Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I am sure you have been in that situation where you are struggling to solve some problem, and then you take a break (maybe a nap or shower) and suddenly – WHAM – the solution hits you right between the eyes. Our minds are in continual process even when we are not aware of it.

Taking breaks changes us. Long or short, they matter because we allow ourselves to change the focus of our minds, and that change in focus allows us to think more clearly about all the other things. When we are deeply involved in something (be it a hard problem or the daily matters of life) our perspective narrows and taking a break helps to open up our perspective – we get a new view on the world.

I have been able to take a long break from life and travel in the USA for a month. Travel always changes our perspective, and this trip gave me much to think about. Returning to my business and normal life probably gave me even more to think about. For the next while I will be focussed on some engineering design and process issues that I think can be improved upon, but I will continue to discuss the environment and how we and engineering interact with it.

For now, some thoughts on my USA trip:

  • America has a throw away culture. Everything is paper, plastic and polystyrene and meant to dumped after using. Restaurants, coffee shops, rest rooms and homes – waste is everywhere. Americans generate far more waste than South African's do.
  • I did not see energy saving bulbs anywhere (except my brother's house). Energy crisis? What energy crisis?
  • When we see stats and numbers about waste and energy usage they are typically based on American studies. Due to the the above points it may not be fair to impose those numbers on South Africa. That means we need our own numbers, and our own measures. Using the US yardstick against ourselves will yield false results.
  • We need to make sure we move towards a culture of efficiency, reuse and longevity – away from a culture of waste.
  • It is hard to get a decent cappuccino. It is even harder to get it in a ceramic cup (I learnt to ask for a "to stay" cup on my last day).
  • We need to learn how to be patient on the road. The Americans are really patient and courteous drivers. Most people's instant reaction would be that they have more policing. Is it more, or is it the style that matters? Also, do we really need to be policed to behave well?
  • You can get just about anything you can think of (except a decent cappuccino).
  • Nobody really knows or cares what happens in South Africa. We fool ourselves when we think our economic fortunes are closely tied to our political situation.
  • South Africa has a soul, character and diversity which I am absolutely ecstatic to come home to.