General

Every piece of information that can be translated into mathematical script is stored, spread and processed with mind-boggling speed and efficiency. A person who wishes to influence the decisions of governments, organisations and companies must therefore learn to speak in numbers. Experts do their best to translate even ideas such as ‘poverty’, ‘happiness’ and ‘honesty’ into numbers (‘the poverty line’, ‘subjective well-being levels’, ‘credit rating’). Entire fields of knowledge, such as physics and engineering, have already lost almost all touch with the spoken human language, and are maintained solely by mathematical script.

future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to high considerations. They will charge us with having culpably allowed the destruction of some of those records of Creation which we had it in our power to preserve; and while professing to regard every living thing as the direct handiwork and best evidence of a Creator, yet, with a strange inconsistency, seeing many of them perish irrecoverably from the face of the earth, uncared for and unkown. Alfred Russel Wallace, 1863

Yuval Noah Harari

Energy

Mass production of liquid biofuels fermented from annual harvests of crop or residual biomass would require large storages of either cereal or cellulosic feed stocks or the produced ethanol (or both), and the bulkiness of residues and rel atively low energy densities of all of these materials would make such storages more costly than those of refined oils. (Smil 2010)

Computing

When I am asked to explain the difference between Windows and Linux, I often use a toy analogy. Windows is like a Game Boy. You go to the store and buy one all shiny new in the box. You take it home, turn it on, and play with it. Pretty graphics, cute sounds. After a while, though, you get tired of the game that came with it, so you go back to the store and buy another one. This cycle repeats over and over. Finally, you go back to the store and say to the person behind the counter, “I want a game that does this!” only to be told that no such game exists because there is no “market demand” for it. Then you say, “But I only need to change this one thing!” The person behind the counter says you can’t change it. The games are all sealed up in their cartridges. You discover that your toy is limited to the games that others have decided that you need and no more.

Linux, on the other hand, is like the world’s largest Erector Set. You open it up, and it’s just a huge collection of parts—a lot of steel struts, screws, nuts, gears, pulleys, and motors and a few suggestions on what to build. So you start to play with it. You build one of the suggestions and then another. After a while you discover that you have your own ideas of what to make. You don’t ever have to go back to the store, because you already have everything you need. The Erector Set takes on the shape of your imagination. It does what you want.

Your choice of toys is, of course, a personal thing, so which toy would you find more satisfying?

William Shotts, 2013, The Linux Command Line.

Friendship

It is the mark of a modest man to accept his friendly circle ready made from the hands of opportunity

Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 1886, p. 1.

Fear

Fear paralyses creativity, stultifies the imagination, reduces problem-solving ability, damages health, depletes energy, saps intelligence and destroys hope.

Sara Maitland, Far from the Madding Crowd, The Guardian Review, p. 19.

Fear is an emotion that we evolved as apes and early hunter gatherers living off the land. In modern civilisation, this animal instinct wreaks havoc, inflicting far more suffering than safety. As Sara Maitland points out in her article, fear is harnessed by the mainstream media to sell stories as well as by politicians to win votes. More prosaically, fear stops parents from letting their children run free due to a distorted perception of the risks of abduction, as discussed in an article for Now Then Magazine.

Transport

Towards the end of the 20th century, and thanks to the private automobile, a simple worker could live in one place but carry out their work, daily, 50 to 60 km away. This fact, which for the citizen formed part of their everyday routine, constitutes, without doubt, one of the greatest enigmas of Anthropology and History.

Jose Ardillo, 2011, El Salario del Gigante

This was the opening quote of my thesis. It appeared in a Spanish novel set in 2099 in a dystopian future where energy supplies and other resources are depleted. It expresses neatly the wastefulness of our current transport system and raises the question of whether we’ll voluntarily change our ways or be forced out of daily long-distance travel by oil shortages.

Data and modelling

Human beings are remarkably adept at discerning relationships from visual representations. A well-crafted graph can help you make meaningful comparisons among thousands of pieces of information, extracting patterns not easily found through other methods. This is one reason why advances in the field of statistical graphics have had such a major impact on data analysis. Data analysts need to look at their data, and this is one area where R shines.

Robert Kabacoff, 2009, R in Action, 2009, p. 45.

Simplicity is the hallmark of any good theory and apparent complexity is often simplicity in disguise.” (Batty 1976) Urban Modelling