Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Vertical Farm: An idea before its time or soaring idiocy?

I came across an interesting article which basically mercilessly beats up on the Vertical Farm concept.
Assuming you have'nt clicked on either of these links , here is my quick rundown. If you have(my , it must be a slow work day huh?), than skip past this paragraph.
Vertical Farm concept presented as it is , makes a compelling argument about how Man needs to learn how to grow crops indoors , and closer to where they will be consumed, despite such superflous points such as the one about how this could be integrated into refugee camps. However , it does have some major flaws as ably pointed out by the Monbiot article. Some glaring ones are
1. How the plants are supposed to get light.
2. How this whole venture would make sense at the current urban land rates.
3. Other fanciful claims about how Vertical Farming would not need fertilizers or pesticides.
There are more reffer Monbiot's article.
Not for a minute am I trying to defend Dickson Despommier, but I don't think his idea can be dismissed of hand just because its missing so many important details. A lot of problems need to be resolved by minds far more brilliant than Despommier, before his concept can become reality.
Clearly such a farm only makes sense for crops that have a limited shelf life which would mean primarily frutis and vegetables. Wheat and Rice can be stored for long periods and it hardly makes sense to grow them in controlled environments close to where they will be consumed.
Though a Vertical Farm in Midtown Manhattan will never be a good idea, one on the outskirts of a less expensive city might be worth exploring.
There are a couple of ideas I can think of to make sure multiple floors recieve natural light simultaneously.
1. A series of lenses concentrate light from floor to floor, in addition to the light coming in from the glass walls.
2. The floors can be designed as non-overlapping triangles or some other geometrical shape so light makes its way to multiple floors simultaeously.
3. If there is a provision to rotate these floors , parts which might not have light earlier can be exposed per a fixed scedule.
All this falls in the category of spitballing I admit, and need to be researched.
Finally , the vertical farm idea if it ever achieve frutition, will be because the economics warrant it, which means, when 2050 comes, and we have no way to feed our vast populations, vertical farms might not seem like such an expensive and wasteful proposition(though I doubt , we will see one in Midtown Manhattan)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What does Religious freedom mean really?

If you have followed the furore over the proposal to build an Islamic center 2 blocks from Ground Zero, you probably have already formed an opinion. Such worthies as Obama and Palin have weighed in on this debate, so naturally , so must I.
I get a queasy feeling in my tummy, it could be the street meat I had for lunch , but more likely its actually agreeing with Palin on something. Clearly her motivations in taking stand against this proposal are political, mine however are not.
This has become a debate about religious freedoms , which it clearly is not. The choice of location, for the Islamic Center is odd to say the least. There are only 2 possibilities , either this is the best location for the price they could find, or its been done for the symbolic value. I find it hard to believe an alternate sight could not serve their purposes just as well.
The defenders of this proposal are right in saying , a mosque should be allowed to be built anywhere in the country, not just because the Constitution protects, religious freedoms, but because of the overall, pluralistic character of the nation. But surely some quarter should be given for the emotions such a move would generate.
If the intention of the proposal is to show the Islamic World(as if there is such a uniform monolith), how Kind and accepting America is , such intentions are doomed to failure.
People who not favorably disposed to the US are not going to change their opinion based on the construction of one Islamic Center.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Test Cricket , the way forward

There has been a lot of chatter about the future of cricket with the advent of the 20-20 version. With empty grounds the greeting tests the world over, and with dull draws like the witnessed recently between India and Sri Lanka , Test cricket s grasping for air.
For the longest time Test cricket was propped up not by popular demand, but by both officials and players insisting that Test cricket was the real deal.
But like any other sport, Test cricket has to make its money or its an endangered species no matter what.
The biggest weakness of test cricket are :
1. Its played over 5-days which might have been acceptable when it took a month to sail to England, but now its clearly too long.
2. How infuriating , is it that after 5days, there is no guarantee of a result.
3. Finally there is no contest, there is no , championship, no trophy . Save for a few rivalries, there is really no goal to the whole Test calendar.
There have been some suggestions about a Test championship based on a point based system. This in my humble opinion is doomed to failure, since any point system will be overly pedantic to be effective.
Whats the solution I propose you ask?
Quite simple really. Tests are allowed to meander because there is always the option of a draw.
Take that away, and a result is a must. Basically a test would be a 4 day affair, with each side batting 2 times for 90 overs each. If you bowl your opposition out in less than 90 overs you get the remaining overs from your opponents quota to bat. That way no matter how a side approaches the game, they have to go for the win.
One more suggestion is the allowance of a super-sub. Every once in a while a side that carries 4 bowlers loses one to injury, and is effectively trying to take 20 wickets with 3 bowlers. Cricket is the only game that expects its players to play over 5 days without subs. Most other sports last about 1hour-3hours with subs.
If the counter argument is that subs undermine the importance of all rounders , so be it. How many genuine all rounders does cricket produce anyway? And most of them are blighted by injury due to the increased and varied demands of their bodies.

Monday, August 02, 2010

A war in hand, is better than two

If you have been following the news lately, the situation in Iran seems to be slowly but surely heading towards conflict. How the US could be considering entering another war zone with the economy the way it is and the overall war fatigue is beyond me. What is even more ironic are the reasons. The immediate provocation seems to be Iran's nuclear weapons program. Admittedly there are a lot of countries who are going to be uncomfortable with Iran possessing Nuclear weapons, but nobody really expects that Iran has the US in its cross hairs.
For all its failings the Iranian government is not the Al-Quaeda. They have a lot to lose. They are not about to sacrifice their entire population to take a shot at the US. Any attempt to acquire nuclear weapons is at best an effort to stave off invasion ala Iraq.
Can Israel be just as confident that they wont be attacked? Probably not. Even though Israel does not acknowledge possessing nuclear weapons, its widely believed that they are in possession of nuclear weapons. Iran too expects retaliation, should they attack with nuclear weapons.
Any pre-emptive strike on Iran to eliminate its nuclear assets is unlikely to succeed, unlike Iraq in the 80's , Iran will in all likelihood be well prepared.
Sure Ahmedinijad acts crazy, but its unlikely he is doing anything more than playing a part. He is not the be all end all in Iran's polity.
If you took an opinion poll of US analysts on whether the US faced more of a threat from an Iranian nuke or a Pakistani one, I speculate, you might find that most would consider a 'stolen' Pakistani nuke a bigger threat. Iran and Al-Quaeda are natural enemies both due to the Sunni Shia divide and due the Persian-Arab rivalry. There was every chance to exploit this , but it has not been. In international politics there are no permanent friends .. its time the US re-examined its choice of friends.