All posts by Glyn Davies

A Little-Known 18th Century English Polymath — Professor Alan Zinober — 15th June 2020

A poly­math is ‘a person of great and varied learn­ing’ and this cer­tainly described the Reverend John Michell ( 25 Dec 1742 — 12 April 1793).

Michell was a nat­ural philo­sopher and a cler­gy­man and seems to be almost unknown although he was:

  • The first person to sug­gest that earth­quakes are caused by move­ment of rocks beneath the Earth’s sur­face.
  • Someone who pro­duced cheap per­man­ent mag­nets.
  • The one who sug­ges­ted that the force between two mag­nets fol­lowed the inverse square law.
  • The first person to sug­gest that ‘Dark Stars’ (now called ‘Black Holes’) exist.

John Michell was edu­cated at Queens College.

He later became a Professor who taught Arithmetic, Theology, Geometry, Greek, Hebrew and Philosophy.

He had to relin­quish his lec­tur­ing post when he mar­ried because only single men were allowed to lec­ture at the col­lege.

He became Rector at a church near Leeds, but con­tin­ued his interest in Philosophy and Astronomy.

Michell the­or­ised that a very massive sun would have such a huge grav­it­a­tional field that its escape velo­city would be so large that light would not be able to escape from it.

Because of this it would not be vis­ible but it would affect the motion of a binary star nearby.

He called this type of body ‘a Dark Star’.

He knew Cavendish, Benjamin Franklin and Priestley, and he wrote to Cavendish about his ideas about the effect of grav­ity on light.

Michell was not a par­tic­u­larly out­go­ing person so he did not pub­lish his many ideas widely.

This is pos­sibly why he is not well known but is con­sidered by many to be the greatest unsung sci­ent­ist of all time.

Alan Zinober’s Zoom meet­ing con­tained much more inter­est­ing inform­a­tion and was some­thing com­pletely new to Stumperlowe Probus.  It was a wel­come treat for the many mem­bers that ‘atten­ded’.

Cosmic rays, pyramids, volcanoes and railway tunnels — an introduction to muon tomography.    Prof Lee Thompson. 16th March 2020 

Muons are like the big brother of elec­trons but they are heav­ier and much more pen­et­rat­ing.  About 1000 pass through the room every second. They are gen­er­ated when cosmic rays inter­act with atoms in the upper atmo­sphere to form sec­ond­ary rays called muons.

We all know that X-rays are used to look at body parts that are hidden in soft tissue.

  • A beam of X-rays is focused on an object
  • A detector (X-ray film) is placed on the other side of the object
  • Density dif­fer­ences between soft tis­sues and bones etc. enable the interior to be seen

Muon tomo­graphy (ima­ging with muons) uses an identical method (but muons are free and do not need expens­ive equip­ment to gen­er­ate them!)

Lee did not give details of the muon detector but said  that muons come from above and also some came from the sides.  They are even­tu­ally all absorbed by the soil and rocks until sev­eral hun­dred metres below the sur­face.

Tomography has been used to find hidden cham­bers in the Great Pyramid.

Muons coming from the side have been used to image magma cham­bers in vol­ca­noes. In this case images of the top of the magma column before and after an erup­tion were used to pre­dict fur­ther erup­tions.

On the rail­ways in the U.K. there are many tun­nels dating back to the Victorians. Often tun­nels were made by sink­ing shafts to the depth of where the tunnel was to be made. Then  crews dug hori­zont­ally in both dir­ec­tions until they met up with other sim­ilar parts of the tunnel.  In many cases these shafts were filled in (with rubble) or some were left open as air shafts.  Some of the shafts are not stable now and some tunnel roofs are in danger of col­lapse.  However, very few records of where these shafts were dug are avail­able.

The rail com­pan­ies have a pro­gramme to avoid more col­lapses but they cannot close tun­nels that are in use.  They send in teams of drillers on scaf­fold­ing to drill into the roofs of tun­nels.  This is a prob­lem because it takes lots of men, lots of time, only a few areas can be examined and the drilling may weaken the roofs.

Lee’s work is aimed at find­ing hidden shafts using muon tomo­graphy. British Rail is allow­ing his team to use muon tomo­graphy in Alfreton Old Tunnel, which is 760 metres long and dis­used.

The team have built a muon detector small enough to fit into a Transit van. They moved the van into the tunnel and took read­ings for 30 minutes then moved on 5 metres and took more read­ings for 30 minutes and so on.

The graph of the read­ings showed high read­ings before they entered the tunnel  then fell off at the tunnel entrance as the over­bur­den above the tunnel absorbed the muons.

The graph showed steady low read­ings for a length of tunnel then the read­ings rose slightly at one spot then dropped back for a length and then rose again and so on.

The rail com­pany had told Lee’s team where two shafts were but they found three areas where the read­ing rose.  Two were at the areas they expec­ted, but they found three pos­sible shafts.  The com­pany then admit­ted that they knew of the third shaft  80 metres into the tunnel, but they were test­ing the team to be sure their res­ults were genu­ine.

Lee’s team went back and did another more detailed survey of this tunnel and found that other “hot spots” gave inform­a­tion about shafts with only 5 metres of over­bur­den sug­gest­ing more part-filled, unknown shafts.

This method needs cooper­a­tion from a geo­lo­gical survey team. It is obvi­ous that,  if the sur­face of the over­bur­den land is not flat, then the over­bur­den will be thicker in some parts than others and will absorb more muons.  This has to be allowed for when inter­pret­ing the tomo­graphy res­ults.

Muon tomo­graphy can be used to detect smuggled nuc­lear mater­ial.  If a detector is placed under and around the sides of sus­pec­ted vehicles then uranium and plutonium will deflect muons but light mater­i­als will not and this will show up on the res­ults.

Nuclear waste from 1950 -60 is poorly doc­u­mented.  Canisters can be checked by muon tomo­graphy to find if they are full or if they have leaked.

There may be many other uses for muon tomo­graphy that will be developed in the future.

Lee’s team are still work­ing on it!

This was an extremely inter­est­ing talk for all, but espe­cially for this ex-Chemistry teacher.

 

Ancient Suburbs of Sheffield — Part 2.   David Templeman 13th January 2020

David is a his­tor­ian and a volun­teer at Manor Lodge.

He began his talk about areas in the south­w­est of Sheffield, start­ing with

Ecclesall.

The name derives from “Hecksel” which meant “witches’ hill/slope”.

Other names in the area, such as “Endcliffe” and “Dobbin Hill” follow a sim­ilar theme.

Endcliffe is derived from “elf cliff” and Dobbin from “dobby” (mean­ing goblin).

Ecclesall was not a vil­lage, just an area, but monks built a chapel, later fol­lowed by a parish church, built in 1788, on the chapel site.

Wilson’s Snuff Mill became a major employer in those early days.

The last rem­nants of Eccles Hall was Eccles Hall Farm, which was demol­ished in 1935.

Many other areas, well-known to the audi­ence, were men­tioned next.

Hunters Bar — was a Toll House where tolls were col­lec­ted from trav­el­lers coming into Sheffield from the Derbyshire area.  The Toll house was closed in 1884.

Ecclesall Woods — The land was owned by Earl Fitzwilliam.  The main occu­pa­tion was making char­coal, which was sold to the steel industry, but besoms (brooms) were man­u­fac­tured there and there were sev­eral other wood­land crafts.

Whiteley Woods — the name derived from “Hwit-Leah-Wudu”, mean­ing “a bright fair clear­ing”.  In the woods by the river is the Shepherd’s Wheel (still in exist­ence) — one of the many cut­lers’ wheels, that were driven by water power, on sev­eral of Sheffield’s rivers.  These wheels, and the men who worked them, made Sheffield famous for its cut­lery industry.

Banner Cross Hall — This was the home of the Bright family until 1748 and much later became the offices of Henry Boot com­pany.  It is now apart­ments?

David also men­tioned Charlie Peace, the infam­ous Banner Cross Murderer, who was hanged in Armley Prison in 1879.

Millhouses — Ralph de Eccles gave a bequest of a corn mill to Beauchief, known as Miln Houses.  In mid-1880s it was only23 houses, a few cut­lers’ shops and 7 small pits.

Dore. — in Anglo-Saxon “Dor” means “door or entrance or pass”.

Dore is a very ancient vil­lage and was the place of a famous treaty.

In 829AD Dore formed the bound­ary between Mercia (conquered by King Ecgbert of Wessex) and Northumbria (ruled by King Earnred). At a meet­ing at Kings Croft, Dore Earnred offered “obed­i­ence and con­cord” to Ecgbert.  Through this treaty Ecgbert became Overlord, or King, of England.

In ancient times the only road through Dore was a pack­horse trail.  Most people were employed in agri­cul­ture but there were other trades, such as button maker, saw maker, anvil maker, file cutter and boot and shoe maker.  Dore parish church was at Dronfield but a chapel-of-ease was built at Dore.  This was a nave chapel and a bell.  A new church was built in 1829.

Probably the best know res­id­ent of Dore was Richard Furness, the school­mas­ter.

He was also over­seer, archi­tect, scribe, lawyer, doctor, singer, poet and sur­veyor as he describes (brags?) in his poem…..

I, R.F., school­mas­ter of Dore

Keep parish books and pay the poor

Draw plans for build­ings and indite

Letters for those who cannot write

Make wills and recom­mend a proc­tor

Cure wounds, let blood with any doctor

Draw teeth, sing psalms, the haut­boy play

At Chapel on each holy day

Paint sign­boards, cart names at com­mand

Survey and plot estates of land

Collect at Easter, one in ten

And on Sunday say….Amen!!!

He had a salary of £18 but in 1841 was cri­ti­cised by school inspect­ors who found his school in chaos, and the chil­dren fight­ing and squab­bling amongst them­selves.

He even­tu­ally resigned but was gran­ted a pen­sion of £15 annu­ally!

(If his poem is cor­rect, I don’t know how he found time to teach!)

David’s story then moved across the city to:

Gleadless which was so close to sev­eral bound­ar­ies.  The Shirebrook stream marked the bound­ary between Derbyshire and the West Riding.  The name Gleadless was derived from “Glida Leah” which meant “a kite clear­ing in the wood”.  The main occu­pa­tion was farm­ing, but this changed to mining and drift mines in the area pro­duced over 2000 tons of coal in one year.  Not many people had clocks and they guessed the time by the sound of the miners’ clogs as they went on shift.

Hollinsend was a strag­gling hamlet of small farms and cot­tages.  Two of the oldest cot­tages exis­ted until 1970 when they were demol­ished because they were “unfit for human occu­pa­tion”.

Wadsley Bridge — “Waddes Leah” mean­ing a “forest clear­ing”.  Wadsley Hall dated back to the 15th cen­tury and nearby was a ford across the River Don which was used by cattle and carts.  There was a row of step­ping stones for ped­es­tri­ans.  Later a wooden bridge was built and in the 19th cen­tury this was replaced by a stone bridge.

Owlerton — “Alor-tun” mean­ing “a farm­stead by the elder”.

At Owlerton there was a well of holy water that was said to have won­der­ful medi­cinal prop­er­ties.   The Manor Courts were held there too.

Both Wadsley Bridge and Owlerton were ser­i­ously dam­aged by the Sheffield Flood.

This was an enlight­en­ing talk, with lots of inform­a­tion, delivered with great enthu­si­asm by a ded­ic­ated his­tor­ian.

Crime and Punishment — Through the Ages. Chris Dorries  4th November 2019

Chris said that he would cover the period from 1066 to 1820.

Around 1066 there was a phrase ‘Raising the hue and cry’. If a body was found the local sher­iff or cor­oner was informed by a yodel from tree to tree in the area — the person who found the body was leg­ally respons­ible to ‘raise the hue and cry’.  Then the cor­oner would ride out with two men and gather all the local men to make a ‘jury‘, who had to prove that the dead man belonged to the vil­lage.  If they could not do so the assump­tion was that he was a Norman occu­pier and this was now a very ser­i­ous case.

Some types of trial  were quite severe — if you were sus­pec­ted of theft you had to swear you had not com­mit­ted the offence, but you had to plunge your arm into a pot of boil­ing water to remove a stone from the bottom of the pot.    If you did not get scal­ded you were inno­cent!

Another method was to press the suspect’s body with weights, like cartwheels or rocks, to make them con­fess.  If he, or she, was found guilty they could lose all their prop­erty, but if they did not con­fess they would very likely die.

Other crimes were decided by trial by ordeal, but this was replaced by the Catholic Church with ‘jury trial’, where local men told what they knew but did not decide guilt.

Much later, from the 12th cen­tury onward, trials were more like our modern trials.  However, the accused had no coun­sel, no rules of evid­ence, con­fes­sions could be extrac­ted by tor­ture, defend­ants could not give sworn evid­ence nor call wit­nesses but could dis­pute wit­nesses.

In 1600 tor­ture was banned and defend­ants could call unsworn wit­nesses. However, in a  16th cen­tury trial, evid­ence from dreams was accep­ted — “I had a dream and I saw him do it in my dream.”

Later pro­sec­u­tion by the Crown to prove guilt was intro­duced and the accused could exam­ine wit­nesses but not give sworn evid­ence.  Felonies now res­ul­ted in all the guilty person’s prop­er­ties going to the Crown.  All thefts were hangable offences unless the value of the stolen prop­erty was less than one shil­ling.

Public hangings, i.e. humi­li­ation fol­lowed by a pain­ful death, were accep­ted and the hang­man could make it a quick or slow death.  Women were burnt at the stake (and some­times the hang­man would strangle them before they were burnt).

Hanging, draw­ing and quar­ter­ing was a reli­gious idea because it was believed that you could not be resur­rec­ted if your body was not com­plete.  The accused would be slowly choked on a rope, taken down and the bowels drawn out, then the body would be cut into four pieces which were put onto spikes at the town gates.

If you were accused but you could prove you were in holy orders you could claim ‘bene­fit of clergy’.  This meant that you would instead be tried by the Church (and often would be found not guilty!).  The abil­ity to read often was accep­ted as proof that you were a priest.  However, you might be branded, so if you were arres­ted again you could not claim bene­fit of clergy .

Sometimes, if a member of the nobil­ity was found guilty he would be decap­it­ated, because this was less humi­li­at­ing than being hung, drawn and quartered. Sometimes the guilty would be trans­por­ted instead of hanged.

By 1800 there were over 200 felon­ies where the pun­ish­ment was hanging, one of which was imper­son­at­ing a Chelsea Pensioner!

This was a grue­some talk which made me glad that we no longer have public flog­gings, pil­lor­ies, stocks, duck­ing stools, burn­ing at the stake, decap­it­a­tions and public hangings.

Old England was a bloodthirsty place!

Things are going downhill fast: understanding massive landslides. Prof. Dave Petley. 7th Oct 2019

Dave told us that a land­slide occurs when a slope col­lapses.  He showed us a pic­ture of a huge land­slide in New Zealand which left two cows and a calf marooned on an untouched meadow that was sur­roun­ded by land­slide debris.  Sometimes there is no obvi­ous reason that one sec­tion of a slope col­lapses but other parts are stable.

There are dif­fer­ent types of slide and dif­fer­ent scales of slide.

In Alaska a moun­tain slide slid 15 km across a gla­cier, but in a cliff fall in Staithes a block about the size of a coffee cup hit a girl on the beach and killed her.

Probably the land­slide that most people know about was the dis­aster at Aberfan in 1966.

The spoil tip, loc­ated above the town, col­lapsed and slid down into the school and killed 118 people in there.  He said that this was a shame­ful event, because the spoil could have been taken away but the tip was situ­ated where it was because that was the cheapest place to put it.  The Coal Board did remove it later, but it took money raised from the public appeal for the town to pay for the removal.

Sometimes land­slides have reached the sea and caused tsuna­mis and three massive slides in Brazil in 2019 killed 400 people as the slide front became chaotic.

There are five key pro­cesses involved in land­slides.

1/         The role of water.

Friction is a key con­trol.  Water cre­ates buoy­ancy and reduces fric­tion.

2/         Liquefaction.

As earth mater­i­als deform they go from solid to fluid and the block picks up          mater­ial and speeds up.

(Dave showed a pic­ture of a car half-buried in a road in Alaska, 2018.  He said      that the embank­ment found­a­tions lique­fied as the slope slipped.)

3/         Rocks with defects are much weaker that those without defects.

Multiple hori­zontal defects or cracks are more likely to fail.

4/         Earthquakes in moun­tains gen­er­ate many slope fail­ures.  Nepal has mul­tiple            slides.

5/         We don’t under­stand why the biggest slides travel so far and so fast.

The slides are fre­quent in spring­time when snow and ice melts.

They are very chaotic, they slide far and then con­tinue to creep.  We don’t know   why they become chaotic and break up in to much smal­ler particles and ’liquefy’.

These con­di­tions cannot be sim­u­lated in the labor­at­ory.

Big rock falls are not under­stood.

Landslides are often part of a highly com­plex chain of events.

A land­slide in Sulawesi in 2018 was prob­ably caused by an earth­quake and pos­sibly irrig­a­tion con­trib­uted.

In the north of India, as the con­tin­ent travels north­wards on the tec­tonic plate push­ing up the Himalayas, earth­quakes are caused.  Dave showed satel­lite photos on which the fault line and fault rup­tures were shown.  The are stretched for over 200 km.  These faults cause earth­quake waves.

He showed photos of an area along this 200km fault line where he said 40 — 50% of the land­scape had slipped.  In one place the moun­tain had slipped and flowed down the valley.  More that a cubic kilo­metre (i.e. 2.5 bil­lion tons) of mater­ial blocked the valley, 500metres deep.

In 2007, in a panda con­ser­va­tion area in China, an earth­quake and land­slide caused great damage to Beichuan town.  Dave showed a pic­ture of a crane that had the arm that holds the coun­ter­weight bent upwards.  The crane had been jolted as it dropped over 6.5 metres in the earth­quake. The land­slide and buried Beichuan Middle School, killing 700 people.  The school was a primary and sec­ond­ary school so all the school-age chil­dren in the town were in it at the time.  As Chinese par­ents were allowed to have only one child this was a major cata­strophe. 10 minutes later a whole hill slid down, bull­doz­ing build­ings and caus­ing a massive loss of life

In 2005 in Kashmir a land­slide killed 600 people.  Two women, who were cut­ting grass at the top of the slope, were on an unbroken mass of mater­ial which slid down.  The women ‘surfed’ over 2.5 km on the land­slide and sur­vived.

The chaotic mass blocked the valley and a lake built up behind the dam.  As water loosens the mater­ial the dam could col­lapse at any time, so the Army evac­u­ated all the 1 mil­lion people who lived there until they could drain the dam.

A ques­tion was asked about ava­lanches, which are much easier to pre­dict and there­fore could be stud­ied in more detail than land­slides.  Dave said that they were sim­ilar but dif­fer­ent because the mater­i­als in an ava­lanche were snow, ice and water so much less fric­tion that in a land­slide, and as the solid mater­i­als slid they melted and the water made them even more fric­tion­less.

This was a very inter­est­ing talk that was well illus­trated with slides and a video.

If you want to know more about land­slides Dave has a blog:

https://blogs.agu.org/landslidesblog/

The Fraud Awareness Roadshow.  Andy Foster 5th August 2019

Andy Foster is the Fraud PROTECT Officer work­ing in the Financial Crimes Investigation Unit of South Yorkshire Police.

His dual role is to sup­port vul­ner­able vic­tims of fraud and to work with other sup­port groups.

He also does road shows and other events to bring fraud­u­lent scams to public notice.

Operation Signature’ is the S.Y. police’s cam­paign to help sup­port vic­tims of fraud.

He began by show­ing a slide of facts about fraud, but there were so many I could not  note them all!

However:

  • Men lose 3 times more money than women.
  • Loneliness makes (par­tic­u­larly eld­erly) people vul­ner­able to fraud.
  • Only 5% of defrauded people make a report.
  • In some cases defrauded people have con­sidered, attemp­ted or com­mit­ted sui­cide.
  • 79% of house­hold waste con­tains items that could con­trib­ute to iden­tity theft.
  • Fraud costs people in the U.K. bil­lions of pounds annu­ally.
  • Once anyone is caught by a scam­mer they go on a ‘sucker list’ which is sold to other scam­mers who will inund­ate the ‘sucker’ with more frauds.

Action Fraud is a body that accepts reports about scams from vic­tims.

However, they have about 700,000 calls per year and simply register each call.

They do not invest­ig­ate crimes but send details to the National Fraud Intelligence Centre.

The NFIC decide if there are enough details to take fur­ther action, but on over 80% of reports no action is taken.  This is because crim­in­als are abroad and use phones or emails and there is not enough veri­fi­able detail.

One of the meth­ods fraud­sters use to hide stolen money (so that the banks do not become sus­pi­cious of money going in and out of their accounts) is to approach stu­dents and ask if they can put £5000 into the student’s account for a few days.  They give the stu­dent £100.  The money is soon moved on to another account.

Romance scams.

On dating sites the scam­mer gets the victim to believe they are in love and uses this to extort money.

Social media is used to set up a false pro­file and the scam­mer grooms the  vul­ner­able victim over months or years to scam them.

Telephone scams.

An eld­erly man that Andy met was phoned and per­suaded to invest in shares by paying into an account.  Then he was told that the bank wanted fees that were late.  He said he would not pay because he had not received a dividend.  The scam­mer sent him a £75 ‘dividend’ because he had still £182,000 that he had to invest, but told him that the bank would have to take legal action if he did not pay the fees.

When Andy went to see him about a pos­sibly fraud­u­lent roof repair the man’s stairs were stacked high with unopened mail sent by scam­mers.  Andy removed 17 bin bags full of mail from the house then installed a call blocker phone to keep him safe.  That same day a letter arrived telling the man he

had won £147,000 but to claim it he must send £35 into an enclosed pre-addressed envel­ope to Austria!

Authorised Push Payment Fraud.

This is when you have author­ised pay­ment from your bank.

A 30 year-old man sent £17,000 to his new ‘girl friend’, who lives in Kenya, to help chil­dren with polio.

In 2018 there were 84,624 APP frauds and 78,215 cases of per­sonal account fraud.

Miracle Health Cure Scams.

Calls to eld­erly people to sell health cures.

Other types of fraud were dis­trac­tion burg­lar­ies where someone at the door says they are from the Water Board and need to access the prop­erty.  They get in and steal, and ‘case’ the house so that they can come back later.

Andy gave us advice.

B.T., Sky and TalkTalk have a free call-blocking ser­vice that they will install for you if you con­tact them.

An altern­at­ive is to let all calls go to your answer machine after telling friends and rel­at­ives to always leave a mes­sage for you to call back.  You can then pick up to take the call.  Nearly all scam­mers will hang up when the answer machine cuts in.

Another altern­at­ive is to get a phone that you can pro­gram to block calls.

Probably the most effect­ive method is called ‘trueCall Secure’ which con­nects to your exist­ing phone.  It costs about 120 pounds.

A very inform­at­ive talk, which has aler­ted all of us to be care­ful, and to hang up the phone if we are not sure of the caller’s hon­esty.