A new moon?

I can’t help but think this comes under the ‘just because we can, doesn’t mean we should’ heading.

Chinese city to replace street lights with orbiting artificial moon by 2020
Within two years, the city of Chengdu aims to swap out its ground-based street lighting with the soft glow of an artificial moon, casting light across 50 square miles of the urban landscape. […]

Reflective panels on board the machine will pick up and redirect the sun’s rays. The satellite will actually glow multiple times brighter than the moon itself, creating a dusk-like atmosphere on demand. The precise illumination can be varied in different sections of the city as well.

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I’m sure it’s very technically impressive and will put Chengdu on the map, but…

A Chinese company has plans for an artificial moon to replace streetlights
Meanwhile, other groups are trying to make the world dark again. A 2016 study showed that more than 80% of the world, and 99% of people in the US and Europe, live in “light-polluted” areas, where the sky’s natural glow has been altered by artificial light from buildings and street lamps. Entire cities, like Flagstaff, Arizona and Ketchum, Idaho, are actively working to reduce light emissions at night. Both are certified “dark sky communities” by a group called the International Dark Sky Association, which offers dark sky designations to towns, parks, reserves, sanctuaries, and other places actively working towards a “more natural night sky.”

I remember first reading about dark sky initiatives when we went to the Kielder Observatory, within the Northumberland Dark Sky Park. This fake moon does seem to be a move in the wrong direction.

No going back

As a photography student in the 1970s, Edward Burtynsky was told to find “evidence of man”. He’s still at it, creating what could be called quite a depressing collection of photographs, though this Wired journalist sees them more positively.

The devastating environmental impact of human progress like you’ve never seen it before
By and large, Burtynsky is still at work on that first-year assignment, only now he uses better cameras and criss-crosses the globe. His images are vast and uncanny landscapes of quarries, mines, solar plants, trash piles, deforestation and sprawl – pictures of depletion and desecration that are testament to the collective impact of humankind. Yet Burtynsky’s photos are not depressing. They are reverential and painterly, capturing gargantuan industrial processes in fine detail.

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There are many more of his extraordinary photos on this article from the BBC.

Striking photos of human scars on Earth
“Most people would walk by a dump pile and assume that there’s no picture there,” Burtynsky has said. “But there’s always a picture, you just have to go in there and find it.” One of his famous sequences depicts mountains of discarded tires in California. Another shows mountains of poached ivory being burnt. Waves of rock curve into an unsettling symmetry in his photo of Chuquicamata, one of the world’s largest open-pit mines. There is dark irony in his radically anti-idyllic view of the world.

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And on a similar theme, some more remarkable images of the impact we have on our environment, from a slightly higher perspective.

These stunning satellite images show how growing cities change the planet
In a satellite image of Las Vegas in 1976, the city still looks relatively small. By 2015, after the population had grown more than six times, another image shows the sprawl of streets, houses, and golf courses into the surrounding desert. In a new book of stunning images of cities shown from above, the picture of Vegas is cropped to include nearby Lake Mead, its primary water source. “You actually see Lake Mead retreat and the city grow,” says Meredith Reba.

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Coffee, squared

An entirely appropriate material for the job.

Coffee cups made from old recyclable coffee grounds
Product designer Julian Lechner became obsessed with trying to find a way to reuse coffee grounds to create a new material. After 3 years of experimentation, Kaffeeform was born by creating a new formula that creates new products out of old coffee. Lechner takes recycled coffee grounds and natural glues to create a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to products based on mineral oils. All Kaffeeform cups have the appearance of dark marblewood, smell of coffee, are very light, and finally, are dishwasher-friendly and long-lasting, so they can be used over and over again.

What a great idea. What else could we design in this way? Egg boxes made of egg shells? Edible cutlery?

Living on a blue marble

A fascinating look at the stories behind some arresting images of our world. First, the whole Earth.

Overview: Earth and civilization in macroscope
“The sight of the whole Earth, small, alive, and alone, caused scientific and philosophical thought to shift away from the assumption that the Earth was a fixed environment, unalterably given to humankind, and towards a model of the Earth as an evolving environment, conditioned by life and alterable by human activity,” writes historian Robert Poole.² “It was the defining moment of the twentieth century.”

And then something a little closer.

The overview effect was very much on his mind when he started preparing for a space club talk on GPS satellites. As he was pulling some satellite imagery for the talk, he entered “Earth” into the Apple Maps search bar, hoping it would take him to a zoomed out view of the whole earth. What he saw instead stunned him: Earth, Texas, a small town in the Northern part of the state with a population of 1,048.

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But perhaps you’re curious about how things looked a little while ago.

Ancient Earth globe
What did Earth look like 240 million years ago?

It’s very strange to think that 200 million years ago you could walk from Leeds to Greenland without getting your feet wet, but not to London.

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But, of course, this might just be part of the conspiracy…

Flat Earthers and the double-edged sword of American magical thinking
Gruber’s point about the internet being a double-edged sword appears to be echoed here by Andersen about American individualism. Sure, this “if people disagree with you, you must be doing something right” spirit is responsible for the anti-vaxxer movement, conspiracy theories that 9/11 was an inside job & Newtown didn’t happen, climate change denialism, and anti-evolutionism, but it also gets you things like rock & roll, putting men on the Moon, and countless discoveries & inventions, including the internet.

Any second now

I’m so pleased to see this is making great progress. I’ve been a fan of it since first reading about it in Wired all those years ago, and have been spurred on to re-read the book again.

The Long Now Foundation begins the installation of the monumental 10,000 year clock in West Texas
The clock is designed to run for ten millennia without any required human intervention to keep it going. Inventor Danny Hillis, who came up with the idea of the clock, proposed for it to be “an icon to long-term thinking”. A number of parts are still being fabricated as of this date, but now the 10,000 year clock is getting closer and closer to keeping time for a long time. We’re all excited.

Clock of the Long Now – Installation Begins (Vimeo)
After over a decade of design and fabrication, we have begun installing the first parts of the Clock of the Long Now on site in West Texas. In this video you can see the first elements to be assembled underground, the drive weight, winder and main gearing. This is the first of many stages to be installed, and we continue to fabricate parts for the rest of the Clock in several shops along the west coast.

It’s taken a long time to get to this point though, appropriately enough. This, from 2011.

How to make a clock run for 10,000 years
At first, Hillis and Rose and other members of the foundation figured the organization’s primary job would be building the clock. They even purchased a remote site, in Nevada, which met their geographic, geological and meteorological needs.

But then progress seemed to stop — at least from the outside. Although the Long Now Foundation continued working on prototypes, materials testing, design and other projects, media attention faded after the turn of the millennium. To anyone not part of the project, the clock seemed to have become one of those ideas that are good to think about, but impractical in reality.

Then Bezos and Hillis, already good friends, got to talking.

I wasn’t very keen on this take on it, however, from The Verge.

Construction begins on Jeff Bezos’ $42 million 10,000-year clock
Installation has finally begun on Jeff Bezos’ 10,000-year clock, a project that the Amazon CEO has invested $42 million in (along with a hollowed-out mountain in Texas that Bezos intends for a Blue Origin spaceport), with the goal of building a mechanical clock that will run for 10 millennia.

They keep calling it Bezos’s clock, which makes it sound like a billionaire CEO’s crazy vanity project. Yes he’s heavily invested in it, I get that, but it’s more than that, right?

The Clock of the Long Now (Vimeo)
The Clock of the Long Now is a portrait of Danny Hillis and his brilliant team of inventors, futurists, and engineers as they build The 10,000 Year Clock—a grand, Stone Henge-like monolith, being constructed in a mountain in West Texas. The film, like the clock itself, celebrates the power of long-term thinking and mankind’s insatiable thirst to solve life’s biggest problems.

Happy to put my money where my mouth it. (As I write this, they have 9,142 members currently. I thought about waiting to join till they get to 9,999, but I’m just not that patient.)

Become a Long Now member
Join Long Now to help us foster long-term thinking and support our projects: the 10,000 Year Clock, Seminars About Long-term Thinking, The Rosetta Project, Revive & Restore, The Interval and more.

Getting lost trying to follow the money

I tried to explain to my better half what Bitcoin and the blockchain were all about. My explanation was muddled, to say the least. Here are some articles that I need to re-read, if any of it’s going to sink in.

Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies – what digital money really means for our future
[T]his speculative bubble could end with a crash so severe that it destroys faith in the entire sector, driving the investors out, bankrupting the miners who’ve spent thousands or millions on single-purpose hardware that requires a high bitcoin price to turn a profit, and leaving cryptocurrencies as a technological dead-end alongside cold fusion and jetpacks. But maybe things will continue as they have done for the past five years. Cryptocurrencies’ actual use stays stable, mostly illegal, largely underground, and completely disconnected from a market price that fluctuates wildly based on the whims of a class of financial speculators with little link to the ground truth. Instability, it turns out, is an oddly stable and predictable state of affairs.

Kodak, the blockchain and cryptocurrency: how Kodak is tapping into technology
Kodak’s platform takes the whole photography and imaging industry to a new level with the features of distributed ledger technology like encryption, decentralization, immutability, transparency, and security being utilized to create a digital ledger of ‘ownership rights’ for photographers. The digital ledger will secure the work of photographers by registering work and then allowing them to license the same for use (buy/sell) within the platform. KODAKCoin will be the currency to operate on the platform and will allow participating photographers, both professional and amateur, to receive payment for licensed work almost instantly via Smart Contracts.
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Bitcoin’s energy usage is huge – we can’t afford to ignore it
The economic outcome of all of this is laid bare in a Credit Suisse briefing note published on Tuesday: the network as a whole will reinvest almost all the bitcoin paid out as mining rewards back into its electricity consumption. (Credit Suisse’s ballpark figure assumes that 80% of the expenses of bitcoin miners are spent on electricity).

Blockchain’s broken promises
Boosters of blockchain technology compare its early days to the early days of the Internet. But whereas the Internet quickly gave rise to email, the World Wide Web, and millions of commercial ventures, blockchain’s only application – cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin – does not even fulfill its stated purpose.