Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Reality Bites

Now that the Easter break is over, things are really starting to sink in. Deadlines and exams are looming in a couple of weeks time. The sense of false security that I've fallen into is quickly fading, replaced by urgency and fear. I was resting on a cloud, but I now find myself plummeting towards a bed of thorns (perhaps in there lies a rose?).

The love, the laughter, the pleasure, the euphoria ..... all gone, pulled out from under my feet, replaced by a desolate desert (is there such a thing?). The revision I did over the holidays ..... I now can't recall. Was it all in vain?

Perhaps this is payback time. Reality biting back, claiming back what was taken. The rollercoaster of life. Difficult as it is, the solution is simple. Like a good soldier, I'll have to battle on. Perhaps once I've reached the other side, I'll look back ..... and smile.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Black Gold

Have you checked the price of oil? It now stands at $71.60 a barrel. As reported on the BBC, this price has been fuelled by Iran's nuclear standoff with the international community. Isn't it time to actually decouple our economy from oil? How long should our economy be held hostage by oil prices? Inflation, interest rates, house prices, car prices, electricity, air tickets, ....... anything that you can think of, will be affected by the price of oil. And what about the environment? The production of oil directly contributes to global warming. All nations should make more effort to improve alternative energy sources. It can be done. Imagine if all those monies spent on building up armies and weapons were to be directed to solving this problem, give it 10 years, I'm sure it can be solved.

But its not happening. Nations are not doing enough. Governments are giving excuses that it would affect their economic competitiveness. What is money worth when the whole world has been flooded over due to the melting of the ice caps? It becomes paper. We have to make some sacrifices. We have to sacrifice the paper called money for the health of the world. Take a look at the state of the world now and you'll understand what I mean. Floods in Europe, Hurricanes in America, ......

I admit that is a very simplistic solution, but hey sometimes keeping it simple is the only way forward. Alas, I know the top brass won't do anything substantial until people start getting wiped out like flies. It will be too late by then. Society and its rules and laws , as we know it, will probably collapse.

Enough ranting from me. I'm gonna start planning. I'm going to look for some high ground to build my "settlement". I'm going to learn some hunting & farming skills. In 50 years time, when the world has flooded over, you'll find me on some high ground, living simply. A simple man in a simple house...... want to join me?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Animal Encounters VI

Greetings folks! Welcome to Animal Encounters, where I talk about a certain animal from my workplace at the Bristol Zoo each week. This week we've got the lovely

This small parrot is mainly green with an orange patch on the breast, brown head and black face, with a white ring around the eye. They are around 14 cm long, with a very short tail. Much of a lovebird's day is spent feeding on grass seeds near the ground. If danger threatens, the birds fly silently up into the nearest tree. Drinking from pools and waterholes is an important part of a lovebird's day - the food they eat is often low in moisture so they need an additional source of water. They sleep with their heads tucked under their wing, or resting on their orange breast.

"Honey, who are you looking at?"

Unlike other lovebird species, these birds are not so often seen perched as a close pair, but partners do usually perch nearby one another. It is believed that pairs mate for life. Birds gather in large noisy groups to drink at pools. Lovebirds will often feed on seeds and fruits alongside other birds such as weavers and mammals such as squirrels.

"I'm pretending to be deaf"

The black-checked lovebird is Africa's most endangered parrot. There is an estimated 20% chance that this species will go extinct in the wild within the next 20 years. Restricted to approximately 6,000 sq km in southern Zambia, where the wild population is below 10,000. In the 1920's they suffered from extensive trapping for the pet trade. The population has never fully recovered, probably because less millet (one of their favourite foods) is grown and the area in which they live has become much drier. As a popular cage bird, there is still a real risk that trapping could again become a problem.

"Your place or mine?"

So its a pretty grim outlook for the lovebirds. Will they still be lovers? Tune in next week to find out.....

Friday, April 14, 2006

Peanuts again

Once again, my favourite comic strip. I like to see Linus and Lucy together. They’re siblings and they remind me of my own relationship with my sister.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Animal Encounters V

Hello and welcome!
Today’s guest is:

The Black-Tailed Prairie Dog

Prairie dogs are burrowing squirrels that get their name from one of their various alarm calls which sounds like a bark. They’re found in the open plains and plateaus of North America. They can live up to 8 years in captivity.

Check out my black-tipped tail!

They used to live in huge colonies called “towns” often containing several thousand individuals and covering many acres. But because they compete with domestic livestock for food and eat cultivated crops, farmers consider them as pests and destroy their colonies. Prairie Dogs have a high-pitched, bark-like call. Recent studies suggest that Prairie Dogs possess the most sophisticated of all natural animal languages. They apparently issue different sounds identifying various predators, which include hawks, owls, eagles, ravens, coyotes, badgers, ferrets and snakes. Prairie Dogs can run up to 35 miles per hour for short distances. The Prairie Dog has only one defense that works -- raising the alarm and disappearing quickly.


The Prairie Dog digs its own burrows. There is a well-constructed and frequently reinforced dike against flooding from sudden rains. The entrance holes themselves are funnel-shaped, from 3 to 4 inches in diameter.When a predator approaches, the first alert Prairie Dog gives a sharp warning call, bobs up and down in excitement, calls again and then plunges below. The danger signal is a 2-syllable bark, issued at about 40 per minute. Other sentinels farther from the danger zone take up the watch, monitoring the course of the predator.

At ease

Because they eat as much as 7 percent of a ranch's forage, Prairie Dog eradication programs have been underway for decades in the American West. But a growing number of experts argue that Prairie Dogs may actually be beneficial, that they are natural fertilizers who also increase the protein content and digestibility of rangeland grasses. Today, after decades of eradication by federal, state, and local governments, devastation from disease, poisoning, recreational shooting and habitat destruction , Prairie Dogs are rapidly disappearing. More have been exterminated than remain, inhabiting only about 2 percent of their former range. Colonies are being preserved, however, in Wind Cave National Park, Devils Tower National Monument and in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Reserve.

"Psst! Did you hear that Amy.........."

"Really? Oh my!"

So that's it for today. Join me again next week for the sixth (oh boy) edition!

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Ordinary Hero

I must do apologise for not posting here as often as I initially intended to. I've been very busy these past two weeks, mainly writing up on my thesis. I'm almost done now actually, just got to do some tidying up. My thesis comes in at a mammoth 50 pages! With 62 diagrams and 46 equations! And thats not even counting the appendix! That's quite substantial for a technical report. Plus I've need to print three copies. That would mean lots of pages (including colour!) and lots of money spent on printing them. Sigh....life of an engineer....never glamourous, always behind the scenes. The ordinary hero. Speaking of engineers, this weekend marks the 200th aniversary of the birth of

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Oh boy! Wished I had a name like that. They don't name babies like they used to in the past anymore. Anyway, Brunel was one of the most versatile, audacious and inspirational engineers of the 19th century. He was involved in many engineering projects in Bristol and the UK that were ahead of its time. Borned in Portsmouth on the 9th of April, 1806, he was educated at Hove, near Brighton and the Henri Quatre in Paris. He started work with his father on building the Thames Tunnel. In 1829, he designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge across the river Avon. And it is still standing today, after 177 years! A bridge originally designed to carry horse carts ..... amazing.

Bristol Temple Meads

Brunel was responsible for the growth of the modern Bristol and many of its famouse landmarks, like the Bristol Temple Meads Station. He made further improvements to the Bristol Docks in 1830. The port was given a boast when Brunel decided to build his steamships, Great Western (1837) and Great Britain (1843) in Bristol. The SS Great Britain is now a museum ship open to public down in the docks. Brunel also helped the city by building the Great Western Railway from London to Bristol in 1841. This was followed by the Bristol & Exeter Railway (1844) and the Bristol & Gloucester Railway (1844). This stimulated further economic growth and by 1861 the population of the city had increased to 154,000.

The SS Great Britain

The demise of this great man was caused by the disregard for his own health and his undying dedication to furthering the engineering field. In 1852 Brunel was employed by the Eastern Steam Navigation Company to build another steamship, the Great Eastern. The Great Eastern was extremely large and was designed to carry 4,000 passengers. Brunel faced many difficult engineering problems on this project and the strain of the work began to affect his health. While watching the Great Eastern in her trials, Brunel suffered a seizure. He died on 15th September, 1859 and was buried five days later.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge

So when you see the performances and the fireworks on the suspension bridge tomorrow, think back, and remember Brunel, the great man, the ordinary hero. Without him, Bristol just wouldn't be the same.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Animal Encounters IV

Today, I've got a special guest:

The Liger


Long ago, outside the old city of Singapore, which was considered to be the city of Lions, there was reported to be giant brown beasts. This was before the Asiatic lion was reduced to such low numbers that their are now less than 200 left in the Gir forest. This huge animal might just be an explanation for this myth, for he is neither a lion nor a tiger, but he is about the size of both of them combined. The liger is the world's largest big cat. An average male liger weighs over 900 pounds and standing almost 12 feet tall.

Pretty much my favourite animal...

The reason that they are called a liger is because the father was a lion and the mother was a tiger. If the situation was reversed and the mother was a lion and the father was a tiger, he would be called a tigon, and would be a dwarf instead of a giant. A fully grown tigon is usually less that 350lbs. Ligers are not sterile, and they can reproduce. If a liger were to reproduce with a tiger, it would be called a titi, and if it were to reproduce with a lion, it would be call a lili.
Ligers are not something we planned on having. We have lions and tigers living together in large enclosures. We had no idea how well one of the lion boys was getting along with a tiger girl. Low and behold, she had giant brown babies, and we knew we had ourselves some ligers.

Bred for its skills and magic...

Our ligers were raised on a baby bottle, and they still enjoy getting them as treats. They are not tame from these activities, they are trained to behave. They will still bite or even kill someone given the right set of circumstances. Our liger could easily eat a hundred pound of food in a sitting but they tend to gain a little extra weight so we feed them about 25 pounds of food a night. People often ask what our big cats eat. They love to eat something called, King Lion diet, which is made basically by taking a horse, a cow, a couple of pigs and a flock of chickens and putting them into a blender on high with all they parts and pieces. This ends up looking like a raw bloody meatloaf. They also enjoy restaurant quality chicken thigh quarters and chunk beef.

Once again, thats all folks. Tune in next week for another enjoyable edition of Animal Encounters!