Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Review: Carbon Zero (Imagining Cities That Can Save The Planet)

 Carbon Zero should be read by anyone involved in 
building, maintaining, and living in their community.

Long time readers of Worldchanging will be familiar with most of the themes Alex Steffen brings together in his latest essay. The 21st century will bring immense challenges as a result of the profligate burning of fossil fuels. These challenges are no longer vague future threats. They are real, and pressing, and can be adequately met by nothing less than a commitment to complete carbon neutrality.

In Carbon Zero, Steffen argues that even a wholesale movement to renewable energy sources (however desirable) isn’t going to be enough. Not only must we reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, but we must reduce our dependence on energy use itself. The best way to achieve this is to redesign civilisation’s most energy intensive artefact: our cities.

"The best-possible scenario would be one in which 
many cities hurl themselves into fierce competition
to lead in a bright green urban boom. 
That competition is probably not only the key to creating cities
that offer the best, most sustainably prosperous lives possible, 

but also the best answer we have to the planetary crisis we face.
 We need a race to carbon zero."

A city uses energy in a variety of ways; the most immediately familiar being the heating, cooling and lighting of buildings. Petrol for vehicles is another, and one which hints at a much more pervasive energy drain: that of maintaining the huge infrastructures supporting relatively low density car-centric suburbs. This is the crux of Steffen’s thesis: that people who live in higher density ‘walkable’ neighbourhoods consume much less energy for transportation. Furthermore, they stand ready to make use of a number of cascade effects which not only improve their quality of life, but make their neighbourhood more resilient to adversity.

Carbon Zero offers a bold, positive-sum vision for how we can organise ourselves to face the challenges of the near future. The execution, however, will present challenges of its own. I think we have become too used to seeing our cities grow outward as inner neighbourhoods become unaffordable to many. How might the inertia of this trend be reversed? How might we counter the enticement of cheap (up front) housing in the increasingly remote outer suburbs by packaging local living competitively?

In the afterword, Steffen admits the task of writing Carbon Zero took a lot more effort than he had first intended. Cities represent a multi-layered network of interlocking systems well beyond the casual understanding of individuals. He has a respect for the various planners, and engineers who would be required to actually implement stuff. Nevertheless, I think that if Carbon Zero offers one thing above all else to the various stakeholders in city-scaping, it is a cohesive vision of what they, with their community’s support, can make possible.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Let There be an End

I came up with a bit of stilted rhyme and gutter prose, as part of the campaign to end fossil fuel subsidies at the Rio+20 talks. Why should a trillion dollars of taxpayers' money go toward propping up industries we don't particularly want, which are responsible for large-scale environmental degradation,  and whose owners are major champions of supply-side economics anyway?

So, we pay, to sell our future down the pipelines of despair?
Do we stand, aside and let the pillage show how not to care?
Shall we subsidise the dying? Or invest in futures flying?

Can we stop, supporting things that cannot/never will sustain?
And instead, uplift the industries that need not stunt our gain?
Shall we end the past's sad errors, and embark on new endeavours?

One man once, stood firm and asked the leadless past to step aside.
Once more, today, there is a chance to take the future in our stride.
We can make an end, and make amend. Speak out! Make good ancestors of us all!


Saturday, May 05, 2012

Connecting Dots With A Bridge

Part of the 350 Campaign to 'Connect the Dots' on climate change.

May 5, 2012 in Melbourne is a cold, drizzly wet autumn day. Nothing out of the ordinary.

The new Solway St. Footbridge. Site of old one is visible to left.

The same may be said of a small footbridge crossing Gardiners Creek at the end of Solway St, in Ashburton. It's quite new, having been opened a couple of months ago. It's certainly better designed than the old one, both in terms of structure and approach (the boarding on the opposite side is where the old bridge was located. The path down to it was a bit precipitate over there, and cyclists were well advised to dismount)

Yes, the old bridge was due for retirement. It happened in January 2011, when it was removed, not by a city engineering crew, but by a flood.

My personal experience of this flood was to watch a curtain of solid rain descend on my house. It rained, solidly, for 12 hours. A local park became an impromptu swimming pool. A bridge was washed away.

Elsewhere, vast areas of Victoria were under water. They remained so for months: the first promising crops after ten years of crippling drought utterly ruined.

This flood was a strange confluence of events: a cold front, crossing the Australian Bight, met a huge mass of moist air heading south, and streamed it into the south eastern corner of Australia.

The cold front was a normal weather pattern. The moist air mass over central Australia came about for two reasons:
  • a strong 'El Nina' event sending a steady airstream from the Indian Ocean over South East Queensland (incidentally also causing massive flooding)
  • a category 5 cyclone (Yasi) which came out of the Coral Sea to strike the North Queensland coast near Cairns. It's power can be gauged from the fact that it was still rated as a cyclone 24 hours later, when it reached Mt Isa. It was this cyclone that came south, bringing its own moisture with it.
  • a bridge was washed away because of...
  • a flooding rain, which was bought by...
  • a cold front, and...
  • a degraded cyclone, squeezing...
  • an already moist airflow south across Australia like a massive uncontrolled garden hose.
Was it just a fluke? Wild weather? Weather is the quality of the day. The systems that caused this minor calamity (and considerably more major catastrophes elsewhere) had lifetimes measured in months.

The crux of this story is about a local insignificant bridge. The theme is about how events sprawled across an entire continent and its surrounding oceans can come to have such a local effect. I've laid out some dots for you to connect as you see fit.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Let us.. Let us.. = Lettuce! Lettuce!

or, Not Bloody AGW Again!?

Debating climate change may be considered a futile cause by many. I find that, so long as you're addressing the fourth wall (ie the 'open minded' audience: Yes! You! At the back!) rather than the proponent (who is as unlikely to be persuaded of your argument as you are of theirs), then you might find you can at least put a point down.

Of late, I have been making use of a useful set of one-liner retorts to the most common arguments, referring to them as the 'Romm Swat', for Joe Romm of Climate Progress, who has them listed here. They're extensive. They're backed up. They were recently knocked back by this comment:


I have no idea what the 'Romm swat' is. You seem to be referring to the discredited Skeptical Science catechism.
You may be interested in some more details on the collection of errors.

First of all, Marcus is quite right to wonder what a 'Romm swat' is (although I did give a link...). The original list of rebuttals was created and is maintained by John Cook, who maintains the Skeptical Science website. While he annotates them with his own clarifications, Romm makes it quite clear who the original source is. So, mea culpa: the confusion is down to me.

Second, Marcus' comment is in response to one in which I said the arguments I was 'swatting' seemed to be trotted out again and again, without regard for whether or not they were still valid. Marcus was good enough to provide a link to a post by one Lubos Motl, responding to each of Cook's 'catechisms', as Marcus describes them.

Strike two! Fair call!

Third, the comments had closed by the time I had read Marcus' response, so I felt obliged to address it, in depth, here.

Because that's about as much ground as I'm willing to yield.

So, let us check out what Motl says about Cook's rebuttals... Oh, dear!

I recently observed that I found statements that began with 'let us...' often ended with euphemisms for '...lead you down the garden path.'. I suppose this is the intention of every polemicist: to persuade. I suppose I'm no different in this, but at least I try only to point out where I think the garden path is and where it might go. I have no wish to put a ring through your nose. That is called 'framing'.

Motl's premise begins with 'So let us look at his [Cook's] points and [Motl's] counter-points.'

Okayy! Forewarned of the possibility of fairies ahead, I proceeded cautiously.

First of all, it is to be noted that Motl modestly declined to post a photo of John Cook, as it might invite a negative reaction. It *is* a little in your face, to the point of appearing doctored! Such is the sorry state of public AGW debates, that I initially suspected a bit of weak satire. It appears not, as a favourable review of Sceptical Science by Andrew Revkin uses the same image. A more composed image is now available (see above).

Now, getting to the crux, and looking through the first of the 104 points that Motl addresses (Cook now has 173 listed.):

Argument 1. "It's the sun"

Cook: "In the last 35 years of global warming, sun and climate have been going in opposite directions"

Romm adds: "In the last 35 years of global warming, the sun has shown a slight cooling trend. Sun and climate have been going in opposite directions."

Motl: "I agree with Richard Lindzen [source of argument] that it's silly to try to find "one reason behind all climate change", because the climate is pretty complex and clearly has lots of drivers, and this applies to the opinion that "everything is in the Sun", too. Cook shows that the solar irradiance is too small and largely uncorrelated to the observed changes of temperatures. I agree with that: a typical 0.1% change of the output is enough for a 0.025% change of the temperature in Kelvins which is less than 0.1 °C and unlikely to matter much. But I find it embarrassing for a student of solar physics such as himself to be so narrow-minded. The Sun influences the Earth's atmosphere not only directly by the output but also indirectly, by its magnetic field and its impact on the cosmic rays (via solar wind etc.) and other things. He has completely ignored all these things. Of course, I am actually not certain that these effects are very important for the climate but the evidence - including peer-reviewed articles - is as diverse as the evidence supporting CO2 as an important driver."

my take: Motl seems to be agreeing, although is doing so via Lindzen, and is suggesting that Cook is being 'narrow minded' in not looking at other solar influences (actually, those are covered extensively in the backing material and commentary)
Whatever, possible ad homs aside, this point seems to be ceded by Motl.

Argument 2. "Climate's changed before"

Cook: "Climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time; humans are now the dominant forcing."

Romm adds: "Natural climate change in the past proves that climate is sensitive to an energy imbalance. If the planet accumulates heat, global temperatures will go up. Currently, CO2 is imposing an energy imbalance due to the enhanced greenhouse effect. Past climate change actually provides evidence for our climate’s sensitivity to CO2."

Motl: "Cook says that the previous history of the climate shows that the climate is sensitive to imbalances. Indeed, it is and it has always been. And he says that the past history provides evidence for sensitivity to CO2. Well, it virtually doesn't. CO2, much like other effects, adds imbalances and pushes the temperature around. But there exists no way to disentangle CO2 from many other effects or argue that it has become the most important driver. So the climate continues to change in the same way as it did in the past, by the typical changes per year, decade, and century, and Cook has offered no evidence whatsoever that something has changed about the very fact that the climate is changing."

My take: Where does Cook say that 'past history provides evidence for sensitivity to CO2'? He doesn't (although Romm is happy to). Nor is it mentioned in the expanded version. Motl has set up a straw man argument.

Argument 3. "There is no consensus"

Cook: "97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming."

Romm adds: "That humans are causing global warming is the position of the Academies of Science from 19 countries plus many scientific organizations that study climate science. More specifically, around 95% of active climate researchers actively publishing climate papers endorse the consensus position."

Motl: "This counter-point #3 is clearly obsolete: Cook tries to argue that 97% climate scientists endorse something - it sounds like a TV commercial. Most of his graphs are obsolete, too - the current support for various AGW-related statements is close to 1/2 of the figures he copied in an "optimistic" moment for his favorite political movement. The reality is that most scientists disagree with the basic tenets of the AGW orthodoxy - and even people like Phil Jones now agree that nothing unprecedented is going on with the climate right now (including no statistically significant warming in 15 years, and the existence of a medieval warm period), while Kevin Trenberth has agreed that the climate hasn't warmed and the popular models are inconsistent with this fact - what a travesty. There still exist large bodies of climate scientists who prefer to promote the panic - because they've been hired to do so or because it results from their political biases (which are mostly leftist in the Academia). The funding for climate science has increased 10-fold in the last 10-20 years - purely because of the possible threat - which means that 90% of the people (or 90% of the funding) is working on proofs of this pre-determined conclusion. At any rate, these discussions provide us with no evidence for the actual science - they're just about an attempt of the largely political movements to intimidate the scientists in the very same way in which Nazis wanted to intimidate the "Jewish science" by the consensus of the "Aryan scientists". Einstein would tell them that it's enough to find one scientist to prove Einstein wrong."

My take: Motl does not clarify what he means by 'clearly obsolete' and how he can claim it. Indeed, he does not attempt to validate any of the claims made here. The expanded version of Cook's point starts with 'Science achieves a consensus when scientists stop arguing.'. It has been stated elsewhere that scientists aren't just sceptics, they're trained sceptics. The debate we're seeing now isn't scientist vs scientist. It's entrenched interest vs. reality. It has also been pointed out that hungry PhD students would be looking to make a killing to topple dominant theories such as AGW if they were showing signs of dodginess. Where are they all?

Motl does go on to argue 101 points in total. But, since he too pauses for a commercial ad break at this point, it seems a good place for me to stop as well.

In keeping with earlier remarks about 'Let us...', you now know where the garden path is. Follow the remaining 98 flagstones if you will. I said earlier that I would not put a ring through your nose and lead you down it. Form your own opinion. I will only note that, unlike Cook, Motl offers his own views only, without any backing material.

Cook's points are intended as simple rebuttals, As such, they require regular maintenance lest they *do* become simplistic 'catechisms', as Marcus puts them. Motl's post provided an opportunity to do so, even if I found his arguments to be not in the least bit persuasive. I consider Cook's rebuttals to be unscathed and I will continue to use them (although, perhaps, with a more accurate accreditation!)

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Message in a Bottle

This is prompted by a call from Getup to contribute a message for a time capsule. Here is my contribution:

Greetings, from 2011,

Part of the invitation to write this message included, in part, a request to 'show future generations you cared enough to speak up in an era when fear and cowardice almost won the day? '

Well, speaking from the time, it does not appear to be *quite* that dramatic! Nevertheless, I think I can time the moment I became more engaged with what was going on around me to that crisp, clear, autumn day in New York, when a horribly beautiful sargasso plume of flame and smoke blossomed from the side of the World Trade Centre. In fact, the local time was about 10:45pm, and I had just gone to bed, missing the first confused reports coming in the late News by a matter of minutes. I awoke the next morning thinking that whoever was talking on the radio about the 'greatest day of infamy since Pearl Harbor' was laying it on a bit thick... until the early estimates of over ten thousand casualties was mentioned.

And reports of a crash in a field, as passengers of flight 93 tried to wrest control back again.

Thankfully, these estimates were halved over time, but I would think that '9/11' still resonates after fifty years... it has certainly defined the political landscape of the last ten.

As it happened, my daughter was conceived at about this time. As the details of what Al Qaida stood for coalesced, I felt it behooved me to ensure that she would not have to suffer at the hands of such a misogynistic mindset.

There was an initial outpouring of worldwide support and commiseration. It could have been handled so much differently! Without the panic. Without a protracted and ruinous occupation of a country which had no links to Al Qaida (Hussein preferring to brew his own brand of international nastiness). America the Nation could have been shown at its most enlightened.

Unfortunately, it became the Age of Spin and Denial.

The US government of the time had its own agenda, which it managed to fuse into the ongoing crisis. There are various accounts of how big that agenda was, ranging from simple vengeance, to opportunistic racketeering up to acts of shadow puppetry on behalf of another government.

The War on Terror! Huh! For all that they were diligent and meant well, I think that the renewed flight searches by airport security did more to instil a sense of terror and helplessness in the populace than a dozen blown up passenger flights ever could!

In the midst of all this, off the coast of Australia, a Norwegian cargo vessel was left stuck in limbo, carrying a huddle of refugees it was now popular to vilify as potential terrorists. Such people were, so we were being told, not above throwing their own children into the water to force authorities to take them in.

Except, they weren't, according to the coastguard officers and crew who were on the scene.

This message is prompted by the pending passage of the 'Clean Energy Bill' which is, in turn, prompted by a concern about what the CO2 levels were doing. For much of the past ten years, governments have been oblivious, indeed, actively censorious, of this threat. I am afraid that this is what you reap.

I find it ironic that two arrogant governments of recent times were shown to be lacking by acts of climate.

Cyclone Tracy's destruction of Darwin in 1974, and Hurricane Katrina's 2005 impact on New Orleans and the Louisiana coastline as a whole showed, in their lax handling of the aftermath, that the governments of the day were made of straw. Those 'extreme weather' events may not have bought the edifices tumbling down, but they set the stage.

Whitlam and Bush may have shared an overweaning arrogance and hubris, but I think that Whitlam would, at least, have been applying his overweaning arrogance to tackling a problem such as climate change.

For Bush, as intricately as he was bound into the oils and fossil fuel industries, it took an obscure PNG spokesman at a 2007 Bali summit to ask 'If you don't want to lead, then get out of the way'

Bush may have gone, but his backers remain, and seem intent on maintaining the status quo. Governments may have been moved, reluctantly, from dismissal, to denial, to grudging acceptance, but they have remained paralysed by indecision, and by a lack of resources in the wake of the crash of 2008. This inaction, even after changes in governments, has led to much frustration, as is evident in the umbrella 'occupy' movements that have been springing up in the last month. However comforting the status quo may be, change is afoot (as it happens, I just started writing a story that attempts to weave all this together. If it ever makes it to print, and is still in publication, I hope you enjoy it, as outdated as it will probably appear to you!) .

Of course, you will have your own perception of the events of the last decade, and it is pointless for me to speculate on whether what I say can be dismissed as paranoid ramblings, or a rueful shake and a muttered 'you didn't know half of it!' (It is possible that I will still be alive, and join in!)

At the time of writing this, we 'know' (as well as any scientific theory can know) that human activity has been causing undue warming of the Earth, and that this will have profound consequences (you are quite possibly experiencing them as you read this) How profound these changes will be is still a matter of debate. That they *will* have profound changes within a generation has only become evident in the last 5-6 years. For that reason alone it is, perhaps, unsurprising that so much resistance to the idea has been encountered.

It is a hope that the Clean Energy Bill will precipitate a rush to develop renewable energy sources and this will show the way forward internationally! It is a hope that this action will mitigate what you experience.


Governments remain paralysed by lobby groups. We may have to rely on individual efforts to remind us of our basic humanity. In telling my story on the War on Terror, I alluded to a few such examples. We are only just beginning to realise that Humanity has been de facto custodian of the planet for a lo-o-ong time. We are still not very good at it. But we're learning.

So, what of me? Having made a commitment to making a better less troubled world for my child, I have found that raising that child took up more of my time than saving the world. I suppose this is as it should be, and I think it has paid off (as with a lot of such things, you will be a better judge...!).

My contributions to getting a sane policy to tackling climate change on the table have been very modest and peripheral. I have read, observed, and generally borne witness. I write of what I see. I have occasionally offered words of advice, support, and solace to people far more active in trying to bring about a better world than I have been.

Even that little would have been impossible without the advent of the improved online interaction made possible by what is now known as Web 2.0. It allowed me to start blogging, to start reaching out and reading of other people's concerns and hopes.

You will be opening and reading this some forty years after I have written it. My concerns for you are that you live in a world which is beginning to show the scars of a profligate civilisation. My hope is that you see a way forward from wherever you are; that we acted in time.

A little while ago I wrote: "Bridges start out as a means of establishing links that weren't there before. Bridges are important. They need to be built. They need to be maintained.".

I think holds true in time as well as space (do you still watch Dr. Who?). It occurs to me, on this rather cold November day in 2011, that someone writing this forty years in the past would have done so with a very real concern that nobody would ever have read it; that the capsule would have been destroyed, or lie amid an ashen, barren landscape.

We're still here, so we must be doing something right!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I had hoped to flex my newly awakened blogging skills with something light.

Instead we have the sight of police chucking tear gas into protestors at #occupyoakland.

That is, of course, the hashtag used to follow the news with twitter (it seems that more traditional media sources, acting on police advice, went home early)

Oh, that sounds like a conspiracy. Well, I suppose it is, and I'm as much of a sucker for the outlandish theory as the next man.

I also possess a certain forensic streak as well and I became a little puzzled with another 'conspiracy'; that none of the 'occupy' tags were trending. This has been discussed for a while back and forth, with no clear conclusion being reached.

I went looking.

First off, I tried simply counting the number of tweets associated with #ows and the death of Steve Jobs (#ThanksSteve was very prominent at the time) They seemed to be appearing at comparable rates. However, Twitter's trending algorithm isn't just a question of total tweets; it tries to show people what's hot and what isn't. So, there may be some reason why ows wasn't trending? Possibly it had saturated.

It turns out that there a number of sites that plot trends for a given set of tweets over time. Most are geared to individuals trying to find out how they're doing.

There is one, however, allows you to select hashtags. That is Trendistic. Using it to compare #ows with #ThanksSteve shows that the latter was a clear spike, while 'ows' was an ongoing grumble (with spikes). OK, so maybe 'ows' doesn't trend, but it's persistent.

Then came news of tear gas in downtown Oakland...

Again, no 'OccupyOakland' appeared in the trending list. However, what *was* appearing was 'Oakland PD' and 'OPD' (Oakland Police Department?)

What is the Oakland PD doing that doesn't involve OccupyOakland?

Going back to Trendistic now revealed something *very* interesting.

Here's a plot of that trending 'Occupy PD':

Occupy PD Trending... at 0.18%.

There's a respectable spike there. But have a look at the column on the right. Do you see 'OccupyOakland' displayed at the top? I do (I also see ows, shown less prominently)

So, here's the trend for 'OccupyOakland' as the dawn breaks over the Bay Area.

OccupyOakland Not Trending... at 0.81%.

Whoa! That is a spike that is over 5 times the size as 'Oakland PD'

This seems like a case of 'same data, different conclusions'.

Twitter has been a mainstay of a lot of popular movements, and it seems churlish, even ungrateful, to point this out.

But, dear @Twitter, I think you need to respond to this, and either fix your algorithms, or list the tags you are 'demoting' as well as 'promoting'.

Update: Twitter did recently point to a fairly detailed account of how tags trend here. As I said earlier, this may account for #ows, but #OccupyOakland fits the profile, and Trendistic lists it!


Friday, October 21, 2011

Hello Blogger My Old Friend

Or... Why I Write
If this is a story then, in the traditional sense, it is an incomplete one. It certainly has a beginning, and a developing structure that leads to a middle. I have yet to think of an ending, though.

Why I Started
I started writing this blog about 7(!) years ago. I did so as a form of escape. I felt isolated, both socially and professionally and, while it wasn't a full-blown depression, I was feeling pretty blue.

It worked! Getting things down on paper/viewable media helped expunge a few inner demons. It wasn't a case of physically pinning writhing, impish homunculi to a web page; I don't think you'll see many examples of specific psycho-analysis going on. What did happen was that I felt a growing sense of empowerment. I could write down thoughts/ideas and come back later to re-read them and think... well think anything from 'What *was* I thinking!?' to 'What was I *taking*!?'.

In summary, it allowed me to step back and say 'OK, never mind if nobody is interested in what I say, never mind if an editor hasn't ripped it to shreds and put it back together in a sensible and coherent manner, I can still write some pretty cool stuff.'

Why I Didn't Start Earlier
Seems this realisation was important to me. While I did pretty well at school in most subjects, English wasn't my strongest. In fact, I was pretty atrocious at it. I couldn't see the point in reading books and discoursing floridly about motivations and symbolism. Oh, I enjoyed *reading* books (mainly sf of which more shortly), and did so avidly. Unfortunately, what was taught seemed like a lesson in how to stick pins in kittens. My attitude led a somewhat rebellious streak coming out, and the result was predictable: I failed.

Well, well! There is now an impish homunculus pinned to this web page! In retrospect, I do not blame the system that screwed me. I could have identified what I wanted to get out of the subject, worked on that, learned to play the game with the rest, and got through. The fault in not doing so is entirely mine.

I do feel, however, that I would have done better if a better distinction had been made in the two English streams. The bane of my school existence was titled 'English Expression'. This should have concentrated on 'how to communicate... using English'. Unfortunately, from my introverted, geeky perspective, it was taught in a style more in keeping with its more advanced stream 'English Literature'. Yes! By all means, discuss the clever structures, symbolisms and backgrounds in the latter. There, it may be assumed that you know the basics of the language! Indeed, my grasp of grammar and style wasn't really the issue. English wasn't the problem, it was the *expression*! I just couldn't get my thoughts down on paper fast enough, and became fixated on the prospect of having to write four essays in three hours. I had no thoughts to express! Rather, I was trying too hard: overcompensating, and trying to put down deep and meaningful insights that weren't really to be found in the subject matter.

Even so, mea culpa. Now, moving on...

What I Wrote
Where was I? Oh yes, the discovery that
a) I *could* actually get my thoughts on paper (courtesy of a bit of remedial work by a long-suffering post-graduate supervisor) and
b) though I might say so myself, what I wrote had some pretty interesting points (based on a subsequent reading) Yes, I know this is entirely subjective. Still, a little ego is useful as a catalyst, if nothing else.

Now, bear in mind, this blog was started back in 2003. The interactive online tools made possible by what is called 'Web 2.0' were only becoming mainstream. Not all that many people had taken them up. Then again, Rumsfeld had attempted to 'shock and awe' recalcitrant Iraqis with the overwhelming military might of America, Bush was smugly declaring 'Mission Accomplished' from the decks of an aicraft carrier, and a chap called 'Salam Pax' was blogging to tell the world that the truth was a little more complicated than that.

Pax inspired me to get on the blogging band wagon. I initially did so from the perspective of having a 'dear diary' to hand.

I wrote of geeky things: stuff that occurred to me as they did.

I wrote of my growing outrage to the utterly counter-productive manner in which the 'War on Terror' was being waged.

I wrote what I thought.

Of course, what blogging also allows is *interaction*: not only can you see what other people have written, you can *comment* on it! Not that anyone has, or is likely to, comment extensively here. I'm fine with that, this is a sounding board for me. On the other hand, I began to comment extensively elsewhere. Comments begat responses. Conversations formed, and communities were established.


What I Wrote Next
The number of posts I made to this blog started to diminish. I suppose this is the fate of a lot of toys. Initial wild enthusiasm gives way to fond familiarity, gives way to other things. It wasn't that I gave up blogging entirely. I have started a couple of additional blogs (which you can see in my pofile):
  • Casting Light: a brief attempt to categorise what would be needed for a trustworthy online voting system
  • Adventures in Bad Coding: a slightly tongue in cheek, and self-mocking narrative on what problems/disasters/solutions I have encountered while earning a crust as a software developer.
  • The Chips Are Down: a fictional account of my experiences in 2019 as the scenarios of the MMORPG 'Superstruct' unfolded.

Why I (Nearly) Stopped Writing
I discovered the blog's bigger, studious cousin: the wiki

I discovered the blog's little, excitable sister: twitter

In short, my online presence dispersed. I slept.

My circumstances changed as well. I was out of work for a large part of 2009. While this could have been a time to expand on my thoughts online, it is actually quite stressful to be doing nothing, ad I clammed up. The few postings I have then are fairly bitter grumps about how useless employment agencies were. The job I then took chewed up a lot of spare time, and wasn't a particularly inspiring job either.

Blogs take time to write. For all that I have the confidence to write now, it still doesn't flow quickly. Ideas need to be organised and made coherent (believe me, this post would be anything but coherent if it were posted as written down!)

Tweets, however... Pascal's excuse for writing a long letter is automatically excised by the 140 character limit. Write your thought, and be done!

I emitted my first faint 'cheep' last December, something about my excellent timing in choosing to ride an errand in a thunderstorm. As it turned out, I was just in time to be deluged by the wikileaks cables controversy. It was a heady time. Oh, I howled my indignation at the absurdity of our so-called leaders with the best of them! I found myself egging on the exploits of 'anonymous' with the rest of the flock.

It also occurred to me, in reading some of the cable's contents, that the main target of wikileak's ire should not necessarily be the conduct of the US diplomatic corps. The real news was not the (rather mundane) contents so much as the scandalised over-reaction to having them revealed. It smacked of fear, but of what?

Similarly, in recent weeks the 'occupy ...' protests have been occupying time that should perhaps better be spent in getting a job and doing jobs around the house (and, while messages of support may count, being... productive)

Why I Write Now
Now, however, I have recently received a tweet from Neil Gaiman to use and answer the tag #whyIwrite in celebration of the National Day on Writing (never mind that I'm international). I find, in responding to this simple question, that it involves a *lot* more than a simple 140 characters can encompass. I have taken a voluntary redundancy from that drear job mentioned above, and find I now have time go over the reasons why I write. I doing so, and in looking back on what I have written, I re-discover reasons why I should keep on writing.

First, I have as a mascot, a mongoose. It's inversion is representative of the fact that I come from downunder. It's a mongoose because the motto ascribed to that clan by Kipling is 'run and find out'. An early reason for my writing was to find ideas, and link them together.

This is not a new concept. Indeed, pointing out ideas is the prime motivation for communication, be it English or hypertext.

Going back, I pause by the tales I spun while playing Superstruct. From the perspective of another man, three years older, I find some of them frankly astonishing.

I wrote of 'Rook Parliaments', allowing refugees to maintain a cohesive sense of self-governing community.

I wrote of 'surfing the superthreat cascade' by complementarianism: piling on initiatives that caused the various threats to counter rather than augment each other in bringing on extinction.

I wrote applications to better display the play between other people in the game (they worked too, although the back-end database is no longer available)

There is a thread there, one that is captured by a chap called Ethan Zuckerman. He writes of 'homophily', the love of sameness that discourages us from seeking out other perspectives. He talks of the growing need for 'xenophily'; of bridging the gaps between peoples and, as he put it, to tell stories. He ended with a plea for help in promoting this; a plea I now regret to say I never answered.

Why I Will Keep Writing
I started by saying I haven't thought of an ending to this story of why I write. The act is, of course, intricately bound up with why I read.

Why I read is to learn; and to see things differently. Why I write is so that someone, somewhere, may also come to see things differently.

Architectual design patterns (the software ones, at least) speak of bridges as a means of linking divergent behaviour together without invoking a combinatorial explosion. Didn't get that? Hmm! Well, never mind! In reality, bridges start out as a means of establishing links that weren't there before.

Bridges are important. They need to be built. They need to be maintained.

As it happens, in the last week, a few articles have caught my eye:
  • A coverage of 'absurd' inventions that have gone on to become commonplace anyway. Included in the list is the 'Universal Translator'. A useful tool, although I think Zuckerman's needs are deeper.
  • A graphical description of how about 100 companies effectively control the world's economy. David Brin's excited about this, for a number of reasons I'll leave him to explain here. The occupy movement needs to take note as well
  • A tweet from Alex Steffen about how living trees have been converted into bridges. Think of infrastructure, and of bio-mimicry. Think *AWESOME*

So, on a bridge, two strangers met, and strangers were no more.

And beyond the bridge? What then? The road goes on...