Wednesday 4 May, 2022

Stone-age Tablets

Very sharp piece of social observation, this. One of the saddest sights I’ve seen was of a young child, aged between two and three, playing with a picture book and trying to manipulate it with her fingers as if it were an iPad. She was growing up in a family where all of her siblings had screens from a young age. It was one of those moments for biting one’s tongue. But it was also, as my companion wisely observed, “none of your business”.

Quote of the Day

”The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium … result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves or by any new technology.”

  • Marshall McLuhan in Understanding Media.

I’ve increasingly come to the view that McLuhan’s thinking is actually more apposite to networked media than it was to the broadcast media that were the focus of his original work. Also I love the fact that every weekday I cycle past where he lived (on Grange Road in Cambridge) when he was writing his PhD dissertation.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Titanic | Hymn to the sea


Haven’t seen the film, so this is the only thing about it that I know. (Apart from what happened to the actual ship, of course.)

Long Read of the Day

The Renewable-Energy Revolution Will Need Renewable Storage

Can gravity, pressure, and other elemental forces save us from becoming a battery-powered civilization?

Long and informative New Yorker article by Matthew Hutson on why a world powered by renewable energy sources won’t be possible until we find better ways than batteries to store energy so it’s available when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. The most interesting aspect of the piece is the diversity of searches currently under way to solve the storage problem.


Have a look at this.

And then at this.

Neat, eh?

How Hitler’s rocket scientist foresaw the colonisation of Mars

This, truly, is stuff you couldn’t make up.

It’s about Marsprojekt, a science-fiction novel written in 1948 by Hitler’s rocket scientist, Werner Von Braun (who had been snaffled by the US at the end of the war instead of being tried for the use of slave labour). The novel was originally published in German but in 1953 was published by in English by the University of Illinois Press as The Mars Project.

Von Braun was — as every baby-boomer knows — a key figure in the development of the US Space Program. Less well known is that he also envisaged a manned trip to Mars following the success of the moon mission.

The Mars Project outlined, in 48 chapters, the engineering requirements for a huge space expedition involving a flotilla of 10 spacecraft with 70 crew members that would return after spending 443 days on Mars before the trip back to Earth.

Now comes the really interesting bit:

Chapter 24 of this science fiction work is titled, “How Mars in Governed.” In one passage of that chapter, the book states: The Martian government was directed by 10 men, the leader of whom was elected by universal suffrage for five years and had the title of “Elon.” Two houses of parliament enacted the laws to be administered by Elon and his cabinet. The upper house was called the Council of the Elders and contained 60 people who were named to those positions for life by Elon.

The reason he wrote the book, Von Braun writes in the Preface, was “to stimulate interest in space travel.”

In what can only be described as a remarkable coincidence, the world’s richest man — part tech genius and part fruitcake — plans to colonise Mars.

And his first name? Why, Elon.

Like I said, you couldn’t make it up.

My commonplace booklet

  • On unlikely headlines: My Observer column on Sunday mentioned the 1930s competition in The Times for the dullest headline (alleged winner: “Small Earthquake in Chile. Not many Dead.”) and prompted Joe Dunne to write in about a competition held in Ireland many years ago for “the most unlikely headline” in Irish publications. The winner? “FARMERS HAPPY”.

  • On “thingamajig”: Re yesterday’s Quote of the Day, Anne Kirkman writes: “Thingamajig: A character in C.S. Lewis’s book, “That Hideous Strength”, remarks on the difference between men and women which makes them unable to work together. Apparently men would say “Put this bowl inside the bigger bowl on the top shelf of the green cupboard” and women would say “Put that in the other one in there” He calls this a phatic hiatus. Lovely phrase but I don’t agree with him.” Hmmm…

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