Clearwater and Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger will be celebrating his 90th birthday on May 3rd 2009 with a benefit concert in aid of the Clearwater Organisation.

Seeger was responsible for promoting the project to build and launch a boat that continues to navigate the Hudson River every summer stopping at every town to disseminate information about the environment and the perilous state of the Hudson River. Don McLean was a member of the first Clearwater Sloop crew in 1969.

McLean says: “This boat is an example of the Seeger genius because it combines the fun of boating with the seriousness of environmental degradation and gets everyone involved at the same time while also being a public relations dream.”

McLean’s work as the Hudson River Troubadour in 1968 and his experiences with the Clearwater Sloop in 1969 proved inspirational learning experiences for him.

He is particularly proud of “Tapestry”, a song he wrote while aboard the Sloop and which became the title track to his first album. The powerful lyrics remain relevant today as they provide a warning of the consequences of humanity’s exploitation of the environment. “If man is allowed to destroy all they need. He will soon have to pay with his life, for his greed.”

Despite its powerful message, the song is one of Don’s lesser known compositions, overshadowed on the Tapestry album by the giants, “Castles in the Air” and “And I Love You So.”

Don McLean has never seen himself as any type of ‘environmental activist’ and has avoided becoming a spokesperson for the environmental movement. He says, “Political people bore me, and I don’t want to be one. I’ll settle for being a decent citizen.”

After the first Clearwater Sloop voyage in 1969, McLean left the crew. Before he left, Pete Seeger told him, “Don, I think you’re a genius. You’re like a wonderful chef who serves a great meal once and never repeats it.”

Don returned from time to time to perform at Sloop concerts. He also recorded a version of “Tapestry” for the 1974 Clearwater album and edited a book entitled Songs and Sketches of the First Clearwater Crew, with sketches by his friend Thomas Allen.

Later, in 1984, McLean played Carnegie Hall with the Jordanaires for a Greenpeace benefit. After the show, David McTaggart, the Canadian co-founder of Greenpeace, came backstage and told Don that his song, “Tapestry,” was one of the factors that got him involved in the environmental movement.

Adapted from The Don McLean Story: Killing Us Softly With His Songs by Alan Howard
Copyright © 2007 Starry Night Music, Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction or translation of any part of this work without the permission of the copyright owner is unlawful. Used by permission.

Don McLean sings “Tapestry” on Australian television:

Tag clouds – data visualisation

A tag cloud or word cloud is a visual representation of the relative word content of a website or feed. The word cloud displayed in this post is computer-generated every 6 hours to display the most frequently appearing words in headlines concerned with the ‘environment’ from 12 international news organisations. Each organisation is likely to have some bias in its reporting of environment-related news but word cloud analysis helps reveal the predominantly important issues or stories of the day. Another simple word cloud is implemented at Eurovision Song Contest Voting, where over 100 sites are polled every 30 minutes. These are simple implementations of a much larger project we are currently involved with.

Skycam map using OS Openspace AJAX

We have been doing some work with AJAX methods provided by the OS Openspace API. To help anyone else out there working on this we have provided a simple example that loads a list of coordinates and URLs from a text file and uses these to add markers to a base map. In this example the marker, when clicked, reveals a live “sky cam” image, usually provided by a personal weather station website.

The application is created using the Ordnance Survey OpenSpace API including their loadurl AJAX method. Zoom in on the map and you’ll see it’s a real OS map! We also have a version using Google Maps.

Fuel costs in the UK

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, would have us believe that his Government has done the car-driving British public a favour by suspending a proposed 2 pence per litre increase in fuel duty. The rise, announced in the 2007 Budget statement, was originally scheduled for April 1st 2008 but had already been put on hold for six months. At Prime Minister’s Questions on July 16th, the Oppostion leader, David Cameron, asked if this had “anything to do with the Glasgow East by-election”.

But Gordon Brown said the move, coming just before Parliament starts its four-month summer break and amid rising oil prices, would help people facing high food and fuel bills [ BBC ].

The price of fuel in the UK is currently running at about £1.20 per litre for unleaded petrol and £1.30 per litre for diesel. At the start of 2008 prices were around £1.05 and £1.10 respectively. The increases have been blamed on the soaring price of oil and general economic malaise sweeping vulnerable economies such as the UK.

Yet at £1.20 per litre most of the money goes direct to the Government. Even fuel duty (currently 50.35p) is taxed at 17.5%! The Government has therefore enjoyed an income boost with each incremental rise in forecourt fuel costs – fuel duty may be fixed but income from VAT increases every time the cost of a litre rises. In fact the Government is earning about an extra 2 pence per litre in VAT today compared with January 2008 when fuel was 15-20 pence per litre cheaper. The Prime Minister could therefore well afford to suspend the official 2p rise in fuel duty!

How much fuel is sold by UK filling stations each year?
In 2006 9832 operational filling stations sold on average 4081904 litres [Energy Institute].

How much tax per litre do we pay?
For a £1.20 litre of petrol or diesel the breakdown of cost is:

Fuel Duty: 50.35p
VAT: 17.9p
Cost of fuel + forecourt charge: 51.65p

In total, given an average sale price of £1.20 the UK Government will receive over £20207 million per year from fuel duty plus at least £7300 million from VAT on fuel, which in total equates to about £872 per second…

Crete 2007

Short video of a University of Reading Geography field class to Khora Sphakion, Crete in June 2007. The whole region was gripped by a heat wave and temperatures exceed 40 degrees every day. It’s tough work but someone’s got to do it…


Video was filmed by Ken Beard and the music is Neil Diamond’s “Talking Optimist Blues” from his 1996 “Tennessee Moon” album. Neil Diamond currently has three albums in the UK top-11.