World Population Trends

This post at Slate is for all my conservative friends — and I’m looking at you dad — that have sent me links over the years arguing that the West is doomed because Muslims are outbreeding us by some ratio. It turns out that population growth rates are declining world wide: the populations of China and Russia could be halved in the years to come. So, please, chill out. (Or at least always examine evidence or trends with the biggest possible frame of reference.)

Recent patterns of crop yield growth and stagnation

Nature is reporting on a recent study that “examined the trends in crop yields for four key global crops: maize, rice, wheat and soybeans” and concluded that “although yields continue to increase in many areas, we find that across 24–39% of maize-, rice-, wheat- and soybean-growing areas, yields either never improve, stagnate or collapse.”

That’s not good news for an increasingly urbanized population dependent upon complex, and all too distant, agricultural producers. It is, potentially, good news for farmers — and here I am thinking more of family farms and not agribusiness.

Hartmut Essinger

DesignBoom has posted a lot of images from Hartmut Essinger’s archives detailing his early work with Apple. While the images are from 1982 to 1985, only a few of the designs were implemented during that period. The rest seemed to have seeped into the design consciousness of the company.

As I’ve noted before, I always like encountering past views of the future. What is really surprising about Essinger’s work is how untied it is to contemporary technological possibilities. The prototypes for a tablet computer and a notebook computer are particularly striking for just how close they were to what would come to be.

Heavier-than-Air Solar Ships

A company called SolarShip has debuted its plans for three heavier-than-air airships that use solar panels built into the roof of their envelope to power themselves. The short video they have released illustrates the concept really well: I almost used “demonstrates” but these are clearly computer animations — very well done animations keyed over actual footage for some stunning realism. I love seeing people re-thinking supposedly old technology like airships using modern materials to create new possibilities, and I like to imagine what it would be like to work in such a company.

Emory Gets It

Notice the high production values of this piece from Emory University’s Youtube channel: the faculty member is well-lit and the sound is good. Now imagine how little effort the actual piece took, once the infrastructure is in place. It’s getting the infrastructure in place that is the work. But Emory clearly gets that promoting their faculty as content producers, as knowledge creators, is key to everything else they do and that it can be done using the same infrastructure that is already in place for university public relations and, probably, for distance learning.

Flying Car in Reality

Who hasn’t dreamed this? If only I still had my history of cars book I had when I was a kid that had as its last entry the future flying car.

The future is here. (It’s just not evenly distributed yet.) [A nod to Tim O'Reilly for getting it so right.]

Geek Anti-Intellectualism

Larry Sanger has written, in a very heartfelt way, about what he sees as the rise of anti-intellectualism among the technorati, which he dubs “the geeks” but I think maybe my use of “technorati” is more useful here. I won’t repeat Sanger’s argument here, which really sort of traces how the idea in the public’s mind that the internet places the “wisdom of the world at our fingertips” has come to be fully embraced by the builders themselves of that infrastructure, who I think Sanger suggests should know better.

Perhaps more interesting than his post are the comments it draws, a fair number of which are individuals claiming to be “anti-intellectual” because “intellectuals don’t do anything” or because “intellectuals are elitist.”

My mind quite literally boggled at this. Here are people writing and reading about a very fine cultural/social point and they don’t consider themselves to be intellectuals. Now, I admit that anti-intellectualism has always had an enormous amount of cache in mainstream American culture, but the internet was largely built by folks who wished to have no truck with that kind of thinking, folks who wanted to think and wanted to think outside the constraints of their thinking having to have immediate application — what else is a blog for goodness sake?

What has happened here? Has geek culture shifted or has it grown to accept more individuals, many of whom don’t necessarily believe in the same things? (Please note that I am not arguing for any kind of cultural purism here. I am just a little stymied by the shift from Tim Berners-Lee and Dave Winer to the “intellectuals don’t do nothing” that seems to have occurred.)

Here’s the link to Sanger’s post. Go read it, and the comments, for yourself.