Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Locus Iste

"Locus iste" is a beautiful choir song written by Anton Bruckner in the 19th century. The full first sentence is: "Locus iste a Deo factus est", which simply means: "This place is made by God".

The song indicates the sacred character of the place we are allowed to live in, whether that is our own house, our local house of worship, our village, our town, our country or simply the beautiful landscape we live in. Whether one is a religious person or not, everybody can stand in awe sometimes for the beauty that surrounds him.

It may remind us of the fact that we don't need to go far to discover wonderful things. Before we book a trip to the other end of the world, we may envisage a place nearby we never even took the time to visit earlier. At the age of 55, I'm still discovering nice places I've never been before less than an hour away from home. The concern about the environment is already a  good reason to do that, but in this peculiar year 2020, the Corona crisis offers an extra reason to enjoy more vacation locally.

I refer to my earlier blog: "The Magic of Places".


Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Triumph of Discord

When the Corona crisis hit Europe, it looked like science would finally prove it could beat the dark ages. The times in which Pieter Brueghel the Elder had painted this picture would never come back. Some people started dreaming of governments of experts. We saw scientists side-by-side with politicians and they would bring humanity back to salvation. 

Not quite. Meanwhile, we know it didn't quite work as expected. Instead of collaborating, the national states closed borders and presented their own doctors and rulers as expert-heroes in matters of Covid-19. There was no good reason to close the borders in Europe. The European Commission could have imposed the same measures in equally-hit neighbouring states. By turning the pandemics into a national problem, the national states started fighting for their own deliveries of mouth masks. The news media started comparing the national states statistic numbers and tried to make clear that this or this government was doing a bad job. 

The problem is: you can't compare absolute numbers of countries that are totally different in number of inhabitants, surface, people density etcetera. Moreover, the statistics were collected in many different ways and therefore incomparable. So in some way, the winner of the corona crisis was not science, but discord.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Racism is a Symptom of Social Injustice

In these awkward times, my white Kaukasian friends are sending anti-racist messages to their white Kaukasian friends. This is all being done with very good intentions. But why should we 'convert' each other if we are already convinced? Do we distrust each other? And why do we have so few 'coloured' (non-white) friends to share our concern with? Could it be that our anti-racist messages benefit more to own mental well-being than to the hard social reality? It also has to be noted that most European police forces are quite different in their conduct from their American counterparts, so why would an American scene of violence become so relevant in our daily European social media?

Some argue that racism is the problem and the root cause of the police officer's behaviour. I'm not saying that racism doesn't exist. Racism, however, is rather a symptom of a deeper problem. The problem is called social injustice. What is happening in the US is in reality a social revolt. That is why urban European minorities are also raising their voice: they feel oppressed by the same social injustice. Unfortunately the leaders of the movement opt for the racism debate rather than the social justice debate. The racism debate is easier: you can blame racism and continue business as usual. For an upcoming leader, racism is also fancier: you can portray yourself as a new Martin Luther King.

Fighting racism in social media is like offering a paper handkerchief to a Covid-19 patient. If you want to cure the patient, you have to tackle the disease and the disease is social injustice. We can only create more social justice by changing the way our economy works: equal competition for unequal starters will never work. Higher moral values and standards need to be reflected better in the way we make decisions in our economy, at all levels. Moral behaviour should become more important than financial numbers.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Not back to normal, please


Never waste a good crisis. The corona crisis is a huge opportunity to change a number of things. Therefore, let us not get back to normal! Last month, 170 Dutch scientists signed a manifesto for more sustainability and social justice. The core of their manifesto consisted of five demands:
  1. Replacement of the current economic development model, focused on generic growth of the BNP, by a new model, which distinguishes sectors that need investment (energy, education, healthcare) and sectors that should shrink because of their lack of sustainability (oil, gas, mining) or their role in the encouragement of overconsumption (publicity).
  2. Development of an economic policy that aims at redistribution, one that foresees a basic income for all, progressive taxation, reduction of labour time and sharing of jobs. More recognition for jobs in health care and education.
  3. Transition to a circular economy, based on biological diversity, more sustainable, local food production. Reduction of meat production. Employment with social justice.
  4. Reduction of consumption and travelling, transition from luxurious wasteful travelling to more sustainable, essential and meaningful types of travelling.
  5. Reduction of the debt for those who have been hit hardest: employees, small entrepreneurs and countries in development.
A lot of these points have been mentioned before in my blogs about sustainability and economy. Let us not waste this crisis.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Voyager's Amazing Tales

Last Sunday, the Flemish television showed the American documentary “The Fartest”, about the Voyager 1 and 2 missions. The Voyager missions aimed at observing the outer planets of the solar system and flying into interstellar space. The Apollo missions and the Space shuttle received a lot of attention in the press and they remain outstanding achievements. The Voyager missions on the other hand got a bit lost in oblivion, because of the huge time scale (40 years) in which they delivered their results.

I find them however mind-blowing. First, there were the amazing pictures of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and some of their moons. Then we received the amazing views of these remote giants from their undiscovered side. The Voyagers made measurements in the outer skirts of the solar system, confirming the predicted cosmic radiation and the drop of the sun's magnetic field. And last but not least, the Voyagers carried the golden recordwhich contains a message to any finder civilisation, about the earth and the human kind. The chance that this message is received sometime someplace, is ridiculously low. And yet this message is a message of a courageous and hopeful species. 

Speaking of low probabilities, the amazing thing about the Voyager missions is that they succeeded. The Voyagers had a reprogrammable computer with a memory of around 70 kbyte. They had to be reprogrammed after each planet fly-by. The cameras needed to be adapted to incredibly weak light conditions. The communication signals were also extremely weak at such distance and arrived with several hours delay. No mistakes could be made. An amazing piece of engineering.

I refer to my earlier blog about the book Cosmos , in which the Voyager missions received a dedicated chapter. The book (+1980) already contained the pictures of Jupiter and its moons. The breath-taking pictures we saw later of the giants Saturn, Uranus and Neptune had not even been taken yet when the book was published. Carl Sagan never even had the chance to live the moment the Voyagers left our solar system, now only a few years ago.

Picture from https://images.nasa.gov/

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Purgatory

In this apocalyptic year 2020, you may wonder what to do during your last days in this valley of tears, right before the ultimate cataclysm, the coming of God's Wrath, Dies Irae.

Perhaps you could enjoy your last book. Purgatory is Guido (Walter) Eekhaut's next crime case after Absinthe. Like in many crime books and television series, the successive episodes build upon the same good guys (with characterising weaknesses), in this case Eekhaut, Dewaal, Prinsen and Van Gils. As the bad guys usually end up in jail or grave, they may need to be replaced.

Amsterdam is again the city of crime to the detriment of good old Leuven town, Eekhaut's home base. To compensate for this, there is a lot of good food and dark Leffe beer in the story. As the title suggests, religious-sectarian zeal plays a driving role in the crime scene and from time to time, the main characters tend to express their opinion about the place of religion in society, something I always find most interesting.

The stories would fit well in a violent, gruesome Scandinavian crimi on Canvas on a Saturday evening. Anyway, after Liège, also our Leuven town can now claim to have its commissaire Maigret.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

What Satellites Can Do for You

Satellite applications and services make up the essence of my work life. As I regularly talk about satellites and their applications in daily life for interested groups of people, I thought it would be a good idea to summarise all this in a short article. It is useful for laymen to understand how important and diverse the applications are. And it is useful for people in the satellite world to have a concise summary that helps them to overthink the multiple possibilities. Some of the topics have already appeared in this blog, usually under the label work. As this article is however close to my work life and my CV, I decided to publish it as an article on LinkedIn.