December 2021

The Problem with Tree-Planting Campaigns

From last July: CityLab looks at the “darker side” of urban tree-planting initiatives. Simply planting a million trees—or, say, two billion—is not enough; those trees have to survive to maturity for their environmental benefits to be realized. “Keeping new trees alive in the city is tricky. And it’s not cheap to plant trees right. Too often, when cities set their eyes on planting an impressive number of trees, Hutyra says, they underestimate the investment—natural resources, labor and funding—needed to keep them alive long enough to see those gains.”

Bussard Ramjets: Possible but Impracticable

The Bussard ramjet won’t work as well as you think it could. A new study does the math on John Fishback’s contribution to the ramjet—gathering protons from the interstellar medium for the ramjet’s fusion drive via a magnetic scoop—and concludes that while it’s physically possible, there are substantial constraints: the cut-off speed is lower than expected, limiting the effects of time dilation, and the magnetic field would have to be something like 4,000 km wide and 150 million km long in order to work. In other words: for certain very preposterous values of physically possible. [Universe Today]

The Facit Man

Chris Sandström’s slideshow charts the history of the Facit Man. This was the slightly disturbing mascot of Facit, the Swedish company that made mechanical calculators, office equipment and my favourite typewriters. Basically an elf on a shelf with a pointy cap adorned with either numbers or the Facit name—a Clippy for the mechanical age—the Facit Man was more about promoting Facit’s main business, mechanical calculators (in comparison, typewriters were just a side hustle); when electronic calculators came along Facit just got clobbered.

(A million Facit Man figures were made; I need at least one.)

Spoilers, Endings and Criticism

I’m always keen to read an argument against spoiler alerts; in Wired, Jason Kehe makes the point that avoiding spoilers prevents us from talking about whether art is successful because we can’t talk about endings. “[G]ood criticism should not cater to our childish fears of spoiled pleasures, with disclaimers and warnings and other acts of silly self-debasement. It should honestly evaluate a work of art in its entirety, and you can’t do that without talking about what happens. Besides, it’s not even clear that spoilers really do ruin one’s experience of art.” Preventing spoilers is at bottom a marketing tactic, and has been since the end credits of Witness for the Prosecution (1957) asked the audience not to reveal its plot twist. That was, and is, to get more bums in seats. Marketing is the enemy of good criticism.