Always look on the bright side of life … ta-dum … ta-dum-ta-dum-ta-dum!

Today, 21 December, is Look on the Bright Side Day.

Which is particularly amusing as today is saif to also be the last day of the Mayan calendar, leading many to believe that this is the day the world is going to end – not a particularly convincing case of looking on the bright side, is it?

The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades!(© All Rights Reserved)
The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades!
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Why exactly this date was selected for Look on the Bright Side Day is not quite clear, but I won’t be surprised if it has something to do with the Winter Solstice, happening on this day in the northern hemisphere. Being the shortest day of the year for our northern friends, it means that from here things can only get better – days get longer, temperatures start rising, snow starts melting. Surely enough reason to look on the bright side.

Here in the southern hemisphere, on the other hand, 21 December is Summer Solstice – the longest day in the year, summer in full swing, nature bursting at the seams, and yet more reason to look on the bright side.

So, if you’re not bothered by the end of the world predictions, today is the day to remind yourself of everything good in your life, to look up, smile and be positive. For those preaching doom and gloom, perhaps this can be your personal winter solstice, and you can start looking on the bright side from tomorrow!

Looking at the world through a child’s eyes

Today is Universal Children’s Day – established by the UN to promote the welfare of the children of the world. While the ‘generic’ day is celebrated on 20 November, many countries have special Children’s Day’s celebrated throughout the year.

Children are key to all the strategies and activities of the UN – the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), while aimed at benefiting all of humankind, are primarily focused on children. As UNICEF notes, “six of the eight goals relate directly to children and meeting the last two will also make critical improvements in their lives.”

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela
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From an adult point of view, another important benefit of this day is that it reminds us of the innocence and wonder of being young. It reminds us that we don’t always have to over-complicate matters; that sometimes the best strategy is to approach matters afresh, with curiosity and without prejudice, the way children do by default.

This applies in life, as in the sciences. To quote physicist Frederick Seitz: “A good scientist is a person in whom the childhood quality of perennial curiosity lingers on. Once he gets an answer, he has other questions.” Marie Curie shared this sentiment when she said: “I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale.”

So, on this day, consider the children – may their best interest guide your actions, and may their example inform your ways. Happy Universal Children’s Day!

Celebrating the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer

Today, 16 September, is a critically important day for this little planet of ours – it’s World Ozone Day, or to be more precise, the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer.

The day was officially proclaimed as one of the United Nations’ International Observances in 1994, falling under the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP. The date was specifically selected to commemorate the signing of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer on 16 September 1987, marking this year as the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol.

So why is the preservation of the ozone so important? I’m sure it’s a lot more complicated than my basic understanding of the subject, but in essence the ozone in the stratosphere plays a critical role in absorbing much of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. Furthermore ozone in the lower atmosphere also plays a role in removing pollutants from the air.

Not a pretty picture.
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Now as we humans are prone to do, many of our actions are not all that considerate of the health of the earth, and can be very detrimental to the ozone layer. The Montreal Protocol aimed to identify and address substances and actions that contribute to the depletion of the ozone in the atmosphere, and is one of the great examples of international cooperation towards a global good. As an outcome of the Protocol, the phasing out of the use of ozone depleting substances is helping protect the ozone layer for generations to come. The international awareness created through the Montreal Protocol has also contributed to a greater appreciation and awareness of the effects of climate change on the earth.

To help create continued awareness, UNEP’s OzonAction Programme has developed a Public Service Announcement (PSA) video, in 6 UN languages, for global broadcasting and viral distribution.  The English announcement is embedded below, while links to the Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish announcements can be found here.

 

For more information, the UN website provides some very interesting general background on ozone preservation, as well as information of some ozone depleting substances in different industry sectors.

Protecting our atmosphere (and environment) for generations to come.
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In celebration of World Ozone Day, take a minute today to appreciate the ozone layer and how it contributes to the world and the environment as we know it. Not only does it protect us humans from life threatening cancer-causing UVB radiation, but it is also critical for plant health, marine ecosystems and terrestrial and aquatic biogeochemical cycles.

The theme of this year’s event is “Protecting our atmosphere for generations to come” – surely a cause well worth supporting and celebrating.

Pervasive or Invasive: the Birth of Ubiquitous Computing

Today we celebrate the birthday of Mark David Weiser (23 Jul 1952 – 27 Apr 1999), the visionary American computer scientist who first coined the term ‘Ubiquitous Computing’.

Weiser, who worked as Chief Technologist at XEROX PARC, came up with the term in 1988, describing a future scenario where personal computers will be largely replaced by a distributed network of interconnected “tiny computers” embedded in everyday items like toasters, fridges, photocopiers, phones, couches etc, turning these into “smart” objects. Sound familiar?

While Weiser’s scenario has not come to full fruition yet, things are definitely moving in that direction. Smart phones are already a common sight, smart TV’s are popping up all over the place, connectivity and interconnected devices is becoming the norm… It certainly no longer requires a stretch of the imagination to visualise a world of ubiquitous computing, or ‘pervasive computing’, ‘ambient intelligence’, or ‘everyware’, as the paradigm has also been described.

The common site of a shopping list stuck up on the fridge may soon be a thing of the past, with your future fridge likely to interact with the rest of the kitchen, checking your supplies and auto-ordering any depleted groceries.
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While the concept sounds daunting – computers everywhere, no getting away from it, etc – Weiser actually described it as the era of “calm technology”, where technology recedes into the background of our lives. He defined it as “machines that fit the human environment instead of forcing humans to enter theirs”. So the idea is that while you will continually engage with numerous computing devices, this will happen in a largely unobtrusive manner, allowing you to go on with your life. The fully connected environment also implies a greater degree of location independence, so you won’t necessarily be stuck at a desk behind a computer screen – this is already happening, with the shift from desktops to laptops to tablets and cloud computing.

Of course the idea of computers fitting in with, rather than changing, the human environment, is a bit of a false utopia. While smart phones definitely adapt more to the human environment than, say, a laptop computer, it does fundamentally chance the way humans act and operate – simply look at a group of school children with their smart phones, and compare that to the pre-mobile-phone scenario.

Like it or not, the pervasiveness of computers and computing devices are unlikely to disappear any time soon. The question is in which direction the pervasive-invasive balance will tip, and how things will progress along the man-serving-machine-serving-man continuum.

Where do you see us heading?