Spore tip: getting to the galactic core

To get to the core of the galaxy, you need to fly through a very large number of hostile Grox-held systems. Before attempting it, I recommend having the best possible interstellar drive, energy capacity, and health capacity. You will also need about 25 full repair kits and 25 full energy recharge kits. The tool that allows you to fly through black holes is also highly useful.

Some specific suggestions:

  1. Plan a general route through the most densely-starred corridor you can see. As you get close to the centre of the galaxy, the distance you can travel per jump falls off sharply.
  2. Don’t waste time attacking any Grox ships or cities. Just fly
  3. Use a repair pack whenever you are down to 1/3 health. It is a bit wasteful, but makes it less likely you will get blown up and need to start over.
  4. Black holes are very useful. Once you have ten or so Grox ships attacking you, being able to fly through one and lose them all is quite helpful.
  5. Keep an eye on the 3D nature of the starfield. Finding a route will be tricky at times.
  6. Once you have finished your business at the core, the easiest way to get back to your own space is to let yourself get blown up. It is a lot less costly and frustrating than flying back through the whole Grox mass.

Bon chance.

The frogs in the coal mine

A recent study conducted by the Zoological Society of London concluded that half of Europe’s amphibians could be extinct by 2050. There are two obvious ways to consider the news. Firstly, it is evidence of the enormously destructive effect human beings have on vulnerable ecosystems. Secondly, it raises questions about whether humanity itself will be able to survive the catastrophe is it creating. Amphibians have been around for 400 million years. While there have certainly been times in which a large proportion of them have died off, those times have been been listed among the catastrophic extinction events that have punctuated the history of life on Earth.

In short, the impact of the global economy is becoming comparable to that of major meteor strikes, mass volcanic events, large changes in sea level, and severe changes in atmospheric composition that have occurred in the past. For those who do not believe that humanity inhabits some special protected position in the cosmos, that seems like cause for very significant concern.

Gore on coal and civil disobedience

Al Gore has called on young people to resist the construction of new coal-fired power plants through civil disobedience. Certainly, this is not a time where we should be viewing coal as an acceptable option for electrical generation, and there have been well justified civil disobedience efforts in response to far less pressing issues than climate change. Nonetheless, it would send a rather more powerful message if Gore was willing to personally get his hands dirty on the matter. He may be reasoning that actually participating in some kind of direct action would reduce his influence, by making him easier to label as an extremist. Nonetheless, there is more than a touch of hypocrisy on calling on young people to do something that you think is right, but are unwilling to do yourself.

In any case, actions that expose just how climatically destructive coal is – as well as the simple fact that states like Britain are still planning to build more such plants – would probably be a useful element in our overall response to the climate challenge.

Video explaining runaway climate change

I have often spent time thinking about the danger of a tipping point into runaway climate change – particularly about the ways in which the concept can be conveyed to non-experts in a comprehensible manner. This eleven minute video does a good job. The script, with peer-reviewed references and additional information is at wakeupfreakout.org.

Here are some related prior posts:

I discovered the video linked above through this Gristmill post.

[Update: 4 February 2009] Here is a post on the danger of self-amplifying, runaway climate change: Is runaway climate change possible? Hansen’s take.

Medical treatment using internal robots

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a medical technology that uses powerful magnetic fields to visualize structures within the body. One innovative expansion of the technique presently being investigated is using the magnetic fields to guide small magnetic objects:

Sylvain Martel and his colleagues at the NanoRobotics Laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal in Canada are also using magnetic fields, but in a different way. They are using fields generated by a magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) machine to ferry small beads through the bloodstream with the goal of delivering therapeutics close to tumours. This has several advantages, says Dr Martel. For one thing, most hospitals already have an MRI machine, so there is no need to construct or buy additional equipment. Furthermore, as well as propelling a magnetic device through the body, an MRI machine can also locate it.

The whole article is well worth a look, as it describes several other novel medical technologies and approaches. My other favorite is the ARES ( Assembling Reconfigurable Endoluminal Surgical system) Project, which seeks to create robotic operating tools that are swallowed as a set of small pieces that then assemble together inside the patient’s stomach.

A few Apple complaints

Last night, after the Bluetooth connection failed for the hundredth unexplained time, I switched back from my Apple wireless Mighty Mouse to my old Microsoft optical scrollmouse. I must say, the change is for the best. The old mouse is lighter, smaller, and more comfortable. It is possible to press both buttons at once, and press the middle button without accidentally scrolling. Most importantly, the scroll wheel itself is much less finicky – it may not be able to scroll horizontally, and it lacks the Might’s Mouse’s useless ‘squeeze’ buttons – but it seems the superior device overall, despite the need for it to be tethered to my computer.

In general, I think Apple does a magnificent job of making computer gear and software. If I had to make two complaints, the first would be about the way they sometimes privilege form over functionality. Alongside the Mighty Mouse (and the infamous prior hockey puck mouse), there is the interface of Time Machine, which is pretty but probably less useful than it could be. My other complaint is their willingness to change things after the fact in ways that cannot be reversed and that people might not like. For example, there was when they locked iTunes so that only three people per boot session could access your library over the network (a real pain in university residence), or when they limited the volume on my iPod Shuffle through a software update.

Graduating from Oxford

Given the following:

  1. I am doing as much as possible to avoid air travel, due to the carbon emissions associated.
  2. If I were going to fly, it would be (a) to deal with some kind of emergency or possibly (b) for an extended visit to a previously unseen part of the world.
  3. You only get one chance to graduate at Oxford, either in person or in absentia.
  4. There is no particular urgency in formally graduating.

Should I apply to have my name read in my absence and receive my diploma in the mail?

Passchendaele and glory in warfare

Before several recent films, I have seen the trailer for Passchendaele – a film that seems to provide a heroic and pro-Canada take on this WWI battle. If anything, this actual history of Passchendaele demonstrates that war is rarely heroic, and that many narratives of heroism are self-serving for those that generate them. Both sides were fighting in defence of imperialism. Furthermore, the battle served little strategic purpose. After being taken at huge cost of lives – nearly one million killed, wounded, or captured on both sides – the terrain was abandoned so the Allies could respond more effectively to the German Lys Offensive.

Of course, Passchendaele joins a large collection of films of dubious historical quality. While I have yet to see it, the trailer is guilty of mindless patriotism, historical revisionism, and perhaps the Aragorn Fallacy. It would behoove us to remember a few key things about WWI: that the war was hugely costly in lives and suffering, that none of the major powers participating got the outcome they wanted at the outset, and that it ultimately did nothing to address the imbalances in Europe caused by the unification of Germany. Of course, films that highlight such things are unlikely to be blockbuster smash hits.

Keeping Our Cool: Canada in a Warming World

Canadian climatologist Andrew Weaver’s Keeping Our Cool provides an excellent and accessible introduction to climatic science. It also provides a great deal of useful information specific to Canada. As a result, if I had to recommend a single book to non-scientist Canadians seeking to understand the science of climate change, it would be this one. On the matter of what is to be done, the book is useful in a numerical sense but not particularly so in a policy sense. The discussion of economic instruments is superficial and the author basically assumes that a price of carbon plus new technology will address the problem.

The book covers climatic science on two levels: in terms of the contents themselves, such as you would find in textbooks and scientific papers, and in terms of the position of science within a broader societal debate. He accurately highlights the degree to which entrenched interests have seriously muddled the public debate, creating deep confusion about how certain we are about key aspects of how the climate works. Topics well covered by the book include electromagnetic radiation, time lags associated with climate change, the nature of radiative forcing, the nature and role of the IPCC, ocean acidification, the history of human emissions, the general history of the climate, climate modeling, aerosols, hurricanes, climate change impacts in general, permafrost, and the need for humanity to eventually become carbon neutral. One quibble has to do with the sequencing: while the narrative always flows well, the progression through climate science looks a bit convoluted in retrospect. That makes it a bit hard to find your way back to this or that piece of useful information. The book features some good numbers, graphs, and analysis that I have not seen elsewhere – such as a calculation of how much more carbon dioxide humanity can emit in total, given the desire to keep temperature change to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels and various plausible values for climatic sensitivity. A second quibble is that the graphics are all black and white and printed at a fairly low quality. Sometimes, that makes them hard to interpret.

On the matter of international and intergenerational equity, Weaver comes to appropriate conclusions (that we should be concerned about future generations and that the rich states that caused the problem need to act first in solving it), but he fails to examine the ethical and policy issues in great depth. That is a minor failing, given the major purpose of the book, but it would probably leave someone who read only this book with a somewhat mistaken impression about the scale of changes being advocated and the ease with which they might be achieved. The book exaggerates the difference between a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system with 100% auctioning, and doesn’t pay sufficient attention to areas in which regulation have the potential to be more effective than taxes (building codes, transport standards, etc).

In general, Weaver’s book is a strong and useful introduction to climatic science. When it comes to the big questions about climate ethics, and the policy and technological measures that will permit the emergence of a low-carbon society, other authors have done better.