xrematon

May 29, 2019

Ecuador – on the Equator but a land of extremes

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Demographics,Sustainability,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 7:26 am
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In one sense, Ecuador is in the middle – the Equator runs all the way through its centre. However, in terms of what you can find there, it is more likely to be wild and wacky, rather than middle of the road. Let me illustrate with some photos from a recent trip.

Firstly, in terms of altitude and temperature, well, Ecuador includes both chilly snow-capped volcanoes and mountains that form part of the Andes over 6000m to long sandy beaches baking under a bright blue sky.

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Next, what about plants? Well, it is possible to find fungi that is not dark and shapeless but white and lace-like.

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Or flowers and berries that defy the imagination in terms of textures and colours they put forward.

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We came across insects which could have come from a ‘Lost World’: giant earthworms a metre long, odd clunky stick insects and vast but beautiful moths.

And I haven’t even got started on the birds. We managed to see over 400 different species whose plumage covered all the colours of the rainbow and astounded us with their minute or momentous scale.

Finally, a spotlight on the food, which ranged from the traditional and ‘homely’ to concoctions perhaps inspired by nouvelle cuisine.

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April 23, 2019

The future was present – at the V&A

Was it really? The above is a mangled abbreviation of a quote from sci-fi author William Gibson. The full version (“The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”) is much beloved of people who work in ‘futures thinking’ (I’m avoiding the labels ‘futurists’ and ‘futurologists’).  Occasionally, yes, this statement does come through as a pretty good way of looking at the world.

My latest reinforcement of its validity came when I visited a recent exhibition at the V&A rather impressively titled ‘The Future Starts Here – 100 projects shaping the world of tomorrow’. I record my impressions through a series of observations.

Firstly, I should acknowledge that it was a good excuse to go to the V&A and inspect the new entrance – a rather interesting mixture of textures with different shades of white stone, as well as some fine wood structures (but those was only temporary, I think).

Then there was the descent into the exhibition space itself – a dark area with no natural daylight – is that telling about what is envisioned for the future? But luckily there was lots of lighting and colour to bring out the exhibits around which you gradually wound your way.

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Unsurprisingly, there were the obligatory techie items – robots, AI, smart objects that capture and analysis data – but also, later on, objects which are low-tech versions of the technologies we now have come to rely on – phones and internet access. I applaud a view of the future which sees the need for regression as well as progression in innovation.

There were a fair number of objects which were familiar to me, either the items themselves or the core concepts behind them. Examples include a restaurant setting meant to be inviting to the increasing number likely to be living ‘single’ and thus wanting to be able to eat out alone without feeling uncomfortable. There was also a bottle of Soylent on the table too – not sure about that one.

There was also a special personal cleansing care range, designed in response to the fact we now go to considerable effort to stay very clean and effectively remove all bacteria and dirt from the skin, despite the fact, just like the inside of our bodies, our skin also relies on good bacteria to be healthy. Hence the need for Motherdirect, which uses special bacteria called AOB (Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria) to help convert the irritating components of sweat and turn them into beneficial byproducts like Nitrite and Nitric Oxide, which help to calm and soothe the skin.

Motherdirt was an item that is already being commercialised. There were some exhibits that have been in existence – conceptually at least – for many years but as a completed project, remain indefinitely in the future. See here a fabulous city – clean and smart – which uses the latest technologies and will be completely powered by the sun, or something like that.

dubai city

There were objects that are more about hope than rigorous assessments of what might be possible in the future. In contrast to the shiny technology devices, one case contained the pink ‘pussy hat’ which was developed to make a bold and powerful visual statement of solidarity in support of women’s rights and against Trump, ideally to be worn at the Women’s Marches that have taken place in numerous countries in recent months. Yes, a symbol for hope because Trump is still around and who knows how much has actually changed for women?

My final observation is very simple – I have chosen it to illustrate the fact that looking ahead into the future, we have to recognise that actually lots of how we live we still be very similar. There are certain aspects of everyday living which are remarkably resistant to change, in particular what we eat and drink. There was an exhibit displaying a coffee machine designed by Lavazza to allow people in space to still be able to have a good cup of coffee. Probably quite important actually!

 

February 17, 2019

A day out in London

Though I toil away at a kitchen table in rural suburbia for the majority of my time, every once in a while I head out for a day of adventures in London. In order to make the most of the trip, in the lead-up to the Big Day, I build up a list of interesting and exotic venues and establishments that seem worthy of a visit. Below, I shall share experiences from working through my most recent list.

First stop-off was the recently opened London Mithraeum situated on the site of Bloomberg’s new European headquarters. This is essentially a fancy little museum which showcases the archaeological remains of a Roman temple of Mithras. This temple was actually first discovered some time ago – in the reconstruction efforts immediately after WWII – but the display of the temple remains and artifacts found there were disappointing and did nothing to capitalise on the high levels of public interest shown when the Mithraeum was first dug out.

This new display does not disappoint – it is a slick and glossy affair, showing the latest in museum trends and technology. However, I must confess that what helped to bring the Mithraeum to life powerfully did not rely on snazzy tech – it was based on careful and thoughtful use of light and sound. In fact, the main element of the visit was effectively a short ‘show’ or ‘son et lumiere’ experience.

After having browsed through various rooms showing the different objects found at the site, visitors were invited to come into a dark room. The light then gradually increased, showing at first the outlines of the temple and then shadows ‘built’ the vertical pillars as shown below.

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Further light was used to create the famous sculpture at the back.

IMG_20190208_104523Finally, the whole temple room was properly illuminated.

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Accompanying this was no commentary, but insteads the sounds you would expect to hear when the temple was in use: men chatting, chanting, and then calm again. Overall, though there isn’t much ‘there’ at the Mithraeum, it is certainly engaging and intriguing, in particular as people still can’t really explain what the secret Mithraic cult was really about.

Next came hanging around the Bloomberg building itself – at least as far as members of the public are allowed. The lobby was full of swooping curves, built from planks of the finest oak imported from the other side of the world, placed on the finest stone, also imported from half way round the world. Not very sustainable if you think about the sunk carbon cost involved in digging all this material out and getting it here (though obviously the whole building itself cannot be faulted for its energy efficiency). Grumblings aside, the effect is beautiful and creates the impression of being underwater and floating past the curving hulls of majestic boats.

IMG_20190208_110242IMG_20190208_110308Final stop was up in the Kings Cross area in Coal Drops Yard. The reason this made it onto my list was the involvement of Thomas Heatherwick – yes, shameless star name power pulling me in. The weather on the day of my visit was not helpful – there was a wet and weeping sky, making the heavens press in and the stand-out undulating roof seem like one of those motorway service stations which bridges over the road.

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Luckily, there was not a Little Chef in sight!

I’m busy plotting my next trip – await the next installment.

December 22, 2018

Eating less meat – what could this look like?

At this time of festive overindulgence, perhaps it’s good to think about opting for the opposite – ‘underindulgence’ – in particular the growing momentum around reducing meat consumption.

This is not a new idea but the dynamics swirling around it have changed. Whilst the key motivation when I was growing up was moral and centred around the idea of not wanting to inflict cruelty or be responsible for the death of animals, the environmental rationale for opting for a more vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is now paramount. Fresh evidence appears in the headlines almost daily:

‘Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.’

However, it seems that there are variety of different trajectories a meat-reducing world might go.

Let’s get insects out of the way first. Some people are very excited by the prospect of either making insects themselves palatable or grinding up them up to use as a nutritious flour of some kind. In fact, in November 2018, Sainsbury’s was proud to claim it was the first UK supermarket to stock edible insects, making packets of Eat Grub’s smoky BBQ crunchy roasted crickets available in 250 stores across the country. However, to produce insects at scale and for large swathes of the population to eat them is another matter, There is currently limited experience or knowledge about how to do this or what the impact might be. This is in terms, for example, of allergic reactions, microbial risks or even what welfare standards to apply to rearing arthropod livestock.

Others hope that cutting-edge science will have the answer and give us meat that either is not real meat or else real meat but does not involve rearing and slaughtering livestock as currently takes place.

The former, a meat-like product, is actually quite advanced in some markets, the US in particular. Companies such as Impossible Foods have created ‘foods’ which act like meat in every sense – they look, smell, taste and even bleed like meat – but are in fact newly manufactured foods. In case the case of Impossible Foods, they have created something magical reliant on their star ingredient, leghemoglobin. This ingredient is found naturally in the roots of soy plants and derived in a fermentation process similar to brewing. However, as this is effectively a genetically modified organism which has never been eaten before by humans, Impossible Foods sought approval from the FDA to confirm leghemoglobin was safe to eat and this approval was eventually given. Whatever reservations some might have about the safety of such products and in particular risks of allergic reactions, as well as the resource costs involved, the scale and ambition of Impossible Foods is impressive. Whilst it is easy to pitch non-meat options to affluent, health conscious and well educated individuals, it is a much harder sell to those who don’t have the means (neither the time nor the money) to be so selective and discerning. Impossible Foods has made a start to address this: its burgers are now being sold in the outlets of fast food chain White Castle across the US (albeit priced at one dollar more than their standard burgers).

The other way to get real meat but without all the usual associated negative impacts is to effectively ‘grow’ meat in a lab. This ‘clean meat’ is still at very early stages of development, but already significant progress has been made. Costs have dropped dramatically: from $325,000 for a burger in 2013 to $11 five years later with the potential to go lower. More importantly, clean meat is attracting the interest of investors already big in the meat world. In mid 2018, the American meat giant Tyson Foods announced a multi-million dollar investment in a cellular meat startup. This is a sure sign this kind of meat is to be taken seriously.

However, there are also challenges here, which relate to the fact that currently growing meat in this way relies on animal stem cells which are typically fed with a serum derived from the blood of calf foetuses – in other words, clean meat uses animal products and is not vegan.

Now, for our third meat-free path, let’s go back in time to when this involved going for something that didn’t have any pretense at being meat – a veggie alternative that was clearly veggie. I’m thinking of something like a good old-fashioned nut roast or veggie burger made of beans and the like. From having spoken to colleagues, it seems there has been a shift in expectations between one generation and the next. Some Millennials expect going meat-free to mean having something else that is just like meat, whilst older generations expect meat-free to look ‘veggie’. I wonder how this will pan out and whether there are also comparable regional differences in attitudes.

The final trajectory for meat-free is to put forward to the idea of preparing dishes that are designed to be vegetarian or vegan from the outside. An example here is the cuisine from Asia which makes use of vegetable and vegetable forms of protein such as bean curd, nuts and pulses. This seems like a much simpler path – we use ingredients that have been tried and tested over many generations, with the promise of lots of spice to keep things interesting.

However, no one would try to claim that anything can match up to the smell and taste of a proper bacon sarnie! I wonder if Impossible Foods is working on that.

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July 21, 2018

The Rituals of Dinner – part II

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Demographics,Sustainability,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 6:23 pm
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This is the second in a duo of posts inspired by reading The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser. The first post can be found here.

One of Visser’s points that I would like to content is the idea that food is not something we value. Having a good meal with people whose company we enjoy is an activity we seek. In this time of experiences over ‘stuff’, we are certainly keen on creating moments that matter and sharing good times – so much so that our big feasts are often instigated by commercial activities, rather than our own particular personal or social cultural rituals. We now get very excited by Halloween, Valentine’s Day, the World Cup and other big sporting events, as well as get the opportunity to invest with great splendour at Easter, Christmas and New Year.

There are many many interesting nuggets within The Rituals of Dinner which made me look at food habits in a new light as I gained a better understanding of the historical or cultural context from which these habits sprang.

  • Offal used to be the most prized part of eating an animal. This is because at a time when hunting was an important way to get meat and there were no fridges to keep food cool, offal would be most the delicate and most important part of the animal to eat fresh – it could not be hung and improved as with other cuts. And offal is often the most nutritious part of an animal – quite different to a big fat plumped up piece of chicken breast.
  • Meals that are to be eaten with chopsticks have the food chopped already, which necessarily encourages faster eating, in part because the food is already in convenient sizes but also because it is most likely to lose heat thus. Compared to this, those of us relying on knives and forks are slow and languorous eaters.
  • What will happen as we eat less meat? This is important as meat often formed the basis of the ceremonial energy in a Big Meal: it is a special and relatively expensive ingredient and there is entertainment and social value to be had in going through the ritual of carving and dividing up the meat. It is hard to see how as much energy and excitement can be created around a roast butternut squash or cauliflower.

Back to our original questions: are table manners dead or getting worse? If this is a source of concern to you, rest assured that help is available. In the US, the Barclay classes, table manners and how to carry out small talk are part of its programme. http://www.thebarclayclasses.com/aboutbarclay.html The next generation will know what to do.

January 20, 2018

Sea blindness

This is the term that the chief of the Royal Navy has used to describe our attitude towards the great expanses of water that cover our planet. “We travel by cheap flights, not liners. The sea is the distance to be flown over, a downward backdrop between take-off and landing, a blue expanse that soothes on the moving map as the plane jerks over it. It is for leisure and beaches and fish and chips, not for use or work.”

Not so – this is the driving force behind a recent read Deep Sea and Foreign Going by Rose George, a comprehensive investigation into the world of container shipping. I have long had an unrequited respect and interest in shipping – it is one of the topics which can be endless source of fascination once you actually open your eyes to its importance. At the start of her book, George describes playing a numbers game on the train – you think through what goods will have been transported by sea and the answer is nearly everything : that man’s iPhone and headphones, his book printed in China, the fabric of the seats people are sitting on, the coffee the author is drinking, the fruit they are carrying in the bag and so forth.

The book itself is centred around a journey George made from Felixstowe to Singapore on a huge container ship – if the ship discharged its containers onto lorries, the line of traffic would be 50 miles long. However, the book is more than simply a description of this voyage- the author effectively uses it as a springboard to investigate many other weird and wonderful places, people and phenomena that connect into shipping. This takes her into spending a week on board an EU warship part of the international effort to counteract piracy off the Somali coast, accompanying the chaplain at the Seafarers’ Centre in Immingham, a port on the north-eastern coast of England, and even ringing up one of the ladies who knits the woolly hats that are distributed to sailors.

Despite this breadth of detail, I must confess that I finished the book with my curiosity not completely satisfied. I wanted more depth – to connect with what it really feels like to spend a month on one of these ships. What did she do each day, given that internet connection was sporadic, some of the crew didn’t talk much English and they weren’t really many of them? Come the end of her journey, George seems to be loath to leave the ship but I haven’t got enough of the experience to understand why this can be, given the potential for boredom hinted at earlier, coupled with the fact that she describes how vibrations from the ship’s engine (aside from any weather-related pitching and rolling) make sleep difficult, and she is vegetarian on a boat where the cook seems to struggle to understand what this means and there is very little fresh fruit and veg.

Perhaps what I was after was more poeticism. Just after finishing the book, I read a review of a more recent contribution which describes ten winter days on a Finnish icebreaker. According to the review, Horatio Clare, the author, writes “seeing silence”, and the ship itself seems to him no more than “the tip of a pencil line trailing off into empty space”. He is intoxicated by elemental extremes, dizzied, brought close to laughter. His dead mineral world—all crystalline ice and hard metal—stirs and quickens. Ice “sidles aboard, rinds the rails with icicles…is all but alive”. While down below, in the engine room, there grow “vines of copper piping and sprouting thermometers, the fuel pumps budded with bolts and flowering stopcocks”. There isn’t anything really like this in Deep Sea and Foreign Going. Perhaps just a few more pictures, and of better quality than the almost grainy, soul-dead black and white ones currently included, would have helped.

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Griping aside – I must make clear that the book is definitely worth reading, incredibly interesting and well written. There are a couple of stand-out bits and pieces.

The first is the little discussed but very real issue of noise pollution. This is discussed in a chapter George devotes to investigating whales and their interaction with all those ships trekking back and forth across the oceans. Rose goes to visit a laboratory in Cape Cod whose scientists aim to better understand how to protect the declining North Atlantic right whale population. We know that whales have been affected by hunting as well as chemical and material pollution. Well, it seems that the additional sounds we humans create will have noxious effects too. This is not just from the incredibly noisy engines of huge ships, but also from laying out cables on the sea bed, firing airguns for seismic surveys, fishermen sending out pings for echolocation to find fish, whilst the military deploy sonar. Sometimes the effect of all this is tangible: forced change of habit to flee the sound, whilst military sonar induces the bends in dolphins and whales so that they arrive on the beach with blood on their brains. Sometimes, it is hard to work out what the impact might be, but one researcher found that a quiet and still sea resulted in much lower levels of stress hormones present in whales compared to days of noise.

The second picks up on the harsh and potentially dangerous livelihoods of those who work on container ships. There are the obvious negatives, such as being away from loved ones for long stretches of time, but this is exacerbated by the fact financial pressure often forces these individuals to all too swiftly sign up for another passage. In addition, a large proportion of those who make up crews come from parts of Asia and get their work through middle men whom they don’t want to annoy by refusing jobs. Then you have to factor in the risk of accidents from storms and the bigger worry of piracy, which becomes particularly challenging when it is not clear who has responsibility for looking after the workers when these problems arise. Is it their own country? But their own country would argue it is the company employing them, coming from another country? Or is it the flag under which they are flying, or the territory in whose water the incident took place? It isn’t clear and that’s why it is often takes a long time to get kidnaps resolved. Despite this, and the fact conditions all round can be compared to a sweatshop, the Fair Trade Association’s comment is of one defeat: “Incorporating shipping requirements into our standards and certification processes would add to auditing costs.”

The third and final point is that there is no mention of the possibility that the flows of good might possibly start to change. In the general media, there has been much hype around the potential for 3D manufacturing to make near-shoring a real possibility, whilst a shift to services as well as intangibles (think of streamed media replacing DVDs and CDs) means that less ‘stuff’ needs to be shunted around the world. But given the volumes currently involved, I am not sure a marked shift will happen any time soon. Until then, we need to remember to be less sea blind.

July 14, 2017

On watching birds

I’ve got a confession to make: I’m into bird watching.

Now, what are you thinking?

That I am perhaps a bit weird, a bit of a geek, a fuddy duddy nerd…?

Let me try again. Since the start of this year, I’ve picked up an old interest in earnest and it delivers on some different levels.

It’s good for mental and physical wellbeing.

It makes me get out and about, walking in the fresh air. I have to focus and concentrate, so it keeps me ‘in the moment’, and I naturally end up appreciating tiny little details of the environment around me, so easy to miss otherwise.

It involves learning, goals and targets.

This is important for continued motivation and means that there is more than a one-off high or moment of excitement. This new hobby keeps you coming back as you pick up more expertise and uncover new ways to stretch yourself and discover new horizons (literally) to explore.

There are low barriers to entry: it’s cheap and easy to do.

Apart from upfront investment in some good equipment, I really don’t need much to participate. There are no real membership or access fees, I can travel but don’t need to: just being in the garden can be surprisingly rewarding.

I don’t need to look good and so won’t get distracted with dressing up and fancy clothes. Comfort and practicality are the guiding priorities.

And often being in the middle of woods, on clifftops, tramping through fields or round wetlands means no temptations of artisanal foodie options. Packed lunches are the way forward. I have even dusted down the thermos flask for some expeditions.

It helps build valuable social capital.

This is at several levels. It is one of the rare and precious activities that we all enjoy as a family and thus do together as a family. It is something we all can share and discuss together, adding to the stock of memories and anecdotes of adventures in which we have taken part.

In addition, we often chat with other people on our trips, sharing sightings etc. Many reserves are staffed by volunteers and I have a sneaking suspicion that we might be giving back/volunteering ourselves later.

It’s a planet-positive interest.

My family and I have developed increased respect for nature and have become more willing to invest in conservation and other forms of support. I am sure it will have influenced how my children, the next generation, think about the world around them.

It’s a future-proofed hobby.

By this, I mean that it is an activity which can see me through into retirement. It doesn’t require an excess of physical exertion – you can take it nice and slow if you want – not like triathlons. And though fading eyesight will take its toll in later years, I’m hoping this will be compensated for by more knowledge and expertise.

And finally, the icing on the cake: though it has always been popular (one survey puts the number of those who regularly go birdwatching at close to 3m), it’s suddenly getting rather cool. I have come across various articles heralding the rise of the hipster, urban or Millennial birder who makes use of the latest tech and apps to bring new energy into spotting.

What do you think now? Not such as a geek or fuddy duddy nerd I hope!

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March 19, 2017

Weapons of Math Destruction

Filed under: Business,Coaching,Consumer Trends,Marketing,Sustainability,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 8:50 pm
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There is much chatter about corporate social responsibility but little deep thinking about more complex moral concepts. This is what struck me as I read a polemical book about the troubling implications of living in a world ‘controlled’ by algorithms – Weapons of Mass Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil.

The author’s Big Message is to highlight how the clever models that sit behind how decisions to evaluate teachers, job candidates, prospective customers for insurance, consumers etc, are not as objectively fair as we might think, often capturing the biases of their creators, as well as more importantly creating negative feedback loops reinforcing social divides. Poor people living in bad neighbourhoods pay more for insurance as they are higher risk; thanks to accurate targeting, they can be more easily identified to be sold payday (or equivalent high cost/poor value) loans.

Whilst this is indeed troubling, my overall response to the book was to feel glad that I don’t live in the US and that, in the UK (I think!), there are more checks and balances in place to stop the level of exploitation seen across the Atlantic occurring.

However, after reading the book, I did start to notice other examples of concerns being raised about the moral implications of business approaches.

First example: an article widely circulated among the senior management at a major international marketing powerhouse. This article raises far more worrying concepts – how search engines are effectively being ‘gamed’ by organisations who wish to propagate ideas that would normally be dismissed out of hand in a liberal democracy. The journalist tried seeing what happens when you start typing in “are muslims…”, and seeing what comes up in Google Instant (though I must confess, I didn’t get anything as bad), she observes, “I feel like I’ve fallen down a wormhole, entered some parallel universe where black is white, and good is bad.”

Second example: an interesting piece in a recent edition of 1843. A writer for the magazine went to California to ‘meet the scientists who make apps addictive’. In a way, this article provides a much-needed human face to the O’Neill book. It seems that the clever people behind all the clever new apps and algorithms are not actually evil. They are described as ‘hipsters from San Francisco – all nice people’.

However, some of them have realised that what they are unleashing on the world may not be so straightforwardly ‘good’ after all. The founding father of ‘behaviour design’, B.J. Fogg, is quoted as saying, “I look at some of my former students and I wonder if they’re really trying to make the world better, or just make money. What I always wanted to do was un-enslave people from technology.” Let’s see what some of these students have been up to:

  • One of Fogg’s alumni, Nir Eyal, went on to write a successful book, aimed at tech entrepreneurs, called “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products”.
  • Another, Tristan Harris, resigned after working for Google for a year in order to pursue research into the ethics of the digital economy. “I wanted to know what responsibility comes with the ability to influence the psychology of a billion people? What’s the Hippocratic oath?” Whilst Harris was convinced to stay on temporarily as design ethicist and product philosopher, he soon realised that, although his colleagues were listening politely, they would never take his message seriously without pressure from the outside. He left Google for good to become a writer and advocate, on a mission to wake the world up to how digital technology is diminishing the human capacity for making free choices.

My final example is a film, but it succeeded in make me think the most as it captured my imagination and brought to life the moral dilemmas at play most powerfully. Eye In The Sky explores what happens when a drone is to be used to launch a bomb into a crowded street in Kenya in order to kill a wanted terrorist. Clever algorithms make use of Big Data to calculate what is the likelihood that a small girl selling bread on this street might be killed too by this bomb. For the minsters approving the mission, it is only acceptable for the bomb to be launched if the likelihood is below 50%. Initially calculations suggest the risk is over 50% (that’s what the model says), but in the film we can see how human actors can override and manipulate models. It is clear that ultimately humans need to be ready to make difficult decisions – and live with the consequences.

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May 25, 2016

The Big Shop

Time for me to be ‘untrendy’. When we hear about how grocery shopping habits are changing, it’s all about ‘a little and often’ and how we are falling out of love with the big weekly shop.

Well, I would like to tell you about a recent visit I made to a new supermarket that is not all about convenience trips, but somewhere very big (80, 000 sq foot). It’s the Sainsbury’s store at Westwood Cross in Thanet, which opened in November 2014. As I have explored in other posts, Thanet is more worthy of exploration and evaluation than you might at first think on encountering a part of the country which is flat till it reaches the muddy grey sea and populated by people who are older and/or less affluent than their other Kentish peers.

Sainsbury land

I have been meaning to check out this Sainsbury’s for some time now as its arrival was heralded with much fanfare (it would create jobs, require changing the local road system, be the epitome of the latest and best in sustainable design etc). I found this nice leaflet online which helps to give a sense of how the store was a big deal. Note in particular the community initiatives – which I assume were meant to help make the new supermarket be part of the local scene, rather than to create a scene. But I must confess I am little underwhelmed by the employment of just one local construction management trainee and the donation of soil to a local campsite to help construct a new golf course!

Going inside the store itself was sadly also rather underwhelming. Walking through the threshold with a sense of great anticipation, past the plug-ins for electric vehicles (setting false expectations for something quite different), it was still a Sainsbury’s.

Sainsbury car park

This meant nice enough clothes and household goods, and nice food, but failing to give the impression of an emporium teeming with a rich abundance of exciting items. The aisles were very wide – not doubt good for avoiding trolley crashes – but it compounded the sense of emptiness you get from looking at shelves which could be fuller.

Sainsbury inside

However, it was not a fruitless journey as I did manage to find an item I had never come across before and wasn’t even looking for: giant couscous. Have you ever tried it? NB not worth the trip to Westcross!

September 17, 2015

Sustainability that backfires

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Sustainability — by xrematon @ 8:46 pm
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My journey as an aspiring sustainability sycophant continues. I have touched upon the challenges this throws up on several occasions already.

It’s time for an update. Here are four misadventures I have experienced over the past year or so. Please excuse the length of this post – I need to go into the detail to explain the full implications.

I am trying valiantly (despite the loud lack of enthusiasm on the part of my husband) to reduce our meat consumption. However, with two children, I also don’t want to scrimp too far on protein valuable for growing bodies. This led me to introduce nuts as a snack. Nuts are great – they tick lots of boxes: very convenient (can be stored at room temperature, low volume-high energy density, easy to divide up into small portions and avoid waste) and very nutritious (lots of good fat and, my favourite, lots of protein). Everyone seemed happy with this arrangement for several weeks till my son suddenly developed unprecedented patches of eczema on the backs of his arms and legs. We visited the doctor whose verdict was that the nuts were probably to blame and thus consumption should be reduced. We have reached an unhappy compromise with oatcakes, yogurt and cheese as replacements.

In a household with children who are keen on dive-catching balls and very messy eaters means that clothes are dirtied daily with many stains. However, again, I have valiantly tried to bring in some energy efficiency principles into the household laundry habits. One attempt saw the use of a cold wash with a shorter cycle which had the benefit of both using the least amount of water and electricity out of the cycles on offer. However, as you might have expected, the stains didn’t come out and I was faced either with the option of washing the clothes again at a higher temperature or simply replacing the items as the stains were now indelibly fixed into the fabric. My compromise tactic has been to use a slightly higher temperature (40 degrees) and wait till there is enough washing to ensure the machine drum is completely full. However, again, the situation is less than ideal. Over time with these relatively warm washes, the washing machine may suffer, in particular if it is not sufficiently ventilated between washes. Biofilm, a kind of black scum, can accumulate in the machine and this risks damaging clothes and reducing the performance of the machine. The way to address this issue is simple: by putting the washing machine on a very high temperature (and therefore high energy consuming) cycle every six weeks. However, this may appear counter-productive given that the initial goal was to lower wash temperatures to reduce energy consumption.

Similar issues arise with my attempts to reduce energy consumption from dishwasher use. I opted for a rapid cycle, again to lower water and electricity use, but it has meant there has been a built of really unpleasant peach-grey slime inside the machine. The solution, as with the washing machine, is to try to blast it away with a regular hot cycle and the addition of some no-doubt noxious chemicals.

My final example is the one that has caused the most trauma. In the master bedroom, there is an unheated en-suite bathroom with no much ventilation beyond a small extractor fan (there are no external windows or anything useful like that). In summer, as there is no heating on, we can ensure additional ventilation by leaving the bathroom door open and the bedroom windows open to let the moisture escape. However, it’s more problematic in winter. We don’t want to lose heat by opening windows but where will the moisture from the bathroom go? I have tried using a dehumidifier but this meant increased electricity consumption and didn’t seem to do much (a mouldy patch appeared in a corner of the ceiling from the condensation). So we decided to simply keep the bathroom door shut and hope the extractor fan could suffice. However, it appears that the condensation was simply building up in the bathroom. The exposed shower unit corroded and had to be replaced at not insignificant expense, whilst drops of water would drip down the toilet cistern. This caused the washers attaching the cistern to the seat to rust and then leak. This leak became major, making a large wet patch on the ceiling of the living room below. And in order to work out where this leak was coming from, large holes were cut in the ceiling, which need to be filled and plastered over.

The hole

Is it worth it? To be honest, I’m not sure.

 

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