Saturday, 13 September 2014

Whispering into the Future

It looks like just another Formula 1 race. The difference: these cars are whispering around the track. No neighbours upset about the noise here.

As I write, Saturday September 13th, 2014, the first FIA Formula E race is on in Beijing. Why is that something to write about? While the racing cars look like ordinary formula 1 racing cars, they are powered by electric motors. The benefits? Less noise, less car parts, and more importantly, the energy used to charge the batteries could come from any source that can be converted into electricity: wind, solar, hydroelectricity, fossil fuels, and even what is currently perhaps the darkest sheep of the family, nuclear energy.

About a hundred years ago, internal combustion engine (petrol/gasoline) and electric vehicles were equally crude, but the internal combustion engine option was chosen for various reasons. It appears that the planet has taken an environmentally costly 100-year detour around electricity powered vehicle technology and that detour is now literally running out of fuel: crude oil extraction is no longer cheap, and the environmental impact can no longer be ignored. Liquifiable fuel alternatives to crude oil have similar environmental issues attached: in the face of the increasingly difficult to ignore global climate change, carbon dioxide emissions associated with the use of crude oil, natural gas, shale gas and coal appear nothing less than a death sentence for many in vulnerable places around the world.

The detour may be coming to an end, but before it does, a couple of improvements are required as far as the current standard motor vehicle is concerned: lower battery cost and higher battery capacity. Both are improving steadily. As far as lighter vehicles are concerned however, the sun of a new era has risen into view. Examples: electric bicycles in Japan, and bicycles and motorcycles in China already ply the streets in increasing numbers in this silent revolution. For many, the detour is over.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Board game diplomacy

I shared this game from (Southern) Africa with friends in Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan - by making the board and the pieces from memory. I think they enjoyed it, and it diversified the world of board games in Japan just that little bit - and hopefully increased international understanding. The game is called Morabaraba and it is big in parts of South Africa.

The game is also referred to as Twelve Man's Morris, different from Nine Men's Morris, which was played in the Roman empire. Description of game is here:

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Just for show?

In the photo is a vehicle with a sign showing commitment to stop idling, the practice of parking a car and continuing to run the engine, which is common in Japan.

It is clearly better for a car not to idle than to do so. However, are such campaigns of much value when the companies that operate the vehicles, and the cities and countries of which they are citizens in, face no limits on CO2 or any other pollutants? If one cannot idle a vehicle, but can drive as far as one can, emitting as much CO2 as possible while conducting business, what has one achieved? There has indeed so far been little incentive to reduce the CO2 emissions from vehicles.

Such is the international situation currently when it comes to CO2 and other pollutants. What good is a little here and a little there when we set no overall limits?

Monday, 11 May 2009

Basis of Society

While visiting a friend on 25th September 2008, I managed to forget my laptop bag in the basket of my bicycle, outside the apartment block I was visiting. When I came out after more than 30 minutes, I realised I had forgotten in on the bicycle, and further, that it was still in the bicycle basket, all contents intact. Why is this important?

Much has been written about what creates civilisation. Technology, ideas such as democracy, the existence of this or other resource (like crude oil) and so on. However, in a moment of reflection, one may quickly come to the realisation that the basis on which a society seems to function is the acceptance and pursuit of certain ideals by people within the civilisation. What are examples of these? Respect for the law, people and their property, a commitment to the public good and excellence. In truth all these are not tangible, and to know whether they are being pursued, we listen to factual stories and ask our hearts how it feels. Then, the ideas mentioned are given a mental and emotional form. It does seem that a purely material world would be very crude indeed. It would have to be kept together by a series of rules, that is, dos and don'ts, which could not possibly cover all areas of life necessary to allow sufficient harmony in society.

The people who walked past that laptop bag in the bicycle basket in the middle of that night are affected by the power of those intangible yet effective ideals.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

The Silent March into the Future

There is certainly no shortage of advertising by entities who claim to be promoting sustainability. Once in a while, you come across an initiative that is not widely trumpeted, but certainly moves the world towards sustainability. Such is the use of these reusable plastic containers, instead of cardboard boxes, to transport consumer goods to convenience stores in Japan. I was definitely enthused to see this, when considering the number of cardboard boxes, which are often used only once, that are being saved by the use of these plastic containers.

Look out for more of the same, such as when plastic bags are no longer given without request (or sometimes payment) at supermarkets, when a skylight or a solar water heater are installed in a building, when a concrete only neighbourhood is infused with plants, thus decreasing the heat island effect, when your town puts in a bicycle roadway...yes, the silent, elegant march to a future you can bare to dream about.

Originally published at

Saturday, 3 January 2009

The vanished differences: Gospel Music in Japan.

(Originally posted with photo(s) at
Day by day, it gets more difficult to find any meaningful differences between countries and regions among the human family. Here is a stark example.
15th September 2008, I was invited to go and see a friend perform in a gospel choir. "This will be interesting" I thought, given that gospel music originated from a place which seems culturally very different from Japan, where only about 1% of the population is Christian, and monotheism is not a hot topic among the part of the population which practices religion in any form.
With such ideas in mind, I entered the church with my friends. What followed was probably the most animated gospel performance of my life - all 90 minutes of it!
More than this, the congregation was really a Christian congregation, and I could sense the conventions and attitudes that I had experienced while growing up in a Christian family. Indeed, the experience was replete with no-less lively a 10 minute sermon. Amen.
Since the experience, I believe I have no choice but to remove any remaining constructs in my head that try to qualify real differences between one human group from another. I would invite the masses to do so too. Yes, we choose conventions which are not uniform worldwide, but anyone, it seems, can happily adopt the conventions and behaviour of any other group or nation, and they would most likely not manage to remind themselves to lament the loss of anything, after a couple of months
...yes, no exceptions - a Palestinian has the potential to do whatever Israelis consider most honourable, and an Israeli is capable of doing whatever it is that Palestinians consider most honourable.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

God's golden carpet

(Originally posted with photo(s) at
Last autumn, while trying to balance enjoying the moment with friends, with giving due consideration to humanity's challenges, I came upon this sight.
It was a beautiful golden carpet of autumn leaves that the Creator had laid before us. It struck me how the relatively shallow science known to humanity has probably become a deity (god) in many minds, and seen as adequate to justify tearing up landscapes and replacing them with concrete. Is it always for the betterment of the human condition, or is it often driven by the blind pursuit of monetary gain (another way of saying 'limited interest')? What is the connection? Well, the sight of God's golden carpet was like the many wonderful phenomena that inspire us, like the sunrise, the rainbow, a lightning storm, a peacock, a formation of migrating birds, a flock of flamingoes, penguins taking to water, a rushing herd of antelope, the slow and deliberate majesty of the elephant, which all, without eliciting explanation or demanding social status of the viewer, show forth beauty and glory, and in a narrower sense, just sheer pleasure...and yet the destruction continues.
Why the seemingly illogical trend? The concept of social contract might hold the key. The terms by which we come together as a society are not obvious or uniform: some societies are more equitable than others, some administrative systems are less centralised than others, and so on. Why is this important? Because in a social system that upholds the right of a few to decide everything for the many, there has been the tendency to transfer between individuals and groups, the benefits and costs of our actions in the society. No wealthy family lives in a house next to a factory or power station spewing smoke, no political leader chooses to live on the banks of a polluted river. On the contrary, those with the power always seek out the spots surrounded by beautiful gardens, singing birds and a great view of the sunset. So the next time someone asks you to allow them to build a polluting factory or a large car park where your children play among the grass, trees and flowers, because they say it is progress, ask them a question: "If it is such great progress, why don't we build it in the place where YOUR children play?"