Newsletter No.34 — May 20, 2018

Sentiers No.34

Heads up: For a couple of reasons related to early writing methods, the first forty-five issues archived here are “pre last review” and haven’t been fully re-reviewed yet. Please forgive typos and miscellaneous mistakes if you see them! They are also less structured than more recent issues and thus haven’t been split into multiple notes. (Yet?)

The longest section this week is the one titled ‘Milieu’ which made me realize again that I never did publish that glossary of terms a couple of people asked for. The use of ‘Milieu’ is something we used in The Alpine Review to encompass the natural world, our impact, and the related solutions and tools we come up with. In part because it felt weird to use ‘environment’ and then put a new solar panel technology in there.

The Key to Everything
Freeman Dyson with a brilliant, polymathic review of Geoffrey West’s book Scale. I’m not even going to try to explain it here, just a whirlwind of clear and sharp science writing, covering complexity, the scaling law, Kepler, Newton, genetic drift, big data, gravitational energy, thermodynamics, patents, cities, fractals, space exploration, high and low-gravity highways, and plants as greenhouse and living environment.

The history of each branch of science can be divided into three phases…. Physics reached the second phase with Kepler, the third phase with Newton. Complexity science as West defines it, including economics and sociology, remained in the first phase until about the year 2000, when the era of big data began. The era started abruptly when information became cheaper to store in electronic form than to discard. […]
Places where intellectual revolutions happened include, among many others, Jerusalem around 800 BC (the invention of monotheistic religion), Athens around 500 BC (the invention of drama and philosophy and the beginnings of science), Venice around 1300 AD (the invention of modern commerce), Florence around 1600 (the invention of modern science), and Manchester around 1750 (the invention of modern industry).

Google’s march to the business of war must be stopped
Well argued letter on why Google should back off from it’s DoD contract. I especially noticed the emphasis on calling it a global company vs the fact it’s partnering with one nation. When speaking of transglobal businesses, it’s usually because we see them using that status to dodge taxes but perhaps there’s also some argument for statelessness, to (potentially, in some ways) remove them from attachment and collaboration with only one of the nations they operate in.

We agree with and support those employees and we are joined by more than 700 academic researchers who study digital technologies. We support their demand that Google terminates its contract with the US Department of Defense (DoD), that the company commit not to weaponize the personal data they collect, or support the development of autonomous weapons. We also urge their executives to join other artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics researchers and technology executives in supporting an international treaty to prohibit autonomous weapon systems.”
Also: Google Employees Resign in Protest Against Pentagon Contract.
Well there you go: Google Removes ‘Don’t Be Evil’ Clause From Its Code of Conduct.

++ Douglas Rushkoff: In our digital age, being human is a team sport
Good quick interview on being more human centred in tech. Also including it here because the discussion is part of his presence at FutureFest which has a very promising, very diversified lineup. Also interesting to note that Ouishare are curating one stage at the event.

I don’t think humans are obsolete. I don’t think humans are the problem, I think humans are the solution. I believe that there are essential values and qualities of people that are not making the translation into the digital realm. Maybe they can’t quite be quantified, and maybe that’s the part of humanity that we should be exploring and celebrating now. Instead, we seem to be forgetting about them and that concerns me.
Once local politicians gain an understanding of that, they’ll change tax law. Instead of favouring the 200,000 employees of one corporation that’s not even in their state, they’ll think, what if I create tax laws that promote the health of people who are trying to get by on a local exchange network? We can see the economy tilting towards people exchanging value with each other rather than just being drained by these giant corporations.

++ Apple paves the way for breakthrough carbon-free aluminum smelting method
Apple thinking big and different, bringing together aluminium giants and governments together to develop cleaner aluminium.

Aluminum giants Alcoa Corporation and Rio Tinto Aluminum today announced a joint venture to commercialize patented technology that eliminates direct greenhouse gas emissions from the traditional smelting process, a key step in aluminum production.

++ The crypto alternative
Jon Evans with five scenarios for crypto, and how likely they are in his opinion. From Crypto Maximalist to Crypto Counterculture.

The borrowers: why Finland’s cities are havens for library lovers
Lots to like in the Finn’s love of libraries and the new ones they are building. 😍 this on building the Oodi library in from of parliament “I think there is no other actor that could stand in front of the grounds of democracy like the public library does.”

It’s also not hard to see why Finland’s city libraries are so heavily used: 84% of the country’s population is urban, and given the often harsh climate, libraries are not simply places to study, read or borrow books – they are vital places for socialising. In fact, Antti Nousjoki, one of Oodi’s architects, has described the new library as “an indoor town square” – a far cry from the stereotypical view of libraries as stale and silent spaces. “[Oodi] has been designed to give citizens and visitors a free space to actively do what they want to do – not just be a consumer or a flâneur,” explains Nousjoki.

Also mentions the Finnish pavilion at the Venice 2018 Biennale.

The Finnish pavilion transforms the Alvar Aalto-designed space into a temporary library. Titled ‘Mind-Building’, the exhibition explores the development of Finnish library architecture and showcases Finland’s leading role in developing the libraries of the future. … who present the public library as a case-study of ‘modern monumentality’ and reminds us of the values of the civic society and the power of education and knowledge.

++ Paris Ponders an Audacious Idea: Free Transit For All
According to the article the timing for announcing the research might be suspect and there’s sure to be much resistance if the move is paid for through congestion pricing but I like Hidalgo’s thinking.

That could potentially mean passengers would pay no fee for the Metro, bus, or suburban rail system across a metropolitan area that’s home to over 11 million people, making the Paris region the largest free public transit zone in the world.

We Depend on Plastic. Now We’re Drowning in It.
Long read at National Geographic on the absolutely insane growth in our use of plastic and the absolute mess it’s making of our oceans. Frightening and disgusting. A “detail” not often mentioned when talking about what we don’t recycle: that it’s not only a question of under investment or not caring; the growth in production is just so crazy that even well meaning systems are overwhelmed. Production is growing too quickly for the “other end” of the line to even catch up.

… production really only took off around 1950, we have a mere 9.2 billion tons of the stuff to deal with. Of that, more than 6.9 billion tons have become waste. And of that waste, ::a staggering 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin::—a figure that stunned the scientists who crunched the numbers in 2017.”
Production has grown at such a breakneck pace that virtually half the plastic ever manufactured has been made in the past 15 years.

++ Can Humans Live Well without Pillaging the Planet?
Very interesting visualization on two axes; environmental limits exceeded per capita, and social goals achieved.

The solution: “Wealthy nations can consume less, with no loss in quality of life,” says study leader Daniel W. O’Neill of the University of Leeds in England. That would free up resources for less wealthy nations to improve lives (circular charts) while still keeping within safe environmental boundaries.

++ Ancient Rome’s Collapse Is Written Into Arctic Ice
This is incredible, yeah science!

Scientists can finally track the civilization’s economic booms and recessions—thanks to the exhaust of its massive coin-making operation, preserved for centuries in Greenland’s ice sheet.

++ We can now see how humans have altered Earth’s water resources | Grist

We are very literally seeing all of the hotspots for climate change, for changing extremes of flooding and drought, and for the impact of human water management define themselves.
Our future challenges could not be more clear from looking at this map.

++ Watching this great documentary about the water shortage emergency in Iran brought up many ideas & feelings. Here are some reflections on Water. Good thread documenting his impressions + a few links.

++ Costa Rica to ban fossil fuels and become world’s first decarbonised society
“Titanic and beautiful task.” Says the president, and he’s right.

++ Vegan Beyond Burger Outsells Beef in Major Supermarket's Meat Case
Not something I expected to read this year.

😍 Discover Fascinating Vintage Maps From National Geographic’s Archives
”More than 6,000 maps from the magazine’s 130-year-long history have been digitally compiled for the first time.”
(Via @matthieudugal)

🐶 After Seeing Students Use Money To Buy Food, Dog Uses Leaves To Get Some Too

🏳️‍🌈 These trendsetting lesbian lovers fled 1920s America for Paris and lived their best life. I love characters like these.

🇨🇳 I’ve already mentioned the Chinese Belt & Road vision, including again for the good map and Anthropocene framing: “The language of the Anthropocene may well be Mandarin (and Hindi) #unnaturalworld… “