As I spoke about yesterday in my introduction, when my mother remarried my sister and I had a new man about the house, so to speak. He was Richard Mills.
I was 13 or thereabouts and already struggling with my school work (the result of my father’s sudden death). And ‘Dad’ as we called him was finding his feet in the strange world of going from having no children to instantly having two step children!
Anyway, Dad found a theme with me that I enjoyed: building a shortwave radio receiver. It was full of learning for me and over the years I became hooked on listening to radio stations both near and far transmitting in morse code. I also joined the Harrow Radio Society and went across to their weekly meetings by tube and bus. (Despite the Society no longer being at the Harrow address it is amazing that they are still going strong.)
It was also a time when there was a great deal of ‘radio surplus’ equipment going for next to nothing and I ‘upgraded’ to an R-1152 receiver.
In time I became sufficiently old to take driving lessons and pass my driving licence. I then got a secondhand car. It helped because then I could drive up to Bushey and spend Sunday mornings at the house of Ron Ray. Ron was a keen amateur. On Sunday mornings Ron had a small group of people who wanted to pass the morse code test and apply for a licence.
I was already a member of the RSGB, the Radio Society of Great Britain, and that surely encouraged me further to study for my amateur licence.
In time, I sat the exam and much to my amazement passed!
So that is the story of me and amateur radio.
Well, almost the full story.
In 1963 I volunteered for the Royal Naval Reserve, London Division. In time I was accepted and chose the join the radio branch, my G3PUK status coming in useful, because I reckoned that when we went to sea, on flat-bottomed minesweepers, it was better to be sick into a bucket between the knees than be sick on deck!
Two days of nostalgia follow! (You have been warned!)
As many of you already know, my father died fairly suddenly on December 20th, 1956. I had turned 12 some six weeks previously.
After about a year my mother remarried. His name was Richard Mills. Richard came to live at the house in Toley Avenue and had the unenviable task of taking on a new ‘son’ and ‘daughter’. (My sister, Elizabeth, some four years younger than I.)
Richard was a technical author in the newly-arrived electronics industry and one day he asked me if I would like to build a short-wave receiver. He coached me in the strange art of soldering wires and radio valves and other components and in the end I had a working receiver. That led, in turn, to me studying for an amateur radio licence. More of that tomorrow.
Simply elegant, Morse code marks 175 years and counting
The elegantly simple code works whether flashing a spotlight or blinking your eyes—or even tapping on a smartphone touchscreen
By Eddie King
Ph.D. Student in Electrical Engineering, University of South Carolina
May 21st, 2019
The first message sent by Morse code’s dots and dashes across a long distance traveled from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore on Friday, May 24, 1844 – 175 years ago. It signaled the first time in human history that complex thoughts could be communicated at long distances almost instantaneously. Until then, people had to have face-to-face conversations; send coded messages through drums, smoke signals and semaphore systems; or read printed words.
Thanks to Samuel F.B. Morse, communication changed rapidly, and has been changing ever faster since. He invented the electric telegraph in 1832. It took six more years for him to standardize a code for communicating over telegraph wires. In 1843, Congress gave him US$30,000 to string wires between the nation’s capital and nearby Baltimore. When the line was completed, he conducted a public demonstration of long-distance communication.
Morse wasn’t the only one working to develop a means of communicating over the telegraph, but his is the one that has survived. The wires, magnets and keys used in the initial demonstration have given way to smartphones’ on-screen keyboards, but Morse code has remained fundamentally the same, and is still – perhaps surprisingly – relevant in the 21st century. Although I have learned, and relearned, it many times as a Boy Scout, an amateur radio operator and a pilot, I continue to admire it and strive to master it.
Morse’s key insight in constructing the code was considering how frequently each letter is used in English. The most commonly used letters have shorter symbols: “E,” which appears most often, is signified by a single “dot.” By contrast, “Z,” the least used letter in English, was signified by the much longer and more complex “dot-dot-dot (pause) dot.”
In 1865, the International Telecommunications Union changed the code to account for different character frequencies in other languages. There have been other tweaks since, but “E” is still “dot,” though “Z” is now “dash-dash-dot-dot.”
The reference to letter frequency makes for extremely efficient communications: Simple words with common letters can be transmitted very quickly. Longer words can still be sent, but they take more time.
The communications system that Morse code was designed for – analogue connections over metal wires that carried a lot of interference and needed a clear on-off type signal to be heard – has evolved significantly.
The first big change came just a few decades after Morse’s demonstration. In the late 19th century, Guglielmo Marconi invented radio-telegraph equipment, which could send Morse code over radio waves, rather than wires.
The shipping industry loved this new way to communicate with ships at sea, either from ship to ship or to shore-based stations. By 1910, U.S. law required many passenger ships in U.S. waters to carry wireless sets for sending and receiving messages.
Aviators also use Morse code to identify automated navigational aids. These are radio beacons that help pilots follow routes, traveling from one transmitter to the next on aeronautical charts. They transmit their identifiers – such as “BAL” for Baltimore – in Morse code. Pilots often learn to recognize familiar-sounding patterns of beacons in areas they fly frequently.
There is a thriving community of amateur radio operators who treasure Morse code, too. Among amateur radio operators, Morse code is a cherished tradition tracing back to the earliest days of radio. Some of them may have begun in the Boy Scouts, which has made learning Morse variably optional or required over the years. The Federal Communications Commission used to require all licensed amateur radio operators to demonstrate proficiency in Morse code, but that ended in 2007. The FCC does still issue commercial licenses that require Morse proficiency, but no jobs require it anymore.
Because its signals are so simple – on or off, long or short – Morse code can also be used by flashing lights. Many navies around the world use blinker lights to communicate from ship to ship when they don’t want to use radios or when radio equipment breaks down. The U.S. Navy is actually testing a system that would let a user type words and convert it to blinker light. A receiver would read the flashes and convert it back to text.
Perhaps the most notable modern use of Morse code was by Navy pilot Jeremiah Denton, while he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. In 1966, about one year into a nearly eight-year imprisonment, Denton was forced by his North Vietnamese captors to participate in a video interview about his treatment. While the camera focused on his face, he blinked the Morse code symbols for “torture,” confirming for the first time U.S. fears about the treatment of service members held captive in North Vietnam.
Navy pilot Jeremiah Denton, a prisoner of war, blinks Morse code spelling out ‘torture’ during a forced interview with his captors.
There are still many ways people can learn Morse code, and practice using it, even online. In emergency situations, it can be the only mode of communications that will get through. Beyond that, there is an art to Morse code, a rhythmic, musical fluidity to the sound. Sending and receiving it can have a soothing or meditative feeling, too, as the person focuses on the flow of individual characters, words and sentences. Overall, sometimes the simplest tool is all that’s needed to accomplish the task.
I do hope you read this article in full because it contains much interesting information. Many people will not have a clue about The Morse Code and, as you can see above, it is still relevant.
Finally, I can still remember the The Morse Code after all these years!
Science confirms what we instinctively understand!
That the way a dog looks deep into our eyes is more than emotional froth!
Follower of this blog, Anita, left a comment to yesterday’s post. This is what she wrote (my emphasis):
This has been a wonderful compilation of awesome photos. You must do it again sometime. Dogs are so wonderful and such great companions. They do have eyes that see straight through our very souls and ready to love us at the drop of a hat.
One of our dogs here at home, Oliver, has those eyes. When he stares into my own eyes it feels as though at some mystical level Oliver and I are connected.
So imagine my surprise when reading yesterday the lead essay in The Smithsonian about the evolution of the domesticated dog and me coming across this:
The relationship has become so close that even our brains are in sync. Witness a study showing that dogs hijack the human brain’s maternal bonding system. When humans and dogs gaze lovingly into one another’s eyes, each of their brains secretes oxytocin, a hormone linked to maternal bonding and trust.
In other words, science confirms what I experience as being real!! (Undoubtedly shared by many of you!)
Long ago, before your four-legged best friend learned to fetch tennis balls or watch football from the couch, his ancestors were purely wild animals in competition—sometimes violent—with our own. So how did this relationship change? How did dogs go from being our bitter rivals to our snuggly, fluffy pooch pals?
The new drama Alpha answers that question with a Hollywood “tail” of the very first human/dog partnership.
Europe is a cold and dangerous place 20,000 years ago when the film’s hero, a young hunter named Keda, is injured and left for dead. Fighting to survive, he forgoes killing an injured wolf and instead befriends the animal, forging an unlikely partnership that—according to the film—launches our long and intimate bond with dogs.
Just how many nuggets of fact might be sprinkled throughout this prehistoric fiction?
We’ll never know the gritty details of how humans and dogs first began to come together. But beyond the theater the true story is slowly taking shape, as scientists explore the real origins of our oldest domestic relationship and learn how both species have changed along canines’ evolutionary journey from wolves to dogs.
When and where were dogs domesticated?
Pugs and poodles may not look the part, but if you trace their lineages far enough back in time all dogs are descended from wolves. Gray wolves and dogs diverged from an extinct wolf species some 15,000 to 40,000 years ago. There’s general scientific agreement on that point, and also with evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare’s characterization of what happened next. ’The domestication of dogs was one of the most extraordinary events in human history,” Hare says.
But controversies abound concerning where a long-feared animal first became our closest domestic partner. Genetic studies have pinpointed everywhere from southern China to Mongolia to Europe.
Scientists cannot agree on the timing, either. Last summer, research reported in Nature Communications pushed likely dates for domestication further back into the past, suggesting that dogs were domesticated just once at least 20,000 but likely closer to 40,000 years ago. Evolutionary ecologist Krishna R. Veeramah, of Stony Brook University, and colleagues sampled DNA from two Neolithic German dog fossils, 7,000 and 4,700 years old respectively. Tracing genetic mutation rates in these genomes yielded the new date estimates.
“We found that our ancient dogs from the same time period were very similar to modern European dogs, including the majority of breed dogs people keep as pets,” explained Dr. Veeramah in a release accompanying the study. This suggests, he adds, “that there was likely only a single domestication event for the dogs observed in the fossil record from the Stone Age and that we also see and live with today.”
Comparing these genomes with many wolves and modern dog breeds suggested that dogs were domesticated in Asia, at least 14,000 years ago, and their lineages split some 14,000 to 6,400 years ago into East Asian and Western Eurasian dogs .
But because dog fossils apparently older than these dates have been found in Europe, the authors theorize that wolves may have been domesticated twice, though the European branch didn’t survive to contribute much to today’s dogs. Greger Larson, director of the Wellcome Trust Palaeogenomics & Bio-Archaeology Research Network at Oxford University, suggests that the presence of older fossils in both Europe and Asia, and the lack of dogs older than 8,000 years in between those regions, supports such a scenario.
“Our ancient DNA evidence, combined with the archaeological record of early dogs, suggests that we need to reconsider the number of times dogs were domesticated independently. Maybe the reason there hasn’t yet been a consensus about where dogs were domesticated is because everyone has been a little bit right,′ Larson said in a statement accompanying the study.
Perhaps more intriguing than exactly when or where dogs became domesticated is the question of how. Was it really the result of a solitary hunter befriending an injured wolf? That theory hasn’t enjoyed much scientific support.
One similar theory argues that early humans somehow captured wolf pups, kept them as pets, and gradually domesticated them. This could have happened around the same time as the rise of agriculture, about 10,000 years ago. The oldest fossils generally agreed to be domestic dogs date to about 14,000 years, but several disputed fossils more than twice that age may also be dogs or at least their no longer entirely wolf ancestors.
Since more recent genetic studies suggest that the date of domestication occurred far earlier, a different theory has gained the support of many scientists. “Survival of the friendliest” suggests that wolves largely domesticated themselves among hunter-gatherer people.
“That the first domesticated animal was a large carnivore, who would have been a competitor for food—anyone who has spent time with wild wolves would see how unlikely it was that we somehow tamed them in a way that led to domestication,” says Brian Hare, director of the Duke University Canine Cognition Center.
But, Hare notes, the physical changes that appeared in dogs over time, including splotchy coats, curly tails, and floppy ears, follow a pattern of a process known as self-domestication. It’s what happens when the friendliest animals of a species somehow gain an advantage. Friendliness somehow drives these physical changes, which can begin to appear as visible byproducts of this selection in only a few generations.
“Evidence for this comes from another process of domestication, one involving the famous case of domesticated foxes in Russia. This experiment bred foxes who were comfortable getting close to humans, but researchers learned that these comfortable foxes were also good at picking up on human social cues,” explains Laurie Santos, director of the Canine Cognition Center at Yale University. The selection of social foxes also had the unintended consequence of making them look increasingly adorable—like dogs.
Hare adds that most wolves would have been fearful and aggressive towards humans—because that’s the way most wolves behave. But some would have been friendlier, which may have given them access to human hunter-gatherer foodstuffs..
“These wolves would have had an advantage over other wolves, and the strong selection pressure on friendliness had a whole lot of byproducts, like the physical differences we see in dogs,” he says. “This is self-domestication. We did not domesticate dogs. Dogs domesticated themselves.”
A study last year provided some possible genetic support for this theory. Evolutionary biologist Bridgette von Holdt, of Princeton University, and colleagues suggest that hypersocial behavior may have linked our two species and zero in on a few genes that may drive that behavior.
“Generally speaking, dogs display a higher level of motivation than wolves to seek out prolonged interactions with humans. This is the behavior I’m interested in,” she says.
Von Holdt’s research shows that the social dogs she tested have disruption to a genomic region that remains intact in more aloof wolves. Interestingly, in humans genetic variation in the same stretch of DNA causes Williams-Beuren syndrome, a condition characterized by exceptionally trusting and friendly behaviors. Mice also become more social if changes occur to these genes, previous studies have discovered.
The results suggest that random variations to these genes, with others yet unknown, may have played a role in causing some dogs to first cozy up with humans.
“We were able to identify one of the many molecular features that likely shape behavior,” she adds.
How have dogs changed since becoming our best friends?
Though the origins of the dog/human partnership remain unknown, it’s becoming increasingly clear that each species has changed during our long years together. The physical differences between a basset hound and wolf are obvious, but dogs have also changed in ways that are more than skin (or fur) deep.
But, Yale’s Laurie Santos says, dogs may have compensated in other interesting ways. They’ve learned to use humans to solve problems.
“Several researchers have presented dogs and wolves with an impossible problem (e.g., a puzzle box that can’t be opened or a pulling tool that stops working) and have asked how these different species react,” Santos explains. “Researchers have found that wolves try lots of different trial and error tactics to solve the problem— they get at it physically. But at the first sign of trouble, dogs do something different. They look back to their human companion for help. This work hints that dogs may have lost some of their physical problem-solving abilities in favor of more social strategies, ones that rely on the unique sort of cooperation domesticated dogs have with humans. This also matches the work showing that dogs are especially good at using human social cues.”
The relationship has become so close that even our brains are in sync. Witness a study showing that dogs hijack the human brain’s maternal bonding system. When humans and dogs gaze lovingly into one another’s eyes, each of their brains secretes oxytocin, a hormone linked to maternal bonding and trust. Other mammal relationships, including those between mom and child, or between mates, feature oxytocin bonding, but the human/dog example is the only case in which it has been observed at work between two different species.
The intimacy of this relationship means that, by studying dogs, we may also learn much about human cognition.
We may never know the exact story of how the first dogs and humans joined forces, but dogs have undoubtedly helped us in countless ways over the years. Still, only now may we be realizing that by studying them, they can help us to better understand ourselves.
I can do no better than to repeat those last two sentences of the essay by Brian Handwerk:
We may never know the exact story of how the first dogs and humans joined forces, but dogs have undoubtedly helped us in countless ways over the years. Still, only now may we be realizing that by studying them, they can help us to better understand ourselves.
For, boy of boy, do we humans need help when it comes to better understanding ourselves!
In gratitude to Roger Davis, long-time friend from my UK days, who forwarded me the link to the following. (Caution, the video does contain some coarse language probably unsuitable for those below the age of 16.)
Loss of internet service as of 14:00 PDT 8th June.
Dear Readers and Followers,
Around 2:30pm yesterday our wireless internet service we use went down. It reveals the only disadvantage of living in a rather rural location! It is now twenty-four hours since our service failed and not only is it still down but the provider, Outreach Internet, are not giving any indication as to the nature of the problem and when they expect to be back online.
So for the first time in approaching six years there has not been a daily post today. More to the point I am incapable of letting you know when I will back to blogging!
I’m grateful to neighbours Jim and Janet for allowing me to use their computer and internet connection to publish this post.
Hopefully normal service will be resumed before too long!
Happy Birthday Dan! (And that word is ‘fortnight’!)
Back in September, 2013 I wrote a post called Closing my windows. It explained how I first met Dan Gomez; now some thirty-six years ago. Let me republish the relevant section:
Earlier on I wrote about launching Wordcraft, the word-processing software for personal computers. That was in early 1979 and later that year I was invited to present Wordcraft at an international gathering of Commodore dealers held in Boston, Mass.
During my presentation, I used the word ‘fortnight’ unaware that Americans don’t use this common English word. Immediately, someone about 10 rows back in the audience called out, “Hey, Handover! What’s a fortnight?”
It released the presenter’s tension in me and I really hammed up my response in saying, “Don’t be so silly, everybody knows the word fortnight!” Seem to remember asking the audience at large who else didn’t know the word. Of course, most raised their arms!
Now on a bit of a roll, I deliberately started using as many bizarre and archaic English words that came to me. Afterwards, the owner of the voice came up to me and introduced himself. He was Dan Gomez, a Californian based in Costa Mesa near Los Angeles and also involved in developing software for the Commodore.
Dan became my US West Coast distributor for Wordcraft and was very successful. When Dataview was sold, Dan and I continued to see each other regularly and I count him now as one of my dear friends. Through knowing Dan I got to know Dan’s sister Suzann and her husband Don. It was Su that invited me to spend Christmas 2007 with her and Don at their home in San Carlos, Mexico. Jean also lived in San Carlos and was close friends with Su. Together they had spent many years rescuing feral dogs from the streets of San Carlos and finding new homes for them.
Thus it was that I met Jean. Discovering that Jean and I were born 23 miles apart in London!
So from ‘Hey, what’s a fortnight’ to living as happily as I have ever been in the rural countryside of Oregon. Funny old world!
It is Dan’s birthday today. One of those big birthday milestones in life. (And it would be wrong for me to openly state his age today but just let me say that Dan would be seeing a sixties birthday again!)
Tomorrow, I want to offer the example of someone who has been sufficiently strong to take one small step back to sanity.
What I am offering is the reposting of an item in 2013 on Transition Network over in the UK. As you read it, do bear in mind that the references to Amazon are, in the main, to Amazon in the United Kingdom.
I’ve done it. I’ve closed my Amazon account. I now stand before you as an ex-Amazon account-holder. I feel curiously shaky, but at the same time empowered, excited even. While opening a new Amazon account is easy as pie, closing one is another matter altogether. I’d like to share with you how, and why, I did it.
Was it the recent Panorama programme about working conditions in those vast Amazon ‘fulfilment centres’ that tipped me across into doing something? Was it the stories about the appallingly low levels of tax Amazon pay in the UK? Was it the recent video showing Amazon’s plans to be delivering across the UK within 30 minutes through the use of drones? Was it hearing the level of taxpayers’ money that goes in sweeteners to attracting Amazon to open up in different communities, while the profits generated pour out of those same places? What actually tipped me across was a conversation I had with a book seller in my town. It was that that led me, finally, to build the steely resolve needed to close down my Amazon account.
Yes, I confess, I had an Amazon account. I buy music from my local record shop, I support my local book shops, but there are times when I need a book quickly, or feel I do, and it’s just easier and more convenient. And, if I’m honest, I love getting exciting parcels in the post. And isn’t it cheap? But as Carole Cadwalladr, who went undercover in Amazon’s Swansea ‘fulfilment centre’ for The Guardian puts it:
Our lust for cheap, discounted goods delivered to our doors promptly and efficiently has a price. We just haven’t worked out what it is yet.
I’ve always had that nagging conscience that it’s not OK really, but I have just had it ticking away in the background and carried on using it on occasion. The conversation that tipped it for me, with my local bookseller, was around “what would it take for you to stop supporting Amazon?” His example was Primark, recently implicated in child labour in the manufacturing of some its clothes. We know that’s the case, but we still shop there. If we knew that 8 year olds work there, would we stop shopping there? Or 5 year olds? If we knew that every day they arrive for work they get hit with a stick, would we still pop in there for a cheap new shirt? And if they got hit 3 times, and then again in the middle of the day? Where do we draw the line?
Our tendency is to draw a line, but then for that line to slip. What swung it for me was thinking that actually, what I already know should be enough to make me withdraw my support. Also, it was thinking about where the world will be in 5 years time if we continue to give Amazon our support. More and more low paid jobs, with little Union protection, in conditions described in the BBC documentary as “… all the bad stuff at once. The characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness.”
We’ll see Amazon ‘fulfilment centres’ that look like a wasp’s nest, with drones flying in and out. High streets swept clean of bookshops, indeed of most shops, as Amazon spread into selling virtually everything that local economies sell, but far cheaper. It made me think about what kind of a world I’m creating for my sons as they enter the work place. What kind of opportunities will Amazon offer them, as they gut local economies and focus economic activity into vast warehouses along the side of motorways?
I give so much of my time every day to trying to create a different, more just, more resilient world, yet my shopping decisions undermine that. There is also an extraordinary arrogance to thinking that it is OK for you to fill peoples’ airspace, the sky above their heads, with your drones, delivering your products to people for your profit. What happens for a company to get so huge that that is considered acceptable? It is about getting too big. Amazon is too big. Far too big. But it clearly sees that it has only just started. That’s not good.
So, decision made, and with a commitment to source those things in other ways, I went to the website to close my account. Closing an account with Amazon is like breaking up with a girlfriend whose level of obsessive denial is such that the possibility you might want to split up with her doesn’t even enter her consciousness. It’s a fascinating process. Opening an account with Amazon is so easy. Closing an account is, as my 15 year-old son might put it, a right mission.
Click on ‘Your account’ and there is no option anywhere of “Close my account”. Nothing. Like it’s not even a possibility that it might entertain. I had to Google (and don’t get me started on them) “closing your Amazon account”. If you search the Amazon site for “close my account” it yields no results. See below:
The Google link took me to their Help section, on pages that bear the slogan “we’re the people with the smile on the box”, prompting the thought that the inside of their box-like warehouses are probably somewhat bereft of smiles. If offers you a drop-down menu under the helpful title “what can we help you with?”. Surely that’s where I’ll find “Close my Account”? No. You get a range of choices, “An order I placed”, “Kindle”, “Digital services” and, er, “Something else”. Guess I’m “something else” then. So I click that.
I’m then given another 4 options, none of which are “Close my account”. I’m asked to “tell us more about your issue”, and given another list where my option is “other non-order question”. Given that still, the idea that I might have got this far could mean I want to close my account is clearly unimaginable, I am then given an option to email, to phone, or to “chat”. So I click on “chat”, and am told “a customer service associate will be here in a moment”.
A charming man then begins to chat with me. Here’s how our conversation went:
Me: I want to close my account please. How do I do that?
Tom (not his real name): Thank you for contacting Amazon.co.uk. My name is Tom. May I know your name, please?
Tom: Thank you. I’m sorry to hear that you want to close the account. May I know the reason for closing the account please?
Me: Certainly. I am appalled by the way Amazon operate as highlighted in the recent BBC Panorama programme. I am appalled at the recent story on Amazon considering deliveries in future by drone. I am appalled by the low level of tax Amazon pay in the UK. I have been a customer for years, but I feel Amazon has become too big, and eats everything in its path. It is no longer something I wish to support.
Tom: I’m sorry for the situation. For confidentiality reasons, I’m not able to close your account for you in chat, so I’m going to send you an e-mail with the information to close the account. When you receive it, please respond to that e-mail so that we will close your account.
Me: Thank you Tom. I would really like my reasons for leaving to be registered somehow, as I think a lot more people will be closing their accounts for similar reasons, and it would be good for that to be noted by those in charge. Will that be possible?
Tom: Unfortunately we will not be able to comment on this issue. However, I will send you an email regarding the closing of the account. Is there any thing else I can help you with?
Me: I am not asking you to comment on the issue. I am asking you to make sure that the reasons for my closing my account are passed on to management. If I ran a business I would want to know why my customers were closing their accounts. Is that not the case at Amazon?
Tom: Sure, all the information’s will be recorded and forwarded to the appropriate department.
Me: Thank you Tom. I appreciate your help.
Tom: Thanks for your understanding. We hope to see you again soon! Have a Nice Day!
I later received an email from Customer Support to say:
“We appreciate your feedback and have forwarded it to the appropriate team internally. We are proud to provide a safe and positive working environment for all of our associates. Information about working at our fulfilment centres can be found at the following link: www.amazon.co.uk/fcpractices“
Amazon may be cheap, but cheap comes at a cost for someone else. And, after all, much of what is bought on there is throwaway rubbish. As Carole Cadwalladr puts it:
The warehouse is 800,000 square feet, or, in what is Amazon’s standard unit of measurement, the size of 11 football pitches (its Dunfermline warehouse, the UK’s largest, is 14 football pitches). It is a quarter of a mile from end to end. There is space, it turns out, for an awful lot of crap.
Me, I resolve to buy less, but better. Less, but longer-lasting. Less, but local. The thought of where we will end up in 5 years time, 10 years time, 20 years time, if companies like Amazon continue as they are, really frightens me. It’s not good, it’s not right. It’s not about our needs, it’s about the needs of huge investors. I want a different world for my boys.
I can’t, on my own, do that much about it. I can’t insist that the UK government legislate so that, as in Holland, the Recommended Retail Price (RRP) is the legal minimum at which any book can be sold, although I think that is grounds for a really timely campaign. Because of that, Amazon don’t really operate in Holland. Bring back the RRP for books here, and let’s have a level playing field. As I say, I can’t do much, but I can withdraw my support. I just have withdrawn my support. It feels surprisingly unsettling, as one does after ending a relationship, but it was the right thing to do. It may be a drop in the ocean, but if enough people do it….
As you might expect, I do have an Amazon account but will look closely into alternatives. In that regard, I just want to expand on the link underneath the earlier phrase, “commitment to source those things in other ways“. The link takes you to an article in the Guardian newspaper, online version, dated the 16th May, 2013. Here are the opening paragraphs:
Amazon’s tax bill is in the news again, after a Guardian investigation put the spotlight on its financial arrangements. There’s a growing swell of people who want to use an alternative place to buy – including my colleague Patrick Collinson who wrote about his attempts to kick the Amazon habit in November.
But it is not always easy to find good alternatives online: if you want to buy either the latest Dan Brown novel (and clearly some people do), Mad Men series five on DVD, or even a packet of Pampers nappies, Amazon seems to come top of the search pages.
Consume less, share more. Those are some basic principles behind degrowth, an idea and movement that rejects economic growth as a goal for society. This video explains degrowth with oranges, juice, and peels.
But wait, you ask, isn’t growth a good thing? In an age when we’re conditioned to equate growth with progress, degrowth sounds insane. In reality, pursuing endless exponential expansion of the economy is insane — and impossible. Humans already use resources faster than Earth can replenish them and produce wastes, like carbon emissions, faster than Earth can assimilate them. Hence, degrowth.
Degrowth isn’t about making everyone poorer; it’s about redefining wealth to acknowledge that real well-being can’t be measured in dollars. It’s about breaking down the artificial barrier between life and work; it’s about valuing cooperation over competition; it’s about democracy, autonomy, solidarity, and climate justice. Most importantly, degrowth means sharing society’s surplus for awesome art projects and epic, week-long gatherings.
Like thousands of others, Jean and I are regular viewers of the TED Talks.
So first the old. Here’s a reminder of the inspiring nature of mathematics; in this case Fibonacci numbers.
Published on Nov 8, 2013
Math is logical, functional and just … awesome. Mathemagician Arthur Benjamin explores hidden properties of that weird and wonderful set of numbers, the Fibonacci series. (And reminds you that mathematics can be inspiring, too!)
Now to the new. Innovation at its very best.
Published on Jul 11, 2013
The development of new medicine is problematic because laboratories cannot replicate the human body’s environment, making it difficult to determine how patients will respond to treatment. At TEDxBoston, Geraldine Hamilton demonstrates how scientists can implant living human cells into microchips that mimic the body’s conditions. These “organs-on-a-chip” can be used to study drug toxicity, identify potential new therapies, and could lead to safer clinical trials.