Making new homes for swifts

Swifts are incredible birds, spending most of their lives on the wing and only landing when it’s time to nest. After flying its nest for the first time, a young swift may spend two or three years in the air, eating, drinking, sleeping, bathing and even mating! The swifts that nest in the UK arrive here in late April – May and may spend just 3 months with us; soaring and swooping over rooftops catching insects to eat.

But they’re in serious trouble here, with numbers down to less than half of what they were just twenty years ago. Modern buildings lack the nooks and crannies they need, and swifts are struggling to find homes.

Fortunately there are ways to help these birds. There are special swift nestboxes available, and if you’re having a building constructed or renovated, there’s also the option of the ‘swift brick’. This replaces a standard house brick and can easily be installed by a builder. Swift boxes and swift bricks can work especially well when put up in groups, as these birds like to be near other swifts.

via Making new homes for swifts


Buy organic food to help curb global insect collapse, say scientists

Buying organic food is among the actions people can take to curb the global decline in insects, according to leading scientists. Urging political action to slash pesticide use on conventional farms is another, say environmentalists.

Intensive agriculture and heavy pesticide use are a major cause of plummeting insect populations, according to the first global review, revealed by the Guardian on Monday. The vanishing of insects threatens a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, the review concluded, because of their fundamental importance in the food chain, pollination and soil health.

via Buy organic food to help curb global insect collapse, say scientists | Environment | The Guardian

Are your cuppas costing more than you thought?

Here’s a trick question for a quiz: which uses the most electricity every year? An electric oven, hob, microwave or kettle?

The answer? The humble kettle, which eats up about 6% of all the electricity supplied to British homes.

An oven may use more power when it is on, but constantly filling a kettle – usually boiling far more water than we need – uses enough power annually that equals half the output of one of the world’s largest offshore wind farms, the London Array, off the Kent coast.

via Energy bills: are your cuppas costing more than you thought? | Money | The Guardian

Unlike other energy saving methods, this requires no initial outlay – just that you pay a little attention (experiment, once even) and only use the amount of water you need.

Lightbulb moment: ‘I pay just £14 a year – and you can too’ | The Guardian

It will shave nearly £2bn off the energy bills for Britain’s 25m homes. It requires just a small investment, that will be repaid within three to four months – and give you a payback lasting more than 20 years. It will stop as much as 8m tonnes of CO2 entering the atmosphere and the energy saved at peak time equates to the output of three power stations the size of Hinkley Point C.

And all you have to do is change a light bulb.

via Lightbulb moment: ‘I pay just £14 a year – and you can too’ | Money | The Guardian

I read a similar article to this and wondered if I should change a lamp in my Anglepoise as it is on the longest and to my surprise it was already an LED bulb – I forgot I changed it, it had been so long ago. Light-wise they are indistinguishable from old bulbs now.

Only renewables can fix the UK’s nuclear energy crisis | WIRED UK

Without investment in storage technology, the Hitachi announcement could prove a blow for efforts to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint. But experts are hopeful that it could scare the distracted government into putting its foot on the gas, and backing research and investment in alternative sources of carbon-free electricity. “It could result in more fossil fuel emissions,” says Goodall. “Or, it could put pressure on the government to go back to wind, and combine that with energy storage.”

via Hitachi Anglesey: Only renewables can fix the UK’s nuclear energy crisis | WIRED UK

Wood burners and open fires face restrictions in new clean air plan – BBC News

The most important activity that contributes to particulate pollution is the burning of fuels such as wood and coal in open fires and domestic stoves.

Farming is also a major problem, as emissions of ammonia have increased in recent years. This gas reacts in the atmosphere with other chemicals to produce particulate matter that can be carried on the wind to major population centres.

To deal with domestic burning, the government will ban the sale of the most polluting fuels and ensure that only the cleanest stoves are available for sale by 2022.

They are also consulting on phasing out the sale of traditional house coal and on limiting the sale of wet wood, the type found on garage forecourts. The government’s plan for these fuels is expected within months.

via Wood burners and open fires face restrictions in new clean air plan – BBC News

Good. The smell of coal fires was a distant memory for me. Its shocking that in the 21st century, increasingly you can smell smoke hanging in the air from peoples fires.

Formula E: Why refreshed and recharged electric racing series is a must watch – BBC Sport

In 2014, the top speed of the cars was about 140mph, but this season they will be able to reach almost 180mph. That means they are edging closer to their Formula 1 counterparts, which can zip along at up to 230mph. However, the tight and twisty nature of street circuits will always make it difficult for Formula E cars to challenge an F1 car’s straight-line speed.

The Gen2 cars also feature a significant change in look.

With sleek bodywork featuring swooping arches, the cars have more than a passing resemblance to the Batmobile, marking a significant move away from the somewhat clumsy look of previous incarnations.

With faster cars and a bolder look, Formula E has a real chance of making motorsport fans sit up and take notice this season.

via Formula E: Why refreshed and recharged electric racing series is a must watch – BBC Sport

This is all shaping up to be a pretty intense season on paper – big name teams, many ex-Formula 1 drivers and the unique looking Gen 2 car.

Starts December 15th. I can’t wait!

Final call to save the world from ‘climate catastrophe’ – BBC News

The researchers have used these facts and numbers to paint a picture of the world with a dangerous fever, caused by humans. We used to think if we could keep warming below two degrees this century, then the changes we would experience would be manageable.
Not any more. This new study says that going past 1.5C is dicing with the planet’s liveability. And the 1.5C temperature “guard rail” could be exceeded in just 12 years, in 2030.
We can stay below it – but it will require urgent, large-scale changes from governments and individuals and we will have to invest a massive pile of cash every year, about 2.5% of global gross domestic product (GDP), the value of all goods and services produced, for two decades.
Even then, we will still need machines, trees and plants to capture carbon from the air that we can then store deep underground – forever.

via Final call to save the world from ‘climate catastrophe’ – BBC News

Hue Lights Workflow

I’ve enjoyed using the Workflow app (acquired by Apple) to create little workflows to help my dad complete tasks. Remind him at work, remember supermarket coupons, show interesting stuff, like indicate the number of people in space right now etc.

Recently he got Phillips Hue lights. I decided this was a perfect opportunity to cross Workflow with the Hue API. Yes I know, the Hue app, but where is the fun in that?

Hue API Workflow

First step was building a workflow to hook up with the Hue Bridge and pass the API commands. I followed the steps on the ‘getting started’ guide on the Phillips developer site.

For easy future editing, I broke out the ‘Bridge IP address’ and the ‘User ID’ as variables.

After a little test, I had a workflow that sent a colour value to a Hue light.

API Workflow Reuse

To avoid long complex workflows I decided to keep the Hue API workflow very simple. It just passes the colour hue value to the lights. Thats it.

Any future flows I make, their last step will be RunWorkflow Hue API, to run that flow and pass it a colour input.

This avoids duplication. Any future change to the Hue API, will only have to be made in one place.

Carbon Intensity Workflow

The Carbon Intensity Forecast ( is an API provided by the National Grid.  It returns the amount of CO2 used by the UK power grid.

I already had a flow that returned the current Carbon Intensity from their API. I modified this to extract the returned value – low, moderate or high.

Three variables with green, amber and red colour hue values were created. An odd colour hue format is the format Hue requires, unsurprisingly.

Selecting one of three values wasn’t straightforward, as Workflow only has if/else statements, not if/if else/else. I had to get a little creative and nest statements:

  • If does not contain ‘moderate’?
    • If contains ‘low’?
      • Get low variable colour value (green)
    • Else ‘high’
      • Get high colour value (red)
  • Else moderate
    • Get moderate value (amber)

The corresponding variable fetched, gets passed when I run the Hue API workflow and the LED strip displays the Carbon Intensity level as green, amber or red. Success.


Its a simple use case and may seem a simple project but it still threw up some interesting little problems to solve etc. I enjoy using and looking for excuses to use Workflow app.

I am interested in the ability of iOS 12 to use Siri Automation with custom phrases to accomplish the same functionality.

I am also hoping for the day when the Carbon Intensity is low by default.