Michael Wharton There Is Always A Theory: politics, anarchy, religion, atheism and science. now with poetry!

24Oct/170

Noah 2: Ark of The Convenient

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Get To The Lifeboats; The Planet Is Sinking!

Okay, so maybe this is an exaggeration of the truth but many organisations are obsessed with archiving plant seeds and the DNA of animal species in case of a global disaster of some kind. The concept of our way of life being restored from a back-up is a key theme in many science fiction stories, but in reality there are actual back-ups out there. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is perhaps one of the more well known examples of an attempt to preserve biodiversity of plants, whereas The Frozen Ark Project has loftier goals, to preserve genetic material for all endangered species of animals so that if their extinction is caused by mankind then they can be brought back by us too, by cloning them and reintroducing them to their natural habitat. I'm not aware of any projects which preserve human life itself, like the plot of some Science Fiction Television shows, books and films.

This is all very idealistic and obviously doesn't take into account the massive amount of work or time required to correct whatever we did to the natural habitat of such creatures to drive them to extinction in the first instance. My own personal idea of an "Ark" of sorts would be for humanity itself, if for some reason the Earth becomes too hostile to support human life and we can't evolve fast enough or genetically modify ourselves enough to keep up with the pace at which the environment of Earth is changing. This would be to build thousands of city sized airships to live aboard with every resource being produced aboard the airship. The canopy would be a giant greenhouse providing the oxygen required to breathe, and the food required to eat. The main gondola would be residential and leisure with all modern amenities. I have something in mind along the lines of The Laputa Floating City by Wang Nifu which the concept art just absolutely blew me away in terms of similarity to an idea I have had for some time now.

Imagine a city 2.0, untethered by geography, like Cloud City from Star Wars or Cloud 9 from Battlestar Gallactica, a place where people live, work and play in the sky. Immune to earthquakes, floods, droughts, severe weather, wasps at your picnics, hayfever, and even rained out sports events. At first I can imagine that it would only be the very wealthy who could afford to live aboard such luxury cruise ships of the sky, with their own personal flying vehicles shuttling them back and forth from the main ship. Over time they will be holiday destinations that working class families would aspire to save up to get to or even get into debt to visit. Some international business people will be tempted to stay there permanently when they realise that they can travel anywhere quickly from such a high vantage point. After some time I envision that more and more of these giant floating cities will be built, some will love them and want to live there more than anywhere else, but just like the modern city, some will hate them but still live in them for the convenience, or for work, or for the amenities they have, for the school system, even for the culture. Then after the inevitable decline of the monetary system, they will seem like a very logical option for most people who prefer to live in cities, well there is always a theory.

Better Safe Than Sorry!

We have all heard that it is always best to err on the side of caution, or prepare for the worst and hope for the best, better to have and not need than need and not blah, blah, blah, you get it right? Insurance is basically the principal I am getting accross here, if a supervolcanoe at Yellowstone goes off, everyone residing on the surface of Earth will suffer the same agonising fate, whereas the Cloud dwellers may escape the worst impact. The same could be true of an asteroid impact raising a cloud of dust that blocks out the Sun, Cloud Cities would ride above the worst of it and grow their own food and raise their own livestock just above the dust clouds which are choking the natives on the surface. The more we prepare to live isolated from the global ecosystem the less we will affect the global ecosystem in a negative way, if we develop a closed system which is still providing an excellent quality of life, then we can move more and more of the population over to this way of living until no human on earth negatively impacts the environment in any way.

Next Stop Mars!

The project I mention, lets call it Cloud Commuting, is also a fantastic solution to interplanetary travel from Earth to other planets in our solar system such as Mars. Vehicles with powered landing struggle to land on Mars, and the atmosphere is too thin to land wings, or a parachute. Would an airship work? Would we have to make adjustments to the pressures, the lifting gas? Would we be able to land an airship on Mars or would it make more sense to leave the main ship in orbit and send down shuttle craft of some kind? Probably, but that is Elon Musk's problem to work out, which he probably will. In fact;

Dear Elon Musk,
Please build city sized airships, for us all to live in!
kthxbai
Michael Wharton

So if this doesn't work, we can get the Chinese to build them for us on the cheap!

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8Jun/170

Environmentalism, Literature and Style

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Why has the environmental movement stalled when it is so close to its goal?

I wish I knew the answer to this question, all I know is that unless we figure out a panacea, all the disparate efforts of various individuals and groups will amount to no more than a hill of beans, similar to the EU butter mountain that I keep hearing about.

I would love to blame Donald Trump and his ilk, the baby boomers who think they have a god given right to defecate all over the Earth's surface and expect us to wallow in it with them. I would love to blame those with heavy investments in the fossil fuel economy. Unfortunately, it is not all their fault, some of it is ours, that is, the people shouting at ecological tyrants are not achieving anything, except for a hoarse voice.

What we need to do is to stop telling people what they should do, and what they should not do, and simply make it easier, and more financially viable to do the right thing. We know already from history that industrial regulation will always be flouted where the fine is less than the profit margin, no matter what the regulation. What we need to do is to motivate people with the carrot and the stick in proportional response to the behaviour of the worst offenders of that industry, if people are cheaply dumping illegally on conservation land, then undercut this cost with the cost of responsible disposal with subsidies. If a company is still producing a product in a package that can't be recycled, then subsidise the cost of the sustainable alternative until it is cheaper.

People on both sides may accuse me of suggesting that we coddle industrial tycoons and make it easier for them to do business at profit and hand-holding them to the brighter future that they should want to do for themselves. I have to respond by saying, you can lead a horse to water easier than making him drink it, leading a horse isn't shouting at it until it does what you want, it is to control it through physical force, coercion and to stand beside it the whole way. We need to show business leaders the way, and make it so that this is the only logical choice, that choosing any alternative would cost them dearly.

People who are wrong, rarely realise it by themselves, they usually require some form of external stimuli to benchmark how wrong they are. Let me be that external stimulus, let me tell you; YOU ARE ALL WRONG!

Hey environmentalists, go live up a tree! Hey you capitalist pig dogs, sell solar panels to hipsters! Hey, you rich multi-billionaires, build air ship greenhouses to grow food in and transport said food around the world! Hey deniers, go read a book, any book, then burn it, because you disagree with what books say. Hey intellectuals, stop talking about what people should be doing and do something about the fact that it is easier to do the wrong thing. Hey bloggers, stop writing inane posts about what people are doing right and wrong and start, oh...nvm.

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22Jul/150

Mike’s Playing Ingress!

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Mike’s Playing Ingress! Are You?

For the past few of months, I have been playing a great new game on my mobile phone called Ingress. At first I knew relatively little about the game, other than my sister and her boyfriend like to play it, and that they recently went to Cardiff to play with others in a large scale battle called an Anomaly. Well that was three months ago. I am now level 9 and ready to rumble! I got all geared up for another large scale battle called Persepolis, an Anomaly in Liverpool which was lots of fun!

I shall start at the beginning, for all you people not already playing Ingress, it began in 2012 with a company called Niantic Labs, who are made up of ex-googlers.

If you want to find out more about Ingress check out the wiki:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingress_(game

I would recommend the main website, https://www.ingress.com/ but it is a little story heavy, to just find out the basics and see if it is for you, I suggest you read the wiki. Essentially, it is a GPS location based game that is a turf war between two opposing factions, an MMORPG where the player is struggling for personal growth as well as team scores as is the case with other RPGs. Each team must capture either uncaptured portals, or those held by the opposing team, either way you gain experience (AP) and a little bit of local notoriety. Anyone on your team coming across your portal will know that you captured it, and either add modifications, or upgrade resonators or hack it for items (read the wiki if this bewilders you, or for more info on in game terms check out http://izziebytes.net/ingress-slang-lingo-terminology-guide/ ). If someone on the other team happens across it, they can also hack it for items, but they get zapped and lose XM (Exotic Matter, the "Energy" in the game)! They can also use weapons called XMP Bursters, or Ultra Strikes to neutralise your portal and then capture it themselves. You can link portals to each other into little triangles called fields and these are what determine the team scores. There are also lots of acheivement badges, which aren't essential to the gameplay, but help keep track of your progress in increments rather than simply having AP and levels.

New Portals are user submitted, and are usually places or structures of some historical or cultural interest or importance. Even particularly interesting graffiti is considered “portal worthy”, and good graffiti does tend to stay where it is, especially in cities like Manchester, where I live and play. I have had a lot of fun playing the game, and get a real kick out of submitting portals, and missions as this is a digital legacy that will live on long after I’m gone (in theory!). 

What I like most about the game is the social element, I have met up with dozens of people all thanks to being out playing a game on my phone, which is usually a solitary and isolationist experience.  Much like golf has been for hundreds of years, it is a great way to network and a great icebreaker to talk about with strangers. https://xkcd.com/1143/

 

 You can chat with other players on either team in the comms, and find out about local players by checking activity on your scanner, or if you play for a while, you may get invited to chat on a third party app (most commonly used is hangouts, which links well with Google plus).  You can even DATE other Ingress players! http://ingresssingles.com/

Other games like this, such as Facebook games, have an element of social chat, but mostly, this is so that the makers of the game can make more money, however, there is very little money involved in Ingress. So far, there have been various deals with high street shops that have not gone well, and some sponsored items in the gameplay, such as the AXA shield, or the MUFG capsule and the Soft Bank link amp. These are the ONLY ADS IN THE GAME! It is not a freemium game, or a game that lets people, who can afford to, level up faster or buy better gear. It is open to anyone, and also available for Android and the Apple iPhone IOS.

When I first started playing, I was unemployed, and only able to afford to play for half an hour a day on the FreeBee wi-fi you can get in Manchester for free for 30 minutes. Now I am working, I can afford to buy data bolt ons and it does tend to end up costing a fair amount every month, so I would recommend a decent data plan for people who play a lot.

If you would like an invite to play, leave a comment with your email address and I will send you one, you don’t need one, but I will get my recruiter badge if I invite you first!

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13Jul/150

Ironing: Why do we still do it?

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I don't iron any clothing and haven't for about 10 years now. Why do people iron their clothes? It certainly isn't to make them last longer, or to save time, or to make sure that people know that they washed them. Is it to make the clothing appear as though it is brand new out of the packaging? It could also be to make sure people are aware that the person wearing the ironed clothing is wealthy enough to afford to iron their clothes; and certainly wealthy enough to not have to work hard enough physically to crease said clothing. At least, that's why the Victorians still ironed their clothes.

People sometimes point out my creased shirt and ask questions, such as "Did you forget where your iron is?" or give advice like "If you roll your shirt up it won't crease up as much in your bag after you've ironed it!". I usually placate them with throwaway lines like "Well, I cycle to work and change when I'm here, so I don't bother.", but this is not the whole truth. I vehemently disagree with ironing on an ethical and ecological level. I am not just lazy...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ironing

After reading about the history of ironing, I am still bewildered why this custom and tradition is kept up. It is clearly a class issue, those of the upper classes used to be the only ones with ironed clothes, now the lower classes can buy an iron for less than two hours wages. However what is the ecological impact ironing has on the planet, and don't we all hate doing it? I am clearly not the only one out there with such questions:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/green-living-blog/2011/sep/02/ironing-save-energy-electricity-consumption

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/features/my-fashion-footprint-is-your-wardrobe-bad-for-the-planet-887027.html

An excerpt from the 2nd article in the Independent sums up what I had already felt on a more philosophical level, I always assumed that ironing used more energy in joules than even the mechanical energy required to spin them in the washing machine:

"A couple clicks of the mouse, then a figure appears at the bottom of the screen. Our household EDUs is 1,282. A breakdown shows that our actual clothing EDUs is quite low at 558. But then there's the laundry, which at 724 EDUs is slightly alarming. It includes 324 from washing and a whopping 400 from ironing.

The ironing is what did us in, more environmentally damaging than our washing. "It's like having the kettle switched on for seven hours straight," says Phil. But more shocking, if we add seven tumble-dryer loads a week. The figure more than doubles..."

Obviously the excerpt and the full article, (well worth a proper read) allude to the fact that tumble drying is also pretty ecologically harmful. I don't tumble dry myself, but I may on occasion have been tempted to as it is a functional device. We don't like to wear wet clothes, we may be forced to wear something soon after washing it, and it won't dry naturally quickly enough. I plan around the fact I don't have an iron or a tumble dryer by washing my clothes before I need to wear them by a few days (usually...). the article then goes on to give bulletpoint advice on improving the ecological impact of your wardrobe:

"iron only where necessary..."

When is ironing necessary? I can't imagine.

I am clearly not the only person writing about this issue:

http://community.babycentre.co.uk/post/a20837015/anti-ironing_campaign

http://h2g2.com/entry/A361522/conversation/view/F44694/T105842/page/1/

http://davewalker.cc/stop-ironing/

http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/housekeeping/a1840119-How-to-give-up-ironing-without-crunchy-towels-etc

If there is one thing to take away from reading this webpage, STOP IRONING!

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3Jun/152

Are You A Proper Cyclist or a Just a Bicycle Owner?

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What is the real difference between a cyclist and a "Pseudo-Cyclist"?

As a passionate cyclist, I take to the roads frequently and am amazed by the amount of other people who happen to own bicycles, who ride them like idiots. I must preface this with the fact that as a teenager, I did my cycling proficiency test at school. I learnt how to ride a bike safely, how to make sure drivers don’t kill me due to my own lack of care and attention. I check behind me and indicate each and every time I make a turn, often for up to 20 metres before the actual turn and use the appropriate signals to pull out or slow down to stop at lights. I don’t hop on and off the pavement at my own convenience and I don’t run red lights. I wear high visibility clothing; I have a front and rear reflector, front and rear lights, and a helmet of course.

I say of course, but the majority of "people who ride bikes" I see are riding around aren’t even a wearing a helmet. I use the term "people who ride bikes" instead of cyclist, because I believe that these people are not cyclists. In fact, they make cyclists look bad. We who make every effort to be seen, and to ride safe are undermined by these lunatics. My personal checklist for finding out if you are a cyclist or not, is as follows:

1. Helmet: If you are not wearing a helmet on your bicycle then you are a fool.

2. High-Visibility Clothing: If you are riding a bike on the roads, it makes a lot of sense for you to stand out to drivers, who are going to kill you if they don’t see you. Don’t let them get away with saying they didn’t see you. Not "essential" unless you enjoy being hit by cars.

3. Lights: I try to avoid riding my bike at night in the dark, but it is not always possible. I have a light set that cost very little compared to replacing a bike that has been mangled under the wheels of a car. Of course I will include front and rear reflectors, pedal reflectors and spoke reflectors here too, these are LEGALLY MANDATORY!

4. Bell: By law, all new bicycles are sold fitted with a noise making device or bell. If you do not have one on your bike, get one, fit it and ring it at pedestrians who walk in the bike lane and whenever you are about to overtake a fellow cyclist out of courtesy. I have a polite ding bell, and a klaxon for when people are still in my way after their second bell.

5. Bike Lock: I have seen obnoxious bicycle owners take their bikes into shops and fast food places and leave them in other people's way because they can't be bothered buying a bike lock. Inconveniencing others for the sake of one's own convenience is what narcissists do. Let alone kids who leave their bikes sprawled across the pavement outside shops while they go in to shoplift sweets. If you don't want your bike stolen, lock it, don't bring it everywhere you go.

 Why Do I Care So Much?

I do care. I care too much really; because I feel like I have to explain myself to everyone I tell that I cycle to work. People immediately think I am part of the growing majority of bike owners they have seen on the roads/pavements. I just told a colleague that I bike to work and her immediate response was "You're not one of them annoying obnoxious £#%@s are you?”.  I had to explain, that no, I am not; I am one of the good ones. I should not have to do this, I'm not saying proper cyclists should be revered or honoured in some way (medals would be cool...) but certainly not disrespected due to the bad behaviour of a few members of our peer group. I'm talking about anti-cyclist discrimination! I have heard drivers talk about the fact that we don't pay road tax therefore should not be on the roads, and that we don't deserve our own special lanes and why do we get so much publicity (aherm, we were on the roads first!). As if we are a nuisance! I have encountered nuisance bicycle owners; they have nearly knocked me off my bike! Hopping from pavement to road without taking the time to look behind them and check to see if I would have to brake hard and swerve dangerously to avoid rear-ending them! That is what prompted me to write this blog. Then it happened again. Then I noticed how many of the people I would have previously considered "Proper Cyclists", run through red lights, or pavement hop to get through them. I couldn't believe how few cyclists seem to signal and indicate properly, or even know which side of the road to ride on.

If you want to drive a car, you first must obtain a license and insurance and tax the vehicle. To ride a bike on the road, you just buy a bike and are let go on an unsuspecting public. I am not insinuating that there should be a test, there already is a test, it is called the cycling proficiency test, but there should be some form of governance. It is clearly not just their own lives they are risking, I have experienced my own life being staked on the ignorance of these pseudo-cyclists swerving in front of me like lunatics!

Other bad cycling habits I have covered in other blog entries such as wearing headphones, not using the handlebars on the road, texting/using the phone, there are plenty more I haven't covered as I had thought they were obviously wrong. Carrying shopping on the handlebars, trying to walk a dog whilst riding a bike (illegal by the way!), or trying to have a coversation with another pseudo-cyclist, cycling two abrest or worst of all, cycling the wrong way on a roadside bike lane.

There are also people who own bikes who are beyond "pseudo-cyclists" and have earnt themselves the title of "Suicyclist", people who are clearly trying to get themselves killed.  Wearing all black clothing at night with no lights or high visibility clothing, no/obfuscated reflector, like some sort of bike ninja. Invisible to the naked eye, these cretins are definitely self nominated Darwin Award candidates.

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