EssentialstheDiagonal is a personal blog by Mike Gerra, skeptic, technologist, psychologist, artist, humanist, collector of grand, eclectic ideas.theDiagonal blog connects the dots across multiple disciplines for inquisitive, objective and critical thinkers, exploring the vertices of big science, disruptive innovation, global sustainability, illuminating literature and leftfield art. It is on this diagonal that creativity thrives, big ideas take flight and reason triumphs.
Category Archives: Environs
Saturday, June 15, 2013
The Cold War between the former U.S.S.R and the United States brought us the perfect acronym for the ultimate human “game” of brinkmanship — it was called MAD, for mutually assured destruction.
Now, thanks to ever-evolving technology, increasing military capability, growing environmental exploitation and unceasing human stupidity we have reached an era that we have dubbed SAD, for self-assured destruction. During the MAD period — the thinking was that it would take the combined efforts of the world’s two superpowers to wreak global catastrophe. Now, as a sign of our so-called progress — in the era of SAD — it only takes one major nation to ensure the destruction of the planet. Few would call this progress. Noam Chomsky offers some choice words on our continuing folly.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
It’s safe to suggest that most of us above a certain age — let’s say 30 — wish to stay young. It is also safer to suggest, in the absence of a solution to this first wish, that many of us wish to age gracefully and happily. Yet for most of us, especially in the West, we age in a less dignified manner in combination with colorful medicines, lengthy tubes, and unpronounceable procedures. We are collectively living longer. But, the quality of those extra years leaves much to be desired.
In a quest to understand the process of aging more thoroughly researchers regularly descend on areas the world over that are known to have higher than average populations of healthy older people. These have become known as “Blue Zones”. One such place is a small, idyllic (there’s a clue right there) Greek island called Ikaria.
From the Guardian:...read more
Monday, June 10, 2013
So the changing global climate will imperil our coasts, flood low-lying lands, fuel more droughts, increase weather extremes, and generally make the planet more toasty. But, a new study — for the first time — links increasing levels of CO2 to an increase in global vegetation. Perhaps this portends our eventual fate — ceding the Earth back to the plants — unless humans make some drastic behavioral changes.
From the New Scientist:
The planet is getting lusher, and we are responsible. Carbon dioxide generated by human activity is stimulating photosynthesis and causing a beneficial greening of the Earth’s surface.
For the first time, researchers claim to have shown that the increase in plant cover is due to this “CO2 fertilisation effect” rather than other causes. However, it remains unclear whether the effect can counter any negative consequences of global warming, such as the spread of deserts....read more
Thursday, May 30, 2013
For centuries biologists, zoologists and ecologists have been mapping the wildlife that surrounds us in the great outdoors. Now a group led by microbiologist Noah Fierer at the University of Colorado Boulder is pursuing flora and fauna in one of the last unexplored eco-systems — the home. (Not for the faint of heart).
From the New York Times:
On a sunny Wednesday, with a faint haze hanging over the Rockies, Noah Fierer eyed the field site from the back of his colleague’s Ford Explorer. Two blocks east of a strip mall in Longmont, one of the world’s last underexplored ecosystems had come into view: a sandstone-colored ranch house, code-named Q. A pair of dogs barked in the backyard....read more
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The official national bird of the United States is the Bald Eagle. For that matter, it’s also the official animal. Thankfully it was removed from the endangered species list a mere 5 years ago. Aside from the bird itself Americans love the symbolism that the eagle implies — strength, speed, leadership and achievement. But do Americans know their State bird. A recent article from the bird-lovers over at Slate will refresh your memory, and also recommend a more relevant alternative.
I drove over a bridge from Maryland into Virginia today and on the big “Welcome to Virginia” sign was an image of the state bird, the northern cardinal—with a yellow bill. I should have scoffed, but it hardly registered. Everyone knows that state birds are a big joke. There are a million cardinals, a scattering of robins, and just a general lack of thought put into the whole thing....read more
Monday, May 20, 2013
Following on from last week’s MondayMap post on intolerance and hatred within the United States — according to tweets on the social media site Twitter — we expand our view this week to cover the globe. This map is a based on a more detailed, global research study of people’s attitudes to having neighbors of a different race.
From the Washington Post:
When two Swedish economists set out to examine whether economic freedom made people any more or less racist, they knew how they would gauge economic freedom, but they needed to find a way to measure a country’s level of racial tolerance. So they turned to something called the World Values Survey, which has been measuring global attitudes and opinions for decades....read more
Thursday, May 16, 2013
A recently unearthed celluloid (yes, celluloid) film of London in 1927 shows the capital in bustling, colorful splendor. The film was shot by Claude Fosse-Green, a pioneer of colour film in the UK.
Film courtesy of Claude Fosse-Green archives / Telegraph.
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Monday, May 13, 2013
A fascinating map of tweets espousing hatred and racism across the United States. The data analysis and map were developed by researchers at Humboldt State University.
From the Guardian:
[T]he students and professors at Humboldt State University who produced this map read the entirety of the 150,000 geo-coded tweets they analysed.
Using humans rather than machines means that this research was able to avoid the basic pitfall of most semantic analysis where a tweet stating ‘the word homo is unacceptable’ would still be classed as hate speech. The data has also been ‘normalised’, meaning that the scale accounts for the total twitter traffic in each county so that the final result is something that shows the frequency of hateful words on Twitter. The only question that remains is whether the views of US Twitter users can be a reliable indication of the views of US citizens.
See the interactive map and read the entire article here.
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Saturday, May 11, 2013
Yesterday, May 10, 2013, scientists published new measures of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). For the first time in human history CO2 levels reached an average of 400 parts per million (ppm). This is particularly troubling since CO2 has long been known as the most potent heat trapping component of the atmosphere. The sobering milestone was recorded from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii — monitoring has been underway at the site since the mid-1950s....read more
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Photographer Peter Menzel traveled to over 20 countries to compile his culinary atlas Hungry Planet. But this is no ordinary cookbook or trove of local delicacies. The book is a visual catalog of a family’s average weekly grocery shopping.
It is both enlightening and sobering to see the nutritional inventory of a Western family juxtaposed with that of a sub-Saharan African family. It puts into perspective the internal debate within the United States of the 1 percent versus the 99 percent. Those of us lucky enough to have been born in one of the world’s richer nations, even though we may be part of the 99 percent are still truly in the group of haves, rather than the have-nots.
For more on Menzel’s book jump over to Amazon.
The Melander family from Bargteheide, Germany, who spend around £320 [$480] on a week’s worth of food.
Friday, May 3, 2013
It should come as no surprise that those who deny the science of climate change and human-propelled impact on the environment would also shirk from purchasing products and services that are friendly to the environment.
A recent study shows how extreme political persuasion sways purchasing behavior of light bulbs: conservatives are more likely to purchase incandescent bulbs, while moderates and liberals lean towards more eco-friendly bulbs.
Joe Barton, U.S. Representative from Texas, sums up the issue of light bulb choice quite neatly, “… it is about personal freedom”. All the while our children shake their heads in disbelief....read more
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Nobel laureate and professor of brain science Eric Kandel describes how our perception of art can help us define a better functional map of the mind.
From the New York Times:
This month, President Obama unveiled a breathtakingly ambitious initiative to map the human brain, the ultimate goal of which is to understand the workings of the human mind in biological terms.
Many of the insights that have brought us to this point arose from the merger over the past 50 years of cognitive psychology, the science of mind, and neuroscience, the science of the brain. The discipline that has emerged now seeks to understand the human mind as a set of functions carried out by the brain.
This new approach to the science of mind not only promises to offer a deeper understanding of what makes us who we are, but also opens dialogues with other areas of study — conversations that may help make science part of our common cultural experience....read more
Monday, April 15, 2013
Researchers at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, have discovered an alternative and possibly more efficient way to make hydrogen at industrial scales. Typically, hydrogen is produced from reacting high temperature steam with methane or natural gas. A small volume of hydrogen, less than five percent annually, is also made through the process of electrolysis — passing an electric current through water.
This new method of production appears to be less costly, less dangerous and also more environmentally sound.
From the Independent:
Scientists have harnessed the principles of photosynthesis to develop a new way of producing hydrogen – in a breakthrough that offers a possible solution to global energy problems.
The researchers claim the development could help unlock the potential of hydrogen as a clean, cheap and reliable power source.
Unlike fossil fuels, hydrogen can be burned to produce energy without producing emissions. It is also the most abundant element on the planet....read more
Friday, April 12, 2013
It’s fascinating how a seemingly well-understood phenomenon, such as lightning, can still yield enormous surprises. Researchers have found that visible flashes of lightning can also be accompanied by non-visible, and more harmful, radiation such as x- and gamma-rays.
From the Washington Post:
A lightning bolt is one of nature’s most over-the-top phenomena, rarely failing to elicit at least a ping of awe no matter how many times a person has witnessed one. With his iconic kite-and-key experiments in the mid-18th century, Benjamin Franklin showed that lightning is an electrical phenomenon, and since then the general view has been that lightning bolts are big honking sparks no different in kind from the little ones generated by walking in socks across a carpeted room....read more
Friday, March 29, 2013
No, the drawing is not a construction from the mind of sci fi illustrator extraordinaire Michael Whelan. This is reality. Or, to be more precise an architectural rendering of buildings to come — in China of course.
From the Independent:
A French architecture firm has unveiled their new ambitious ‘farmscraper’ project – six towering structures which promise to change the way that we think about green living.
Vincent Callebaut Architects’ innovative Asian Cairns was planned specifically for Chinese city Shenzhen in response to the growing population, increasing CO2 emissions and urban development.
The structures will consist of a series of pebble-shaped levels – each connected by a central spinal column – which will contain residential areas, offices, and leisure spaces....read more
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Forget Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Carlos Slim or the Russian oligarchs and the emirs of the Persian Gulf. These guys are merely multi-billionaires. Their fortunes — combined — account for less than half of 1 percent of the net worth of Dennis Hope, the world’s first trillionaire. In fact, you could describe Dennis as the solar system’s first trillionaire, with an estimated wealth of $100 trillion....read more
Monday, March 11, 2013
We love maps here at theDiagonal. So much so that we’ve begun a new feature: MondayMap. As the name suggests, we plan to feature fascinating new maps on Mondays. For our readers who prefer their plots served up on a Saturday, sorry. Usually we like to highlight maps that cause us to look at our world differently or provide a degree of welcome amusement, such as the wonderful trove of maps over at Strange Maps curated by Frank Jacobs.
However, this first MondayMap is a little different and serious. It’s an interactive map that shows the impact of estimated sea level rise on the streets of New Jersey. Obviously, such a tool would be a great boon for emergency services and urban planners. For the rest of us, whether we live in New Jersey or not, maps like this one — of extreme weather events and projections — are likely to become much more common over the coming decades. Kudos to researchers at Rutgers University for developing the NJ Flood Mapper....read more
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Fast food, snack foods and all manner of processed foods are a multi-billion dollar global industry. So, it’s no surprise that companies collectively spend $100s of millions each year to perfect the perfect bite. Importantly, part of this perfection (for the businesses) is to ensure that you keep coming back for more.
By all accounts the “cheeto” is as close to processed-food-addiction-heaven as we can get — so far. It has just the right amount of salt (too much) and fat (too much), crunchiness, and something known as vanishing caloric density (melts in the mouth at the optimum rate). Aesthetically sad, but scientifically true.
From the New York Times:
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Experimental physicist David Keith has a plan: dump hundreds of thousands of tons of atomized sulfuric acid into the upper atmosphere; watch the acid particles reflect additional sunlight; wait for global temperature to drop. Many of Keith’s peers think this geoengineering scheme is crazy, least of which are the possible unknown and unmeasured side-effects, but this hasn’t stopped the healthy debate. One thing is becoming increasingly clear — humans need to take collective action.
From Technology Review:
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Now that air travel has become well and truly commoditized, and for most of us, a nightmare, it’s time, again, to revisit the romance of rail. After all, the elitist romance of air travel passed away about 40-50 years ago. Now all we are left with is parking trauma at the airport; endless lines at check in, security, the gate and while boarding and disembarking; inane airport announcements and beeping golf carts; coughing, tweeting passengers crammed shoulder to shoulder in far too small seats; poor quality air and poor quality service in the cabin. It’s even dangerous to open the shade and look out of the aircraft window for fear of waking a cranky neighbor, or, more calamitous still, for washing out the in-seat displays showing the latest reality TV videos....read more
Sunday, February 3, 2013
This week Google refreshed its maps of North Korea. What was previously a blank canvas with only the country’s capital — Pyongyang — visible, now boasts roads, hotels, monuments and even some North Korean internment camps. While this is not the first detailed map of the secretive state it is an important milestone in Google’s quest to map us all.
From the Washington Post:
Until Tuesday, North Korea appeared on Google Maps as a near-total white space — no roads, no train lines, no parks and no restaurants. The only thing labeled was the capital city, Pyongyang.
This all changed when Google, on Tuesday, rolled out a detailed map of one of the world’s most secretive states. The new map labels everything from Pyongyang’s subway stops to the country’s several city-sized gulags, as well as its monuments, hotels, hospitals and department stores....read more
Thursday, January 31, 2013
The United Kingdom government has just published its updated 180-page handbook for new residents. So, those seeking to become subjects of Her Majesty will need to brush up on more that Admiral Nelson, Churchill, Spitfires, Chaucer and the Black Death. Now, if you are one of the approximately 150,000 new residents each year, you may well have to learn about Morecambe and Wise, Roald Dahl, and Monty Python. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink!
From the Telegraph:
It has been described as “essential reading” for migrants and takes readers on a whirlwind historical tour of Britain from Stone Age hunter-gatherers to Morecambe and Wise, skipping lightly through the Black Death and Tudor England.
The latest Home Office citizenship handbook, Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents, has scrapped sections on claiming benefits, written under the Labour government in 2007, for a triumphalist vision of events and people that helped make Britain a “great place to live”....read more
Thursday, January 24, 2013
These three locations in Nevada, China (near Hangzhou) and Paris, France, have something in common. People the world over travel to these three places to see what they share. But only one has an original. In this case, we’re talking about the Eiffel Tower.
Now, this architectural grand theft is subject to a lengthy debate — the merits of mimicry, on a vast scale. There is even a fascinating coffee table sized book dedicated to this growing trend: Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China, by Bianca Bosker.
Interestingly, the copycat trend only seems worrisome if those doing the copying are in a powerful and growing nation, and the copying is done on a national scale, perhaps for some form of cultural assimilation. After all, we don’t hear similar cries when developers put up a copy of Venice in Las Vegas — that’s just for entertainment we are told....read more
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Often the best creative ideas and the most elegant solutions are the simplest. GravityLight is an example of this type of innovation. Here’s the problem: replace damaging and expensive kerosene fuel lamps in Africa with a less harmful and cheaper alternative. And, the solution:
From ars technica:
A London design consultancy has developed a cheap, clean, and safer alternative to the kerosene lamp. Kerosene burning lamps are thought to be used by over a billion people in developing nations, often in remote rural parts where electricity is either prohibitively expensive or simply unavailable. Kerosene’s potential replacement, GravityLight, is powered by gravity without the need of a battery—it’s also seen by its creators as a superior alternative to solar-powered lamps....read more
Thursday, January 17, 2013
We love maps here at theDiagonal. We also love ideas that challenge the status quo. And, this latest Strange Map, courtesy of Frank Jacobs over at Big Think does both. What we appreciate about his cartographic masterpiece is that it challenges our visual perception, and, more importantly, challenges our assumed hemispheric worldview.
Read more of this article after the jump.
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Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Chances are that if you don’t have some ancient National Geographic magazines hidden in a box in your attic, then you know someone who does. If not, it’s time to see what you have been missing all these years. National Geographic celebrates 125 years in 2013, and what better way to do this than to look back through some of its glorious photographic archives.
See more classic images after the jump.
Image: 1964, Tanzania: a touching moment between the primatologist and National Geographic grantee Jane Goodall and a young chimpanzee called Flint at Tanzania’s Gombe Stream reserve. Courtesy of Guardian / National Geographic.
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Monday, January 14, 2013
No pithy headline. The latest U.S. National Climate Assessment makes sobering news. The full 1,146 page report is available for download here.
Over the next 30 years (and beyond), it warns of projected sea-level rises along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, warmer temperatures across much of the nation, and generally warmer and more acidic oceans. More worrying still are the less direct consequences of climate change: increased threats to human health due to severe weather such as storms, drought and wildfires; more vulnerable infrastructure in regions subject to increasingly volatile weather; and rising threats to regional stability and national security due to a less reliable national and global water supply.
From Scientific American:
The consequences of climate change are now hitting the United States on several fronts, including health, infrastructure, water supply, agriculture and especially more frequent severe weather, a congressionally mandated study has concluded....read more
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Plagiarism is fine art in China. But, it’s also very big business. The nation knocks off everything, from Hollywood and Bollywood movies, to software, electronics, appliances, drugs, and military equipment. Now, it’s moved on to copying architectural plans.
From the Telegraph:
China is famous for its copy-cat architecture: you can find replicas of everything from the Eiffel Tower and the White House to an Austrian village across its vast land. But now they have gone one step further: recreating a building that hasn’t even been finished yet. A building designed by the Iraqi-British architect Dame Zaha Hadid for Beijing has been copied by a developer in Chongqing, south-west China, and now the two projects are racing to be completed first.
Dame Zaha, whose Wangjing Soho complex consists of three pebble-like constructions and will house an office and retail complex, unveiled her designs in August 2011 and hopes to complete the project next year....read more
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Two common complaints dog the sustainable energy movement: first, energy generated from the sun and wind is not always present; second, renewable energy is too costly. A new study debunks these notions, and shows that cost effective renewable energy could power our needs 99 percent of the time by 2030.
From ars technica:
You’ve probably heard the argument: wind and solar power are well and good, but what about when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine? But it’s always windy and sunny somewhere. Given a sufficient distribution of energy resources and a large enough network of electrically conducting tubes, plus a bit of storage, these problems can be overcome—technologically, at least....read more
Friday, December 21, 2012
In case you missed all the apocalyptic hoopla, the world is supposed to end today. Now, if you’re reading this, you obviously still have a little time, since the Mayans apparently did not specify a precise time for prophesied end. So, we highly recommend that you visit one or more of these beautiful places, immediately. Of course, if we’re all still here tomorrow, you will have some extra time to take in these breathtaking sights before the next planned doomsday.
Check out the top 100 places according to the Telegraph after the jump.
Image: Lapland for the northern lights. Courtesy of ALAMY / Telegraph.
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