On The Moon

December 14, 2014

Harrison_SchmittHarrison Schmitt was the last of only twelve humans ever to walk on the moon. Forty-two years ago today — yes, way back in 1972 — his ship took off from the moon and we have not been back since.

Manned space flight was the dream of my father’s generation.  We boomers pushed us into the unmanned and more machine-driven discovery of space at the same time as we were inventing programmed stock trading, robotic automation, and plugged-in entertainment.  We love machines apparently.

I wonder where the millennials will take us?

Night Music: All Gone To Look For America

December 14, 2014

A Step Too Far In the Kitchen

December 14, 2014

While it is true that I avoid a lot of the mechanical tchochkes that seem to dominate the world (I have no car, no microwave, no bike, no cell phone, no portable computing device, no watch [smart or otherwise]), I am no Ned Ludd as my constant use of the computer and its extensions should amply demonstrate.  But there are limits.

I would, for example, draw the line at creating my food from a 3D printer.

That whole idea sounds daft, doesn’t it?  But it is on its way, unfortunately.  A food industry website assures me that “3D food printers could come to consumer kitchens in the near future.” I am horrified just by the headline but a senior technologist calls food the “killer app” for 3D printing.  Companies are already spending millions on the necessary research.

“Natural Machines is working on a 3D food printer called Foodini which will use ‘fresh, real ingredients’ to ‘print all types of real, fresh, nutritious foods from savory to sweet’.”


The article notes that the use of 3D printing with gels and pretty shapes and such like will help the introduction of, say, insect-based foods that would otherwise be rejected by the consumer as physically and emotionally unappealing.

I see.

Synchronizing the Details

December 14, 2014

A century or more ago when I was in my early teens at school, I recall going caving with my class on more than one occasion.  England’s West Country is riddled with wonderful nooks and crannies if you can get over the early stages of claustrophobia.   I remember not being too impressed with stalactites and stalagmites and such like.   Luckily, others had more sense.

monsoon-climate-change-chinese_21Via Anthropology.net, I learn of work that has been done on a stalagmite in Wanxiang Cave, China, that allows researchers to figure out the detailed climatic conditions back more than a thousand years at intervals of just 2.5 years.  In particular, they can pick out the drought of the ninth century that seems to have contributed to the collapse both of the Tang Empire in China and of the Mayans in the Americas. The researchers have also found evidence of low rainfall at the times of the end of the Yuan and Ming dynasties.

In all cases it seems, the carrying capacities of their agricultural systems couldn’t handle the pressures caused by years of low rainfall, and the civilizations crashed.

We usually look at the histories of empires, their rise and fall, as a confluence of human emotions, power, technology, military advantage, economics.  We often forget that climate is a truly global player that can cause history-changing effects simultaneously on both sides of the globe; effects that no human power has yet figured out how to tame.