Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil

Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav SmilVaclav Smil (MIT Press)
Energy is the only universal currency; it is necessary for getting anything done. The conversion of energy on Earth ranges from terra-forming forces of plate tectonics to cumulative erosive effects of raindrops. Life on Earth depends on the photosynthetic conversion of solar energy into plant biomass. Humans have come to rely on many more energy flows -- ranging from fossil fuels to photovoltaic generation of electricity -- for their civilized existence. In this monumental history, Vaclav Smil provides a comprehensive account of how energy has shaped society, from pre-agricultural foraging societies through today's fossil fuel--driven civilization. Humans are the only species that can systematically harness energies outside their bodies, using the power of their intellect and an enormous variety of artifacts -- from the simplest tools to internal combustion engines and nuclear reactors. The epochal transition to fossil fuels affected everything: agriculture, industry, transportation, weapons, communication, economics, urbanization, quality of life, politics, and the environment. Smil describes humanity's energy eras in panoramic and interdisciplinary fashion, offering readers a magisterial overview. This book is an extensively updated and expanded version of Smil's Energy in World History (1994). Smil has incorporated an enormous amount of new material, reflecting the dramatic developments in energy studies over the last two decades and his own research over that time.

h/t Bill Gates

 

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👓 Ten Historical Anniversaries of Note in 2018 | CFR

Ten Historical Anniversaries of Note in 2018 by James M. Lindsay (Council on Foreign Relations)
Anniversaries mark the passage of time, recall our triumphs, and honor our losses. Two thousand seventeen witnessed many significant historically anniversaries: the centennial of the U.S. entry into World War I, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad, and the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War, to name a few. Two thousand eighteen will also see anniversaries of many significant events in world history. Here are ten to note:

Some great reminders of history hiding in this article.

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👓 Las Vegas Is Only the Deadliest Shooting in US History Because They Don’t Count Black Lives | The Root

Las Vegas Is Only the Deadliest Shooting in US History Because They Don’t Count Black Lives by Michael Harriot (The Root)
News reporters and anchors have repeatedly referred to the recent tragedy in Las Vegas as the “worst mass shooting in U.S. history.” Like all things that are constantly repeated, the proclamation has become fact.

There’s some great history here. It reminds me about the podcast Seeing White which I’ve been listening to recently.

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📺 Harding | Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Harding by John Oliver from Last Week Tonight (HBO)
John Oliver unveils Last Week Tonight's collection of presidential wax statues and brings Warren G. Harding's incredible life story to the big screen.

I’m so excited to see this as I’ve just made an offer on a house in a neighborhood known as “President’s Row” on a street named Harding!!

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👓 Owner of Frederick Douglass property incorporates Baltimore history, African-American artwork to continue abolitionist’s legacy | Baltimore Sun

Owner of Frederick Douglass property incorporates Baltimore history, African-American artwork to continue abolitionist's legacy by Brittany Britto (Baltimore Sun)
After years of living away from his native Baltimore, Gregory Morton was looking for a hometown haven. Little did he know that his search would lead to a property so filled with history that he would be proud to share it with the world. Today, home for the 35-year-old Morton is 524 S. Dallas St. in Fells Point — one of five alley houses on the street that abolitionist Frederick Douglass had built in the 1890s. Douglass, who was born into slavery on the Eastern Shore and went on to become a world-renowned orator, author and newspaper editor, built the homes as rental properties for African-Americans, according to the Maryland Historical Trust.
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🎧 Seeing White, episode 36: That’s Not Us, So We’re Clean | Scene on Radio

Seeing White, episode 36: That's Not Us, So We're Clean by John Biewen with special guest Chenjerai Kumanyika from Scene On Radio
When it comes to America’s racial sins, past and present, a lot of us see people in one region of the country as guiltier than the rest. Host John Biewen spoke with some white Southern friends about that tendency. Part Six of our ongoing series, Seeing White. With recurring guest, Chenjerai Kumanyika.

Having lived in many parts of the country growing up (Dahlonega, GA; Burlington, CT; Calhoun, GA; Baltimore, MD; Charlotte, NC; etc.), I can attest that the generalities described here do dovetail with many of my experiences. The cultures with respect to racism are very different depending on town, region, state, and histories.

A lynching on Clarkson Street, New York City, during the Draft Riots of 1863. Credit: Greenwich Village Society of Historical Preservation.

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🎧 Seeing White, episodes 31-34 | Scene on Radio

Seeing White by John Biewen with special guest Chenjerai Kumanyika from Scene on Radio
Events of the past few years have turned a challenging spotlight on White people, and Whiteness, in the United States. A podcast series from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University explores what it means to be White.

Part 1: Turning the Lens

February 15, 2017

Part 2: How Race Was Made

March 1, 2017

Part 3: Made in America

March 16, 2017

Part 4: On Crazy We Built a Nation

March 30, 2017


Notes

Part 1:
Seemingly almost too short, but lays some good groundwork (in retrospect) for what is to come.

Part 2:
Here’s where the story begins to heat up and lay some groundwork.

Part 3:
I’d never thought about the subtle changes in early American law that institutionalized the idea of slavery, race, and racism, which is very well laid out in the third installment, though I suspect is just a short sketch of a more horrifying past. In particular: laws that indicated that slaves who became Christian didn’t need to be freed, laws which indicated that the slave status of children was derived from the mother (and not the father), and laws which prevented white women from marrying African Americans.

I’d sadly never heard the history of the case of John Punch or any of the other examples in episode 3.

Having been born in South Carolina and then living in Georgia on a mountain at which John C. Calhoun apparently pointed at and uttered the phrase, “Thar’s gold in them thar’ hills.” I’m all too entrenched in his version of history. I’m also viewing this from a larger big history perspective and see a few other things going on as well, but sadly I’m woefully undereducated in these areas. I’m going to have to get some new reading materials.

Part 4:
There’s a lot of history concerning Thomas Jefferson and even Ralph Waldo Emerson which I’m going to have to go back and brush up on as there are large pieces missing from my general education. The discussion certainly reframes the way one could see America and it’s history from a vastly different perspective that just isn’t discussed enough.

I’ll have to go back and relisten to this for some great quotes as well as one from T. Veblen.

Overall:

There are at least two more episodes in the series that I can’t wait to listen to before I surely circle back around and listen to them all a second time. This series is truly great. I’m subscribing to their prior episodes and can’t wait to see what they come up with in the future. I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Jeremy Cherfas who suggested it to me indirectly via his feed.

Resources I’m bookmarking for later reading:

Seeing White
Meeting of the Virginia House of Burgesses, 1619. Library of Congress.
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A New Way to “Know and Master Your Social Media Flow”

On the anniversary of the death of FriendFeed, I update Louis Gray's flawed social media diagram.

I was reminded this morning that two years ago yesterday FriendFeed, one of my favorite social media sites, was finally shut down after years of flagging support (outright neglect?) after it was purchased by Facebook.

This reminded me of something which I can only call one of the most hurtful diagrams I saw in the early days Web 2.0 and the so-called social web. It was from an article from May 16, 2009, entitled Know and Master Your Social Media Flow by Louis Gray, a well-known blogger who later joined Google almost two years later to promote Google+.

Here’s a rough facsimile of the diagram as it appeared on his blog (and on several syndicated copies around the web):

Louis Gray’s Social Media Flow Diagram from 2009

His post and this particular diagram were what many were experimenting with at the time, and certainly inspired others to do the same. I know it influenced me a bit, though I always felt it wasn’t quite doing the right thing.

Sadly these diagrams all managed to completely miss the mark. Perhaps it was because everyone was so focused on the shiny new idea of “social” or that toys like Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, and thousands of others which have now died and gone away were so engaging.

The sad part in searching for new ways to interact was that the most important piece of the puzzle is right there in his original diagram. No, it’s not the sorely missed FriendFeed service represented by the logo in the middle, which has the largest number of arrows pointing into or out of it. It’s not Facebook or Twitter, the companies which now have multi-billion dollar valuations. It’s not even the bright orange icon representing RSS, which many say has been killed–in part because Facebook and Twitter don’t support it anymore. The answer: It’s the two letters LG which represent Louis Gray’s own personal website/blog.

Sadly bloggers, and thousands upon thousands of developers, lost their focus in the years between 2007 and 2009 and the world is much worse off as a result. Instead of focusing on some of the great groundwork that already existed at the time in the blogging space, developers built separate stand-alone massive walled gardens, which while seemingly democratizing the world, also locked their users into silos of content and turned those users into the actual product to monetize them. (Perhaps this is the real version of Soylent Green?) Most people on the internet are now sharecropping for one or more multi-billion dollar companies without thinking about it. Our constant social media addiction now has us catering to the least common denominator, unwittingly promoting “fake news”, making us slower and less thoughtful, and it’s also managing to slowly murder thoughtful and well-researched journalism. Like sugar, fat, and salt, we’re genetically programmed to be addicted, and just like the effect they have on us, we’re slowly dying as a result.

The new diagram for 2017

Fortunately, unlike for salt, fat, and sugar, we don’t need to rely on simple restraint, the diet of the week, or snakeoil to fix the problem. We can do what Louis Gray should have done long ago: put ourselves, our identities, and our web presences at the center of the diagram and, if necessary, draw any and ALL of the arrows pointing out of our own sites. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, FourSquare/Swarm, etc. can all still be there on our diagrams, but the arrows pointing to them should all originate from our own site. Any arrows starting with those same social networks should ALL point (only) back to our sites.

This is how I always wanted my online diagram to look:

This is how I always thought that the diagram should have been drawn since before 2009. Now it can be a reality. POSSE definition. Backfeed definition.

How can I do this?

In the past few years, slowly, but surely, I’ve managed to use my own website to create my diagram just like this. Now you can too.

A handful of bright engineers have created some open standards that more easily allow for any website to talk to or reply to any other website. Back in January a new W3C recommendation was made for a specification called Webmention. By supporting outgoing webmentions, one’s website can put a link to another site’s page or post in it and that URL serves the same function as an @mention on services like Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Google+, Instagram, etc. The difference here is that these mentions aren’t stuck inside a walled garden anymore, they can reach outside and notify anyone anywhere on the web that they’ve been mentioned. Further, it’s easy for these mentions to be received by a site and be posted as comments on that mentioned page. Because the spec is open and not controlled by a third party corporation, anyone anywhere can use it.

What does this mean? It means I can post to my own site and if you want to write a comment, bookmark it, like it, or almost anything else, you post that to your own website and mine has the option of receiving it and displaying it. Why write your well thought out reply on my blog in hopes that it always lives there when you can own your own copy that, though I can delete from my site, doesn’t make it go away from yours. This gives me control and agency over my own platform and it gives you ownership and agency over yours.

Where can I get it?

Impatient and can’t wait? Get started here.

More and more platforms are beginning to support this open protocol, so chances are it may already be available to you. If you’re using an open source platform like WordPress.org, you can download a plugin and click “activate”. If you want to take few additional steps to customize it there’s some additional documentation and help. Other CMSes like Known have it built in right out of the box. Check here to see if your CMS or platform is supported. Don’t see your platform listed? Reach out to the developers or company and ask them to support it.

If you’re a developer and have the ability, you can easily build it right into your own CMS or platform of choice (with many pre-existing examples to model off if you need them) and there are lots of tools and test suites built which will let you test your set up.

If you need help, there are people all over the world who have already implemented it who can help you out. Just join the indieweb in your favorite chat client option.

Some parting thoughts

Let’s go back to Louis Gray’s blog and check on something. (Note that my intention isn’t to pick on or shame Mr. Gray at all as he’s done some excellent work over the years and I admire it a lot, he just serves as a good public example, particularly as he was recruited into Google to promote and launch G+.)

Number of posts by year on Louis Gray’s personal blog.

If you look at his number of posts over time (in the right sidebar of his homepage), you’ll see he was averaging about 500+ posts a year until about the time of his diagram. That number then drops off precipitously to 7 and 5 in 2015 and 2016 respectively!! While life has its vagaries and he’s changed jobs and got kids, I seriously doubt the massive fall off in posts to his blog was because he quit interacting online. I’ll bet he just moved all of that content and all of his value into other services which he doesn’t really own and doesn’t have direct control over.

One might think that after the demise of FriendFeed (the cog at the center of his online presence) not to mention all the other services that have also disappeared, he would have learned his lesson. Even browsing back into his Twitter archive becomes a useless exercise because the vast majority of the links on his tweets are dead and no longer resolve because the services that made them died ignominious deaths. If he had done it all on his own website, I almost guarantee they’d still resolve today and all of that time he spent making them would be making the world a richer and brighter place today. I spent more than twenty minutes or so doing a variety of complicated searches to even dig up the original post (whose original URL had moved in the erstwhile) much less the original diagram which isn’t even linked to the new URL’s post.

 

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🔖 Want to read Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova

Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova (Algonquin Books, ISBN: 978-1616203641)
It’s a culinary catalyst, an agent of change, a gastronomic rock star. Ubiquitous in the world’s most fabulous cuisines, butter is boss. Here, it finally gets its due. After traveling across three continents to stalk the modern story of butter, award-winning food writer and former pastry chef Elaine Khosrova serves up a story as rich, textured, and culturally relevant as butter itself. From its humble agrarian origins to its present-day artisanal glory, butter has a fascinating story to tell, and Khosrova is the perfect person to tell it. With tales about the ancient butter bogs of Ireland, the pleasure dairies of France, and the sacred butter sculptures of Tibet, Khosrova details butter’s role in history, politics, economics, nutrition, and even spirituality and art. Readers will also find the essential collection of core butter recipes, including beurre manié, croissants, pâte brisée, and the only buttercream frosting anyone will ever need, as well as practical how-tos for making various types of butter at home--or shopping for the best.

Butter: A Rich History

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🔖 Mapping Uncertainty on the Oregon Trail

Mapping Uncertainty on the Oregon Trail by Anelise H. Shrout
In the early 1840s the American West, though claimed by the United States, was considered by many white Americans to be untamed, wild, and possibly rife with unknown wealth. This was a West that existed largely in the American imagination. In fact, the area west of the Missouri was home to complex Native societies, was divided into political structures, and was intimately known, if not formally mapped. These two competing Wests - that imagined by many Americans and that inhabited by Souix, Pawnee, Snake and Nez Pierce tribes - were mapped both geographically and textually by John C. Frémont between 1842 and 1843. Frémont set out from St. Louis in the summer of 1842, and began to chronicle his journey west, in the wake of "emigrants" who were moving to the Oregon Territory - a route known as the "Oregon Trail." Frémont's first expedition covered the land between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains during the summer and fall of 1842. In the summer of 1843 he set out to write an account of the second half of the Oregon Trail, from the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River in Oregon. The maps contained here are drawn from the Library of Congress's collection "Topographical map of the road from Missouri to Oregon, commencing at the mouth of the Kansas in the Missouri River and ending at the mouth of the Walla-Wallah in the Columbia." They were created using Frémont's journal, and cover his first and second expeditions. I have annotated the maps with accounts of the resting places, flora, fauna, and people Frémont's and his party encountered on their journey west.

You’ve played the game Oregon Trail via DOS (as a child), online, or via app but have you traced the actual trail taken by John C. Frémont between 1842 and 1843? Now you can with this daily interactive map with journal.

Thanks Anelise Shrout!

Topological Map of the Road from Missouri to Oregon

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🔖 What is good mathematics? | Terry Tao

What is good mathematics? by Terence Tao (arxiv.org)
Some personal thoughts and opinions on what ``good quality mathematics'' is, and whether one should try to define this term rigorously. As a case study, the story of Szemer\'edi's theorem is presented.

This looks like a cool little paper.

Update 3/17/17

Some thoughts after reading

And indeed it was. The opening has lovely long (though possibly incomplete) list of aspects of good mathematics toward which mathematicians should strive. The second section contains an interesting example which looks at the history of a theorem and it’s effect on several different areas. To me most of the value is in thinking about the first several pages. I highly recommend this to all young budding mathematicians.

In particular, as a society, we need to be careful of early students in elementary and high school as well as college as the pedagogy of mathematics at these lower levels tends to weed out potential mathematicians of many of these stripes. Students often get discouraged from pursuing mathematics because it’s “too hard” often because they don’t have the right resources or support. These students, may in fact be those who add to the well-roundedness of the subject which help to push it forward.

I believe that this diverse and multifaceted nature of “good mathematics” is very healthy for mathematics as a whole, as it it allows us to pursue many different approaches to the subject, and exploit many different types of mathematical talent, towards our common goal of greater mathematical progress and understanding. While each one of the above attributes is generally accepted to be a desirable trait to have in mathematics, it can become detrimental to a field to pursue only one or two of them at the expense of all the others.

As I look at his list of scenarios, it also reminds me of how areas within the humanities can become quickly stymied. The trouble in some of those areas of study is that they’re not as rigorously underpinned, as systematic, or as brutally clear as mathematics can be, so the fact that they’ve become stuck may not be noticed until a dreadfully much later date. These facts also make it much easier and clearer in some of these fields to notice the true stars.

As a reminder for later, I’ll include these scenarios about research fields:

  • A field which becomes increasingly ornate and baroque, in which individual
    results are generalised and refined for their own sake, but the subject as a
    whole drifts aimlessly without any definite direction or sense of progress;
  • A field which becomes filled with many astounding conjectures, but with no
    hope of rigorous progress on any of them;
  • A field which now consists primarily of using ad hoc methods to solve a collection
    of unrelated problems, which have no unifying theme, connections, or purpose;
  • A field which has become overly dry and theoretical, continually recasting and
    unifying previous results in increasingly technical formal frameworks, but not
    generating any exciting new breakthroughs as a consequence; or
  • A field which reveres classical results, and continually presents shorter, simpler,
    and more elegant proofs of these results, but which does not generate any truly
    original and new results beyond the classical literature.
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I love Eat This Podcast

Food as a vehicle to explore the byways of taste, economics and trade, culture, science, history, archaeology, geography and just about anything else.

Many who follow my blog recently will know that I’ve been binge listening to Jeremy Cherfas‘ wonderful podcast series: Eat This Podcast.

I’m now so many wonderful episodes in, that it was far past time to give something back to Jeremy for the hours of work he’s put in to give me so much entertainment, enjoyment, and even knowledge. So I just made a pledge to support him on Patreon.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Eat This Podcast is a fantastic series on food, but it it uses the “foods we eat to examine and shed light on the lives we lead, from authenticity to zoology”. Food becomes his “vehicle to explore the byways of taste, economics and trade, culture, science, history, archaeology, geography and just about anything else.”

It’s unlike much of anything I’ve seen or followed in the food space for some time. As someone who is a fan of the science of food and fantastic writers like Harold McGee, Herve This, Alton Brown, Tom Standage, Michael Pollan, Nathan Myhrvold, Maxime Bilet, Matt Gross, and Michael Ruhlman (to name only a few), Eat This Podcast is now a must listen for me.

Not only are the episodes always interesting and unique, they’re phenomenally well researched and produced. You’d think he had a massive staff and production support at the level of a news organization like NPR. By way of mentioning NPR, I wanted to highlight the thought, care, and skill he puts into not only the stunning audio quality, but into the selection of underlying photos, musical bumpers, and the links to additional resources he finds along the way.

And if my recommendation isn’t enough, then perhaps knowing that this one person effort has been nominated for the James Beard Award in both 2015 and 2016 may tip the scales?

If you haven’t listened to any of them yet, I highly recommend you take a peek at what he has to offer. You can subscribe, download, and listen to them all for free. If you’re so inclined, I hope you’ll follow my lead and make a pledge to support his work on Patreon as well.

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🎧 Early agriculture in eastern North America | Eat This Podcast

Early agriculture in eastern North America by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast
The Fertile Crescent, the Yangtze basin, Meso America, South America: those are the places that spring to mind as birthplaces of agriculture. Evidence is accumulating, however, to strengthen eastern North America’s case for inclusion. Among the sources of evidence, coprolites, or fossil faeces. Fossil human faeces. And among the people gathering the evidence Kris Gremillion, Professor of Anthropology at Ohio State University. She was kind enough to talk to me on the phone, and I made a silly mistake when I recorded it, so please bear with me on the less than stellar quality. I hope the content will see you through. And I’ll try not to let it happen again.

coprolite research
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Support this podcast: on Patreon

 

 

 

 


This is the great kind of stuff more food shows should be covering!

A Secondary Meaning for POSSE

I’d meant to document this back in November when it was discussed at IndieWebCamp Los Angeles, but it was a busy weekend.

In conversation with Tantek Çelik, I asked if a double entendre meaning to POSSE was originally intended when it was coined?

POSSE is an abbreviation for Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere (or Everywhere), a content publishing model that starts with posting content on your own domain first, then syndicating out copies to 3rd party services with permashortlinks back to the original on your site.

When I originally heard about POSSE, I considered the original post on my own site as the Sheriff or “leader” and the ensuing syndicated copies as the (literal and figurative) traditional posse which follows along behind it adding ideas, conversation, and help in accomplishing the original post’s mission.

The posse, one tough looking gang of o’n’ry corporate silos! Let’s mount ’em up!

If that second meaning didn’t exist before, it does now…

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Underwater Hebrew Tablet Reveals Biblical-Era Ruler of Judea

Underwater Hebrew Tablet Reveals Biblical-Era Ruler of Judea by Tia Ghose (Live Science)
A huge slab discovered offshore in Israel has revealed the name of the ancient prefect who ruled Judea just before the Bar Kokhba revolt.

Continue reading “Underwater Hebrew Tablet Reveals Biblical-Era Ruler of Judea”

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