Category Archives: Journalism

Green by Design (Singapore) Orion Magazine, Summer 2018

“I had a list of things to look for during my visit to Singapore, and most of them were green. I found one on the very first day, as I wandered through an indoor mall in a jet-lagged haze. A walk around the shops was the most complex task my poor brain could cope with after a thirteen-hour flight from London, which had hurled me half a day forward in time. When my gaze alighted on a slice of pandan cake in a cafe window, I felt a surge of recognition.”

An excerpt from my piece ‘Green by Design’ in the Summer 2018 issue of Orion Magazine. If you haven’t seen it before, check it out. Every issue is beautifully designed and always a treat.  It’s a subscription magazine, better read in print than online, but you can find selected free articles on the website.

My New Knees: On The Way To Being Cyborg

“My new knee is called a Genesis II, a whimsical name that connotes an entirely new species cooked up from metal and plastic. Its principle components are cobalt chromium molybdenum alloy, titanium, and polyethylene. Polyethylene is the scourge of our oceans and landfills; titanium, though, is less alien. Mined from deep in the earth, it’s found in most living things…”

“Has the installation of my new knee – my crossing over into the world of cyborgs – changed me in any way? It’s difficult to say…”

The two short excerpts above are from my latest piece in the American environmental magazine Orion. It’s behind a firewall so I can’t share the whole thing, but subscribers will find it on pp12-13 in the March/April 2016 issue. Since writing it, I’ve had a second operation and now have two replacement knees. I’ve been fascinated by cyborgs, and written about them, for over twenty years, so I’ve found the whole process very significant.  And I’m in complete agreement with the cyborg artist Neil Harbisson who says:

“I don’t feel that I’m using technology. I don’t feel that I’m wearing technology. I feel that I am technology.”

Harbisson was born colour-blind but he developed a device which is attached to his head and turns colour into audible frequencies. Most of the popular images of cyborgs are, like Harbisson, striking to look at because their prosthetics are visible on the outside. In recent years we’ve also become used to seeing people wearing prosthetic legs and arms.

But millions of individuals around the world are already quietly cyborg with not much to show for it. Knees, hips, and ankles are routinely replaced in operating theatres every day but there’s nothing to be seen apart from an occasional limp. And most of those new cyborgs aren’t young and cool but, like me, greying and somewhat mature.  Food for thought.

10 Words Technology Borrowed from Nature, Orion Magazine

Art by Peter McFarlane
Art by Peter McFarlane

Excerpt from my new piece in Orion Magazine, September/October 2015

10 Words Technology Borrowed from Nature

1. Ecosystem. The internet is often described as an ecosystem (or a sky, or a park, or a jungle), and many of its parts are named after the natural world. “Cyberspace,” says the technology historian Fred Turner, “is a frantic mingling of biological, digital, and frontier metaphors.”

2. Tree. Inside every computer, smartphone, and server is a floating forest of branching directories, all sprouting from a deeply buried “root” folder. Open one and you’ll find it connected to many others, like a leaf atop a twig that’s attached, eventually, to a trunk.

3. Spider. One of the first search engines was named after Lycosa kochii, or the wolf spider. Called Lycos, the system was designed to imitate the spider’s habit of catching its prey by relentless pursuit.

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