Why we can’t build a solar farm in Africa to meet the world’s energy demand

I’ve seen this image floating around a couple of times.

The total area of solar panels it would take to power the world, Europe, and Germany

The total area of solar panels it would take to power the world, Europe, and Germany

It represents the area you’d need to reserve in the Sahara to built a solar farm capable of meeting the energy demands of the World, Europe and Germany. Even if we assume the calculations are correct, I’m still left annoyed by it.

  1. This solar farm will probably cost the GDP of Europe. Have you seen the size of it? The ‘World’ one is the size of Switzerland. Do you know how expensive solar cells are? Who’s going to pay for it? Do we have enough raw materials to meet the demand here?
  2. If you set up a big solar farm in the Sahara (because where else is it going to work?) you still have to get the energy all the way around the world which is:
    1. super expensive
    2. super political (especially considering the areas the network would have to travel through)
    3. super inefficient (think of the losses)
  3. For about twelve hours a day the farm would produce NO ENERGY because it would be night time. You can’t store this energy, it has to go out live to the grid, to homes and outlets. Which means:
  4. Who the hell is going to control this international electricity grid?
    1. We’ve seen with Russia how a bit of testiness between nations can mess up gas supplies.
    2. I’ve worked with national energy supply and believe me, it’s a hell of a lot of work just figuring out how much energy you need to produce for 30 million customers, let alone billions.

I’m all for maximising renewable energy supply but this image over simplifies the problems. We can make it happen, just now 100% renewable and not like this.

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On Kissing Men

I haven’t really kissed men much, in fact none at all in twelve years. You know who you are, you lucky devil.

I’d always thought that the beard, stubble, or pinching roughness of their skin would be weird to me: a distraction from the goodness, the way the pulp in orange juice bothered me as a child. Today, suddenly, I had the fully-formed idea that I’m completely wrong ­– that a short way into the kiss, it would feel like a really satisfying chin scratch.

In fact, we would probably abandon the kiss pretty quickly and just start rubbing our chins together, sashaying our jaws for ultimate scratchy goodness. It would feel so good. And the urge to scratch would spread, as it does when you get a good thing going. We’d be rubbing our faces together like nobody’s business, satisfying something we didn’t know existed. Fuck kissing and fuck sex: this is the hidden treasure we’d been searching for.

No doubt someone would walk in on us and I’d scream, ‘it’s not what it looks like!’ Because how could it possibly be what it looked like?

So, yeah, I haven’t really kissed men much.

 

EDIT: Almost all of this refers to cis men, and falls on its face otherwise.

The Wind Changes, the Mask Stays the Same

Passport 2014

It’s almost a Pavlovian response, the state of reflection once the year ticks over. Personally, when I upturn the box and 2013 spill out before me, the pieces all seem foreign, as if they couldn’t possibly fit into the same year. The colours don’t quite match and the shapes are all odd sizes. What happened in the early spring seems an age away, but the second half of the year blinked by like the lost seconds of unconsciousness when nodding away on the night bus. When taking stock and comparing my inventory with twelve months ago, things look awfully stagnant or even as if I’ve fallen quite a way backwards, but that’s not strictly true. A lot has happened – movements beneath the surface ­– that I’m sure are important, but have yet to quite nail down.

It may forever be my way to write down how my life is unfolding and what’s happening underneath the placid mask I wear as talking too candidly is something I’m not particularly good at. I know that some people do wonder ‘how I am’ beyond ‘fine’, so here we are.

A couple of things have happened to me this year which took me by surprise. They may seem simple things, but to me they were extraordinary and I didn’t even realise they would be. Firstly, around October time, I felt happy. Up until this point, I hadn’t even realised I hadn’t felt happy in a long, long time. Certainly, I’d smiled and laughed and had happy moments, but this was a real happiness. The thing about depression is that it distances you from your own feelings, so while I may have reacted to the company of friends, good films, events, etc, with genuine smiles and laughter and some level of enjoyment, to actually feel happy had become so foreign to me that when I realised I was happy it was all a bit overwhelming. It went away after a few weeks, but I’m OK with that. Breaking free of the surface and taking a breath was a fresh and welcome reminder of the air above.

I’ve also started to want new things and feel bad about losing things I already have. This too is a revelation as the underlying depression tends to put me in a state of mild futility and passive nihilism, resulting in me letting things go easily. Now I want to cling to that which I care about and actually want to work to getting more of what I want: the right life, career, etc. Again, it’s been a while since I’ve cared about these things, so this is a good thing. This is progress. Unfortunately, in consequence, when things aren’t going well I actually care more now instead of shrugging it all off while waiting to be hit by a meteorite. The curious thing about getting some feelings back is how clumsy and unwieldy I feel bearing them. It’s not like riding a bike; I’ve forgotten how to control them properly. I nearly had a completely breakdown in preparing for a job interview that was starting to stress me out. In my newfound growth, I decided to take that as a sign to move onwards, rather than another reason to sink back into futility. Now I’m making plans. It’s been a while since I made plans, too.

Self-care, first and foremost: it’s back to the doctor’s for me. I probably need a bit of medication to stabilise the wobbly emotional turbulence in the wings; I might not, but it’ll be good to have some medical attention. I’ll also be applying for some CBT as I have quite limited dealing-with-shit skills and I’m ready to start dealing with shit. A return to medical care isn’t a step backwards but recognition that I want to move forwards and still need a bit of help. In the meantime, times are tough. This year starts with a lot on my mind and that eight-miles-through-a-marathon feeling, when your body is dying and you realise just how far there is left to go. It is my intention that, a year on, I’ll look back on a hard, long, but productive year. It is my longer-term intention that I’ll be able to talk to those close to me like a normal human being and not have to write all this down instead. In time.

The Derision of Excitement

Twitter is still one of those strange things that remains near-impossible to explain to those unfamiliar with it. Much like the concept of ‘wetness’, you just have to dive in and experience it for yourself to really understand it. It’s a bit like being in a room full of everyone and having the ability to mind-read; you can wade through the brainfarts of the rabble as well as pop into other people’s conversations, rants, lectures and articles. It just is. And because everyone is all crammed in the room together, listening and sharing and contributing, occasional waves of excitement will ripple through the crowd. Everyone has spotted a thing. Have you seen the thing? Show Bobby the thing. The thing may be anything from a photo of a dog and tortoise dressed in matching hats to an article about missing children in Syria. The point is that, through this wave, excitement builds; people start talking about the thing; real publications may even propagate the thing, causing the thing to rumble on for days. Days are a long time on social media.

And there, to once side, watching the wave bob their brethren with an orthogonal bounce, are the cynics.

Cynicism has become a strange sort of beast in its own right: proud, almost smug, delighting in its Marvinitude. I’m not empowered with enough knowledge to pick away at the reasons for this happy scoffery, but I have little suspicions. Passionate people are quite intimidating. I know they are to me – partly because being slightly ill dulls my general emotional amplitude – and I can often find myself wishing to be part of whatever has stirred the crowd. It’s very easy to quash your own lack of importance and intimidation of the enthusiastic by deriding those worked into a passion. It seems so boring; a life spent braying from the balcony seats, rather than braving dirty hands.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s so easy to get swept up on a false wind and carried away by ideas and leaders built of straw. Many a wave has propagated on the back of false information or misleading sentiment. This leads again to the difference between employment of cynicism and scepticism. The pause to check facts (one that definitely needs to be undertaken more – much more) is not a call for the dowsing of passion. A big part of the reason for certain cynicism is inherent in the thoughtless ease of retweeting and sharing of memetic propaganda. Questionable statistics, images, factoids and quote bleed through social media with exponential reach with hardly anyone in the web stopping to check their veracity. It’s far, far harder to backpedal a false meme because fact correction is both less interesting to share and causes humility on behalf of original sharers. Intrinsically, the sharing of (occasionally smug) corrections of bad-memes-gone-wild has its own level of share-potency for those who managed to avoid the original wave. Even if meme spread without particular inaccuracy, there is that more general sense of thoughtlessness: that clicking a ‘reblog’ button can be done without engaging with the idea being spread.

The oddest part of the whole effect is those who get their knickers in a twist about the fact that people are talking about a thing at all. Today, a lot of people are screaming for everyone (on all sides of argument) to stop talking about Russell Brand, but other days it’s Apple or the Royal Baby or Joseph Kony. It’s a weird position to take, as if Twitter is a one-on-one date and we’re bored with the dinner conversation. In reality, this idea is closer to eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, then berating them for not talking about what you’d want to hear. Twitter is nothing more than an open forum, but it’s treated like a theatre piece, bought and paid for. It isn’t.

The attitude of being ‘above’ excitement is not limited to Twitter, of course (and I’m aware of the stupidity of complaining about people on Twitter complaining about what people say on Twitter). Part of the essence of being cool is to remain unruffled, exhibiting a distinctive lack of flust. But the whole attitude is pretty boring isn’t it? It’s the next layer below ‘critic’; it’s uncreative vapidity; it’s giving up. I’m not sure I ever want the confidence and conviction required to make it so easy to deride. It sounds horrific.

On Theatre

I’ve heard a rumour that some people still go to the theatre. These people – and I say this, not lightly, but as clear and paranoid notice – have all been horribly duped. Just because they sell you Criterion Countryfresh ice cream, doesn’t mean they’re giving you a better experience. This goes for all parts of life.

Let’s start with the price. Do you know how many films I could go and see for the price of a theatre ticket? As few as 0.28. OK, cinema tickets have been on a quadratic rise in the explosion of the megaplex, 3D and D-Box and, sure, you can see a lot of stage shows about town for the change in your pocket but that’s not the point. It works both ways, Theatre. I can pop down to the Peckhamplex eight times before I’ve spent the equivalent amount of money as I did on Les Mis. And don’t even get me started on Les Mis: Jesus Christ, déjà prenez un chambre! La vache! What are we even paying you for, anyway? Have you seen the sizes of seats in theatres? Granted, all the classic venues were built for Australopithecus, but why should my fat arse have to suffer for their unevolved posteriors?

I’ve long been concerned that cinema (and home video) is attempting to force us into accepting 3D. Guys, I hate to break it to you, but the malevolence of theatre is way ahead of us on this one. Every single show is enforced 3D. There is no 2D option, but for closing one eye – and you’re still forced to pay full price if you do. Cinema has introduced the option of buying 2D glasses for the dimensionphobe, but you’re still forced to pay ridiculous prices to supplement the 3D screening despite enduring the dulled light and colour. Theatre forces you into experiencing the act ‘as if you’re really there’, a selling point we’ve long known is far from the truth. 3D is distracting, confusing and gives you a headache and eye strain due to confusion between the perceived focal point and the actual lens convergence. Have you ever wondered why all theatre goers wear glasses? Their eyes are fucked up from all the 3D. Think about that, Tom Morris, you pernicious bastard.

Also: paying people to perform every day? What kind of fucked up business model is that? American Beauty wrapped up filming in 90 days: cast and crew paid off; bring on the profit! Motherfucking Les Mis is still doing shows thirty years down the line and it needs an entirely new cast and crew for every venue that produces it. What a waste of money. Imagine pitching that to the Dragons: ‘Yeah, I’m gonna make a film, but instead of paying the cast a fixed fee and reap the DVD rewards, I’m going to pay them every day forever’. Sold.

Speaking of people performing every day – do you have any idea how much that fucks things up for the audience? I was at the Sarah Lucas exhibition yesterday and was wondering about the refolding of the rabbits and the re-frying of the eggs; visitors to the show would see different things each time. Fuck that noise. I want to see the same eggs you saw last Tuesday so we can talk about the eggs we saw. Who the hell would want to talk about different eggs? No one, that’s who. Fuck your eggs. Similarly, with theatre, I want to see the same actors doing the same thing every day. I don’t want to see a different show to Johnny Monday and Gilly Wednesday. Why would I pay to see a different show? With film, you get exactly the same thing ever time, forever and ever and ever. No deviation, no improvisation, no adlibs, no audience interaction, no variation in performers’ take on roles and lines. Nothing. If there’s an error, that error lives forever*. It’s pure, like Hitler would have wanted. That’s how pure it is.

As a writer (and one time co-director, with a small ‘c’), I want control over artistic output. The best way to ruin that control is to put it in the hands of live performers. I’m not writing for theatre until they invent acting robots, destined to perform exact routines, night after night for no fee. That’s the only way to hit the stage.  So until the robot revolution: screw theatre.

 

 

 

*unless you’re George Lucas. Fuck you, George.

 

Review: Pain & Gain (2013)

A short one, this.

I’m not fan of Michael Bay – mostly because ever since someone gave him the keys to the CGI cupboard, he has sought to throw as much crap at the screen as possible, destroying your senses with bombastic calamity and anvil-breaking sound effects. I can only imagine what he’s like at Pizza Hut with the Create-Your-Own™; his stuffed crusts will no doubt end up like the Ferraro Rocher display at the Ambassador’s reception. But I digress.

pain-and-gain-movie

Bay goes old school for Pain & Gain, stepping back from space robots and military warfare for a bit of the masculine, boys’ club, action comedy last seen in Bad Boys. We can tell this is a Bay movie immediately, of course, from the sun-bleached lighting, acid-burnt colouring and over-insistence on super slow motion for almost every scene. Every shot is crammed with toffee-saturated man muscles, and Playboy lady-thighs glistening in the permanent sunset; the film itself resembles an edit string of the plots-between-fucks scenes of 90s porn flicks. It’s Michael Bay, let’s not forget; he may have gone back to his roots, but he’s still stuck with the brain Satan gave him.

And let me tell you something surprising: the first act of this film works. It’s great fun. The premise is simple enough: three dim-witted, weight-jockey motherfuckers plan to make it big by kidnapping a rich asshole and shaking their fists at him until he hands over his fortune. Mark Wahlberg is the overambitious ‘brains’ of the operation, believing that he’s owed success through some karmic dance with the American Dream™. He recruits Dwayne Johnson, dried-up substance abuser and religious zealot, and Anthony Mackie, generic, greedy fool. As with all movie schemes run by overreaching idiots, their kidnapping plan goes wildly out of control and they struggle even to manage each other, let alone the rising fires of police, PIs and suspicious acquaintances. It’s a farce, essentially.

Here’s the big, big problem: it’s a true story. Not only is it a true story, but the movie keeps reminding us that it’s definitely a true story humorous freeze-captions broken into the most horrifying parts of the film. As their ambitions careen out of control, our anti-heroic trio end up involved in kidnap, torture, murder, brutal manslaughter, disembodiment and generally horrendous acts against other human beings – and it’s played for laughs. It never turns from the ‘madcap farce’ of the opening act; it continues to play out as a dark comedy, all while we the audience are told this happened to real people. Are we supposed to be laughing? The film even uses the mugshots of the real Wahlberg/Johnson/Mackie (etc) over the end credits, anchoring us tighter to the reality. It is truly a bizarre move.

The interesting thing is that it could all be fixed so easily. Bay’s colour palette is so vivid, his lighting so bright and optimistic, mirroring the bright Floridian postcard-perfect representation of the American Dream™ that all it would really take to set this film right would be to flatten the visuals as the film snowballs into darkness. Reduce the light-sources, go for longer takes, desaturate the palette, take out the rock motifs in the soundtrack; show the audience that what started as a jolly, ludicrous caper has descended into absolute horror. It’s not hard.

I mean, people died. Horribly. And the film has nothing to say about that.

Review: About Time

About Time takes a little bit of Groundhog Day, a smidgen of The Butterfly Effect, a huge dollop of Hugh Grant and mixes it all up in that Richard Curtis schmultz we’ve all grown to know to produce… what, exactly? A terrifying romantic comedy that kept my face transfixed like this:

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The film isn’t too bad in a don’t-think-about-this-too-hard kind of a way. Of course, I did end up thinking about it and so here we are. Again.

The protagonist in About Time, Tim Lake (a ‘clever’ anagram of Lak Time?) has the ability to travel back in time at will and redo the bits of his life that he fucked up. Spilled soup all over yourself on a date? Just rewind and stop being such a god damned klutz! God. Anyway, that’s the little twist on your typical boy-meets-girl story that made me worried before I even started watching it. As Bill Murray showed us in one of the greatest films of all time, Groundhog Day, it becomes all too easy to manipulate people when you have the power of infinite do-overs. Of course, the whole point of Bill Murray’s character was that he was clearly an asshole, so obviously he was going to Jehovah his way around Punxatawny until he was brow beaten into humanitarian empathy. Tim is a nice guy:  he’s basically a ginger Hugh Grant, and who doesn’t like Hugh Grant? Or gingers. If Nice Guy Tim used his powers for seduction, that would kind of put PUAs and date-rapists basking in a positive reflected light. Uncomfortable. So, does Tim use his power for evil?

Sort of. But mostly, no. He does tug a few strings in order to bend Rachel McAdams’s lifeline towards his; he does learn enough about her to be able to start a conversation with her (albeit an appallingly written one, from which no sane woman would do anything but back away slowly); he doesn’t go all out puppet-master on her: you always have the feeling he actually wants her to like him and he’s just too much of a dolt to engage with her linearly. In fact, the only reason he starts manipulating things in the first place is because he has to sacrifice their first meeting in order to time travel back to stop Richard E Grant from ruining everything. Obviously. He’s a nice guy. He’s Hugh Grant. He’s ginger.

Stars suitably aligned, they go back to her place and have sex. As you do. It’s all a bit fumbly and tumbly, but they seem to have a nice time. Not nice enough for Tim, apparently. Yes, fair reader, he actually rewinds and gives it another shot.

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No, Tim! Stop it! You’re supposed to have the awkward fumbliness, the getting used to each other, the funny little moments along the way – sex or otherwise. But especially sex. But especially otherwise. Furthermore: she said she liked it the first time, you stupid motherfucker. Learn to take a compliment*. The second time they have sex for the first time (still with me?) he’s working it like a pro, he’s totally all up ons. She’s wowed, he’s a total stud – hooray for Tim. But he’s still not satisfied! Back we go.

20130912_105501

No, Tim! Stop this! The third first time, he basically just barges into her room and dominates her. She seems appreciative and the whole thing is played for comic effect, but you have to start to ask questions here. Tim gets three shags for one agreement of consent. Right? Time travel screws with the rules of consent a little, but in normal, linear life he would have to wait for her to agree to have sex with him a second and third time, but instead he just leaps back to the first time and steals some extra sex just for himself. It’s not just me, is it? That’s dodgy territory. It’s played under the pretence of him wanting to give her better sex, but still, it’s like temporal rohypnol, really. Come on, Tim. You’re better than this. And now ‘rohypnol’ is in my search history because I wasn’t sure how to spell it. Thanks a fucking bunch, Richard Curtis.

Let’s dip out of the narrative for a moment and talk about what this film is actually trying to achieve by bringing time travel into the mix. Groundhog Day uses a similar looping-time device (albeit one out of his control) to explore the character of Phil Connors and how he learns to be introspective and empathetic by forcing upon him a saturation of genuine characters. The arc of the story is the destruction of his misanthropy and the struggles he faces as he tries and fails to block out the world. Essentially, the film completely ignores the sci-fi elements – the whys, the what-ifs and hows – and focuses on Bill Murray dealing with the freaky-deaky. That’s all the film needed. Conversely, The Butterfly Effect ignored exploring characters in any depth, presenting weird, one-dimensional marionettes in order to delve into the idea of time-travel and chaos theory. It’s an valid path to take, though it took a blunt hammer to a lot of quite serious and nuanced issues.

About Time tries to do both and achieves neither. It doesn’t have a clear idea of what it’s trying to be, so flits nervously between the two studies of character and time-travel, desperately spinning plates but not really committing to either. Most whimsical tales carried on a fantastical McGuffins aren’t interested in ‘rules’ and the audience happily accepts the bend on reality without asking questions. But if you start introducing rules, you give the audience reasons to ask questions. For the first half of the film you believe Tim can only travel backwards and so has to relive the time repeated. Half way through the time, with no revelation, Tim is able to ‘visit’ the past and travel forwards again. Wow, that would have been useful earlier in the film, Tim. Thank goodness you figured that one out. Furthermore, to travel in time, Tim has to get into a dark cupboard. He then emerges from the same cupboard in the past. Where is Original Timeline Tim™? There isn’t one. Tim has replaced him. This means that if Original Timeline Tim™ was in the middle of a conversation or driving a fucking car he’d surely just disappear when Future Tim arrives in the past? Won’t that cause serious problems? This issue is left unexplored.

Fine, it’s a romantic comedy, not a sci-fi story. We’ll let it slide. But a romantic comedy follows this format: protagonist meets someone they love; they swan about being amazing lovers; protagonist fucks something up, leaving their relationship in doubt; protagonist wins over love interest (and our hearts) and everything is awesome.

About Time follows this arc: protagonist meets someone they love; he wins her over with superpowers; their love blossoms unchallenged for the back 2/3 of the movie. Seriously. Their relationship is never even doubt, even when Curtis mounts a Chekhov’s Gun in having Tim propose in response to very nearly sleeping with some hot girl that got away. Come on, Curtis, Rachel McAdams is supposed to find out about that shit! She’s supposed to get angry and then Tim has to decide whether erase-and-rewind or make amends for his idiocy in real time. This shit writes itself!

Maybe I’m being a little harsh on the film; the truth is that the main relationship is just another massive McGuffin. The real story is Tim learning to appreciate life’s little details. Remember earlier on when he kept having sexual do-overs and I kept telling him to stop and smell the roses (not a euphemism (well, I guess it is a euphemism, but not a sexual one (well, maybe a little bit sexual)))? Apparently, that was the whole point. Tim learns to stop using his powers and start appreciating life and all its precious memories. We get sweet moments with his father and some slightly problematic attempts to fix (and then unfix, so she can learn her lesson?) his sister’s abusive relationship, mental illness and alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, the film does not present you with this intrigue until the end, so the narrative floats absently throughout. Tim waltzes through the film, privileged and untroubled, touching the lives of those around him some kind of ginger Jesus, before relinquishing his powers in order to enjoy life in all its thorny glory. It’s just weird.

It’s full of nice little moments: his relationship with his father is touching and well written, his theatre friend is a fun side-character, the occasional explorations into chaos are interesting, the distance it keeps itself from sickly sweet romanticism is refreshing. As a unit, however, these components work against each other and make the whole experience less than solid. But it’s alright. I guess.

What I really wanted the film to do was take a dark twist halfway through. Maybe Rachel McAdams scorns Tim and sent him repeatedly attempting to ‘fix’ things with time travel, but making things worse and worse, driving him mad and psychopathic. Bill Nighy would have to chase him through time in a vain effort to repair his devastations and finally end the horror by pulling out of his wife, thirty years previously and ejaculating out of the window instead. You wouldn’t have seen that coming, would you?

Ha. Coming.

 

 

*yeah, shut up people-who-have-slept-with-me. I’m allowed to be a hypocrite. This is scripted.