1,000,000,000 automobiles and rising

Part of Business as usual

Check out Worldometers, a site that offers “realtime world statistics.” Here’s one part of it that I find a little staggering:

How many cars in the world?

This is the beast on whose back we ride: a global and growing economic machine, one facet of which currently adds 60 million new cars every year to an increasing global fleet of about 1 billion vehicles (and take note: that doesn’t include commercial vehicles, trucks, buses and the like).

If we hope to imagine some serene, green, walkable/sustainable alternative future economy, we must also be ready to explain: what is to become of a billion (mostly oil-powered) automobiles, and the economic machinery that designs, manufactures, sells, fuels, maintains, repairs and eventually disposes of them? What becomes of the people who were engaged in that enterprise?


A significant threat to agribusiness?

Part of Matters unravelling

Three stories have caught my eye, about Monsanto and its Roundup Ready System of products.

In case you’re not familiar: Monsanto’s Roundup is a herbicide—a weed-killer—that kills just about any kind of plant you don’t want. Roundup is what you spray on the sidewalk or driveway to kill grass and dandelions coming up in the cracks. You wouldn’t spray it on the garden, though, because it’ll kill almost everything. Roundup has been on the market since about 1976, and has been promoted as a safe, non-toxic and biodegradable product.

Meanwhile… in 1996, Monsanto began selling “Roundup Ready” soybeans. These are soybeans genetically altered so that Roundup doesn’t kill them. The combination of Roundup, and Roundup Ready crops, constitutes a system of agricultural weed control. A farmer plants a crop of Roundup Ready soybeans, and can then spray Roundup indiscriminately, to kill all the weeds in the soybean field, and only the weeds.

There’s more: read the whole article

After soybeans came Roundup-Ready alfalfa, corn, cotton, canola and sugarbeets; I believe they’re working on wheat. The Roundup Ready System produced substantial gains in agricultural productivity, and has been an immense commercial success (and revenue stream) for Monsanto.

The following stories have lately emerged, to cast a shadow over this happy state of affairs:

What’s interesting about this: there’s a stupendous amount of money at stake. If global agribusiness were to lose faith in the Roundup Ready System, Monsanto must surely face a big challenge to its business model, and global agricultural productivity may decline.


Cyberspace pending

Part of Clever machines all around us + Our bright shiny future

Another virtual reality simulation/prediction, in which various data and apps are projected into our visual field.

This video is 3.5 minutes:

There’s more: read the whole article

That simulation already looks dated, to my eyes. Many of the visual interface conventions are lifted straight out of windowed GUIs, without a lot of imagination. In some parts of the simulation, you see people holding up their phones or tablets as an overlay or viewport, to interpret and augment what we see with our own eyes.

Some of this is already showing up in mobile translation apps like Word Lens (available for iOS and Android).  Install the free Word Lens app on your phone, point your phone’s camera at a street sign written in a language you don’t read, and your phone will read, translate and render an image of the sign, exactly as though it had been written in a language you do read.

Such magic already in the world. However, holding up a phone or tablet to reveal the unseen will get old, right quick. We’ll want something like Google Glass to make this work well. We will speak and make gestures to control the machines that accompany us.

Ten years from now, the world (and perhaps I mean the rich world) is going to be a far more interactive place, in which we are surrounded by quasi-conscious digital servants. Take note: not all of them will be our servants, any more than they are today. Here’s a search to keep an eye on: augmented reality.


A note to visitors

Part of The present moment

I’ve recently learned how to display a list of posts drawn at random (you can see it there on the right, in the sidebar) using a handy Wordpress plugin.

It’s a nice enhancement to the mechanics of my blog, because it churns up old posts that even I had forgotten about, and seems to make the blog more accessible. However, it also surfaces links from this blog to other sites, that I haven’t been keeping an eye on, such that many links are now broken.

I’ve just installed an automated link checker in WordPress, that will find and report broken links for me; with its help I hope to do a better job of maintaining this site. For now, please bear with me as you may encounter any broken links.


The Veldt, a short story by Ray Bradbury

Part of Clever machines all around us + Our bright shiny future

Life imitates art.

I’ve just been watching a video on Youtube, of a 2007 Discovery Channel show about the bright shiny future of 2057. This is 40 minutes long. It has some clever (if a little ham-fisted) technological prognostications. (What I find most interesting: advertising is mentioned, but distinctly downplayed. That much seems disingenuous.)

I’m reminded of a short story by Ray Bradbury: “The Veldt,” first published in 1950. It’s about a family–George and Lydia Hadley, and their children Wendy and Peter–who live in a highly-automated state-of-the-art smart home of the future, “this house which clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them.” The most sophisticated of the house’s subsystems (what we might call a holodeck) manifests in the nursery. Under the control of the Hadleys’ children, the nursery begins to exhibit peculiar and dangerous emergent properties.

From my perspective today in 2014, Ray Bradbury’s fictional smart house seems much closer to hand, with antecedents in today’s as-yet-crude VR technologies. And surely, as Bradbury foretold in 1950: our technologies are changing us in sometimes disturbing ways.

I’ve found the story online, not sure how durable this link will be, but do read it if you get the opportunity. It’s a beautiful period piece of mid-century sci-fi, from one of the great masters:

I’ve just learned also that you can have the story read to you by Stephen Colbert:

Note, that’s a 3-part Youtube playlist, not sure if it will advance automatically but the video player controls should give you full access.


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