from the site? Does it matter – either way? If I continue to set my face against any kind of commercial input, am I missing an opportunity to take the site in a different/better direction?

Are there some forms of money that are OK to take, but not others? For instance, is there a difference between taking cash for ads clearly marked as such… and taking cash for undeclared links (which I tend to feel are dishonest)?

Or should I just get over myself, take the cash, be bloody grateful it’s on offer, buy myself a few pina coladas and not be such a fucking diva?

Posted on 23rd March 2011
Under: Rants | 18 Comments »

What video?

I’ve been meaning to make more videos, but I never seem to have the time. Doing it properly means several days’ work, so it always gets deferred.

Having said that, I think I should try harder: I looked at my stats today and was astounded to discover that my planting asparagus video was played 72 times on Sunday alone (300+ plays over the whole week).

Clearly, this indicates that there’s a shit load of folks out there who need help with planting asparagus. Whether my video actually helps them is another question: 49 of yesterday’s 72 lost interest before the video was finished. Perhaps they didn’t like my hairdo.

It all made me wonder what topics I should be covering. The ones I thought would get most interest, because they’re difficult (ie growing brassicas and carrots), do OK… but get nothing like the traffic of the asparagus video.

Given the volume of visits to my site coming from a search on ‘planting onion sets’, I’m fairly confident a video about that would go down well (also ‘soil sex vegetable’… but I think I’ll pass on that one).

Gotta say, this baffles me. Planting onion sets doesn’t seem, well, terribly difficult. Or am I missing something?

Anyway, I figured I’d probably learn most by throwing open the question. So, dear readers: if there’s a vegetable problem that vexes you – and which a video would help to clear up – what is it?

If I get consensus on any particular topic(s), I promise I’ll make a video about it/them. But please, no vegetable porn ideas. It’s illegal in my jurisdiction. And besides, I’m too old for that shit.

Posted on 21st March 2011
Under: Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

Potatoes are go, but soilman.net is in hospital

first early potatoesWell I finally did some gardening. First early spuds are in the ground. Yippee!

Sharp-eyed readers may notice that there is, er, rather a gap beneath this post where others used to be. Reason: after running a standard, routine upgrade earlier today, I found my whole site was in the toilet. Complete database scramble and utter fuck-up.

More recent back-ups failed to work (don’t ask), so I’ve had to restore the site at roughly where it was six months ago. Desperately irritating, but at least it’s not all lost forever.

Huge apologies to regular readers for this. I’m trying to find out if my host took a more recent back-up that I can use to get the site back to where it was yesterday.

In the meantime… well, a huge sigh of relief. If anybody fancies quoting back at me my own mantra about the importance of regular site back-ups, do go ahead. I deserve a good kicking.

Posted on 14th March 2011
Under: Potatoes | 7 Comments »