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Jan 2009

Some quotes from the World Economic Forum

I was reading, on the Grist website, a summary of the discussion at Davos of the world's water crisis and came across two quotes which trouble me greatly.

"The WEF said that within two decades water will become a mainstream theme for investors -- even better than oil."

"I am convinced that, under present conditions and considering the way water is being currently managed, we will run out of water long before we run out of fuel," said Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of Swiss food conglomerate Nestle.

I thought that Davos was a conference of the best and brightest minds the world could assemble to address the economic problems we face.

In the light of my studies for the Transition Initiative, I find both these quotes to be horrendously ill-informed.

If water is to be the next "great investment opportunity" to fuel the greed of the those who control our economies, then we are in for another "crisis".

If those at Davos don't know about "Peak Oil", what do they know about. Oil is a non-renewable resource. Water is a non-renewable resource in the sense that there is a quantity of water on the planet which will not vary significantly in the future. It is our careless use of the tiny part of the vast water resource that comes down from the sky as rain in variable quantities that causes the problem for our un-sustainably growing world population.

There, I've got that off my chest. I believe that the Transition Initiative will improve my ratio of gloom to optimism in the future so these posts should get less gloomy with time.

Posted: 31/1/09 7:36 AM

A Comp.Risks post has forced me to revisit "Why do they think if it's digital it must be right?"

There has been reported a glitch in the software used by Veterans Affairs Medical Centres. Among other glitches, it seems that in certain circumstances patient notes were filed under another patients name.

The worst reported glitch was the failure to display a doctor's stop order causing the patient to be given medication after the doctor had decided to terminated the treatment.

There was no evidence of fatal consequences in this case but that doesn't mean that there weren't any. I worry that the "digital revolution" which seems to have lost its integrity will lead us all into areas where bad things happen to us. Not that bad things haven't always happened to us, but the potential for harm has I believe, been magnified by this ubiquitous technology.

The next post was about Queensland policemen choosing not to make some arrests because the new computer system was so convoluted that the desk work associated with an arrest became many times as long as it had been under the old system.

Then there was a report of 7000 letters sent to relatives of war casualties with the greeting "Dear John Doe" because a contractors computer system failed to automatically replace the "John Doe" placeholder with the name of the addressee. I assume that no-one was actually checking what was being sent out, presumably because "everyone knows that computer systems are perfect".

Of course, Comp.Risks is expressly about reporting this kind of failure but that doesn't make the reports untrue.

Posted: 19/1/09 7:57 AM

The Transition Initiative is about to get underway in earnest.

The Towards Transition Barraba Action Group is ready for the off. We have five people dedicated to the task of launching the project and to stimulating lots of others to participate in the development of the project.

A colleague and I are going to a Transition Network Training Course in Bowral in three weeks. The course is run by two ladies from the Transition Network in the UK who designed and developed the course and who are touring the world to train the likes of us in the effective setting up of Transition Initiatives. We are both looking forward to the course and our colleagues in the Action Group are looking forward to our return filled with enthusiasm and new ideas.

We plan to have an town meeting to report to all those who have already shown an interest in the project. We will launch the Awareness Raising phase of the 12 Steps of the Transition Initiative to bring an understanding of the challenges of Peak Oil and Climate Change to as many of the townsfolk as we can reach. We plan to show some of the films recommended by the Transition Network and to make presentations to all the existing organisations in the town and to all the school children. We will also run a regular column in the local newspaper.

The challenge of effectively communicating all the facts and ideas in the Transition Initiative to the townsfolk is quite intimidating but the prospect of inspiring the townsfolk to participate in this most important project is very exciting.

Posted: 16/1/09 4:46 PM

My Current Studies

I have been studying new texts in preparation for my participation for the Transition Initiative. I have also been watching some DVDs lent to me by one of my colleagues.

Two DVDs in particular have got me thinking like never before. One was about Banking and revealed how the financial sector of our economy had highjacked the regulation of banks in their efforts to increase their profits. Originally banks were invented to provide a vehicle for the movement of capital from those who had a surplus to those who needed capital to buy equipment and stock to enable the effective operation of their businesses. The banks borrowed peoples savings and paid a modest interest rate and lent the money to businesses at a slightly higher rate operating the bank business on the margin. There was oversight and regulation of the banks by the national government to ensure that the economy was not harmed by bank behaviour. The banks were required to operate in such a way as to protect the savings of their depositors and to ensure that they didn't risk the stability of the bank.

In recent decades the regulation of banks has been modified dramatically so that lending can be increased beyond the limits of depositors funds so that "growth" can take place. This modification has been changed as the need for "growth" increased to sustain the appearance of a successful economy. The present situation is that lending can exceed borrowing by a factor of up to 20 times. This is increasing the money supply dramatically and there is no longer any constraint on the money supply so the value of real production and provision of real service which was, at one time, the foundation of the economy, is now only a very minor part of the economy.

Forgive a grumpy old engineer for thinking that this decoupling real value from the money supply is probably the cause of many of the ills of our society, the present financial meltdown being a very obvious example. The era of "greed is good" must come to an end if we are not to drive our society into a grave lined with worthless currency.

The other DVD was about the Future of Food. Most of the content was about the GM revolution in food production which has some quite alarming features.

The US constitution does not, it seems, allow the patenting of "life". That was of course overturned in the US courts when Monsanto set about making obscene profits by patenting genetically modified seeds and using the power of the patents to disrupt the operation of agriculture which has developed an sustained the human population over several millennia. Whereas previously, a farmer was required to prevent the escape of anything which would harm his neighbours property, now a farmer is required to ensure that Monsanto patented genes do not enter into his property even though they are hidden and uncontrollable if the farmer is not to be soundly punished in the courts.

The fact that the law and the highest courts in the land have been party to these changes makes one think that all the goodness has gone out of the judicial system (well not all but a frighteningly significant part). The fact that the lawmakers have enacted laws which allow corporations to patent "life" seems utterly immoral.

The evidence of cronyism in the regulation of these matters with executives of the immoral agribusinesses being appointed by the elected government to senior positions in the regulating authorities makes one think that corruption is firmly lodged in the core of US society.

The only thing that stops me from being utterly depressed by all this, is my optimistic view that the human species will, as it always has in the past, overcome these bad things and will find solutions to our most pressing problems.

Posted: 9/1/09 4:28 PM

Why do they think that if its digital it must be right?

There is an alarming post on Risks.com today. A train in England couldn't stop at six intermediate station on its trip to the terminus because the train's GPS system failed and it had been used to drive a system which confirmed that the train was in the correct position at each station so that passengers doors could not open onto no platform. Apparently the previous system which required the driver to stop at a marked place on the platform, which had worked pretty well for hundreds of years, needed upgrading to a system which in this case took many passengers past their own station to one some way down the line.

I worry about the lack of effective Quality Assurance in many of the bad stories I read these days, but a lack of adequate reliability assessment seems to be common in the "digital" age which might just be making the world less safe rather than more safe.

Thinking about lining trains up to the platform reminded me of an amusing case in Australia many years ago. The main railway line from the east coast to Perth had been "standardized" so that trains could run all the way from Sydney or Melbourne to Perth. The inauguration of the new service was celebrated by a special train which carried the Governor General, our local monarch representative, with all his regal paraphernalia. When the train arrived at the Perth terminal station all the passengers got out but when the crew tried to unload the GGs gear from the guard's van they couldn't open the door because the guard's van was built to a different standard from the rest of the carriages and was too low to allow the doors to open at the "standard" platform.

Another recent story concerns a new digital device of some sort called Zune which chucked a wobbly at he turn f the year because the software used an algorithm which was supposed to accommodate the effects of the leap year instead of making the appropriate correction, got itself into an endless loop.

Another story today was about a patient undergoing surgery who needed an x-ray so the ventilator was switched of to allow the x-ray to have a static target. The anaesthetist forgot to turn the ventilator back on with fatal effect. The article proposed that the ventilator and the x-ray machine should have been connected "digitally" and intelligently so that they could manage the situation without human intervention and the fatality would have been avoided. Imaging a future story about the coupled machines getting their "digital" knickers in a knot with fatal consequences. As an old black hander who spent a whole career striving to make products which were safe and reliable using well reasoned, well documented and well supervised procedures in the design, manufacturing, and maintenance processes. I worry about the future when so much trust is placed in all thing "digital" despite the apparent absence of those same quality assurance processes.

Posted: 6/1/09 7:31 AM

The New Year Has Arrived

The family, all my daughters and all my granddaughters plus their men and boys, are gathered in Barraba for a New Year celebration. I pickled up my daughter, Rachel, and her two daughters, Claire and Julia, who live in San Francisco from the Tamworth airport yesterday just after lunch and we got back to Barraba in time for afternoon tea at my other daughter, Sarah's house in Barraba.

We had a great chat session followed by a wonderful dinner of chicken, various salads and copious glasses of Banrock Station White Shiraz. After dinner we took Rachel and her daughters to the house of friends of ours who are away in their motorhome and who had made a most generous offer asking us to use their house for the San Franciscans to sleep in while they are here.

We were all up early this morning so that Rachel could do her usual early morning walk. She chose to take Sarah's dog, Jessie, with her which was very helpful as the dog, a Kelpie puppy, needs lots of exercise.

I spent some time cooking curry for the weekend. The ladies went into town to visit the op shops, only to find they were both shut but they did visit the town boutique, Babes in the Bush, which they found most attractive. Rachel bought her mother a lovely amber pendant necklace.

In the afternoon Rachel and I were accuse of being antisocial with our heads stuck in our laptops I responded by moving to another room so that I could write this piece.

Posted: 2/1/09 2:52 PM


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Created: 2/01/09 and last revised and last revised 30/03/2014
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