Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A view of social media of the future

When the team at SETI announced they had confirmed the existence of extraterrestrial life in 2042, the news spread like wildfire through Snicker.  By 2042 nearly everyone in the world was connected by Snicker, the social media system that replaced the old slow and sluggish media like Twitter and the primordial "Facebook" kids learned about in snickschool.  Snicker completely bypassed what was once called the world wide web, which had sluggishly channeled through servers and hubs around the world connected by actual cables.  Snicker worked off something like fibreless fiberoptics-- connecting user to user at the speed of light.  Each user's communit, the device that replaced cell phones the way telephones replaced smoke signals, filtered input as it came in.  With micro quantum processing, terabytes of information could be filtered in essentially no time, at least in this reality.

As soon as the announcement was out, pretty much everyone in the world was resnicking.  Most people snicklistened to the snicks that were resnicked the most.  You simply set your communit to communicate the top five, ten, whatever snicks on any subject that had been resnicked some tens of million times.  News of binary radio communication from the Epsilon Tau cluster instantly resnicked over a billion times.  Everyone heard it, or more like thought it, since communits plugged straight into Broca's Area of the brain.  A nifty device, sort of a cross between a syringe and a staple gun, zapped a commimplant to the Broca.  Snicks were "heard" much like the annoying internal mental dialog people used to have before displaced by the snickerverse.

Pope Bieber The Popular put out a snickatement immediately that the new discovery in no way altered theology, since the new life forms were God's Creation too.  Pretty much everyone who snicklistened to Christian snicks heard the ageing former pop singer and sent out a snicknod showing their approval.   Although it took some 5000 years for the radio message to reach us from Epsilon Tau, it went to nearly everyone on earth in a matter of nanoseconds at the speed of light.  And nearly just as quickly, it became old news.  The message itself when decoded was not terribly interesting; just some Epsilon Tauian sportscaster saying GGOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLL!!!! 

Minutes later, almost an eternity in the snickiverse, the Epsilon Tauians were no longer a topic of much snickussion.  The world had pretty much concurred on an image of them as purplish-hued sportslovers, much like a puce version of Manchester United fans (still the top futbol team in the world).  Within hours what people once quaintly thought would be the most earth-shattering discovery ever was simply absorbed and added to common knowledge.  The latest trending thing took forecourt, with the unveiling of the most recent surgically rejuvenated Kardashian buttocks called "the Brazilian Beachball."

Friday, November 21, 2014

What My Facebook Feed Tells Me About The World

Things in my daily facebook feed generally fall into five general categories:
1)  Updates from friends-- where they are, stuff they are eating, who they are hanging with, pictures of their _____________ (fill in-- pets, kids, etc)

2)  Science-y updates, links to publications...

3) Humor, like the golden retriever that totally bombs dog show

4 & 5 Are the bad news and the good news.  Bad news outnumbers good news, as expected.  But it seems the good news usually is not really good things happening, but just when things are not as bad as they could be.

Examples from my morning facebook feed:

The Bad News:
·      Alligators in the Everglades are emaciated-- indicating further ecosystem collapse
·      Crater Mountain mine underway, no apparent environmental oversight
·      Abbott cutting funds to ABC and SBS
·      Major networks did not air Obama's speech on immigration
·      House passes bill to replace independent scientists at the EPA with industry experts
·      October was hottest month ever on record, as is the year 2014
·      Canadian woman charged 1 million for giving birth in a US hospital
·      US only developed nation that does not guarantee paid vacations
·      Aussies boycotting halal foods because they think buying supports terrorists
·      Michelle Bachman calls immigrants illiterates
·      GOP furious with Obama (hardly news)
·      Poachers kill 1200 rhinos in South Africa this year alone
·      Statistics on bird kills at wind turbine facility are trade secrets

The good news (really this is the good?):
·      Company halts plan to frack 1 km from Pennsylvania school
·      Elizabeth Warren taking on Walmart
·      Federal court decision might allow a humanist study group to form in a prison (as religions have always freely done)
·      First bus in Britain running on bio-methane
·      Non-hunters contribute to conservation more than hunters
·      Plans for a poorly-sited solar facility turned down

It is indeed good news when something bad stops or doesn't happen.  But why are there so few stories out there of good shit actually happening?  The good news is usually something small and local.  Bad things easily happen on an epic scale-- famines, oil spills, etc.  But good things rarely happen on a large scale.  I guess that's part of the logic behind "think global, act local."  This is another reason I like smaller non-profits with specific goals than the big "saving the world" non-profits.  You can't save the planet, end hunger, etc.  But you might save a piece of the planet or a family's hunger.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Easy, inexpensive, do-it-yourself bird safe windows

100% bird safe windows  

(re-posted from bigredaglaia because it is a popular essay)

"Bird Window Trampolines":  an invisible,  cheap, easy and 100% effective way to make windows bird-safe
We all know that sickening "thunk" when a bird hits a window.  Often the dead bird can be found beneath the window, more often it flies off and likely dies of internal hemorrhaging later.  The estimates of birds killed by window strikes range in the hundreds of millions per year in the USA.  If you live somewhere with birds near your house, and your house has windows, you are probably killing birds.
But I hate to be indoors and the one thing that can make indoor living tolerable is a nice picture window, and the more and bigger the better.  For a bird enthusiast like me, this poses a conundrum.   Go insane indoors without windows, or stay (somewhat) sane and accept collateral damage to the many birds simply going about their business and suddenly dying in a collision they literally couldn't see coming.
I found a solution.
View looking out a window that is protected with netting from bird strikes.  The mesh is barely visible.
There are simple and inexpensive steps anyone can take to make their windows bird-safe.  Here I describe what I've done to the big picture windows in my living room that were real bird killers.  Before I did this, bird strikes occurred often, especially in the spring during migration, as fledglings left the nest in summer, and again in the fall, with a few through the winter.  Any time a Sharp-shinned Hawk burst out of the woods into the yard, birds were likely to hit the glass. 
The solution costs about $15/window and it takes about 30 minutes per window.   Here are simple instructions and a few photos of the result.  All you need are: two round curtain rods, six curtain rod brackets, and some netting for each window.
Buy the plastic mesh that you use to keep birds off fruit bushes and trees.  Any garden supply store has it.   A 7 X 21 foot net cost me $9, enough for 3-4 windows.  (I first used old mist nets, but these lose their integrity and tore more easily).
Example of the netting available to keep birds off fruit trees.

Outside the window, above and below attach the brackets that hold the curtain rods.  These should stand away from the glass at least 6 inches.  If the windows are recessed the brackets can be shorter than windows that are flush with the wall.  Put three brackets for each rod-- left, right and center above and below the window (maybe more for a window longer than 4-5 feet.  The upper three brackets have the "U" that cradles the rod facing up, while the lower three brackets are upside down with the "U" facing down.
Lower curtain rod holding mesh.  I used a larger, stronger rod on this double window.
Cut a piece of the mesh about 8 inches larger than the span from curtain rod to curtain rod and wider than the window.
While comfortably seated thread the top curtain rod through the net, through every-other cell of the mesh.  Then hang this on the upper brackets-- in the corner brackets but outside the middle bracket so it sags slightly below the bracket.  This is so when you put the rod into the middle bracket it helps draw the net tight.
Pull the net down tight to where the lower curtain rod will rest.  Measure or count meshes down to where the rod is when moderately tight, then go up two or three cells, about 2-3 inches. 
Thread the lower curtain rod through the mesh through the mesh 2-3 inches above the line of the lower brackets.  As with the top rod, be careful to thread straight through so the two rods are parallel.  If not parallel the mesh will not pull tight evenly.
When it is through the lower curtain rod should hang in the net a couple inches above the brackets below. 
Pull the mesh outward to the sides so the net is taut left to right and fully covers the window.
Then pull the lower curtain rod down and snap it into the three brackets.   It should be pretty tight and the upper curtain rod should be bowing down more in the middle.
Push the middle of the upper curtain rod up and snap it into the middle bracket.  This should pull the net really tight.
Upper curtain rods holding mesh on two windows with a few tacks in between to pull the mesh tight horizontally.
If it is not tight, you can simply release the lower curtain rod from the brackets, pull the rod out of the mesh, and thread it through a little higher, and then re-seat it in the brackets.
The finished net should be firm against your push and require substantial pressure to push as far as the glass.  A "trampoline."
On a large window I put a few tacks along the sides and pull the mesh on to them to add tension side-to-side.  This also brings the edges to the wall and reduces the chance a bird would ever get between the mesh and the glass.  This has never happened for me.
When the net is up and in place, you can trim some of the excess mesh off the sides, but leave a few cells outside the edges.   This helps retain the integrity of the net and stops it from becoming too slack if a mesh tears at a tack or on the curtain rod. 
Now and then you can check the tension on the net and pull it a little tighter on the edges if needed.
Sitting inside and looking out I barely see the mesh against a dark background.  On sunny days sometimes it is more evident.  But it really is not very apparent and a lot less noticeable than typical screened windows.  From the outside the mesh is invisible.  One could paint or conceal the curtain rods, but I hardly notice these either.
Birds still fly "into" the windows.  The mesh, like the glass, is invisible to them.  But instead of instant deacceleration when they hit glass, the net stretches and slows them without hitting the solid glass.  Airbags in cars work on the same principle-- instead of slapping your head on the windshield with 60 to 0 deacceleration in a fraction of a millimeter, your momentum is absorbed by the airbag, not your skull.  Same for the birds only it is the net instead of the airbag.
Three large picture windows protected with mesh.
On windows where I have put these nets I never hear that "thunk" and I have never found a dead bird below.   The first window where I used fruit tree netting (rather than old mist nets) is still in good shape after two years.  There are a few meshes torn where possibly big birds hit, and I sometime see bird droppings on the window to indicate a bird bounced and defecated. 
I enjoy my large windows guilt-free.  I can put bird feeders right up beside them and never have strikes, even when a Sharp-shinned hawk passes and all the birds freak out.
I like this method.  It works.  It does not cost much.  It is easy to do.  It requires little maintenance (you can easily remove, wash the windows and replace).  It does not obscure the view at all.   Note added- we just did spring cleaning and washed the windows.  It only took a minute to release the lower rod holding the net, fold it to the top rod, clean the window, and put it back in place.   This really works.  Even when a Cooper's hawk comes by and birds dive for cover, none hit the window anymore.  This used to happen often.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On the ways America has come to celebrate ignorance: POTSIs the Person on the Street Interview

On the ways America has come to celebrate ignorance: 
POTSIs the Person on the Street Interview

When I was young ignorance was embarrassing.  Most people would avoid a public display of their ignorance.  We preferred not to comment on things we knew nothing about.  But Americans have slowly embraced ignorance, first making it OK to be ignorant, then ever more celebrating ignorance. 

Somewhere in the last couple decades the media began to seek out the ignorant for comment.  Interviewees are selected for being "representative" not knowledgeable.  And if the public is generally ignorant, then the best representative is ignorant. 

Interviews of the random person off the street are often perceived as given the same weight as experts. The usual Person on the Street Interview, or POTSI, is a gimmick to try to relate whatever the story is about back to you the audience.  Remember that the next time you hear or see a POTSI, some producer thinks the POTSI represents you and that you are interested in the POTSI.  The stupider the POTSI, the stupider they think you are, news audience.

The interviewer of POTSI rarely questions or challenges the POTS.  Their word is taken not because it is right or wrong,  Whether a statement is informed is not even at issue, it is valid simply because a POTS said it.  On the other hand, when interviewing an expert, reporters tend to look for exceptions and to challenge their conclusions. 

We've all seen POTSIs  saying "I don't think global warming is real, why look at all that snow [pointing to the '78 rusted pickup truck on blocks in the front yard under ten inches of snow]." 

Nearly every local tv news story wraps up with some statement by someone whose only qualification is that they happen to be in the proximity of a reporter.  The reporter turns to the camera

 "There you have it, many people still don't believe climate change is real.  This is  Katie Hairdo reporting live from Hooterville.  Back to you Dufus."

What you won't see is the reporter saying-- "Whoa, do you really think the infinitesimally small bit of the globe you personally see this moment is truly representative of the entire planet [you moron]?"

But, when the same reporters interview a climate scientist it's time to ask the "hard-hitting questions" and challenge authority [then usually ignore the answer-- the point was to question them publicly, not learn from them]. 

"But aren't there other scientists who don't agree with you?"   "Hasn't the climate always been changing?"

I use climate change as an example, but POTSIs are pervasive.  After a shooting, we get the POTSI  "This used to be a good neighborhood."   [No mention of actual statistics on shootings.]  After the fire "It took forever for the fire trucks to get here."  [No mention of actual data on response times.]  Before the election "I'm voting for Greed E. Monger because I think we need a change."  [No follow up question on what policy exactly Greed E. Monger will change.]  Watch for POTSIs-- you will be dismayed how pervasive they are and how they'll dumb down almost any news story. 

The media (mainly television and radio news) give equal time to the ignorant, but only challenge the experts.  It just isn't considered fair to expose the ignorant to possible public ridicule, after all, the reasoning goes, they aren't experts....

The subtle message assimilated by the public after a couple decades of daily POTSIs is that ignorance is acceptable, nothing to be ashamed of, and often something to celebrate.

It remains to be seen how much further the bar can be lowered.  The news might have to dig a basement so they can keep lowering it.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Why conservation is failing Part 9a. Donor driven priorities, meaningless numbers, and sustaining the mothership

Why conservation is failing Part 9a.  Donor driven priorities, meaningless numbers, and sustaining the mothership.

The Ocean Health Index is a fairly new initiative by Conservation International- they've been working on it for over four years.  Four years to come up with some numbers based on existing science about the state of the oceans.  This is not generating new information; it distills and repackages what we already know.  The idea is to make a few simple numbers to represent complex issues. 

The power of meaningless numbers forever immortalized in the documentary "This is Spinal Tap" where the amps went up to 11, while other bands' amps only go to 10.

Do we need an index?   People follow indices like the DOW or NYSE because they guide how to manipulate investments.  This new index is the brainchild of businessmen, and we all know conservation needs to be run more like businesses.  Businessmen closely follow the stock indices and invest accordingly.  They know when to buy or sell.  An index for health of the ocean might make sense to them.   Perhaps it can guide when to pollute and not pollute.

But.... if you don't have money in the market, those indices are uninteresting.  Ask anyone worldwide without spare money to invest in markets how they react when the DOW goes up or down.  Most of the world gives not a twit about an index based on the investments of the wealthy elite.  Is a drop in the Ocean Health Index really going to trigger action?  This new index is just as meaningless to most people.  It is a publicity stunt. 

The Ocean Health Index website is proud that the concept was originated and funded by business magnate William Wrigley (of gum fame) with a personal worth of $2.6 billion.  He and his wife Heather are avid scuba divers.  It is great that they want to invest in conservation of the oceans that provide them with so much enjoyment in their leisure time.  But is a business-like index on ocean health the best a guy with a couple billion plus change can do? 

When billionaire Wrigley suggested an ocean health index to someone at CI did someone take the risk of saying "Interesting idea Bill, but what would really make a difference is...."   Or, did they prostrate themselves and say "Brilliant idea Bill!"   For decades Big Conservation has played lip service to setting priorities based on best science.  But in reality priorities are usually determined by donors.  I've read hundreds of peer-reviewed papers identifying conservation priorities based on science.  I don't think I've ever seen one saying what we really need is a simple index of ocean health.

A change in some generalized index will stimulate no more conservation action than actual published statistics about plastics in the ocean, or coral bleaching, or overfishing, or pollution from fish farms, or ocean acidification, or fertilizer nutrient runoff....   We already know about these problems. Action will be motivated by the realities of coral bleaching, fisheries that fail, species extinctions, sea level rise, etc., not an index.  Does a hypothetical index PR stunt leverage more action than actual data?  Is an index value of "63" as meaningful as the actual measured changes in ocean acidification? 

The Ocean Health Index website lists two people on Conservation International's staff among the 73 science contributors.  So the project primarily draws on external science for support-- scientists primarily supported from other sources.  CI does not have to be bothered with supporting pesky scientists. 

But Communications and Outreach-- talking about conservation-- is Conservation International's forte.  The index website lists 20 people at CI involved in communications and outreach just for the Ocean Health Index.  The site lists an additional 31 people at other organizations involved in communication and outreach.  So the Ocean Health Index has 51 people involved in communication and outreach and 73 science contributors.  CI's funding supports 20 people who talk about conservation, and maybe two actual scientists. Conservation International does not have to generate new science, no specific action is required, no one at CI has to stand up to an industry or polluters.  But the creation of the number and publicizing it attracts those donor's dollars.  And whoa, guess what, it needs to be re-calculated every year-- convince enough donors this index is important and you have a steady income.  Unlike real conservation action, generating a number is something you can promise to accomplish every year-- so much easier and certain than actual needs, like reducing pollution.

The funding might not do much for conservation, but it is sure good for Conservation International.