Duncan Wilcock


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Monday, June 26, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth - the Movie

I saw Al Gore's new documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" on Thursday night. Great Flick - as good as I was hoping it would be. Better actually. There was science in it that was new to me, it had a great balance of "Scary" with "galvanize-to-action," and there was just enough fun to make a difficult topic enjoyable to watch.

On top of it all, my-oh-my was the presentation technology well done. From a purely intellectual perspective, I had to appreciate his slides, graphics, & delivery for their own merits - aside from the obvious power of their content.

Technology Will Save Us

The CBC is doing a series of stories this week on climate change (hooray! - it's quite good actually) and in one interview, the interviewer asks a question that sums-up an often expressed sentiment - that "Technology will save us" I wanted to put down a few thoughts on this topic.

I'm an optimist & all for the global market-economy. I do believe that technology can & will respond rapidly to the crisis & that humanity will survive climate change.

Humanity will survive, short of sterilizing the planet (which i'm not sure i'd put past us - Nuclear winter & an unanticipated effect from one of the many GMOs that have been released into the environment being the two chief contenders in my book,) but it remains to be seen how much of it will survive. Will it be the current level of population? Will it be a greater level of population? Will it be substantially less? The answers are not yet known & in practice can probably only be found via experiment.

The theory that probably best answers the question is provided by an "Ecological Footprint" analysis of the type first popularized by Prof. Bill Reeds of the University of British Columbia. But that's the question - how many of us will survive climate change - rather than if. The answer to that question depends on how much anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change we allow to happen.

Note that rephrasing the question that way eliminates the polarizing effect of a "the world is ending" argument - it isn't. However - the important question - the question of how much to do remains, and it is a function of a) how bad is it going to get? b) how many people are we willing to let die? and c) how many people do we want to live with on this planet in the longer term. I would sum these up as how much do we do, how fast do we do it, & how many people do we want to live with.

Moral & Ethical questions to direct our science.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Chuckles Rides Again & Again

I just noticed that the last few entries have been getting a little overly serious. Time to put some fun back up here, so i've reposted this shot of Chuckles & I and how we get around Town. - Cute No?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

[CR] Spam Tax

Doing my dishes this morning, I think I came up with a policy to combat SPAM that actually could work - both from a technical & implementable policy perspective. Ready for it?

Spam Tax - actually, probably more like a fine or a ticket, but "Spam Tax" has such good sound-bite potential don't you think?

I should qualify this - actually this is the 2nd policy that i have come up with, but the first one is not nearly as palatable & is less likely to be implementable for that reason. The first (unpalatable) one: each email costs money to send. Maybe only a penny, or a fraction of penny, but if it costs some money, it will get cost-prohibitive to send 10 000 or (10 million for that matter) emails.

I don't like this option because it introduces a cost to legit users, which isn't as fair as it could be, not to mention that technically it would be quite a challenge, now that the internet has been largely deployed without these kinds of cost controls.

Spam Tax: So here's the option I came up with this morning:

For each Spam recieved, charge the Internet Service Provider a fee - again a small amount - perhaps a a fraction of a penny. What this would do is a) eliminate charges for legitimate emails b) localize a global problem so that accountablity becomes a realistically solveable problem. (in my opinion, localization & community are the natural & most effective enforcers of accountability, and losing accountability is one of the down-sides of globalization - but that's for another post...)

So how would this work? Well - Say Person A) is getting spam for Enlargement of this or that. Through a central spam reporting agency, they submit the email as abuse. Contained in that email is a trail of information (in the header) that tracks where the email came from. The central agency looks up the owner of that IP address & charges them. Owners of IP addresses tend to be large-ish organizations, that have to pay rental/property tax on their IP addresses eventually, so sooner or later you would get the money out of them. That organization then has a fiscal incentive to stop that SPAM originating from them. There may be enough information in the SPAMed email so that they could track the offender down, and with enough incentive they no doubt would.

The fee is small - a fraction of a penny, so that it doesn't add up to much for occasional mistakes in filing, or small infractions. But if there are 10000 or so complaints, the amounts get significant. Again - this is the needed incentive, and the policing is on a realistic scale. The ISP is in also in a position to be able to grant or deny access to it's network if necessary.

Ok - so what about people falsley reporting SPAM? Well - the accused would have to be able to appeal the accusation - to a central body, the one that organizes reporting machinery. The fines for falsely reporting spam would have to be substantial - substantial enough to grant incentive to avoid false reports, but not so substantial that organizations are discouraged from reporting SPAM.

I think that would work, both technically & politically. It wouldn't be easy of course, but i've read some high estimates of how much traffic SPAM uses up - there really isn't much of a theoretical limit to it - other than (Shannon's Channel Capacity theorem :) ) If the problem is big enough, a realistic solution will be implemented. I think this is a realistic solution. What do you think? (I'm about to email this to my Bro the computer scientist for some qualified opinion. - I'll let you know what he thinks... )

Over & Out.

On Growth

Economic Growth that is...

I've been wanting to write on this for a while - not just on this blog either. I've had a file on my desktop that i've been working away at, but this seems like a much more motivating environment.

So here's where i'm starting from: Growth - GDP Growth in particular - is a desirable economic quality. A lot of good comes from Economic growth. Growth Target's in most western countries are between 2% & 4% year on year. But what is "Growth"? Why is it important? In what ways is it good? In what ways is it not good? How else can one think about growth? It's a topic I first remember contemplating several years ago - with an econmics amigo from India - Anup Thomas.

Let's start with What is Growth: Growth can be whatever you define it to be, but in the current economic system, growth is defined (more or less) as the percentage increase in the number of dollars (or which ever currency unit you use) which is generally thought to represent the progress in a given economic division. In short, if the economy of the UK grew at 4% for 2004, if everyone put their pound-notes together in a pile, there would be 4% more of them in 2004 than there would have been if everyone had done this in 2003.

Heckling disclaimer - obviously there aren't enough pound-notes printed to do this & the calculation is way more complex, but i like this as a nice simple picture, that is more or less valid.

Note that the choice of units of measurement (dollars or other currency units) is fairly arbitrary, as is the definition of progress or improvement as an increase - from a strictly philosphical perspective.

So Now - Why is it important?

Well- Psychologically, growth is important - because it represents a measure of improvement of one year on another. I don't know about you, but if I don't feel like i'm making progress, I can get very frustrated & angry - and eventually depressed. That's what growth is all about - measuring some kind of "progress" so that we can feel happy. I'm pretty sure that we were genetically selected for this type of emotional response, but i'd be interested in some comments - particularly from some of my friends from different cultures on what tends to bring the deepest, most sustainable happiness most human lives.

As well as the psychological arguments it is generally accepted that economies with strong growth tend to be doing well, and economies with less growth don't do as well. If an economy starts to contract - as Japan's did through much of the 1990s - one risks inflation hitting zero or becoming less than zero. Negative inflation - called deflation - isn't good for economic systems as they currently exist. Goods get less & less expensive with each coming day (kind of like electronics currently do, but on much bigger & more important things like houses & buildings)

If things are getting cheaper day by day, there is no sense in buying them today, so one might wait until tomorrow, next week, or next year to buy something. While this isn't a bad thing in one or two cases, in theory one might postpone all of one's spending indefinitely. This would quickly become unsustainable because everyone would stop buying from everyone else, goods and services & eventually the only transactions would be about urgent needs - like eating. This doesn't sound like a completely wrong things to me - it might be representative of hunter-gather economics, but it is very alien to current economic practice & I hope you can see that negative growth would be quite calamitous to us at present.

So positive growth is important because it probalby staves off economic catastrophe.

I think that's enough for today, I'll come back to What's good & bad about growth tomorrow perhaps.

[CR] I like this Blog Thing

I'm getting to like Blogging. I'll do my best to avoid cluttering the airwaves, but I have to say - so far so good.

Hmm. Thoughts for today:

On Growth
Renewable Energy Work for Me
Barrie Zwicker & 9-11

I'll tackle the last two first, as they're quick ones.

Barrie Zwicker. The Great Conspiracy. It's the best of the films I've seen on what really happened at 9-11. If you're rolling your eyes - remember, i'm a bit of a flake, but i'm a pretty critically/skeptically minded flake. I think there is something to this stuff. You could watch the video & make up your own mind if you don't believe me.


Barrie Zwicker is a well respected Canadian journalist – he has done a lot of stuff on Vision TV, teaches a course at Ryerson (a University in Toronto) etc. I don’t know if he qualifies as mainstream, if not he's very close & he is well respected by the mainstream community. He also did a lot in “The End of Suburbia” a documentary on climate change that came out last year or so. In short – he’s good & he’s legit. No little green men & holograms here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrie_Zwicker for some more info on Barrie.

and for some good written material on what really happened at 9-11 - try this wiki:


Now - about some Renewable Energy Work for me:

I've decided lately that I need to do more work - one always wants more money, but I'm definitely in the place now where I need more immediate cash-flow. Renewable energy is my passion & i have business in it - www.affinityconsulting.ca - but i've been taking it slow & letting contacts develop while I have been trying to build my cash-flow computer business. Unfortunately the computer business isn't working out as well as I'd hoped on the money side of things & I do find the work quite tiresome sometimes. Fixing computers is one of those things i've always been able to do, but never really enjoyed doing it - or at least when i do or have it's in small doses.

So i need to get some more regular financial income going, preferably not fixing computers. I'm going to start pushing Affinity Consulting a bit more agressively. What I would really love would be to start teaching some courses in it with Malaspina. It's a dream, but it's not totally unrealistic, and it is after all important to have dreams.

Oh yeah - on Growth. I think i might save that for another entry.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Al Gore

I'm getting really impressed with this guy Al Gore. His new movie "An Inconvenient Truth" seems to be just what the doctor ordered - i have yet to see it, but Suzuki Foundation friends of mine saw it early & raved about it. I have since been following it as closely as possible - watching the trailer & managed to download an interview with him talking to Johnathan Freeland (email me if you want it) and now I'm reading a section on him in the Guardian.

He's good. Eloquent, Impassioned, Politick, not to mention right on the money (in my opinion, which of course this blog is...) In fact, it feels like the tide might be turning & a significant wake-up is about to happen on global warming. This movie will hopefully (and I think probably) play a huge role in that wake-up. Michael Shermer woke-up this month too. He's the self-proclaimed skeptic (www.skeptic.com) and writes thoughtful critiques in a monthly column in Scientific American. This month (June) he stated that he's is no-longer skeptical on global warming.

Some questions on Al Gore though - he claims to have made environmentalism his thing since the early 90's & apparently was a major green-ifier of Bill Clinton when he was American VP. I believe it, as it's fairly well documented in his interview & the Guardian. How come i didn't know this? It's not the kind of thing I would have missed if I had heard it once. Is it him & he wasn't adequately promotive of it? Did the media not mention it ever? I can think of a few reasons, but I'm surprised. Johnathan Freedland says this about him: "He can claim to be the first mainstream politician anywhere to have woken up to this danger."

Anyway - I'm glad he's on the scene now. The movement - not to mention the planet - needs this. Clean-Energy here we come.

A few significant quotes from Gore in the Guardian article that I want to document here:

"The debate is over!"
"In a democracy, Political will is a renewable resource"
"No! If you have a renegade band of right-wing extremists who get a hold of power [the Bushies], the whole thing goes to the right. But I haven't moved, I'm right where I've always been." (speaking on his position on the political spectrum - the question was if he had moved left since 2000)
"This really is a planetary emergency"

Friday, June 16, 2006

Chuckles Rides again

I just noticed that the last few entries have been getting a little overly serious. Time to put some fun back up here, so i've reposted this shot of Chuckles & I and how we get around Town. - Cute No?

Pity for Suicide Bombers

I had this on my Email Signature for a bit, but it started to feel a bit too pushy. Still, i think it's an important thought & wanted to preserve it.

Just for a moment - imagine how one must have to feel to be a suicide bomber. On one level, there is the thought that "these people" (ie aliens unlike "us") must be crazy, religiously deranged, etc. etc. Perhaps & no doubt there are some, even many that have this type of conviction.

But when the world is starting to see as many suicide bombers as we have. It seems to me there is at least one suicide bomber a day in Iraq. I had to wonder:

How wronged, powerless, and desperate would you have to feel to think that _blowing yourself up_ is the only way for your voice to be heard.

Sad thought no?

[CR] Blog-Up

Blog Started. 5pm.

Did you know "Dunkle" means "dark" in German?

Thank you Lindt Chocolates.