Meteorologicus - Scorchio!

May 6th 2012

Blimey charlie, it ain't arf hot out there! The prediction was for 30˚C in the shade, but it's been up to 33˚C - and over 40˚C in the sun. The garden needs copious amounts of water as all the young plants are coming up. This being Eastern Europe, all the mains water is metered, which means that if we were to water the whole garden with the mains we'd be right buggered. Now, being clever chaps, we had a borehole drilled as soon as we got here. One of the great things about Hungary is that it sits on top of a bazillion cubic meters of natural water, and as the soil is mostly sand, boring down to it is relatively easy. The video below shows the general prodecure - this was taken at a friends house who had the same thing done. Apologies for the ropey quality - it was taken using the primitive movie function of a stills camera.

The Hungarian word for a pump is 'Kut' (Pronounced 'Koot'), so of course, the chap who does is it is called 'Kut Man'! I showed this to my friend Chris Gibson - Mud Man, Aviation Author, Raconteur and all round interesting and knowledgable fellow, and he explained everyhting that was going on. He spends half his life perched out in the North Sea on an oil platform, drilling through km's of solid sock. Our mighty well reached water at a depth of 22m, so now we connect an electric pump to a side pipe and can water the garden without worrying about the water meter - but now we have to worry about the electric meter!

Temperature GraphBeing an odd bloke, I take a temperature reading every day, and also read the electricity meter so we can keep a track of what's consuming electricity. That usually happens between 8.00 and 9.00 am - the graph to the left shows the temperature; solid blue for this year, and pale green for last year, for comparison. The trendline is also shown. Temperatures during the summer usually get into the 40's, and in the winter it can get to -25˚C, and colder. This year we had quite a cold snap in February, as can be seen from the dip. Note: These readings are purely for entertainment purposes only, and no implications or inferences should be drawn!

All this heat inevitably leads to thunderstorms, and being out on the Great Hungarian Plain, they can be mighty and spectaluar affairs. It's not unusual to be outside at night with a clear, starry sky overheard, and have the horizon ringed with thunderstorms - lightning going off in pink, orange, purple, blue, accompanied by chirping crickets and Nightingales!




The Sky is Falling!

(but only on Hungary)

March 20th 2012

A samovarPoor old Phobos Grunt (Russian: Фобос-Грунт, literally Phobos-Ground).... I watched the launch on 9th November 2011, but much as I would have loved it to succeed, I wasn't hopeful. It seemed to have been cobbled together from samovars and Zil limousine spares, and while the Russians do make rockets that are usually reliable, they haven't had a great deal of success when it comes to Mars missions. However, it got into orbit (phew), and then we waited for it to phone home and tell us that all was well. And we waited, and waited... as time went on it became clear something had gone seriously wrong and the burns to send it on its way to Mars hadn't happened. And so it stayed in low Earth orbit, while increasingly desperate attempts to reach it were made, and get those engines to fire. Eventually, the window for the burns closed, and that was that - all that could be done was to either de-orbit it, if communications could be established, or just let the thing fall back to Earth.

Orbit DecayFast forward to 15th January 2012. The orbit had been decaying rapidly, and it was obvious that it would re-enter in a matter of hours. We get a call from a neighbour; "That thing is going to crash into Hungary - what should we do?" The villagers know we have something to do with that space thing, so we tried as best as I could to reassure her (without too much sniggering) that no, it wasn't coming down on Hungary, and not to worry. "But it's been on the TV - they say it's definitely coming down on Hungary!" So we put on the TV, and sure enough, there's the head of the National Defence, or the National Disaster Authority, or something that requires wearing a uniform, a Big Hat and a serious face, confidently predicting that not only was it coming down on Hungary, but somewhere in the Jazbereny area, and everyone should be in their homes, and not to touch anything that they find after the crash! No, seriously... the Hungarians are so advanced that they could predict this to an unheard of level of accuracy where everyone has had failed. So advanced in fact, that some chap had actually filmed in coming down, on his phone, the day before - amazing! The entire country is on Magenta Alert (several levels above Red Alert), and all the defence authorities, fire department, police etc. are on standby, ready to spring into action. We are duly reassured!

With depressing predictablity, nothing of the sort happened, and Phobos-Grunt ended up in the spacecraft graveyard of the south Pacific, off the west coast of Chile. Meanwhile, back in Hungary.... silence. No mention of it - anywhere. Man in Big Hat, nowhere to be seen. It was like it had never happened, and anyway, we never said that. Hmmm.. all very curious, and how handy that it should have happened on a quiet Sunday in January... of course, no-one ever considered that they'd all be on double time, no no no - they were merely doing their duty!

Pics in Space

December 17th 2011

A couple of years ago, I had a request from a Russian chap, asking permission to use a couple of my pictures in a book he was writing. I get these quite frequently, so we settled on my usually terms - payment for the use of the images and a copy of the book. Apparently it was to be called 'Space Wings' and would be a comprehensive history of winged spacecraft, with an obvious focus on Soviet designs that were cloaked by secrecy until now. So I sent the pics - two images of the BAC EAG.4396 space launcher, carrying an EAG.4413 orbital spaceplane, received the payment, and more or less forgot about it.

EAG 4396It must have been a year or more later... I was out in the drive, chopping our wood for winter (typically we get through 6 tonnes of oak in our wood burner), when a Post Office van turned up. Out gets the chap, very carefully carrying a large, brown parcel.

"Are you Mann Adrian? I have a package for you".

"Yes, that's me."

"It's from Russia! Look - RUSSIA! From Moscow... MOSCOW! A package for you... from RUSSIA!". And he very gingerly hands it over, as if it contains some sacred relics! I should point out that when Hungary was under Soviet control, there was a huge airbase not 5km from where we live, so the Soviet Army and Russians of all sorts were well known around here - the children even had to learn Russian in school, so anything to do with the Russia is held in some reverence - or perhaps it's fear!

Space Wings CoverAnyway, he hands me the parcel, and nows holds me in the highest esteem - this foreigner, living out here in the middle of nowhere, receiving a package from Moscow!

Of course, it was a copy of the book. Bloody huge thing... case bound, thick as you like, copiously illustrated with images I've never seen before - just the kind of thing I love. One slight problem... it's all in Russian! My schoolboy grasp of the language was enough to decipher a few tantalising bits.

Launch DetailsSo that was that. Until a few weeks ago, when, during my frequent browsing of space-related websites, I came across a mention of the book. It had been put onto a Progress M-09M freighter and launched to the International Space Station!



Inside the ISSAfter docking with the 'PIRS' module on 11th January, 2011, the cargo was unloaded. And there were pictures of cosmonauts, on the ISS, with the book! So my images have finally made it into space!

Rat Trap!

October 19th 2011

Rats - who needs 'em? Apart from their medical testing uses, the things are nothing but a ghastly, stinking, disease-ridden menace. As we live out in the countryside, there are, naturally, rats. We do what we can to deter the buggers, but inevitably they appear. Anyway, a little while ago, my wife was visiting a chap in the next village. Pista-baci (pronounced Pishta Bachy) who's as old as the hills with a weather-beaten face that looks like a walnut, but he's clever, generous and works with his hands all day, usually doing some carpentry project - he did a lot of stuff for us. Katinka mentioned rats to him, and that we didn't want to put down poison because of our cats, and shooting them isn't really an option - "Aha" he says... "You need a rat trap"! So he describes this thing and says he can build one. OK... so that was a a couple of weeks ago.

Today, I hear shouting at the gate outside - it's Pista! He's come over on his Soviet-era cast iron bicycle to deliver the trap. And what a thing it is! Made from chunks of wood and sticks, old tin lids and string, but it works! General idea - two flaps at either end, held open by the strings which are held up by a wooden pin secured by a notch in the bar that goes through the middle. Inside, on the bar, there's a sweetcorn cob (favoured food of rats, apparently). Rat goes in - nibbles on sweetcorn, disturbs the bar, latch flies out and flaps slam shut - genius! Naturally, rat is not pleased at this sudden reversal in its fortunes and will try to escape by gnawing through the wood - which he's cleverly covered with more bits of tin, defeating the vermin!

Rat Trap

Now, this is all well and good, but it's a fearsomely large contraption and if I was a rat I'd turn and run! It may or may not work, but that's hardly the point - it's one of those amazing things that just seems to happen out here. Oh - he also made the catflap** in our MPF* door - "You want what? A door for cats?" So he made it, but then the door was the wrong size and couldn't be adjusted, so he made a new one. He sold the original to a Dutch chap who saw it and strangely was on the hunt for an outside door with a catflap - so now he's the cat flap master of Tomaj! I demonstrated how it worked to him today, much to his amusement!

*MPF = Multi Purpose Facility; large building joined to our house, which is used for outside living during the summer, has it's own water and cooker, storage for tools and sundry impedimenta, and all round jolly useful thing that we couldn't find another name for.

**Cat flap - invented by Sir Isaac Newton, no less. When conducting his famous optics experiments, was continually annoyed by his cat wanting to go in or out - so he invents the cat flap. What a guy.

Update: The rat trap was deployed in the approved fashion, but with little success - some varmint chewed through the strings, rendering it inoperative. Back to the drawing board!

More on Isaac Newton and the Cat Flap.