Something for the weekend #14

A round-up of the week’s optimism, causes for optimism, and discussions of optimism/pessimism gap, as noticed in the media:

* Islands of hope: “The eradication of South Georgia’s rats proves we can do anything”, Matt Ridley in The Spectator. “The organisations were too small to have people in them who insisted the impossible was impossible.”

* No pressure: The ‘Haber-Bosch process’ revolutionised the production of agricultural fertilizers, circa 1919. But today it still takes a lot of processing and energy to make the ammonia required for fertilisers. Now scientists at Virginia Tech have created a much more efficient way to do ammonia synthesis. It works at room temperature and low pressure, and uses the same catalyst that’s used in catalytic converters.

* Pints of Pruitt: The U.S.’s EPA “recently signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with Israel-based Water-Gen”. The company has well-tested and patented technology that, in four hours, can suck 7 pints of clean drinkable water out of humid tropical air.

* Getting sentimental: A new survey from YouGov and V&A museum broadly splits respondents along scales of optimism/pessimism. It’s just a basic dubious 1,000-person opinion survey, done partly as a publicity-booster for a new V&A ‘100 objects’ exhibition in London. But the segmentation of sentiment within the demographics is interesting.

* Plus Plus Ultra: Looking back at Tomorrowland – Was Disney Studios’ 2015 epic ahead of its time?. Yup. It’s a classic, and eventually people will realise it. It might still be a bit too soon to start the re-assessment, but it’s a welcome article.


Something for the weekend #13

A round-up of the week’s optimism, causes for optimism, and discussions of optimism/pessimism gap, as noticed in the media:

* It’s all going Pinker: The Hindu: Steven Pinker: “People are safer now than they were several hundred years ago”. European Scientist: “Resisting Collapseology with ‘Enlightenment Now’ (Part Two – beyond the book summary)”. The Japan Times: “Promoting a new global optimism”. Gulf News: “Debating humanity’s ‘huge’ recent progress”.

* Days of Whine & S’poses: The Conservative Woman on a report from The Centre for Policy Studies, “With values like these, no wonder The Youth are depressed”. Taki’s Magazine on “The Gloom and Doom Generation”.

* 50-somethings are ripening nicely: The Federalist‘s PodcastOne interviews “Jonathan Rauch On Happiness And Why Life Gets Better After 50”… “Jonathan Rauch is a Senior Fellow at Brookings and author of the new book, “The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50.” Rauch researched the feeling of malaise and dissatisfaction that many adults feel in their 40’s. He explains how this slump is a natural and essential part of life, but also how to find a path through it.”

* Pleasant peasants: Peasant houses survived in Midlands England. “Radiocarbon and tree-ring dating has now revealed that thousands of ordinary medieval homes are still standing in the English Midlands” in the UK. They’re now mostly renovated and highly-desirable cottages or live-work offices. In more recent times their continuing survival is largely down to Mrs Thatcher, I should think, and her mid-1980s boom. Thank you, West Midlands’ capitalists.

* Making it up: Adam Smith Institute: “In which we refute Piketty – thusly”. “94 per cent of the [new, UK] rich-list is comprised of self-made entrepreneurs”.

* Fur-reee!: South Georgia Island Declared Rat Free in Conservation Success. “The salt-spray lashed paradise for wildlife has been completely cleared of rats in the largest rodent eradication of all time”.

* On the up: Border Wall Construction Underway in the USA. Not quite the gold-plated Wall of the God Emperor, yet. But it’s a start.

Something for the weekend #12

A round-up of the week’s optimism and causes for optimism, noticed in the media:

* Spot this!: Crop-saving soil tests now at farmers’ fingertips. “Soil pathogen testing tests require large, expensive equipment or lab tests that take weeks. But new methods, designed by Washington State University plant pathologists, are not only portable and fast, but utilize testing materials easily available to the public.” They’ve released video tutorials on how to DIY your own mini plant-lab.

* Bright sprouts: Most under-30s believe technology is a good thing for farming including GM crops and other farm technologies. The survey was of “1,600 18 to 30-year-olds, carried out for the Agricultural Biotechnology Council” in the UK.

* Boffins for Britain: The return of a secret British rocket site. A good brisk overview article on the revival of the British space and rocketry industry, from BBC Future. Who knew that the British Skylark rocket, often idly mentioned in passing as being ‘a dud’, flew 450 missions?

* The Queen’s speech: Milo manages to give a 25-minute outdoor speech in London, at what must be the capital’s first successful outdoor free-speech event for a very long time.

* Full of beans: Americans are leaving Food Stamp Enrolment in their millions as the U.S. economy surges.

* The new vintage: “Longer, more optimistic lives: Historic optimism and life expectancy in the United States”. A new Working Paper PDF from the Brookings Institute. “A little understood question is the extent to which optimism and aspirations actually matter to future outcomes [for individuals and their groups].”

Something for the weekend #11

A round-up of the week’s optimism, noticed in the media:

* The hard stuff: University of Exeter adds graphene to concrete — the resulting concrete is two times stronger than traditional concrete, four times as waterproof, and cuts materials costs for making concrete by 50%.

* True grit: 75% Of The World’s Beaches Are Stable Or Growing suggests satellite data.

* Stay cool: Delingpole: Earth in ‘Greatest Two-Year Cooling Event in a Century’ Shock.

* Leafy luvvies: A growing body of research shows that innovative businesses are common in rural areas, and rural innovation gets a boost from the arts. It’s from arts uber-consultant Richard Florida, so take it with a pinch of salt. But it seems valid.

* ‘Keep the red banners flying…’: UK universities told they will be penalised if they allow revolting students and faculty to shut down campus speeches or comedians, through intimidation and violence. Let’s hope this will also stop weaselling about health-and-safety, or the imposition of huge ‘security fees’, by ‘ally / fellow traveller’ university managers. It seems a bit weird that we now need government ‘bans on bans’ to enable free speech, but I guess that’s where the warped viewpoints of the left lead to.

* Bubbling up from the swamp: The optimists strike back on the state of the world. Now public in The Japan Times, but via a Washington Post writer where it was presumably paywalled some months back. Only now has it bubbled up in public.

* Making a splash: Digital Art Live Issue 28, April 2018: “Future Oceans”. A themed issue of the free monthly, full of future-optimism in visual form.

* Open access for all: The JURN search-tool returns after a short domain-name hiatus. A highly curated tool for finding open-access academic full-text. As big as Google Scholar, but just indexing the free-and-public stuff.

Something for the weekend #10

A weekly round-up of optimism, noticed in the media:

* Chew on this: Plastic-eating enzyme hailed as breakthrough in recycling, reports The Times of London (£, popup screen-blocker)…

“Scientists from Britain and the United States believe that their work could result in an enzyme that would degrade [depolymerise] polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and turn it into its original chemical chains, ready to be used again.” “Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth and Dr Gregg Beckham at NREL solved the crystal structure of PETase—a recently discovered enzyme that digests PET — and used 3D information to understand how it works. During this study, they inadvertently engineered an enzyme that is even better at degrading the plastic than the one that evolved in nature. The research team can now apply the tools of protein engineering and evolution to continue to improve it.”

* A little slip: Microengineered slippery rough surface for water harvesting from air. That’s water simply sucked from the air…

“Simon Dai was looking at combining different biological strategies to create a slippery solution for water harvesting. […] If the new SRS material is produced at scale, the team estimate they can collect over 120 liters of water per square meter of the surface per day”.

* Cashing in: “The world is getting richer or freer – probably both” given reports on the growing demand for cash, says the Adam Smith Institute.

* The tide turns: UK Government announces £61 million package to tackle marine litter.

* Dutch swingers: Dutch happier says hope barometer.

“The Happiness Economics Research Organisation and the Institute for Leadership and Social Ethics, asked 1,600 Dutch people about their hopes for the future and analysed the results” […] “for the first time there were more positive than negative people in the country”.

* The pop kids are alright: Population boom: not a problem. Even in the big nations in Africa…

“… it’s looking as if the dire predictions of Malthus and Ehrlich will never come to pass. Unlike other animals, humanity has voluntarily limited its reproduction. The population bomb has probably been defused.”

* Perusing the future: Low-income young adults in Peru show the effects of hope on life outcomes. A rare grassroots study of why and how the young in the developing world are so optimistic. In Peru they are…

“… growing up at a time in Peru that poverty has been falling markedly, while a nascent — and very visible — lower middle class is emerging, as in many other emerging market economies.”

* ‘Have a heart, old chap’: Optimistic people ‘less likely to have heart attacks’ reports Spectator Health.

* The view from Nebo: From 1950s rationing to modern high-tech boom: Israel’s economic success story, from The Times of Israel ($, popup screen-blocker).

* Beating the bush: Tiny Aboriginal community in remote bush builds $6 million airport, runs it themselves at a profit, and after seven years have just paid off the loan…

“Djarindjin Airport on the Dampier Peninsula, 75 miles north of Broome, has become a one-of-a-kind in Australia as it is fully staffed and managed by local indigenous workers with zero tolerance to drugs and alcohol. The operation provides work for about 20 people from Djarindjin and surrounding Aboriginal communities Ardyaloon and Beagle Bay and is expected to do so for many years to come … At the moment airport teams are hot refuelling up to 24 helicopters daily…”

Something for the weekend #9

A weekly round-up of optimism, noticed in the media:

* Back to Adam: “Just to remind everyone, ‘the good old days’ are right now”, says the free-market Adam Smith Institute.

* Double-time: “Demand for UK exports set to double by 2030”. The “HSBC [bank] found that Britain’s export boom looks set to continue. The bank predicted that exports will rise by 22 per cent by 2020, and double overall by 2030.”

* It’s NYT happening: “Progress Gets Overlooked” by the media. Who knew? A short New York Times interview ($) by David Bornstein with Steven Pinker, on Pinker’s optimistic new book.

* Charging ahead: “Warnings of a lithium glut may be premature”. No, your rechargeable lithium batteries aren’t going to suddenly become scarce… “doomsayers assume all the lithium in brine or hard rock deposits will get processed, but that’s not the case … There’s no shortage of lithium in the world”. The industry actually appears to be worrying about a glut of over-supply.

* Fish tales: An isotope fingerprinting method for fish, which “can differentiate organic, conventional, and wild salmon from different origins”. This should mean that dodgy fishermen and warehouses can’t pass off illegally-caught wild fish to stores and eateries, as being premium ‘sustainably farmed fish’.

* Eat your hot wheaties: A new heat-resistant wheat… “can withstand 35-40°C temperatures” in central Africa and mature in record time.

New Book: Factfulness by Hans Rosling

The new book from the recently departed Hans Rosling, the Swedish statistician, science populariser, and pessimism debunker: Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.

Looks good, despite being rather off-putting recommended by the lefties at BBC Radio 4. There’s coverage of the new book at the Financial Times: “Why the world isn’t nearly as bad as you think it is” (£) and Telegraph Science “Do you have a distorted view of the world? Why life is better than we think” (£). The latter cheerily leading with a picture of an atomic bomb exploding. Gotta work on your visual positivity, guys…