Monthly Archives: December 2013

Christmas…..Did You Know…..?

Did You Know…?

The celebration of the passing of mid-winter and the lengthening of the days is ancient, Norsemen lit bonfires, told stories and drank ale at the winter solstice; the Roman festival of Saturnalia ran for seven days from 17th December and was a time when ordinary rules were turned upside down (such as men dressing as women, masters as servants), houses were decorated with evergreens, candles were lit and presents given. It was the arrival in Britain of the Romans that brought many of the rituals of Saturnalia to the mid-winter celebrations of the British peoples.


·         Evergreens have long been valued for showing life in the dead of winter.

·         Mistletoe was sacred to the Druids and was thought to bring good luck, fertility and protection from witchcraft.


·         Since the Middle Ages the Yule log has been gathered and carried into the house on Christmas Eve. It is lit with the end saved from the previous year’s log and kept burning until Twelfth Night.


·         The Georgian period saw the introduction of the Christmas tree to England, however the idea wasn’t popularised until Victorian times when a drawing of the royal family gathered around a decorated tree was published in an 1848 newspaper.


·         The first Christmas card was commissioned in 1843 and by the 1880s the sending of cards had become very popular. Gift giving had traditionally taken place at New Year but with the increased focus on family at Christmas by the Victorians this tradition was moved.


·         The Christmas meal in its now familiar form began to take shape in the Victorian era, meat was replaced by fruits in mince pies, turkey started to be served instead of goose – at first just for the wealthy and later for all.

·         Father Christmas’ origins are in old English mid-winter festivals; he dressed in green and represented the returning spring. He was known as Old Father Christmas or Old Winter and roamed from home to home, feasting with families.

·         The ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol is based on Father Christmas. Images of him dressed in red started to appear on Victorian Christmas cards and our images today owe a lot to early American cards.

·         Santa Claus is based on St Nicholas of Mrya, (Sinterklaas in Dutch). St Nicholas was a 4th century Christian who had a reputation as a secret gift giver to the poor. It was Dutch settlers in America that gave us Santa Claus. St Nicholas is patron saint of children and also unmarried women, prisoners, thieves and pawnbrokers.

·         The Dutch custom of leaving shoes filled with food for St Nicholas’ donkeys is where we get our custom of Christmas stockings

·         Norwegian scientists have speculated that Rudolph’s red nose is the result of a parasitic infection of the respiratory system.

·         In Poland spiders and spiders webs are common Christmas tree decorations because according to legend a spider wove a blanket for the baby Jesus.

·         In Germany Christmas Eve is said to be a magical time when the pure of heart can hear the animals talking.

·         St Nicholas’s evil accomplice in Austrian tradition, Krampus is a demon-like creature that punishes bad children. Men dressed as Krampus roam the streets during the festive period, frightening the children.

·         In some rural areas of Wales, a villager is selected each Christmas to perform the ritual of Mari Lwyd. They must then parade around the streets with a mare’s skull fastened to the end of a wooden pole, while villagers sing traditional songs. White sheets are used to conceal the pole, and the person carrying it. Sometimes the horse’s jaw is spring-loaded, so that it can be used to snap at passers-by.

·         In Spain the Catalonians have the traditional caga tio or defecating log. A character is made from a log by drawing a face and putting a hat on it. A fortnight is then spent ‘feeding’ the log with fruit, sweets and nuts until on Christmas Eve the whole family beats the log with sticks until all the treats are ‘excreted’.

·         For many in Japan the traditional Christmas dinner today is Kentucky Fried Chicken, reservations have to be made to eat at KFC on Christmas day.

·         Next time you moan about eating sprouts think of the folk in Greenland, for their Christmas meal they have Mattak – raw whale skin and blubber, and kiviak – auk (a small seabird) wrapped in seal skin, buried for months and eaten once decomposing.

·         The robin is strongly associated with Christmas, appearing on many Christmas cards.

·         Different legends associate the robin with Christ and Christianity however the association with Christmas is probably due to the fact that postmen in Victorian England wore red jackets and were nicknamed ‘robins’, the robin representing the postman delivering the card.


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Christmas Tinsel – how did that come about?

Tinsel is a sparkling decorative material that mimics the effect of ice or icicles. When in long narrow strips (sometimes known as “lametta“), it emulates icicles. It was originally a metallic garland for Christmas decoration. The modern production of tinsel typically involves plastic, and is used particularly to decorate Christmas trees. It may be hung from ceilings or wrapped around statues, lampposts, and so on. Modern tinsel was invented in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1610, and was originally made of shredded silver.

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word is from the Old French word estincele, meaning “sparkle”.

Tinsel was invented in Nuremberg around 1610. Tinsel was originally made from extruded strands of silver. Because silver tarnishes quickly, other shiny metals were substituted. Before the 16th century, tinsel was used for adorning sculptures rather than Christmas trees. It was added to Christmas trees to enhance the flickering of the candles on the tree.

Modern tinsel is typically made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) film coated with a metallic finish and sliced into thin strips. Coated mylar film also has been used. These plastic forms of tinsel do not hang as well as tinsel made from heavy metals such as silver and lead.

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There will be no blog article next week.  The P&R Labpak Limited Blog will return in 2014.  We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Measuring Conductivity

The conductivity (or specific conductance) of an electrolyte solution is a measure of its ability to conduct electricity. The SI unit of conductivity is siemens per meter (S/m).

Conductivity measurements are used routinely in many industrial and environmental applications as a fast, inexpensive and reliable way of measuring the ionic content in a solution. For example, the measurement of product conductivity is a typical way to monitor and continuously trend the performance of water purification systems.

In many cases, conductivity is linked directly to the total dissolved solids (T.D.S.). High quality deionised water has a conductivity of about 5.5 μS/m, typical drinking water in the range of 5-50 mS/m, while sea water about 5 S/m (i.e., sea water’s conductivity is one million times higher than that of deionised water)

Conductivity Meters – Two electrodes with an applied AC voltage are placed in the solution. This creates a current dependent upon the conductive nature of the solution. The meter reads this current and displays in either conductivity (EC) or ppm (TDS).

Our two part guide will help you to measure conductivity accurately.  The guides answer the 7 most asked questions regarding conductivity and the second part is a comprehensive guide on theory and measurement.

Just click on the links below to download your copies.

Part 1 –
Part 2 –

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Christmas Closure

P&R Labpak closes on Tuesday 24th December 2013 and re-opens on 2nd January 2014. There will be no deliveries during this period.

P&R Labpak would like to take this opportunity now to thank you for your custom this year, and look forward to continuing our relationships in 2014.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our blog posts over the last year and hope you will continue to read them in future.  If you want us to feature anything or try and answer a question for you then let us know.

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Thorium has been in the news recently as it was suggested as a safer and more readily available element than Uranium for generating power.

Thorium is a naturally occurring radioactive chemical element with the symbol Th and atomic number 90. It was discovered in 1828 by the Norwegian mineralogist Morten Thrane Esmark and identified by the Swedish chemist Jöns Jakob Berzelius and named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder.

Thorium produces a radioactive gas, radon-220, as one of its decay products. Secondary decay products of thorium include radium and actinium. In nature, virtually all thorium is found as thorium-232, which undergoes alpha decay with a half-life of about 14.05 billion years. Other isotopes of thorium are short-lived intermediates in the decay chains of higher elements, and only found in trace amounts. Thorium is estimated to be about three to four times more abundant than uranium in the Earth’s crust, and is chiefly refined from monazite sands as a by-product of extracting rare earth metals.

Pure thorium is a soft, lustrous silvery-white metal. If it doesn’t burst into flames first, thorium will slowly tarnish when exposed to air, becoming grey, as you see above, and then finally black in colour. Thorium is very ductile and, like all actinoids, thorium is radioactive.

Monazite, a rare earth and thorium phosphate mineral, is the primary source of the world’s thorium

When compared to uranium, there is a growing interest in developing a thorium fuel cycle due to its greater safety benefits, absence of non-fertile isotopes and its higher occurrence and availability.

India’s Kakrapar-1 reactor is the world’s first reactor which uses thorium rather than depleted uranium to achieve power flattening across the reactor core. India, which has about 25% of the world’s thorium reserves, is developing a 300 MW prototype of a thorium-based Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR). The prototype is expected to be fully operational by 2016, after which five more reactors will be constructed. The reactor is a fast breeder reactor and uses a plutonium core rather than an accelerator to produce neutrons. As accelerator-based systems can operate at sub-criticality they could be developed too, but that would require more research. India currently envisages meeting 30% of its electricity demand through thorium-based reactors by 2050.

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