“Energy and Civilization” By Vaclav Smil

Energy is the only universal currency; it is necessary for getting anything done. The conversion of energy on Earth ranges from terra-forming forces of plate tectonics to cumulative erosive effects of raindrops. Life on Earth depends on the photosynthetic conversion of solar energy into plant biomass. Humans have come to rely on many more energy flows—ranging from fossil fuels to photovoltaic generation of electricity—for their civilized existence. In this monumental history, Vaclav Smil provides a comprehensive account of how energy has shaped society, from pre-agricultural foraging societies through today’s fossil fuel–driven civilization.

Humans are the only species that can systematically harness energies outside their bodies, using the power of their intellect and an enormous variety of artifacts—from the simplest tools to internal combustion engines and nuclear reactors. The epochal transition to fossil fuels affected everything: agriculture, industry, transportation, weapons, communication, economics, urbanization, quality of life, politics, and the environment. Smil describes humanity’s energy eras in panoramic and interdisciplinary fashion, offering readers a magisterial overview. This book is an extensively updated and expanded version of Smil’s Energy in World History (1994). Smil has incorporated an enormous amount of new material, reflecting the dramatic developments in energy studies over the last two decades and his own research over that time.

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Worlwide Energy Statistics from International Energy Agency

energy statistics.pnghttps://www.iea.org/statistics/

Mapped: EU coal plants.

Falowiec: landscape of communism in Gdansk, Poland.

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I have recently been walking around “Falowiec” (form the Polish word fala, wave; plural: falowce) in Gdansk, the longest building in Europe. It is a block of flats characterised by its length and wavy shape. This type of building was built in Poland in the late 1960s and 1970s in the Polish city of Gdańsk, where there are eight buildings of this type. Some buildings of this kind are also present in Italy.

The best-known falowiec in Gdańsk, located at the Obrońców Wybrzeża street, has:

11 stories (10 plus the ground floor)
nearly 6,000 occupants
4 segments (4 staircases in each segment of 110 apartments).
a length of around 850 m (2788 ft)

Soviet mass housing is a contradictory but unique phenomenon. It is usually blamed for creating the most monotonous built environment in the history of mankind, thus constituting a symbol of individual suppression and dejection. The construction programme launched in the post-Stalinist era was the largest undertaken in modern architectural history worldwide. At the same time, Soviet mass housing fulfilled a colossal social role, providing tens of millions of families with their own apartments. It shaped the culture and everyday life of nearly all Soviet citizens. Yet, due to the very scale of construction, it managed to evolve into a complex world denoting an abundance of myths and secrets, achievements and failures. Soviet mass housing is indisputably intriguing, but nevertheless it is still neglected as a theme of research. Therefore, the time is ripe for a critical appraisal of this ambitious project. The authors aim to identify the most significant mass housing series designed and engineered from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok.

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How font impacts responses in online surveys, here some insights

Tim Harford, economist and author of the book ‘Messy: How To be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World’ believes that ugly fonts like Comic Sans or Monotype Corsiva help you concentrate on what you are reading.

“When you get something in these fonts – it’s ugly, difficult to read, and it attracts your attention. When you have your attention, then you actually start trying to understand what it says,” he told Business Insider.

Harford referred to a study run by psychologists at Princeton University where school teacher’s handouts were reformatted in either easy to read or harder fonts.

“Those who got their handouts formatted in difficult, ugly fonts did better in their end of term exams across a variety of subjects.”

Produced and filmed by Claudia Romeo. Special thanks to Joe Daunt.
Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/economist-tim-harford-ugly-font-comic-sans-handouts-study-attention-stand-out-2017-3?IR=T

Paper structure for inductive approach based research

Most writers agree with Robson (2002) on the general structure to adopt for a project report that is the end product of your research, i.e.: abstract, introduction, literature review, method, results, discussion, conclusions, references, appendices. However, this suggested structure is not the only one and should not inhibit you from adopting something different. The structure outlined above fits the deductive approach particularly closely. It assumes that the literature was reviewed to establish the current state of knowledge on the topic and this informed the method adopted. Reporting the findings in a factual manner gives rise to a detailed consideration of what these findings mean to the specific piece of research that has been conducted and to the current state of knowledge on the topic. However, if your research is essentially inductive, it may be that you prefer to structure the report in a different way. You may prefer to tell your story (that is, to explain your conclusions) in the early part of the report. This may include a clear explanation of how this story relates to the existing literature on the topic. This could be followed by a detailed explanation of how you arrived at these conclusions (a combination of an explanation of method adopted and findings established). The precise structure you adopt is less important than the necessity for your reader to be absolutely clear about what you are saying and for you to meet the assessment criteria.

Phillips and Pugh (2005) note that these general sections can be sub-divided into one or more relevant chapters depending on the topic and the way in which you want to present your particular storyline. This is a vital point. Your structure should have a logical flow. Your readers should know the journey on which they are being taken, and should know at all times the point in the journey that has been reached. Above all, the structure you adopt should enable your reader, having read the report, to identify the storyline clearly.

Source: Saunders, M. N. (2011). Research methods for business students, 5/e. Pearson Education India.

Behemoth: A movie on the effects of rapid development

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The Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise of Inner Mongolia

Zhao Liang’s latest film, Behemoth provides a ring-side seat to the effects of rapid development, commerce, and pollution in this autonomous region of China.

Shot over two years across China’s Inner Mongolia, Zhao Liang’s latest film, Behemoth provides a ring-side seat (or perhaps a helicopter-shot suspended over the operating table) to bear silent witness to the effects of rapid development, excavation, extraction, commerce, and pollution on the planet.

The film lingers, often wordlessly, on images of violent destruction and pillage; the central metaphor here is the titular Behemoth, a devourer of mountains, “an enormous evil energy,” according to the director’s statement. A line of trucks and diggers become “the monster’s playthings;” tunnels and tubes and trolley-tracks slowly siphon away the very core of the earth, feeding its ceaseless hunger.

Yet rather than focus close-in on the maw of this insatiable beast, Zhao places his lens at a quiet and safe remove. The effect, however, is not to deliver security, but instead to emphasize scale, an even more distressing aspect of the devastation shown. One explosion may be terrifying, but a relentless series of detonations over thousands of acres becomes almost mundane, a banality of evil. The very vastness inures us to the horror of watching a valley turned into a wasteland, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. (Appropriately, when humans are shown in the film, their affect is a quiet, sad boredom, not fear or terror.)

The setting becomes the real focal point: this is a story of a primal and seemingly eternal landscape, charted ages ago by the film’s other literary inspiration: Dante’s Divine Comedy. Hell is seen in the inferno of molten iron and smoldering slag; Purgatory in the obscuring, ever-present gray construction dust; and even Paradise is found empty and abandoned in the bleak ghost city of Ordos, built to house over one-million people but never inhabited.

These disturbed landscapes represent the other side of the coin (or perhaps of the planet) of our global economic reality; for every manufacturing job “lost to China,” there is another pit mine, a slag heap, or a case of black lung in the name of modernization and progress.

Yet despite what these locations represent—a fallen status, neither classic nor modern, neither natural nor civilized—Zhao spies the beauty in the ruin. Like the photographs of Edward Burtynsky, (who also documents the environmental destruction wrought by China’s long march) each shot is perfectly composed, delicately balanced, and artfully framed. Similarly, the pacing establishes the proper mood and mindset: slow, thoughtful, meditative, without the rush to interpretation or judgment.

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(Courtesy Grasshopper Film)
Viewers familiar with Zhao’s previous films will recognize the director’s remarkable ability to focus on the unwatchable: in Petition (2009), he traces the slow, dangerous, and often brutal paths of the thousands of Chinese citizens who flock to the nation’s capital to file grievances against corrupt local actions: not pretty, but certainly real and important; his previous documentary film, Crime and Punishment (2007) features surprisingly similar scenes of bureaucratic cruelty along the Chinese border with North Korea. More recently, his most official film, Together (2010, funded by the Chinese Ministry of Health) illuminated the stories of HIV patients, a hidden suffering that many in the country would prefer to ignore.

A common theme emerges: where others would cut or turn away, Zhao’s camera lingers, staring long enough for our uncomfortable minds to move past fear and disgust, through fascination and prurience, to finally probe and reflect the all-too-human meaning of the violence and sorrow that we see; he is a master at cultivating unblinking empathy. In Behemoth, we see this master at the top of his game.

The result is an impressive film worthy of repeated viewings on a true large screen, which may be difficult given the limited release schedule. Fortunately, so haunting and poetic are Zhao’s images that once seen, they are likely to lodge deep in the psyche of the viewer, to be later excavated and re-examined in dreams.

Behemoth is screening at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts February 18th at 7 p.m. and February 19, 2 p.m. Future U.S. screenings can be viewed here.