World’s Greatest Explorers? Guess What? They Are Not Even Human

Who is the greatest explorer in human history? Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Captain James Cook?

You might be surprised to learn that the world’s greatest explorer is a machine built by NASA.

Make that two machines.

Mind you, not just any machines. A pair of machines that defied prediction, expectation and what was thought to be their own limitations.

Machines that can almost think for themselves, work tirelessly without sleep or rest. Going bravely where no one has ever gone. Time and space machines in the truest sense.

The Universe is a pretty big place. But two space probes, each of them the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, made it just that little bit smaller and all of us, small as well.

Voyager 1 and 2, launched in August of 1977, were tasked with taking colour photographs and measurements of Jupiter and Saturn. But these two spacecraft were never destined to be ordinary, whatever they might have achieved. Fifteen hundred engineers worked for five years to build them at a cost of $200 million. Of course if they managed to run rings around Saturn and Jupiter, pardon the pun,  they would be pressed onward into uncharted territory. Very uncharted territory.

In the beginning, after launch, both Voyagers performed flawlessly. But the budget for their mission was always tight. The Voyagers needed 200 engineers working full time to shepherd both craft to their destination. Instead, what they got was a kind of dumping ground for new University graduates who suddenly had the responsibility of controlling some of the most sophisticated state of the art electronics at that time.

According to Murphy’s law, anything that can go wrong, will. In April 1978, Voyager 1, not even half way to Jupiter, experienced a major meltdown. Its scan platform, for mounting all of its cameras and instruments, became jammed. While engineers tried to figure out what they could do to fix it, from more than 100 million miles away, someone forgot to send a weekly command to reset a timer on Voyager 2.

When they built the two Voyagers, engineers gave them attitude and some personality. When Voyager 2 didn’t hear from any human, it did what it was programmed to do. The spacecraft triggered its protection software, 600 lines of coded information that respond to malfunctions automatically.

In this instance, Voyager 2 assumed that its radio receiver was broken and switched to the backup. Meanwhile, back on earth, the engineers realised they made an error and tried to stop the fault protection routine. But the newly awakened backup receiver would not register their command. Their only hope was that the spacecraft would eventually reason its way back out of its predicament. To their astonishment, the main receiver did precisely that, only to suffer an electrical short out.

But like all well made pieces of ancient artificial intelligence, Voyager 2 refused to die. The engineers figured out that Voyager 2’s malfunctioning backup receiver ( the one that worked) still had an electrical pulse. But its problem was the tyranny of distance from earth. Voyager 2 struggled to recognise commands. So the engineers re-calibrated their signal, manually subtracting the Doppler effect on the passage of radio waves  and tried sending it to Voyager 2 who ( I like to think of the Voyagers as people)  completely understood and began functioning normally again. But to this day, that same complicated calculation must precede every command sent to Voyager 2.

At the present time, the two Voyagers, after conquering Saturn and Jupiter and sending back never seen before images from both planets. are 10 billion and 13 billion miles respectively from earth. The farthest that any man made object has travelled. This month is the 40th anniversary of the Voyagers launch. And still they fly on. To get a full appreciation of what that means, you need a brief lesson in astro physics. Space might appear to be vacant, but in fact it’s matter created by the explosion of ancient stars.

Within the neighbourhood of planet Earth, our bit of space has different particles from elsewhere because of the supersonic winds that blow from the surface of the Sun. The winds generate a bubble around our solar system, called a heliosphere. Five years ago, Voyager 1 reached the boundary of where the heliosphere gives way to interstellar space. It is a region as new to us as the Pacific was to the Europeans five hundred years ago.

And while they are poised on the very doorstep of a new frontier, the Voyagers gather data that continues to challenge fundamental physics and may provide clues to a couple of very big and important questions: Is the Sun only linked to the birth of life in our solar system? Where else are we most likely to find evidence that we are not alone?

The two Voyagers are true stellar explorers, who earned the title of making mankind’s greatest journey. Most of their flight crew, remained on the program almost from the beginning. Why would you leave? They’ve shared in the glory of being the world’s greatest living explorers. They are almost certainly the only people in the world who can still operate the Voyagers archaic onboard computers. To give some idea of what they are dealing with, these computers have 235 thousand times less memory and 175 thousand times less speed than a 16 gigabyte smartphone. And while the nine member flight crew, strictly speaking, haven’t gone anywhere themselves, their work is no less arduous than any 15th century European explorer. Magellan never had to steer his ship from the confines of a rented office nor did he stay at the helm long enough to qualify for a senior discount at the McDonald’s burger joint next door.

The flight crew’s fluency in grossly out of date computer language. becomes more and more crucial with the passage of time. As the Voyagers continue to keep on keeping on and harvest data, they are finally running out of fuel. Decaying plutonium is their power supply. By 2030 they will not have enough power to run a single experiment. We can only hope their flight crew, who are fast approaching retirement age, if they aren’t there already, live long enough to squeeze out every last available watt. We wouldn’t want to miss out on anything that might be discovered, and neither would they.

Sneaky Kiwis Win America’s Cup Again

An extraordinary sporting event just happened in the last 24 hours. It’s not what you call mainstream sport. Not rugby, basketball, soccer, baseball or cricket but that doesn’t make what happened any the less extraordinary.

It was a yachting race. Although the yachts in this race are not like anything you’ve ever seen before. They fly like the wind or with the wind. They certainly fly across the water.

In case you missed it, New Zealand won the America’s Cup. In sailing terms it’s the equivalent of being the first to climb Mount Everest. Hang on a minute the Kiwis did that as well.

It’s the biggest sailing trophy there is. The Kiwis won it once before sailing in a more conventional looking sailboat. A lot has changed since then. These days the America’s Cup is sailed on super fast catamarans that spend more time on top of the water than actually in it.

So what? You might say. If you did say that you’d be making a big mistake. Many things make this victory extraordinary. For instance, there is the David and Goliath nature of the battle. New Zealand, a small country with limited budgets versus United States Team Oracle with a seemingly unlimited money chest. But to quote another life metaphor it’s not how big it is it’s how you use it.

The America’s Cup is all about technology. Really, really smart technology. And that’s another thing that makes this victory extraordinary. But to appreciate the technology you have to understand it. And understanding the technology in the New Zealand boat is a bit of a challenge. The best way to describe it, think high tech pedal powered boat. Let me explain.

If you look at the New Zealand and American boats they are both catamarans with an aircraft wing for a sail, which is balanced on the top of two canoes that are balanced on top of two or four vertical surfboards. The crews must trim the boat as it flies through the air. The wind provides lift and rudders and foils in the water allow it to manoeuvre. To win, the Kiwis had to be faster, stronger and more manoeuvrable. And that superiority was very evident, very early in the regatta.The New Zealand boat became the first to achieve 100 percent fly time. In other words it was able to complete a race without either of the two hulls touching the water at any time. Flying through the air literally and, depending on the wind, achieving speeds of up to 50 knots or 90 kilometers per hour.

The America’s Cup rules say all teams must sail boats of similar dimension and design, but that still leaves plenty of wriggle room for experimenting with the daggerboards and the hydraulic system for moving the foils and the sail.

And that is where those sneaky Kiwis had it all over Team Oracle. Normally the sails are trimmed by hand powered winches or grinders. It’s hard physical work and it needs to be done quickly to maintain boat speed. But New Zealand produced a stunning innovation. They switched from winch to pedal power. In others words they designed and installed bike like pedal bays in the boat. So spectators were treated to the spectacle of Team New Zealand crew members pedalling furiously to control the carbon fibre wing sail, rudders and the dagger boards. The genius of this innovation meant that unlike Oracle the crew could use their hands for fine-tuning. In a high stakes game like the America’s Cup every little bit counts and can be the difference between winning and losing. The Kiwis were smart enough to realise it was basic physics. Legs produce more power than arms and that power means the team can make necessary adjustments more quickly. And that is exactly what happened. The Americans were simply outsmarted by good old-fashioned Kiwi ingenuity.

Winning the America’s Cup again is huge for New Zealand. It will showcase their innovation and technology as well as their spectacular country and that, in turn, will attract investment. I was living in Auckland when New Zealand was defending the Cup so I know what a big deal it will be. The Auckland harbour will be transformed yet again.

So I take my hat off to New Zealand. The little country, with the very big ideas, that punches above its weight and does it so well. Only this time they delivered a stunning knockout blow and America’s Cup racing will never be the same.

Tinder And Grindr. Waste Of Time.

I cannot get over how much the dating landscape in the 21st century seismically shifted.

When I was growing up, meeting someone for a relationship, was reasonably upfront. Give or take the odd, unexpected left turn. There was the at work option, or at a party, pub or bar. See. I’m so old fashioned and out of touch to be talking about this. Then along came Internet dating. I never had an issue with that. Never bothered me in the slightest. In fact I warmly embraced this development. It was such a perfectly, reasonable, rational not to mention respectful way to meet a potential partner. But now we have something completely different. I call them the devil’s children of Internet dating. Not that I am passing some kind of moral judgment here. I’m not. Far from it. I just have a lot of personal issues with Tinder and Grindr. And, it is not because they’re a couple of smartphone applications, used primarily by people to have casual sex. Actually, “casual” is way too nice a word. It’s because they live in a world where people and sex are disposable commodities. To be used and discarded, There’s no love, no deep connection, no personal investment of any kind to be found in Tinder and Grindr apart from the kind you get from self-gratification. But for some of us, maybe even many of us, these two apps have fundamentally changed the way we go about things relationship wise and not in a good way, in my view.

So I was quite interested and bemused to read a story with the headline: “ How Sex Is Killing The Live Music Scene Thanks To Tinder And Grindr.”

The story suggested that we forget breath-testing, lockouts, or downloading – Sex is killing live music, or at least the search for it is, on Tinder and Grindr.

That’s the provocative but serious claim, made by a music venue owner and live music booker, James Young, who says that more and more people prefer to “stare at their phones and swipe left or right ” rather than head out to a bar where they might meet somebody.  Sounds pretty sad to me.

“Grindr, the gay app, came out about two years before Tinder and has destroyed the gay hotspot [in Melbourne],” Young says. “That is a textbook, identifiable case. And here we are, two years later, with Tinder following in its footsteps”. He says young people are hanging about (probably at home) hunched over their phones instead of going out to bars and clubs.

It should be pointed out that music venues don’t simply exist for the sole purpose of enabling a romantic meeting between two people. Of course not says Young, but “bars are fragile businesses” and anything that affects even three or five percent of business on already thin margins can be hard to recover from. “And what we are talking about is 10 per cent loss of business and for some businesses, that’s their profit margin.”

Young, who owns and books music for three bars in Melbourne argues that “sex has always been a big part of rock ‘n’ roll but we’re not saying the sole purpose of venues is to pick up”. It is, however, a problem that carries a ripple effect because people used to meet – or hook up in the modern parlance – at venues where music was being played.

“If there are less people at the bars, that’s going to affect sales and there is also a parallel issue in the type of dates you go on,” Young says. “A Tinder date is a super casual date so ‘let’s meet at a cafe, let’s meet at the latest, chic pop-up restaurant’. He says first dates used to be at a rowdy live music event. Not anymore. But people don’t really talk to each other anymore. They hook up.

He says in Sydney you can add lockouts and earlier closing of bars to the Tinder-effect. Young also raises another fear, that “Netflix, Stan and binge TV series watching have become the new dating”, with the simplicity of an affordable entertaining option capped off by the fact that “you’re already on the couch”.

What a huge yawn. I prefer the personal meet and greet, the spark, the meeting of minds, the possibility of what might be and then discovering that it is, any day over any smartphone app. As far as I’m concerned Tinder can go up in flames and it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. I know. So old fashioned.

Modern Apps Killing Monogamy. Stick With A Dinosaur

Sometimes I will happily stand up and be called a dinosaur. Called myself one plenty of times before. Someone actually called me a killjoy today. That’s going too far. Old fashioned. Yes. Out of step with modern living. Yes. Sometimes. And yes, this is one of those times when I am happy to be walking at a different pace.

It was the headline that got my attention. Are modern dating apps killing monogamy? Apparently the answer is yes. And proof positive of this development was offered by way of a case study. Let’s call her Jessie. That’s what the article called her so who am I to contradict. Before online dating, before her two kids, before the Big Conversation with her skeptical husband, Jessie’s inkling was that she wasn’t quite like the ladies she saw at church. The sexual taboos of life in the affluent burbs weren’t for her.

Her first marriage when she was in her early 20s, ended after she had an affair. Her second marriage, starting shortly thereafter, was “happy – very happy,” but as her children grew up, moved out and on, she was left….well…. bored.

Thoughts turned to cheating on her husband of 20 years, we are told, as if this was perfectly normal behavior. She considered bars, parties, and a return to the good old days of her mid-20s. All care and no responsibility.

But Instead, Jessie sat her husband down for a deep and meaningful so we are told. Here’s the kicker. We are told she told him something that more and more “progressive” couples are beginning to realise. They love each other and want to stay together – but in the age of Tinder, Ashley Madison and OkCupid, well…they have other options.

Options, that are just a click away.

“Interesting, introspective, happily married professional,” reads Jessie’s profile on the newly non-monogamous dating site Open Minded. “I’m into building deep and loving relationships that add to the joy and aliveness of being human.”

Bollocks Jessie. You are into sex, Nothing deep. Certainly, nothing meaningful, and only the truly naïve would call it loving.

Let’s just pause and refect for a moment. Open Minded is a dating site that isn’t quite like Ashley Madison, the unapologetic dating-for-cheaters service that expects a billion dollar valuation when it becomes a publicly listed company you can buy shares in.

How sad is that?

There’s money to be made in every kind of human exploitation including adultery. Open minded also isn’t quite like mobile hook-up app Tinder, where – according to one recent report – as many as 40 per cent of “singles” are secretly … not single. Open Minded, according to its founder, yet another tech savvy hustler, is a new kind of dating site for a newly “mainstream lifestyle” where couples, we are told “form very real attachments” just not exclusively with each other. He expects the app to be used by swingers, polysexuals and experimental 20-somethings. But he guesses that most of his 70,000 users are people just like Jessie. In committed, conventional relationships, who realize that, statistically speaking, few modern couples stay with a single person their whole life. Can I just say I have no problem with that at all. In fact, can I say, I have been that person. All I am saying is, if you are going to do that, don’t stay married and act like a single person.

“If you look at marriage, it developed as a survival strategy and a means of raising kids,” the founder of Open Minded says. “But relationships are no longer a necessary component of life. People have careers and other interests – they can survive without them.”

This is a classic example of people just talking without saying anything at all. And of course we have an academic to give the whole thing credibility. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and one of the world’s leading relationship researchers, ( I bet she is the only one to call herself that) is in the same dark camp as the Open Minded app entrepreneur. She says in caveman days, humans teamed up in non-exclusive pairs to protect their children. Later, as people learned to plant crops and settle in one place, ” marriage became a way for men to guarantee kids, and for women – who couldn’t push heavy ploughs or carry loads of crops to market – to eat and keep a roof over their heads.”

So is Fisher seriously suggesting this is the only reason why people enter into relationships? What about love? And commitment? What about it ? says Fisher. There’s a long history of married men sleeping around, Fisher says. You can forget about romantic notions or thinking that relationships are anything other than transactions and the social expectation that both people partner for life, to the exclusion of everyone else. Is just that, an expectation.

In fact, given the history and prevalence of non-monogamous relationships throughout cultures, it’s not scientifically correct to say the human species mate or pair for life, Fisher says. Dogs mate for life. Beavers mate for life. Humans have one-night stands, lovers and a 50 per cent divorce rate.

Fisher dubs it a “dual reproductive strategy”: We’re biologically programmed to form pair-bonds, yes, but some people – many people – are also programmed to seek out variety.

I couldn’t possibly disagree more. Deep down human beings want romance in my view. They want something long lasting. They want friendship, companionship. Love. Yes they want sex. Don’t we all. But that comes at the end of the long chain of all of the other.

See I told you. I am a dinosaur.

Hey Baby Boomers. You Are NOT Team Players

I have just learned that I belong to a generation that seems to be causing no end of trouble for everyone else in the world. Certainly for Generation X and Y. Put simply, they think we have too much of everything. Too much money, so we buy property that freezes out potential first homebuyers condemning them to live in the eternal rent cycle. We have too many assets, we get way with too many superannuation lurks and perks. I can say all of this, because absolutely none of it applies to me. I wouldn’t have two beans to rub together. Living off the old age pension, will be the life for me. I changed jobs a lot. Didn’t have a proper superannuation fund etc etc. Anyway, that is another story.

What I find remarkable is the assertion, that yet another black mark should be added to Generation Baby Boomer. When it comes to the workplace, and let’s face it there are still a large number of my generation who abandoned thoughts of retirement, long ago, they are lone wolves and not team players.

The 21st Century workplace, is a different beast these days, according to market research that has just been published. It’s all about being touchy-feely, hot-desking (sounds obscene) and butcher’s paper brainstorming. Older workers are apparently not into any of this. Not only are they not into it, their non- participation could actually be causing a problem in terms of lowering worker productivity.

A recent study by the accountancy behemoth, Deloitte, found that unlocking what it described as the ‘power of collaboration’ added $46 billion to the Australian economy with the potential to add another $10 billion if companies embrace and encourage the trend. Now, I recognise that this applies in an Australian context but you can take it as read, the same is happening all over the world.

Deloitte claims it’s being driven by big advances in technology making it easier than ever for employees to communicate and work together on projects, either in the office or from home.

The trend was reinforced by global Human Resources firm, Randstad, in its latest, quarterly Workmonitor survey, which found that two thirds of workers say they spend more time collaborating with colleagues than they did five years ago.

But things got a bit messy and pear shaped when they tried to compare the responses of Generation Y workers, with their Baby Boomer counterparts. Almost two thirds, or 59 percent of Gen Y, who were surveyed say they perform better in teams compared to only 33 percent of Baby Boomers. Collaboration and teamwork are far more important to Generation Y than it is for the grey nomads they share the workplace with.

There’s no doubt it’s a generation thing, according to a Randstad company representative who was commenting on their survey. He said workplaces have changed radically over the past 20 years. Technology exists now, where we can share information in real time and Generation Y is clearly the strongest in this area. They have grown up in an education system that focused on collaboration, so group assignments are second nature to them.

Interestingly, Generation X, recorded similar figures. Fifty percent of those surveyed say they perform better in teams. The vast majority, eight five percent of respondents, said they believed that collaboration was now more important than ever with the advances in technology.

The evidence appears to suggest that Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom are lagging behind Asian countries when it comes recognising the importance of working collaboratively in the workplace. In the boom economies of China, India, Hong Kong and Singapore, eighty two percent of workers surveyed said collaboration is not only recognised, it is also rewarded. The general feeling is that there is a lot of catching up to do if we want to be competitive with these countries.

The Randstad company representative offered some advice along with his survey results. He said the best way for businesses to change the way they operate, to encourage collaboration, is to establish the right platforms and lead by example. They need to abandon the idea of measuring performance based on individual effort. To take the sporting analogy, if your team focus is on scoring goals, then you’ll have most of the team obsessed with scoring instead of working together to win the match.

You can have the best salesperson in the world, who sells a lot but if they can’t work with others their value is limited. He or she might achieve their personal goals, but that does precious little in helping their company to grow. But if your sales team is collaborative, shares leads and supports each other, then everyone is working towards achieving a better outcome.

So there endeth the lesson.

Here’s my gratuitous advice to my fellow baby boomers. Chill baby. You know what they say. You are never to old to learn.

Are Smart Phones Turning Us Into Dummies?

Sometimes I like to observe human behavior. I find it kind of fun watching what other people do and how they behave. But I am also a bit weird.

One thing I’ve noticed quite recently is that it doesn’t seem to matter what people are doing, travelling on public transport, going to the pub, sitting having a meal or enjoying time with friends, everybody is totally preoccupied with their smartphones.

They’re looking at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, video games, emails, listening to music or just surfing the net. Clearly all of these smartphones, provide endless distraction and entertainment.

But what are these devices doing for human interaction? Because it means people are not talking to each other.

They are not verbally sharing opinions, discussing ideas or having a debate.

They have stopped communicating with human beings and replaced them with a machine.

Here is a question that is too obvious, but I’ll ask it anyway. Is this a good thing? Could it be affecting how we think?

A British neuroscientist called Baroness Susan Greenfield doesn’t think this is a good thing at all. She also says it’s affecting our brains.

Now I am going to add a disclaimer.

I am not endorsing Susan Greenfield or her neuroscience. In fact a number of her peers think she espouses a load of old rubbish. The London Guardian newspaper described a book she wrote as a “poorly researched diatribe.”

But what I do think is that what she is saying is worth a discussion. So let’s have one.

Susan Greenfield says modern technology is changing the wiring in our brains. For example she says a lot of people equate Facebook friends in the same way that they might regard a close friend they have known all of their life.

She says social media gives us opportunities to share, connect and present points of view. But it takes away real human empathy. In fact she says the 21st Century human mindset seems to be characterised by short attention span, sensationalism, and making the mistake of equating information given to us by search engines with real knowledge and wisdom.

Greenfield says the human brain is perfectly designed to adapt to its environment. And because technology creates a vastly changed social environment, it must follow that our brains may also be changing in an unprecedented way.

Here is something that she says that is definitely out there but interesting.

Greenfield argues that young people are developing in a world where relationships are being made and lost online. That means they never get the chance to rehearse important social skills. For example, when people normally meet someone they have in interest in getting to know, they want to talk about themselves, and nature has given us body language cues so that our interactions keep us reasonably safe and secure and we don’t make fools of ourselves, generally speaking.

But words, the primary source of communication in social media networks comprise only ten percent of the impact we have on people when we meet them. As a result, young people are more likely to behave inappropriately and insult each other on line because they don’t have those visual clues as a point of reference. If they tell someone they hate them to their face they are unlikely to repeat it because they can see the offence and the hurt it can cause. But people interacting on social media don’t have that handbrake. I am not saying I agree with this but it’s interesting.

Before we had the internet, a young person who might have been bullied at school had an escape when they went home. But with social media and smartphones the bullying follows you everywhere and can be unrelenting 24/7.

Greenfield claims there is scientific data to show that when young people were deprived of access to smartphones even for just five days their interpersonal skills improved.

Our connectedness to social media means we spend less time thinking and reflecting and more time reacting. She says if young people switched off their devices they would have a stronger sense of personal identity instead of one that is constantly defined by the approval of others.

It doesn’t mean being anti-technology but it does mean acknowledging there is more to life than looking at a smartphone, a tablet or a computer screen.

On that point I agree with her.

Has The Rot Set In For Apple?

Something very serious is happening to Apple. I am not given to melodrama or overstatement. And it would be overstating by a considerable margin to describe Apple as rotten to the core. But the fruit of a once great company is looking seedy, tarnished and blighted of late. It certainly isn’t the way Steve Jobs would have done business.

Apple was once a brand synonymous with reliability and innovation. It drew in customers with its magical, consumer friendly, wizardry. Gadgets, that looked state-of-the-art, attractive and did phenomenal things. But I think it’s now safe to say the magic has left the building. It’s been replaced by one blunder after another. And the product launches, proudly proclaiming the latest innovation, are looking more like catch-up than innovation.

The company keeps doing dumb things. Firstly, there were the holes in its security you could literally drive a truck through. Hackers were able to exploit the security weakness and gain access to the private photos of celebrities. Many of the photos showed people in a state of undress. These photos were then scattered over the internet. Things got a whole lot worse for Apple when it was revealed it knew about the security hole in its system, for six months, but did nothing about it. The carefully crafted Apple image of being an impenetrable fortress where all of your very private information could be kept securely, evaporated overnight.

Then just recently, the launch of the much, hyped iPhone 6. This was touted as Apple’s answer to the market gains of its major competitor, the Korean giant Samsung. Once again a very different Apple fell from the tree literally. A technical glitch meant the live streaming of the event didn’t work. Oh my God. The old Apple would never have allowed this to happen. It would have worked flawlessly just like their products. But in keeping with all Apple announcements, there was that expect the unexpected moment: the release of the new Apple watch. This was more like the Apple of old. The kind of breakthrough innovation that Steve Jobs would have been proud to put his name to. It is a device that takes all of the shortcomings already known about these kinds of devices and fixed them in one gorgeously designed bundle. Then Apple dropped the ball completely. It did not say you can go immediately into any Apple retail and online store and buy the Apple watch. That would have got everyone excited and believing again. Instead, the watch won’t be available for six months. Talk about an anti-climax. What were they thinking?

Then Apple delivered the coup de grace. It was a PR disaster of epic proportions. I am talking about their not so great, U2 music promotion. What seemed like the most generous music giveaway in history, installing the new U2 album, Songs of Innocence, directly into the library of the company’s half a billion iTunes subscribers, very quickly turned to custard. Social media was awash with people complaining they were getting a product they didn’t want or ask for. It was meant to benefit both Apple and the band but Apple was forced into creating and releasing a tool so that iTunes customers could remove the album from their library.

The next major cock-up is something I would never have thought possible. Apple has always done very well with the release of their iPhones. So no surprise iPhone 6 and 6 plus prompted consumers to line up for days to get their hands on the new devices. But it wasn’t long before the complaints started rolling in. Some of them unjustified but others were inexcusable. There were complaints that the iPhone 6 was prone to bending. To be frank so would anything if you apply enough direct force. The second complaint was sadly all Apple’s fault. The company released a phone update that, of all things, took away the device’s fundamental feature: the ability to use it as a phone. The other key feature of iPhone 6, Touch ID also didn’t work. The old Apple would never have allowed something so fundamentally flawed to pass quality control. Maybe it was an indication of how badly Apple has slipped in its market share that it felt the need to rush the release of a product that still had major flaws in its design. Then Apple compounded what was already a disaster by releasing a software fix that didn’t fix the problem.

So where does that now leave people like me who are lovers of everything Apple? Sadly I hear a little voice inside me asking the question: Do I still want to buy this fruit?

How The Rockefellers Became Environmentalists

There is nothing more delightful than getting a decent dose of irony. If it happens to be irony of a particularly delicious kind, then I say bring it on. It lifts the spirits, makes you smile and gives you hope.

So you can imagine my reaction when I opened the newspaper this morning and saw the headline: Rockefeller Foundation To Divest From Fossil Fuels. I initially thought I was seeing things. The Rockefellers giving up petroleum is like saying the Pope is giving up religion. This a family whose very name conjures up the black stuff. They are the real deal when it comes to black gold or Texas tea. Forget about the story of a man named Jed. His name was John D. Rockefeller.

Standard Oil, the Rockefeller company was, at one time, the largest oil refiner in the world and the benchmark for the industry. It gave birth to numerous global empires including one of the biggest, ExxonMobil. And now the family is turning their backs on the industry that earned them a fortune. They want to invest in, wait for it, renewable energy. It is the kind of betrayal that sits comfortably alongside that guy Iscariot and his 30 pieces of silver.

So if you are going to stab an industry in the back, the 64 trillion dollar question is why? Why would you do it? The answer, would you believe, is breathtakingly simple. Fossil fuels are bad for people and bad for this planet. That’s what the current crop of Rockefeller heirs are saying. According to Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, a great, great grand-daughter of the big man himself there is a moral imperative to preserve a healthy planet. You might think that kind of talk would be enough to have John D turning in his grave but maybe not says Stephen Heintz, the Director of the family’s philanthropic foundation the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Heintz, says the move to divest from fossil fuels would be in line with John D’s thinking. As an astute businessman looking into the future he would be investing in clean, renewable energy and that is exactly what the family intends to do. In other words take the family’s $860 million in assets and put them into clean energy.

There is no denying the announcement was deliberately timed to coincide with a big UN climate change summit in New York due to begin next week. It will be the first gathering of its type since the unsuccessful climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009. And it should come as no surprise that a number of prominent people are 100 percent in support of the Rockefellers. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he believed the Rockefeller announcement was a “tipping point of transition to a new energy economy that was just and equitable.” Actor Mark Ruffalo chimed in with the observation that the Rockefellers were not silly people. They knew how to deal with money and renewable energy was investing in the future.

It would be easy to get carried away with political zealotry and see the Rockefellers as knights in shining armor motivated by a burning desire to save our environment. That is partially true but there is also the cynical business of wanting to make more money underpinning the Rockefeller decision. One of the other trustees Stephen Rockefeller said as much when he talked about the moral and economic dimension behind the family decision. The economic dimension that he is referring to is a risk that Governments will impose tighter regulations on the petroleum industry because of the effects of climate change. Instead of being dug up, oil and a number of other fossil fuels would be left in the ground and that cuts into industry profit.

The Rockefeller decision is part of a growing trend already established. In recent years, about 180 philanthropic societies, religious organisations, pension funds, local government as well as hundreds of wealthy individual investors have pledged to sell assets tied to fossil fuel companies and reinvest in cleaner alternatives.

It will barely cause a ripple in its effect on the world’s global oil giants. Exxon Mobil generated $111.6 billion in revenue and $8.8 billion in profit in only the second quarter of 2014. But you couldn’t put a price in terms of the PR value from the Rockefeller decision which is a huge boost to the campaigners who say we are living in a planet that is getting warmer every year. Experts say global greenhouse gas emissions increased 2.3 percent in 2013 to record levels. China, the United States, the European Union and India are the worst emitters. Environmentalists point out that emissions rose by 2.9 percent in the United States after several years of decline. That is very troubling.

Scientists say the clock is ticking and emissions must start declining within the next few years for one very good reason. Time is running out to dial back the damage. The Rockefellers clearly don’t want to be caught standing on the wrong side of climate change. Those who do might be in danger of losing everything especially the world we live in.

A Sex Tape Like No Other

Today I saw a sex tape like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It was a sex tape that was incredibly explicit yet it didn’t invade anyone’s privacy, identify or embarrass anyone. There wasn’t a celebrity to be seen. Anywhere. At least I don’t think there was. Of course it included your customary bit of nudity. There has to be. It’s a sex tape after-all. But not in the way you would ever expect. Let me explain.

It was a sex tape made by a bunch of medical scientists. They created it using the footage from literally hundreds of MRI scans. For those who don’t know, MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It produces a 3D map of the human body but it can pretty much do anything. MRI scans are a great tool for doctors because they produce incredibly detailed images through magnetic fields that map the position of water molecules which exist in varying densities in different types of human tissue. Here’s the really technical explanation for how MRI scans work. An MRI scanner uses a strong magnetic field and the pulses of radio waves to manipulate hydrogen protons in the human body. When the radio frequency source is switched off, the hydrogen protons reveal their position in the body by re-emitting energy, which is then captured and translated into images. Pretty simple really. I am joking.

MRI scanning is completely different from CAT scans or X-rays. They are generally more expensive and take more time but they provide much greater detailed information about the soft tissue of the human body. The MRI scanner is a huge machine with what looks like a tunnel in the middle. The patient lies flat and they are then inserted inside the scanner. It doesn’t use harmful radiation. And that can deliver two types of benefits. Firstly, it isn’t dangerous in any way to the person being scanned which means they can spend much longer in the machine and secondly, scientists can take a lot more pictures, which is what a group of medical experts set out to do.

Medical scientists wanted an answer to this question: What would the normal stuff, we humans do with our bodies every day of our lives, actually look like if you could see inside someone? They asked for, and got, a group of volunteers prepared to do whatever was asked of them. What followed was something incredible. There was a 3D image of a knee being bent, showing the muscles and tendons stretching. And a beating heart, showing the left and right ventricles, pumping blood throughout the body. There were pictures of someone drinking pineapple juice. We see the juice in the mouth and when it is swallowed the image follows its passage down the oesphagus into the stomach. There is a 3D image of how the tongue behaves when someone is playing the trumpet and two people, one speaking Chinese and the other German. We see how the vocal chords open and close. Believe or not there were moving pictures of someone defacating. We see the faeces in the rectum being expelled from the body. It is extraordinary, shocking and fascinating at the same time. It was to me. Then the video gets into the X-rated stuff.

The 3 D pictures begin with a man and a woman kissing passionately, both of them in an obvious state of sexual arousal. We see the two hearts literally beating faster. It progresses to tongue kissing. Nothing is left to the imagination. Then the video cuts to a 3D image of lovemaking. The image is the antithesis of pornography. It is completely anonymous and stripped back to the sheer physicality of two human beings mating. We know it is a man and a woman but that is all we know. It is both fascinating and beautiful. Finally we see life being born. We see Twins in the uterus before birth and then the actual birth itself.

It was a once in a lifetime experience for researchers and the people who participated. It wasn’t ever painful nor was it dangerous yet it revealed never seen before images. The only unpleasant side effect might have been the constantly loud buzzing noise of the MRI machine. It’s the sort of video that anyone would find fascinating.. If nothing else, it provides a greater appreciation of who we are and what we are made of and how it all works. It tells me, the human body is a perfect machine, but its perfection, lies in its myriad of imperfections.

The World’s First Computer

Are you ready to be amazed and astounded? OK I may be overstating it a tad. But everyone loves a good mystery and this one is certainly up there with the best. In 60 BC, a Roman ship sailed on a voyage. Where it came from and where it was going to nobody knows. But somewhere between Greece and Crete, it ran into a storm and sank. And for more than two thousand years the treasures it carried faded into history. Entombed in the sandy bottom of the ocean. But you know what? This story really begins 100 years ago. That’s when a group of sponge divers saw a spooky looking hand sticking out of the silt. It was in an area off the island of Antikythera in the Aegean sea at a depth of 75 meters.

The hand was part of an ancient statue. These sponge divers could only spend a short amount of time on the bottom because of the depth but they managed to collect a treasure trove of artifacts. It was an amazing but eclectic collection of bits and pieces. There were bronze and marble statues, jewellery, glass and coins. The statues were beautifully crafted and life-like despite the ravages of time and the sea. The glassware crafted to an exacting standard and brightly colored. The treasure trove could best be described as the sum of many parts but not the whole. Very few of the items were complete. And of course that has led to much speculation about what kind of ship this was. For example, was it a treasure ship making a delivery to a King or a High Priest? Was it a plunder ship carrying the spoils and trophies of war? Or, was it just laden with an assortment of trinkets no longer wanted and destined for sale in some distant market?

But there was one item discovered that at first glance looked like a corroded lump of bronze cogs and wheels. Because it was bronze, it survived well in the sea but it didn’t look like anything anyone had every seen before. A lot of years passed before scientists decided to take a closer look at the object to see if they could identify it.

The first job was to get it X-rayed. And when they did that it looked way more complicated than they first thought. There were wheels within wheels. But what exactly was it? It slowly dawned on scientists that what they were looking at was in fact one of the most sophisticated devices ever discovered from ancient times. Forget about Apple and Microsoft. What they were looking at was the world’s first computer. It was an analog computer that did calculations. As far as anyone knows, this is the only example of its kind anywhere. But what did it actually do? The scientists finally determined it was an ancient timepiece. A timepiece, that worked as an astronomical calculator. A calculator, or mechanical device, that predicted the movement of the stars and the planets. As one astrophysicist said: the device makes mechanical what has been known for centuries about astronomical cycles. Those cycles predict eclipses by the moon and the sun and they have been used to produce a workable calendar. This hand-cranked device was more than likely used to predict which city was due to host the Olympic Games as well as to track the movement of the planets for prophecies and religious ceremonies

Just to put this into context. We are talking 60 BC. The kind of skill and complexity needed to manufacture it did not become evident until the 14 Century.This was ahead of its time by a considerable margin.Centuries. The feeling is that the device probably belonged to a wealthy person who used it for a bit of fun. The scientific community is very excited because they believe they only have half the story. The other half of the device, they believe, is still lying at the bottom of the Aegean sea waiting to be found. So in all honesty, you could say scientists still don’t fully understand how complicated this device could potentially be until they discover the rest of it. One set of gears and cogs doesn’t match the rest so there is clearly more to come.

But as time goes on scientists are learning more and more about the device, which has been called the Antikythera mechanism. Some of the bronze work contains inscriptions. One word stands out. It is the Greek word for Cosmos. Scientists believe another metal plate may actually contain an instruction manual for using the device. It details different gear settings.

But one of the great ironies of this discovery is that true cutting edge technology has now been invented for the express purpose of discovering the rest of this ancient example of high tech wizardry and whatever else might be lurking at the site. A $1.7 million diving suit, which acts like a wearable submarine, has been developed so that an archeologist can use it to explore the wreck site. There are pedals at the feet of the suit to allow the wearer to literally fly through the water powered by thrusters built into the suit’s backpack. The suit’s arms allow for free movement and instead of hands, objects will be recovered using mechanical pincers. The suit has breathing and communication systems and a carbon dioxide scrubber, which means the wearer can stay at depth for an extended time

The whole expedition will cost $3 million and, is being partly sponsored by a Swiss watchmaker. I guess they are also curious about what makes this device tick if you will forgive my punditry.

And now a new search will begin to find the rest of the mechanism.Scientists are certain that it’s down there somewhere. It’s only when they discover this missing second piece of the device that scientists will truly know what they are dealing with. At the risk of talking it up this could become one of the most significant archeological discoveries of the 21st Century.