Teaching or discovering? | Brussels Blog

Teaching or discovering?

posted by Geoff on 9th Jul 2014

This was originally posted on 7th December 2014 as “Ben said never hire the graduate”. It is being reposted for technical reasons

Recently (13th November) I listened to the BBC’s program about computer technology, Click with Gareth Mitchell and Bill Thompson. It was about an experiment in using tablet computers to enable illiterate children to learn.

Children in two remote villages Ethiopia were given tablet computers by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. The children could not read and did not go to school. The solar powered computers were delivered in boxes with no instructions. They were pre-loaded with a small range applications.

The children switched on the computers, powered up the applications and started teaching themselves English. They managed to change the system settings.

OLPC wanted to know if children could learn in the absence teachers and teach themselves how to read. The children learnt quickly and taught each other with no adult intervention.

Ed McMearney from OLPC described how they had “fixed” the setting system on the computers so the children would not make the applications unusable. The settings were also fixed to disable the cameras on the computers so that photographs would not fill up the computer memory. The children managed to work out how to change the system setting and were able to take photographs.

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The problems of software development

posted by Geoff on 4th Jul 2014

This is a note I wrote in 2002 and 2003. It is not easily accessable elsewhere. It is still relevant although the examples are old. There are, of course, more recent examples.

It identifies procurement methodology as a key element in the failure of large software projects. As such, it has implications wider than software development.

The Problems of Software Development


This study document investigates a particular aspect of the problems of software development which is one of the main causes of failure for many medium and large-scale software projects. It draws upon a combination of informal and respected formal sources. The conclusions reached are what I believe to be the best picture of the current situation and the best way forward for future software developments commissioned by medium sized companies.

Development Approaches and Financial Models

Within the IT community there is considerable debate upon the merits of different software development methodologies. This debate has recently become more intense because of the wellpublicised failure of a number of large public projects. Software development is now national news.

The problem of managing software development in a market economy has a scope that ranges from the generalities of economic theory to the specifics of computer systems. Few have a grasp of the full range of issues involved.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the financial environment is a fundamental part of that  process. This document starts with two idealised financial models: the “Cost Plus” model and the “Fixed Payment” model.

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Submission to the Lyons Review on Housing

posted by Geoff on 21st May 2014

A note for the Lyons Housing Review

Geoff Beacon, May 2014


In this note I propose radical solutions for housing based on two themes: the unfairness built into the housing market and the damage our lifestyles are causing to the world. Political aspects of these proposals may be difficult.

Today’s standard two bedroomed, bricks and mortar house is expensive. It is possible to build dwellings at a small fraction of the cost, but the planning system works to prevent this. The system supports the housing shortage which keeps house prices artificially high and benefits house owners at the expense of others, particularly the poor.

At the same time, the huge amount of embodied energy within a standard brick built house is largely ignored and conventional affordable housing often has associated social problems.

In this note I propose radical solutions for housing , political aspects of which may be difficult.
I hope that the members of the Lyons Review can use their experience of business and academia to listen to these proposals that, at first glance, may not be in interests of their organisations.

This note is divided into four sections.

1. Low cost housing.

2. Land use, landscape and food production.

3. The environmental impact of housing.

4. Discovering new ways of living.

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Geoff Beacon elsewhere

posted by Geoff on 18th Apr 2014

I have been writing elsewhere on topics that are similar to those on Brussels Blog so if you read any of these here …


I have several pieces on YorkMix.com. Thanks to guidance of the editor, Chris Titley, I think the writing is rather clearer than usual:

The list of these is updated at YorkMix Author Archives: Geoff Beacon


A Renewal City is an urban development that from the time of its foundation, and throughout its life, creates wealth to sponsor projects that are beneficial to life on Earth.

Mar 2008: A proposal for a renewal city on the Hoo Peninsular

The Green Ration Book

A panel approach to carbon footprints: The aim of the panel is to give guidance on our daily activities with regard to the damage we do to the global environment in relation to what our fair share should be.

May 2006: Green Ration Book: The cost of everyday living.

It’s simple (itssimple.org.uk)

A collection of websites about climate and economics

Sep 2009: Its Simple and related websites.

More jobs (morejobs.org.uk)

Nov 1995: The employment effect of subsidies – a report for the European Commission“.

Auntie Jayne solves you poem

My good friends at RenewalCities have kindly had this new web-site designed for me. It is a showcase of my work as a poetic agony aunt – I answer problems sent to me as poems.

May 2008 : We’ll fly you over burning forests

Centre for cities (my comments)

Jun 2014: The conflict at the heart of the garden city idyll (see comments)

Transition network (my comments)

Mar 2014: BBC: The wrong debate

Treehugger (my comments)

Jul 2014: No magic bullet — study challenges perception that CO2 reduction can be delayed by other actions

AECB (my comments)

Jan 2007: Topic: Operation vs Construction CO2

Feb 2007: Topic: Lower building densities – good for the environment?

Jan 2008: Topic: keeping draughty house warm

Food Climate Research Network (my comments)

Jun 2014: FCRN commentary on Sustainable Food Trust blog on red meat. My comment at the end. See also my NoBeef.org.uk

Arctic Sea Ice Blog (my comments)

Jul 2014: Wildfires not in the CMIP5 Models


Jul 2008: Questions for Lord Turner of the Climate Change Committee. I set up this website to report exchanges with the Committee on Climate Change.  Slight tinges of green ink on my part but broadly: I was right they were wrong but I’m still not sure who “they” really were.

Forbes.com (My comments)

Jul 2014: What did Adam Smith believe about large international companies?

DOSBAT.com (My comments)

Jul 2014: Question about Foster and Rahmsdorf on That ‘no warming since 1998′ bollocks meme

To be continued …

Climate Change: Last Hours?

posted by Geoff on 5th Apr 2014

I don’t know how seriously to take that Last Hours video but it does feature one of the most famous climate scientists, Michael Mann, of hockey stick fame. When I re-read the response I made in 2007 to the Draft Climate Change Bill, I remembered that none of the contributors to the blogs that I follow have been willing to comment on Last Hours. I know some of the scientist associated with it have had threats made so perhaps that’s wise.

My response in 2007 is more-or-less what I believe seven years later. Sadly, I think policy politicians are mostly out of the loop. I believe that climate policy in the UK is governed by civil servants – under the pressure of lobbyists. The key departments are in HM Treasury, DECC, BIZ, DEFRA, DCLG. My interpretation of their approaches to climate change:

  • HM Treasury: Its causes are not our problem.
  • DECC: Energy security is a problem.
  • BIS: Now controls the Met Office.
  • DEFRA: Hides the carbon footprint of beef and lamb.
  • DCLG: Ignores embodied carbon in construction.

They obstruct green policies except for energy security.

They still ignore the real message which hasn’t changed.

Summary of my 2007 submission:

We must:

Aim for carbon negative lifestyles

Get power systems to take carbon from the atmosphere

Stop nearly all flying

Cut most road transport

Build to embody carbon dioxide in construction.

Change our economy

Let the public know

Publicise carbon footprinting

Change food consumption

Develop neighbourhoods using new planning strategies

Come clean on construction

Change international trade, development and aid

Take military options seriously

These policies may be beyond what is politically possible but what is politically possible can change. Tomorrow is the start of The Embodied Carbon Week organised by the UK Green Building Council and supported by serious commercial interests.

Last year the Committee on Climate Change finally conceded that the UK’s carbon footprint has increased since 1990 rather than decreased.

A change in the politics of climate change will come if the super El-Nino that some are predicting emerges over the next two years. If it comes will the Government Departments stop ignoring the truth about climate change?

July 2014: The El-Nino may be petering out but even without this raising temperatures, For May the global temerature was the highest since modern records began. Higher than the last year a super El-Nino surfaced. Californians will be disappointed. Their drought will continue. (2014 El Nino?)

The 2007 submission ….

Global Warming and The Problems of Climate Change

A Response to the Draft Climate Change Bill

by Geoff Beacon

June 2007


At its worst, climate change is recognised as a threat to human existence. Sadly its effects are probably much worse than the assessments given by the IPCC to the governments of the world. My contention is that the strategies that have been put in place by the government of the UK are simply insufficient to cope with the scale of the problem.

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Can dangerous climate change be avoided?

posted by Geoff on 19th Mar 2014

I have been given permission to repost Can Global Warming be Limited to Two Degrees originally published on econnexus by its author, Jim Hunt.

February 28, 2014

Can Global Warming be Limited to Two Degrees?

Last week the United Kingdom’s Committee on Climate Change “launched a call for evidence in order to identify relevant published information of the risks and opportunities to the UK from climate change”. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, last night I attended a talk organised by Transition Exeter entitled “Climate Change Update – The Pathway to Two Degrees Warming” and subtitled “Can Global Warming be Limited to Two Degrees?” The evidence was presented on the night by Dr. Jeff Ridley from the Met Office’s Hadley Centre here in Exeter and consisted of an overview of the results of the UK Government funded AVOID research programme, followed by a question and answer session with the members of Transition Exeter. The brief executive summary of the answer to today’s headline question is :

No – There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell!

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Cooperation and competition as values.

posted by Geoff on 10th Feb 2014

Originally on the Labour Party Group on LinkedIn

I trailed down to the University of Surrey [in December] for a seminar by Dr Tom Crompton, Change Strategist, WWF-UK. His talk was “Why Green Consumerism Sucks”. The email introducing it said

Mainstream environmentalism is dangerously obsessed with getting people to ’save the planet’ while doing other things – shopping, looking cool, or just mindlessly getting on with life. Here’s why it won’t work, and why enthusiasts for green consumerism press on regardless.

I thought it relevant to an argument I was having with Leeds City Council: I want them to publicise more details of what makes up our individual carbon footprints. The Leeds answer seemed to be don’t tell people because it will make no difference.


I had read some of Tom Crompton’s work on the web which was about framing (in the psychological sense). I failed to get a clear enough message from what I had found but the sense of it became much clearer at the seminar. The main message I took was that individuals have several value systems which govern our behaviour and sometimes these work against each other.

Competitive and cooperative values

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Global Warming 2013. A summary.

posted by Geoff on 3rd Jan 2014

I found this excellent summary of Global Warming 2013 via Neven’s Arctic Sea Ice Blog. It was a post on Judith Curry’s Climate Etc. R. Gates has given me permission to repeat it here. I have added the headings and some formatting.

R. Gates, a Skeptical Warmist | December 31, 2013 at 12:47 pm

As we ring out 2013, as an honest skeptic, I like to look back at the year and see what actual climate events of the year might cause me to modify or abandon my warmist position on AGW. Let’s take a look at a few of highlights of the 2013 Climate Year:

The lack of new records in 2013

1. The Top Story of the the 2013 Climate Year is probably the lack of any new global tropospheric records. This flattening of the rise in tropospheric records continues a10-15 year trend.

As a skeptic, I might take this to be evidence that “global warming” has stopped, but of course, being a knowledgeable skeptic and knowing that at least 50% of tropospheric heat comes from the ocean, we have to look back to the ocean to see what might be going on.

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Food and permaculture

posted by Geoff on 18th Dec 2013

David Blume (http://www.permaculture.com) has kindly agreed that his article could be published here. This was originally written some 20 years ago.

I wrote this in response to post to the bioregional listserve from a woman at ATTRA who said something like “Of course you couldn’t feed the world with such a hippy-dippy, hunter-gatherer, landscape system like permaculture.” Well that got me a little steamed so this is what I wrote.

Dear Folks,

Real World Experience in Permaculture

I would like to inject some real world experience into this otherwise abstract discussion of food and permaculture.

In addition to being an ecological biologist, a permaculture production food farmer for 9 years, and an expert on biomass fuels, I have also been teaching permaculture since 1997 and have worked in many countries on food/energy production design issues. I have certified more than 400 people in permaculture design since 1997. For more info on this see my site at www.permaculture.com

So in light of my experience I have a couple of things to say. Let us dispense, for the moment only, with the talk of hunter-gatherer models since, to return to that state or to imitate it with design would meet limited acceptance. This is not the core design goal of permaculture although some of our small scale subsistence agriculture designs vaguely look like a hunter-gatherer paradise (i.e. it never existed like this in nature.) The issue of private property as we now define it also complicates that model. We are living in an agricultural age and permaculture offers huge benefits to both production and subsistence agriculture.

Two acres produced enough food for 300 people

As far as I know I was one of the only farmers fully utilizing permaculture to produce surplus food for sale in the US as a full time occupation. On approximately two acres— half of which was on a terraced 35 degree slope—I produced enough food to feed more than 300 people (with a peak of 450 people at one point), 49 weeks a year in my fully organic CSA on the edge of Silicon Valley . If I could do it there you can do it anywhere.

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Not a 50% chance. A 50% conditional probability.

posted by Geoff on 19th Oct 2013

Below is a reply to Lord Deben, the chair of the Committee on Climate Change.

The Committee has focused on “an approximately 50% chance of a global average near surface temperature increase of 2ºC above pre-industrial levels” (see below).

Their reasonong is flawed.

To get their “50% chance”, the Committee had to exclude the effects of feedbacks missing from climate models. See Missing Climate Feedbacks in my previous post.

This means the Committee really considered a “50% conditional probability“. It is conditional because this probability depends on the assumption that the missing feedbacks would have no net effect on global warming. This 50% conditional probability is not the same as a 50% chance.

I think scientific judgements (even at that time) predicted the net effect of the “missing feedbacks” would increase global warming. This means that taking these missing feedbacks into account, the chance of exceeding a 2ºC limit would be greater than 50%.

I don’t remember Lord Turner (then chair of the Committee on Climate Change) making the conditionality clear when he spoke at the meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change on 2nd July 2008.

The reply to Lord Deben

Lord Deben
The Committee on Climate Change

19th October 2013

Dear Lord Deben,

A “50% chance”?

Thank you for your reply. I am pleased to hear that the CCC is in the process of considering the effect of permafrost melt and other feedbacks on future global warming. May I draw your attention again to the work of Kevin Schafer. There is an accessible report of his concerns in Science Daily, Thawing of Permafrost Expected to Cause Significant Additional Global Warming, Not Yet Accounted for in Climate Predictions.

Nov. 27, 2012 — Permafrost covering almost a quarter of the northern hemisphere contains 1,700 gigatonnes of carbon, twice that currently in the atmosphere, and could significantly amplify global warming should thawing accelerate as expected, according to a new report released November 27 by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).


Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost seeks to highlight the potential hazards of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from warming permafrost, which have not thus far been included in climate-prediction modelling. The science on the potential impacts of warming permafrost has only begun to enter the mainstream in the last few years, and as a truly “emerging issue” could not have been included in climate change modelling to date.

I read the title of this article as meaning the same as “There is a substantial probability that thawing of permafrost will cause significant additional global warming”. Do you read it differently?

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