Five things #6

“But who’s the real freak – the activist whose determination has single-handedly started a powerful global movement for change, or the middle-aged man taunting a child with Asperger syndrome from behind the safety of their computer screens?” Jennifer O’Connell asks why Greta Thunberg is so triggering for certain men.

Jesse Singal discusses Dave Chappelle, political correctness and cancel culture and argues that we should recognise the elitism of the Super-Woke.

David Spiegelhalter discusses the importance of statistical literacy, and plugs his book a couple of times. The book is The Art of Statistics and I do plan on reading it once the paperback edition is published.

As Rambo: Last Blood arrives on the big screen, Mark Harrison looks back at Son Of Rambow and the joys of DIY filmmaking.

And finally: Happy birthday COBOL. 60 years old this month and still surprisingly popular. There’s hope for me yet.

Five things #5

“T. K. hates a lot of things, but at the moment, it’s how she becomes the #1 target during dodgeball at gym. Everything changes, however, when she discovers that she has the ace ability to direct spherical objects — and she makes her classmates pay! But her powers are made for more than petty revenge, as she soon discovers while on a family vacation.” How to Move Spheres and Influence People is a short story set in the Wild Cards universe.

In Arctic Siberia, Russian scientists are trying to stave off catastrophic climate change by resurrecting an Ice Age biome complete with lab-grown woolly mammoths. Welcome to Pleistocene Park.

“The space between fiction and reality is where economic bubbles take shape.” Brent Goldfarb and David A Kirsch explore The economics of bubbles.

Going back a few months, Salman Rushdie discusses what Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five tells us now.

And finally, Antergos Linux is dead, long live EndeavourOS. Antergos was my main operating system for several years — I keep meaning to take a look at how well EndeavourOS has picked up the baton of being a newcomer friendly introduction to the occasionally painful world of Arch-based distributions.

Five Things Four

How to walk a human being. A guide for dogs from The Oatmeal.

Staying with dogs for a moment, Wes Siler has some thoughts on how to pick the right dog for you. This is a subject that we keep returning to.

Hotter European summers and more frequent and recurrent heat waves have spawned a proliferation of wildfires around Europe. Portugal has a simple, low-cost and environmentally sustainable solution: goats. Now they just need more goatherds.

Allison Kinney remembers working at a roadside produce stand, selling “local” food to arrogantly ignorant foodies from nearby cities.

And finally, Oliver Franklin-Wallis looks into what really happens to all that plastic you carefully sort into separate bins.

2650 to go

According to The Brussels Times roughly a third of the electric scooters in Brussels have been withdrawn, leaving only about 2650 of these accidents waiting to happen.

These things are a scourge: too fast for pavements, too slow for the rad and too much clutter to fit on a bike lane. And people just abandon the damn things when they stop, turning even the shortest walk into an assault course.

As for their benefits: there aren’t any:

Using life cycle assessment, we quantify the total environmental impacts of this mobility option associated with global warming, acidification, eutrophication, and respiratory impacts. We find that environmental burdens associated with charging the e-scooter are small relative to materials and manufacturing burdens of the e-scooters and the impacts associated with transporting the scooters to overnight charging stations.

The linked study found that a one mile scooter ride emits more greenhouse gasses per person than a bus, a bicycle or a walk. Walking and cycling are, of course, both better for your health as well.

The environmental problem with electric scooters stems from the fact that they are very resource-intensive to build but have a very short lifespan once they hit the streets.

The need for someone to drive out evert night to find and recharge the things doesn’t help either.

The report suggests that scooter emissions can be reduced by using more environmentally friendly vehicles to collect and recharge them and by using more recycled materials in their production.

Of course, it is possible to reduce their emissions to zero by just banning the things outright.

Today is Earth Overshoot Day

We have now used up our allowance of natural resources for the year.

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. We maintain this deficit by liquidating stocks of ecological resources and accumulating waste, primarily carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Earth Overshoot Day is hosted and calculated by Global Footprint Network, an international research organization that provides decision-makers with a menu of tools to help the human economy operate within Earth’s ecological limits.

In the 1970s we were able to make it all the way to December before we started sucking up resources from future generations. Now we can’t even make it to August and we would need the equivalent of 1.75 planets to produce enough to meet humanity’s needs at current consumption rates.

Action is needed now more than ever.

If you want to find out when your own overshoot day is, Calculate your Ecological Footprint and personal Overshoot Day. Mine is pretty terrible.

Students March for the Climate

A student march for the climate just went past about 20 minutes ago. The march was peaceful, if noisy — there was a lot of cheering going on — and, according to VRT, they are planning to repeat this every Thursday until they get an adequate response.

Two things struck me. Firstly, pretty much all of the placards were in English. I don’t know if this is a reflection of Belgian  multilingualism or if  the students are looking for international attention. But it’s interesting to note.

Secondly, the student who walked past in a pair of shorts — in January — made his point very effectively indeed.

 

Bug bread

The Guardian reports that a Finnish bakery has launched world’s first insect-based bread.

The bread, made using flour ground from dried crickets as well as wheat flour and seeds, has more protein than normal wheat bread. Each loaf contains about 70 crickets and costs €3.99 (£3.55), compared with €2-3 for a regular wheat loaf.

“It offers consumers a good protein source and also gives them an easy way to familiarise themselves with insect based food,” said Juhani Sibakov, the head of innovation at the bakery firm Fazer.

I have previously mentioned insects as a food source, and have even eaten several inset burgers. So it should come as no surprise that I think the idea of making bread out of bugs is a very good idea indeed.

I do think that innovations like this are the way to encourage Europeans to become more comfortable with the idea of insects as food. This is a good thing for a number of reasons, not least of which is that insects are a much less environmentally damaging source of protein than the large mammals we currently eat.

It seems to have gone down quite well as well:

“I don’t taste the difference … It tastes like bread,” said Sara Koivisto, a student from Helsinki, after trying the product.

Now, where’s my Marmite?

Bad Apples

When George Monbiot popped up in my feed asking Why is Apple so shifty about how it makes the iPhone? I was expeciting to see another case of someone blaming a single company for the sins of an industry. It’s often a tempting strategy for activists to focus on the most visible part of an industry and this approach certainly gains attention. However, in doing so, they tend to let everyone else off the hook. As such, I am always a little wary of attempts to lay all problems at the feet of a single company.

It turns out, however, that in this case my assumption was wrong and my wariness unfounded:

So [Friends of the Earth] approached the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturers, asking whether they are using tin from Bangka. All but one of the big brands fessed up. Samsung, Philips, Nokia, Sony, BlackBerry, Motorola and LG admit to buying (or probably buying) tin from the island through intermediaries, and have pledged to help address the mess. One company refuses to talk.

According to Monbiot, almost half of global tin supplies are used to make solder for electronics and about 30% of the world’s tin comes from Bangka and Belitung islands in Indonesia. Obviously, this industry supports many people on the islands but the lack of visibility, regulation or interest has led to economically and socially catastophic results.

[R]educing a rich and complex system of rainforests and gardens to a post-holocaust landscape of sand and acid subsoil. Tin dredgers in the coastal waters are also wiping out the coral, the giant clams, the local fisheries, the endangered Napoleon wrasse, the mangrove forests and the beaches used by breeding turtles.

Children are employed in shocking conditions. On average, one miner dies in an accident every week. Clean water is disappearing, malaria is spreading as mosquitoes breed in abandoned workings, and small farmers are being driven from their land. Those paragons of modernity – electronics manufacturers – rely for their supplies on some distinctly old-fashioned practices.

Friends of the Earth are seeking greater transparency on the part of the companies buying the tin extracted there. With greater transparency, so the thinking goes, comes greater accountability and the possibility of improvement. This approach is showing some success and Samsung are leading the way towards finding an industry-wide solution to end the damage. Apple, on the other hand, are trying to pretend that there isn’t a problem and – if there is – it’s nothing to do with them.

Friends of the Earth are calling on people to email Apple and ask them to get their act together.

George Monbiot is also calling on people to not buy Apple products until the company starts to display the transparency that Tim Cook has promised but failed to deliver.

As someone who has never bought an Apple product, and has no intention of ever owning an iGadget, this would be a disingenuously easy commitment for me to make. So I shall take a step further. As of now, I will never knowingly use an Apple product. I will never borrow an iPad and, if the only device on which I can check my email happens to be an iMac then I will just have to check my mail later.

Coincidentally, this post was written on a Samsung laptop. Less coincidentally, I will be treating myself to a Fairphone for my birthday Christmas.