Thursday, 19 November 2009

On Entropy, and Other Random Things.

Soubriquet Labs has been concerned, as many have, by the recentish economic slowdown. We have noticed no slowing down, however, of rust.

This thought is prompted by noticing that the Land-RoverDiscovery seemed a bit throaty last week, all of a suddenish. And there was that greasy dieselly smell in the interior air when idling at traffic lights. Not that I have anything against the smell of diesel, of course, to have a grump against it would be an insult to the fact that diesel makes the world go round.

All those good things that we crave, be it chocolate, fresh bread, oranges, whatever, all are brought to us by diesel, at some stage in their travels. But I digress. It's what I do, digressing. Could be a quirk, an eccentricity, an annoyance, or a downright offence. I think it's Attention Deficit Disorder. That's ADD to you as opposed to ADHD, which includes hyperactivity, I've very rarely been accused of hyperactivity.

But you see, I was always being ticked off at school for not paying attention. I was looking out of the window, carving a hole in the desk, or reading the wrong book.

This is why I started Soubriquet Labs. Soubriquet Labs exists to invent and perfect the things sensible labs won't get involved with. Which brings us back in a roundabout way to rust.

You see, my Discovery is succumbing to entropy.

(A nasty bit of entropy)

The way around that, of course is welding. Just had to do a bit of that, but the noise? oh yes, the noise. See, I just assumed my hearing had suddenly improved, until, until, that is, I was walking across the car-park at work and noticed I had no number plate. Just a black rectangle. So I gave it a tentative wipe, and lo! and behold... yes, a number plate. covered in sooty stuff. Why?

Surely the exhaust was placed in such a way as to distribute the fumes into a proper soot bag?

No. It was not. In fact it was not positioned, so to speak. On a 200 tdi Discovery, there's an exhaust hanger just behind the axle on the rear near-side. Behind the hanger, a small (trivial) silencer box and a couple of feet of pipe. In my case, not. Nothing behind the hanger. My silencer back-box had gone to join the army of rusty, forlorn vehicle parts that adorn our roadsides. I have no idea where, as to when, within the last um, seven to ten days.

The result of this is that I had to buy an expensive assemblage of pipe and boxes, which led me to thinking of the role of rust in the economic cycle.

Our motor industry is almost at a standstill, I suspect, partly because cars are so much better lasting than in days not so long gone by. Time was, when the average british built motor vehicle had as much bodily integrity as a colander after about six years. Those old Mark 2 Escorts, and HA Vivas which turn up at classic car shows, along with the last surviving Austin Maxi, and a Hillman Minx, are not classics at all. They're just survivors.

When Rover was selling the Rover 2000, the P6, it had an advert showing one alongside a heap of rusted car bodies with the slogan "Thank Goodness in These Days of Mass Production, a Rover is still a Rover". My dad's company car was a Rover 2000. At three years old it had holes through it.

You'll pretty much never see a landrover on an old V or W plate. In those years, BL was making the chassis and bulkhead out of the cheapest steel it could buy, much recycled, not a lot of new iron in the batch. Vehicles of this era needed patching so regularly that you could hire mechanics on powered skateboards to slide under the car during the commute to work and weld as you travelled.

The carpets did not last long either. Fires whilst commuting were regular. Luckily, firemen on mopeds patrolled all major routes with buckets of water on panniers. Ahhhhh! the good old days...

The british car industry was heading toward the perfect consumer car, one which crumbled half an hour after the warranty ended. Thereby prompting you to go out and buy a fresh one.

You younger whippersnappers will scoff at this, call it a load of guff, or you would if you knew what guff was. But the veterans amongst us know the truth. Rust is essential to economic regrowth.

It is no surprise that rust is at its active at the cold ends of the year. If you cast your mind back, you may remember winter, it was a week when all the schools closed, arctic blizzards scoured the land, and Britain ran out of salt.

Back in the old days, salt was spread liberally all over the highways at the slightest hint of a chilly night. Happy council workmen shovelled it over pavements, and every remote estate and cul-de-sac had grit boxes. Salt was so abundant that some years they gritted in summer too, just in case.

But the winters were worse, of course, polar bears used to be a big problem in Heckmondwike.

Sowerby Bridge was overrun with penguins in the winter of 1963, begging for scraps outside fish n'chip shops, and importuning passing mariners.

What's this to do with Land Rovers?

Well of course, when the world shuts down because there's an inch of snow on the roads, who is it who rushes outside with glee and plans a trip to the hills?

Anyway. Britain ran out of salt. Rationed, it was. Highways agency demanding counties which had salt to relinquish it, in favour of those which had not remembered to buy any. A yellow jacketed bloke snatched the salt shaker out of my hand as I prepared to enjoy my fried egg sarny, "Sorry mate, requisitioned" He was assigned, I believe, to be strapped to the bonnet of Lord Mandelson's official conveyance and strew salt in its path.

As the chaos abated, and a thaw appeared, our masters told us they had arranged for forty thousand tons of rock salt to be brought from Europe. It should arrive here by next july.

Meanwhile, Highways agency chiefs are fearing a backlash, if no winter occurs next year. In order to save their blushes, Soubriquet Labs has been stockpiling snow in rented warehouses. Next year, Soublabs plans to deploy thousands of council gritters, loaded with snow, and using grit-spreading technology, will overnight coat the nations roads in slippery white.

The ensuing collisions will stimulate the automotive economy.

The very same gritters will then, after a few days, spread salt on a few bus-routes, thus kick-starting a new cycle of rust. Soub-Labs expects to take billions in backhanders from the industries which benefit from snowy conditions.

On another digression, Soubriquet is concerned at the profligate waste that occurs every day. "Just nipping out for some fresh air". How often have you heard someone say that?

Using air once, and replacing it every morning with fresh is just wasteful.

The professor was eyeing an air conditioner in a shiny new Range-Rover sport at Farnells the other day...... So, he thought, what if... what if instead of using new air you could pass it through an air-conditioner, twice....

Think of it. Not fresh. but re-conditioned.


  1. Number plate. Silencer box. Blushes. Backhanders. Ah, you are still a treasure for my research when caught unawares in your natural writing habitat. Yes, I still collect those pesky words of yours. "Yours" being your countrymen at large, of course.

    As to this fine post (which I think I do more or less understand)it brought back childhood memories of the glories of winter in Michigan where I was hatched and raised and allowed to drive without insurance on the ice. Michigan loved (probably still does) salt and luckily they don't have to send to Europe for it. But the result was exactly the same: cars rusting out before their time to the point of making one wonder what was holding them together. Fortunately, again, the American auto industry at the time was also located in Michigan so there was a plentiful supply of replacements. Unlike Land Rover, I don't recall any of them making any claims as to reliability or longevity, the American Way being built on a combination of consumerism and easy monthly payments even back then.

    Sadly, I now live in a part of the U.S. where metal lasts forever, there being little snow and even less salt. Cars still exist in unrusted condition for decades. People from up north come down to buy them and rehab them as hobbies, though. The sun does tend to bleach out the paint on them rather quickly, but that is a whole other post in itself, I suppose. Not many diesels except on the behemoths.

    I enjoyed your post and hope you will expand on the Soub-Lab subject/concept sometime. Cheers.

    (That's a muffler, right? - That box thing?)

  2. Ah, Max, you got me there.
    At this point I confess that the post was written for another publication, one that is a paper entity, and, being recently stuck in the inspiration for posts, I decided to paste it in.
    Usually, in blogging mode, I'm writing for the international readership, and, knowing that many of my readers are, in fact, residing in our former colonies, and therefore not blessed with a proper fluency in English, I try to write in simplified form. Years of studying the Readers Digest in doctor's waiting rooms have given me training in simplified English.
    Remember; although the Readers Disgust has a section that is called "It Pays to Increase Your Word-Power", their own style guidelines eschew any use of words such as eschew.
    I try to write international English, is what I meant to say.
    However, I know some visitors, -you being the perfect example, are avid collectors of colloquial English, and enjoy the challenge of figuring out, from context, the meanings of unfamiliar words.

    I'm happy to provide a translation, or glossary, should you require, your feedback is very interesting to me, because it's actually quite difficult for me to assess which english words are not intelligible to even well-read american readers.

    Here are a few:
    Silencer "that box thing" = muffler. Muffler is unarguably the better term, because they do just that, muffle, however, silencer is what you have to buy here. Sometimes referred to as "back-box".
    Number Plate= License plate It refers to "registration number", the first cars here were assigned only numbers, until it was realised that an alphanumeric system would allow more information and easier identification. I could write a post about that, but only six people would read it.
    Blushes? Pinkenings of the face at times of embarassment? What do you say over there?
    Backhanders= bribes. Our politicians are famed for taking them... "That legislation, George, that you chaps are thinking of passing, it will have a clause exempting existing industries, like mine, from having to comply, won't it? Ohhh And George, I think you just dropped this key to the new Jaguar parked over there..... Good, good, Lovely meeting you, George, my regards to the wife...."

    No trouble with "fried-egg sarny" then?

    Michigan. Ice. Brrr.
    Our own classic car buffs re-import old cars from your part of the world too, elderly MG sports cars and Jaguar E-types, which have never met salt, and therefore present an ideal bodyshell to start a rebuild.
    Your automobile industry did over the years build some great machines, but they were usually just too monstrously big and thirsty for our little country.
    Diesels. Twenty years ago diesels were noisy, rattly truck-haulers, they were slow, low-revving, and had a very narrow torque-band, you had to know how to start them, and how to stop them, My brother had a Land-Rover fitted with a Perkins 4204 out of a truck. It needed to be preheated, and had a thing called a flame-start in the inlet manifold. This gadget heated up and ignited a spoonful of raw fuel, and the first turns of the starter drew flames into the chambers. It was a noisy thing, and it had a top speed without overdrive of fifty six miles per hour, because that was where the rev-limiter kicked in. But it would climb the side of a house on tick-over. Or haul pretty much anything. We used to pull tree-stumps with it. Taxis used them too, diesel engines, by definition, tend to be more efficient than those which run on what you call gasoline, and we call petrol.
    Their recentish evolution in the domestic market has been nothing short of amazing. My Discovery has a 2.5 litre turbo-intercooled, direct injection engine which outperforms my old 3.3 V8. And it does 34 mpg reliably, it could do more but I can't drive like that.....
    Smaller turbodiesels are now doing 130+ mph, or 70+ miles per gallon (just not at the same time), and they're cleaner than some hybrids.

  3. not much with autos myself but as neil young said... rust never sleeps, plus it's essential for making some of those perty glazes

  4. I know what a blush is. It was the way you used is as a substitute for "hide their embarrassment" that threw me. We would only use it to say someone was blushing. Anyway, the best way (only way, actually) to get good words is to eavesdrop on you when you are just speaking and writing naturally. When I ask you for words, it is hard to come with many except the obvious ones everyone knows. It is the words you use naturally that you assume we use too that are what I want. Got a bunch now. Not just stuff like the brass monkey and the leg over and what not. More than you might think.

    Writing for an international audience, eh? Right. :)

    It is a digest, after all. The key concept being brief and easy to read. :) I thought they went out of business? I remember it as a kid around our house. Mostly just read the joke sections instead of trying to increase my vocabulary.

    I know nothing of diesels. Except that I thought they used a glow plug when it was cold. Or is that the same thing? They experimented with diesel passenger cars here in the late 70s and early 80s and they didn't really catch on. But I think they are making a comeback. Especially in 1-Ton pickups. Not with me, though. :)

    I think egg sarny was covered along with the toad in the holes and the striped dick et all on BS or the Slap & Tickle (pub blog). This time of year I am concentrating on Cornish pasties.

    Don't get me started. Thanks for the info. Glad to see you speaking in liter talk, btw. I'm proud of you. They do that here now too. I still am a cubic inches person.

  5. Litres, not those american liters...
    We've always measured our car's displacement in litres, fed them gallons, and driven them miles.
    Your cubic inches add up to about sixty per litre (61's more accurate), The great 428 cubic inch muscle-car engines are a 7.0 litre here.
    Seven litre cars were pretty much unheard of here, other than the Jensen Interceptor of the 1970s and the AC Cobra of the late sixties, which both used american sourced 428s.
    The diesel engine experiment in america fell flat because the engines were still pretty unsophisticated, and left people with the belief that a diesel option was inevitably more difficult to use, slow, noisy, and belched black smoke.
    All that is no longer true, most modern diesels, you would not guess it was a diesel. And of course, a good diesel will live far longer than its greedier relative.


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