Science ideas

via the kids’ Scout Group Facebook page…

I’m not sure if they’re trying to give them ideas or what?

But here’s the story of David Charles Hahn (1976-2016), a teenager who – as the title suggests – quite literally built a nuclear reactor in his mother’s garden shed.

Spoiler: It would have been built in her basement, but he’d already blown that up.

If you’re wondering how he managed to get instructions on how to build a nuclear reactor in the days when the internet was only just starting up, well, he called up America’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and they talked him through the step-by-step instructions. And told him how to isolate radioactive material.

Which was like this:

But being a breeder reactor, the amount of radioactive material increased, and after a month, he decided the danger to those around him was too great and began to dismantle it. But he was arrested in the process of loading the reactor into his car one night in 1994.

No criminal charges were brought. Amazing.

Hahn died aged 39 in 2016 after a short career in the US Navy, And no, his untimely death had nothing to do with his youthful exploits.

I’ve got a few spare days later this week – and I have an idea…


It was an amazing weekend. Wild and windy, but full of spring sunshine, and Cape Agulhas really showed off.

Sure, there was the whale, but that was dead and anyway, we’d already seen snakes and tortoises and the infamous Pengueagle (or Eaguin?) (more on that another time) before we saw her.

And then a walk on the beach this morning yielded Plovers, Kingfishers, a Curlew, some Caspian Terns (Sterna caspia):

…some very dramatic waves, photobombed by a Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus):

…and the highlight of my weekend, a Cape Clawless Otter (Aonyx capenensis), showing off his catch of (I think) a Carpenter (Argyrozona argyrozona):

We disturbed him as we walked along the beach, but he was as interested in us (and the beagle) as we were in him. He floated a few metres out in the bay with his fish in his mouth before transferring it to his (clawless) paws so he could give us a proper grin.

It was a reminder how lucky we are to have the cottage and how much our kids can learn from visits there. If we’d been in Cape Town this weekend, it would have been all iPads and crap on TV (although less windy, admittedly). Instead it was fresh air (albeit moving rather fast) and some amazing experiences. All in just over 24 hours.

More photos to follow, but I feel like catching up on the footy now.

Of whales

A quick trip around the corner (not this corner, another corner) from the cottage took us to Rasper Punt.

We were there, not just because it’s a nice walk through the fynbos to the beach, but because on that beach was a dead whale.
Dead whales might not be to everyone’s tastes (in fact, I’d advise you not to even think about eating one), but they are interesting when you’ve never seen a dead whale up close before. Sad, but educational.

And so we went to have a look, take some photos, poke it gingerly and slip all over the whale-oiled rocks.

I am not an expert in whaleology, but I think (think) this might be a Humpback. Probably 8-9 metres long, lying on its back, its body attacked by the seagulls and its skin sliced by some humans. And why not?
It’s not going to need it anymore, is it? See my link on “Stuff you can make from dead whales” (jks, I never wrote that post, but I know it’s a lot). Having stood on the rocks with the oil leaching from our floppy friend, my feet are so lovely and soft from all the grease on the stones.
I’ve never felt so young! Just wait til Tim Noakes hears about this.

It was blowing a literal gale while we were down there, so conditions weren’t great for togging stuff, but I got a few which I’ve put onto Flickr already.

Blogging from the far side

It’s ok. I haven’t died or anything. But the local Vodacom mast for the village has, and so I can’t upload anything from the cottage.

Fortunately, the beagle needed a walk, and so I’ve come a couple of kilometres around the corner where my phone has picked up a signal from a mast somewhere along the south coast towards Gansbaai. It’s weak and it’s slow, but it’s something.

So today’s post about the humpback whale (written but not uploaded) will now be saved for tomorrow.

But the beagle is getting restless and so I’m off to enjoy more of the scenery and the crashing waves around here.

101 uses for brandy

No. 57:

The land on which Mount Nelson Hotel is now situated was granted to Baron Pieter Van Rheede van Oudtshoorn. This land was known as Oudtshoorn Gardens (at this time, the term ‘garden’ was used to describe a small farm).
Baron Pieter returned to Holland and while there, was appointed the new governor of the Cape. However, he died en route back to Cape Town, and Oudtshoorn Gardens was subsequently subdivided and sold.
When people died aboard a ship, they were normally buried at sea, but Baron Pieter van Rheede van Oudtshoorn was kept in a lead-lined coffin and preserved in brandy for four months until his ship reached Cape Town.
He was buried with ceremony, and his tombstone can now be seen on the outer wall of Cape Town’s Groote Kerk.

How fortuitous that there was a lead-lined coffin and several (or more) litres of brandy available on board for this purpose. Was that a regular cargo, I wonder, or did someone suspect that Oom Piet was going to pop his (quite literally, one would imagine) clogs?

There’s little information as to how he died, and there’s certainly no evidence to suggest that this is what happened to him, but when I go, I think that drowning in a lead-lined coffin filled with brandy would be both pretty cool and rather practical.

He probably would have tasted great upon arrival in Cape Town.

Anyway, his information, which I discovered by accident on the Wikipedia page for the (Belmond) Mount Nelson Hotel (don’t ask), explains the why the suburb behind the building (Gardens) is called what it is, and also the name of the next road left after the hotel: Rheede Street.

I also learned that during the influenza outbreak of 1919, the Mount Nelson was described as a “plague-free zone”.

Much like the rest of Cape Town that year, then.