Today is Earth Day, a celebration of Earth and the environment started fifty years ago. This year, as the covid-19 pandemic upends the regular unfolding of the world, we can step back and ask how what we learn from the current crisis can help us scientists make science better and more efficient to curb climate change and its consequences.Here’s a set of eight question to ponder about this, and some preliminary thoughts gleaned during a forum@ESA.1. The interdependence of the supply chain has become very apparent. Can we make the case for renewable energy in terms of resilience of systems?Solar energy is the only form of energy available everywhere on the planet: all others need to be transported and transferred. Geothermal energy should also be tapped (it is essentially low grade solar energy!)2. The dramatic reduction of activity in urban centers has brought back clean air in some cities for the first time in decades. Can we envision a world without emission, from energy production to energy use?Cars on the road have the most impact – we need to switch to switch transportation modes. We could have electrical energy on tracks, some flavor of autonomous driving could quickly provide modular transportation schemes. We also need to change how some cities are built, to make it easier to have common transportation (relative location of schools, business and housing)3. The current covid-19 crisis is global, and scientists have broken paywalls and started new collaborations with their peers around the globe. What can we learn from this, and promote meaningful collaborations?Open Access is on the rise (Project DEAL, Plan S, White House Open Access plan.) Wikipedia is a great resource, completely under-used; it seems that it stems from the issue of ownership (who gets to write on who? and who gets the credit for this work?) We can also rethink research tools, to make them more efficient and more collaborative. The way academia is organized (race to tenure, etc.) may hamper collaboration and therefore innovation.4. The global economy has been hit severely, and it will be important to promote new economic activity when the outbreak will be over. How can energy technologies inform policies and shape capital projects?We could build mass transportation system, with initiatives similar to the New Deal (infrastructure is manual labor intensive.) Science can help to find which are the most effective or efficient ways (data science and machine learning.) Scientists could work in tandem with civil engineers, maybe using their school network to reconnect. There should be incentives for scientists to do so.5. The disruption school year has taken a toll on kids and parents alike. How can scientists engage with students, when the distance is measured in bits per seconds rather than miles?It would be good to reuse and repurpose older devices. There could be an open OS for discarded devices that would provide minimal functions (video conferencing, calculator, etc.) Scientists should also learn to mentor without physical presence (though one-on-one interaction is important), and therefore allow more frequent interactions, over larger distances.6. When resources are lacking – masks, ventilators,– engineers and scientists devise creative ways to fill the need using available resources and altering them. How could we repurpose existing facilities to help with climate change?7. The shelter-in-place is difficult to negotiate, but as anthropogenic emission of CO2 affects the environment, it may become routine. How can we fix the harm done using science and technology?8. There is a lot of contradictory information being circulated around the epidemic. How can scientists help disseminate information and prevent the spread of alternative facts? In addition, here are some historical and current resources on Climate Change:
The world is burning with fear, and the best thing we can do is the burn the fear with arts – and that’s the central appeal of Burning Man.Burning Man is a ten-day long arts festival in the desert, in Black Rock City, NV (a 4 hours drive from San Fransisco) and usually held at the end of August, where people come for the peculiar experience, littered with real life arts. This event is among the only in the world where people do art for the sake of art, without galleries or commissioning needed, thanks to its sheer scale and captive audience (70,000 people over a week.) There are many groups of artists preparing arts year long, in the hope to touch the heart of others; some even get commissioned and get to build real big stuff. Some of them may be ephemeral, but their legacy lives on.
The influence of Burning man runs deep, especially in the Bay Area. For example, the lights blinking on the Bay Bridge (Bay lights) where partly an offshoot of a Burning Man project by Leo Villareal, whereas the “Day For Night” built on Jim Campbell’s experience. The latter recently had an exhibition at the Hosfelt gallery in San Francisco which was… illuminating.The sculptor Marco Cochrane is also famous for the Bliss series, his large sculptures of iron mesh of dancing characters, found on Treasure Island and at festival in California.
There was recently a very tiny retrospective of Burning Man arts at the Oakland Museum of California, No Spectator: The Art of Burning Man. It didn’t render the scale of the event, but it allowed people to get a sense of what’s happening there, and tell the history of the event. Continue reading
Last year I’ve discovered Paddy McAloon’s re-edition of “I Trawl the Megahertz” (published as Prefab Sprout) in happenstance. I was listening to Spotify, and this beautiful instrumental piece showed up, with hesitating strings and a cold voice, which was not too dissimilar to Woodkid’s On Then and Now which I had been drawn to earlier in the season.This gradually became my favorite album of the year (other great songs are in there, such as I’m 49.) Now that the virus is crawling and the internet functions at the Terahertz speeds, we’ve gone full circle. Continue reading
Perceptions about women seems to have changed fast in the last few years. Of course I don’t mean perception of women in their essence, but the expression of their experience. This experience seems to surface, with movements such as #metoo, but also works of art which that replace the male gaze with the female gaze. On this topic, I really enjoyed this piece in the Guardian by Gwendolyn Smith :”Like a natural woman: how the female gaze is finally bringing real life to the screen” (the piece is about the movie by Celine Sciamma “Portrait of a lady on fire.”)It is worth noting that the main actress in Sciamma’s Movie, Adele Haenel, has an acute vision of the many things that go wrong in French society (“Adèle Haenel: France ‘Missed the Boat’ on #MeToo“, New-York Times), and left abruptly the French equivalent of the Oscars when Roman Polanski, a movie director who has been accused many times of sexual assault (and inexplicably gets a pass from the French movie society – like Harvey Weinstein did for years.) The movie “Portrait of a lady on fire” reminded me in some ways Luca Guadagnino’s “Call me by your name,” where both movie describe a new way at looking at a lover, which is less predatory, less transactional than most man-women relationship as depicted in movies (or even same-sex transports when filmed by a male director, such as in “Blue is the warmest color.”)The female gaze also expands further, in TV series such as the celebrated “Fleabag,” or in music, with artists such as Angel Olsen, Sharon van Etten, Jenny Hval on Mitski. They bring a different view than the one that sprung up in the late 90s, with Alanis Morissette and Fiona Apple.There’s still a long way to go, but the soft power is finally getting steam, thanks to the courage of some and the efforts of many.(I also very much enjoy reading “This Week in Partriachy” by Arwa Mahdawi and various pieces by Jia Tolentino, on Millenial feminism, which seems to bring intersectionality into the spotlight.)
While France is not very open about bisexuality (a friend of mine told me all the pains she went through in Paris), it is happenstance that I realized that few of the books I read recently had been written by bisexual authors: André Gide, Marguerite Yourcenar, Susan Sontag and Emily Dickinson.It’s unclear who else in the early parts of the twentieth century where part of that invisibile society, but the description of Hugo von Hofmannsthal by Stefen Zweig or “Les cloches” from Apollinaire hint at something which cannot be said (Wovon mann nicht sprechen kann…)
Mon beau tzigane mon amantMais nous étions bien mal cachés
Écoute les cloches qui sonnent
Nous nous aimions éperdument
Croyant n’être vus de personne
Toutes les cloches à la ronde
Nous ont vus du haut des clochers
Et le disent à tout le mondeDemain Cyprien et Henri
Marie Ursule et Catherine
La boulangère et son mari
Et puis Gertrude ma cousineSouriront quand je passerai
Je ne saurai plus où me mettre
Tu seras loin Je pleurerai
J’en mourrai peut-êtreGuillaume Apollinaire, Rhénanes, Alcools, 1913
You’re still a young man/woman.It’s not too late to learn how to unwind.Who saidyou have to take it on the chin?Let me have your abyss.I’ll cushion it with sleep.You’ll thank me for giving youfour paws to fall on.Sell me your soul.There are no other takers.There is no other devil anymore.
Wisława Szymborska – Advertisement
Wow, the year is off to a good start!
We’ve been there… Interesting that two Unions (United States, United Kingdom), who went through the Chicago School trainwreck (Reagan, Thatcher) decided at the same time (votes Trump, Brexit) to get away from institutions born from WWII (NATO, EU.) We’d better engage, if we don’t want to get back to the World of Yesterday…
The endless train of academics were also called upon to contribute to the nation’s growing number of periodicals. In 1937, The New Republic, arguing that “at no time since the rise of political democracy have its tenets been so seriously challenged as they are today,” ran a series on “The Future of Democracy,” featuring pieces by the likes of Bertrand Russell and John Dewey. “Do you think that political democracy is now on the wane?” the editors asked each writer. The series’ lead contributor, the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, took issue with the question, as philosophers, thankfully, do. “I call this kind of question ‘meteorological,’ ” he grumbled. “It is like asking, ‘Do you think that it is going to rain today? Had I better take my umbrella?’ ” The trouble, Croce explained, is that political problems are not external forces beyond our control; they are forces within our control. “We need solely to make up our own minds and to act.”Don’t ask whether you need an umbrella. Go outside and stop the rain.
– Jill Lepore (New-Yorker 01/27/2020)
Thank god there’s the Superbowl and J.Lo to remind us of a time where things where good… sort of.
Over the last two years, I had a chance to visit a few synchrotron around the world!Here’s my fav list:
Now I need to visit:
SOLEIL synchrotron (near Paris, France)Swiss Light Source (Paul Scherrer Institute, near Zurich)Taiwan Photon Source (Hsinchu, Taiwan)Elettra sincotrone (Trieste, Italy) – with Luca GregorattiAdvanced Photon Source, Argonne National Laboratory (near Chicago, IL) – with Gautam Gunjala (UC Berkeley)Advanced Light Source Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (near San Francisco, CA) – with Claudi Mazzoli (from NSLS-II, Brookhaven)
Here is a selection of the most notable advances in science and technology over the last twenty years.I’ve collected these from people working around me (there may be a Berkeley Lab or Optics bias!) or by looking at what around me had made life different (a an Academic life or California bias!) They are listed in no particular order, but the ordering tries to highlight some relationship between the topics. Continue reading