The Costa Concordia disaster spawns something new

I’m sure readers recall the grounding, refloating and salvage of the cruise liner Costa Concordia a few years ago.  It was one of the most complex and difficult marine salvage jobs in history, and success was far from a foregone conclusion. Whilst the ship is no more, the technologies developed and used to salvage her wreck are now being applied in a new and innovative way. Scottish marine salvage group Ardent is adapting the tanks it used to refloat the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship wrecked off the Italian coast in 2012, to decommission North Sea oil platforms. It is one of several companies trying new ideas to

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Recovering from Pearl Harbor

Today the USA, and the US Navy in particular, remembers the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that dragged this country into the Second World War.  There will be many words written and spoken about the solemnity of the occasion, and exhortations to “Never forget!”. However, there’s another aspect to Pearl Harbor that we mostly do forget.  That’s the enormous, complex, expensive salvage efforts that commenced almost at once, to repair as many damaged ships as possible and return them to the fight.  Many people don’t realize how successful it was.  Of the battleships that fought and won the Battle of Surigao Strait in

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Waxing enthusiastic?

I’ve always thought of ear wax as something one didn’t mention in polite society.  It seems I was wrong – at least, as far as whales are concerned. Whale earwax forms like yours does: A gland secretes oily gunk into the ear canal, which hardens and accumulates into a solid, tapering plug. In the largest whales, like blues, a plug can grow up to 10 inches long, and looks like a cross between a goat’s horn and the world’s nastiest candle. Fin whale wax is firmer than blue whale wax, bowhead whale wax is softer and almost liquid, and sei whale wax is

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A little bit of very big firearms history

A reader was doing some research on 19th-century firearms, and wrote to ask me why so-called “market hunting” had been banned in the USA in the latter part of that century.  The reason was that so many waterfowl and migratory birds were being slaughtered for the “market” by commercial hunters that they had become endangered.  The tool of choice for these hunters was the so-called “punt gun“. The history of such guns starts in the 19th century, when the rise in demand for meat in the marketplace led to mass-hunting of waterfowl. Also, the best women’s fashions at that time

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Old-school etiquette

Via Gab comes this very useful illustration of a full table setting.  Click the image for a larger view. I don’t know anyone who uses full place settings any longer – they’re really a relic of pre-World War II fine dining – but the diagram is still useful with less extensive settings.  Simply leave out the items one lacks, and arrange what one has in the order show. So, if you’re ever in doubt about how to lay the table, or in which order to use the cutlery at one’s place, now you know. Peter

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Putting health-care costs under the microscope

Pro Publica is publishing a useful series of articles examining the health-care industry in the USA – and how its ultimate “beneficiaries” are not us, the patients, but the companies raking in huge excess profits and violating our privacy.  A selection of the articles so far: 1.  Why Your Health Insurer Doesn’t Care About Your Big Bills.  Patients may think their insurers are fighting on their behalf for the best prices. But saving patients money is often not their top priority. 2.  Health Insurers Are Vacuuming Up Details About You — And It Could Raise Your Rates.  Without any public scrutiny, insurers and data

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This may add an entirely new dimension to marine pollution

I haven’t heard the British-English idiom “to cry stinking fish” used in American English much, but it may be very appropriate to this report. Norway’s Hurtigruten, best known for the ships that ferry tourists along the country’s fjords and coastline and up into the Arctic, is investing 7 billion crowns ($826 million) over three years to adapt its 17-strong fleet. Six of its older vessels will be retrofitted to run on a combination of liquefied natural gas (LNG), electric batteries and liquefied bio gas (LBG). “We are talking about an energy source (LBG) from organic waste, which would otherwise have gone up

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When criminals turn technology against the police

Here’s an interesting twist on criminals and cellphones. Police believe Juelle L. Grant, 24, of Willow Avenue, may have been the driver of a vehicle involved in an Oct. 23 drive-by shooting on Van Vranken Avenue, near Lang Street, so they obtained her phone, according to police allegations filed in court. No one was injured in the shooting. After police took her iPhone X, telling her it was considered evidence, “she did remotely wipe” the device, according to police. “The defendant was aware of the intentions of the police department at the conclusion of the interview with her,” according to court

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Slings and slingshots can be a lot more dangerous than I thought

I used to play with slingshots as a kid.  In those days, we made our own out of Y-shaped branches we picked up among the trees on Table Mountain, and used strips of old bicycle inner tube (or, on one memorable occasion, my mother’s entire stock of elastic for clothing – she was not amused!) to make the sling.  They could launch acorns, or small pebbles, or nuts from my father’s old-nuts-and-bolts jar, out to 20 or 30 yards.  I never hunted with them, but plenty of other youngsters did (including a younger Lawdog, with hilarious results). I hadn’t realized that slingshots have

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The party of the rich is . . . ?

I note that the recent mid-term elections have produced one interesting result that hasn’t received much comment. California, New Jersey, New York and Virginia dominated the top 10 wealthiest congressional districts. Out of the wealthiest 50 districts, 13 are located in California; eight are in New York; five in New Jersey; and four in Virginia. Massachusetts, which didn’t make the top 10, still sports four of the nation’s richest congressional districts. Here are the 10 richest congressional districts in the U.S. by median household income: . . . Among the top 10 richest congressional districts, Democrats now represent all 10. Out of

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