Monday, March 6, 2017

The Mantra of the Yoniverse

Inspired by Spirit Fest and the many beautiful, powerful women in the fullness of their feminine that I encountered there and in my life - I penned a poem that I wish to share with you.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to share some intimate and personal magic in my life. Stories in which my life has been touched and transformed by adventures of the heart. First the poem though, and then the story...

Some months ago I wondered: What is created when two ears come together? The result surprised me. Focus on the second image. What does it look like? Can you see a representation of the yoni (vagina), the lingum (penis), a spiralling DNA strand, the twisting rising energy of Shakti? The poem below is represented by this image that gives rise to the last image: Loving OneSelf. Loving earth. We are one and the same: Look after yourself, your body, your heart, your mind, your soul, your environment - Hear The Earth - YOUR Earth.
Loving the earth is my ultimate destiny.
What is yours?







The Mantra of the Yoniverse  / The Big Bang

Your kiss is still on my lips,
Your breath infused with mine,
Your gentle words still impressed upon my ears.

I know it's not easy for you,
I know it never was,
I know you're feeling scared.

Let's You and I explore and alchemize this journey,
Let's You and I go where this man has dared to venture,
Let's You and I go where this woman has dared to dream.

We'll cast aside labels of I am and I'm not - can and cannot,
We'll break through barriers of boundaries and belief,
We'll face fear and plunge deep into pools of the heart -
of the mind,
of the soul,
of the universe...

Until The You and I are melded,

In one brief moment in ever expanding love-light,
Into the One endlessly repeating manifestation of this:
The YOu 'n I verse.

Some explanations and thoughts:

This poem is simultaneously about birth and lovemaking:
The birth of You;
the birth of The U-niverse.
A simultaneous wish from mother to child -
from child to mother.
It welds my scientific and structured background,
with my explorations of the heart -
a space of endless exploration still elusive and opaque to the masculine machinations of science.
In the beginning was the word, the universal sound of creation - Aum.
Life starts with a breath -
The first touch of the wind upon our face that elicits our first InSpiration.
The yoni is a sanskrit word meaning the vagina.
It has multiple meanings including "source of all life".
With which lips does a mother first bless her child?
How does a new-born child speak?
They say that for around the first six months of your life,
You do not see yourself as separate from your mother,
You are one.
When you are born there is the flash of love-light
and an inspiration of breath.
When you and I make love,
Our energies combine in an endless moment of now.
When you die a near instantaneous download of DMT,
causes a universal and ineffable love-light experience,
your final inspiration with your final expiration -
in this life.
All the chemicals of Your youniverse collapsing,
You reconnect with loved ones.
To be reborn again.
Choose your friends wisely,
Choose to love fully:
As if it is your first.
As if it is your last.
Every moment we have a choice.
To start our lives again.
To live our lives anew.
To live out our most magnificent destiny,
That will ring out eternally through the filled vacuum of endless space.

This poem is dedicated to the most powerful of Woman,
My Mother,
My Soulmate,
My Lover,
My Witch

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Best Botanical Expedition Camera so far? An Intimate Review of the Olympus Tough TG-870.

With beach sand and dust, sea and salt air, Cape Verde is a tough environment for plants and botanists alike. Sleeping outdoors every night, climbing epic peaks and roughing it ups the ante for botanists and the equipment they carry hugely! This is my first equipment test as the Rogue Botanist: expedition tested equipment that won't fail, so you never have to!

Considering the physical challenges of the locale, I scoured the web for a backup camera for my trusty joined-at-the-hipbelt companion - the weatherproofed Olympus OM-D EM5 Mk II. My eyes naturally gravitated towards Olympus, and in particular the 2016 release of the TG-870 - the latest in Olympus's lineup of 'tough' cameras. There are several things that I consider critical when choosing a camera: is it tough enough to handle the field, does it have a good macro, does it focus on the foreground subject and can I take shots with one hand? The TG-870 ticks all these boxes and more. It has a wider-than-usual lens, relatively quick GPS, a flip screen for viewing tricky subjects, has a dust-proof body and is submersible to 15m.

The Tough TG-870 promo image from the Olympus website


There are several excellent sites out there that give hands on reviews of this camera (eg. Ken Rockwell, Digital Camera HQ). In this review focused on botanical expedition-worthy equipment, I'm going to give my considered, harsh yet fair appraisal of this dynamite-comes-in-small-packages camera. I think I’ve picked up many points not covered in other reviews. This shows the camera after three months of solid use that leaves this camera scratched, dented and dinged - but less worthy equipment broken and deflated on their first day out.

My Digital Camera Background
I've had many cameras, and was one of the earliest botanists within South Africa to recognize the tremendous advantages of digital cameras over slides in documenting and cataloging plants. My first camera was the extraordinary 3MP Nikon Coolpix 995, purchased in 2002. This was an astonishing camera in many ways, and packed crisp photos into a tiny and tough body. It had a brilliant macro which thanks to its tiny sensor gave better than 1:1 macro, it was compact and light, dustproof and my favourite part – a split-body  that was both intuitive and engaging that compelled one to point the screen at oneself while the subject faced elsewhere. It had an unparalleled macro with huge depth of field, and the form factor meant that you could get shots of flowers at ground level almost without shading them. In many ways I have been pining for a worthy successor to this model ever since. 

The extraordinary botanical juggernaut - the Nikon Coolpix 995 (Photo: www.dpreview.com)

Two years later I upgraded to the 4MP Coolpix 4500, a step backwards in several ways, one of which was losing the focal-distance scale (replaced with a ridiculous scale bar), and the other having a cheap trigger setup held by plastic pins that eventually broke. Sticking with Nikon I upgraded to the D70 SLR that took great pictures but was big and heavy and lacked video. It eventually died when the pins of the horrible flash-card format got pushed in for the second time. From there my Lumix GH-2 promised excellent image or video quality in a lighter-weight body. Yet it too succumbed, this time from corrosion due to a rainstorm. Times were hard and I ended up buying a series of medium range compact cameras from Canon that broke within months.

Last year I splashed out and settled on the weatherproof, ridiculously customizable OM-D EM-5 as my serious camera. But despite being small and lightweight compared to most APS-C DSLR’s, it is still big and clumsy, and most importantly lacks a decent wide angle macro lens that is fully compatible with the camera (the supposedly compatible 35mm Olympus lens alas, does a terrible job of focusing). Also I didn’t have a wide-angle lens beyond the 28mm kit lens, nor a camera that can do panorama stitching. I found an early model of the TG range which was cheap, but dinged and scratched with a barely useable rear screen. So I looked online to see if Olympus had released anything more… enticing. Enter the elegant-looking, mean-acting, quick-thinking, strong-enough for Mr T - Tough TG-870.




Lens and lens quality
The TG-870 boasts one of the widest lenses of any compact camera, a 21 – 105 mm equivalent lens. This is technically in ultra-wide territory, and far wider than my 14 - 40mm kit lens which on the OM-D is a 28 mm equivalent lens. For landscape shots, this lens delivers good shots which paired with the 16MP effective Backside Illumination-sensor and Truepic VII imaging engine, delivers clean images, rich colours and a blue sky.

It has a reasonable and fairly pedestrian 5x lens. I barely use the zoom-in feature except when trying to snap fruits or flowers that would otherwise be inaccessible, or when documenting bushes on adjacent cliffs. I would like in these circumstances to be able to zoom further, but it is a minor issue superseded by more pressing issues.

The macro is fantastic – about the same… nay better in macro mode than my 2:1 equivalent macro lens on my bigger-bodied camera. I love that the 1cm macro is paired with a wide-angle lens delivering a delightful view of macro subjects in context. The difference in sharpness between these lenses at macro level is obvious and palpable though. On the Tough, purple and yellow fringing appear and images appear hazy, particularly towards the outside of the image. So obvious in fact that it makes super-macro mode all but unusable!

Image quality
Images from the camera are acceptable verging on good. They lack a certain sharpness and crispness that is unfortunate. Nonetheless for record shots which is what I spend most of my time doing, it fits the bill. The compressed 4608x3456 (16MP) images are a bloated 7MB in size, which is acceptable for my Olympus OM-D, but seems excessive for this camera given the softness of the lens.

A picture of Carprobrotus that reveals the quality this camera is capable of.

A pixel-peeper crop of the image above displayed at 1:1. Not bad!

Despite its BSI sensor, I found the noise a force to be reckoned with, especially above ISO 400 or in low-light.

A picture of "Mordor" on Cape Verde. Almost no detail is visible. This is taken at a modest ISO 800 and 1/30th of a second.

A crop of "Mordor" showing almost no detail and significant chroma noise.

Layout of controls
My old Coolpix 995 and several other cameras have suffered from poor layout that led to me accidentally pushing on or more buttons. Other than the zoom button that I sometimes find myself accidentally pressing, I find most of the controls reasonably laid out with good tactile feedback.

Menu Layout
I find the menu system acceptable bar one glaring irritating flaw – deleting images. Something one does fairly often, especially on a long trip with limited disk space. There is a button earmarked for deletion. Press it and you will find out how NOT TO SET UP A DELETE BUTTON - Olympus! Step 1. Press the play button. Step 2. Press the erase button. Step 3. Skip past Slideshow and Edit to Erase. Step 4. Don’t be tempted to Sel(ect) Image(s), but skip to Erase. Step 5. Skip Cancel and select Erase. There, you’ve deleted an an image, that wasn’t so hard, was it?!

The rest of the menus are poor to adequate – nothing special, with some powerful features embedded several screens away. The first screen has such arcane things as Wi-fi start (a feature I have not yet figured out how to use), Reset (I haven’t dared press it though I guess it resets everything to factory settings – sounds like a last resort). Compression  – something you’ll do once in the life of a camera (set it to fine) unless you are running out of space. AF Mode (again I’ve never changed it), and Metering (something I’ve never changed).

I found the choice of features a little irritating to get to as well. I’d frequently have to spend 15 seconds changing the settings to obtain the one I wanted. An example is THE SELECT MENU.

No quick way to adjust the exposure. (Press OK, scroll past picture filter and flash setting to exposure, then select exposure value and press OK). Fortunately the auto-exposure does such a great job that it seldom blows out the brights from yellow or white flowers.

Customisation
I love customization. If this is for you, then don’t get this camera. There is no ability to change the aperture, and no ability to manually focus. That’s right folks. None. In all fairness – the exposure is usually spot on and focus is usually quick and simple – but not always.

One useful change is the button setup. Go to the Menu | bottom-most Settings Menu 3 | For the top one select Super Macro. The red button at the bottom front left of the camera I use for all my macro photos. It allows you to focus closer than a few cm, and zooms in very slightly allowing that wide-angle macro view. This is different to super-macro that zooms in significantly more and introduces lots of fringing and unwanted image artifacts.

Picture Styles and the Scroll-Wheel
The scroll-wheel has a raft of eight useful looking options.
iAuto Mode is just a crippled mode for people with no brains and no style.

The P Mode is my go-to mode for all my partial customizable settings. It even has access to picture styles.

I use three or four picture styles. My standard ‘normal’ one is Vivid. Natural and Muted appear no different to me. Reflection is my favourite filter – reflecting the image around the X axis. Dramatic Tone I have used a few times to good effect, but it seems to unfortunately radically degrade the picture quality. Some filters like Keyline and Watercolor just seem horribly implemented and virtually unusable.

A ridgeline trail at the St. Antao, Cape Verde. Taken with Dramatic Tone setting that gives great effects but loses details.


Scene (SCN) gives access to all your favourite (NOT) art filters – exactly the same but without the reflection, fisheye and jumble effects, or the tonal effects. Scene gives the HDR option, the most important picture style of them all (but I tend to forget about it because it’s under SCN. This is also how you access Interval Shooting (which you setup first in Menu | Settings | Interval). Pressing OK is also how you access a raft of other scenes like Wide 1 which has a picture of a fish and is ‘ideal for underwater landscape photos’, vs. Wide 2 which has a picture of dolphins and is ‘ideal for underwater action scenes’. Yes, did you pick up my sarcasm. I’ve barely experimented with these because of the obscure usages or because potentially useful things like Interval Shooting and Live Composite will take too much battery.

Sepia picture style - Euphorbia tuckeyana at the crater of San Antao

Keyline picture style

The absolutely useless Watercolor picture style. Yes this is a picture.

Vintage picture style

Grainy film picture style

Pinhole picture style


 Super macro is really useful, or would be if it didn’t give such atrocious picture quality.

Sport I have never used. The only time I would need it is for a rabbit bursting out of the bush, and then it will take me too long to setup the camera for this. Also this doesn’t have the zoom, picture quality or performance for most sports photography, so it seems a little redundant to me.

Panorama mode is pretty well implemented. Simply set it to auto and start panning. Unfortunately there is no guide keeping you on track. And really unfortunately the resulting picture resolution is so low (as I found out after my trip) that it is essentially useless for printing. That’s right. It’s better to take normal photos then stitch them afterwards using your favourite pirated stitching software. But wait – did I mention there is no way to lock the exposure outside panorama mode!

Panorama showing adequate picture but poor resolution and sky blown out.

Portrait mode I never use. Let’s see... Oh wait – it’s simply a subset of five of the Art photographs!

Movie mode (the back orange button by default) is pretty good and has image stabilization built in as well as impressively allowing HD shooting at 60P. Pity you can’t focus or change the lighting – but it’s a good start. Also there is no external microphone jack, and the sound quality is good, but not great. Especially when there is lots of wind, like most of the time in Cape Verde or the Cape of South Africa.

Build and Build Quality
But back to the virtues of this camera. It feels lovely and solid in the hand. They claim you can drop it from 2m (onto sand). I’ve tested this inadvertently on a few occasions, and it thus far delivers on the promise! A lesser camera would not have survived the drops I have subjected this camera to. The lens is slightly recessed so it has no scratches on it. Lucky because there is no cap or protection for it. It does mean that wiping the screen regularly of dust and gunge becomes a necessity. The lens is also positioned at the top of the camera. Clever – because at the macro distance at which this camera shines, a centred lens would obscure light. It also allows me to turn the camera upside down and get those itsy bitsy subjects at ground level. Pity the screen only flips one direction, so you can’t angle the camera screen to facilitate this.



Waterproof and dustproof. True as Bob, I have put this guy through some serious dust and water tests, and it’s shone nearly every time. I even dared (though I had two weeks of footage on the camera) of swimming out to an islet with the camera. I never dived more than about 3m with the camera, but what I found is that the inside of the camera misted up, and took hours to demist. Was there a tiny leak in the housing, or another explanation? Uncertain, I never took the chance again so it remains from henceforth a terrestrial camera.

The TFT screen is has good resolution (921K pixels) and generally allows me to see whether something is approximately in focus or not. I occasionally really appreciate the flip-screen. Pity this is the weakest point of the camera. Not the hinge of the screen which seems solid, rather that I placed it in my pocket along with my credit-card holder. The plastic was enough to scratch the monitor and totally impair my ability to see that portion of the screen which appears as a misty lens. Unlike most compacts, I don’t find the lack of viewfinder much of a hindrance in bright light, though it definitely could be brighter or less reflective.

Crippled features
So they have some cool features – like night photography. Pity that you can’t use this mode because you can’t manually focus on the stars (and yes, focus is usually poor at night).

LCD screen
One gripe I usually have with cameras is the screen in bright African sunlight. I have to say I didn’t find this on this camera. I found the screen generally usable in all conditions, and of high enough resolution to determine whether focus is adequate (though maybe I also use the sound of focusing for this to an extent). So kudos to Olympus (though I would still like an OLED screen please).

Macro capability
I love and hate the macro on this camera. With its quick on, quick foreground focus and flip screen, a press of the button makes for a quick macro photograph. Is the photo any good though. Below are two photos to highlight the good and bad of the macro mode. A good depth of field at macro is challenging. Can I reduce the depth of field to highlight a particular plant feature? No. Does it deliver high quality pictures. No. They’re bright and delightful, but on closer inspection especially in the corners it is not just lackluster, its downright abhorrent. That means instead of composing my picture properly, I have to place my image subject near the centre of the picture to ensure reasonable sharpness.
Good from far but far from good - picture soft off the centre. (but this is not super-macro which is far worse!)


Functionality
Here’s what I love about this camera. When all is said and done, and despite all the minor flaws – this camera is great to use. It’s exposure is usually spot on. Focus is super-quick and usually correct too. Sometimes I need to put my hand behind a small subject to get focus lock, then remove my hand, but I think there is not a compact camera out there that can match it for focus accuracy, and few DSLRs would not stumble over similar subjects. What I love is that it PRIORITIZES SUBJECTS IN THE FRONT (take note camera manufacturers). Thank you Olympus for that! Startup is almost instant and because of the quicker focus, it’s quicker to take a photo than my OM-D. I also love that it has the wide-angle perspective on flowers and nature that really allows me to explore my subjects. Throw in the ‘reflection’ filter, and I found myself spending literally hours exploring a graveyard or a plant, and had to be dragged away by myself (like a scene out of Fight Club) to continue. Touring Cape Verde I would frequently find myself loving the solid feel of the camera and whipping it out when I encountered something interesting. I felt like a gunslinger in the wild-west, pointing his (or her :-P) gun at every bottle and taking a shot – though I think my kind of shot is more rewarding!

The led light and flash
I also found the inclusion of a LED light ridiculously useful. The LED light is great for macro footage (except when the subject was really close) and for fill-in flash up close. I frequently leave it on as a default. When I found I had left my headtorch on the Canary Islands, this became my main torch (simply hold down the trigger button to obtain light to setup camp/cook/eat/brush teeth with).
The flash is a bit weak and not great for human subjects, but exposes well up close, even for macro shots (take a lesson, Lumix with your terrible GH-2 flash implementation!). Big kudos here Olympus.
A photo taken with the LED "flash". 


The battery
I found the battery life to be adequate, but not great. Sometimes I’d make the mistake of taking a movie, and within moments the low-battery indicator would flash. Darnit, I’d just killed potential for another 50 images! Fortunately when paired with a separate Powerbank or laptop, I could get several more charges out of the camera without the need for electricity. It was even possible to photograph with the Powerbank connected up.

The cable
Seriously Olympus! When we have cables that are universal like micro-usb, why go and make a slightly different proprietary Olympus cable. Besides the concern of losing my cable, if I leave the cable behind it means I can’t charge the camera on a trip. It’s that serious. It does mean that you don’t need a separate charger, and can use a battery pack unlike the OM-D, but it also means requiring two cables (one for mobile phone, one for camera) instead of one. Flippin’ use a standard micro-usb cable, Olympus!

GPS
I found this both fantastic and incredibly frustrating. In general a hot-start would take mere seconds to obtain a fix. I liked that if I took a photo before it had a fix, it would give the photo the previous locality. Not a bad assumption. What miffed me though, is that there was no way to see which satellites it was picking up or where they were. No indicator at all of it’s progress in this regard, except that once it got a fix the flashing GPS would become fixed. Indeed no idea of accuracy either – a fairly standard feature on anything with a GPS. So what about when it didn’t work? Sometimes off a cold start it simply wouldn’t find a GPS – I’m talking waiting for 10 minutes or till the camera automatically turned off. This meant that sometimes I was wasting precious battery life trying to obtain a fix. I recently tried it in the nearby forest, a place where nearly every GPS struggles except my Garmin HCX gps, and no surprises, it didn’t find a fix till I came out into the open. It even has the promise of registering a track while the camera is turned off (don’t forget to save it to access it from the computer). Yet with the track on and the camera off it still seemed to take a while to obtain a fix – though it should have had one. Mystifying!

One handed operation
Clinging from a cliff while photographing a cremnophyte, one-handed operation is sometimes the most difficult yet necessary thing to pull off. This camera does the job admirably. Only problem is that if extending one’s hand to the subject, which is at right-angles to one’s body, one then can’t see the screen. The OM-D flip screen not only folds in to protect the screen, but allows sideways and downwards flipping. It is even possible to access the menus one-handed, as one’s hand grip changes to hold the camera with the index finger alongside the trigger and zoom switch.

Aah, a normal selfie taken with Vintage picture style on. Good easy use of the camera's flip screen.

Aaaaahhhh!!! Extreme photo taken of both Echium vulcanorum  and I clinging to a cliff.

A shot showing the arm in the way. This was taken ascending a treacherous cliff on San Vincente.
Playback
This is an expedition camera I want to use for long trips taking hundreds of pictures of plants a day. The OM-D has the right idea with a calendar-like view if you scroll out enough. The Tough just doesn’t. It shows 20 thumbnails at a time, it pauses before scrolling, then scrolls too slowly. Press the trigger button and your hard-earned position 1000 back is magically lost… again.

File Naming
Good thing I read this up on Ken Rockwell’s site otherwise I would have been mighty confused:
“Folders aren't a programmable option, but the file names cleverly begin with the month and date to help keep things straight.
Files are named as PMDD####.jpg.
P means normal sRGB color.
M is the month; the months go 1234567890AB.
DD is the date.
Today is June 17th, so the files I shot today are P617####.jpg.”

Conclusion
For the form factor of being able to slip this into a top pocket (where it fell out of at least twice when I bent over), for the lightweight yet solid feel, for the rapid focus and the almost indestructability, for the excellent macro capability, and the GPS I would highly recommend this camera for expeditions or nature photography.

It loses serious marks for the terrible super-macro picture/lens quality, for the terrible menu functionality (erase issue), the lack of changing the aperture or locking of exposure, manual focusing (even my old 995 had this!), for the poor implementation of filters, particularly low panorama resolution, and for the flip screen that is not scratch proof from even plastic.

Positives
+ form factor
+ build quality
+ lightweight
++ flip screen
+ 1 cm macro ability
++ wide angle macro
+ wide angle lens
++ GPS
+ easy one-handed operation
+ quick startup
+ dedicated wide-angle macro button at the front (though you have to set it up)
+ excellent flash implementation
+ love the LED light for fill-in purposes and as a flashlight
+ good video quality

Negatives
- panorama stitch resolution and implementation
- lens sharpness especially at macro
- no manual focus or focus lock
- no manual setting of exposure or locking of exposure
- poor focus in low-light and at night
- really stupid erase operation
- no focus or light adjustments in video mode
- - proprietary camera cable
- no raw images

In the end I give it a much lauded Rogue Botanist 7/10. For documenting plants, between my OM-D and this, I’d take this any day as I don’t need a separate GPS or to change the lens for macro. It’s just quick and easy. Olympus - It could have been an easy eight with decent software and menu implementation. If you didn’t cripple the camera it could have been a nine. To get that ten would have required a better quality lens and a multi-direction scratch proof flip-screen.


If I could buy only one camera on a limited budget for documenting plants – this would be it! Then again – many smartphones cost the same but have better quality images, a GPS as standard, are more versatile with upgradeble firmware / software, and can be used for a myriad of other purposes. The role of dedicated compact cameras is fast being eroded. You win the Rogue Botanist Award for toughness, but certainly not for IQ. Your cameras got great potential, but it’s time to up your game, Olympus!

A special mention to my sponsor: Hemporium who provide me with hemp t-shirts - the only clothing I trust for comfort and durability on an expedition. Hope you enjoyed the review - I'm off to tackle Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro in four hours. Happy botanizing!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

TNB finds the source of the City of Cape Town's Logo Inspiration

Seedbags.
The new city of Cape Town logo that was approved yesterday despite fierce public opposition appears to have had a precedent in the form of a simple stationary company.
Waltons supplies Summit stationary, the box of which was sitting upon my desk. I wonder if the marketing company behind the new City of Cape Town logo had a box of seedbags sitting on their desk?
The logos of the City of Cape Town with a stationary logo on the right overlaid.
Prices below reflect the estimated concept and design cost.
I took the liberty of overlaying the Summit logo over the City logo and found a remarkable fit. 97.3% fit to be exact. By scientific terms the probability of that happening by chance is almost inconceivable! I'm totally kidding of course. But here are some thoughts on the issue.

I don't think I'm mincing my words when I say the logo conjures up images of looking down a  meat-grinder.

The logo resembles cogs. Is Table Mountain just another cog in the works? A money making machine for the city? The former logo was flowing - more natural. This is hard, angled and engineered. Is there no room left in the new city dispensation for nature any more, or is nature going to only be allowed to survive if its planned and engineered soon?

Recalls to mind a scene I passed on the highway into town. The city cutting back the unruly sour figs that were spilling over the side of the wall and daring to encroach on the sharp lines of the brickwork. Actually it reminds me of the last vestiges of my guerilla gardening of some 20 rare species that were finally brushcut to non-existance two weeks ago next to the highway.

The steam-rolling out of the new logo at least is in keeping with their new motto - "Making progress possible. Together". It seems though that they forgot to ask a crucial question: is the progress is desirable, and at what cost - financial and otherwise?

So what does The Naked Bloganist think about the new logo? It doesn't matter what I think, because the logo was approved yesterday, the roll-out of the new logo will happen, and all the sheeple will be part of the governmental meat grinder, proudly sporting their new logo on uniforms, stationary, websites, banners, billboards... at a currently estimated cost of R7 million.

TNB
Twitter: @TNBloganist



Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Bridge Fuel" - Careless Talk Costs Actual Lives

When the current set of coal-fired power plant updates are completed in 2017, it is estimated that South Africa will derive 94% of its energy from coal (http://bit.ly/1laDIrt), and wrest the position from Australia as 7th highest producer of CO2 from power-generation in the world. Our award winning line-up includes a suite of mammoth coal-fired plants ranging from 4100-4800MW, including two of the 4th biggest coal-fired power plants in the world. Each of these plants produces more energy and pollution, and consumes more coal than America's largest power plant, the 3520MW Scherer Power Plant. This power plant is currently under investigation for for coal ash pond leeching, drinking water contamination, and air pollution (http://bit.ly/1h0phCT).


A study in the USA by the Clean Air Task Force estimated that pollution from coal-fired power plants accounts for more than 13,000 premature deaths, 20,000 heart attacks, and 1.6 million lost workdays. The cost of this: an estimated $100 billion annually. This is about 1/4 of the annual GDP of South Africa. So unlike the air around these power plants, it is clear that the power-generating parastatal Eskom and our governmental representatives haven't exactly had our best interests - or at least our health at heart. But now they're looking to the future, in terms of air at least, a cleaner, fracked future. But is it cleaner, or is Susan Shabangu and Zuma doing the people and economy of South Africa another grave disservice by decisively pursuing fracking?


The jury is out. We should no longer condone the use of the term "bridge fuel" when cited in conjunction with fracking. Far from a "sturdy bridge to a cleaner energy future" as stated by the editor of the Wisconsin State Journal (http://bit.ly/1mAFtzZ), building an economy based on methane, together with its fracking bedfellow, appears to be an uncontrolled spin away from a healthy environment.

Romm has presented an excellent review of the amount of methane released during fracking, and the impact of that methane on global warming. The article is nothing short of breathtaking. By using fracking to extract methane as a "bridge fuel", the number of years before net climate benefits are achieved rapidly increases above 3% leaking rate. At a leakage rate of 5.4%, it would take 50 years for a full-replacement of coal plants with natural gas plants to show any climate benefits. At the same leakage rate, converting a fleet of either cars or trucks to Natural Gas would be worse for the climate for 140 years. However, given that the natural gas leakage rates from three separate NOAA studies were 4%6-12%, and 17%, its time to get VERY WORRIED about the promotion of natural gas as a "bridge fuel".

Figure: Maximum life-cycle natural gas leak rate as a function of the number of years needed to achieve net climate benefits after switching from coal power to natural gas. The three curves represent: single emissions pulses (dotted lines); the service life of a power plant, 50 years (dashed lines); and a permanent fleet conversion (solid lines). Image and caption from Romm, 2014.
The US is frequently touted as having slashed nearly 80 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2012 by replacing 160 million MWh of coal electricity with natural gas. That is significant, and could even warrant justification South Africa's own fracking pursuits... Were it not for these two offsets—methane leakage, and the replacement of hydro and nuclear by gas. These two offsets together wipe out the entire CO2 reduction from coal-to-gas fuel switching; methane leakage accounts for more than two thirds of that offset (http://bit.ly/NnBOW8).
Romm's message about fracking as a "bridge fuel" is clear: "natural gas doesn’t just displace coal, it also displaces nuclear power, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. So it appears quite safe to say that natural gas simply has no net climate benefit whatsoever in any timescale that matters to humanity."

So, be careful when you use the B-F word. Careless talk costs lives!
TNB
Twitter: @TNBloganist

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Zuma's State of the Nation Rent-A-Crowd - An Environmentalists Critique

There was something mildly disturbing watching Zuma's speech. It was difficult to pin point exactly what it was. As his speech came to an end, and the entire crowd spontaneously and instantaneously gave him a standing ovation, it struck me like a cold shower after unprotected sex. Unless the show is outstanding, a standing ovation doesn't usually spontaneously erupt, it spreads with uncertainty. More like the sitting DA representatives who were shown to be looking around them as if to say what the hell are people standing for??? A crowd of overpaid fat cats doesn't just simultaneously and instantaneously rise en masse. For that matter, neither do they clap at 97% of all statements, adding enthusiastic assent to everything that is said. Clapping is hard work and painful. One metes out one's energy when appropriate, not at every haltingly stated sentence and phrase. No, Zuma's speech had the hallmark of a well-primed audience that was either paid to clap, had heavily vested interest in affairs of state, or threatened with something terrible if they didn't.

Zuma's speech was an unsurprising copy-paste of the ANC manifesto. So, what were the most scary statements about his speech? It seems that Zuma and his cronies are gearing up to rape once again. This time to rape the country of its mineral resources, and desecrate its natural resources in the process. This is a cynics take on statements made during the speech to support this argument.



On Priming the Country for Rampant Environmental Degredation

"Arising out of that process, we have now streamlined regulatory and licensing approvals for environmental impact assessments, water licenses and mining licenses. Parliament is finalizing amendments to the law to give effect to this very positive development, which will cut to under 300 days, the time it takes to start a mine, from application to final approvals. The Deputy President of the Republic continues to facilitate discussions between government, mining companies and labour."
i.e. We're going to ensure that EIA's cause no impediment for development, and are granted water and mining licences without due diligence having been done. We're paving the way for a mass takeover of vast areas of land by corporations.

"And more importantly, industrial relations processes are taking place in a manner consistent with the law. "
i.e. we're changing the law so that it is no longer illegal for industry to pollute, take land from people, and be unaccountable for health problems.

Local mining company near Tzaneen found guilty of environmental damage


"Having evaluated the risks and opportunities, the final regulations will be released soon and will be followed by the processing and granting of licenses."
i.e. Having weighed up the economic risks, with opportunities to make money - we will be uncritically granting licenses to oil industries. Has due diligence been done to the environmental and social risks. They cannot have been done, otherwise the government would not be proceeding with fracking with such zeal.

"Close to 1500 kilometres of new roads or lanes have been built."
Out of 362 000 km of South African roads, this is less than 0.5%. i.e. We've prioritised roads to allow access to mineral resources and coastal developments where previously they were undeveloped or developing slowly. Zuma - if you want to create jobs in the green sector that are sustainable AND positive, how about managing our extensive roadsides for biodiversity?

"We have to work more intensively to develop emerging or black industrialists."
i.e. We will be ensuring that key individuals gain financially from industrial operations like fracking, nuclear power stations, dam building, and manufacturing in general.

On Fracking

"We continue to explore other sources of energy, in line with the Integrated Resource Plan for Energy. The development of petroleum, especially shale gas will be a game-changer for the Karoo region and the South African economy. "
Game-change? Game-killer more like it given that the Karoo is a major source of our meat production. Its not Zuma's call to make whether it will be a game-changer. Its too dependent on gas prices and other uncertainties. What is absolutely certain is that it will have a huge and negative impact on the lifestyles of nearly every South African who passes through a fracked area.

With the uglification of vast areas, the release of trillions of litres of volatile toxins and greenhouse gases, the depletion and contamination of unfathomable amounts of water, displacement of people from homes and massively reduced property prices, the increase in meat prices, the loss of tourism to key areas in the karoo, and the increase in STD's to rural areas - few South Africans will remain untouched by Zuma's grand game-changer.


On Power Stations and Nuclear Power

"Construction is continuing at the new power stations, Medupi in Limpopo, Kusile in Mpumalanga and Ingula near Ladysmith, employing more than 30 000 workers. "
This is an example of unwelcome, misdirected development for the sake of jobs and handouts and payouts, at the expense of the rate-payer, the environment and our health.

"We expect to conclude the procurement of nine thousand six hundred megawatts of nuclear energy."
Zuma recently appointed himself as chair of the National Nuclear Energy Co-ordination Committee. And that "The National Planning Commission commissioned a study by the University of Cape Town's Energy Research Centre that recently found investment in nuclear power was unnecessary for 15 to 25 years and was not cost-effective" (http://bit.ly/1cBWUWH).


Alternative energy would provide jobs, provide increasingly cheaper and long-term energy, and once installed, provide free energy, not require ongoing input of costly coal or gas, not radically drive up the cost of electricity like the construction of Eskom's new power plants. In the light of these statements and in the face of the ongoing threat from Fukushima and cleanup costs that would cripple this country, it seems rash and foolish to be making bold statements about nuclear energy.

On GMO foods and pesticides
Nothing.
However, Zuma does point out the following:
"The first 88 smallholder farmers in this programme supplied the United Nations World Food Programme with 268 tons of maize and beans to send to Lesotho last month. We expect this number to increase."
Almost all our maize is currently GM. The growing body of evidence of impacts of pesticides and the consumption of GMOs on human health are alarmingly increasing.


On Corruption

"South Africans are united in wanting a corruption free society. Fighting corruption within the public service is yielding results. Since the launch of the National Anti-Corruption Hotline by the Public Service Commission, over 13 000 cases of corruption and maladministration have been referred to government departments for further handling and investigation."

Yes, but how many of these cases have resulted in satisfactory impeachment?
"1 542 officials were dismissed from the Public Service.
140 officials were fined their three month salary.
20 officials were demoted
355 officials were given final written warnings.
204 officials were prosecuted. "
This amounts to 2261 officials who have been removed from office or given a slap on the wrist for corruption. In many countries, fraud is a crime for which people are imprisoned. What is a fine of a three month salary, demotion, and written warning relative to the amount gained by fraud?

Conclusion
In spite of the enthusiastic canned clapping, an audible heckling was heard when when Zuma ironically spoke out about corruption. In light of the massive impacts on peoples lives and health that fracking would incur, combined with the ongoing critical lack of adequate health care, it seems that Zuma's penultimate statement: "South Africa is a much better place to live in now than it was before 1994", might be true - but not for much longer if South Africa's fracking and nuclear potential is allowed to proceed in the wild-west style that Zuma and his band of officials are racing towards.

-TNB
Twitter: @TNBloganist



Thanks to Zapiro for the cartoons.