polemicist: a writer who argues in opposition to others  

A BLOG about science, technology, consumerism, philosophy, higher education, media and other bothersome stuff that makes up modern life...

20080828.1656 A Mad Scheme!

Reading about the Pacific Plastic Sargasso mess in the middle of the ocean, (aka the North Gyre) and seeing how much attention the raft-O-recyclables drew to the problem (not nearly enough by half) I got to thinking.  In the Neal Stephenson book Snow Crash there is a Thing called The Raft, which is essentially a floating community of barges, rafts, boats, junks, ships, etc. that were lashed around a recycled aircraft carrier.  It was a sort of small floating nation.

So I got to thinking.  There's all of that plastic floating out there with no one around for hundreds of miles.  No pirates in their right mind would go there since it's all a major hazard to navigation - not to mention propeller blades and sail-boat keels.  Floating out there, you're alone in all directions with an aquatic-land-fill of massive proportion.

It is all just raw resources now is it not?  It could conceivably be mined and recycled.

First let us look at what is involved in recycling plastics.  This tells us that it is important to sort the things that we might pull out of the sea.  Likely you could start with only items that are intact in a form that you can use (like a buoy, bucket or surfboard) or ones with the recycling symbol on them to identify the material. 

Then you get to sorting and re-purposing things.  Type 1 can be used to make ropes, sails & fabrics, or could be used as insulating fill.  Type 2 could be used to make new containers, floats, or vessels.  Type 6 can be used to make coolers, floats, insulation, etc.. And so on.

The next question is what are we making out in the middle of the ocean with all of this crap?  Simple - a bigger boat.  Just start manufacturing a floating pier.  Then make 3 more & connect them in a square.  Now fill that in & keep going.  Now you have a platform.  Make a few of those & lash them together just so & you have a barge.

Given enough time and effort, you could make a floating recycled hippie city in the middle of international waters.  That has value all to itself an an autonomous zone.

The biggest problems are of course:

  • food - you can't eat the polluted fish if you want to survive
  • weather - all of your latest work can blow/wash away and you could be in serious physical danger in an experimental vessel that might not be seaworthy yet
  • resources - recycling plastic is not simple and it is not cheap.  Solar, wind and wave power are all that can be harnessed as energy in the long haul.  Also a really good boat to operate out of to begin with is key.
  • people - It will take months of grueling thankless work to even get started and it takes a special kind of dedication to stick it out

It is a nutty idea to be sure - but the centre of the ocean is downhill from everywhere - and it seems that all of the world's garbage gets there eventually.  You could say it provides a limitless supply of raw materials.  The key is to find a clever way to use it all that scales up the size of the problem.

Imagine a floating surfboard company that made boards from 100% mid-oceanic recycled plastics for example.  There has to be a way to make it a sustainable project.


20080819.1353 Medicine as a Commodity

I have a toothache.  Lots of people get them - it's nothing special.  But trying to deal with it has exposed all kinds of ridiculousness.  To begin, I called up to get an appointment with the Dentist because I chipped a tooth.  That took a week.  So for one week I walked around with a hole in my tooth at the gum-line.  Then I went & they patched it up & sent me on my way.  Pretty normal, but why the wait?

So then a week later the pain starts in the tooth next to it.  Again days pass before I can another appointment.  Now I go in & explain where & how it hurts.  I got it a little shaved down in case I was grinding it in my sleep & got prescriptions for painkillers and antibiotics.  In essence I got a "wait & see" sort of response.  It leaves me wondering if that's not how I got an infection to begin with...

So I go straight to the pharmacy.  By this point it's 7:30PM.  They take my prescription & ask when I'd like to pick it up.  I said I was hoping to get it that night, so they said to come back in an hour.  Unfortunately I took a little longer than that and came back at 9:15 to find them closed for the night.

Next came the referral to an endodontist for the root canal.  I took the time from work, drove 1/2 hour one way to sit in a waiting room & fill out all the information, since it was my first visit to their office.  Only then did I find out that they don't take my insurance & demand payment in full up front.

My response was simple: "Then we are done here."  I took the paperwork with my personal information off of their clipboard, handing it back to them & left.

Then I drove back to work, having wasted over an hour, 2 gallons of gas and accomplished nothing.  There goes my lunch hour.

Next I found myself online looking at the directory for my insurance plan to find another doctor.   It occurs to me that no longer do I follow the advice of my own Dentist and people whom I trust but rather I have to call on some random schmuck who had the foresight to list themselves with my insurance company.

I'd be willing to venture that most insurance companies use price as their guiding qualification - whereas what most people are concerned with is reputation.  Something tells me that has nothing to do with it.  If I have any understanding of how that industry works - in order to accept a plan, a service provider has to agree to observing a pre-established rate schedule and testing protocols developed by insurance companies rather than by doctors.

So as a picky consumer I find myself asking these questions:

  • Why does it take so long to get an appointment to begin with when I have a problem that is causing me physical pain?  Don't they try to triage & prioritize the patients at all?  Even salespeople pre-qualify cold callers.
  • Why does it take an hour+ to hit some keys on a computer & have a machine put some pills into a bottle, print a label & then you put it in a bag?  I could see 20 minutes if you need to contact a doctor for information or something, but that should be the exception, not the rule.
  • Why do I have to surrender the prescription I got from the doctor to the pharmacy before I get my medicine?  I might have just gone up the street to the 24 hour place, finding the place I went to originally closed, no?
  • Why is it that store/office hours and policies are more important than people's health?  Is it so much to ask that you have another doctor that you are affiliated with that could handle your overflow?
  • When did it become OK to use pain as a bill-collector?  Here I am, in an office for a root-canal, clearly in a lot of pain & you are standing there telling me that if I don't pay in full in advance, that you're not going to help me.  
Hippocrates is dead surely and forgotten nearly.  "I will do no harm" isn't the same thing as "I will help" now is it?

20080816.1755 Whose Rights Are We Protecting Exactly?

In the nation of Turkey there is a law that says that you are not allowed to teach religion to a child before the age of five.  I find this practice to be imminently civilized and I think that we should adopt it in the US, and more.

There is and always has been a lot  of noise in our culture about protecting children from exposure to all kinds of things.  Usually the stir is about the really negative things that children need protection from like pornography and extreme violence, but there are graduations of what is and what is not tolerable.  An example is profanity.

I think we need to codify into law exactly what it is that we mean by protection.  The Rights we are protecting are those as parents to control everything that can influence our children's way of thinking.  

What is more, it is clear that this Right is held so dearly that to many it is considered the legitimate reason to override the Rights to Freedom of other adults.  "Adult" activities must be performed, if it all, in complete privacy with more than reasonable precautions to secure such sequestering.

With the new rating systems being applied to media, we have a fine level of granularity for applying that control.  Maybe you think mild levels of violence are OK but nothing too dark & sinister?  Well then that copy of Blade starring Wesley Snipes is right out, since the rating on it clearly lists 'Vampire Violence' as the thing to watch out for.

Why do we bother to list that if it isn't something that someone takes issue with?

But let us be clear here - 'family values' are what keep DVD's with female nudity off of the front self at WalMart - so mainstream Hollywood hasn't made such a movie in 10 years - since 1 out of every 3 DVD's is sold there.  But that is not infringing on the Rights of the people who would have bought that DVD in favor of the families.  It is failing to service a market demographic group however - i.e. adults with money who want entertainment without the child-safety filters.

Of course when the rating systems fail to merely make recommendations but instead begin to enforce a cultural agenda with the might of The Law - then things are a little different aren't they?  Sexuality for example is an idea that is controlled by the state and the dispensing of meme-laden media to underage individuals that contain a certain level of sexuality is a crime.

 Why?  Because enough people agreed that pornography isn't something that they want any children to ever have access to.

Contrary to the opinions of some loud-mouthed fools, not everyone in this country observes the same religion.  The dispensing of religious material to very small children is potentially very disturbing to some people.  Is it so outrageous to put an age limit on when you are allowed to do that?

In our culture Kindergarten usually coincides with age 5.  I understand that there are private religious schools that people send their children to and I an not necessarily bad-mouthing them.  I am saying that seems to be an age limit that is not overly disruptive to society as it stands now and that it would not seem to conflict with them.

I think that there might be better ways to create a unified theory about what kind of control parents ultimately are allowed by law to have in general.  Examples of orthodox religious practices, cults, and strict or alternative lifestyle practices  that have endangered the health & welfare of children abound, but it has always been an issue that no one has wanted to face head on, in my opinion.


20080804.0823 The Shunt Is Imminent

It would seem that The Grand Experiment is drawing to a close.

22 months ago I decided to start messing around with Google's technology stack and try out this new-fangled blogging thing all at the same time.  Since then I've broken it down to monthly listings of my rantings.

The pity is that they have only recently added limited support to the Safari browser for this site editing tool.  That means that I would be able to start updating more regularly since I could write from anywhere... A truly scary thought indeed.

This is the new message that greeted me when trying to sign in to work on this:

So it looks like I'll be moving to "Google Sites" really soon.  I guess I'd better look into that.  If you actually read this thing - look forward to links & redirects coming your way really soon...

I wonder what will happen to the gadgets/widgets, etc. .  That should be interesting to watch.  You would think that they would just reuse this technology in the other area... but who knows?

Here are a few examples now, just so we have something to test with that is recent:

This widget will display a different microscopic image every time you reload the page:


This one is just the classic PacMan:


I am stating the obvious in anticipation of this page eventually breaking.  

We should apparently find out about that soon.