i-think Twenty-Two

Now with more coherency.

I want to save the world

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Yesterday while walking home from work a realisation dawned on me. Some might even say I had an epiphany. Others might say that I just wanted to use the word, and what I really had was a mild stroke or case of delirium from inhaling exhaust fumes.Whatever the cause, I came to realise that throughout my life I’ve always wanted to be a super hero. I remember the entirely impractical plans I had as a child of donning a mask and cape and a sword and becoming Zorro (TV Zorro, not Antonio Banderas).

Sure, I know that trying to fight crime in the streets of Brisbane in a black sports car (I wasn’t confident about riding a horse) stopping misdeads with a sword is just plain ridiculous, but this sort of vigilante heroism is what I grew up with.

While working at Pizza Hut I became dissatisfied with the work because I wasn’t doing enough good. Sure, I could throw the odd Garlic Bread freebie out there to the downtrodden and inconvenienced customer, but I just didn’t feel that was enough.

So, what did I do. I decided to sit a giant exam (the GAMSAT) to apply for entry into medicine. Having absolutely no experience in Physics and remembering very little from High School Chemistry I came out with a mediocre score, but not so mediocre that I didn’t get an interview. But presumably mediocre enough to not be accepted.

So, after that failure, and after recognising that perhaps being a doctor wasn’t the best way to save the world, I gave up. Well, I gave up for about 6 months.

After those 6 months I was prepared to save the world in entirely new ways. Attempting to enlist as an Officer in the Royal Australian Navy. All was well up until the Psychologist interview, where I was told that I needed to make more friends, improve my self esteem and talk my problems out with people (think touchy-feely). They did seem pretty interested in me though as I received a phone call yesterday encouraging me to re-activate my application in 12 months time.

However, seeing as I was going to take a minor pay hit for 2 years of training, I’m not sure if I could take the pay hit in a year’s time. But only time will tell. Essentially if I still feel like enlisting in 12 months, I will.

So, stuck in the civilian world (for at least 12 months) I am looking for new ways to save the world and be a hero. That’s what I think my latest plan is about. Instead of fighting off terrorists or demon space monkeys (that just sounded good, I don’t actually believe in demon space monkeys) I could fight for the environment, but not quite like those crazy greenies (the ones with the Shaggin' wagons that spit out black smoke).

And if logic doesn’t serve as a proper weapon, perhaps it will again be time to don a cape and a mask and take to the streets…

And so it begins...

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I’ve begun the exciting task of researching the environment and the role of corporations. In a couple of months I will be arranging access to the University Library so I can access all the academic journals I need. In the meantime I have ordered a number of books to get me started:

  • Al Gore. Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit
  • Al Gore. An Inconvenient Truth
  • Daniel C. Esty & Andrew S. Winston. Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage And while I’m waiting for those to arrive I’ll be reading:

  • Dexter Dunphy, Andrew Griffiths & Suzanne Benn. Organizational Change For Corporate Sustainability. 2003

  • John E. Brandenburg & Monica Rix Paxson. Dead Mars Dying Earth. 1999 I am currently considering starting a PhD on this topic. If you have any other books or articles to suggest, let me know.

Corporations need to lead the way

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I’m trying to get this out there before I see An Inconvenient Truth this afternoon. It has been suggested that my previous post (A look at the environment) suggested that I was going to avoid seeing the movie. The fact is that I want to get as much information as I can about this so that it can be discussed from both sides.

In my last article I discussed some of the hurdles Global Warming needs to overcome in order to be accepted into the mindsets of people. Unfortunately the entire nature of the concept has people disbelieving it during a cold spell. That and the fact that most people would prefer some warmer weather anyway (and talk about Global Warming in a positive light).

What I am trying to say is that Global Warming is not how we should be communicating the problem. It focusses too much on the symptoms rather than on logical problems (like trying to use a finite resource as though it is infinite). I am not saying that the environment is fine and that nothing needs to be done.To tackle these sorts of problems wide-spread support is required. As corporations have the biggest impact on the environment, they are a logical place to start. Corporations also have a major part in the backing of political leaders, so corporate change may help influence political change.

At first thought, one might tend to ask “why should companies care about the environment?”. Well, to start with, some of them already do. Sir Richard Branson is looking at ways airplanes can reduce the Carbon Dioxide emissions. The obvious solution, don’t have the engines running when you don’t need to. He isn’t saying turn off the engines in the air, but rather commenting on the large amount of fuel that is used while the plane is on the ground. Once a plane is on the ground, more efficient methods can be used to get the plane to where it needs to go. But it isn’t just stopping there, he is also looking for ways to reduce the weight on planes so that less fuel is required. When you consider that fuel has to be carried too, they are making additional weight savings.

Whilst certainly a step in the right direction, this move also will reduce the costs of burning the fuel in the first place. This is a move that will save money. I’m guessing businesses should be able to see that this is a good thing.

Of course, there is more to environmental awareness for corporations than simply cost savings, and I will discuss those further in subsequent articles. But cost savings is a good place to start. We will also start looking at other companies that are moving forward for the environment.This month marks the beginning of major changes for i-think Twenty-Two. First we are moving to a new “green” colour scheme to reflect what may well become a major direction. We’re also going to do more research into articles on The Mill to help separate fact from fiction.

This article was actually written over two days and in between writing sessions I have seen the movie An Inconvenient Truth. I strongly recommend that everyonee see this movie. I wish there were more politicians as intelligent and scientifically-minded as Al Gore. He also seems to have more personality than most politicians. Be sure to check out the website for the movie (climatecrisis.net).

One of the suggestions offered at the end of the movie during the credits sequence was to buy a hybrid car, if possible. Curious as to what a hybrid car might cost I checked out the Toyota website (as I believe they are leaders in this area). The Toyota Prius is the main hybrid vehicle they have on offer. The cost for the base model, $37,000 (Australian) plus dealer delivery and statutory charges. The big benefit, 4.4 Litres of petrol will get you about 100km.Of course, this car also has a number of fancy features (the dropping of which may lower the price and make hybrid vehicles more within the reach of the average driver).

  • To start the car, you push a button. Of course, you still need to insert a key for security (the i-Tech model ($46,500) only requires that the key be in the car (the example they provide is in your pocket). This is nice and all, but is this merely a feature they can use to pad the price?
  • There is a 7 inch LCD display on the dashboard which controls the radio, climate control, etc. It also acts as the screen for the reversing camera on the i-Tech model
  • There are no gear changes at all. No manual, no automatic.
  • It even has a tether connected to your fuel cap so you don’t forget it (because they say you’ll refuel so infrequently). As far as new cars go, the Prius is futuristic looking and probably reasonably priced for what you get. (The i-Tech mode is probably even a worthwhile upgrade for some extra safety features, GPS navigation and reverse camera). I spend approximately $150 per month on petrol, so that’s about $1800 a year. There is a $17,000 difference between the price of the car and the amount I could potentially borrow as a personal loan. Based on the Prius' claims I would only have to spend $411.84 per year on fuel (assuming 600km/month, petrol at $1.30/L). So I could save $1400 per year. The question is whether that extra $1400 is enough to pay for this more environmentally friendly car.

Perhaps the Prius will soon start appearing in the used car market at reduced prices. Certainly, government subsidies for hybrid vehicles would certainly be advantageous. In the meantime it would be nice to see a car company bring out a hybrid car in the $20,000 - $25,000 price range. Sure, it might have less features and not be quite as fancy, but combined with the fuel savings and its environmental benefits this price point may just hit the spot.

I know that if I had $37,000 lying around I wouldn’t hesitate to upgrade to a hybrid car, but unfortunately I don’t. Of course, if anyone would like to help me with that…

Branson plans cuts to plane emissions. 28/09/2006. ABC News Online

All of human knowledge in my inbox?

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After doing some manual restoration of emails from one user to another in DB Mail I suddenly found that the estimated usage was quite large. Approximately 17 exabytes (an exabyte is 1024 petabytes, which is 1024 terabytes, which is 1024 gigabytes).

This is what it said about my inbox:

Opening connection to database… Opening connection to authentication…Ok. Connected Info for user [rhys]User ID : 3 Username : rhys Client ID : 0 Max. mailboxsize: 0.00 MB Quotum used : 17592186044339.48 MB (inf%)

And what makes it even more interesting is this:

“It estimated that in 1999, the total of all human knowledge, music, images and words amounted to about 12 exabytes.” ((Source: http://www.cio.com/archiv e/092203/enriquez.html))

And the compression must be pretty good too, after all it is fitting on a volume only 200 gigabytes in size!

Unfortunately I’m guessing this is a bug in how it updates quotas. Pity, it would make up for UQ rejecting my request for access to the library (which I just found out you should be able to get for the first twelve months after you graduate).

A look at the environment

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This is the first in an extended series of articles The Mill is covering examining the environment. I’ll take a logical approach to defining the environmental problems that face our planet and look at some of the potential problems with our current model of thinking.

Global Warming (which I assume is the subject of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth) is probably the most prevalent environmental concern that people today are aware of. And why not? It’s simplicity (in summary, not the entire theory) is just right to get into the brains of the masses: “It’s going to get hotter, and heat melts ice”. Unfortunately it focusses on the symptom, rather than the problem.

The second issue with Global Warming is that it is being treated as scientific fact as opposed to theory. Although I suppose that this is a consequence of people’s false perception that a theory is inherently not true. Instead, I’m going to work on the definition of theory given to me by my high school biology teacher (Bill Stephenson):

“A theory is the best explanation for a phenomenon at the time”

It takes time and a substantial amount of evidence for a theory to be considered fact. Yet with the sensational nature of Global Warming, it is easy for the media to get these two aspects confused. So what are some of the problems with global warming? It’s a hard thing to prove with only circumstantial evidence. In order to accurately recognise the symptom you need to identify the pattern and prove causality. Because we are talking about weather patterns that need to be considered on a geological timescale, we need to also have taken the readings on the same timescale. That just isn’t feasible. Additionally the range of areas covered and human error need to be removed from the equation.

So rather than trying to prove or disprove Global Warming, I am instead going to look at other more solid issues. Those issues in turn are related to how it is believed global warming works.In simple terms our problem is sustainability. As far as the environment goes, it is probably the single most important thing to think about today. Thinking about sustainability allows us to look at the root cause of problems, rather than simply looking at the symptoms and not doing all that much about it.

During my Masters degree I undertook a couple of courses on sustainability and whilst I am the first to admit I’m not an expert (Henry Ford said that to think of oneself as an expert, stops innovation) I feel that I have enough of a background to get the ball rolling. Sustainability was probably the most interesting thing that was covered in my degree and applying the thinking behind it is not too hard.So, let’s deal with some facts. We have a growing population with finite resources. All resources are finite, but some resources are able to be re-used rather than just consumed, or the supply is sufficient enough that it can be considered close to infinite for our purposes (such as the Sun, which one day will stop working, but when it does if we haven’t moved to another region of space there’s not much we can do anyway).

Fossil fuels are finite. They don’t renew at a rate faster than we are consuming them. They will run out in time, and our dependency on them will ensure total chaos (I’ll go into this in more depth in a later article). As a consumer-driven society we are adding more and more to landfills every day. Not only does this take up precious space, but this is a sample of resources that are no longer fit for use.

To deal with the issue of fossil fuels we need to move to alternative, renewable fuel sources or reduce our consumption of these fuels (although this is a temporary solution). Landfill issues need to be solved purely by reducing waste. Smaller packaging that uses less resources is the way to go here. Additionally recycling and re-using resources that would otherwise have gone to landfill is vital.

There are plenty of other environmental issues to discuss and it will be tough to get into all of them (but I will try my best). In subsequent articles I will go into more detail, but hopefully this provides an adequate introduction to the sort of things that I will cover. As always I encourage your comments.