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Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

May 1st: Labour Day!

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Yesterday, I have been informed that one of my best friends has been found dead in his appartement. I have known him almost all my life, and we have done many things together: we went to school together, sitting in the same class for twelve years; we went together on holidays and trips, first with our parents, and later with friends or just the two of us; we talked about books and people and movies and literature and art and … life. He was smart, he had a phenomenal memory, he was able to see through fake reasoning and irrelevant propositions in a debate, he fiercely defended a rational and scientific approach to anything, and he always strived to make the world a better place for all people.

Making the world a better place was very important to him. How ironic then, that the Corona pandemic and the measures to fight it played a part in his dead. No, he was not infected. But he was a “loner”, in more than one meaning of the word. He had no partner, no children, no living parents, no siblings, and just a few friends… He was more of an observer of crowds than someone to voluntarily mingle and interact with people. Something from his past – we’ll never know what – weighed heavily on him, rendering him moody and depressed. But he still loved a good talk, and we had many, if not always in person.

Not being able to retreat to his caravan during the weekend and his days off work, in the woods and calm of the countryside, during the last weeks was very hard on him – he told me as much 14 days ago. Not being able to visit his friends for the weekly dinner probably downed his spirits as well.

The so-called “social distancing” we all have to practice to counter the pandemic is without any doubt required if we want to limit the stress the disease can put on our lives and the economy. But it is so badly named: we don’t need “social” distancing, we need “physical distancing”! Man is a social animal, and in times like these meaningful social contacts are essential to fight the limitations that the war on the virus induces in our mind and spirit. If we can’t hug our family and friends in person, then at least we have to call them, write letters and emails, interact with them to let them know we care, to tell them that soon things will be better. Not just once, but often. Because if we fail to do that, I fear my friend won’t be the last one to die alone, while feeling abandoned and desperate…

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M*A*S*H Always Has An Answer ;-)

I was a fan when the series was aired here in Belgium, and I’m happy to see that M*A*S*H still is relevant today!

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The Guardian writes up the story: “Ukraine’s lost photos: restored images reveal Soviet-era lives“. There are some more rescued photographs from what were probably happier days in Ukraine on the website of the man who found them: Samuel Eder. I hope he continues to expand the collection shown on his site, if only because it gives a glimpse into life in a region and period that is not very known to us.

Click on the image to go to Samuel Eder’s website for more rescued treasures

 

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Resistance Is Not Futile

The name ‘Calmeyer’ sounds strangely familiar to my ears, but I can’t remember why. Have I heard about Hans Calmeyer before? Possibly, but that’s no reason not to be interested in the publication of a book about this man: “Seattleite, 92, finally tells story of German who saved more Jews during the Holocaust than Schindler“.

I have not (yet) read the book “Shedding Our Stars: The Story of Hans Calmeyer and How He Saved Thousands of Families Like Mine“, which is the subject of the article, or a biography of Calmeyer. But I don’t need to read such books to know that Calmeyer, like Schindler and many others, were living proof of the fact that the evils of racism and dictatorship (and so much worse) were visible to contemporaries of the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Better yet: people not just knew, but also resisted and fought that evil in one way or another. That does not make them heroes – or perhaps it does: will you have the courage to do the same if the time comes?

(Thanks for the pointer, BoingBoing)

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Of course I endorse the “Contract for the Web” – head over to https://contractfortheweb.org/ to do the same!

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Image of a blog post from Dave Winer

(Click on the image to see more of Dave Winer’s blog)

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The past few days I have been repeatedly called by criminals posing as “technical support people”, mainly for Microsoft – one said they called from my internet provider, but couldn’t explain why he spoke English although my provider should do its business with me in Dutch. I do wonder though: why is it that my home number is targeted just this week, after being ignored for many years? The callers all spoke English with an accent that I associate with India and Pakistan. I guess someone out there must have picked up a phone list from the past and said: hey, let’s try these numbers again.

Anyway, I had to think immediately of the solution to this problem that I read about in BoingBoing’s “Vacation scammer telemarketer spends 15 minutes talking to a bot”. The recording in that post is hilarious: it’s not just a Jolly Roger Phone Company bot replying to the caller, the bot takes the lead in the conversation while all kinds of interruptions are going on in the background.

Checking other samples from the other bots offered by the company shows that these are just as good (and just as funny). Too bad the Jolly Roger Phone Company service isn’t available here in Belgium!

By the way: isn’t it strange that phone companies are in no way responsible for helping these criminals?

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This news report from AP is a good summary of who Johnny Clegg was: “South African musician Johnny Clegg dies at 66 after cancer“.

When we bought our first music CD player, somewhere in the second half of the 1980’s, the CD “Third World Child” was one of the first we added to our collection. At first because the music is great, and then because of the significance of Clegg in the anti-Apartheid movement.

I’ll continue to hum/sing along with his songs.

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Belgian (and European) politicians keep saying that all of us must be ready to get on-board the unstoppable train of “digitalisation” (although the explanation of what that exactly means is not so clear). But everyone knows: digital is the future, if it’s not already today.

Modern society is noisy, especially so if you live in or near an urban / industrial area, or close to busy roads and highways. Noise is a known stress factor. Luckily, electrical vehicles are very silent, compared to their internal-combustion engine cousins. Electrical vehicles are taking over from their ICE cousins – just ask Norway. Hurrah! I’ll finally be able to sleep with the bedroom window wide-open.

Unfortunately, all new electric cars in Europe must by law emit an audible noise. So we’ll use a very analog solution to solve a problem caused by humanity’s technological progress. I can’t help thinking there must be other, quieter solutions to this problem.

But hey, I suppose it beats having to hire someone to walk in front of your vehicle, waving a red flag, no?

I found this image on Whaleoil, credited (I think) to ‘The giffgaff community‘…

 

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I saw this slogan in Chania (Crete, Greece) last week:

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When we bought our CNG-powered car, the Audi A3 g-tron, one of the reasons was my conviction that using existing infrastructure would be the best route to cleaner and renewable energy, rather than starting a new power struggle over the resources needed to produce batteries on an enormous scale (where do you get your lithium?).

Scientific American published the article “Europe Stores Electricity in Gas Pipes“, which explains that my conviction might well become a reality:

Moving renewable hydrogen and methane via natural gas pipelines promises to cut the cost of switching to renewable energy. For example, gas networks have storage caverns whose reserves could be tapped to run gas-fired electric generation power plants during periods of low wind and solar output.

“Pipeline” by Alistair-Hamilton is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Original picture)

I don’t want to sound like a unconditional fan of Audi, but their building a factory to convert wind electricity into methane for the cars they produced was one of the elements that convinced me to go the CNG road.

Amsterdam wants to chase all internal combustion vehicles from its territory in the near future in order to get cleaner air. I wonder: what are they going to do about the heating systems of all those buildings, that are probably contributing more to the city’s pollution than cars? Those heating systems also have a longer mean life span than cars as well.

I can understand that the Dutch no longer want to pump up natural gas, since emptying those underground natural gas reserves is causing major damage to buildings on top of them in some parts of their country. So why not replace that with synthetic or “green” methane, given that the distribution and consumer systems are already in place? If there are good reasons not do to that, I would like to learn about them. The article mentioned above seems to indicate that synthesizing methane is rapidly becoming a commercially viable technology in the energy mix of the near future.

Moving renewable hydrogen and methane via natural gas pipelines promises to cut the cost of switching to renewable energy. For example, gas networks have storage caverns whose reserves could be tapped to run gas-fired electric generation power plants during periods of low wind and solar output.

I’m still waiting for major investments in hydrogen distribution networks – because that will likely prove to be the best way to store non-carbon energy (from wind, solar, geo-thermal, … power) in a from ready to be consumed where and whenever it is needed.

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When a colleague showed me the first minutes of what was then “a new HBO TV series”, I was hooked: I had to see “Game of Thrones“. The first few episodes that we watched on TV also made it clear that I would have to read the books by George R.R. Martin. if only because I could get to the end (?) of the story faster by reading than by waiting a week for the next episode on TV ;-)

I loved the books very much: the story is compelling and full of surprises, as we all know by now. Equally impressive is the world that George Martin created, and which you discover through reading the story, not because it is explicitly explained. I hadn’t read anything so intense since my discovery of the Dune universe, in the words of Frank Herbert (the more recent additions by his son Brian and Kevin Anderson are not at the same level).

Image credits: HBO

So like many others all around the world we waited for the final season of the TV series… and were a bit disappointed with what we saw in the first three episodes. Many scenes seemed to be stretched out just for the sake of making the episode sufficiently long. Some scenes are so different from what we are used to expect from previous seasons that they are hard to fit into the narrative we know.

Then by accident I stumbled up “The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones“.

Even if the new season had managed to minimize plot holes and avoid clunky coincidences and a clumsy Arya ex machina as a storytelling device, they couldn’t persist in the narrative lane of the past seasons. For Benioff and Weiss, trying to continue what Game of Thrones had set out to do, tell a compelling sociological story, would be like trying to eat melting ice cream with a fork. Hollywood mostly knows how to tell psychological, individualized stories. They do not have the right tools for sociological stories, nor do they even seem to understand the job.

If I understand the article correctly, this is what the author means by “sociological stories”: the story itself is the essence of what’s going on, not the major characters populating the story. That is why GoT gets away with literally killing off so many major characters without losing its pace and attractiveness.

That tension between internal stories and desires, psychology and external pressures, institutions, norms and events was exactly what Game of Thrones showed us for many of its characters, creating rich tapestries of psychology but also behavior that was neither saintly nor fully evil at any one point. It was something more than that: you could understand why even the characters undertaking evil acts were doing what they did, how their good intentions got subverted, and how incentives structured behavior. The complexity made it much richer than a simplistic morality tale, where unadulterated good fights with evil.

Curse you, George R.R. Martin, for not finishing the story yourself in your books!

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From “Sweden Democrats & Swedish Social Democrats Defeat Motion to Amend Articles 11 & 13“:

Sweden Democrats have now issued a comment on the vote.

“Today we had three push-button votes on the Copyright Directive. On one of the votes, we pressed the wrong button: the vote on the order in which we would vote. If it had gone through we could’ve voted on deleting Article 13, which we wanted. The vote should have ended up 314–315.”

The BigCo’s must be laughing like mad after reading this. I’m just flabbergasted: I thought MEP’s were supposed to be smart enough to push the right button out of three…

 

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