Personal Sovereignty

•May 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

There has been a lot of discussion about soveignty lately.  Especially in respect of the law, people claiming that the law grants sovereignty if you look closely enough, and therefore freedom from the system.  No need to pay taxes, rates or pay fines.  Complete freedom to be Soveign and therefore reject the corrupt capitalist system and government regulation and conduct one’s own affairs how one sees fit.

It all sounds cool and good. Though I do wonder where people expect government services to arise from, and are people really prepared to forgo the services that a government provides, for example roads, education and in countries such as Australia, hospitals.  But the concept of Personal Sovereignty instinctively feels right.

However personal sovereignty isn’t found in obscure law. It’s found in the day to day actions of people who refuse to accept the system. And by that I don’t even mean armed resistance, or refusal to pay parking fines or taxes. It’s in the actions of someone who buys organic because they refuse to eat chemicals. Or someone who buys free range because they can no longer abide the treatment of hens in battery farms. Or by the person who refuses to hate Muslims in spite of the system generated media frenzy about terrorism. Or the individual who seeks alternative news because they refuse to trust the whitewashed and sanitised media that the system presents to them.

The more people who take personal sovereignty (responsibility?) over their lives and choices, the more the system changes to accommodate those choices. There is no Illuminati or New World Order brainwashing anyone. The capitalists aren’t that capable. They have no organisation; they are as much at a whim of natural forces as any of us. Yes they try. Monsanto put people on government boards, banks manipulate money markets etc etc. But there is no centralised concerted effort to control the world.

As soon as individuals start taking control of their lives, aka start exercising Sovereignty, the world starts to change too.  If you don’t take a job that exploits you, you have exercised sovereignty, but nothing else changes much. If hundreds of thousands of people exercise that same sovereignty, then employers are forced to change.  This is in essence what strike action is all about.  If you refuse to buy battery chicken products you then become a consumer exercising a form of strike action, but nothing much changes.  If hundreds of thousands refuse, the system stops producing battery chickens.

What we can do to help people practice effective sovereignty, is ensure they have accurate information. This is where media, alternative media and activism comes into play.

With Japan’s l…

•May 12, 2012 • Leave a Comment

With Japan’s last operating Nuclear Power Plant about to be taken down for maintenance, and with public pressure preventing the restarting of other reactors (also closed for maintenance, but not yet reopened), Japan looks set to go through summer without any assistance from Nuclear Power. The myth is about to be broken. If Japan can get along without Nuclear, then so can the rest of the world.

Is Thorium a Viable Alternative to Uranium for Safe Nuclear power?

•May 12, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Well, first of all the advantages of Thorium are that it is far less dangerous and produces less volume and less dangerous waste, not that it is completely safe nor that it doesn’t produce dangerous waste. Anyone who believe’s that Thorium reactors are completely safe and have manageable levels of waste, have been reading too much Nuclear Power Industry propaganda.

Thorium reactors are theoretically not capable of melting down, but if there was an explosion, for instance a terrorist act, or an earthquake, there would still be the danger of the release of radioactive materials into the environment. No one is saying Thorium reactors can’t have accidents; only that they can’t ‘meltdown’. A meltdown is the most serious kind of accident you can have at a nuclear plant, but not the only kind.

And there is still the issue of waste storage.

When it is possible, with an equivalent level of investment spent in renewables, to have solar and wind power provide baseload electricity supply instead of nuclear, then why screw around with nuclear fission at all? The argument of those against Nuclear Energy is that there is always an unacceptable risk of dirty radioactive materials escaping into the environment (given that any accident costs tens of millions or even billions to clean up and future generations have to bear the cost).

With regard to fusion, if ITER proves successful once it is operational, then we could have commercial fusion generators in 30 years time or so, perhaps sooner. However fusion development is massively expensive ($10 billion for ITER alone – and it’s still basically just a really big experiment) and is not going to provide usable power anytime soon.

Realistically, renewables are the best way to go, but the energy industry don’t want to know about it because they can’t buy an exclusive royalty to tap the sun or wind. They prefer to tap out the earth’s resources, no matter how dirty or dangerous it becomes, until those resources are depleted.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITER (Fusion Reactor)

Some references: (main disadvantages relate to the dangers in handling and processing spent fuel which emits more gamma radiation. An accident involving this material could be conceivably disastrous depending on location. However keep in mind I am not saying Thorium isn’t better than conventional fuels: it’s much better IF they can get the technology right. But it is still a very dirty and potentially very dangerous way of producing power:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium_fuel_cycle#Disadvantages_as_nuclear_fuel

http://www.laka.org/info/publicaties/2008-thorium.pdf
“Further there are some disadvantages of thorium – when compared with uranium – that were
recognized from the beginning, but now appeared to be almost forgotten: thorium is more
radioactive than uranium, making its handling in fabrication stage more beset with dangers. In
addition there are potential difficulties in the back-end of the fuel cycle. The plutonium-238 content
would be three to four times higher than with conventional uranium fuels. This highly radioactive
isotope causes a much higher residual heat and therefore the time for spent fuel storage in water is
much longer. To put it mildly, the technical problems regarding the reprocessing of spent fuel is not
solved for this reason.”

Is Infinite Growth Possible

•May 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment

As a forest grows, it consumes grassland, wiping out the grasses and many of the lifeforms that rely on a grassland ecosystem for their survival. Human growth relies on consuming forests and grasslands, converting both into houses, furniture, paper, farmland, mines and a range of other products. As humanity is now discovering destroying forests has the potential to impact on our own quality of life and even our ability to survive. It is also robbing fellow humans of their homes, decreasing biodiversity in the ecosystem (which impacts science and medicine, not to mention just the pure joy at living in a world of such diverse lifeforms), and reducing the carbon sink and reducing the quality of the air we breath. The forests are the planets CO2 scrubbers. As any astronaut knows, the single most important part of a spaceships life support system.

In my assessment unconstrained growth can not be infinite. Ever. The question is the scale of the system. When you are at the start of growth, it seems infinite, just like the Jungles and forests of Australia must have seemed an infinite resource to the early settlers. But when you are nearing the apex of growth, the point where the resources that drive growth start to decline, you need to be aware of this or you will be consumed by the implosion that results when growth ceases to be sustainable.

There are two alternatives to this inglorious end. A little of each alternative is probably necessary for us humans at this juncture in our growth cycle.

1. Adaptation. This is simple. If you are at the point where continued consumption of a resource will lead to the demise of that resource, you adapt. We have done this many times. Steam locomotives used to burn wood, but the pressure on that resource led to coal burning. Like wise heating and lighting went from wood and animal and vegetable fats to gas (there were also technological and cost factors that led these changes).

Now the pressure is on fossil fuels, for two reasons. They are polluting, and they are running low. The next alternative, that from our current perspective appears infinite, is renewable energy such as wind, thermal and solar. It is imperative that we start exploiting these resources otherwise growth will slump. If we let the big resource companies keep focussing on fossil fuels, we will line their pockets in the short term, but we will hit the wall later and get sucked into that implosion. There will be harsh recession and hardship while the world works out how to make use of renewable energies. But the rich oil and coal magnates will be the only ones with any money and they will be in control of exploiting those resources and the cycle goes on. Let’s act now in our own best interest rather than just bumble along.

As an aside, renewable energy is not infinite either. And I don’t mean when the sun expands to consume earth. Far earlier than that, humans could reach the end of renewables. What causes the ocean’s currents? (Without which the ocean would become a stagnant monoculture, void of the diversity and dynamic life that it now contains)? The pull of the moon. If all of the worlds coastal areas where enveloped in a several mile wide tidal farm, any movement of the water being converted into energy for human use, think of the effect that would have on coastal ecosystems. Also the sun. There is only a very finite and measurable amount of energy reaching the earth’s surface from space. Imagine the irony of cutting down forests to put up solar power plants? Eventually so much heating energy would be diverted from space that the sun’s benefical heating of the surface of the planet would be reduced. Geo-thermal. I don’t like to even imagine how the effect of sucking heat out of the earth’s crust would affect for example plate tectonics (which drives all kinds of life on the surface). These things seem impossible now, but so once did the idea that we would clear all the land apart from a few small pockets.

Of course by then we will have expanded our resource extraction into space. Off planet solar arrays in at the lagrange points beaming power to the surface of the earth. Mineral extraction of astroids etc. Colonisation of moons and mars.

We adapt or die.

2. Change of Priorities. If we change how we use resources we can become many many times more efficient. We can live more within nature rather than “on top” of nature. We can recycle. We can use less powered transport. We can change the designs of buildings and motorised transport that are currently inefficient.

I envisage a city that is abundant with trees and nature. Rooftop gardens. Skycrapers with grey water systems running food bearing gardens. Waterfalls of recycled water retriculating down the sides of buildings into public swimming rock pools through the heart of shopping malls. Natural daylight reflected to every corner of the insides of houses and commercial buildings. Community gardens in every suburb.

Rural areas with permaculture crops. A return to rail for transport, using electric locomotives powered by electricity from renewable sources, reducing the load on national highways.

I could go on and on, and many of these ideas may not be practical but the point is, there will be practical ideas, if we have the motivation and desire to pursue efficiency and changes of lifestyle that reduce our impact on the land and our use of resources.

So is infinite growth possible?  The answer is actually unknown, but a practical answer is yes, through adaptation and change.  The reason we don’t know if infinite growth is possible is is a rather large philosophical and scientific quandary involving the expected end of the universe.  If the universe is finite, and there is nothing outside of the universe, then infinite growth is impossible.  However for all practical intents and purposes the universe is infinite for humans at our current state of technology and evolution, so the question is can we change and adapt to avoid destroying our environment under our very feet?  Because based on current use of technology, our immediate environment is no longer infinite.

GMO’s Not Necessary to Solve World Hunger

•February 20, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Monsanto have put too little effort into to designing crops truly resilient and instead rely on pumping ever more quantities of pesticide into the ground by creating crops that are immune to round up. The weeds eventually develop natural immunity, requiring ever stronger and ever more poisonous pesticides and the cycle continues. The land is poisoned and the food is laced with poison. This is no solution to world hunger.

Do we need GMO’s to feed a growing world? Not necessarily, in fact this is a myth propagated by companies such as Monsanto. There has been no conclusive study showing either that we need GMO’s to maintain food supply globally, or that we have reached the end of what can be achieved with other more natural means. There is not even agreement that we are actually suffering a food shortage:

“Indeed, for more than 40 years the world has produced regular and often bountiful food surpluses-large enough, in fact, to prompt major producing countries like the United States to pay farmers not to farm some of their land. Indeed, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 80 percent of hungry children in the developing world live in countries that produce food surpluses. And only about a quarter of the reduction in hunger between 1970 and 1995 could be attributed to increasing food availability per person, according to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).”

http://www.worldwatch.org/node/488 World Watch Magazine, July/August 2000, Volume 13, No. 4

Or, that GMO’s have increased yield: ” far from increasing output Monsanto’s genetically modified soya beans were prone to stunted growth and excessive stem splitting in high temperature field conditions. This was apparently due to unintended changes in plant physiology caused by the addition of genes making the beans resistant to glyphosate, the herbicide marketed as ‘Roundup’ by Monsanto. It resulted in up to 40% yield losses compared to traditional soya beans grown in the same conditions.” New Scientist, 1999 ‘Monsanto’s modified soya beans are cracking up in the heat’

I’m not ignoring the possibility that GMO’s COULD, if approached ethically, one day provide healthy resilient crops, but not until we stop looking at GMO’s as a way of increasing “profit” yields, regardless of health outcomes of the people eating those crops.

Indeed, according to the Swiss research firm Covalence, Monsanto is the most unethical company in the world. That’s some achievement. I certainly won’t be eating food grown from their seeds whenever ever I can help it. http://www.disinfo.com/2010/01/monsanto-the-1-most-unethical-company-in-the-world/

Cloud Music

•August 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment

So for this topic I’m not going to do an exhaustive analysis of all the different cloud music options available. I’ll basically be looking at iCloud versus Google Music, keeping in mind that some aspects of Google Music haven’t yet solidified. Google Music is officially still in beta testing phase, and iCloud is not yet available.

Apple iCloud

Apple’s iCloud offers unlimited storage for your itunes purchased music, apps, books, TV shows and photo stream (the last 30 days of photos on all devices). They offer 5GB of storage free for music not purchased from itunes, and for your documents and pim data. You can access your content on any computer or device you choose to authorise, and you can authorise up to 10 devices. Supported device types are ipad, ipod touch, iphone, and any mac or pc computer running itunes. And, as you can deduce from the last two sentences, you have to use itunes on an authorised mac or pc in order to play your music on a computer. You cannot access your iCloud via a web interface. It’s worth noting that Apple’s iCloud is a music sync service, NOT a music streaming service. That is, the music must be downloaded to a given device before it can be played.

Any song you purchase, will be downloaded automatically to all devices authorised under your Apple ID (the ID you used to subscribe to iCLoud), or if you prefer, can be set to be manually downloaded. Non-purchased music (ie not brought from itunes store) can be downloaded to any of the authorised devices.

If you find the 5GB limit on non-purchased music harsh, you can subscribe to the iTunes match service, for $25 US per year. iTunes match will scan your itunes library, and any non-purchased tracks that also exist in the itunes store will be synced across to your iCloud direct from the itunes store. This means no need to upload from your collection and will therefore also not cut in to your 5GB limit. The iTunes Match service covers you up to 25000 songs (effectively about 150GB), after that you are looking at higher pricing tiers, which I don’t think have been announced as yet. Any iTunes matched tracks can be downloaded to your authorised devices.

iTunes match in effect legitimises any tracks accepted for matching. Something like 58% of iCloud revenue will go to labels and 12% to publishers, leaving Apple with only 30%. This can be seen as a way of paying off the Recording Industry and any concerns they may have about Apple supporting users who are illegally sharing or downloading music. What’s not yet clear, is how or if Apple will attempt to filter out obviously illegal music files. For example, tracks purchased through itunes are digitally watermarked with the Apple ID of the purchaser. If cloud music becomes popular, and CD’s less common, finding “clean” source-ripped music files for illegal download may become harder. The Recording Industry may see this as a way of finally wrestling some control of copyright back into their hands. In the process, subscription based services offering very cheap per unit track costs (averaged out over the life of the subscription) should become more common. Time will tell. Playing in to this will be the release of DVD-Music discs and a (I hope) resurgence of interest in high quality digital audio tracks.

Okay, so onto Google Music.

Google Music

Google Music takes quite a different approach to Apple’s iCloud. Google Music is a streaming service. This means the music is not downloaded to your computer then played, but rather played as it is downloaded, then discarded. On Android devices such as phones and tablets the music can be cached on the local device, meaning that it can be played locally if no internet connection is available or to save bandwidth.

Currently in Beta, Google Music offers storage of up to 20,000 songs, but it’s unclear at this stage whether this will be the starting point for the free service come offical release, or if it will be the first price tier or similiar. I’m guessing it will be something like $20 US for 20,000 songs and maybe 5000 free (cumulative) just to keep Apple at bay. 20,000 songs in MP3 format is roughly 160GB; Google Picasa photo storage is $20 US for 80GB (+7GB gmail data – cumulative).

Your Google Music collection will be available from any web browser that supports Flash. This rules out most mobile browsers; I’ve tried Safari on iOS4 (works but slow and clunky and not all features work), Opera Mini/Mobile, and the s60 native browser. There is a Google Music app for android phones that brings a high level of integration and functionality to Android phones. The music can be either streamed or cached on the device for later listening. It’s possible that an App will eventuate to allow Google Music to be accessed on iPhone/Touch but equally likely that this will only be possible on a jail broken device.

The web browser interface for Google Music supports playlists and sorting by Albums, Artists, Genres etc. There is no caching in Google Music via web browser, so if you have no internet you can’t play the music. You can still play the local copy through your usual music player, however if you uploaded music to your collection from another location, then you won’t be able to access that music until you again have internet access. It’s not even possible to download the music file from Google Music in order to play it locally. Also, if the internet speed is suffering slowdown as sometimes happens, the music may stutter and pause. Not a great experience if you are really trying to get into a track.

Google Music, as said previously, is a streaming service only. It is therefore fairly useless as a tool for syncing music between computers. You can however pull locally cached tracks out of the folder where it is stored on your Android device and copy it to your computer. It will have a non-identifiable name and will need to be renamed using a id-tag to filename tool. Not ideal. Hopefully some kind of syncing feature will become available but Google have not said anything about it as yet.

The major plus for Google Music however, is you can play it on any computer with internet access where you can log in to your Google Music account. Internet Cafe, friends place, grandparents, holiday unit, where-ever. This is something you simply can not do with iCloud.

For uploading music to Google Music, you use an application called Music Manager, whose simple task is to upload music from the folders you select to your Google Music account. There is NO music matching feature like iCloud’s iTunes Match. At the time of writing, Google are still in negotiations with music labels regarding revenue deals. Until such time as these deals are completed it’s difficult to speculate on what Google may offer in the way of matching, or who your music would be matched against (other users, or an online music store).

Regarding unauthorised copies being uploaded to Google Music, Google have said they won’t tolerate pirated music, though what technologies they will use to detect pirate music isn’t clear. Some music will be identifiable through watermarking and sonic finger printing, but a good percentage will not be able to be verified as authenticate or not. For example multiple legitimate rips format shifted from CD using the same ripping agent and bitrate will be identical.

In Summary

Briefly:

Google Music offers music streaming of your uploaded content, from any internet connected computer, and streaming and download to Android devices. No other devices currently supported. Pricing tiers not yet available.

Apple iCloud offers music syncing between up to 10 authorised devices, but no streaming option and no web browser access. Other than computers, only Apple devices are supported.

As yet, many of the finer details, and changes that competition will bring about, are still unknown.

Testing

As yet, I haven’t been able to trial iCloud, so I can’t show you what it looks like or tell you how it performs. It will be integrated into itunes (I imagine).

I have been testing the Google Music beta, and I have to say it’s impressive, given the contraints mentioned above. I have noticed that while music manager is uploading and music is playing via the web interface, your internet connection is hammered pretty hard. Music can sometimes stutter. This would no doubt improve once uploading is completed. I’ve been uploading a 2000 song dataset over a few days, but I haven’t been connected the whole time.

Here’s a screen shot of the Google Music web app in FireFox 5:
Google Music Screenshot

Anti-Burqa Protest in King George Square Meets Counter Protest

•August 14, 2011 • 6 Comments

The Protests

I recently grabbed my camera and headed down to an anti-burqa protest being organised by APDM (Australian Patriots Defence Movement). What was particularly interesting about this protest, from a photographic journalism perspective, was the fact that a counter-protest had been called by left wing groups, to protest the implied racism of an anti-burqa demonstration. This seemed like a good opportunity to get some news worthy photos.

Upon arriving I found the protest already underway. The anti-burqa protesters were outnumbered by anti-racism protesters by about 4-1. Nevertheless they were plugging away undeterred. As the day progressed the protesters got noisier and more aggressive, but the police were doing a good job of keeping combative participants separated. I moved through the crowd unhindered, along with about 5 other photographers and a guy doing sound recordings, attempting to get the interesting shots. There were some interesting exchanges: a few clashes that brought the police in to separate combatants (but no real fisticuffs), a lot of slogan chanting, lines of opposing protestors drawn up against each other, and even heated discussions with protestors attempting to convince each other of their position. I found this one of the most interesting interactions of the day. Even amongst the heated exchanges, people from the opposite sides were still prepared to try and use reason to convince the other of their point of view. Compared to the chaos that was only starting to unfold in Brixton London on that day, this was a very civilised protest.

At one point there seemed to be a police preference for guarding the APDM from the left wing protestors, but I think this was unintentional. I did overhear a Senior-Constable instructing his men to ensure they kept out of the melee unless a specific danger of violence appeared imminent, so as to avoid any appearance of favouritism. The police appeared restrained and polite when dealing with these instances.

As the day wore on tempers wore thinner. At one point, a senior member of the APDM ranks raised his hand towards a female anti-racism protestor as if to hit her (but didn’t). I wasn’t able to get a photograph of this particular incident, but apparently he was shoved first by another protestor. You can see more here: http://theantibogan.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/australian-patriots-defence-movement-of-the-bowels/ I only came in on the tail end of this incident so cannot provide a full account of what happened. This same person had also resorted to name calling, picking on one colourfully dressed young man in particular, referring to him as tinkerbell and inferring that he was homosexual.

Behaviour wasn’t perfect on the anti-racism side either. A couple of male anti-racism protestors were particularly provocative, though not violent. Later in the day a woman had raised a sign saying “this guy is an idiot” while standing next to one of the anti-burqa protestors. I’m not sure what the point of this was.

However apart from these and a couple of heated exchanges where the police interceded, both groups of protestors were surprisingly restrained given their close quarters and the extent of yelling and chanting going on.

I eventually ran out of battery power (I had two old inca Canon batteries – which only managed 160 odd photos each – I expected 400 atleast going by the performance of the batteries in the Olympus, which I had neglected to bring along), and kicking myself for not having bought batteries earlier, ran down to JB HiFi to get a new battery. By the time I got back the APDM group were walking away from the square, apparently having had enough, and the anti-racism protestors were having a last cheer before moving off themselves.

Pictures
(Full Flickr set click here)

Anti-Muslim Protest and Anti-Racism Demonstrators

Anti-Muslim Protest and Anti-Racism Demonstrators

Anti-Muslim Protest and Anti-Racism Demonstrators

Anti-Muslim Protest and Anti-Racism Demonstrators

Anti-Muslim Protest and Anti-Racism Demonstrators

Anti-Muslim Protest and Anti-Racism Demonstrators

Anti-Muslim Protest and Anti-Racism Demonstrators

Anti-Muslim Protest and Anti-Racism Demonstrators

Anti-Muslim Protest and Anti-Racism Demonstrators

Anti-Muslim Protest and Anti-Racism Demonstrators

Anti-Muslim Protest and Anti-Racism Demonstrators

Anti-Muslim Protest and Anti-Racism Demonstrators

Anti-Muslim Protest and Anti-Racism Demonstrators

 
%d bloggers like this: