Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Our new World - built on the timeless ways of old

Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends - honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old - these things are true.  They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.  What is demanded then is a return, to these truths. 
Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end - that we did not turn back, nor did we falter - and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom, and delivered it safely to future generations.

Barack Obama, 20 January 2009

Friday, 3 October 2008

Visibility of feeback - an energy consumption competition

The Villanovan, the student newspaper of Villanova University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania recently rated a plasma screen display of the energy consumption of each hall of residence as its second best technological achievement. Part of a competition between the buildings for lowest energy consumption figures, the touch screen displays highlight the water and energy usage interactively allowing real time performance feedback.

Can we scale up this competitive element in the community in general? Using areas that fit with the energy companies' distribution networks, could we monitor individual streets and/or suburbs, provide them with regular and visible multi-channel feedback to encourage energy efficiency? The key here is the visibility of the feedback. Once you can see the results easily, there's a real buzz that comes from seeing an improvement. The feedback would trigger our natural urge for innovation. Suddenly there becomes an incentive for people to come together to negotiate a bulk discount on solar water heaters, to share tips for recycling water across the back fence or to invent a new power-saving gizmo in the garden shed.

Make the information accessible and the rest comes naturally. We don't have to have all of the answers, just to create the right environments for self-organisation.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Reaching for the Moon

Buzz Aldrin photographed by Neil Armstrong on the Moon during the first Moon landing, Apollo 11 Human innovation is about taking anything from the field of the possible and bringing it into reality, and I believe that the scale of what we achieve is linked to our ability to tap into that field.

Surely one of the greatest human achievements must be landing on the Moon. This feat is beautifully covered by Ron Howard in his feature-length documentary In the Shadow of the Moon (official site & IMDb). Made up entirely of undoctored real footage and only the voices of the astronauts themselves with no voiceover. This isn't a Boy's Own technical space fantasy, it is the personal story of the 24 astronauts flew to the Moon and the only 12 who have actually ever stood on its surface, as well as that of the humanity collectively at the time.

Not being around for the first Moon landing on 20 July 1969, I've always taken it for granted as something that has always been, but when you see the story of it unfolding in the astronauts' own words you realise what a monumental achievement it was and what a milestone it was for the whole planet. Apart from the technical and human marvel of it, what really struck me was that for one magic moment, the whole planet was unified as a single human race. As Mike Collins said, it was, "We did it."

Many actually credit the Apollo missions with the beginning of the environmental movement, where for the first time we saw the Earth as so small and fragile, an oasis of life hanging in the vastness of space. The famous 'Earthrise' picture below, showed us that the Earth was something to be protected.


“I instantly thought it was ironic; we had come all this way to study the moon, and yet it was this view of the Earth that was one of the most important events for Apollo 8,” said Anders in an interview on NASA TV.

“There are basically two messages that came to me,” Anders said of the picture. “One of them is that the planet is quite fragile. It reminded me of a Christmas tree ornament. But the other message to me, and I don’t think this one has really sunk in yet, is that the Earth is really small. We’re not the center of the universe; we’re way out in left field on a tiny dust mote, but it is our home and we need to take care of it.”

Anders said it didn’t take long after the crew had returned home for this photograph to become iconic for the environmental movement.

“Back in the 60’s it gave us a sense that the world was a place we all shared together,” Anders said. “We couldn’t see any boundaries from space.”

Bill Anders, Apollo 8
quoted in Universe Today

Throughout the documentary I was struck by the astronauts themselves. Although now well into their 70s, they all had a remarkable liveliness and a depth and wisdom in their eyes. You get the feeling that the whole group of people that came together for the Apollo missions were a special bunch of people who, if you can believe this documentary and Apollo 13, were a highly creative, intelligent, dedicated team.

To me, this backs my theory that to bring great achievements into being from the field of the possible, you must be in some way closely in touch with it. I certainly felt that from hearing some of them speak. I'll leave you with some of their words from the film.

The biggest joy was on the way home. In my cockpit window, every two minutes: the Earth, the Moon, the Sun, and a whole 360 degree panorama of the heavens - and that was the powerful, overwhelming experience. And suddenly I realised that the molecules of my body, and the molecules of the spacecraft, and the molecules in the body of my partners, were prototyped and manufactured in some ancient generation of stars. And that was an overwhelming sense of oneness, of connectedness - it wasn't, "Them and us," it was, "That's me. That's all of it. It's one thing," and it was accompanied by an ecstasy, a sense of "Oh, my God. Wow. Yes," an insight, an epiphany.

Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14

I can remember the beautiful water. We were out in the deep water in the Pacific. It was such a startling violet colour. I remember looking at the ocean and admiring, "Nice ocean you've got here planet Earth."

To me though, the marvel of it is that it all worked like clockwork, I'd've almost said like magic - there might be a little bit of magic mixed up in the back of that big clock somewhere - because everything worked as it was supposed to. Nobody messed up. Even I didn't make mistakes!

Mike Collins, Apollo 11

After the flight of Apollo 11, the three of us went on a round the world trip. Wherever we went, people, instead of saying, "Well, you Americans did it," everywhere they said, "We did it. We humankind. We the human race. We people did it," and I had never heard of people in different countries use this word "We," "We," "We," as emphatically as we were hearing from Europeans, Asians, Africans - wherever we went it was, "We finally did it." I thought that was a wonderful thing. Ephemeral, but wonderful.

Mike Collins, Apollo 11

I felt that I was literally standing on a plateau somewhere out there in space - a plateau that science and technology had allowed me to get to - but now what I was seeing, and even more important, what I was feeling, at that moment in time, science and technology had no answers for - literally no answers, because there I was, and there you are, there you are, the Earth - dynamic, overwhelming, and I felt that the world is just... just too much purpose, too much logic - it was just too beautiful to have happened by accident.

There has to be someone bigger than you and bigger than me - and I mean this in a spiritual sense, not a religious sense - there has to be a Creator of the Universe who stands above the religions that we ourselves create to govern our lives.

Gene Cernan, Apollo 10 & 17

I think, if you do something that's drastically different, like flying to the Moon and coming back again, everyone tells you how important it is, how wonderful it is and how important, important, important, then by comparison a lot of other things that used to seem important don't seem quite as much so. And, I'm not saying that I'm able to face life with greater equanimity because I've flown to the Moon, but I try to. And maybe some of our terrestrial squabbles don't seem as important after having flown to the Moon than they did before.

Mike Collins, Apollo 11

We learned a lot about the Moon, but what we really learned was about the Earth. The fact that just from the distance of the Moon, you could put your thumb up, and you could hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything that you've ever known - your loved ones, your business, the problems of the Earth itself - all behind your thumb, and how insignificant we really all are, but then how fortunate we are to have this body and to be able to enjoy living here amongst the beauty of the Earth itself.

Jim Lovell, Apollo 8 & 13

Trailer from YouTube:

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Real news

Now that I'm commuting to work on the train, I've started picking up the free paper from the station in the morning and noticed that I've been getting increasingly depressed about the world. There's so much focus on everything that's going wrong - and the afternoon one's even worse.

I think we are all aware that we shouldn't believe everything we hear in the media. We actually live in a time of unprecedented peace:
- "violent crime has decreased as we have moved into modern times"
- "The levels of both interstate and societal warfare declined dramatically through the 1990s and this trend continues in the early 2000s, falling over 60% from their peak levels"
- I've also read that in terms of estimates of exposure to violence per person over human history that, even allowing for last century, we are still improving. (Does anyone have a reference for that?)

So, where can we find the real news? Here are some sources that I have come across that promote the good news that's happening out there in the world every day. I will now be making an extra effort to read these sources of news and support the organisations that produce them.
- Positive News (http://www.positivenews.org.uk/) is a subscriber based newspaper that is sadly only produced quarterly, but has 75,000 subscribers
- PNN - The Positive News Network (http://www.positivenewsblog.com/) - I love the name of this one
- Global Good News (http://www.globalgoodnews.info/) gathered by the Global Country of World Peace

I'll be aiming to read these from now on for my news, which will improve my outlook on things and I guess will help to promote this model. Do you know of any other good ones?

Ten Canoes - an Indigenous Australian perspective

An Australian movie.
Directed by Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr.
Written by Rolf de Heer

Further details: Official website (very informative) IMDb

This movie came about when director Rolf de Heer was invited by famous indigenous Aussie actor David Gulpilil (here credited as David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu) to make a movie with him. The resulting film was inspired by the photo shown here taken by DF Thompson in the 1930s, of 10 bark swamp canoes. By using the detailed information gathered by Mr Thompson, Rolf de Heer and a community of Yolgnu people in Arnhem Land were able to recreate the images of that time and long before for this film.

But now you seen my story. It's a good story. Not like your story, but a good story all the same.
At the end of this story, the narrator David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu highlights what is the delight of this story - it is a good story, but so unlike the kind of story that we would tell in the West. The whole nature of the story is fresh and light to my ears - from the language and accent used, to the pace of it, the observations made and aspects highlighted, and the simple way of describing things. As it is set in a time well before European settlement the way of life depicted is refreshingly simple and so connected to the land and in tune with Nature.

Rolf de Heer sums this up best in his 'making of' documentary:
The cosmology of the Yolgnu people is an entirely other cosmology than ours. The universe is a different place. The way of thinking is therefore different, and the language, apart from being structurally different, describes different things. Ours is a language of classification and categorisation; theirs is a language of connection and unity. Everything is all one.
We can learn from the Yolgnu people and their stories that the prevailing modern view of the world isn't the only way. Typically we seek to divide and classify our world into boxes and certainties, and then seek to control those aspects to keep everything understood and linear. This approach has many benefits, as evidenced by the wonder of our modern technological age, but we are lucky that there are many other worldviews out there and more fortunate still that there are many other cultures in the world that have kept these outlooks alive for us to learn from and share.

I look forward to a near future where as the modern, affluent societies share their knowledge and technologies with the developing world, that in return we learn some of what is in the gaps between the categories and classifications of our world. This movie and Waris Dirie's books (see earlier post) show the magic of a simple life close to Nature and the deep connection that it brings to our deeper Selves, yet these are also obviously very often harsh lives, that would benefit enormously from some modern knowhow and resources. As we come closer together as a world, which we inevitably will, the whole will become greater than the sum of the parts as we learn to live simply, in touch with our true nature, while at the same time enjoying the benefits of this connected modern world.

In this Ten Canoes project, the impact of this sharing was clear, and I recommend the 'making of' documentary as much as the film for this reason:

The crew and I go back with a deeper understanding, not only of this culture, but of all cultures, including our own. But the set builders and the canoe makers and the actors have achieved something far beyond anything they ever thought possible; they've brought back from a faraway place some of their culture.

They now walk just a little bit taller among us Balanda (white people); a bit more sure of themselves. They speak with more confidence than they did before. They seem to feel better about their world. In strengthening their culture, they've also strengthened themselves.

It is a lesson to us all.

Rolf de Heer

We live in a world of astounding diversity. As we become more individual and unique, we express our true Selves, and so we also become more the same and more united - and we recognise the magical place that the world has always been!

Comments now enabled for anyone

I've found the setting that allows anonymous comments, so you don't have to log in to comment.  Of course, it would be great if you can leave your name.  

To leave a comment, click on the x comments link below each post.  Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Rock Wallabies

When it comes to propagating ideas, I like to think of the rock wallaby - a cute little Aussie marsupial, a bit like a small kangaroo, that loves steep, complex rocky terrain.

These guys are incredibly agile - like bouncing mountain goats. The amazing thing about them is that they can jump up sheer cliffs by finding a spot with two opposing walls, like a crevice, and then they bounce off each side until they get to the top.

In my experience, ideas are a bit like this - as they bounce from one person to another, they gain in elevation and energy.