Development is not progress

I believe we cannot save the world by simply buying things all the time.
Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown. © 2015. All rights reserved.
Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown. © 2015. All rights reserved.

Even if we all bought 100% eco things 100% of the time instead of the plastic crap that everyone buys today, they are still ultimately things and it will mean that the demand for timber and other eco fibres will go up further, leading to further deforestation elsewhere (more plantations of whatever crop, be it corn for renewable plastic, bamboo or hemp for fibres, etc).

Personally I think the only real ‘solution’ for the entire human civilisation is … to do nothing. And by that I don’t mean “don’t change”. I literally mean: do nothing. For people to simply work less. Work a four day week. Work a four hour week.

We should be more like the Aborigines! We should look up to the Aborigines! The original (and best) custodians of this land.

More sleep and more meditation. That’s the only hope for humanity, for people to be more mindful. And that is the best that I can think of (after several years of thinking I might add).

And I can tell you first hand that it’s very hard to live with less, because we have all been brainwashed with “more more more”.

Of course it’s a huge problem because half the global economy is based on blatant overconsumption. I think one of the best things I ever did was to live in Spain — it taught me to be happier with much less.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t all try to be more eco, but what I am promoting these days is simply minimalism. So I would rather buy a wooden broom than have a vacuum cleaner (for example). Because I see the broom as being much less wasteful over the long term.

Unfortunately, when you begin to look at where all of our starting chemicals come from, the industrial processes used to get them, and where everything else is mined from, you realise how big the problem is.

People don’t want mines in their own backyard. And so the ONLY other place to get them is the natural spaces that are left. That is a very big problem. If only because “accidents happen”.

From my point of view as a former materials scientist, I find that life is so special, we should be fighting for every shred of biodiversity on this planet. We couldn’t even hope to artificially make anything like near as complicated as a fly or a worm from first principles using artificial methods (without cheating using genetic engineering etc).

[Read more…]

Chaos theory. The butterfly effect.

Today I’m going to talk about “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”, which is one of the foundations of chaos theory.

Chaos theory. I find it a fascinating subject to talk about, so here goes. Some people (me included!) can be really confused by the mathematics that is involved. So I’m not even going to put up a single formula here. Some people can’t seem to fathom how the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas.”

I’m just going to explain the concept to you. How can I best explain this something called “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”? Easy.

I want you to think of a single marble on top of a mountain peak like the Matterhorn. Imagine if we placed a marble way up there on the very highest point.

Now imagine, too, if an abnormal amount of snow had built up over the previous winter and there is now the possibility of a great big avalanche. And you all know how avalanches are caused, right?

Avalanches are initiated by too much snow that accumulates on the side of a mountain. Even the smallest rock moving can set it off. Even the force of the snow melting in the sun can change the distribution of weight of built up snow on a slope.

We all know that the marble might dislodge a slightly bigger rock on its way down, thus causing an avalanche. So we have a situation where a very small physical event like a marble falling down could potentially generate a much larger event like an avalanche at the bottom of the mountain. Well ‘okay’ you might say.

Now this is just where it becomes interesting. Because the slightest change in the way we placed that single marble down onto the summit might have caused it to fall one way or another. Or the slighest breeze in one direction or the other. Or some small feature on the surface of the rock on which it is placed. [Read more…]

Open letter response to Malcolm Roberts

Here is what this Australian sentator said on his maiden induction speech:

“It is basic. The sun warms the Earth’s surface. The surface, by contact, warms the moving, circulating atmosphere. That means the atmosphere cools the surface. How then can the atmosphere warm it? It cannot. That is why their computer models are wrong.” [source]

Excuse me? Are you fucking kidding me? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. You’re basically using your own anecdotal observations because “you think it’s all a global conspiracy”.

See, this is a big worry. When politicians have such power and are that blatantly stupid, basically we are all doomed. That’s why scientists are getting pissed off.

Maybe scientists need to dumb it down so that you can understand?

Now, I could link to research papers, but if you don’t even understand basic science, what’s the point? So I’ll link to other places on the web to make it simpler for you to understand.

Yes, space is freezing cold. Yes stars warm up planets. But that’s where your logic ends. And forget the actual data proving that the global mean temperature is rising. Forget it.

Just take one look at the planets Mercury and Venus. Venus has an atmosphere of 96% carbon dioxide.

Mercury doesn’t have an atmosphere. In fact it has the least amount of atmosphere of all the planets in the solar system.

Mercury is closer to the sun, right, (are you still with me Malcolm?), and yet, strangely enough, it’s surface temperature is LOWER than that of Venus.


Numbers? Okay. Sure.

The surface temperature of Mercury ranges from -173°C at the poles (at night) to 427°C (daytime, equator).

In fact, at a searing 750 K (477 °C), the surface of Venus is the hottest in the solar system. Venus is closer to the Sun by 108 million km, (about 30% closer than the Earth), but it is mainly due to the planet’s thick atmosphere. Unlike Earth’s, which is composed primarily of nitrogen, oxygen and ozone, Venus’ atmosphere is an incredibly dense cloud of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide gas.

The combination of these gases in high concentrations causes a catastrophic greenhouse effect that traps incident sunlight and prevents it from radiating into space. This results in an estimated surface temperature boost of 475 K (201.85 °C), leaving the surface a molten, charred mess that nothing (that we know of) can live on. Atmospheric pressure also plays a role, being 91 times that of what it is here on Earth; and clouds of toxic vapor constantly rain sulfuric acid on the surface.

In addition, the surface temperature on Venus does not vary like it does here on Earth. On our planet, temperatures vary wildly due to the time of year and even more so based on the location on our planet. The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 70.7°C in the Lut Desert of Iran in 2005. On the other end of the spectrum, the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was in Vostok, Antarctica at -89.2 C.

But on Venus, the surface temperature is 460 degrees Celsius, day or night, at the poles or at the equator. Beyond its thick atmosphere, Venus’ axial tilt (aka. obliquity) plays a role in this temperature consistency. Earth’s axis is tilted 23.4 ° in relation to the Sun, whereas Venus’ is only tilted by 3 °.

The only respite from the heat on Venus is to be found around 50 km into the atmosphere. It is at that point that temperatures and atmospheric pressure are equal to that of Earth’s. [source]



Zada speaks for Earth. At age 5.

I think this kid is surprisingly clever. She obviously knows what she wants. She’s not just self-aware, she is also aware that other animals are self-aware. She shows empathy for other living, feeling, conscious beings. That to me is true intellect.

You know, I was raised to eat meat. Our family used to eat every single day. I was never really told where it came from. I didn’t even realise that cows were ‘smart’ or had many feelings until I was a teenager and spoke with my friend in highschool. He used to live on a farm and he also informed me that sheep were very smart too. Prior to that I suppose I just thought they were like factory robots or something. It was just something I never really thought about I suppose.

I almost never buy meat nowadays. Especially not red meat. I just was in the supermarket yesterday and I wandered past the meat aisle. I thought about cooking some nice, tasty chicken for myself. And then I remembered this vid. So I chose not to…

Thanks, kid. I’ll try and remember you whenever I’m tempted to buy/eat meat. Because I like animals too. And, no, Zada, no. No they don’t really like being cooked in the oven. They don’t like that very much at all. :(

Here’s something manufacturers and industrial designers need to think more about: backlash on planned obsolescence.

If there’s one thing in this world that I can’t stand, it’s companies like Microsoft and Apple…

Who seem to make things go obsolete well before their time. And no one can tell them not to. They just keep getting away with it. Why? Probably because they make a lot of money getting away with it. That’s why.

But there are no laws to stop them getting away with it. And what this materials scientist thinks right now is “by fucken oath there should be [laws to stop them getting away with it]”. That is coming from an ex materials scientist. Right.

I think you all know what I am talking about. I’m talking about ‘old’ printers that don’t work with newer computers simply because the ‘drivers’ have ‘issues’ with the “operating system”. I’m talking about new software that won’t run on old hardware. I’m also talking about new hardware that won’t run old software. I’m talking about Apple’s proprietry connectors.

Let me tell you a little anecdote. I can even remember my dad saying about 15 or 20 years ago way back when I was a kid that Apple (you know, Macintosh it was once called) forced you to use their special cables and connectors, and thus were able to charge a premium.

At the time, I took what he said with a pinch of salt. I thought “well it’s their computer system, I suppose they would want to do that. Who can blame them?”. But now, fast forward twenty-odd years and my old man is dead [RIP, he died last year] and what he said to me in the 1990’s is looking even wiser now than it did when he said it all those years ago. Because it just so happens to be true. This man, my father, would be 90 years old if he were alive today. He was old but he knew something that I didn’t. That something is called ‘wisdom’ and all early adopters from what I’ve seen tend to suffer from a severe lack of it.

Back in the day, we used things called serial ports and parrallel ports to plug in our printers. So they got the information from one cable and they got their power from another completely separate cable. The thing is, they were slow. Really slow. But when USB came along, all those printers and mice and things became much less useful. The same thing happened to compact discs when Apple decided not to include a CD drives on their latest desktops.

People will always need to buy new peripherals to work with new plugs on their new computer system. That is now happening with USB-C connectors. Do you want to know what I think? I think USB C can go and get fucked, that’s what I think. All of my stuff (two external hard drives, external sound card for microphone, graphics tablet, mouse, wireless solar keyboard, external webcam, flash drives, the entire bloody lot is USB2 now isn’t it?). USB2 and it is plenty good enough. I’m sticking with it.

Yes, I’m talking about Apple ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack on it’s newest smartphone. Now, keep in mind that I don’t even own an Apple iphone. In fact I have never owned an Apple iphone. And here I am, compelled to write a blog article about how narky it makes me feel. Because knowing what I know, I probably won’t ever own an Apple iphone. I’m writing this from an imac retina. I don’t own an ipad. And right now, that is the way it is going to stay. After buying just one Apple product, I’m fast becoming anti-Apple. And the headphone jack decision is my last straw. It is the catalyst to me becoming “anti-Apple”.

So I’m going to just say it here in black and white. I’m going to share with all you strangers the reason it makes me so narky. Because this is my blog, my little ‘space’ and I can say pretty much whatever the hell I want. Right? There’s this thing called “free speech” in the West that not enough people take advantage of… this is vida enigmática… [Read more…]