I’m reading Stephen Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science. I’m about one-fifth the way through this 1200-page tome. He has studied cellular automata and found that complexity can be generated by very simple rules — complexity that appears to ‘come from nowhere’. It feel consonant with Simon Conway Morris talking at the Faraday Institute about convergence in evolution. Convergence is evolution finding similar solutions to design problems in disparate organisms. Sonar in bats and dolphins, for instance, evolved independently (there is no common ancestor with sonar), but their implementations share many features. SCM says that that shouldn’t really be surprising – for any given design problem there may be only so many solutions. There are only a few different ways two-legged creatures could possibly walk, for instance. So he thinks that if you were to ‘rerun the tape’ of evolution, you’d get similar creatures emerging. One interesting implication of convergence is that it suggests there is a sort of structure built into the universe. To someone like me who grew up with six-day creationism, but has let it fall away, that is helpful — that structure, combined with the mysterious fecundity of the universe (its propensity to complexity, life, intelligence, self-awareness) hint at, suggest, or allude to a God ‘behind’ everything-that-is.
Sunday 26 April, 02009
Wednesday 22 April, 02009
More from MacKay:
We’ve established that the UK’s present lifestyle can’t be sustained on the UK’s own renewables (except with the industrialization of country-sized areas of land and sea). So, what are our options, if we wish to get off fossil fuels and live sustainably? We can balance the energy budget either by reducing demand, or by increasing supply, or, of course, by doing both.
Have no illusions. To achieve our goal of getting off fossil fuels, these reductions in demand and increases in supply must be big. Don’t be distracted by the myth that “every little helps.” If everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little. We must do a lot. What’s required are big changes in demand and in supply. (more…)
Sunday 19 April, 02009
The vertical coordinate shows the energy consumed in kWh per net ton-km, (that is, the energy per t-km of freight moved, not including the weight of the vehicle).
[From David MacKay's Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, p.104]
Thursday 16 April, 02009
He’s trying to get people to think (and talk) rationally, rather than emotionally, about energy consumption & production. He gives lots of useful rules of thumb for figuring out the possible contribution of various forms of energy generation. He’s fighting against the ‘every little bit counts’ mentality that is careful about turning off cellphone chargers but has nothing to say about (say) urban form. He’s trying to provide the mental tools for people to get a handle on their own consumption, the bigger context (in the UK at least), and confidence to decide between conflicting and confusing claims like these: “The UK has the best wind resources in Europe” (Sustainable Development Commission). “Wind farms will devastate the countryside pointlessly” (James Lovelock).
Wednesday 15 April, 02009
One kilowatt-hour per day is roughly the power you could get from one human servant. The number of kilowatt-hours per day you use is thus the effective number of servants you have working for you.
Tuesday 14 April, 02009
Clive Matthew-Wilson is a good dude:
If the Australian government simply shared its $6 billion car industry bailout among the affected car workers, these workers could pay off their mortgages or perhaps start small businesses. At least that way the money wouldn’t be wasted. As things stand, the government’s $6 billion is simply paying the bills for a few multinational corporations, while doing nothing to solve the underlying problems.
Monday 13 April, 02009
12 April 2009
St Michael’s Kelburn
Last Sunday, after the evening service, Substance, I gave everyone who came a short questionnaire with three questions to answer: 1. Do you think Jesus physically rose from the dead? 2. Why do you think that? 3. What does the resurrection mean? The Substance service is made up of mostly university students and recent graduates. Their answers are flicking through on the slideshow here, between the artworks. I found the responses very interesting, perhaps you will too. Most interesting perhaps is the diversity in the responses to the question of what the resurrection means. (more…)
Thursday 09 April, 02009
Citizens should not depend on financial assets or fallible ‘expert’ advice for their retirement. Economic life should be definancialised. We should learn not to use markets as storehouses of value: they do not harbour the certainties that normal citizens require. Citizens should experience anxiety about their own businesses (which they control), not their investments (which they do not control).
Wednesday 08 April, 02009
It will raise the level of scientific things that the average person can do. People will find that the world is more predictable than they might have expected. Just as running Google is like having a reference librarian to help you, running Wolfram|Alpha will be like having a house scientist to consult for you.
[via Bruce Sterling]
Sunday 05 April, 02009
Dmitry Orlov’s article The Collapse Gap: the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the US fleshes out (among other things) my idea that money is toxic:
Slide  To keep evil at bay, Americans require money. In an economic collapse, there is usually hyperinflation, which wipes out savings. There is also rampant unemployment, which wipes out incomes. The result is a population that is largely penniless. In the Soviet Union, very little could be obtained for money. It was treated as tokens rather than as wealth, and was shared among friends. Many things – housing and transportation among them – were either free or almost free.
Saturday 04 April, 02009
Social network[ing sites] don’t grow because they provide utility to their users: they grow because they keep pushing the social stimulus button. And any utility they provide is incidental to that function.
New Zealand is under pressure to donate some of our SAS special forces to the US military ‘surge’ in Afghanistan. … New Zealand currently has about 200 troops doing reconstruction work in Bamiyan province, an Afghan backwater far from the fighting raging elsewhere in the country. If the SAS is to offered up to the Americans, [Murray] McCully should spell out what the goal of their deployment would be. We would deserve an explanation. After all, raising the stakes and the visibility of our military contribution to Obama’s war in Afghanistan would make New Zealand a more likely target for terrorism. That risk should be balanced against clear, achievable goals. Would we be there for the limited military purpose of eliminating any threat still posed to the outside world by al Qaeda? Or would our goal in Afghanistan be seen as a domestic one, to help turn that country into a viable, self sustaining democracy?
Friday 03 April, 02009
The first page of my (gmail) inbox shows the most recent twenty-five unarchived emails. This usually means email received up to three to six days ago. So if you haven’t received a reply from me for over a week, you might want to gently re-email. Actually that sounds like a counter-productive strategy — maybe post a letter. Or put a sticky note on a bottle of wine. Yes, that would work. Hmm… I’m 29. This is going to be chronic by the time I’m e.g. 35.