Thursday, 20 August 2015

Silicon Valley could save the world from climate change. But we don't want them to.

Silicon Valley could save the planet. All they need to do is combine their entrepreneurial brilliance with an enormous infusion of cash, and, more importantly, have our society grant them the cultural permission to lead us to a green future.

But we don't want that. And, frankly, that's why we peons annoy the titans of tech so much.

Why won't we hand our environmental challenges to our top technologists to solve? After all, these are among the world's most successful people at identifying unsolved problems and tackling them. And they're loaded with enough money, resources, and cache to get things done.

The reason is simple: We're afraid.

Instead we demand solutions from policymakers — not because we think they're the biggest geniuses, but because we think only the government has the legitimate authority to do big binding things that affect us all, which is what stopping climate change requires.

What's more, many of us think that only government can do the right thing in a divided world. Regardless of our partisanship or our policy preferences, we're increasingly doubtful that big goals can be met except by coercive force. In fact, we suspect that, at bottom, everything is a matter of coercive force.

Consider, for a moment, Jeb Bush. After teasing environmentalists with dreams of a "moderate" Republican — as opposed to yet another "denier" — Bush recently laughed off restrictive policymaking as a solution to our climate challenges, enthusing instead over, well, Silicon Valley.

Innovation and technology, said Bush, are "the source of a lot more solutions than any government-imposed idea and sometimes I sense that we pull back from the embrace of these things." Instead, Americans should "tear down the barriers," allowing new inventions to "accelerate in our lives to find solutions" to our humanity-wide problems.

Speaking for a host of green activists at their wits' end, Salon political writer Simon Maloy called Bush's vision "an impossibly vague nothingburger […] that gives the impression that Jeb cares about climate change as he advocates for the status quo." And indeed, that's one way the story Bush tells could wind up.

Here's another real possibility: Bush's vision could actually make enormous progress toward soliving our environmental struggles.

Why not trust our technologists to actually tackle the difficulties our scientists warn us about? Why do we put our faith in government not even to compel us to do great things, but to stop us from doing little things that add up, such as emit carbon?

We are setting our sights too low, envisioning a government that just skims some value off the top of our emissions in the form of taxes and fees. This is not nearly enough. And our government is incapable of doing the big things that actually need to be done.

At Vox, David Roberts warns that reversing the trend line of net emissions requires us "to imagine all of human society turning on a dime, beginning in 2030, deploying massive amounts of nuclear, bioenergy, wind, and solar, and doing so every year for decades." That public effort "may not violate the laws of physics," says Roberts, "but it is unlikely, given what we know about human beings, path dependence, and political dysfunction."

It's almost as if the best approach is to set aside our lawmakers' climate policy agendas and focus on rendering our old energy technologies ridiculously obsolete. That would take a ton of work, yes. It would probably take government subsides on a massive scale. But if we really wanted to, we could create an energy-industrial complex every bit as powerful, wealthy, and supreme as the military-industrial complex that grew out of World War II. Just look at what one person, Elon Musk, has been able to achieve with even modest government subsidies.

Humanity has a simple problem: We are not good enough at making and using energy. We're slow, inefficient, fearful, and unserious about how plentiful energy can be.

Why don't we turn Washington into the biggest venture capitalist in the world, and hand Silicon Valley a blank check marked "climate"? Because it makes them masters of the universe. Yes, it's all about our fear again. Even worse than lining their pockets with "public money" we envision going to poor people instead, letting our tech titans lead would make them a civilization apart: plainly higher and better than us, in a way that cuts to the heart of our egalitarian envy and pride.

Unless we get over that resentful queasiness about the new ruling techno-class we're winding up with anyway, we'll just keep choking on climate.

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How to get faster fiber-optic pipes through computation

The information age demands fat pipes. But making fat pipes is not always as easy as it sounds. Consider our current generation of fiber optic communications. Compared to microwave systems, where every symbol communicates something like one or two bytes of data, most current optical systems are limited to one to four bits per symbol.

This hasn’t mattered so much because many lasers, each with a different wavelength—called a channel—can be used on the same fiber, and the rate at which we send those bits is astonishingly high. Single channel capacities are way in excess of 40Gb/s range—40Gb/s was in testing the last time I taught a telecommunications course, and in 2012, various companies were testing 160Gb/s per channel. These incredible capacities, however, are achieved under very stringent conditions: the optical power must remain low, and the optical properties of the fiber must be carefully controlled (something called dispersion management).

The increase from 40Gb/s to 160Gb/s also represented the switch from encoding one bit per symbol to four bits per symbol. However, these encoding systems require that there is considerably more optical power per channel, and this causes problems with the stringent conditions mentioned above. This has made increases beyond four bits per symbol difficult. Funnily enough, everyone has kind-of-sorta known how to solve the problem, but no one was willing to simply bite the bullet and do it. At least until now.

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Welcome to Dismaland: A First Look at Banksy’s New Art Exhibition Housed Inside a Dystopian Theme Park

Photo by Christopher Jobson for Colossal

Photo by Christopher Jobson for Colossal

WESTON-SUPER-MARE — Inside the walls of a derelict seaside swimming resort in Weston-super-Mare, UK, mysterious construction over the last month—including a dingy looking Disney-like castle and a gargantuan rainbow-colored pinwheel tangled in plastic—suggested something big was afoot. Suspicion and anticipation surrounding the unusual activity attributed to fabled artist and provocateur Banksy has reached a Willy Wonka-esque fervor. Well, if Banksy’s your bag, continue fervoring. If not, there’s more than a few reasons to continue reading.

The spectacle has since been revealed to be a pop-up art exhibition in the form of an apocalyptic theme park titled Dismaland (“The UK’s most disappointing new visitor attraction”) that will be open to the public for five weeks.

Dismaland legend


Dismaland brochure / Park aerial view courtesy Upfest / Photo of construction

Photo by Christopher Jobson for Colossal

Photo by Christopher Jobson for Colossal

The event has all the hallmark details of a traditional Banksy event from a shroud of ultimate secrecy (the event area was plastered in notices designating it as filming location for a movie titled Gray Fox) to general themes of apocalypse, anti-consumerism, and anti-corporate messages. However there’s one major deviation: the emphasis of Dismalanded is largely on other artists’ work instead of Banksy himself.

So just what’s hidden inside the walls of this derelict seaside resort? A demented assortment of bizarre and macabre artworks from no less than 50 artists from around the world including Damien Hirst, Bill Barminski, Caitlin Cherry, Polly Morgan, Josh Keyes, Mike Ross, David Shrigley, Bäst, and Espo. In addition, Banksy is showing 10 artworks of his own.

Dismaland also has artworks by numerous artists featured here on Colossal over the last few years including pieces by Escif, Maskull Lasserre, Kate McDowell, Paco Pomet, Dietrich Wegner, Michael Beitz, Brock Davis, Ronit Baranga, and others. From the event’s official brochure:

Are you looking for an alternative to the soulless sugar-coated banality of the average family day out? Or just somewhere cheaper. Then this is the place for you—a chaotic new world where you can escape from mindless escapism. Instead of a burger stall, we have a museum. In place of a gift shop we have a library, well, we have a gift shop as well.

Bring the whole family to come and enjoy the latest addition to our chronic leisure surplus—a bemusement park. A theme park who’s big theme is: theme parks should have bigger themes…

This event contains adult themes, distressing imagery, extended use of strobe lighting, smoke effects and swearing. The following items are strictly prohibited: knives, spraycans, illegal drugs, and lawyers from the Walt Disney corporation.

Photo by Christopher Jobson for Colossal

Photo by Christopher Jobson for Colossal

Photo by Christopher Jobson for Colossal

Photo by Christopher Jobson for Colossal

Photo by Christopher Jobson for Colossal

Photo by Christopher Jobson for Colossal

Photo by Christopher Jobson for Colossal

In addition to art there are a few rides, completely impossible fair games, interactive artworks, random live performances and unexpected spectacles happening throughout the day. The entire exhibition is staffed by morose Dismaland employees who seem completely uninterested in being helpful or informative. Getting in requires an uncomfortably awkward NSA-esque screening, and even trying to find the exit required a near herculean effort.

I had the honor of helping curate a particularly fun part of Dismaland: a program of 24 short films shown on a massive outdoor cinema that will play on a loop day and night. Films include shorts by Santiago Grasso & Patricio Plaza, Kirsten Lepore, The Mercadantes, Ze Frank, Adrien M. & Claire B., Black Sheep Films, and Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared.

Dismaland is open to the public from August 22 through September 27th, 2015 and information about pre-booked and at-the-gate tickets is available here. There’s also a series of events including a show by Pussy Riot and Massive Attack on September 25th.

I think it goes without saying, but if you have the means, get to the UK.

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A Better Way To Study Batteries, From The Transformative Materials & Devices Lab

If lithium-air batteries live up to their promise, we could one day be driving electric cars 500 miles

The post A Better Way To Study Batteries, From The Transformative Materials & Devices Lab has been published on Technology Org.

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New record temperature for a superconductor

Superconductivity was first seen in metals cooled down to close to absolute zero. But after exhausting every metal on the periodic table, the critical temperature at which the metal transitions to superconductivity never budged far from those extremely low temperatures.

That changed dramatically with the development of cuprate superconductors, copper-containing ceramics that could superconduct in liquid nitrogen—still very cold (138K or −135°C), but relatively easy to achieve. But progress has stalled, in part because we don't have a solid theory to explain superconductivity in these materials.

Now, taking advantage of the fact that we do understand what's going on in superconducting metals, a German research team has reached a new record critical temperature: 203K, or -70°C, a temperature that is sometimes seen in polar regions. The material they used, however, isn't a metal that appears on the periodic table. In fact, they're not even positive they know what the material is, just that it forms from hydrogen sulfide at extreme pressures.

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Scientist Awarded for ‘Game-Changing’ Research on Wireless Networks

When warfighters need to send covert messages over military wireless networks, they cloak the transmission signals in a

The post Scientist Awarded for ‘Game-Changing’ Research on Wireless Networks has been published on Technology Org.

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Suboo Embellished Swim 2016

suboo swim 2016

 Suboo brought the swim style from Down Under. The Australian swimwear brand showed a posh, embellished collection at the elegant Setai hotel in Miami. Bikinis certainly dominated the runway. From the amount of skin on display, the teenier the better.

Designer Sue Di Chio worked rich prints into the fabrics. There were options for the small chested to the underwired tops for fuller women. Most striking was the variety of embellishments and embroidery on these bikinis. There were graphic sequin patterns, 3-dimensional beading in abstract designs or chunky floral motifs.

photos by David TW Leung
Each runway ensemble was additionally styled with dramatic, over-sized statement jewelry. Huge necklaces that doubled as body sculptures or bracelet cuffs. They looked like bigger, knotted versions of the embroidery on the suits themselves. Hair was styled with pop color extensions or long colored feathers. I thought of it as Blue Lagoon chic on acid.

Suboo 2016 was gorgeous, sultry and fun. Bondi Beach in Australia is legendary and I wouldn't be surprised if this collection is the reason.

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Trompe L’Oeil Ceramics That Imitate the Natural Appearance of Decaying Wood


Going Hand In Hand, 8.5″ x 26″ x 15.5″, 2015, (Ceramic, acrylic)

Ceramicist Christopher David White (previously) accurately captures the decay of wood through ceramics, portraying the distinct character of the natural material from the fine wood grain to the light ash coloration at the pieces’ edges. By utilizing a trompe l’oeil technique, White forces the viewer to take a closer look at his work while also investigating the truth hidden in the hyperrealistic sculptures.

Through his ceramic pieces White explores the reality of impermanence, often combining man and nature through treelike limbs and faces. “I seek to expose the beauty that often results from decay while, at the same time, making my viewer question their own perception of the world around them,” explains White. He hopes to highlight the fact that we are not separate from nature, but rather intrinsically connected to it.

White has a BFA in Ceramics from Indiana University and MFA in Craft and Material Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University. White’s work will be included in the exhibition Hyper-realism at the Daejeon Museum of Art in South Korea opening this fall. (via Artist a Day)


Going Hand In Hand, 8.5″ x 26″ x 15.5″, 2015, (Ceramic, acrylic)


Going Hand In Hand, 8.5″ x 26″ x 15.5″, 2015, (Ceramic, acrylic)


A Walk That Is Measured And Slow, 14″ x 14″ 29″, 2015, (Ceramic, acrylic, drywall, iron oxide)

Theis Exhibition

A Walk That Is Measured And Slow, 14″ x 14″ 29″, 2015, (Ceramic, acrylic, drywall, iron oxide)


A Walk That Is Measured And Slow, 14″ x 14″ 29″, 2015, (Ceramic, acrylic, drywall, iron oxide)


Asphyxia, 2013, H: 11″ W: 9″ D: 11″, (Ceramic, acrylic)


Asphyxia, 2013, H: 11″ W: 9″ D: 11″, (Ceramic, acrylic)


Asphyxia, 2013, H: 11″ W: 9″ D: 11″, (Ceramic, acrylic)

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Molecular trick alters rules of attraction for non-magnetic metals

Scientists have demonstrated for the first time how to generate magnetism in metals that aren’t naturally magnetic, which

The post Molecular trick alters rules of attraction for non-magnetic metals has been published on Technology Org.

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