Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Diesel cars and wood-burners Update

"So generous was the Northern Irish scheme to businesses, offering £160 for every £100 they spent on wood chips, that firms used it to heat disused warehouses and long-empty offices, knowing the more they spent on wood chips the greater their profit would be.
Some users of the scheme kept heating systems running flat out night and day because they made such a profit from the subsidy scheme."

Update 26th January 2017: Wood stove fad is blamed for pollution

I have spent quite a bit of my younger life in cities full of diesel cars. The fumes from these cars made me quite ill. As such I could not understand why the UK government was giving incentives to drivers of diesel engines.

"Diesel was supposed to be the answer to the high carbon emissions of the transport sector, a lower emitting fuel that was a mature technology – unlike electric or hydrogen cars. In the early 2000s the Blair government threw its weight behind the sector by changing ‘road tax’ (vehicle excise duty) to a CO2-based system, which favoured diesel cars as they generally had lower CO2 emissions than petrol versions.

It inspired British car makers to invest heavily in a manufacturing process that most countries outside Europe have ignored. In 1994 the UK car fleet was only 7.4% diesel. By 2013 there were 10.1m diesel cars in the UK, 34.5% of the total.

But studies have since shown that diesel cars’ emissions of other pollutants can have serious impacts on the health of people exposed to them."

Source: The Guardian


What about wood-burners? Again I lived with my frugal mum who used charcoal to cook for much of the time we shared our flat. Those choking fumes are not so great when it is not for the occasional open-air barbecue.

Now living in Greater London where we are never cold enough to require a real fire and, as I also understand, there is a ban on polluting wood and coal-based fires, why has the wood-burner been touted as an 'eco alternative'?

I could not get my head around it.

On one hand I am telling people to stop using paper tissue made from wood, and on the other we were told that burning wood in wood-burners was eco-friendly. ??? How? It just did not add up. But fearful of being told that I was stupid, or worse, being trolled, I had kept my opinion to myself all this time.

Now we are told about this new 'inconvenient truth':

"But the cold truth is that — at odds with its perceived green credentials — the wood-burning craze is posing a real danger to the environment, and to our health.
Air quality experts say the stoves contribute to an ever-thickening cloud of smog engulfing our towns and cities, which is increasing the risk of cancer, lung disease, heart attack, stroke and even dementia.

Exacerbating the problem is the seemingly innocent habit people have of throwing open the doors of the stove to recreate the effects of an open fire or to warm up a room more quickly — thereby flooding the air with a deadly cocktail of noxious gases and toxic wood smoke particles.

Wood smoke is a cocktail of gases and dangerous microscopic particles. Some of these blobs of soot, called PM2.5s, are 100 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair and can get deep into our lungs. They’re so tiny that experts think they may even be able to get through the lungs and into other organs."

Source: The Daily Mail 

We want to care for the environment. But let us not be too hasty in trying to resolve one issue without considering its impact on the rest of the situation. Or, as social anthropologists would say, we need a holistic approach.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

GDPR - why your inbox is being inundated

Dear Organic-Ally customers and supporters

I imagine that, like me, you are getting loads of emails from retailers that you had bought from ages and ages ago asking for permission to continue to send you emails.

The irony is some of these have not bothered you for some time but because of new legislation coming in on the 25th May, they are obliged -- or are taking the opportunity -- to ask anyone who is still on their database whether or not it is OK to contact you (but they  already have!) and please could you confirm by ticking a box or clicking on a button??

I am really stuck. I don't actually collect and store any sensitive information from my customers. I don't store credit card details. Third-party providers take care of this. Then once a year, before Christmas, I turn to PayPal and Nochex (payment service providers) for email addresses. As such, these are actual customers who had made a purchase in the previous year. (I do not harvest data by pretending to send out a newsletter every few weeks.)

I then load these data onto another third-party newsletter provider (ReachMail), compare this list with the previous lists, remove those that have unsubscribed as well as those whose emails had bounced, and then send out my latest Christmas newsletter.

I do this once a year. This is my own rule. Now I have to break my own rule to send another email to customers still on the list when I have promised not to bother them during the year!

Sending an email now is a breach of trust where my customers are concerned. If I persist in only sending out a Christmas email (ie later this year), then I'm in breach of the law.

What do I do?

Afterthought: I believe the new legislation is to prevent spam mail under the guise that sensitive data, if you store any, may be hacked. But I am very sure that spam emails will continue and it is small businesses like mine that will have to bear the brunt of additional red tape.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Project Bak Choy: grow new leaves from scraps

This post is long overdue. I am starting on a second round of reviving bak choy. So I hope you enjoy this.

Step 1
Buy some healthy looking bak choy from a (Chinese) supermarket. Lop off the leaves about 1½ inches from the bottom. Immerse in little containers like these. If it's terribly cold, I use water that is just warm to the touch. Put them on a window sill or somewhere with lots of light. And warmth where possible.


In the picture above, you can see bak choy in different stages of regeneration. The green leaves traps energy from the sun and soon you will find roots, or root nodules, at the bottom of the stumps. Be patient. It may take more than a week to root. Meanwhile, refresh the water at least once every two days. You will find some bits getting sodden and looking like it's 'rotting'. Remove those bits, clean up the plants under running water and return them to the containers with fresh water.

Step 2
When the roots are visible and clearly thriving, maybe after two to three weeks, pot them in any convenient containers with good drainage. I use indoor compost as it is less likely to result in flies buzzing around the house.


Here I've used plastic containers salvaged from ready meals (prawn laksa or pad thai, usually). I have re-used padding materials ('wozzits') from deliveries to keep pots light and to let the water drain. Make sure that it is the 'wozzits' that do not absorb water. I later learned that the plastic shelf that comes from laksa and pad thai is the perfect thing to ensure good drainage. In which case, return the drainage shelf to the plastic container and only put compost on top of this. The clear plastic lets you see how much water is actually lurking at the bottom. Water as necessary.

Step 3
These plants are quite thirsty. So water as much as necessary. Probably once a day, or maybe even twice a day. You can tell from the waxiness of the leaves as to whether they are in need of a drink. 

Sit back, relax and enjoy the greenery cleaning up your room. I feel energized when working in my 'sun room' as the green leaves throw out lots of oxygen in the day.

I subsequently invested in proper pots so that they fit easily on the window sill. When it gets too hot I move the pots onto the floor. Having one long pot is easier than moving 15 little containers.

Notice how the middle plant is taller than the rest.

Step 4
Start harvesting the leaves when they reach about the same size as when you first brought the original bak choy home. IMPORTANT: DO NOT REMOVE all the leaves from the same plant. You must leave some leaves so that the plant can regenerate again. Take only those healthy leaves for eating (after cooking). Discard those leaves that have browned around the edges.


Continue to look after the plants, giving them lots of water and sunshine. They grow taller and new leaves will sprout higher up the stems.
I think I must have regenerated the same set of bak choy at least six or seven times. Then they started sprouting little yellow flowers.

See how tall they have grown here. I think the leaves started looking less healthy: more leaves than vegetables. But then the flowers came in. Profusely. So I also collected the lot to beautify my room. BE WARNED!! The petals shed very quickly. Put them on a cloth or something that will make it easy to dispose of the shed petals.


That's it, really. From ordinary bak choy I managed to regenerate new growth from scraps that I used to throw away, invested in some compost and got several meals out of them, and then the bonus of these pretty flowers. I scrapped the project when I had to go away last summer because no one else in the house would bother to look after it. 

Try it yourself and tell me how you get on. Share your tips too! It's a bit of fun, but it brings out the nurturing side of us. Trust me!

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Epiphany (?): Why people of a certain age need exercise

A friend complained about aches and pains and that all his doctor told him was to exercise. "I'm in too much blooming pain to exercise!"

My GP too has been telling me to exercise from some six/seven/eight years ago when he decided that I was suffering from early-onset arthritis.

Last year I suffered a frozen shoulder from which I am still recovering. I also suffered a pain in my thigh. Said to the GP, "If a pain in my upper arm was caused by a problem in my shoulder joint, does a pain in my thigh means problems in my hip joint?" He nodded.

Bah! I thought. His advice? "Exercise."

For some strange reason, I decided to do 'lunges', left and right, morning and evening. After several weeks, the pain eased.

In July I resigned my membership at the gym at which I did aqua aerobics three times a week where possible. Started walking briskly round a nearby park instead. There is also an open gym and I do a few minutes on each piece of equipment.

While walking round the park I saw a trainer making someone do squats with arms folded. I added squats to my lunges. At first I could barely managed six or seven, then I increased to ten, twenty, twenty-five. Now I do one for each year of my life, but divided over two sessions, morning and evening, with the lunges and squats.

Then while watching Shirley Ballas on Strictly Come Dancing kick her feet to her bum (demonstrating Charleston?) I decided that I will do some of that as well. Let's just say it was not possible for my heel to hit my bum no matter how hard I kicked when I first tried it.

From there I used my hand to catch on to my ankle (same side) and balanced on the standing leg. Then I pretended to be a figure skater and held the free arm aloft. And then what do you know? I see a picture of the soon-to-be her royal highness doing this:

Image result for meghan markle yoga

Clearly my ankle is not yet in the same position as the above. But what I felt after a good stretch like that, holding this position for as long as I could, was blood flow and muscles gaining strength, it seemed. The stretches became easier and I am able to vary the angle and amount of stretch. The focus needed to balance also helped the breathing (or the breathing helped the focus, whatever).

Is this a dance or yoga pose? Does it matter?

One sister had been warning me against taking up yoga because there is a spiritual element to yoga and she thinks that Christians should avoid any practice where there is a risk of spiritual input apart from what is taught in the Bible. Another sister, a church-goer, is pretty flexible from years of yoga training.

And me? Through discovering a helpful stretch I decided that just because someone had given it a name and loaded a lot of spiritual meaning onto it, it does not mean that this system has the monopoly of stretches and exercises.

My husband does not work on most Fridays, usually. What does he do, usually? He sits in front of Bloomberg TV -- as if watching business news would make any difference to our lives -- and ... falls asleep. Last Friday he had to clear out a few things and then build up something else. And he was full of energy instead of being 'tired'. He even said he felt energized.

The key? Adrenaline.

I realized that exercise is important not because it would/might make us look like Meghan Markle. Sure the stretches help the joints no end. Trying to achieve balance also strengthens muscles. More fundamental than that, exercise is important because it gives our adrenal glands a reason to fire up. Fight or flight.

As I get older, my body needs to fire up those adrenal glands even more than when I spent every spare minute in school playing basketball. Otherwise my blood would struggle to reach those organs that need the oxygen, right? Disclaimer: I am not an expert in any way on the human body.

So I think of Freda from my church: aged 99 and often seen bouncing around the shopping centres around here, taking advantage of her freedom pass to travel on the bus and Tube. She does not walk. She walks briskly, and very upright.

My exercise regime twice a day: squats (= half number of years), 5 lunges x two directions; the pose above, whatever it is called, held for at least a minute on each side (best done by your bed so you have something to hold on to should you lose balance), stretching more and more, lifting the ankles as high as possible without falling over.

I started with doing very little, listening to my body. I think the pain in my thigh has gone. I can easily squat at book and supermarket shelves, and stand up with no pain. And that, is a result.

Tell me how you get on. 




Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Diesel cars and wood-burners

Update 23rd May 2018: Scandal of 'killer' wood burning stoves and the question - is the political class’s obsession with global warming rotting their brains?

Update 26th January 2017: Wood stove fad is blamed for pollution

I have spent quite a bit of my younger life in cities full of diesel cars. The fumes from these cars made me quite ill. As such I could not understand why the UK government was giving incentives to drivers of diesel engines.

"Diesel was supposed to be the answer to the high carbon emissions of the transport sector, a lower emitting fuel that was a mature technology – unlike electric or hydrogen cars. In the early 2000s the Blair government threw its weight behind the sector by changing ‘road tax’ (vehicle excise duty) to a CO2-based system, which favoured diesel cars as they generally had lower CO2 emissions than petrol versions.

It inspired British car makers to invest heavily in a manufacturing process that most countries outside Europe have ignored. In 1994 the UK car fleet was only 7.4% diesel. By 2013 there were 10.1m diesel cars in the UK, 34.5% of the total.

But studies have since shown that diesel cars’ emissions of other pollutants can have serious impacts on the health of people exposed to them."

Source: The Guardian


What about wood-burners? Again I lived with my frugal mum who used charcoal to cook for much of the time we shared our flat. Those choking fumes are not so great when it is not for the occasional open-air barbecue.

Now living in Greater London where we are never cold enough to require a real fire and, as I also understand, there is a ban on polluting wood and coal-based fires, why has the wood-burner been touted as an 'eco alternative'?

I could not get my head around it.

On one hand I am telling people to stop using paper tissue made from wood, and on the other we were told that burning wood in wood-burners was eco-friendly. ??? How? It just did not add up. But fearful of being told that I was stupid, or worse, being trolled, I had kept my opinion to myself all this time.

Now we are told about this new 'inconvenient truth':

"But the cold truth is that — at odds with its perceived green credentials — the wood-burning craze is posing a real danger to the environment, and to our health.
Air quality experts say the stoves contribute to an ever-thickening cloud of smog engulfing our towns and cities, which is increasing the risk of cancer, lung disease, heart attack, stroke and even dementia.

Exacerbating the problem is the seemingly innocent habit people have of throwing open the doors of the stove to recreate the effects of an open fire or to warm up a room more quickly — thereby flooding the air with a deadly cocktail of noxious gases and toxic wood smoke particles.

Wood smoke is a cocktail of gases and dangerous microscopic particles. Some of these blobs of soot, called PM2.5s, are 100 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair and can get deep into our lungs. They’re so tiny that experts think they may even be able to get through the lungs and into other organs."

Source: The Daily Mail 

We want to care for the environment. But let us not be too hasty in trying to resolve one issue without considering its impact on the rest of the situation. Or, as social anthropologists would say, we need a holistic approach.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Living with an invisible disability

For personal reasons I would like to highlight invisible disabilities.

I live with someone who has Ulcerative Colitis. Recently I was physically quite 'disabled' in that I could not move my arm very much in any direction. Yet I was too embarrassed to use priority seats on public transport.

This link here is a good reminder:

10 things you need to know about Crohn’s and Colitis

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Cold-shouldered

My ex-colleague at Accenture came up with the best quip: is my husband tired of being given the cold shoulder?

It was soon after Christmas 2015 when I noticed that the intermittent pain in my right arm was getting more frequent. I am right-handed. Went to the GP in January 2016 and for the best part of this year I had been suffering a lot of pain, loss of muscle strength and spent many hours in hospital and clinic waiting rooms.

Not nice.

I had to give up that bit of my voluntary work which required a lot of note-taking. My right hand was so weak that I could barely sign my name, let alone write. Even working at a computer took a great deal of effort and I had to stop after every hour or so to recuperate.

(I took on a new voluntary role to teach 'laptop' to senior citizens. Instead of note-taking, all I had to do was point and talk, and occasionally pressed a button or two. It gels with my desire to help older people cope with loneliness by connecting them via the internet especially when the weather is inclement.)

I recently found this post (below) and thought it describes very well the pain, anxiety and embarrassment that I had gone through.

Embarrassment, yes. For a long while I had no strength in my hand to cut up food. Husband had to cut up food for me, at home, at restaurants, etc, so that I could pick the pieces up with my left hand. I could not raise my right hand to my mouth without pain. Instead I bent down to it! Looked like an idiot, I did.

I had to stop driving. But I got anxious about getting on public transport. I was embarrassed to sit on priority seats because outwardly there was nothing 'priority' about me (unless you can count my grey hair). I was anxious about not being able to reach the bell and propel myself to the front of the bus using just my left arm. The right was held in a permanently bent position (fist to shoulder) to prevent jerking it by accident. Any sudden movement on the right arm would have caused me a lot of pain.

I was fearful of getting up escalators because I could not raise my hand far enough to hold onto the belt. I 'crossed over', using my left hand instead. Awkward!

Thankfully I am recovering. I am no more in constant, constant pain. The stiffness is still there, but I can do a lot more after going to a new physiotherapist. I can now cook, without having to wait for husband to get stuff out of the oven for me.

Praise God!

If you are in HR, or have friends and colleagues (usually menopausal women) who are suffering a frozen shoulder, this blog would put things in perspective. Be kind! Be very kind. :)

My frozen shoulder experience


I quote the first paragraph from her blog here which says much of what I went through:

HOW DOES FROZEN SHOULDER AFFECT YOU?

Your life is 100 times harder, you struggle to dress yourself, can’t wash your face or hair or brush your teeth (with the arm involved), can’t get your hand to your face, can’t put a shirt over your head, you struggle to tuck yourself in if wearing jeans or skirts (I stopped trying), you can’t lift things, can’t move your arm more than a few inches in any direction, you can’t put your bra on, can’t even shrug your shoulders (the most basic thing of all!).  You can’t go through any kind of drive through (for food or the bank) – or if you do you have to park away from it, get out of the car and walk to the ATM – you can’t feed yourself properly, you can’t sleep, using a hairdryer in one hand and a brush in the other is out of the question – it’s hard to even wash your hair unless you do it one-handed. You start walking funny because you ache all over, your neck aches, your shoulders ache because your body is “out of whack” and distended – it starts affecting every aspect of your life, both waking and sleeping – it is just a horrible, horrible predicament.   It is still somewhat of an enigma, nobody REALLY knows what it is, what causes it or how to cure it, there are lots of opinions, and myriad medical doctors who will offer expensive surgery.  There are multiple options out there for other types of treatment, most of them (I believe) are detrimental to the healing process.  Sure, some of them may help, but some of them may hinder, but the most important thing is that you are not bullied into having surgery or doing anything that doesn’t feel right for you.