Too much to do, too little time. Even cutting the grass has to go into the Google calendar these days. A recent survey showed that most people cut their own grass when they would be better off employing someone else to do it quicker. What you’re actually saving by doing it yourself is the equivalent of £7.68 per hour. Now, how many of us would choose to work on a Sunday for just £7.68 per hour. Strange, isn’t it?
The same goes for flat pack furniture. When I recently went to pick up a bench seat, two chairs and a table for the garden, I realised that they were either pretty flat or I’d have to build them myself. Not a problem I thought. I had the instructions, the tools and the rest of the day. Fortunately, I also had a tip from the chap who helped me out to the car with the boxes: “If I’m honest Sir, these are a pain to build. I do it all the time. The trick is to keep all the screws loose to the very last minute and then tighten them up in sequence.” He waved me on my way with the same casual manner, I imagined, as an instructor would use with a first time parachute jumper, as they fall out of a plane: “Remember and count to ten and make sure you pull the chord at the right angle or it won’t open.” If only I’d been told this earlier!
As it was, I spent the next five hours building that furniture. My investment in time was, let’s just say, significant. I had devoted an entire Sunday to this when I would have been much better off actually working. And that’s the fallacy of ‘saving money’ by doing tasks you’re not familiar with. Or not valuing your own time.
Cutting the grass is low skill. Building furniture is more demanding. But justifying to HMRC that what you’re doing is eligible under the R&D tax credit legislation is a whole different ball game. Yet we still see people ‘trying their hand’ at making a claim.
Take Lola group, the race car manufacturer, which recently went into administration citing HMRC’s resistance to paying it R&D tax credits as a major reason. One wonders whether Lola was trying to write something it knew nothing about. Was it, in effect, assembling self-build furniture without either the instructions or the specialist knowledge and never having done it before? The result was a claim that obviously wouldn’t withstand scrutiny.
So when comparing Jumpstart with someone else, ask yourself if they’re trying to sell you the flat pack equivalent of a Harrods table.
Posted on Friday, 25th May, 2012
Plastic has transformed packaging, improved transportation efficiency, and may be the key to cheaper solar cells, but it also disrupts ecosystems. A recent study has found that tiny plastic fragments dispersed in the ocean have increased around 100-fold in the past 40 years and are providing new places for an insect species to lay its eggs.
Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California studied an area in the North Pacific dubbed the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’. While its name comes from its large concentration of plastic debris, this patch is not an island of plastic. Contrary to popular belief, it is not visible from space. It is made up of fragments so tiny that most of the plastic cannot even be seen from a boat.
Nonetheless, even these fragments no larger than a grain of rice pose an environmental threat. They’ve been shown to be toxic for fish and birds and nourish some microbes. Now, the Scripps study has reported insects laying their eggs on them. The insect, Halobates sericeus, is a water skater that lives on the ocean surface. It usually lays its eggs on rare bits of floating driftwood or seashells, but plastic fragments provide plentiful new real estate for this purpose. As lead author Miriam Goldstein explained in a blog post, “… adding all that plastic is providing habitat that would not naturally exist out there.”
Where there is more plastic, there are more eggs, boosting Halobates numbers. The insect eats plankton and is eaten by birds, so it is hard to guess what this boost means for the whole food chain. What is clear though is that our love for plastic is causing unexpected effects for the ecosystem. We are bound to continue discovering these unanticipated ways that plastic is changing our world.
This study was published in Biology Letters and is freely available here
Photo Credit: Anthony Smith
Posted on Monday, 21st May, 2012
August in Edinburgh: festivals, tourists, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and of course fireworks. How many of you have ever stopped to consider the environmental impact of these nocturnal displays?
Researchers at the Pyrotechnics Technology and Prototyping division of the US Army have developed new fireworks technology that is both better for the environment and less harmful to its users. At a time when people are becoming ever more conscious of the ‘carbon footprint’ of their everyday lives, it is not surprising to learn that considerable research has already been carried out to develop more environmentally friendly fireworks. Until now green coloured fireworks or flares, such as the handheld signal device used by the US Army, were created using barium-containing compounds.
It has recently been found that barium ores, as a raw material, may contain radioactive radium; barium compounds already pose several health hazards to people who work with them. Barium-free pyrotechnic alternatives have so far, not been very cost effective, and only burned brightly for a short length of time. Boron has previously been studied as an alternative to barium. It produces very bright lights but burns too fast to be useful for its intended purpose.
The group set up a series of experiments where different ratios of boron and boron carbide were tested in comparison to the handheld signalling device used by the army. Boron carbide was chosen due to its potential ability to slow down boron’s fast burn rate. The result was that a combination of boron and boron carbide not only improved the burn time compared to the barium-containing formula used in the traditional hand-held army signalling device, but also proved to have larger luminous intensities. This discovery can therefore be used both by the army and civilians to produce more affordable, environmentally friendly, and less harmful pyrotechnics.
Posted on Tuesday, 1st May, 2012