Thursday, December 8th, 02011
Rick Prelinger, a guerrilla archivist who collects the uncollected and makes it accessible, presents the 6th of his annual Lost Landscapes of San Francisco screenings. You'll see an eclectic montage of rediscovered and rarely-seen film clips showing life, landscapes, labor and leisure in a vanished San Francisco as captured by amateurs, newsreel cameramen and studio filmmakers. Read more
Wednesday, November 30th, 02011
As founder and librarian of the storied Internet Archive (deemed impossible by all when he started it in 1996), Brewster Kahle has practical experience behind his universalist vision of access to every bit of knowledge ever created, for all time, ever improving.
He will speak to questions such as these:
Can we make a distributed web of books that supports vending and lending? How can our machines learn by reading these materials? Can we reconfigure the information to make interactive question answering machines? Can we learn from past human translations of documents to seed an automatic version? And, can we learn how to do optical character recognition by having billions of correct examples? What compensation systems will best serve creators and networked users? How do we preserve petabytes of changing data? Read more
Monday, October 17th, 02011
Ecologically, the past is always present if you know where and how to look. Paleontologist-biologist-artist Laura Cunningham spent 20 years exploring California's archives and relic lands to reconstruct exactly what life used to look like here over the past 10,000 years. Her beautiful images and her insights about long-period ecological change are collected in her new book, A STATE OF CHANGE: Forgotten Landscapes of California.
Like many regions, California is busy restoring portions of the natural environment to previous conditions---native meadows, riparian woodlands, salt marshes, old-growth forests, along with the animals that used to populate them. But there is no static past to restore TO. With Cunningham's guidance we can choose to restore to a particular period: say, before the white invasion; or, during the Medieval Warm Period; or, before the human invasion; or, during the Ice Ages. With her inspiration, we can begin to envisage the ecological changes coming over the next 10,000 years. Read more
Wednesday, September 14th, 02011
As the times accelerate and we face ever more kaleidoscopic careers, a crucial meta-skill is the ability to learn new skills extremely rapidly, extremely well. That practice has no better exemplar and proponent than Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid-Fat Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman. Not surprisingly, he has made himself adept at compelling presentations, this one prepared especially for the Long Now audience. Read more
Monday, July 25th, 02011
Geoffrey B. West
As organisms, cities, and companies scale up, they all gain in efficiency, but then they vary. The bigger an organism, the slower. Yet the bigger a city is, the faster it runs. And cities are structurally immortal, while corporations are structurally doomed. Scaling up always creates new problems; cities can innovate faster than the problems indefinitely, while corporations cannot.
These revolutionary findings come from Geoffrey West's examination of vast quantities of data on the metabolic/economic behavior of organisms and organizations. A theoretical physicist, West was president of Santa Fe Institute from 2005 to 2009 and founded the high energy physics group at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Read more
Monday, June 27th, 02011
As chief scientist of one of the most highly respected conservation organizations, The Nature Conservancy, Peter Kareiva is surprisingly radical. "Look," he says, "we're in nature. The deal is how to work with it and how to help it work for us. The better we are at ensuring that people get nature's benefits, the better we'll be at doing conservation." Through his insistence on "evidence-based conservation," he finds most ecosystems far less fragile than people think and none that can be protected as pristine, because pristine doesn't exist any more. His focus is on working the human/nature interface for maximum benefit to both.
Kareiva is co-founder of the Natural Capital Project---allying with Stanford University and the World Wildlife Fund to measure the economic value of ecosystems---and co-author of the textbook, Conservation Science: Balancing the Needs of People and Nature. Read more
Tuesday, June 7th, 02011
The frontier of biology these days is the genetics and ecology of bacteria, and the frontier of THAT is what's being learned about viruses. "The science of virology is still in its early, wild days," writes Carl Zimmer. "Scientists are discovering viruses faster than they can make sense of them." The Earth's atmosphere is determined in large part by ocean bacteria; every day viruses kill half of them. Every year in the oceans, viruses transfer a trillion trillion genes between host organisms. They evolve faster than anything else, and they are a major engine of the evolution of the rest of life. Our own bodies are made up of 10 trillion human cells, 100 trillion bacteria, and 4 trillion very busy viruses. Some of them kill us. Many of them help us. Some of them are us. Viral time is ancient and blindingly fast.
Science journalist Carl Zimmer is the author of A Planet of Viruses; the best introduction to the subject. His previous books include Parasite Rex and Microcosm. Read more
Tuesday, May 3rd, 02011
Humans now engage the Earth at Gaian scale. How did Earth and humans get to this state? Given how we got here, how should we proceed? Tim Flannery finds that the evolutionary perspective of Alfred Russell Wallace offers better guidance than the more familiar Darwinian version of evolution.
Australian biologist Tim Flannery is the renowned author of The Weather Makers, The Future Eaters, and a great ecological history of North America, The Eternal Frontier. His book Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet was published in 02011. Read more
Wednesday, April 13th, 02011
A Malaysian lawyer told a British journalist: "I am wearing your clothes, I speak your language, I watch your films, and today is whatever date it is because you say so."
Do chaps or maps drive history? Human brilliance and folly, or geography? Or maybe genes, or culture? Ian Morris goes a level deeper than Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel to determine why the standards of Europe and North America now prevail in the world when it was the East that dominated for the 1,200 years between 550 and 1750 CE. Why did that happen, and what will happen next?
Ian Morris is an archaeologist and professor of classics and history at Stanford. His splendid book is Why the West Rules -- For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future.
Tuesday, April 5th, 02011
Alexander Rose, Long Now Executive Director and project manager for the Clock of the Long Now, discussed lessons learned in multi-millennial site design. Read more
Tuesday, March 22nd, 02011
Via trade and other cultural activities, "ideas have sex," and that drives human history in the direction of inconstant but accumulative improvement over time. The criers of havoc keep being proved wrong. A fundamental optimism about human affairs is deeply rational and can be reliably conjured with.
Trained at Oxford as a zoologist and an editor at The Economist for eight years, Matt Ridley's is the author of The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. His earlier works include Francis Crick; Nature via Nurture; Genome; and The Origins of Virtue. Read more
Wednesday, February 9th, 02011
Mary Catherine Bateson
We're not just living longer, we're thriving longer, but so far we seem to be thinking shorter. Aging societies the world over can benefit from increased longevity because human lives have added a new stage---what Bateson calls "Adulthood II: the age of active wisdom." People of grandparent age, finding themselves with more energy and health than obsolete stereotypes had led them to expect, are seeing their lives whole and the world whole and taking on radically new activities in light of that perspective. These older adults have the potential to bring a longer perspective to decision making that affects the future.
Mary Catherine Bateson is a cultural anthropologist now 71, the daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. Her famed 1989 book Composing a Life showed how women were learning to treat their necessarily fragmented careers as a coherent improvisational art form. She is also the author of Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom. Read more
Tuesday, January 18th, 02011
Philip K. Howard
Philip K. Howard is a conservative who inspires standing ovations from liberal audiences (short example here.) He says that governance in America---from the capitol to the classroom---has achieved near-total dysfunctionality by accumulating so many layers of piecemeal legalisms that the requirements of navigating them has replaced any hope of getting actual justice or effectiveness. Most attempts to fix the problems have made them worse. Howard thinks they can be fixed in a way that restores core functionality.
Howard is the author of Life Without Lawyers (2009) and Death of Common Sense (1994) and is the founder and chair of Common Good, a reform advocacy nonprofit. Read more