In 2007, one city decided to take a stand against Climate Change.
These are the opening words for the official Earth Hour video for 2010. Earth Hour has taken place every year since 2007. It’s now 2011, and this year’s Earth Hour was last night. I’ve posted elsewhere my feelings about this particular brand of slacktivism, but that’s not the point of this blog. There’s something else interesting about how Earth Hour was promoted this year.
In 2010, Earth Hour was all about Global Warming (sorry, no matter how many times they rename it - I think the latest term is “Climate Collapse” - I’m still going to call it by its real name). In 2011 - well, see for yourself.
When even the WWF-organised Earth Hour chooses to disassociate itself from AGW, I wonder if this meme is finally dying.
Sometimes in an online conversation you’ll find yourself talking to someone who seems not to understand what you are saying. In this situation the natural thing to do is to try to clarify what you mean, particularly since if one person has misunderstood then it is quite likely that others have misunderstood too. As long as the misunderstanding is in good faith, then this is usually the right approach.
The trouble with online textual communications is that all we have are the words. There is no body language, no tone of voice, no facial expression. Just the words. So you can’t normally detect the emotional state of the writer, can’t tell if they are teasing or pulling your leg, can’t see their facial expression to work out if they are happy or sad, angry or afraid, just plain tired or tired-and-emotional. This lack of emotional information can lead to misunderstandings and occasionally heated arguments.
Over my 30-something years working for a living I’ve done quite a few different things. My first job was as a junior clerk in the Cost Office at Distington Engineering Company, a site operated by British Steel, and miles away from Distington. Apparently it was renamed during WWII, to confuse the German bombers - they even painted the roofs of the buildings to look like a village. It must have worked, as apparently it was never bombed. There again, maybe it was too far north, out of range.
Years ago, at a friend’s suggestion, I read the 1991 “Uncut” version of Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and since then I’ve never wanted to read another of his books. The original 1961 edition was around a third shorter, at the insistence of Heinlein’s publishers, and the uncut edition was commissioned by his wife after his death. I think I might feel differently about Heinlein if I’d read the earlier version instead.
I’d like to introduce you to a word which, depending on how long you have been around the Internet, might be new to you. From The Jargon File:
flame bait: n.
[common] A posting intended to trigger a flame war, or one that invites flames in reply. See also troll.
If you’ve been around the Internet more than a few days, you’ve probably come across the word troll, but if you haven’t, then follow the flame bait link, and then troll, and then generally just browse around. You are sure to learn something new (I learn something new every time I visit the Jargon File, and I’ve been in this industry for decades). Oh, and you probably want to look up flame and flamewar too.
In a world addicted to slacktivism, Earth Hour is a no-brainer. All you have to do to join this annual, millions-strong initiative is sit in the dark for an hour on Saturday night. Any fool can do that, right? Right.
You might already know this, but on Thursday, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft entered orbit around Mercury, the closest planet to the sun. That puts Earth two-nil up on the Mercury-Earth Expensive Hardware Lob, which is a lot better than we’re doing against Mars in a long drawn out match which is currently at 20-all. (We’re doing a bit better versus Venus, and in the Earth v Pluto game, neither side has yet scored).
All joking apart, this is a major achievement. Launched in 2004, MESSENGER has visited both Venus and Mercury several times over the past 7 years, using their gravity to adjust course and save on fuel; the whole journey being planned in advance. It boggles my mind just to think about the maths involved, but that’s almost nothing compared to some of the technology on board. I’m quite excited about it for another reason: one of the mission objectives is to build a digital map of Mercury’s surface topography. I might have mentioned before that one of my interests is 3D “digital” geography. NASA have a very good track record of releasing such data to the public, so it’ll be another planet to play with.
I expect you’ve noticed notice that throughout this piece I have capitalised the word MESSENGER, and you might be wondering why. You probably know that in Roman mythology, Mercury was, among other things, the Messenger of the Gods, so the name Messenger for a Mercury probe would seem quite fitting. So why the capitals?
Well, it’s because the name MESSENGER for this spacecraft is an acronym - or rather, a crapronym. MESSENGER stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that NASA are much better at space flight than they are at acronyms.
I’ve always been uneasy about Nuclear Power. I was born in West Cumbria a couple of years after the Windscale fire and so grew up with stories about the evils of Nuclear Power. I was in the 1980s a participant in a number of CORE and CND protests and marches, and a vocal opponent of BNFL for many years, which didn’t earn me many friends in an area where so many people depend on the Nuclear industry for their livelihood. I’m still quite uncertain about it, and was concerned to learn of proposals to build a new Nuclear Power station at Kirksanton, a handful of miles from where we live now. Happily it appears that project has been canned, and it looks as though the new plant is more likely to be at Sellafield (formerly Windscale - Oh, dear!)
I was reflecting this evening on some of the technologies I’ve worked with over the years, and how relevant they are to the work I do today as a web developer. In particular, I was thinking about my time at Abbey National, using a programming method known as JSP. No, that’s nothing to do with Java, you youngsters; it stands for Jackson Structured Programming. Invented by Michael Jackson (no, not that one!) it was the first real method I ever encountered. Well, other than the fag-packet-spec and the let’s-try-this-and-see-if-it-works-this-time methods so familiar to programmers everywhere.