The modern way, or: how not to do it.

Every year again, and perhaps even stronger every year, I see how humanity is doing the wrong thing when the darkness of nature comes along. Autumn, Winter, the seasons where nature slows down, settles inside itself to rest for a new period of bloom when Spring and Summer come. And what does modern man do? The same thing as usual. Running around as fast as possible, working harder and harder, lighting up the darkness with even more lights. Everything to pretend that there is no wheel of life, that there are no seasons and – most importantly – that they are absolutely not a part of this nature thing.

Many people I know will say that this is natural, that it’s always been like that. Well, that’s wrong. Before the flooding out of darkness with big lights, people lived in sync with nature, going fast in the light and slowing down in the winter. A natural pace.

It’s in a way understandable that modern man doesn’t want (or worse: isn’t allowed) to follow that rhythm. Modern man has to obey the laws of work, the company, and most certainly the money-machine that demands labour regardless of moment. All that because the most important things in life have been eradicated for the greater good of – … consumerism? Work? The boss? Your country? Does all that mad running around make you happier, or a better person? No. Say yes all you want, I don’t believe the word of it.

Money has taken over the world.
I say: let’s take the world back. Let’s take life back.

 

Politicians.

politics

I wonder if politicians are really stupid or if they receive instructions on acting like that once they’re in some kind of seat of power. You may wonder why I ask this. If you do, you should pay attention to what politicians do and say for a change.

Speed.
A while ago here in the Netherlands they allowed people to drive faster on certain motorways. (US: freeways.) My first thought was: ah, they need more money. How is driving faster getting the government more money? Easy. You drive faster, your car uses more fuel, you get more fuel, and fuel is heavily taxed. Simple when you look at it that way. Another kind of more money comes from the confusion that arose: many people didn’t know where to drive 130km/h, 120km/h and so on, as the signs for that were either not in place or unclear. Result: people drive too fast and get tickets. More money for the government.

So how does this make politicians stupid?
More fuel-consumption in cars produces more exhaust, and that affects the air. Measurements have proven that this indeed happens on the stretches of motorway where the speed limit was raised. After reporting that to the politicians in the government, the ruling was: we’re not lowering the speed limit.

This is of course understandable from their point of view: lowering the speed limit again will anger or annoy many people who like to spend a lot of money on fuel drive fast. It will also show that the politicians didn’t think this through, and of course it would affect the inflow of taxes and the benefits of speeding tickets.

The fact that this rule makes the air worse again is of no concern. Until people get sick of that, go to the doctor for it, and in turn that could well raise the fees for health insurance for everyone as the cost of healthcare go up.

I’m not impressed. Actually politicians fail to impress me more and more over the years. (Note that this is not true for all politicians. Just most of them.)

We need more people to do less.

Have you noticed how screwed up the world is with its work ideas? More people have to work more and longer to get everything done, yet we’re implementing more and more machines to do the work for us.
Somehow this seems to be perfectly acceptable, especially when you consider the large number of unemployed people that still walk and sit around everywhere.

There is something very wrong with this mental image.

Turtle smugglers caught.

This is horrible!

More than 10,000 live exotic turtles have been found in the luggage of two passengers at an Indian airport.

The two Indian nationals were arrested at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International airport in Kolkata after customs officials discovered the reptiles packed in their suitcases.

“10,043 numbers of exotic varieties of the turtles have been seized from two passengers, residents of Chennai, who were coming from China to Singapore, and landed at Kolkata airport,” said assistant commissioner of Airport Customs, Nabnit Kumar.

The turtles were in three bags waiting to be picked up from a conveyor belt when they aroused the suspicion of customs officials, The Indian Express reported.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, nearly all species of sea turtle are classified as endangered and many are at risk of extinction due to human activities.

Increasing pollution, drainage of wetlands and commercial development tend to destroy the habitats and nesting sites of turtles.

WWF says that turtles are also endangered because of poaching, being slaughtered for their eggs, meat, skin and shells, and falling prey to over-exploitation.

An investigation has been launched into the attempted smuggling case.

(As on Sky.com)

Solar stoves in Argentine

I found this on HappyNews.nl. (Dutch site)

In the Argentinian town of La Puna, one of the sunniest places in the world, you see solar stalls more and more these days, food stalls where people cook on nothing but solar heat.

During the carnival festivities in the northern area Lap Puna solar stalls pop up, in Tilcara, Humahuaca, La Quiaca, Purmamarca and Uquía, all of them tourist spots.

The solar cooker (kiosko solar) is a cart on wheels which has a mobile solar furnace, nothing more than a strip of pleated aluminium with a diameter of 1.20 metres / 4ft. In the centre of the strip they mounted elements on which the cooking is done.

“People don’t believe that this works, and when they try it they’re surprised,” says Marta Rojas, a teacher who started a solar cooker in Tilcara. “They want to touch the strip and then they get burnt,” she laughs. On her cooker she prepares pizzas and quinopastries.

More information on solarcooking on wikipedia (in English).

Change we can believe in

From DynamicSpiral:

So, by now you’ve probably heard that we’ve recently crossed a dubious milestone: Earth’s carbon dioxide level has reached 400ppm. That’s the highest it’s been since we started taking measurements—and, as far as we can tell, the last time it was that high, there weren’t any people around to talk about it.

Well, okay, that’s not entirely true. There were people, but they looked more like this:

Image of female Australopithecus
San Diego Museum of Man

As you might have grasped from the NatGeo article, this is…kind of a big deal. Right about this point, the folks who’ve been sounding the alarm on climate change for years might be about ready to tear their hair out. Why aren’t we doing more about it? Why aren’t we doing absolutely everything in our power to try to reverse the damage we humans are doing to the climate?

The short answer—the easy answer—is that there are too many climate-change deniers. And while that’s definitely true, there’s a bigger ideological issue here.

As you may have heard, we have a bit of a problem here in the U.S. involving the intersection of science and religion. These two have some trouble getting along, sometimes. For reasons that I’ll leave to the religion scholars, our country has become a stronghold for a particularly virulent strain of fingers-in-ears, head-in-sand Biblical literalism that is so anti-science it’s frankly terrifying. You may be familiar with the anti-evolution, Young Earth Creationist nonsense that gets spouted by these folks, but there’s another branch of Christian thought that isn’t anti-science so much as anti-Earth.

At a recent evangelical Christian conference, Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll is reported to have said during a talk, ”I know who made the environment. He’s coming back and he’s going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV.” (You can see liberal Christian publication Sojourner‘s theologically alarmed response here).

Driscoll also made some comments linking SUVs and his concept of masculinity that I’ll leave to his psychoanalyst to unpack—but, for now, back to the topic at hand. Driscoll’s comment, referring to the “End Times” of Biblical prophecy, basically conveys that he sees no point in exerting any effort to protect the environment because it’s all going to end in a fiery cataclysm, anyway.

Just like the good Lord intended.

There is a strain of Christian belief that views the world as fundamentally flawed, “fallen” along with our mythical garden-going progenitors who succumbed to the temptations of forbidden fruit. From within this mindset, the world is inherently corrupt, and slotted for destruction. It’s not worth saving. Which might be why believers in the End Times are less likely to believe we should take action to avert climate change.

Especially if you don’t believe the end is far off. I mean, all those climate-disaster-scenarioweather-pornos films that Hollywood’s cranked out over the years make it look like climate change would kind of suck. But if you’re planning on getting Raptured out of here before ravening wolves take to eating people in Central Park (or whatever happened in that one movie), then what do you care what happens to this planet before it collapses into an unholy hot mess?

Do you remember way back a year ago, when folks were freaking out over the purported end of the Mayan calendar, and a Reuters poll found that 22% of Americans think the world will end in our lifetime? At least 1 in 5 people in this country believes the material universe is currently circling the drain, and that we—as in, the people alive right now—will personally witness its final lap around the cosmic toilet bowl.

When you look at it from their perspective, what’s a few miles per gallon in the not-so-long run?

But this worldview doesn’t just make people indifferent to environmentalism; it is, by logical extension, fundamentally anti-environment.

Christians of this stripe are in the world, not of it. This wicked world belongs to the unwashed masses of unsaved souls who are doomed along with it, and to expend any effort trying to preserve what God has earmarked for righteous destruction is an exercise in both futility and borderline-heretical arrogance. From the perspective of someone who adheres to this belief system, it might even be a sign of one’s faith to actively oppose any perceived pro-environmental causes.

For example: In a recent study, researchers found that self-identified conservatives were significantly less likely to buy an energy-efficient lightbulb if its packaging included a pro-environmental sticker than if it didn’t. Pitching it as something that would save them money on their electricity bill was fine; but as soon as you said the Evil E Word, conservatives checked out.

“He who is not with me is against me,” as they say.

America. Your rain are belong to us.

Yes, dear Americans, you saw that correctly. Your rain is not yours.

Via NaturalNews: Many of the freedoms we enjoy here in the U.S. are quickly eroding as the nation transforms from the land of the free into the land of the enslaved, but what I’m about to share with you takes the assault on our freedoms to a whole new level. You may not be aware of this, but many Western states, including Utah, Washington and Colorado, have long outlawed individuals from collecting rainwater on their own properties because, according to officials, that rain belongs to someone else.

As bizarre as it sounds, laws restricting property owners from “diverting” water that falls on their own homes and land have been on the books for quite some time in many Western states. Only recently, as droughts and renewed interest in water conservation methods have become more common, have individuals and business owners started butting heads with law enforcement over the practice of collecting rainwater for personal use.

Check out this YouTube video of a news report out of Salt Lake City, Utah, about the issue. It’s illegal in Utah to divert rainwater without a valid water right, and Mark Miller of Mark Miller Toyota, found this out the hard way.

After constructing a large rainwater collection system at his new dealership to use for washing new cars, Miller found out that the project was actually an “unlawful diversion of rainwater.” Even though it makes logical conservation sense to collect rainwater for this type of use since rain is scarce in Utah, it’s still considered a violation of water rights which apparently belong exclusively to Utah’s various government bodies.

“Utah’s the second driest state in the nation. Our laws probably ought to catch up with that,” explained Miller in response to the state’s ridiculous rainwater collection ban.

(Follow the link to NaturalNews for the whole article.)

Soundscraper – energy from noise.

No, I’m not drunk. A soundscraper is a serious thing in the race towards clean energy.

As found on Inhabitat:

An entry in the 2013 eVolo Skyscraper Competition, the Soundscrapers would be constructed near major motorways and railroad junctions, prime locations for capturing ambient vibrations. A sound-sucking material would cover the exterior of the tower with a double-skin layer, held away from the façade on a metallic frame.

For each Soundscraper, 84,000 electro-active lashes would cover the metal frame and pick up noise from cars, trains, pedestrians and passing planes. Each of the lashes is armed with sound sensors called Parametric Frequency Increased Generators. Once the noise is picked up, an energy harvester converts the vibrations to kinetic energy. Transducer cells then convert the energy to electricity, which is stored or distributed to the grid for regular electric use.

The team estimates that just one Soundscraper could produce 150 megawatts of energy in a densely populated city, which roughly converts to 10% of the lighting needs of Los Angeles. The clean energy would also help the city reduce carbon emissions and reliance upon fossil fuels. Several Soundscrapers could drastically offset the electrical needs of a metropoli

soundscraper
Read more: Soundscraper Transforms Vibrations from City Noise Pollution into Green Energy Soundscraper Generates Energy From Noise Pollution – Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

Could a computer save lost languages of the ancient world?

Could a computer save languages from extinction?
(found on ScienceRecorder)

Could a computer save lost languages of the ancient world?

Until now, saving languages from extinction largely depended on whether computer scientists could create algorithms able to capture samples before individuals speaking the language died off.

Now, it seems living speakers of ancient languages may not even be a requirement.

According to a new report, a Canadian scientist suspects that advanced computer programs could be used to recreate dead languages. The research team, comprised of Alexandre Bouchard-Cote at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and his co-workers at the University of California Berkeley, posits that dead languages could be reconstructed by feeding modern successors into computer programs configured to build extinct languages word by word.

Bouchard-Cote says a machine-learning algorithm could identify changes before they actually occur, a technological advancement that could be reversed-engineered to recreate dead languages. Citing an example of sound shifting, researchers said the well known Canadian Shift, where many Canadians now say “aboot” instead of “about,” is just one example that shows promising signs.

In a proof of concept, researchers reconstructed a set of languages from a database of more than 142,000 words that form 637 Austronesian languages — many of which are spoken in Southeast Asia, the Pacific, and regions in Asia. The program was able to accurately suggest how certain languages sounded and also identified which sounds were most likely to change.

The computer program could provide scientists around the world with potent tool for staving off the extinction of a number of languages, many of which are already on the decline. For centuries scientists have had to depend on deciphering lost languages by hand, relying on bits of parchment and other historical artifacts.

The language program is widely seen as a major advancement for language technologies in general. Researchers involved in the project say it is a compelling example of how big data and machine learning are beginning to make a significant impact on all facets of knowledge. That said, it is not the first time the idea of using computers to halt the decline of languages has come about. In mid-2012, Google announced its intention to collaborate with scholars, researchers, and language communities, through an initiative called the Endangered Languages Project. Through the project, people can learn about the Earth’s endangered languages follow the documentation being created to preserve them.

The paper is published in the most recent edition of the  journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Earliest placental mammal

I stumbled over this neat article on BBC News:

The creature that gave rise to all the placental mammals – a huge group that includes whales, elephants, dogs, bats and us – has at last been pinpointed.

An international effort mapped out thousands of physical traits and genetic clues to trace the lineage.

Their results indicate that all placental mammals arose from a small, furry, insect-eating animal.
Earliest mammal

A report in Science resolves the debate as to when the creature lived; it came about after the demise of dinosaurs.

That had been a hotly debated question over years of research.

Placental mammals – as opposed to the kind that lay eggs, such as the platypus, or carry young in pouches, such as the kangaroo – are an extraordinarily diverse group of animals with more than 5,000 species today. They include examples that fly, swim and run, and range in weight from a couple of grams to hundreds of tonnes.

A wealth of fossil evidence had pointed to the notion that the group, or clade, grew in an “explosion” of species shortly after the dinosaurs’ end about 65 million years ago.

But a range of genetic studies that look for fairly regular changes in genetic makeup suggested that the group arose as long as 100 million years ago, with mammals such as early rodents sharing the Earth with the dinosaurs.

‘Tree of Life’

Deciphering the very distant past on the basis of fossils and animals that are around today is inherently a subjective business.

“Comparative anatomy” – in which, for example, the forelimbs of a number of fossils are compared to establish which are most closely related – was the entire toolbox for the earliest palaeontologists. The era of genetics ushered in a more incisive tool to compare similarities across species.

But the new work tackles the question of placental mammals in unprecedented detail, developing a database of physical and genetic data some 10 times larger than any used previously – and taking a decidedly modern take on it.

“Anatomy and research in palaeontology had a very 19th Century veneer to it – that we would sit in small groups in a lab with a fossil describing it,” said lead author of the study Maureen O’Leary of Stony Brook University in New York, US.

(Entire article at BBC News.)