February 19, 2013

On Dystopian Power

This is a quickie: more of a tweet that exploded into a larger thought.

Last night during Black Mirror, I tweeted that post-apocalyptic dystopian future worlds (of which Black Mirror's was in the sense that all the people in it had lost their minds and were unable to function as a society) always bothered me in that most of them seemed to still have electricity.

I worked for a time in the energy industry, though Lord knows I was not particularly good at it. Now electricity is produced on-demand, which means that when you turn your TV on, you need generation happening somewhere to provide you that power. Power stations don't (for the most part) store any of their energy - it goes straight into the electricity grid and pops out at your plug socket. This is simplified* but essentially true. You can think of the National Grid as a system of pipes with water being pumped in one end (electricity generation from power stations) and being siphoned off at the household end (electricity demand for your TV). You have to keep 'pumping' energy in at one end for it to be available for all the millions of siphons in homes around the country. On top of that, you have to keep the frequency at a steady 50Hz - i.e. you have to generate at almost exactly the rate that it's being used - or everything goes bananas (technical term).

My overreaching point is this: if you don't have a massive, populated infrastructure of people running your power stations and grid, electricity simply won't work. So, when I see Will Smith watching a DVD in I am Legend, I wonder where his energy comes from? How does he pump petrol into his car? It makes me think there is a secret twist that actually the rest of the country is fine and Will was the last to know.

As a further point, it should remind us of how much we rely on one another. There really isn't much 'going it alone' as we rely on everyone else to do almost everything for us, without realising it. Be it generating energy, dealing with waste, preparing food, building all our stuff, we need each other.

This is handled very well in Gone - a book series in which every adult disappears and the kids left behind realise they not only don't know how to do anything - they can't do anything.

*Actualy, energy companies and the grid predict how much energy the country will need at any time in the day and attempt to match that demand GW for GW.

February 15, 2013

A Guide to Perving Appropriately

Today both The Sun and The Daily Mail (and probably others, though I am unsure as of writing) have chosen to illustrate the murder of Reeva Steenkamp with assorted bikini and lingerie pictures from her modelling career. This came as a surprise to some, as it seemed like it might possibly be edging towards bad taste to perv over a recently murdered woman. But, what do I know? I'm just a layman - the tabloids have been working on appropriate perving for decades and if anyone knows decency -- it's the tabloids.

If you study the actions of the tabloids -- what they've chosen to print, and what they've demonised for being in print -- we can build up a solid picture of when it is and is not appropriate to leer over certain people. And by 'people', I mean 'women', obviously.

It is NOT appropriate to perv if the subject is:

  • An heir-giving princess in the nude.
  • An heir-giving princess wearing a bikini while pregnant.
  • The Queen (probably? untested)
It is entirely fine to perv if the subject is:

So that's that sorted, then.

February 04, 2013

If Not a Jehovah's Witness

Every Thursday, I'm visited by a young Jehovah's Witness. He comes to my door, sometimes alone but often with a sidekick, and we have a chat for half an hour about religion, its truth and its benefits. He's also an ardent Creationist, which I did not realise about Jehovah's Witness. This makes me dubious that he can ever embrace a genuine argument against his position as Creationism is about as solid as a house of cards. Having said that, he's not an idiot by any stretch and his heart is in the right place, if not his head.

Based on the fact that he does seem to be a loving, conscientious individual, I have often wondered how much actual good he would do had he not chosen to follow his ministry. So I asked him where he would be if the church wasn't a part of his life. He's nineteen.

He told me that when he was young, he had often wanted to be a doctor or a physicist. He was particularly passionate about taking up a career in which he could make as much change as possible, where he could help the maximum number of people within his lifetime. 'Then I discovered the Bible,' he said. I'm not paraphrasing, he literally concluded with, 'then I discovered the Bible,' as if this made perfect sense.

He and his family converted to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses and changed their lives forever. And that's a valid choice - of course it is. I would never force the guy to be a doctor or a scientist. But I found it quite sad to see the vacuum between a man with so much passion (an admittedly a touch of naivety) for making the world better and his choice of realising that passion.

This is a common sleight of hand performed by religion - it can make you believe you're actually achieving something, when in reality you're performing through smoke and mirrors. For example, he often states that he believes the world is in a worst place than ever (something I don't agree with, but let's go with it for now) and there is more unnecessary suffering, greed, etc. than we've ever seen. His solution is to turn to God and hope he'll sort it out. As I've often pointed out, if everyone in the world used this method we would be completely screwed. The only way to bring about improvement is by owning the responsibility for that change as human beings. It's easy to defer to a higher power, but that's completely ineffective is nothing more than illusion.

It would have been nice to have another doctor or scientist in the world with the wide-eyed benevolence of my weekly visitor.