Month: December 2011

Stuff is Running Out

The Earth is a great place to be when you look at some of the hellish, brutal worlds in our solar system. I mean, who would want to live on Jupiter? Well, duh, who could live on Jupiter? Being born into a family that fed me and sent me to school in one of the world’s richest countries makes me feel lucky when I think about a poor microbe existing on some far away planet in the cosmos.

However, to the point. A subject I frequently touch on is sustainability and the limits of how many people our planet can support. It is already under a massive strain and is failing to provide enough food for people: just read what the experts have to say. The worst thing is we in the Western World eat excessively. While there are famines and widespread malnutrition across Africa, obesity has become an epidemic.

It’s not just food that’s running out, though. I get the bus into work but nearly all my colleagues get over ground trains. Almost every day it seems there are reports of thefts of copper from railway lines and not just in the UK. It consistently leads to them being late for work. Excuses are legitimate here guys, fair enough. Buses smell and are always late, but they get there in the end.

I recently visited a factory that produced luxury brass taps as part of an article I had to write. The procurement manager spoke to me for a lengthy period of time about the price of copper, and how it has skyrocketed over the past 10 years. He told me that China buys up and stockpiles the actual ore, and then sets up mines in countries such as Australia with huge deposits of the ores they need to ensure their construction industry keeps building and their infrastructure projects keep thundering along.

The world’s resources are running out! I don’t want to talk about fracking, shale gas or any of that because it bores me and I don’t agree with either of the above so I’ll just get angry and rant. It’s the same old bloody story, I know, but we really do need to act, before billions of people die as climate change takes its toll over the next 50-100 years.

Even though NASA launched its last manned shuttle in summer this year, there are many exciting developments in the field of space exploration. For a start, in early November this year, the Chinese successfully docked two spacecraft while in orbit – Shenzhou 8 and Tiangong 1. Even for a country with so much money to spend, the progress they are making in space exploration technology is astounding. Russia is also still firmly in the space ‘race’ – American astronauts now hitch rides to the international space station inside Russian shuttles.

What really interested me recently was the discovery of a planet called Kepler22b. According to the astronomers and scientists analysing the planet, there are many indicators that suggest life could exist on Kepler22b. It has an average temperature of 22 degrees centigrade, an atmosphere that creates conditions where life could exist… but its 600 light years away. That’s exactly 3,527,175,223,910,000 miles away so it’s not even remotely feasible to get there with existing technology, let alone find someone/thing to land on it.

Why write all of this? Because I believe this planet is dying quickly. We need to actively promote the use of contraception, particularly in developing nations, set binding carbon emission targets and stick to them, and proactively pursue space exploration as a long-term project. Our leaders made reasonable progress on climate change targets at Durban – even if the attending nations only agreed that a new arrangement would be made under the existing UN climate convention instead of being a parallel or alternative compact.

It will take hundreds; maybe thousands of years before the human race develops technology sophisticated enough to take us to other galaxies at the speed of light or faster.

In the same way that tackling climate change would be made infinitely easier if the richest and most polluted nations pulled together, progress would be quicker with the buying power of China and the expertise of technicians and Scientists from NASA and other relevant organisations. It’s one of my extraordinarily optimistic suggestions, but this kind of cooperation could boost progress enormously.

We need to sort our planet out – people are going to die through famine, disease and natural disasters and the most horrible thing is that those who are at the biggest disadvantage will die first. It’s a simple fact, but one that cannot be ignored.

To be honest, though, I’m really glad I won’t live to see the day I’m forced to get into a spaceship and live in a glass bubble on Mars.


The obvious creep of unnecessary English

I’ve been berated for the number of times I use the word obvious too many times during my time at the company I work for. However I know that its not just me that has this problem: I can’t help but listen to some of the sales staff and I find it almost ridiculous how many times the word gets used.

At the end of the 80s, it was the word ‘like’ – and is still a common word if we’re all honest. In the mid 1990s, it’s arguable that it was the word ‘whatever’. All over the country, we hear the word ‘innit’ – especially among the younger sections of society. In parts of the South East and in particular London, it’s the phrase ‘Know what I mean?’. And in workplaces across England, it’s the word ‘obvious’ and its adverb variation ‘obviously’.

Consistently the English language becomes infested with words and phrases. They find their way into everyday speech as a vocabulary fad and surface repeatedly, like some sort of habitual expression addiction.

Obvious is far from the only word which has found itself in high-rotation on the lips of British workers. The use of ambiguous business jargon, phrases and acronyms are rolled out frequently with careless disregard for audience comprehension – drill down, fire fighting, moving target, journey not a destination, and process management are just several examples that the editorial team deal with on a daily basis where I work.

Three letter acronyms are trotted out in a vain attempt to exhibit expertise in a certain area, to veil a lack of understanding or accidentally-on-purpose confuse the listener. Acronyms often have a huge variety of meanings which can differ greatly from one industry to another. Even the acronym, TLA, meaning three letter acronym has a total of 72 current meanings including: top level aggregation, text link ads, total laboratory automation, thin layer activation and two location algorithm. Those are just some of the business related uses let alone the mobile phone short hand meanings such as True Love Always or Textual Laugh Attack.

When so much time is spent on the phone dealing with clients, attending conferences and taking advantage of networking opportunities, I think it’s a good idea to consider the background of the listener(s) and make sure people are actually following what you say. And remember, limit the use of the word obvious. Especially don’t start the answer to a question with the word obviously. Obviously it wasn’t obvious otherwise they obviously wouldn’t have asked the question…obviously.

T. Brown and Olsoweir