Archive for June, 2010

Recipe For Sweet Pastry Per Pierre Hermé

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Having been given a great sweet tart pastry recipe by Anthony Stern from Independent Foods, I have recently come across an even better Sweet Tart Dough in Pierre Hermé’s book “Chocolate Desserts”.  I must admit to being given the heads up about the wonders of Hermé’s Sweet Pastry from Chubby Hubby’s blog in February 2010.  Here’s the recipe from the book, amended into British english:

Ingredients

285g / 10 oz unsalted butter (at room temperature)
150g / 5¼ oz icing sugar, sieved (in US, confectioners’ sugar)
100g / 3 ¼ oz finely ground almonds (it is worth giving ground almonds from the supermarket an extra whizz in the food processor to grind them down a little bit further)
½ tsp sea salt (don’t ruin the pastry with a cheap industrial free flow salt)
½ tsp pure vanilla extract (use Steenbergs if you can – highly biased viewpoint, so sorry)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten (at room temperature)
490g / 17¼ oz plain flour (in US all-purpose flour), sieved

1.  Place the butter in the bowl of a mixer or food processor with paddle fixture and beat/pulse until creamy, scraping down the edges as needed.

2.  Add the sieved icing sugar and process until well mixed in.  Next, you need to add the ground almond powder, sea salt and pure intense vanilla extract, and process until smooth.  Scrape the bowl’s sides if you need to.  Now add the eggs and process to blend.

3.  Add the plain flour in three parts and pulse/mix until the dough mixture starts to get together.  Whatever you do, you mustn’t overblend this and you should stop as it starts to form together into a ball.

4.  Remove the sweet pastry dough and divide into thirds, shape each third into a ball and put each into a plastic bag, then flatten it.  If using soon, let it settle in the fridge for at least 2 hours, but preferably longer.  Freeze the rest and use within a month.  When starting from the frozen pastry medallions, it takes about 45 minutes before the dough is ready for rolling out.

5.  To make the pastry crust, take a 24cm tart ring (9 – 10 inch) and lightly oil or butter it.

Sweet Pastry Disc Ready To Roll

Sweet Pastry Disc Ready To Roll

6.  Lightly flour a surface and a rolling pin, then roll out the pastry medallion, working it in each direction to ease the shape out into a very rough & ready circular shape.  Take up the rolled sweet pastry dough and layer it over the tart dish.  Prick all over the surface – I actually only do a triangle in the centre to prevent it bobbling up, but you should do more, or so the experts say.  Patch any tears or thin areas with extra pastry that can simply be worked into the dough in the dish.  Chill it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

7.  Preheat the oven to 180oC / 350oF.

8.  Now line the crust.  The proper way to do this as all the greats tell you from Delia Smith through to Pierre Hermé is to fit a circle of baking paper into the crust and fill it with dried beans or rice.  I am lazy and I cheat – I scrunch up some aluminium foil, roll it into a roundish length and shape it around the edge of the pastry crust to keep the edges shaped and upright.

Sweet Pastry Dough Lining Tart Dish

Sweet Pastry Dough Lining Tart Dish

9.  Bake the crust for 18 – 20 minutes until it is lightly coloured.  If you need to fully bake the crust, remove the parchment and beans and bake for another 3 – 5 minutes until golden, but if you’ve cheated with aluminium in a round then the centre should have baked as well already, and you don’t need this extra baking time.

10.  Cool on a cooling rack for use later, and at least within 8 hours of baking.

Baked Pie Crust With Nutella Filling

Baked Pie Crust With Nutella Filling

Simple Burger Recipe – Part 1

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Saturday, a cold Saturday a few weekends ago that felt like winter but was meant to be almost midsummer.  It felt like a good day to start trying to find the Steenberg family’s favourite burger recipe.  We tried three recipes which we taste tested simultaneously and our favourite of these is one that’s been flavoured with red onion, salt and pepper.  I will give you the recipe below, as well as the other ones that we decided weren’t as good.  It’s a start, but I don’t feel that we have got much further than a first step on this quest – we like a burger flavoured with onion and some salt and pepper which is not much different from our standard family recipe for a homemade burger.

Our first cut of a burger recipe:

225g  Beef mince
½ Small red onion, finely chopped
½ tsp Finely ground sea salt
¼ tsp Coarsely ground black pepper

Caramelising Red Onions

Caramelising Red Onions

Take a frying pan, then put in a decent piece of butter and heat this up.  Add the chopped up red onion and gently fry for 10 – 15 minutes to lightly caramelise.  Remove caramelised red onion with fork or slotted spoon and leave to cool.  Add the sea salt and Steenbergs cracked black pepper until well mixed up, and cool down in fridge.

Burger Mix Rolled Into Ball

Burger Mix Rolled Into Ball

Put the beef mince into a mixing bowl and then add the red onion and seasonings.  With washed hands, mix the mince up thoroughly until all the flavours are well interspersed.  Roll up into ball, then cover bowl in clingfilm and put back into the fridge for about 1 hour. 

Remove from the fridge, then divide the burger mix into three and shape each half into round flat burgers; I actually found a 8cm / 3 inch metal pastry circle that we had and put the meat into that to 2cm / 1 inch depth.  These were then covered with clingfilm and left in fridge again for 1 hour.

Red Onion Burgers

Red Onion Burgers Ready To Fry

Leaving the burger mix in the fridge allows the flavours to infuse and spread through the beef mince.  You can skip or reduce the time that I took in this section by going straight to the shaped burgers and putting these into the fridge.  I would ask that you give the mix at least 30 minutes to let the flavours develop.

In a good, heavy frying pan, heat some sunflower oil until piping hot, then reduce the heat a bit.  Put in the burgers and fry until lightly browned on each side, or your perfect level of doneness.  For me, this takes about 3 – 4 minutes for each side.  Even though it’s a health worker’s nightmare, I am trying to leave the centre warmed but still red in the middle!  Leave to settle for about 2 minutes before serving.

We ate these plain as we were trialling the flavours, but serve with your favourite sauces and bread rolls.

Where to next, I think I will vary the level of red onion down a bit and see whether that’s better; perhaps to more like 1 tablespoon of caramelised red onion to 225g meat.  After that, I will look at the seasonings in more detail as to whether I can add some flair to them over and above these basic flavours.

For information, the other burger recipes that we tried were the following mixes:

Very basic burger: 337g beef mince, ½ tsp Steenbergs cracked black pepper, ½ tsp finely ground sea salt (too boring in our opinion, but the kids preferred these plainer flavourings)

Alternative onion version: 175g beef mince, ¼ medium white onion,½ tsp finely ground sea salt, ¼ tsp Steenbergs coarsely ground black pepper (tasted a bit sweeter, and perhaps the spice/salt level was better than the red onion burger)

Other Climate Change Indicators

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Other than temperature, there are a few more indicators of climate change that are studied, which I will cover in overview here as promised in one of my earlier blogs.

Firstly, there is sea level rise.  The first thing to say about sea level rise is that the melting of the Arctic Ice Sheet does not increase the sea levels as you are simply replacing the volume of ice with the same of water.  Sea level rise comes mainly from the expansion of the water volume as the temperature of the oceans rises, plus just under half from the melting of land based ice such as on Antarctica or Greenland’s glaciers or over North America.  However, while there is definitely sea level rise, it is not that scary being of the order of centimetres rather than metres.  So we have historic sea level rises of 1.7mm to 3mm (after 1993) per annum  during the 20th century, or 20cm over 1900 to 2000, with forecast sea level rises of about 4mm every year reaching a total rise of 22cm to 44cm by 2090 from a base date of 1990. 

There is the remote possibility of a massive ice sheet melt from the Antarctic but this is viewed by the IPCC as a millenium scale event, i.e. really, really unlikely; in fact, increased precipitation is expected to continue with extra snowfall falling onto the Antarctic and so thickening the ice cap on the South Pole!  For a more detailed and easy to understand slide show go to this one on Slideshare.

Next, there is the increasing acidity of the oceans.  As carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, so more of this in dissolved in the oceans and waters of the world; other gases like nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide also dissolve in water creating further acids, but here I am focussing on carbon dioxide.  The oceans act as an important sink or buffer for human activity, having absorbed over 80% of the heat added to the climate system and 30% of the human-derived carbon emissions over the last 200 years.  This point which has passed me by probably goes some way to explaining my earlier query as to why the link between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming is not so direct, i.e. because the water in the oceans, rivers and lakes dampens the impact [pun unitended but I like it] and takes up much of the initial heat and some of the increase in carbon dioxide and other gases. 

The ocean pH is about 0.1 pH units below the pre-industrial averages at around 8.1 and is forecast to fall another 0.4 to 0.4 pH units by 2100.  The impact directly on humans is minimal, however there is concern as to the impact on calcifying organisms that require carbonates to build their shells; a falling pH reduces the availability of carbonate in the water for corals, bivalves, crustaceans and plankton, which would then have implications on marine food webs and ecosystems.  These are simply explained at the following link and then there’s more detail on the oceans and coral reefs at the great web site Climate Shifts and on the BBC.

So we have further climate indicators that are showing that man is shaping the earth’s climate through his/her agricultural and industrial activity.

Sprouting Beans

Friday, June 25th, 2010

We have just put Just Wholefoods Organic Sprouting Bean Mix onto Steenbergs web shop.  I remember my mum used to grow mung bean sprouts in a Kilner jar at home which was quite fun and tasted really fresh and crunchy in salads or used in a stir fry.  So in memory of those angry days in the late 1970s, we have been growing the seeds in large jars in Steenbergs office to see how well they work.

Sprouting Seeds - Day One

Sprouting Seeds - Day One

Day 5 - Smaller Seeds Sprouted

Day 5 - Smaller Seeds Sprouted

Day 5 - Enjoying The Small Seed Sprouts on Spelt Bread

Day 5 - Enjoying The Small Seed Sprouts on Spelt Bread

Big Seeds Starting To Sprout

Big Seeds Starting To Sprout

Short Walk In Boroughbridge – Yorkshire

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Saturday evening saw the roads quieten off as everyone hunkered down to watch England in their first match at the South African World Cup.  The constant background noise from the A1 disappeared as it only ever does on Christmas Day – England hoping for glory, 30 million people preparing for disappointment, which came when Robert Green fumbled his save from a half-hearted shot from Clint Dempsey of the USA.  So England start with a 1 -1 draw and the heartache begins, yet we can still dream.

I went on a very short amble before the football to walk past the Devil’s Arrows in Boroughbridge.  These are 3 large sandstone grit menhirs that comprise what was once a line or series of 4 or 5 megalithic structures from around 2000BC, which were mined from Plumpton Rocks by Knaresborough.   In the 1560s, William Camden described “foure huge stones, of pyramidall forme, but very rudely wrought, set as it were in a straight and direct line… whereof one was lately pulled downe by some that hoped, though in vaine, to find treasure”. 

While they have been called many names, they are now generally known as The Devil’s Arrows, as (so the story goes) the devil felt slighted by Aldborough a settlement near to Boroughbridge, so he flung these stones at Aldborough from How Hill, near Fountains Abbey outside of Ripon, but being a poor shot or a bit of a wimp, his arrows fell short.  It is, also, claimed that you can raise the devil by walking around the stones 12 times in an anti-clockwise direction – who knows?

Three of the stones still stand close to the edge of Boroughbridge near housing and roads called Arrows Terrace, Arrows Crescent and Druids Meadow.  The missing two are thought to include one in the grounds of Aldborough Manor and another in the structure of the bridge over the River Tutt within Boroughbridge itself.

Many theories abound as to their purpose, but I like them for their mystery and the fact that they are just plonked their inconspicuously in a field and by a house within Boroughbridge.  History stretches back thousands of years in this region and will continue for thousands of years in the future, and we will toil on and survive whatever is thrown at the region by the devil or the Romans or Vikings or Kings and Queens of Northumbria or England or passed by ukase from London.  Soon the actions and demands from Parliament in London will become lost in time, a mystery, but life here will continue undiminished, unaffected and timeless.

One of the Devil's Arrows

The Largest Devil's Arrow

This is a very gentle walk.  I parked my car opposite Charltons, the Renault car dealer, and then walked about 50 metres before turning left into Roecliffe Lane.  Crossing over, you walk past modern housing that fills the space between Horsefair and the Devil’s Arrow fields.  At the brow of the small hill, you cross over to the largest arrow that stands 6.9 metres high (22 feet 6 inches) beside the road.  I like to touch the stone and feel if there is any power that emanates from it, but it never does as that’s just New Age garbage; I do the same with trees and similarly feel nothing unlike the tree-hugging Fins who think that it centres their souls. 

The Devil's Arrows

Grooves On The Devil's Arrows

This megalith soars upwards, and you can see the grooves that are perhaps relics from when the local tribes cut and dragged the stones to here, and you look up to the trees and the sky, seeing the awesome space that stretches above us towards infinity; frightening, so I return to earth and contemplate the understandable.

I crossed the road and before following the footpath down to John Boddy’s Timber, I walked around the wheat field to the other 2 standing stones – one of these is stranded in a sea of short wheat stalks, while the squatter final stone is in the grasy verge.  This one is a bit squatter and also has the grooves that you could see on the first larger stone.  It’s a decent view back along the three stones.  Now you walk back, then take a small ginnel into the housing area.  Here I paused and watched a thrush and a tiny wren jumping about in the hedgrow and singing out their songs to anyone who wanted to hear, but there was no-one but me.

View Back Along The Devil's Arrows

View Of The Devil's Arrows In Boroughbridge

You are in a housing estate with pretty, neat little bungalows made from red brick and tidy gardens of all shapes and sizes and styles.  This is Druids Meadow that stretches from Roecliffe Lane to Valuation Lane.  Valuation Lane runs alongside John Boddy Timber where you can get all sorts of fancy woods that have been used to refurbish Windsor Castle and York Minster, for example. 

Valuation Lane Through To Horsefair

Valuation Lane Through To Horsefair

As you get to the end of Valuation Lane, turn right back up Horsefair and passing the Methodist Chapel and St Helena to get back to the car.  Horsefair was originally the Great North Road and was a busy staging post and postal area, plus the area of the traditional June horse fair, the Barnaby Fair, where there was a fortnight of horse-trading followed by three days of cattle, sheep and hardware trading plus time for pleasure.

Recipe – Sweet Barbecue Style Chicken Legs

Monday, June 21st, 2010

We are always looking for ways to liven up chicken to feed the kids – simple, tasty and quick & easy family food.  This recipe is something I devised for Sweet Barbecue Style Chicken Legs is so quick to make that our children both love to help to make it and then wolf it down when it has been made, making it into one of those really magic types of family food; and if you make extra, then you can take the remainder to work and eat as part of your packed lunch.  We actually just roast these in the oven, but you can barbecue them by part cooking them in the oven, then smoking them off for the last 10 minutes on the barbecue.

Flavour wise, this is honey sweet with a massive umami kick from the soy sauce, plus some savoury bite coming through from the Southern Fried Chicken Seasoning and grainy mustard.  I like to add beer or wine to the sauce to layer in an extra flavour to compound up the taste, but you could omit this should you wish. 

Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks

Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks

Ingredients:

10 chicken drumsticks (get the best quality you can afford as it really does make a difference)
2tbsp organic tomato ketchup
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2tbsp Fairtrade runny honey (this is quite sweet so you might want only 1tbsp)
2tbsp lager or white wine
1tbsp organic sunflower oil
1tsp Steenbergs organic onion granules (or quarter onion very finely chopped)
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced and crushed
1tsp Steenbergs organic Southern fried chicken seasoning
1tsp grainy mustard (I used a balsamic mustard from Edinburgh Preserves

1.  Put all the marinade ingredients together in mixing bowl and whisk together.

2.  Cut a couple of slices into each of the chicken drumsticks and place onto a roasting tin.  Drizzle the marinade over each of the chicken drumsticks and twist them through the barbecue marinade.  Cover and then put into the refrigerator for 1 hour to let the flavours infuse through the chicken drumsticks; if you remember, twist them through the barbecue marinade part way through the marinading time.

Chicken Drumsticks Marinading

Marinading Chicken Drumsticks In Barbecue Sauce

3.  Preheat the oven to 180oC / 350oF.  Roast for 30 minutes; try and twist the drumsticks after about 20 minutes.  If barbecuing, cook for 20 minutes in the oven then brown off over the barbecue.

4.  Serve immediately.  We ate ours with saffron boiled rice and boiled broccoli and runner beans.  You could leave to cool and then enjoy cold in a picnic or for packed lunches.

Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks

Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks

Quest For The Best Burger In The North

Friday, June 18th, 2010

I have decided, like many before me, to go on a quest; a quest for the perfect burger

I want to do this in part to find something close to perfection, but also it will give me an opportunity to find some of the best local producers of breads and beef and other ingredients.  But here’s the downside, I have to put limits on my search, otherwise I will need to travel the world – I will let others do that for me and I would welcome your input for other great producers or recipes.  My rules for producers are that they must be located north of the Humber and south of the Tweed and on the east coast of England; those rules will seem arbitrary to most, but for me they are logical – I am a born and bred Northumbrian who lives in North Yorkshire.

So how to start this quest.  Well, I can only think about doing it very systematically, almost like a science project.  I am firstly going to do two things in parallel – I am going to test a number of recipes to find the best (in my family’s opinion) burger recipe, while simultaneously looking for the best local burger bun and/or recipe.  I have decided to do these together as I expect my wife and kids to get sick of very similar tasting burger recipes, so I will need to mix up what I am doing to keep this quest moving forwards rather than getting stuck in the culinary doldrums.  I will then run on into cuts of meat, proportions of fat and best local sources of beef etc etc.

As for recipes, I am going to stick only to beef, but we will be hunting for two recipes – one the best simple burger recipe, and the other, the best more complex recipe.  The former will be able to showcase the best beef when we get there, letting the meat do the talking, while the second can be a bit more showy.  I completely expect to change the rules as I go along, so don’t expect me to be overly strict.

How Do Global Warming, Greenhouse Gases And The Earth’s Orbit All Link Together?

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

I’ve written a number of blogs now where I try to get to grips with some of the numbers underlying global warming.  So far, I agree that the historic figures do demonstrate global warming over the last 100+ years within a relatively wide band of possible growth rates, and that the evidence shows that the levels of carbon dioxide have increased since about 1950.  Furthermore, the science behind the link between carbon dioxide, methane and the greenhouse effect (and so global warming) is simple science that has been known for many years; in fact, global warming/the greenhouse effect is science that enables life on earth as without it our planet would have an inhospitable temperature closer to -18oC, i.e. it heats up the earth by about 33oC already to 15oC.

What interests me next is how have temperatures and greenhouse gases moved in the past? I will try and analyse this by looking at some neat science that analyses climate data over a longer period.  This will get to the nub of the issue, i.e. what is driving global warming, plus may answer my two current quandaries: (i) why isn’t global warming being driven exponentially by the very obvious and definite growth in CO2 per the Mauna Loa graphs? (ii) why do the predictive models of climate scientists suggest that we should be preparing for increases of 2 – 4oC for the next 100 years, while history shows global warming is more like 1oC over the last 100 or so years?

To work this out, some scientists look at what happened at the end of earlier ice ages as this hints at the mechanics of atmospheric and other climatic changes.  There are several pieces of research that suggest how temperature and greenhouse gases interact - one strand looks at climate data in stalagmites in caves in China and the other is a series of classic pieces of climate change science around ice core data from the Antarctic.  I’ll deal with the Antarctic first.

The first one is pretty neat.  It is based on the fact that when snow falls it traps air in small bubbles within its structure.  Then as more snow falls the next year, this new layer not only brings its own store of information about air quality, snowfall, temperature and levels of greenhouse gases, but it permanently seals off the information stored in the previous year’s snowfall.  Over time, we get left with an annual layering of data that goes back for ages and ages in the Antarctic, as well as in the Arctic especially on Greenland.  Scientists have now dug vertical small circular shafts into the ice and then, after chopping up these ice cores, have analysed the information from them – there’s a video on Youtube that shows you what the scientists do.  Data collated from other similar projects basically corroborates information found in this much earlier paper, which was published back in 1999 by Petit et al (detailed reference at end).

In essence, Petit et al were able to drill down 3,130m, covering 420,000 years and providing a climate record through four climate cycles.  They found that temperatures are constantly changing, but always within given maximum and minimum levels.  They found that when concentrations of greenhouse gases (specifically CO2 and CH4) in the atmosphere went up, global temperatures, also, went up and vice versa.  They concluded “[f]inally, CO2 and CH4 concentrations are strongly correlated with Antarctic temperatures; this is because, overall, our results support the idea that greenhouse gases have contributed significantly to glacial-interglacial change.  This correlation, together with the uniquely elevated concentrations of these gases today, is of relevance with respect to the continuing debate on the future of earth’s climate.” (Petit et al, 1999).

However, they also stated earlier that “[t]hese results suggest that the same sequence of climate forcing operated during each termination [of a glacial period]: orbital forcing (with a possible contribution of local insolation changes) followed by two strong amplifiers, greenhouse gases acting first, then deglaciation and ice-albedo feedback.” (Petit et al, 1999).  This suggests to me that greenhouse gases, the melting of the ice caps and the positive feedback caused by white ice turning to dark seas usually act as amplifiers of changes in temperatures caused by other factors such as changes in solar energy caused by changes to the earth’s orbit, which gets me back to one of my original quandaries – what is driving climate change and so what happens when you have the amplifiers without necessarily the increased temperatures resulting from either a more active sun or a change in the earth’s orbit?

The next paper I read was in New Scientist only a couple of weeks ago and is also pretty cool.  This work is trying to understand the end of glacial periods by analysing stalagmites in caves in China and interlink this with known changes in the shape of the earth’s orbit – now how amazing is that?  Since then, I have been reading the original scientific papers, hence the time delay in writing this blog.

Firstly, we need to start with the concept of Milankovitch’s theories on the earth’s orbits.  Milutin Milankovitch undertook detailed calculations on the earth’s three main orbital cycles.  So, for example, every 41,000 years the tilt of the earth’s axis increases and decreases, making summers hotter and colder respectively.  It’s summer temperatures that are important as this is what drives the potential for ice packs to melt over time, rather than winter temperatures which just create more ice.  So from 2.5 million years ago to about 1 million years ago the ice ages occurred based on these cycles.  However, around 1 million years ago to the end of the last ice age, glacial periods started occurring every 100,000ish years.  This links in potentially with another orbital cycle of 95,000 – 125,000 years, but here the science is less strong and debate still rages as to what is actually happenning. 

Liu et al have measured oxygen-18 in stalagmites in several caves in China.  Water containing oxygen-18 is heavier than normal oxygen-16 and so condenses more easily, so heavy monsoonal air loses much of its oxygen-18 as it moves inland and each year a record is left on the stalagmites.  As each glacial period ends, the summer monsoons became much weaker than normally and so the oxygen-18 levels in stalagmites increased.  Their evidence showed that monsoons failed in the last four glacial terminations, or as they write “[t]his climate pattern, broadly resembling other cave records from China, appears to correlate with multi-decadal to millennial changes in Greenland temperature and the general pattern of the wind-borne calcium ion record in the ice.”  In fact, work on a stalagmite from the Dongge Cave in China agrees exactly (within error) with the Vostok ice core records of Petit et al, showing methane rise in the atmosphere at 129,000BP.

Further work has shown that CO2 and CH4 levels increase at the same time as the ice packs at the poles decrease, suggesting that the reduction in ice is actually causing the rise in CO2 and CH4.  It is suggested that as the tilt of the earth’s axis changes this increases the temperature of the earth and the ice sheet over North America flows into the Antarctic, which interferes with and then stops the circulation of water around the oceans, which normally keeps the southern hemisphere warmer and the northern cooler (the so-called Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation).  As the southern seas warm up, CO2 is released into the atmosphere as CO2 is less soluble in warm water than cold and so further increasing the impact of the higher temperatures from the sun.  In effect, over the last 400,000 years, whenever the tilt of the earth’s axis reached a maximum, the intensity of sunshine increased (based on insolation in July at 60o north), CO2 levels increased to a maximum, relative sea levels also increased to maxima, all correlating with the strength of the Asian monsoon.

All of this comes from ice core data, analysis of stalagmites and other stores of climate data like coral reefs.  That in itself is amazing.  Then there is agreement in climate records going back many hundreds of thousands of years that correlate with each other across the world and using different techniques and types of ancient, geological record.

Finally, I would like briefly mention another set of amazing work by Zachos et al in the US which tries to get to grips with temperature and atmospheric gases in deeper time in the order of millions of years ago.  They have analysed various types of proxy data in deep sea cores of rocks to determine temperature and carbon in earth’s history and have tried to relate this to events in the geology of the earth and evolution, so developing a framework for the development of the earth’s climate over a much longer timescale.  What I like about these pieces of research is not just how clever they are, but also because Bjørn Lomborg uses them in a section trying to refute the science within climate change work in his book “Cool it – the skeptical environmentalist’s guide to global warming” – he has a tendency to misquote, or at least to quote out of context, as well as jumble up numbers and data to make his own points, which are often at odds with what the original scientists actually have stated.  Just like Nigel Lawson, Bjørn Lomborg has authority when it comes to economic and political discussions around climate change, but they sometimes get it wrong when they try and refute the science; most of their errors stem from two simple problems: (i) they don’t understand the scientific process; and (ii) they mistake/confuse weather for climate.  I will try and get back to Lomborg’s book “Cool It” some time and show how he shoots himself in the foot at times by blatantly altering the available research to suit his arguments.

The research by Zachos et al shows that carbon and temperature are correlated at least to about 34 million years ago at the edge of the Eocene and Oligocene Ages, which is when the Antarctic Ice-sheets became fairly permanent, and that there is correlation with the orbit of the earth around the sun even if the impact is sometimes relatively weak over millions of years.  Prior to then, getting clarity in the temperature and carbon dioxide levels gets ever harder and we find that the linkage between carbon levels and temperature is much less clear and even perhaps non-existent, however later research by Zachos et al indicates that this lack of correlation may not be as extreme as some researchers have indicated and is perhaps simply a result of lack of experimental data.  The other interesting occurrence is that whenever there has been a sudden change in temperature this has also been accompanied by a similarly sudden change in carbon; these occurred at 23, 34 and 55 million years ago.  Later research at the 34 million years ago tipping point suggests that carbon dioxide is a key factor in climate transition; Pagani et al (2005) showed that “[i]n detail, a trend toward lower CO2 concentrations during the middle to late Eocene, reaching levels at the E[ocene]/O[ligocene] boundary that could have triggered the rapid expansion of ice on east Antarctica; and work by Pearson et al (2009) indicates that there was a fall in atmospheric carbon dioxide at 34 million years ago that triggered climate transition to an ice-house world and “[t]his study reaffirms the links between cryosphere development and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at the largest and most important climatic tipping point of the last 65 million years.”

However, when you look at research into climate over such a long time period, you realise pretty quickly that long term climate progression is the sum of many different processes and that it is far more complex than any of the commentators and scientists would have everyone believe, plus that correlation does not necessarily mean causation.

In overview, we know that the earth’s general temperature, hence climate, has gone up and down over time dependent on the earth’s tilt and orbital shape, i.e. effectively how close the earth gets to the sun during its orbit and so how much solar energy gets to the earth.  These changes in temperatures are then further affected by the earth’s environment, especially the levels of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere, the ice sheets and the ice-albedo effect.  In addition, climate gets impacted by a whole raft of other factors ranging from geological through to biological, which is a point that I will get back to in a later blog.

The science, therefore, does show that the basic greenhouse effect has impacted climate in the earth’s past and present and so will affect it in the future, but that it is not the only factor that impacts climate nor perhaps the most important climate factor over longer time periods.  Furthermore, while the research does indicate that sudden changes in carbon dioxide often occur with quick moves in climate, it doesn’t explain the consequences of these amplification or forcing impacts on our future climate, so that’s my next journey and is where I will need to start investigating the computer models devised by climate scientists to predict the climate in the future.

Before I go there, however, I would like to round off this section of my journey around global warming /climate change with a look at some of the other indicators of current global warming, such as sea levels and sea acidity just to round off the historical and current status of climate indicators.

References

Battersby, S. (2010) Meltdown: Why ice ages don’t last forever, New Scientist, issue 2761, 24 May 2010, Available on the Internet at http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627610.900-meltdown-why-ice-ages-dont-last-forever.html (Accessed 25 May 2010)

Kelly, M. J., Edwards, R.L., Cheng, H., Yuan, D., Cai, Y., Zhang, M., Lin, Y., An, Z. (2005) High resolution characterization of the Asian Monsoon between 146,000 and 99,000 B.P. from Dongge Cave, China and global correlation of events surrounding Termination II, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 236 (2006), 20 -38, Available from the Internet at http://www.sciencedirect.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/science?_ob=MImg&_imagekey=B6V6R-4JX38YR-1-R&_cdi=5821&_user=126980&_pii=S0031018206001301&_orig=search&_coverDate=06%2F23%2F2006&_sk=997639998&view=c&wchp=dGLzVlb-zSkzV&md5=a8ffdf76ab6ec0bde843ad331aeaa780&ie=/sdarticle.pdf (Accessed 2 June 2010)

Liu, D., Wang, Y., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., Kong, X., Wang, X., Hardt, B., Wu, J., Chen, S., Jiang, X., He, Y., Dong, J., Zhao, K. (2010) Sun-millennial variability of Asian monsoon intensity during the early MIS 3 and its analogue to the ice age terminations, Quaternary Science Reviews 29 2010, 1107 – 1115, Available on the Internet at http://www.sciencedirect.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/science?_ob=MImg&_imagekey=B6VBC-4YHSCPG-1-B&_cdi=5923&_user=126980&_pii=S0277379110000107&_orig=search&_coverDate=05%2F31%2F2010&_sk=999709990&view=c&wchp=dGLzVlz-zSkWb&md5=2e3a05cdb40b477b6a09872b4120f444&ie=/sdarticle.pdf (Accessed 25 May 2010)

Pagani, M., Zachos, J.C., Freeman, K.H., Tipple, B., Boahty, S. (2005) Marked Decline in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Concentrations During the Paleogene, Science 309, 600,  22 July 2005, Available on the Internet from www.sciencemag.org (Accessed 7 June 2010)

Pearson, P.N., Foster, G.L., Wade, B.S. (2009) Atmospheric carbon dioxide through the Eocene-Ologocene climate transition, Nature 461, 1110- 1114, 22 October 2009 Available on the Internet from www.nature.com (Accessed 7 June 2010)

Petit, J.R., Jouzel, J., Raynaud, D., Barkov, N.I., Barnola, J-M., Basile, I., Bender, M., Chappellaz, J., Davis, M., Delaygue, G., Delmotte, M., Kotlyakov, V.M., Legrand, M., Lipenkov, V.Y., Lorius, C., Pepin, L., Ritz, C., Saltzman, E., Stievenard, M. (1999) Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica, Nature, Vol 399, 3 June 1999, Available on the Internet from http://www.daycreek.com/dc/images/1999.pdf (Accessed 25 May 2010)

Zachos, J., Pagani, M., Sloan, L., Thomas, E., Billups, K. (2001) Trends, Rhythms, and Aberrations in Global Climate 65 Ma to Present, Science 292, 686, 27 April 2001, Available on the Internet from www.sciencemag.org (Accessed 7 June 2010)

Photo from Getty Images, supposedly

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

We recently inadvertently used a photo of some tomatoes that we found on Google Images in a subcategory of our web site and which is also available at Salmonella Blog.  Getty Images have sent us an unreasonable letter stating that we have, supposedly, breached the copyright of some photographer called Wilf James for use of his photo in a thumbnail-sized picture and will “generously” only charge us a discounted licence fee of £381.15.  On knowing this , we immediately removed the photo and apologised, however (and even after an unseemly bit of begging by me for a reduction in costs) they have continued to be unreasonable and not waived the costs, which considering we only sold £420 of tomato products in the last 18 months is really mean, but then that’s business.  Getty Images comment is (a) that’s Steenbergs problem not Getty Images; and (b) that it is up to Steenbergs to ensure that there is no copyright in images on the Internet, however the law is outmoded and needs to be changed as this makes it unreasonably onerous on small businesses and individuals who cannot afford the time and money to determine the copyright hidden within an image and as they cannot see a chain of ownership of intellectual property cannot reasonably be expected to check authenticity of copyright.  I think it is time for the UK’s law on copyright to be overhauled to take into account reality of Internet and modern technology – another example of lack of clarity is that every time you download a CD track from a purchased CD onto your computer or MP3 that may also a breach of copyright, but this is plainly unenforceable and probably not in the spirit of the law.

Here’s my partial view on Getty Images:

(i) For any intellectual property rights to be claimed, there should be genuine intellectual value in the item found free on the internet.  However, this was a generic photo of some tomatoes that was used in a minor subcategory as a cm x cm tiny photo that came up as your mouse waived over it.  Not much genuine value or intellectual effort in there, which I recreated in a few minutes (see below).

(ii) I am unconvinced that it is reasonable and equitable to make retrospective charges for an item that was prominently available without charge and without restriction as a top ranked picture on a global medium such as Google, and which a couple of seconds of research can be found on at least 2 other sites unacknowledged and without evidence of copyright.  This is like opening Wembley for a football match, letting everyone watch it, then pursuing people for ticket money after the event for photographing the match and publishing photos on the internet.

(iii) I believe that the onus should be upon the copyright owner to protect its copyright by using technology to prevent copying (which is available) and/or to make known that an item is subject to copyright when it is so.  This provides shoppers for content the opportunity to make a purchasing decision at a point of sale through weighing up economic value at an intangible (but real) checkout.  It should not be up to innocent users to make those checks nor to pay unreasonable licence fees later.  There should be a statute of limitations based on linkages that acknowledges that where a chain of ownership becomes broken it is up to the copyright owner to rebuild that chain and show effort in protecting that chain rather than seeking out overtly usurous consideration for innocent users of free content after the event.  In effect, this is like money laundering – how far down the chain are people guilty?  Obviously, the original money launderer is guilty then perhaps the one after that but by the fifth person down the line, they are completely unaware that any money they are touching is illegal so they cannot be complicit or guilty of being involved in the original crime.

(iv) Finally, I revert to point (i).  The copyright owner needs to demonstrate that there is value in its copyright.  I do not believe there is any significant value in this copyright.  To prove this, I have taken a photo of tomatoes that does the job that the illegally used picture is supposed to have provided valuable intellectual input into, and so worthy of the payment of economic consideration.  It took about 2 minutes to set up and photograph and 5 minutes on Photoshop, plus a few minutes to upload.  We had already got the tomatoes in the fridge, but that plus my time, gives the thumbnail a value of about £2.38 not £381.15 (which intriguingly is also twice the cost of the tomatoes from Morrisons).  And anyone who wants it it’s free and you can use it…

Red Tomatoes

Red Tomatoes

Since we started, we have tried to do all our own photography and, where we haven’t, it is photography that we have been provided by suppliers.  This was the only photo (I am told) that we didn’t take – a bout of human laziness for which we apologise and must obviously pay in blood.  While we theoretically have copyright in our own pictures and wording, we do not charge for this or stop people using it free of charge.  In fact, some of our competitors have even taken our wording straight from the web and then put it into their marketing literature, but we don’t complain – it’s a form of flattery - and life is about sharing the glories of the world rather than keeping them for oneself, selfishly.

Greed is so outmoded.  Bling is so dated.

My rant hides a more important point.  The internet kills the idea of intellectual property.  It has massacred the music industry, decimated the newspaper industry and will soon destroy the TV sector.  It has changed the way we communicate and purchase most products.  The days of making money out of controlling intellect are over.  In the same way that printing destroyed the control of intellect by the scribes and church, mass education took away the power of the political oligarchies formed around the landed classes, so the internet (and digital technology generally) is removing the value and power of politicians, media barons and the intellegentsia.

This is freedom, this is highly destructive and it’s awesome.   

The key to the future is collaboration.  Collaboration between scientists and academics is provided essentially for free through magazines and the internet (in fact the internet was invented to share scientific knowledge).  Collaboration is what drives Twitter and Facebook.  Collaboration is what will save people from themselves.  The mobile phone has connected more people together and done more to sort out third world poverty than all the charities combined.  Working together, connecting with each other and sharing is how we will all build the future together, rather than miserly behaviour to any overinflated perceptions of our own intellectual worth and value.

As a result, I have asked our web developers at Engage Interactive to address one of my bugbears about our site – that the photos are not searchable over the web nor are they captioned with a title, but just come up with a numerical value.  But we already are providing some of these photos over Flickr and I would also love to open up all our pictures on the blog to the wider world.

So the question is: do I just pay the money or do we pay it in tomatoes (that would be fun to send a pallet of tomatoes to the posh offices of Getty Images at 116 Bayham Street in London) or do we seek to challenge this stupid concept of seeking to charge for free content after the event through the Courts?

Update 12/11/2010:

I add this update as this blog post has received a load of comments some 5 months after it was originally posted.  Rather than take it down after the resolution of the original complaint, I posted a comment below that explained what we had done (18/6/2010), so that anyone who read the piece could see changes as they developed over time, however the comments I have been receiving do not realise that payment was paid in full.  We accepted that we were wrong and, although it was an crass error by someone within Steenbergs, we settled the claim, paid the full amount to Getty Images and took down the tomato picture, replacing it with one of our own photos.  And as I say in several other comments, Steenbergs does not have a policy of using photos other than our own, which we take ourselves (several thousand of them – all of an amateurish Steenbergs standard), but out of laziness a picture was used rather than doing as we expect and taking an original photograph; I then had to take a picture at no cost in time or real effort as we did not need a professional photo in the first place.  Notwithstanding all of that, as enthusiastic amateurs, we place no creative value on our own IP within the retail web site and corporate web site, blog, Flickr, Twitter or Facebook accounts and people are free to use the content should they so wish.

Teapigs – Clever Marketing By Tetley Tea

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

I had always wondered how Teapigs came from nowhere and were able to create a fabulous range of tea using really expensive Fuso tea bagging kit etc etc.

Well, I was looking at their accounts as I am always nosey and like to see how well people are doing and low and behold, Teapigs Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tetley Tea and so Tata Tea (India’s biggest tea company) and not the little wholesome start-up that I thought they were.  So that’s how they can rack up losses of £200,000 a year.  So that’s what they mean when they say they met at a “a really big tea company“, which apparently was in their marketing department, so I have discovered later.  Very clever marketing gimmick then and hats off to Tetleys, you had me fooled!  But Steenbergs won’t ever be able to compete with their marketing budget even if our gunpowder tea tastes way nicer.

It reminds me of Seeds of Change that cleverly hardly tells you that they are part of Mars, Inc, but imply in their marketing that they grew out of being a small hippy seeds business in Santa Fe, whereas they are really part of one of the world’s largest food groups.  They do currently have on their web site that the trademarks are owned by Mars, but they used to hide better.