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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.

  • First response.

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:

  • The hydrogen car: I wish it demonstrated more about the technology, but even without developing a complex understanding it was neat to see a prototype of this much talked about but as of yet undeployed technology.
  • Several of the stations involved simulation games. I thought these were a neat way to engage people in thinking about what really influences climate change. I was a bit frustrated with the inability to tell how much emitted by section (do cows farting and transportation have the same effect on the atmosphere?). Even with their flaws, this was a step in the right direction when it comes to interactive displays.
  • Several of the displays did not tend to work very well. This included several that utilized cameras to recognize movements (the one as you first went in on the left). Several of the touch screens were also a bit touchy.
  • Each display was repeated several times. This was helpful especially when there were several people where in the gallery simultaneously.
  • There was a lot of overlap between displays. This allowed ideas to really sink in by presenting them in several different context. It also gave the issue a breadth of coverage that is often lacking.

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.

  • I really enjoyed the visit to Kew Gardens, but i must admit i spent much of my time wandering around enjoying the day and surroundings. That being said, i guess i will mostly guess about the science as i did not have time to pursue that information as maybe i should have. According to some signs i saw posted, Kew is doing some research into the way climate change affects plant behavior and their abilities to survive in certain habitats. They even had a plaque suggesting people grow plants that will survive in hotter climates with less water.
  • After glancing briefly at Kews website, it seems that they run a multinational seed bank. I know of several other such organizations, but i am not sure of the scope of Kews, other than that it has a presence on every major continent worth collecting seeds from (I am not sure how much Antarctica has to offer). I am assuming that this seed bank is stored somewhere, but they also have a remarkable amount of living plant matter stored in their greenhouses.
  • According what was in some lecture or somehow conveyed from Charlie, Kew does a lot of work sequencing genes. I did not really see a lot of information on this.
  • Apparently they are doing a little bit of research on compost and its uses / management. After all, they had one of the biggest piles in the UK.
  • With the exception of a little info signage about global warming, i did not see many that pertained to the science being done at Kew. Granted, i did not read a lot of signs and most of them that i did see noted how such and such a person had such and such a building created for such and such a ceremony.
  • A lot of the work Kew does, i would qualify as outreach. It is not new science per se, but it is not always readily available to the public. Through the programs that Kew runs, this knowledge becomes more accessible to those who can afford to go. They provide walks and their signage as an educational forum for those who might not otherwise get the chance to learn about horticulture.
  • Simply by having their garden available for people to attend, Kew is providing a service. It allows people a chance to get out and enjoy a bit of the less built environment and appreciate and hopefully become interested in horticulture.

Fibonacci at kew

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

  • Pine cones - obviously used as an example
  • I am curious whether pine trees fall into the same category (one branch at the top, then an increasing, possibly fibonacci sequence, as they go down. this is probably a rather rough model.
  • I have done some research and found out how the Fibonacci sequence relates to the way leaves spiral, and how plants grow. Unfortunately i do not understand how this works and did not see it at kew...

Technology and Sustainability Talk

  • Charlie Peck presentation: sustainable energy, technology. 2/16/11
  • Technology does not depend on science... true but i had never thought about it before.
  • "well how did we get here?": tell what Buoys are... satelites are obvious as are navies, but most people are not familiar with buoys.
  • good explaination of the grid
  • watch / define usage of somewhat technical terms like "load"
    • Talk about how much energy this would save. power production matches peak demand, if you reduce peak demand then you dont have to build as many powerplants etc.
  • Dynamic routing sounds very cool
  • Hydro electric - not all that sustainable... raises water levels, more evaporation, problems for fresh water.
  • What about identifying some common threads at the begining or end?
  • steel vs wood buildings: Great example, very interesting
  • about 8-12 minutes too long... cut some time out of the "so how did we get here slide"

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?