I don’t know about bees

I did tell you that there might be more today.

I was wandering around the garden with my daughter last night after a particularly energetic dodgeball practice session with both kids. Her shouts of excitement at seeing a “hover bee” alerted me to grab the camera and try to grab a few shots.

This task was made slightly more difficult by the fact that the camera was set up for vlogging and had a microphone and tripod attached, the Boy Wonder attempting to (re?)start his Youtube career.

This isn’t my SD card. Its volume is too small.

Still, I got something reasonable, considering how small and mobile the subject was:

…and then then came the dreadful moment when I was asked what sort of bee it was.

I don’t know about bees.

Thankfully, distraction – in the form of the beagle trying to dig up the herb garden – allowed me to temporarily evade the question, but the query will return and unless I do something about it, I’ll be stumped again.

Fortunately, the internet does know about bees.

And having chatted to the internet, it seems that this is a male carpenter bee (Xylocopa caffra). Apparently, “worldwide, there are about 500 species of carpenter bees representing 31 subgenera”. But I’m not sure how this “diverse, widely distributed group of solitary bees” has survived, given that this one flew around wasting copious amounts of energy, but notably, comprehensively failed to actually land on the flower in shot and eat anything.

Beagle watch

Today, I learned that there is a security company in Gauteng called Beagle Watch. I have a number of issues with this.

To the uitlanders, allow me to explain. Here in SA, many people have their house alarms connected to an armed response security company. That means that when your alarm goes off – most likely because you forgot to switch it off before letting the dog out – a friendly man with a gun will show up at your door in case you’re in trouble. I’ve actually yet to hear a story of anyone actually being saved by the friendly man with a gun, but perception is everything and if it helps you sleep more soundly at night to pay a man with a gun to be on-call, then that’s great.

There are all the usual suspects (pun intended) on the scene: ADT, Princeton, Fidelity, Chubb. And then there are the regional services as well. They claim to understand the local crime problems better than the bigger, less personal entities. One of these local offerings is Beagle Watch in Randburg:

Response Time

The best in class response times! No matter what the emergency, Beagle Watch will be there first!

A Dedicated Team

Proactive security is our focus – we are the only company dedicated to the prevention of crime in your area through continuous, 24 hour, high visibility patrols.

Continuous and 24 hour. Colour me impressed.

But when you choose an animal to name your security company after, you want one that’s ever-vigilant, alert, attentive, powerful and quick to react.

I have a beagle. It’s really none of those things.

And so the name really doesn’t instill any sense of confidence in me. I’m only warning them about this after the well-documented collapse of Sloth Security in Constantia back in 2013.

The badge is also a problem:

It’s like they got an 8-year-old to draw a beagle. Three beagles.

Beagles do have moments where their senses are piqued and they’re ready for action. These moments usually relate to seeing a squirrel in the park and generally only last for 3 or 4 seconds. But a key feature of a momentarily alert beagle is the elevated tail. This is an evolutionary hangover from when they used to be powered by electricity, much like dodgem cars. Also, they always face left when they are ready to go. See?

Squirrel-spotting beagle

A beagle with a tail as depicted in the Beagle Watch logo is depressed, tired or depressed and tired and is certainly not going to offer any resistance to local criminals.

Also, you’d never get three to line up in such an orderly fashion. At least one would already be asleep or foraging for food.

My suggestion to Beagle Watch (and I will be forwarding them a link to this post so that they realise their error in nomenclature), is that they change the name of the business, soonest. And it doesn’t have to be a train smash of process. A simple, carefully applied daub of black paint on each of their vehicles turns Beagle Watch into bEagle Watch: the genus Aquila possessing all of the qualities one looks for in a neighbourhood security company. And they also have an aggressive beak and talons, filling the crims with a sense of fear and dread. Everything that a beagle doesn’t.

Mark my words: you can watch the crime rate in Randburg drop like the proverbial stone.

I’m frankly amazed that no-one has come up with this idea before.

Never stop. Never settle.

So goes the tagline to a cognac advert, which used to make sense to me, but has since been updated and now merely wastes 30 seconds during half time in the football. (I do recognise that I’m not the target demographic. I hope it makes sense to them.)

I guess that it’s a motto designed to encourage continual improvement and personal growth, but it speaks to me in a different way. Just recently, I’m struggling to relax. Sure, there’s a list of jobs this long [indicates long list] that need doing, but that’s always been there. And I know that this is a Sisyphean challenge, and I’m content to knock things off it one at a time.

I can like to be methodical with my rock pushing.

However, it used to be the case that after a long day of doing things, I could then sit down and enjoy the football or some pirated programme from the UK. That doesn’t seem to be possible anymore.

Of course, this is an extreme situation depicted above. I’m not suggesting that I will be flushed down the metaphorical toilet if I stop for a while: there’s no danger in slowing down every now and again. I just don’t seem to be able to do it.

My downtime is now spent walking the beagle or in the gym, but it’s just a few hours a week and while I’m doing that, I’m already planning what else needs doing that day. Those evenings in front of the TV, admittedly shorter and less structured now that the kids are getting a bit older and staying up a little later, don’t seem to be as appealing as before, and I’m ready for bed early – maybe because I haven’t relaxed all day.

I’m not convinced that this is a bad thing. It’s just not a normal thing for me. Probably just another change that needs to be adapted to, rather than something that needs to be interrogated in an introspective blog post.

We’ll leave it there.

Land Line Less

We’re getting rid of our landline. I know that millions of people have done this already, but there was a landline here when we bought this house, and we’ve just… kept it.

No longer.

The eventual arrival of fibre in our residence meant that we no longer needed a home phone line connection and could move to VOIP. And while I was adding up the cost benefits of making that switch (I worked it out to be a saving of about R150pm), I came up with a third plan: no house phone line at all. The cost benefits of that one are even better: it costs nothing to not have anything.

Who knew?

Anyway, the long and short of it is that we’ve cancelled our Telkom line and they’re going to send us a final bill and cut us off very shortly. If I understand the process correctly, they’ll then send us some more bills and I have to go and shout at them in their posh new walk-in centre in Cavendish.

Some ridiculously poor customer service will then ensue, with a distinct lack of returned phone calls (to our cellphones (or… er… not)), and there will some more shouting from this end.
Anyway, we should be all sorted by July next year, with the threatening letters from misinformed debt collection agencies tailing off by the end of 2022.

I can’t wait. It’s like we’re living in the future.

 

The Radioactive Boy Scout revisited

Soon after I published the tale of the Radioactive Boy Scout, I got an email from a learned friend suggesting that I might actually be reporting a non-scientist’s interpretation. One of the lines therein was:

 I think you might be reporting a non-scientist’s interpretation

See?

I didn’t argue, because actually, that might well have been the case. But then a lot of my readers are non-scientists, so maybe that was ok.
Yes, it was a story about science, but it was also a story about the human spirit, perseverance, adventure, and the triumph of 1990s American high school education. A tale of a Boy Scout gone rogue (or not, depending on your viewpoint of exactly what Boy Scouts are supposed to be like).

And so I went out and I found a piece that included a bit more science, but also a lot more of the human side of things. A more detailed account of the whole story, containing paragraphs like (but not limited to):

David still had to isolate the thorium-232 from the ash. Fortunately, he remembered reading in one of his dad’s chemistry books that lithium is prone to binding with oxygen—meaning, in this context, that it would rob thorium dioxide of its oxygen content and leave a cleaner form of thorium. David purchased $1,000 worth of lithium batteries and extracted the element by cutting the batteries in half with a pair of wire cutters. He placed the lithium and thorium dioxide together in a ball of aluminum foil and heated the ball with a Bunsen burner. Eureka! David’s method purified thorium to at least 9,000 times the level found in nature and 170 times the level that requires NRC licensing.

It’s a much better account of things from start to finish, and while it does corroborate much of that first version; the extra words allowing for more concise descriptions throughout.
As I mentioned, there’s clearly more science in there too. Which is great.

Long story short then, should make everyone much happier.
Especially the scientists.