Hybrid cars, planting trees, dinosaur parasites, religious persecution, apostrophes and commas

15 December 2019

I saw an ad for a new BMW X3 hybrid so, out of curiosity, I looked on the BMW website to see what they claim for their hybrid.  (We actually have a BMW which is 13 years old and, by a significantly uninteresting coincidence, exactly the same age as our older dog).  Their website said this:

“Capable of reaching 62 mph from a standstill using both the electric motor and TwinPower Turbo combustion engine, [the new BMW X3 xDrive30e] plug-in hybrid SAV is injecting new life into on road adventures.”

Is something missing after “standstill”?  “In second gear”?  Or “downhill” perhaps?  It makes a Morris Minor seem attractive.

It also claims “an all-electric range of up to 31 miles”, which would get us to our nearest town and back while a trip to my older son in Dundee would require 17 recharging stops if one wanted to do the whole trip on electricity.  Then another 17 stops on the way back …

Energy storage is, of course, a problem generally but more so if you have to carry the storage containers around with you and batteries that are efficient enough to power cars are very heavy.  It was therefore interesting to hear recently about some research at Texas A&M University* into using the bodywork of the car as a battery.  The trouble is that the materials used in batteries are very brittle and powdery.  However, mother of pearl is made from calcium carbonate, which is also brittle and powdery but becomes much stronger than the sum of its parts when layered with chitin sea shells.  They’re now looking for an effective binding agent.

More work is obviously necessary but it’s encouraging to see lateral thinking at work.

Incidentally, when paper tax discs for cars were abolished in October 2014, the government said this would eventually save the DVLA about £7m a year.  The actual total loss caused by vehicles not being taxed at all in 2019/20 is estimated at £85m.

Another interesting thing I picked up this week is that one should always plant trees in square holes, not round holes, even round holes with soil that’s been loosened round the edges.  This is basically because roots curl as they grow and, in a round hole, they can just knot themselves into a spherical lump of root mass;  but they can’t cope with right-angles so they have to head off into the virgin soil around the hole, providing a wider root base for the tree.  Any proper sort of gardener of the Mr Harding kind (this reference is for Maggie Holland and/or June Tabor fans) knew this already but I didn’t.

Nor did I know that Dinosaurs had lice.  Scientists who spend their days peering through microscopes at bits of amber have discovered pieces of ancient amber containing dinosaur feathers riddled with louse-like insects.  (Yes, feathers.  You can imagine a tyrannosaurus rex in a turquoise feather boa asking for the canapés, can’t you?)  Dr Chungkun Shih, a visiting professor at Capital Normal University in China, a co-author of the research published in Nature Communications, said the amber had originated in Burma and could be 100m years old.  Now it’s called Myanmar, the lice are in government and prey on the Rohingya.

Following the xenophobic precedent set last year by Israel that excluded non-Jews from voting, the Indian government’s lower house last week passed a law that will grant citizenship to all religious minorities from neighbouring countries including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians fleeing persecution, but not Muslims.  “This bill is in line with India’s centuries-old ethos of assimilation and belief in humanitarian values,” spake Narendra Modi, the prime minister, having clearly misunderstood the meaning of ‘assimilation’ and ‘humanitarian’.

In Texas, the Houston police chief, Art Acevedo, got very angry after one of his officers had responded to a domestic violence call and was shot dead.  He tore into the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and two Texas senators saying they were intentionally stalling the Violence Against Women Act because they “don’t want to piss off the NRA”.

It seems a pity that the Apostrophe Protection Society has closed, probably realising it was supporting a lost cause.  Somebody recently passed a blackboard saying “Asparagu’s” outside a greengrocer’s shop so they went into explain;  the greengrocer freely admitted the mistake but said it was surprising how much their sales had increased since the sign went up and people came in to point out the error.

Commas also needed to be treated properly as Lynne Truss exemplified with the old joke involving the difference between a panda that “eats shoots and leaves” and one that “eats, shoots and leaves”, and even one that “eats shoots, and leaves”.


*          The A&M originally stood for Agricultural and Mechanical when it was founded in 1876 but, as its syllabus broadened in the 1960s and it became more inclusive, they dropped the Ag & Mech and the A&M doesn’t now stand for anything.

2 thoughts on “Hybrid cars, planting trees, dinosaur parasites, religious persecution, apostrophes and commas

  1. Thank you for the tree in a square hole tip, very interesting and something I didn’t know! I hope you have a lovely Christmas and a Happy New Year Alec! X


    1. Thank you Claire. Our gardener knew this (of course) but says that Kew recommends this but the RHS doesn’t (or possibly vice versa). I hope you and everyone who loves you have a great Christmas.


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