28 July 2007

The Water Of Life

Brad Ewing recently posted an article in his blog (environmental economics...) on how people in some areas deplete non-renewable water supplies at their peril, and how dams and irrigation can increase evaporation so much that once large rivers like the Nile or the Ganges are reduced to a mere trickle by the time they reach the sea.

This reminded me of a piece of news I picked up a couple of months ago (details here). In Tanzania, old seismic data from oil searches in the Dar es Salaam region have been used to discover a huge underground water reservoir, an aquifer (definition here), 600 m below the surface. Dar es Salaam is a harbour city, and thus the aquifer is also deeply below sea level. The reason why the water is not salty is pressure. So much, in fact, that water gush out of test-wells like a large fountain. It seems like a truly extensive and convenient water supply for the growing capitol of Tanzania, now hosting a population of roughly 2.5 million people and growing fast.

But where does this water come from, and why is it under pressure?

According to the company who collects the cash from this project (www.agwa.no), it is a huge geological formation that collects rain water from almost all of Tanzania. They have estimated that the aquifers in the area contain about 680 cubic km of water, and claim that it is regularly replenished by seepage through the ground in the rainy season. The pressure comes naturally because the Tanzanian inland is higher ground.

But what will happen to inner parts of Tanzania when the coastal region of Dar es Salaam taps into this resource? To my knowledge, no attempt has been made to consider this yet.

Instead, it is maintained that the alternative to tapping this resource is to erect a dam in the nearby river Ruvu. This river is already in trouble because of deforestation of the drainage basin, and does not hold enough water in the dry season to supply the city. A dam would come with its own set of environmental complications (eg. increased evaporation and destruction of yet more wildlife habitat), and the deep aquifer is therefore heralded as a more "friendly" and environmentally sustainable solution.

The logic involved seems uncannily familiar. Point to something that's proven bad, expose all the benefits of the new solution, and dismiss skepticism with face value arguments because there are no firm investigations on consequence. If that doesn't work, point to the short-term economic or social consequences. In this case; "the people need clean water NOW". Agwa is, in typical Norwegian company tradition, boasting its environmental responsibility right now. Unfortunately, part of the same tradition is to forget their responsibilities as soon as the project don't generate cash anymore. Being a small company, they wouldn't have the reserves to spend on any cover-up operation either, should they screw up badly.

So what can go wrong, then? Are there any real risks involved?

Well, I'm not an expert in neither hydrology or geology, so I don't really know. Curiosity peaks, however, and some questions seem very interesting. Such as:

How much water enters the aquifer each year? -This would give a good measure on how much water you can sustainably take out. An answer would have to include data on both the amount of precipitation, evaporation and surface runoff. Not terribly difficult to obtain, but surely costly and time-consuming to a small company like Agwa.

The well extends to 600 m below sea level and is tapped close to the ocean. How much can the pressure in the aquifer be reduced before seawater seeps in and make the water salty?

I think both inquisitive and inquiring minds would like to know. Wonder if any of them works in the Tanzanian government...

20 July 2007

Infectious stupidity

After numerous incidents of photographers detained by police for photographing events in public space, in places like New York, Sydney, London, and of course in countries of more disreputable democracy, I have praised my luck to live in a more sensible country.

Conditions and activities in Karl Johan Street (which is the nearest thing to a boulevard in Oslo) in recent weeks has been subject of much attention. Beggars have gone from discretion to active promotion, and so have the prostitutes. Not very flattering in the height of the tourist season. What's more, newsteams have documented drug deals made in the middle of the street for everyone to see. "Where is the police?" is what everyone asks.

Now we know. Yesterday, four police officers spent a couple of hours issuing ONE parking ticket at the Oslo Central Train Station. A person stopped to take pictures of the event, and was handcuffed, brought to police offices and detained for a couple of hours. Upon release, he received no apology for police behaviour, and not even an explanation. He got his camera back though, a small compact.

What's special about this incident is that a newsteam from TV2 was present, and documented the apprehension of the photographer. There is pictorial evidence of unnecessary police force, documentation that the car-owner was "convinced" to pay the fine in cash, and all together a very much less than flattering image of the police, milking the public for money instead of doing something useful.

I just saw this on the nine o'clock news today. If the video is released on the web, I will post to it asap.

Needless to say, I'm pissed. I shall certainly not bless my luck anymore. This police misbehaviour is spreading like a virus. It would not at all surprise me if Oslo police have just mindlessly caught on to what seems to be the international trend of policing.

What idiocy. Sheesh!

Update 25.07:
The channel that published this news (www.TV2.no) does not allow linking to previous broadcasts without subscription. I do not wish to openly breach copyright issues, so I shall not post a rip of the videostream on the web. However I have acquired it, and will let you have a copy for private use only if you contact me by the mail address in my profile.

16 July 2007

64-bit puzzle

Warning: computer rant.

Do you remember when Intel Corporation released the processor (CPU) called 80386? It was way back in a previous millenium. My memory is a bit vague on the issue except the fact that I couldn't afford that newfangled stuff back then. What I know today is that the 386 was the first mainstream CPU with "32-bit processing". Number of bits in processing reflects how big numbers a computer can crunch at a time, so the larger the better.

To harvest the benefit of better number crunchers, however, you'd need a full set of other hardware to go with it, and a corresponding set of software. It took a while to get there. The 80386 was introduced in 1985, and Microsoft, for example, didn't get a full 32-bit operating system to the market until 8 years later, in 1993 (Windows NT 3.11). It was partly in response to competition, as IBM had released its OS/2 v2 one year previously.

Interestingly, 1992 also saw the introduction of a quite successful 64-bit processor, the DEC Alpha. Never heard of it? -Well, Microsoft released versions of Windows NT for it for a while, but it never attracted many other software developers.

Now, fifteen years later, this seems to have changed. Not that many software vendors produce true 64-bit applications yet, but they're all keen to have their 32-bit stuff "certified" for use on Windows Vista. Just have a look at Adobe's website, on how carefully they explain the compatibility of their products.

Unfortunately, those who deliver drivers to peripheral devices are not as keen to provide support for their products on the Vista platform. And no economist is ever going to blame them. Incompatibility by driver-obsolence is a nice excuse for pushing new hardware, like PDAs, printers, scanners, etc. More revenue, shareholders happy, end of story.

These days, I'm taking delivery of components to build a new PC. It will run 64-bit windows, and I have checked all my software and hardware for incompatibilities. It kinda suck that my scanner is going obsolete. I don't use it very often, but there are some quite significant occasions when it's needed. Like when my mother wish to make a showcase of her watercolour paintings. Or when some relative comes around with a shoebox full of half-degraded visual memories and a plea for saving action.

So maybe I'll have to buy another scanner too. Funny how one purchase demands another. It feels like a vicious cycle, each turn starting with a new camera:

First, I bought a new PC and a scanner for slide film. Then I bought a new PC and a Pentax *istD camera. Half a year ago I bought the Pentax K10D, and now I can't stand the (lack of) processing speed in my computer anymore. Not to mention that I'm painfully short on harddrive storage space.

But okay, that was my wallet speaking. Truth is, I can't wait to put my new toy together.

I should be old enough for a 64-bit puzzle now.

11 July 2007


How do you find your motifs?

Let me present two diametrically opposite strategies.

You go for a stroll, enjoying the landscape, pick your motifs, relax and think that Life Is Good And Photography Is A Nice Hobby. If you're urbanly inclined just swap landscape for something more concrete.

Got you nailed. You're a gatherer. Pure and simple. Nothing wrong with that.

You spend days on end in a hide, waiting for the wolverine to come and gnaw the bait. Or you hike up in the mountains carrying so much gear you feel the taste of blood in your mouth every fifty meters, knowing the the mountain poppy you're looking for can't adjust your mood even if you ate it.

Got you nailed again. You're a hunter. Nothing wrong with that either.

A pure hunter's satisfaction with Life and Photography can be every bit as thorough as is the gatherer's, but the amount of labour to get there seems to be in excess if you ask me.

The Hunter strategy is sometimes necessary to obtain certain shots, but the gatherer strategy seems a much better over-all choice. Not the least for the hobbyist. For starters it is more compatible with a social life, having a daytime job, etc. And the occasional winner motif WILL present itself before your lens no matter how leisurely you pursue.

There is just one thing you should beware of. The lust of getting the pic that requires just a little more effort. You know, the little-odd detour from the beaten path to find new motifs. Or perhaps the pursuit of the creative angle on a familiar motif. That lust is dangerous. Once you start feeding it, you never know where it will take you.

But make sure to get your priorities right, between family and wolverine.

10 July 2007

Welcome, Graywolf

Just a small note to greet a real "web oldtimer" welcome to the spheres of blogging. The Appalachian Graywolf has arrived, and got his appropriate place in my shortlist of blog-links.

And here comes my recommendation: watch his space.

02 July 2007

Back home

It's always nice to get home after a long trip.

The good feeling will stay for a while yet, with all the raw files to process. It will bear me through the dysfunctional aircondition at work, and even through the extra mess at home from redecorating the living room. Life is good.

Some interesting calculations:
The total driving distance for the trip amounted to 3008 km, with a total fuel consumtion of 249 litres. That's an average of 0,083 litre/km, which better than I expected for a 1997 Volkswagen Sharan. But it is still a lot. Using the conversion factor recommented by the US Environmental Protection Agency , it amounts to roughly 580 kg carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. That's half a year's quota of sustainable emissions according to some environmentalist organisations, who cite a value of 1,1 tonnes per capita as sustainable, based on estimated world population size in year 2020.

It is difficult to relate to those numbers rationally. Without committing the emission, the trip would have been impossible, and I wouldn't have got the photos... :-)
The interesting issue is how a trip like that could have been made with less emissions. A smaller car is an obvious one. Better planning is another, which I might come back to later.

As the RAW processing proceeds, most of the photos from the trip will be posted to my AlunFoto website, but a couple are destined for future ramblings here too.

Thanks for reading.