Save the Salmon – Hack Their Mental Compasses

Transmitted on Dec 03 2008 to earth & nature

Wired reports on a new way to help captive salmon survive in the wild. It’s simple: just reprogram their brains!

Biologist Ken Lohmann speculates that young fish are imprinted with the geomagnetic coordinates of their place of origin, which they use to find their way back home in order to mate. This adaptation works so well that in the 19th century, salmon migrations choked rivers and nourished entire ecosystems. Naturally, salmon are now on the endangered species list. This is part of the reason why biologists are working so hard to understand the salmon’s internal compass.

Lohmann’s concept for a salmon-friendly magnetic generator assumes, of course, that salmon do use magnetism to find their way. But the evidence seems to be there.

The Post-Digital Lifestyle

Transmitted on Sep 23 2008 to technology

I recently came upon the term “post-digital”, here described by its (presumed) creator, John Maeda.

I am often asked what my term “post digital” signifies. It is a term that I created as a way to acknowledge a distinction between those that are passed [sic] their fascination with computers, and are now driven by the ideas instead of the technology. It is not an expression of Luddite-ism nor is it a loaded term like that icky “post modernism” business. If we are to consider the book by Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, as an affirmation that the computer has arrived, then the “post digital” generation refers to the growing few that have already been digital, and are now more interested in Being Human. Buying a good computer is easy. Being a good person is something that cannot be merely bought… even on the great god of eBay.

This idea is really interesting for a few reasons: for one, it’s important to realize that technological “breakthroughs” don’t necessarily signify real progress. The only progress we can measure is what happens in our own heads, the awareness we have of ourselves and our world, the new thinking that comes with these new technologies. If we don’t acquire a fundamentally new (or fundamentally more complete) reality as a result of our technologies, we are actively losing ground.

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Alternative Energy Gets a Reality Check

Transmitted on Jun 26 2008 to earth & nature

Physics professor David McKay has been trying to find the best sustainable energy source to power England. Unlike the vast majority of sustainability advocates, however, he brings some pretty cold logic to the table:

If we covered the windiest 10 per cent [of the UK] with windmills, we might be able to generate half of the energy used by driving a car 50 km [31 miles] per day each. Britain’s onshore wind energy resource may be “huge,” but it’s not as huge as our huge consumption. I should emphasize how audacious an assumption I’m making. [...] The windmills required [...] are fifty times the entire wind hardware of Denmark; seven times all the windfarms of Germany; and double the entire fleet of all wind turbines in the world.

Kay moves on to dismantle (or is it dismember?) various alternative energy models, including solar power (which requires obscene amounts of space, especially in a place as sunless as England) and biofuel, which is scarcely better.

The most efficient plants … deliver an average power of 0.5W/m2. Let’s cover 75 per cent of the country with quality green stuff. That’s 3000m2 per person devoted to bio-energy. This is the same as the British land area currently devoted to agriculture. So the maximum energy available, ignoring all the additional costs of growing, harvesting, and processing the greenery, is … 36 kWh/d per person.

Wow. That’s not very much, considering the outrageously generous assumptions we just made [in order] to get a big number.

One interesting suggestion involves using land in North Africa for solar power and routing the current over the sea, counteracting the limited space available for solar panels in Europe. This still doesn’t deliver a whole lot of energy, but it’s feasible.

Part of my respect for Dr. Kay comes from his sheer level of thinking. All of his calculations are based on the assumption that everything is used to its fullest potential– making the results even more scary. In considering hydroelectric power, Kay envisions “millions” of water pumps moving water uphill, poised to create waterfalls-on-demand should the hydro systems fail. Kay’s contribution to the clean-energy discussion is bound to generate some exceptional new ideas–and, perhaps, some much-needed perspective.

Kay’s book, Without the Hot Air, is freely downloadable (still in progress, he claims) here. Well worth a read.

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“Part of our role is to wake up the world.”

Transmitted on Mar 11 2008 to culture & civilization

Two hundred leaders from seventy-one North American indigenous tribes convened on Monday to discuss rising concerns over global warming, environmental destruction, and the role of humanity as planetary shepherds. Hoping to help lead the way towards a more sustainable future, the tribesmen met at dawn beneath the Mayan city of Palenque, Mexico.

“I sometimes talk to scientists,” said a leader of Alaska’s Tlingit peoples, “and they compartmentalize things, put things in boxes and disconnect them, and doing so promotes disharmony and imbalance.”

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