Friday, April 29, 2005

Review: Collapse by Jared Diamond

What a slacker I am at this. Still, I have not been idle. I have been working on this book since Sunday.

So, what do I think of it? It is pretty good, but not everything it should be. The book is concerned with the collapse of civilizations and specifically the environmental causes of that. He looks at a number of civilizations to understand this better.

He starts with Montana, and examines the problems, environmental, social and economic, that the state has, eg. its poverty clashing with the rich newcomers, the problems caused by mining and faulty forest management and drought. These are serious problems and he looks at them from all angles. After reading that chapter, I had no solution to all of its problems - it stumped me. But the comment that struck me the hardest was that nobody, even the mining companies who have left some very toxic waste, are trying to act particularly selfishly. People from the farmer with two jobs to the CEO with two cabins in the Bitterroot Valley, are acting with particular disregard of their neighbors, at least in their own minds. They are simply acting in their best interest.

Next, he begins to look at historical examples, beginning with Easter Island. The main lesson here is that some environments, appearances notwithstanding, are more fragile than others. The Easter Islanders were probably not any worse than other Pacific Islanders, but the climate of Easter Island did not allow for the same manner of treatment of the environment.

Next he treats the problem of Pitchairn (before the mutiny on the Bounty) and Henderson Islands. And while there were some problems, like deforestation of the puny Pitcairn Island, the big problem was the collapse of a (civ. on a ) neighboring island. He likes to point out the problems of overpopulation, and portrays Malthius in a positive light. He never actually calls for population controls, but I don't know what else he could mean. Perhaps if the former extinct inhabitants of Patcairn island had been more careful, they might still have forests and be around today. Frankly, the folks on Henderson Island, never really had a chance, though they did remarkably good anyway, as long as they lasted.

Thus far, the lessons I have taken from this book, whether or not the author intended it this way, is that you can't be careless with your environment, whether you are farming, mining, harvesting wood or whatever. Of course, every farmer knows that. You have to take care of your land. Next, you have to be locally self-sufficient. That was the problem with the last two islands I mentioned. When trouble came, (and it always does eventually) and their trade routes were interupted, they were not ready for it. Neither are we as a nation.

Next time I will tackle his take on the Anastazi, Maya, and hopefully the Vikings.

Monday, April 25, 2005


I struggled to decide what to quote here, as I see two (similiar in my mind) things to comment on, that i noticed on Ran Prieur's blog blog. First, he makes a point that new video games are awful and that we are going to see a crash in the video games market. Not really exciting, but it is the whys that catch my attention. Out world is becoming increasingly unoriginal. Movies are predictable. There is scarcely an old movie that has not been remade.

As our society becomes increasingly degenerate, (or simply, wicked), there is a corresponding dearth of originality, and honest imagination. I think that that is part of the reason Napoleon Dynamite did so well, it was, for all its other faults, completely original. You didn't know what was going to happen, because it didn't have a standard plot. My father, the literary one, couldn't even point to much of a plot. It is there, for sure, but not like the usual.

Interesting.... if part of our world collapses, then it will be replaced by something. I wonder what.

Exploding toads baffle German experts - Yahoo! News

Exploding toads baffle German experts - Yahoo! News: "Hundreds of toads have met a bizarre and sinister end in Germany in recent days, it was reported: they exploded."

The story goes on to say, "According to reports from animal welfare workers and veterinarians as many as a thousand of the amphibians have perished after their bodies swelled to bursting point and their entrails were propelled for up to a metre (three feet).".

Just weird.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Slashdot | Paul Graham on PR

Slashdot had an interesting an interesting conversation on a recent Paul Graham essay on PR. I suppose this is why blogs are gaining in popularity - they are nothing if not honest. (What a way for me to pat myself on the back!)

Slashdot | Paul Graham on PR: "From the article:'Why do the media keep running stories saying suits are back? Because PR firms tell them to. One of the most surprising things I discovered during my brief business career was the existence of the PR industry, lurking like a huge, quiet submarine beneath the news. Of the stories you read in traditional media that aren't about politics, crimes, or disasters, more than half probably come from PR firms.' As always, it's an interesting, surprising and slightly provoking read.'"

It is interesting how much we are told to believe, and how much we do as they say. Of course, as he points out, they aren't strictly lying, it just isn't (even close to) the full truth-we have advertisments that disguise themselves as objective articles. It makes me a little sick. there has to be solution, but it is not obvious to me.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Oil Reserves Are Increasing ???

Oil Reserves Are Increasing by George Crispin: "Eugene Island is an underwater mountain located about 80 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1973 oil was struck and off-shore platform Eugene 330 erected. The field began production at 15,000 barrels a day, then gradually fell off, as is normal, to 4,000 barrels a day in 1989, Then came the surprise; it reversed itself and increased production to 13,000 barrels a day. Probable reserves have been increased to 400 million barrels from 60 million. The field appears to be filling from below and the crude coming up today is from a geological age different from the original crude, which leads to the speculation that the world has limitless supplies of petroleum."

I would not go so far as this gentleman does, but theory of Dr. Gold does desearve more consideration. What theory is that you ask? Namely, that oil is of primordial pre-biologic origin. In the strong version of the theory, we can't run out, because more is always being made. In the weak version, we can say, 'yes, but so what?'

Just because it is being produced continually does not make it useful. I have serious reservations about the strong version of this theory, but the weak version is worthy of far more consideration than it is normally given. However, old theories die hard. Often times, the only reason new theories can flourish is because the old generation dies off and those less set in their ways see some merit in it.

However, even if the strong version were true, the concept of peak oil is still a valid threat, because, we are still very limited in how fast we can get it up. It would however put the looming peak oil crisis off for many years.

Energy is going to be an important research topic in the future. Things will not continue are they currently are.

Cosmic rays

Cosmic rays enter the "dark" age (March 2005) - News - PhysicsWeb: "Of the eight sources detected, at least two have no counterparts at radio, optical or X-ray wavelengths. According to the team, these sources could be a new class of 'dark' cosmic accelerators. Moreover, the main particles accelerated in these objects are nucleons rather than electrons as in the more conventional sources."

Cosmic rays are an interesting topic. Usually they are high speed electrons that inhabit space. Of course, some of them are much faster than is supposed to be allowed, but that is a topic in and of itself. And the fact that we found some sources in our own galaxy is great news, but mostly just for astrophysicists. But now we have two sources that are nothing visible - Dark matter perhaps? And they act differently, accelerating nucleons, instead of electrons. Just another peek into the emerging weirdness of deep space - and just how much we have yet to learn.

Half Fossilized T-Rex "Thirty-one dinosaur skeletons have been found at the Hell Creek Formation in the past four years by Montana State University paleontologist, Jack Horner. And one of those is the first dinosaur remains to have stretchy tissue and even what appears to be blood cells inside one of its leg bones. "

This certainly is weird. You have a fossil, you remove the rock and what you have left is, appearently, biological material. Of course, the scientists want to dot their i's and cross their t's before they get definative on that, but it is a level of detail we are not used to thinking is available in a fossil, at any rate.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

It's ALIVE!!!

I don't expect anyone will read this.

No one at all. Any who stumble across it will surely find the latest news on Britney's baby to be more interesting. But, if this isn't too weird, technical, religious, or something else, for you, then you are an odd duck. Well, greetings fellow oddball.

The world, in reality, is much stranger than we generally realize. The laws of science are the parts that we have been able to make sense of. Little time is spent in class impressing on the freshmen just how much we don't know, or what loose ends and paradoxes are out there. But that interests me.

Conventional Medicine is not where the real breakthroughs are. All of modern medicine is incremental improvements to the status quo. Useful, but not revolutionary.

Religion, well, we can't blame God, is often made to seem dull and lifeless. But a deeper look into available texts, be they canon or not, reveal that there is a heck of a lot more to learn. And that reality is both far more counterintuitive and terrifying than your typical Sunday School lesson might suggest.

And so, I am attempting to see "things as they are", and that, I am convinced, is much stranger than fiction.