Sayonara Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron97% of scientists: “the Kardashians cause global warming!”

OK, that’s not literally true, scientists haven’t said anything of the kind; but the constant diet of trash peddled by the media distracts us from matters of importance, and those girls rack up a lot of air miles, so there is a kernel of truth.

The Kardashian sisters get 40 times as many news write-ups as ocean acidification, so it’s no surprise that until I chanced upon one of her essays recently, I’d never heard of Nora Ephron. Unbeknown to me, she had made my life a little brighter, and the lives of millions of others, .

If you liked Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, or Sleepless in Seattle, you can thank Nora. She wrote those movies and she wrote, produced and directed many others. She also wrote great serious essays. This one in the New Yorker, “My Life as an Heiress“, was my introduction. Read it, It’s funny and wise. You’ll like it. Really.

Movies like Sleepless in Seattle may be written off as fluff by culture vultures, but as an old sentimentalist I enjoyed it. Entertainment doesn’t have to be profound, sometimes it’s just entertainment.

In 1962, when she was just 21, Nora was working as an intern for JFK; she applied to be a writer at Newsweek. Astonishingly, they had the nerve to tell her “We don’t hire women writers.” Nora didn’t take that too kindly, and participated in a class-action lawsuit against Newsweek for sexual discrimination, which went some way toward changing laws and attitudes.

Over to Nora:

“Maybe young women don’t wonder whether they can have it all any longer, but in case any of you are wondering, of course you can have it all.”

“In my sex fantasy, nobody ever loves me for my mind.”

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”

Goodbye Nora, I should have known you sooner.

Read about her interesting life and work here on Wikipedia.

Useful free utilities: CPU-Z

CPU-Z is a very small and handy free program which provides you with detailed information that you sometimes need about your computer’s CPU, motherboard and memory. The program doesn’t install itself on Windows, so it doesn’t mess with your Windows Registry and may be run from a flash drive or floppy if required. Just unzip the files in any directory, on any drive, and run the cpuz.exe file.

It’s great, get it right here


CPU-Z cpu tab Continue reading

I’m 14 years old, I harnessed the wind

Here’s a good news story. I’ll try to do more. Honest. If you don’t find it inspirational and moving, you need a heart transplant.

What great thing could you accomplish if you knew you could not fail?

William Kamkwamba: How I harnessed the wind. William’s a little older now. Here’s 5 minutes of his story. As a result of his efforts he’s now at university in America. I don’t believe we’ve has seen the last of him.


dummy line break

Another outstanding talk from TED. Thank you TED. this one’s pretty amazing too: not your grandmother’s origami.
Continue reading

Smoke and mirrors…

My driftwood burner — OK, Im guilty too

… delusions and ignorance.

Anyone who believes that the human race can burn 4,000,000,000 tonnes of oil every year along with 7,000,000,000 tonnes of coal (and who knows how much wood and waste matter) without having a significant effect on the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is deluded, ignorant, devious or, at best, sadly misinformed.

When you add to that the massive vandalisation of the world’s forests over several millennia, desertification, pollution, species destruction and what have you, anyone who looks at the facts but still can’t accept that the planet is on a collision course with humanity is deluded.

And if you don’t believe that increasing significantly, over an extended period, the amount of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere is not going to lead to an increase in atmospheric temperature then you are just plain flat-out wrong.

I just read of a learned gentleman (sorry, lost the link, but you’ve heard it all before) who said something along these lines, “CO2 started at 0.02% of the atmosphere and it’s gone up to 0.04%. Those tiny amounts are too small to have any effect on the climate.

The man is wrong, and he’s ignorant. It requires abandonment of all logic. If it wasn’t for that “insignifcant” amount of CO2 in the atmosphere the planet would be too cold for us to survive on. That’s how we discovered the greenhouse effect in the first place, by investigating why we didn’t freeze and why Venus was hot enough to melt lead.

1 gram of arsenic is enough to kill me. That’s about 0.000014% of my body weight. By that idiot’s logic I should be able to cope with a couple of mouthfuls.

You could as easily say, our planet’s average surface temperature is 288ºK, so an increase of 12ºK would only be about 4.2%. What’s the problem? In fact it would kill most life on Earth.

It’s dire.

It’s coming soon to a planet near you.

I’m 71. Until recently I thought my only worry was for the world I’ll leave my grandchildren. I’m in reasonably good health, I’m fit. I may live another 20 or 30 years. It’s going to affect me too.

Check the latest projections on how far underwater you’ll end up right here on Just Wondering.

Fine words and faded dreams

I was almost 20 years old when John F. Kennedy made this pledge:

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans … Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship,support any friend,oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

Inspiring rhetoric, but ultimately empty promises. Half a century later there are many “friends” of those United States who have missed the liberty boat. Racism, parochialism and ignorance are still rampant in the U.S.A. despite the election of a mixed race president. Protectionism, oil, the pork barrel and unenlightened self-interest still dominate U.S. domestic and foreign policy.

JFK filled my heart, and the hearts of many millions of others, with hope for a better world. Sadly, that feeling had waned even before an assassin’s bullet gave us Lyndon Johnson and killed hope completely. But, hope springs eternal and it flickered again when Robert Kennedy, a better man than his brother, looked likely to take the helm. Once again an assassin left us mourning for what might have been.

Then we had cause to dream once more of a better world. After five decades and eight more or less uninspiring occupants of the White House, the ponderous American presidential election process delivered a man who–we thought–had the intellectual power, the integrity and the ability to inspire which may just have enabled him to persuade his people to do great things.

“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics”

Yes, we can

Well, we could have.
Continue reading

Mightier than the sword: the power of the typo

Robert FrostThe temporary meltdown on Wall St on the 7th of May 2010 certainly frightened the horses. Another illustration of how vulnerable we are to computer glitches and failure of what should be insignificant components such as those that caused Auckland to suffer a couple of months of blackout. The Wall Street cockup seems to have been caused by the simple transposition of a ‘b’ for an ‘m’ on some worthy’s keyboard, deftly converting a few hundred million into untold billions and no doubt transferring a lot of wealth from the naive to the quick.

It all prompted Dr Paul Krugman to reflect:

Somewhere I read about a game in which you’re supposed to do the maximum damage to a famous piece of literature with the minimum typo. The winner was:

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the Village though


For those unfamiliar with New York’s geography, the Village is an entirely different beast to the village. Here’s the original version from the ever accessible Mr Frost; even if you’re not familiar with his poetry you’ll probably recognise the beautiful and widely quoted last three lines.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost (1874-1963): the bard of New England.


Thomas Malthus redux

“It takes a good crisis to get us going. When we feel fear and we fear loss we are capable of quite extraordinary things.”

(Paul Gilding)”

Thomas Malthus got it right. It’s a pity we took a century and a half to admit it..

He pointed out that “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”, in other words, you can’t expect continuous growth of consumption on a finite planet. He was vilified in his lifetime with the same fervour that the denial industry applies to climate change advocates today. More so in fact. His predictions of when we’d hit the wall didn’t turn out to be correct so his reputation has been assaulted ever since.

But he was right. His predictions went astray because he had no way of anticipating that the discovery of oil would allow us to extend the illusion of “sustainable growth” for another century or so by mining the sun’s energy from past millenia.

Paul Gilding spells it out in this 17 minute TED talk:

Have we used up all our resources? Have we filled up all the livable space on Earth? Paul Gilding suggests we have, and the possibility of devastating consequences, in a talk that’s equal parts terrifying and, oddly, hopeful.

Paul Gilding is an independent writer, activist and adviser on a sustainable economy. Click through to watch the onstage debate that followed this talk.


Keep tabs on your bank…

…especially come late August. A fascinating statistic which Bernard Hickey drew to our attention yesterday at my favorite source of economic wisdom, It’s a bit weird. Keep it in mind, it may save your financial bacon one day.

Read about it here at the Economist. Nobody seems to be sure why this is. Historically, it was thought to be because of farmers overloading the fractional banking capacity with funding for the spring harvest in the northern hemisphere but that’s no longer relevant. I’m wondering about the habit in Britain–and perhaps elsewhere north of the equator–of everyone taking their holidays in August. Do they hold out on addressing their financial problems–and abandoning their marriages–until the holiday’s over then overload the banks?

Banking crises historically huge spike in August
Continue reading

Changing Education Paradigms

This is a must watch for any parent–whatever your children’s ages–or for anyone with the remotest connection with education. TED had this to say about Sir Ken Robinson’s “Changing Education Paradigms”:

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson challenges the way we’re educating our children. He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.

There’s no arguing with the logic. Our education system is mired in the past, it’s destroying children’s creativity, and it needs to change tuit de suite so that we can teach our children how to teach us to fix the mess we’ve made.

To get the best from this video it’s important to use the highest resolution (click the gear icon and select 720p) and then click the full screen option bottom right. Or just click on the Youtube icon and go straight to the source.

dummy line break


dummy line break

Hekia Parata, you’re a smart woman. Are you listening?

If you feel inspired to do something about your own education, no matter what your age or affluence, check my last post about the inspirational Sebastian Thrun’s Udacity.