Thinking of Paris.

After a few weeks of hectic activities — fun and travels — it was great to return home and enjoy the silence of my apartment. It gave me enough time to do the mundane things around the house — everything from restocking supplies to rearranging the wardrobe for the changing seasons. I am again enjoying my daily morning ritual of grinding and making my pour-over coffee. I can carry my music, my books, my wardrobe, my favorite devices, my favorite soap, and other small luxuries of daily life, but I can seldom replicate the coffee ritual. I have tried and traveled with a coffee-making kit, but it isn’t the same. Making coffee in the morning is a good reminder that I am home. 

Talking about coffee, it seems that climate change and skyrocketing demand have started to impact coffee prices and the availability of good beans. I was reading this article that explains why there is growing momentum for lab-grown coffee. A handful of startups such as San Francisco-based Compound Foods, Voyage Foods, and Seattle-based Atomo Coffee have jumped into the fray. 

In one of my podcasts with Howard Lindzon, I postulated that the pandemic was a beta test for a much harsher future for humanity. Whether it was robotic deliveries, lab-grown meat, or vertical farming — we have to start to live with the limits and limitations imposed by climate change. The sad truth of climate change is that all those who work in the coffee ecosystem will suffer the most. What will happen to the workers at coffee farms, small farmers, and their families when climate change takes away their livelihoods. 

Perhaps that is why every time I drink a cup of coffee — I want to appreciate it and fully savor every drop. 

Being away also was an excellent opportunity to step away from the daily torrent of media inanities, the Facebook whistleblower melodrama, and the eternal sermons of Twitter gurus. In his Big Technology newsletter, Alex Kantrowitz observes that the social media preachers live on a BlowHard Curve.  

“The journey from sage to blowhard is instead a progression, one involving several steps and tradeoffs between being authoritative and overexposed,” he writes and makes a strong case for a momentary pause. Alex’s advice extends to his brethren in the media and newsletter writer community, who start exciting but quickly become tiresome. 

It is hard to be good or brilliant if you are constantly talking (metaphorically speaking.) Even the best television series with millions of dollars spent on talent become drab and drag on after a while, and who can blame “brofessors” with life experiences of a hummingbird. 

We live in a world of platforms, algorithmic content monsters that constantly need to be fed by content. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. It is just a means to create engagement. The feed doesn’t judge. It just wants to devour attention and feed on engagement. Whether it is pandemic, the vaccines, the NFTs, or just some new 

Anyway, that’s it from me for today. This coming week will be fun — there is a likelihood of new MacBook Pros and new M1 Chips. Talking about chips, I just wrapped up a piece on the A15 bionic and hopefully will get it edited and publish it this week. 

October 17, 2021. San Francisco. 

Reading List:

  1. Eco-friendly, lab-grown coffee is on the way, but it comes with a catch. [The Guardian]
  2. The Blowhard Curve. [Big Technology by Alex Kantrowitz.]
  3. How Hunter Thompson, the writer, became a legend. [Rolling Stone]
  4. What’s the story behind GlenPark BART Station design. [FoundSF]
  5. The Newsfeed is dead. Ben Evans said so in 2018
Death Valley, CA. Photo By Om. Made with Leica SL2.

Sitting inside my concrete cocoon, mid-way between the soaring blue sky and the shaded San Francisco side street, I can see the blue waters of the San Francisco bay. It all looks and feels quite normal. The temperate morning with the occasional waft of chilly air reminds me of my good fortune to live in this beautiful city. I don’t like to think about the eventual big one.  

I have just showered. For some, success means being rich, famous, owning fancy cars, or big mansions. As long as I have lived, I have considered long, lazy showers the ultimate luxury. For me, the shower is an allegory of ambition and success. And soon, it might become a reminder of what we might be losing as a society. 

***

I grew up in Delhi before making America my home. My parents were neither rich nor poor. They were somewhere in the vast middle, which had its spectrum of success and ambition, where you sat on that spectrum defined what you had as part of your daily life. 

For most of my early life, my family didn’t have things that most take for granted — television, telephone, and even a refrigerator. Eventually, those luxuries would come into our household, some slowly, some very slowly. One of the things we couldn’t take for granted was water. Our family’s water came from a tap — and the water availability was as much an act of divine intervention as it was a heroic act in waking up at odd hours to fill containers of all shapes and sizes. 

Whether it was my grandparents, parents, or aunts, it would be someone’s job to either wake up early in the morning or stay up late and make sure we had water. No water collected meant no water to drink, cook, bathe or clean the house. Eventually, I suppose our family would save money to sink a well and draw water from an underground reservoir. Tapping that well changed our life. It didn’t afford me a shower, but it allowed me more than a bucket for a bath. 

It was nearly four-and-a-half decades ago, and since then, most of our neighbors have sunk similar wells. And many of those wells are nearly running on empty. My dad wakes up early to fill buckets from the municipal taps to have enough for the family. We have to pump up the weak stream to the water tank on top of the house.  

It is as if nothing had changed.

***

It was earlier today; I was reminded of my childhood and our struggle with acquiring the necessities like water. I read a story about Mendocino, one of my favorite towns in Northern California, running out of water. The town, which depends on underground water, is one of the more picturesque victims of the drought, with California in its grip. Fort Bragg, which used to sell water to Mendocino, a tourism hotspot, won’t sell any more water to their neighbors — they have their water crisis looming. No water means no more tourism, which may eventually lead to diminished prospects for the local economy.

And this only portends a much more grim future, not just for California residents but for the world at large. Some reports estimate that “72% of the global land area is likely to become drier.” Lake Mead at Hoover Dam is at historic lows. That impacts the water needs of various states, but it also starts to impact electricity generation, which impacts the Las Vegas economy. 

Most of the conversation around climate change often revolved around melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and significant weather events — but in reality, climate change’s impact is more insidious, silent, and deadly. Mendocino’s water shortage is a rude reminder that climate change is all-pervasive, and that is how communities crumble and whither. 

The climate crisis has been a long time coming — building up sight unseen even as we have seen unfettered development across the country (and the planet.) 

***

“The tradeoff between efficiency and resilience can thus be viewed as a tradeoff between short-term and long-term optimization,” Rice University Professor Moshe Vardi wrote in a recent essay. “Nature seems to prefer long-term to short-term optimization, focusing on the survival of species. Indeed, Darwin supposedly said: “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

How adaptable are we to change as a country and as a society? Whenever I think about climate change and its impact, I often think about what it entails in terms of sacrifice as humans. In the rest of the world, especially in poorer parts of the planet, migration has been a constant reality due to climate events and lack of opportunity. In the US, we are only just starting to wake up to this nightmare. 

In a recent article, USA Today pointed to a survey of 2000 Americans: “49% respondents were planning on moving in the next year, blaming extreme temperatures, and the increasing frequency or intensity of natural disasters for a role in their decision to relocate.” Redfin, starting tomorrow, will now add local climate risk data to its site. 

Even as a firm believer in technology and science — they are our best hope for coexisting with a changing planet — the thing that often worries me about society is the resiliency of our social fabric. If the pandemic has shown anything, hyper-capitalism has made us even more resistant to change. We are no longer a society capable of doing more with less — after all, what is the reason that buy-now-play-later companies are exploding in popularity. I hope not, but all signs show that we are in for a brutal reality check about things we take for granted, including water.

I read somewhere that a person living in the US per capita household consumes between 80-100 gallons of water per day on average. That is a lot of water. That translates into roughly 40 buckets — a lot more than what we used when I was growing up in Delhi. How long before I have to deal with a future that looks remarkably like my past. 

August 3, 2021. San Francisco


Photo by Om. Made with Leica SL.

I was recently speaking with Jeff Olsen, a former park ranger turned tour guide, at Grand Teton National Park. As we cruised around in his big truck looking for the elusive wildlife, he pointed out the destructive role of Instagram in attracting hordes of people to iconic (and not so iconic) locations in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. His insights were sobering and prompted no small amount of self-reflection on my part.

Like many of those tourists, I have found myself making a beeline to these two National Parks — after all, there are a short flight away from San Francisco. They give me a chance to explore the landscape in search of visual Zen. While I may not be looking for the perfect selfie, I am seeking the unique splendor of these sacred places. But such opportunities may be dwindling. The harsh reality is that these beautiful environments might be vanishing right before our eyes (or maybe right behind our Instagram filters). 

The influx of self-interested visitors comes at a particularly fragile time. A new research report offers a very sobering assessment of the harsh reality of the Yellowstone ecosystem. “The climate assessment says that temperatures in the park are now as high or higher as during any period in the last 20,000 years and are very likely the warmest in the past 800,000 years,” writes Adam Popescu for Yale Environment 360. Some salient findings: 

  • Since 1950, Yellowstone experienced an average temperature increase of 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, the most pronounced warming occurring at elevations above 5,000 feet.
  • Peak annual stream runoff is eight days earlier than in 1950.
  • Annual snowfall has declined by nearly two feet since 1950.

No matter how much deniers remain willfully blind to the realities of climate change, the facts can’t be ignored. We have record heat waves in the Western and the Southwestern United States. Two photographer friends based in Jackson Hole recently pinged me about temperatures in the upper 90s, sharing photos of Tetons without snow — a surreal sight. 

Photo by Om. Made with Leica SL.

And as Popescu writes, if the current trends stay intact, this could become a norm for “towns and cities in the Greater Yellowstone Area — including Bozeman, Montana and Jackson, Pinedale, and Cody, Wyoming” who will see up to 60 days of temperatures above 90 degrees. In my numerous photography trips, I have learned a lot about the ecosystem’s delicate balance. This heat will disrupt the food chain, and the effects on wildlife and nature are going to be devastating. 

Photography has significantly enhanced my understanding of nature and the world around me. As someone who grew up in a densely populated city, I only awakened to my environmental responsibility about a decade ago. When placing myself in the context of our planet, I have become acutely aware of my impact and my subsequent responsibilities. Both in my daily life and when I’m traveling, I do what I can to make sure someone else in the future will have a chance to enjoy nature’s bounty as much as I have in my recent years. 

I have a deep fondness for national parks and none more than the Yellowstone. This new report makes me fearful for what awaits us. Here are a handful of photos from Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons of what we might lose due to accelerated climate change.

June 28, 2021. San Francisco.


Photo by Om. Made with Leica SL.

  1. Another one bites the dust! There was a time when I madly listed for the Prada Phone by LG. It was like iPhone before iPhone.  LG recently announced that it was leaving the phone business for good. Such a shame. LG never “capitalized on the household name recognition” and “was beset by an inferiority complex to crosstown rival Samsung,” writes Roger Cheng, in this close examination of what went wrong at LG. This great read — and it highlights that to win, you need to overcome self-doubt. Research firm TrendForce data shows that LG made 30.6 million smartphones in 2020 – a 2.4% market share that equals ninth place in the global ranking of smartphone brands based on 2020 production volume.
  2. Abandoned Disasters: The unseen climate disaster in plain sight — that is how I would describe the growing problem of abandoned oil and gas wells. The Girst has conducted a wide-ranging investigation and found that, led by Texas and New Mexico, these abandoned wells are accelerating the release of dangerous methane into the environment, in addition to polluting the groundwater. This story is so horrifying, and it made me angry. The short-sighted nature of our society and our agencies is infuriating. Have a read, and decide for yourself.
  3. What great branding by pasta-maker Barilla. Listen to Spotify and make perfect pasta. Moody day linguine is my favorite. 
  4. What compels us to jot down poetry and poetic thoughts in our Notes app, of all places? I didn’t know, so I read this article.
  5. I was on Stacey Higginbotham’s podcast and we talked about ARM’s new chip architecture and future version of Bluetooth, apart from the usual banter between two former colleagues.  ARM, by the way, is the company whose IP is powering most of the smartphones on the planet, amongst other things. 
  6. The unexpected history and miraculous success of vaccines is a great read from Matt Ridley, one of my favorite writers. It is also a great reminder that humans have always resisted vaccination, and through history, have greeted them with scorn and suspicion. 
  7. Why such a big fuss about the Moun-g-2 particle experiment. If you are a science-savvy and physics enthusiast, a good explainer from Symmetry magazine.
  8. National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence has a new report. 756 pages. It is worth reading, especially if you think the future and American influence are tied to technology. 
  9. “I believe in open source, and if WordPress isn’t a good fit for you, there are other great open source communities. We also have a great relationship with some of our proprietary competitors, and I have huge respect for the teams at Shopify and Squarespace, and even though we compete, I’ve always seen them operate with integrity, and I’d recommend them without hesitation.” Matt Mullenweg, CEO Automattic. Wix and Their Dirty Tricks – Matt Mullenweg

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“The kinds of programs that we have now, AI algorithms, don’t have the ability to replace a human. A human is still going to be the best at being able to generate creative, interesting stories and to be able to compose a unique song.” Dr. Jane Wang, senior research scientist, DeepMind . [via LDV Capital]


Everything, they say, is bigger in Texas. Even the cold snaps and the impact of climate change! “I think the Texas freeze will become the new poster child for compound weather and energy disasters,” atmospheric scientist Daniel Cohan of Rice University told Yale Climate Connections. “Why the power is out in Texas … and why other states are vulnerable too” is a must-read article about the recent storms. More importantly, it points to our power’ grid’ vulnerability and the lack of long-term resilience in our infrastructure against climate change. 

As a society, we often look for a Big Bang-like event to shake us through our slumber, but climate change is different. It is more like a boxer getting hit in the head and not noticing that his brain was turning to mush. The denialism around anything based on science is a disease that is the real problem for America.

“As climate change escalates and disrupts weather patterns, our country must update the grid, immediately, or risk losing not only power but lives,” warned environmental scientist Urooj Raja of the University of Colorado Boulder. Will we listen?  If our response to the pandemic is any indication, then the increased tribalism and politicization around climate change will be worse. 

Read article on Bob Henson, Eye On The Storm