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Ben's Journal

First question:

In your view what are the three most important challenges facing society in the near term (say 50 years)? Why are each of these so important? What does science have to offer for each? What does technology have to offer for each? Your entry should clearly address which are science based and which are technology based. You can describe both science and technology approaches for each of the problems you identify.

The three biggest challenges facing society in the next fifty years are climatic change, failed states, and peak oil.

Climate change is a blanket term that covers a wide range of problems from warming and cooling of certain areas to sea level rise. It could cause Indiana to have ocean front property and New York to become the new Venice. This lessens the amount of arable land while simultaneously pushing people into a smaller land area. This will lead to real food shortages and strife as people are pushed together. Sciences offering to this problem are somewhat abstract. They could lead to ways of creating more efficient GMO's (although this hardly seems like a solution), discovering new methods for desalinating water. Technology stands to offer a good deal practical things to the solution. Technology could help help us build better sea walls so our cities can exist what will become below sea level. It could also help us develop machines to desalinate water or land. basically technology creates better systems with our existing science and incorporate new science into both existing and new machines.

Failing states is a huge problem because it creates a breeding ground for terrorist and human rights abuse among other things. Perhaps science can lead through breakthroughs that can help develop cheap infrastructure such as low cost high speed rail systems, but i dont think this is really a problem of science or technology. Likewise, technology could put these places in an area of higher economic stability by developing their resources, but without money this is unlikely to happen. This problem is largely economic and political.

Peak oil may be the biggest problem and one very closely linked to both failing states and climate change. Without oil, a great deal of our infrastructure, whether it be manufacturing or transportation shuts down. Science could offer a lot in terms of new fuels or new higher efficiency methods of extracting heat and in turn energy. Technology will allow us to adopt these new methods and adapt our current infrastructure to their use.

Atmosphere I

I found the exhibit Atmosphere interest, less because of of what it told about climate chance. Instead i was interested in how they were relaying that information, particularly how they linked technology (the interactive displays) with real artifacts (the ice core). The information about climate change was alright, but after several classes on the topic it was nothing new. Here is my critique of the displays:

Overall it was a good exhibit and one that i learned a lot from. Granted most of what i learned is not directly relevant to climate change, but relates more to our ongoing project to monitor energy consumption (which arguably is tangentially related to climate change...).

Final notes: the information seemed pretty well sourced. They quoted a number of people who seemed to be well known in their field. The thing that led the most credence to the exhibit was my prior knowledge in the field. I had heard it all before, in some form or another, so either all the material was sourced poorly, it it was all pretty decent.

Greenland Review

The play was pretty interesting and the information contained in it followed what i have learned in my various classes and readings. The whole scene around COP15 was particularly interested to see acted out. I have a pretty good background on the convention because of a class devoted to it, so they information was not new, but the media was.

Overall, the play presented some good information, but i had trouble getting a take away message of what is happening with global warming. While this is frustrating, it is also how i feel about the global warming scene more generally, so in this respect it is very accurate. This frustration does clearly show the way i see global warming viewed on a high level, and it does present a lot about the types of activism (including the problems) that are taking place, it is not that convincing. Perhaps this is because it is not meant to be, it is only an informational piece. It also did not inspire action, there was no take away message, no good do this. This made the play more interesting, but it also made it a less effective motivator. Perhaps i have just seen too much on this topic and am less susceptible to it...

Reflections on Climate Change: Less backwards does not equal forward

I cannot say I learned an extensive amount about the science of climate change. I have had many classes and done a lot of reading on the subject so most of what we have seen is merely review. There were probably a few things that tied together a few of the other pieces of information, but this was fairly minor. What i have learned about is ways of relaying information. In the past i have gained most of my information by reading, which i still think is one of the best ways of gaining what i would call primary knowledge. The play, and to a lesser extent the museum provided the secondary knowledge that tied it together. Its interactive and socially engaging format was very effecting and bringing up some questions and synthesizing information. Simply talking with other people, whether they are very knowledgeable about the field is another, perhaps tertiary way of gathering synthesizing information. The play certainly promoted some discussion, which was very nice.

There seems to be much less skepticism about global warming here than in the states. In England the issue is less political, and the government seems to have reached more of a consensus about it being a problem. For instance, in our visit to Kew Botanical Gardens there was information about climate change as it relates to different flowers, even going as far as to advise which plants should be grown in a changing climate. In the states we are still arguing over the role of god in the issue... I am not saying there are not skeptics here, but it does seem more socially accepted and less controversial, although i do not believe there is consensus on a solution yet.

Much like the states and Earlham, the English do not seem particularly inclined to do a whole lot about climate change. While there is relative agreement about it being a problem, there is still a divide about about any real steps being taken to change the direction we are heading. At Earlham, we like to think we are doing more than the English, but as far as i can tell, we are not. In the US more generally we are still trying to figure out which "80 year climate patterns" is causing hurricane Katrina, or why we are heading the same direction as the arab world (sand anyone? remember it used to be the cultural capital of the world...) in our slow descent into hell. Obviously, these questions are all encompassing and do not leave a lot of room for frivolous questions like "what can we do to slow this problem?" or "Does Jesus really approve of my HYBRID Tahoe that i carry my groceries home from the supermarket in?" because obviously these are not related questions.

Finally, a take away message: The science is solid for global warming, nothing else is. People do not understand the solutions or even the necessity for them. We are probably more backwards in america, but then we your operating on this high of a level the difference between 39,000 feet and 11,800 meters is really not that significant.

Science at Kew

These thoughts roughly follow the posed questions, although the format is somewhat loose.

Fibonacci at kew

I had a little trouble finding a lot of Fibonacci sequences at Kew, but i found a few.

Technology and Sustainability Talk

Astronomy and the Cosmos

  1. I am a bit confused about the difference between fission and fusion, and how we use these technologies relates to how they occur when starts are formed.
  2. So there is no water on mars? If my memories holds, i thought one of the mars rovers found ice?
  3. what is the difference between Dark Matter and Dark Energy?
  4. is it likely that the elements we know are possible, but have never found, are out in one of the galaxies?

Cells and DNA

  1. mutations obviously occur in the process of DNA dividing, but how? This method seems fairly well designed...
  2. What does the RNA do exactly? Is it also subject to mutation?
  3. I do not really understand how this all comes together. I get the little pictures, but the big picture that makes the whole system function is alluding me...

The code and evolution

  1. is mutation something that happens or something that has been selected for? IE are there organisms that are more prone to mutation and therefore can evolve more rapidly?
  2. how far have we gotten creating life in a jar?
  3. Is it likely there was initially other bacteria on the earth, but that one became dominant and took over? or was there only one bacteria that was likely to occur in that given set of constraints?

Paper Topic

For my paper I am going to look at the technologies and science incorporated in green residential housing. My focus for the paper will be primarily on technologies that are cost effective or nearly cost effective, although I will extend it too look at concept that are very interesting or could be integrated soon. For the most part I plan to talk about the technologies first, and then explore the science behind them. I am not sure yet, but I may try and focus on either retrofits or new construction, probably retrofits because they pose some of the most pressing problems. My paper will wrap up with a discussion about the difficult of integrating the new technologies into actual use.

I think this is a good topic with lots of interesting material in the areas of science, technology and society; make sure to cover all three. There is science in the how these techniques work, technology that makes it possible, and societal issues in terms of who can afford the short term capital expenditures in exchange for the longer term savings, etc. Given both the stock of existing housing units and our propensity as a society to build new stuff I think both are worth covering. A description of the approaches that a "typical" person can take WRT their own home/office would be valuable in this context. Carry on!


  1. This chapter presented biotechnology is a golden light. I know there are downsides to biotechnology, but what are they?
  2. what alternatives are there to biotechnology? Is this really the way to handle the situation or is it a quick solutions (rather than improving peoples diets, we give them wonder rice... is this just a patch to cover the larger problem?)
  3. I would like to talk about "good cases" of bio tech, versus bad cases. The bad ones are what immediately come to mind, things like round up ready corn. But what are the other good cases?

First STC Question

Chapter 2, question 1 - internet damaging business and whether we should protect them.

**In writing this, please note the flag of speculation is flying in a brisk breeze**

The Internet has certainly hurt some industries, although i have a hard time naming exactly which ones they are. Box stores did most of the damage to small business. Some could argue that the internet has hurt small businesses, but i doubt this is the case on a larger scale because it has opened up opportunities for other small businesses. Undeniably, it has caused businesses to change, and those that are unable to do that have often gone belly up. Libraries are a prime example of a business (broadly speaking) that has been forced to change. Instead of merely supplying books and people to help access the information in those books, they are now largely in the business of helping people access web editions of articles. True, people still buy their best sellers, but many libraries are now significantly cutting down or eliminated their reference sections and adding things like visual media labs. Obviously libraries are a small example, but the same is true of other businesses. The small town that could not support a sporting goods shop can now have a shop there that does half its business online, thus allowing the community access to its services and allowing the business access to a larger customer base. Those companies that cannot change or reinvent themselves are the ones to die, but even in this death, it creates a room for other businesses. Finally, it creates a niche market for things like used bookstores selling that certain ambience you cannot find on amazon.com or .co.uk.

Second STC Question

3.1. I cannot name a single inventor today. Sure there are people like Steve Jobs, and maybe he can be called an inventor because he created an idea, but he did not create the technology. I guess it is unfair to say i do not know any inventors because many of the people i work with everyday create things that have never before existed. Whether that is new pieces of code or a design for a cold frame. These are surely inventions and worthy things, but the people who made them are just doing their jobs, creating because its a necessity for something else. So in this regard, i know many inventors which takes the pressure of anyone to be known with prestige. Perhaps over time, some of them will take on that regard. Maybe with the advent of new technologies that flatten the earth, there are many inventors and we do not see them in the singular because they are here before us in the plural. Many are inventors and this dilution causes us to lose focus on a primary one or two.

Third STC Question

5.5. This question is one that interests me in light of learning about open source software. In some regards what makes sense for software might not make sense for say cars, after all they require significantly more manufacturing input. The only way closed source really seems to benefit manufacturing is by keeping change out of more peoples hands, allowing them to keep producing the same product without updating their factories. Nearly everything else runs contrary to this including the open source hydrogen car in the atmosphere exhibit. I would be very curious to see what a more open flow of ideas and technologies would do to a lot of industries. It could stand to improve small business opportunities or just to make sure a better product is offered by the larger companies.

Fourth STC Question

In an ideal world, people would leave instructions on whether or not they would want to be kept alive, and if they would for how long. Obviously we live in a world that is far from ideal. Barring a persons own decision it should rely on a persons family, starting with the closest relative. In no case should a court decide if the person should live or die. Instead the court should decide who has the right to make that decision, thus removing the question from the jurisdiction of the courts. If the matter is left up to the courts of public officials it creates (and has created) a mess that is only useful in political campaigns and barroom discussions. As we have seen with things like gay rights, abortion, and sometiems gun control, these issues become perpetually unsolved because there is so much emotion and pride tied to them. I would further point out, that this emotion and pride is not usually tied to the issue as much as it is party lines or just the desire to fight and slander the other candidate.

Fifth STC Question

I am not sure it is fair to call GM foods frankenfoods, because it just serves as a scare factor without providing information. It would be better to see people more informed about GM foods through understanding rather than emotional appeal. That being said, most of the information on GM is tilted strongly one direction or another, usually in favor of it because that is where the money is being made. Personally, i am very much opposed to GM agriculture. I tend to see teh simplest answer that fits the problem as best, and in this case sustainable agriculture is simple and more than meets the demand. In fact, the United Nations just released a report stating that the best way to increase food production throughout the world was with sustainable agricluture. Additionally, sustainable agricultural practices are much less relient on fossil fuels and can be done by a larger amount of people (help unemployment). Granted, this would mean that the cost of food might rose in the developed world as people have to be paid to produce it. On the flip side, it would mean the cost of food might drop in the developed world where labor forces are cheap. Overall, I have very little interest in consuming GM food, although living in the USA i have little choice in the matter. As it is, i try to avoid it as much as i can.

Sixth STC Question=

question print - question 1.

Most statements that appear in print seem more reliable. This is not completely true, it is mostly true with old papers. For instance, if i see something in the New York Times, i tend to believe it has some legitimacy. On the other hand if it is in a checkout aisle and not one of the major established papers i do not believe it has anything worth saying. Then there are papers like the metro which i read and believe some of, but check anything i find less than plausible with known sources. Lately, i have been reading that the big name papers are less accurate than they are presumed to be, and maybe they never really were worried about accuracy.

Things that are printed tend to be more believable then some things printed online, but other online sources are very creditable. For instance there are many online editions of journals like Nature that are as accurate as the print edition. Then there are other websites, especially blogs, that do not seem totally accurate, although they can provide first hand anecdotes that would otherwise be lacking. In summary, i would not really believe things i read on the open net without backing it up with some trusted or at least well reputed sources.

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