When to shiver and when to work

From Daniel Yergin’s The Quest:

To demonstrate environmental sensitivity [at the negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol], the Japanese organizers turned down the heating in the conference center. But this created a new problem as Kyoto in December was cold. To compensate, the Japanese decided to distribute blankets to the delegates. But they did not have enough blankets, and so a whole separate negotiation erupted over how many blankets would be allocated to each delegation. (p. 483 harcover)

Worst choice of abstinence over resistance ever.

Idea novelty versus urgency of publication

One sign that a person has had a genuinely novel idea is that they are in no particular hurry to publish it. When Idea A and Idea B are all over the place already, it is obvious that Idea A+B will be thought up by dozens of clever people in short order.

There is less of a rush to assert authorship or more unusual ideas, since it is unlikely that another person will dream them up soon. Thus there is an inverse relationship between the degree to which an idea represents novel and noteworthy thought and the urgency with which it must be published.

The second rule of the internet

Back in 2010, I described what I called the ‘first rule of the internet‘:

Against a sophisticated attacker, nothing connected to the internet is secure.

To this, I feel like I should add a second item:

Everything is internet now.

While there were once large numbers of electronic systems entirely disconnected from the internet, nowadays virtually everything is either connected to the internet constantly or occasionally connected to a device that is online. Your cell phone is probably always accessible to a sophisticated attacker using the internet, and the same is probably true for landlines using VoIP. Many of your computers are probably constantly connected to wireless networks (themselves targets for attack) and exposed to the wider internet through your broadband connection at all times.

Web integration with computers has reached the point that Google’s Chrome browser now treats ‘search’ and ‘GMail’ as apps within the Chrome environment.

The implication of combining the first and second rules is pretty plain. If you manage to attract the attention of a sophisticated attacker, they can probably get into the contents of your cell phone and your GMail account, as well as the hard drive of your PC and laptop, the ubiquitous webcams now built into computers, and so on. There is also a good chance they can take over your email, websites, Twitter accounts, and the like and use them for their own purposes.

Rickover on duty

U.S. Admiral Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear navy, wrote a good plain-language description of what is basically Immanuel Kan’t categorical imperative:

I believe it is the duty of each of us to act as if the fate of the world depended on him. Admittedly, one man by himself cannot do the job. However, one man can make a difference… We must live for the future of the human race, and not for our own comfort or success.

It’s an interesting perspective in the context of his own life. He dedicated much of it to building a nuclear-powered navy for the United States, despite his apparent view that such a navy was, at best, a necessary evil.

As a side note, many of today’s commercial nuclear power stations use reactor designs that have evolved from the shipborne reactors designed by Rickover and his staff.

350.org oil sands petition

As usual, Bill McKibben is saying sensible things and calling for appropriate actions. He is a non-Canadian who is concerned about the ethics of digging up and burning the oil sands, in a world where the climate is changing at a frightening pace.

He is asking Canadians to sign a petition:

“As a Canadian, I stand with people all over the world who are opposed to burning the oil sands, and demand that our leaders stop their campaign to discredit the movement to stop the pipeline.”

Please consider signing. He is hoping to get 10,000 signatures before he visits Vancouver in March.

Demonstrating British Columbia’s beauty

One of the big reasons for opposing the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is because of how 200 oil tankers a year would threaten the coast of British Columbia.

I think everyone who has seen that coastline understands its beauty and ecological importance. At the same time, I suspect the idea can be made more salient for people by showing them photos and video of the areas that could be affected if the pipeline goes through.

It’s not clear what the most effective approach would be for reminding people about what is at stake. Really there is a spectrum of possibility, ranging from fantastic shots taken by talented photographers on top-notch gear and shown in magazines and galleries to amateur shots taken by visitors and ordinary British Columbians and uploaded to Facebook or Flickr.

In all likelihood, many approaches will be tried simultaneously. For my own part, I have been thinking about a potential photo show that would incorporate photos of the B.C. coast as well as photos from the successful protests against the Keystone XL pipeline, which took place in Washington D.C.. Toronto may not be the most appropriate venue for that, since people here don’t have much of a personal emotional stake in the integrity of west coast ecosystems.

Perhaps I should try and find the time to set up yet another website, where people could contribute photos from B.C. and explain why they oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline…