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…]

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…]

Is a ‘circular’ electronics industry possible?

I think one of the biggest problems that humanity will face in the not–too–distant future is a lack of synthetic biodegradeable semiconductors.

Okay, so I’ve put that thought out there into cyberspace and now I suppose I should explain it. Why do I think this is going to be such a problem?

As we are all too much aware, human civilisation is fast becoming dependent on technology. You might say that the 1st world is already highly dependent on technology. And a big part of current technology includes electronics devices. Electronics drive everything from robots to computers. Without electronics, we go back to the analogue era. I’m sure that I don’t even need to explain that any further, do I? Without electronics, we’re screwed.

So earlier this year, I asked two questions on Quora:

  1. What are the main semiconductor compounds used today?
  2. What elements are used in the manufacturing of circuit boards and electronic components for consumer electronic devices?

It doesn’t make any sense to totally rely on something that we can only make in limited quantities, yet we are doing just that. Because the trouble is this: the way in which we produce electronic devices today is completely unsustainable. We mine the Earth for new minerals and the only element we recover from all of our electronic waste is gold (well, okay, we do sometimes also recycle lead and copper). But what about recycling all of the other elements that are used in electronic components?

Are we recycling tantalum? No. Are we recycling indium? No. Are we recycling gallium? No. Are we recycling arsenic? No. Are we recycling cadmium? No. Are we recycling selenium? No. Are we recycling tellurium? No. Are we recycling germanium? No. Are we recycling samarium? No. Are we recycling neodymium? No. Are we recycling niobium? No. Are we recycling antimony? No.

[Read more…]

On cyborg technology | Brain Computer Interface (BCI)

Sometimes I wonder: what is the future going to look like in 100 years? 1000? 10,000?

If you look around, people everywhere are completely addicted to technology. When was the last time you saw somebody on the train without something stuck in their ears?

These days, people want quicker answers, more content, more choice. They think faster than they can physically type (or even speak).

If you extrapolate this, I predict that technology that removes the interface between the brain and the computer will be the next big thing (unfortunately). And I humbly predict that the next trillionaire might just be the person who invents that device and brings it to the masses. I would now like to say a big “fuck you” to that person, before they even get started on the project. Why?

I think the Brain Computer Interface (BCI) is going to make the world look like a very different place than it is now. In the past, I used to think that it would never happen, because the human brain is too complex. But after only a few decades I have changed my mind. I think that the idea is not too far from reality.

It won’t be like it is now, with thinner and thinner screens and faster and faster processors. The whole point of a BCI is that there won’t be a physical user interface. [Read more…]

My letter to Maurice Blackburn [PART 2]

PART 2

[continued from part 1]

As a former scientist, knowing what I know, other forms of much more sustainable energy exist and yet the government allows this to continue. The WHOLE scenario is woefully depressing. That is basically the catalyst for my chronic ‘melancholy’ depression. The total lack of global accountability and responsibility to future generations to come…

Two decades ago, there was hope. Now, because of the reluctance for industry to change, I am fast losing that hope. Indeed, the situation is almost becoming ‘hopeless’. I just read that Australia has enough brown coal reserves to last another 465 years. Now WHO DOESN’T find that figure morbidly depressing I wonder? Who fuckingwell doesn’t? Eh?

I don’t want to live in a world that contributes to a worser future. I don’t want to use their dirty electricity. But what choice do I really have? I know that even if I buy ‘green’ electricity, the very same energy company supports fossil fuel companies.

I don’t want to pay taxes while all of this all continues. What’s the point? What’s the point of even working? Aren’t we supposed to be working for a *better* future? Well many people are working on it, on renewable energy technology like solar & wind power, yes, but some of these big corporations should have to pay. They are directly affecting my mental health right now.

The government has a duty of care to protect us. They aren’t doing that properly. Mining companies also have a duty of care to ensure that they won’t jeopardise our health or the future of this planet. They aren’t doing that properly either…

I’m willing to bet there are tens of thousands of people like me… if you want to find them, start with scientists. Start with climate change scientists, ecologists, even farmers, people like that.

Sincerely,
Dr. Leslie Dean Brown.
(ex materials science researcher)

P:S I’d appreciate it if you could CC me Part 1…
unfortunately I lost that and I’d like a copy of it to put on my blog.