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Showing posts from 2020

An Energetic Future for the 2020s?

During the autumn one of the weird arid plants in our front garden began to grow a seed pod like something out of Jack and the Bean Stalk. The neighbours, who have been here for eons, exclaimed that they’d never seen anything like it before. It topped out at about 5 meters, waving in the winds the buffet this part of the Sussex coast. As Christmas began to loom my small son declared that we needed some Christmas lights at the front of the house, and I had a brainwave. I bought some cheap solar string lights off a well-known online shop, wobbled up a ladder and created what I think must be the only illuminated Desert Spoon plant in England.  Why am I telling you this? Well, those solar string lights cost about a tenner and, after a sunny day, light up beautifully until well into the night. They’re a product of three different technologies that have advanced enormously in recent years. A similar system would have cost hundreds or even thousands of pounds only twenty years ago. The lights

No Climate for Kids: Are Parents to Blame for Climate Change?

If you’re ever in a debate and want to use emotion to triumph over logic you might implore, “won’t somebody please think of the children?”. In the Simpsons it was Helen Lovejoy’s catchphrase , used to justify crack downs on bears, illegal immigrants and anyone else she had it in for. But it is not just an emotional argument. In decade spanning, global problems such as climate change the impact on our children is one of the key reasons why we fight. Bequeathing a damaged, overheated planet to future generations is simply morally wrong. Some people are so worried about this that they have decided not to have any children at all .  In recent years though a new viewpoint on children and climate change has emerged. This one suggests that children are not just the victims of climate change, but also the cause of climate change. It’s all very well reducing fossil fuel use, but by far the best thing any of us can do for the climate is have fewer or no children. I’ve noticed this argument incre

Creating Curves: The Uses and Abuses of Predictive Mathematical Modelling

How many people read the average academic journal paper? Poke about the internet and you’ll get a few answers: the average paper is only read by 10 people and half are only read by their authors and reviewers. These stats have questionable sources, but it’s likely that academic and fiction publishing have similar patterns – there’s a handful of Harry Potters and a very large amount of dusty paper. Research funders have been concerned about this for some time. They don’t want to hand out six figure research grants only to receive a few journal papers and a handful of receipts for academic conferences in sunny climes. In response they dreamed up the 'impact' agenda, encouraging academics to strike out beyond their ivory towers and engage with public policy and the business world. Most research reporting now requires you to list all of the wonderful things you’ve done to create impact. One group who probably won’t need to write an impact statement is the Imperial College

Everything’s (not) awesome – we’re all glued in place

Starting a blog post with “EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!” might be an unusual approach in the current circumstances. You might look at the date and think that isolation has caused a few screws to work loose inside my head. But you might also recognise the annoyingly catchy song from 2014’s Lego Movie. Like many people, in 2020 I’m currently spending more time with my family than I expected. One of my small son’s current obsessions is the Lego Movie . In this cinematic masterpiece the evil Lord Business hates disorder. He builds walls between the various Lego worlds and employs a crooked policeman to crack down on the ‘master builders’ who won’t follow instructions. Finally, he deploys the Kragle, a doomsday weapon that literally glues everyone in their place. I suspect you can see an analogy coming on. Yes, that’s how the world feels to me at the moment – we’ve all been Kraggled. Our physical lives have been fixed in place where they were last Monday, whilst health and financial f