Public notebook

The opportunity in avoiding catastrophe

  An article in the FT by Martin Wolf made a point that I’d not heard before: avoiding climate change would bring massive benefits to the global economy (with the side benefit of averting a great deal of human catastrophe).

Even more interesting is that one obvious move is about subsidies – not subsidising renewable energy, but stopping subsidising fossil fuels.

This is Wolf’s article in The Financial Times:

This [energy] revolution will not happen without state support. It would be helped by eliminating subsidies for fossil fuels, estimated by the International Monetary Fund at $5.3tn for 2015 (6.5 per cent of global output), with the inclusion of spillover effects, such as air pollution. This is three orders of magnitude larger than state spending on research and development in renewable energy.

5.3 trillion US dollars. That’s 3.26 trillion pounds. That’s almost seven times the valuation of Apple, the most valuable company in the world. 3.5 times the amount the UK government spent on bailing out the banks, every year.

: : The article’s worth registering on the FT site to read if you don’t have a subscription. Also Why Are We Waiting, by Nicholas Stern, published earlier this year by MIT Press is cited often if you want to find out more.

Public notebook

Unstructured writing and thinking

It’s interesting working with your children on their revision. You get to re-learn basic French, discover the reason you learnt algebra (in order to help your children revise algebra, apparently) and also the basics of structuring narratives and essays.

Much of my blogging – when it breaks out* – is off the cuff, exploring an idea through prose. Very often I’ll cut the concluding part of a blog post and paste it to the beginning of the post and then change the headline. By the end of the post, I’ve actually figured out what the post is about.

My children have been taught to write a small plan for their essays and stories at the beginning, even – or especially – in exams. It’s something I could do with trying out more in some of my writing, I guess. Although when I write texts longer than a couple of thousand words I write in a plan – using Scrivener.

Choosing when to write in a structured and an unstructured way is important. Unstructured writing can be a formidable tool for reflection and exploring an idea. As I wrote recently on Medium, I’ve started using journal-like writing instead of using priority lists and plans to work what needs to be focused on and to work my way through complex issues and problems.

Writing in an unstructured way like this – starting a piece of writing without knowing where you are going – helps the subconscious get involved, while allowing the conscious mind to create a little order, a little post-rationalisation for gut-feel decisions, or a little pre-emptive rationalising to set the stage for big decisions to be made.

Writing in an unstructured way is basically a conversation with yourself. But without the rocking, muttering and shouted expletives that can make colleagues feel uncomfortable and draw the attention of the authorities, if you live in a society where mental health issues are noted and help given by the state. Social accpetable external monologuing, then.

* I am currently experiencing perfect conditions for blogging: (1) I am ill, which always seems to help – I started this blog in 2005 when I was bed-bound with ‘flu – body in ruins, but mind impatient to get on with something; (2) the aforementioned revision with the kids: my son’s revising for exams so now our living room has transformed from a games and TV entertainment hub into a quiet study centre – it’s nice that even with a headful of cold I can sit down here with them and read and write. Maybe I should make this permanent. They’d hate me forever, but we’d all get a lot of work done; (3) I’m trying out new tech – my half-term, man ‘flu-constrained personal project is to rationalise the large number of writing apps I have on my devices and settle on one or two. I might write about the results of that later…


Public notebook

Robo-journo beta open to all

The first report generated by software rather than a human reporter appeared in March last year. It was about an earthquake in Southern California.

Now a company called Automated Insights has made a beta version of its software available for anyone to try, says Wired:

Wordsmith, a platform that provides so-called robot journalists to organisations, is now available to the public.

The platform, owned by Automated Insights, provides “auto generated, data-heavy articles” on topics such as quarterly earnings and college sports. A beta version is available now on Wordsmith’s website, with a full launch expected in January 2016. The technology is already used by companies such as the Associated Press and Yahoo.

Anything that can be turned into a flow chart can be automated, as I heard Ben Hammersly put it at Learnfest this summer.

Public notebook

How many online petitions does it take…

Tracking online petitions…

Of 20,000 online petitions submitted to the UK government over 18 months:

…the vast majority of petitions do not achieve any measure of success; over 99 percent fail to get the 10,000 signatures required for an official response and only 0.1 percent attain the 100,000 required for a parliamentary debate.

Public notebook

Having a vision when you can’t see where you’re going

Buzzfeed’s a company I follow as closely as I can – for a couple of reasons. It’s understood content and the Web better than any other media organisation (“sharing is distribution ”) and also it is constantly having to reinvent itself as the Web evolves.

On Friday, CEO Jonas Perretti publicly posted a letter to his company:

During the explosive growth of the past year, it’s been easy to lose sight of the big picture. We don’t have an existing model to copy, because we are building something that has never existed before and wasn’t even possible before social networks and smartphones became the primary way people consume news and entertainment around the world.

The post goes on to calibrate the company’s vision as a “cross-platform global network” for media. That Buzzfeed’s vision and identity changes over time is a strength – more than many CEOs Perretti acknowledges uncertainty about their destination and the route they’ll take.