Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Quote of the Day

Despite hopes for the future, Puerto Rico is, once again, forced to focus on reactive maintenance. “There is no time to redesign the system or apply new technologies at a large scale now,” Carlos Reyes, general manager of operations for EcoEléctrica, a private company that operates one of the few power plants not owned by AEE, told me in an email. Other experts agreed. It’s unlikely that Puerto Rico’s grid will be rebuilt stronger and better over the next year. It’ll be enough work just to get it back online in its same old state.

The work of reimagining the grid — and, more importantly, designing a system that won’t put people right back in the dark the next time a hurricane hits — will take more than just technological improvements. Puerto Rico will need to reimagine the system that led to outdated, run-down technology, too.

Why Puerto Rico’s Electric Grid Stood No Chance Against Maria

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

...But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice... I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.

- Charles Darwin, The Life & Letters of Charles Darwin

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

My first response on reading the “Pokémon paper”, as I have come to think of it, was dismay. My second was a wish to write a book for children that might conjure with the magic of “living creatures” rather than “synthetic subjects”. And my third was puzzlement. What had happened to the names and knowledge of nearby nature in the lives and reading of British children? Could they really have dwindled towards a vanishing point?

Subsequent research has confirmed the Pokémon paper’s broad findings. In a 2008 National Trust survey, only a third of eight- to 11-year-olds could identify a magpie, though nine out of 10 could name a Dalek. A 2017 RSPB “Birdwatch” survey smartly shifted the focus, assessing nature knowledge in parents rather than children. Of 2,000 adults, half couldn’t identify a house sparrow, a quarter didn’t know a blue tit or a starling, and a fifth thought a red kite wasn’t a bird – but nine out of 10 said they wanted children to learn about common British wildlife. A 2017 Wildlife Trusts survey found a third of adults unable to identify a barn owl, three-quarters unable to identify an ash tree – and two-thirds feeling that they had “lost touch with nature”.


In his influential book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv suggests that both adults and children have increasingly come to “regard nature as something to watch, to consume, to wear: to ignore”. Inevitably, such a shift – if it is a shift, rather than a new edition of an old problem – has consequences for imaginative territories as well as real ones. As children “abandon the sandlots and creekbeds, the alleys and woodlands”, asks Michael Chabon in his essay “The Wilderness of Childhood”, “what will become of the world of stories, of literature itself?”

One answer to Chabon’s question might be found in the data sets provided by the annual 500 Words story competition, run by the BBC and Oxford University Press. This glorious story fest is open to five- to 13-year-olds, and typically attracts more than 120,000 entries, supplying an annual corpus of well over 50m words. Taken together, the stories offered remarkable insights into the communal imagination and vocabulary of Britain’s children. Plots and characters can be seen emerging and fading. It’s possible to drill down in the data to specific lexical choices, tracking the rise and fall of single words.


We should be unsurprised that nature’s names are vanishing from children’s mouths and minds’ eyes, for nature itself is vanishing. We are presently living through the sixth great extinction – a speed and scale of planetary biodiversity loss not seen since the Cretaceous. At a local level, this expresses itself in what Michael McCarthy memorably calls “the great thinning”. The 2016 State of Nature report found Britain to be “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”, with 53% of British species in decline – among them barn owls, newts, sparrows and starlings.

As nature thins, so does our memory of it. Shifting baseline syndrome flattens out the losses; each generation grows into ease with its new normal for nature. The grim end-point of this thinning is foreseen in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where common names survive but the common species to which they refer are all extinct. Names in that novel are spoken hopelessly, shaken like rattles filled with ash.

“Reconnect with nature” is the mantra for fixing this awful decline – as if we could just plug the toaster back into its socket and get right on back to lightly browning bread. We load the cant-word “connection” with responsibility, but rarely examine what it means philosophically or practically. An exception to this is the RSPB’s 2013 Connecting with Nature report, based on a three-year research project. Sensibly, the report recognised “nature deficit” as a complex problem, strongly inflected by socioeconomic and cultural factors. Dismayingly, it found only one in five British children to be “positively connected to nature”. Hopefully, it emphasised “nature connection” as not only a “conservation” issue, but also one closely involved with education, physical health, emotional wellbeing and future attainment: what’s good for nature is also good for the child.

- Badger or Bulbasaur - have children lost touch with nature? excerpts from The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane (Author), Jackie Morris (Author)

Quote of the Day

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of group selection to both science and the humanities, and further, to the foundation of moral and political reasoning.

- E.O.Wilson, The Origins of Creativity

Friday, October 13, 2017

Quote of the Day

Of all forms of pride, perhaps the most desirable is a justified pride in being trustworthy.

- Charlie Munger

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Quote of the Day

It’s when we get to the social world that things really get gnarly. A lot of our thinking is for bonding, not truth-seeking, so most of us are quite willing to think or say anything that will help us be liked by our group. We’re quite willing to disparage anyone when, as Marilynne Robinson once put it, “the reward is the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved.” And when we don’t really know a subject well enough, in T. S. Eliot’s words, “we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts,” and go with whatever idea makes us feel popular.

- David Brooks

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Quote of the Day

I would say, if you like, that the party is like an out-moded mathematics...that is to say, the mathematics of Euclid. We need to invent a non-Euclidian mathematics with respect to political discipline.

- Alain Badiou, The Concept of Model: An Introduction to the Materialist Epistemology of Mathematics

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Quote of the Day

When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.

- Fred Rogers

Monday, October 9, 2017

Quote of the Day

As for goals, I don't set myself those anymore. I'm not one of these 'I must have achieved this and that by next year' kind of writers. I take things as they come and find that patience and persistence tend to win out in the end.

- Paul Kane