Shared Links for May 12th

  • Forecast: On Climate Change, Cooler Temperatures Bring Hotter Air – Augh, we are prisoners to so many perceptual fallacies. Recency and narration loom large among them. It turns out that the average temperature of the last 12 months is a reasonably strong predictor of whether or not people think they'll personally experience the effects of climate change (a multi-decade to century-scale process). We are failing to deal with problems we didn't evolve to perceive clearly. (tagged: climate statistics fallacy propaganda science )
  • In German Suburb, Life Goes On Without Cars – Ah, the New York Times has discovered Vauban! Now if only it had happened when gas was $4/gallon, we might have had a chance. We desperately need more experimentation in urban design, so we can have working examples to look at and build on. (tagged: sustainability green urban design bicycles germany transportation parking architecture )
  • Spuds in a Box – Build a box whose sides you can progressively remove from the bottom up, plant potatoes in the bottom, and fill with dirt as they grow. Remove lower slats to harvest spuds. I've certainly heard this suggestion from other people too. Will be interesting to see how well it works for these guys. Seems like you could also do this with some kind of bag, and if you sewed in sleeves/tubes periodically, that you could tie off, and then untie when you wanted to reach in and root around for a spud, you wouldn't have to worry about soil falling out when you pry off the boards. Others are supposedly reporting 50kg of potatoes from 0.5 m^2 area. (tagged: gardening green sustainability agriculture food urban design potatoes )
  • How Much Do You Earn? – A great annotated visualization of income distribution in the US as of the year 2000. It would be awesome to see an animated version of this, and see how it evolves through time. Turns out I make just about the most likely income in America ($20k), which is far below the mean (and the median). As a "household" though, I suppose we're right about at the median ($40k). Interesting. (tagged: economics wealth taxes government policy visualization )
  • The Capitalist Threat – Geoge Soros on Karl Popper's Open Society, from the mid-90s. He rails against the West's failure to extend a helping hand to the post-Soviet nations. He acknowledges that Truth may not be a strong enough motivator for most people, and that within a society that has decided to be Open, there are still many other choices to be made, but somehow fails to mention the way these two things end up pushing an Open Society closed with propaganda, apathy, and misinformation. Political evangelism – the process of deciding what (arbitrary) values your society is going to have – creates huge incentives for those who do not highly value truth to assert authority. I guess that's part of his point though, to robustly inoculate society against those assertions of perfect (authoritarian) knowledge. (tagged: economics politics popper society philosophy )

Shared Links for Apr 30th

  • Transparency means nothing without justice – Government transparency is necessary, but not sufficient. If police violence is recorded and publicized, and nobody cares, it doesn't matter. This is in come sense emblematic of the coup in western propaganda. You don't need to control the media as the Soviets did or the Chinese do, if your population is comfortable enough not to care what's happening out there to someone else, and if their voting patterns are firmly tied to other issues (especially social issues like abortion), the idea of a democratic revolt becomes fairly abstract. I think this where a lot of the government's fear of economic recessions comes from. When people are out of work, or even hungry, suddenly they become a lot more excitable. (tagged: transparency law police politics technology internet )
  • Condensing steam without water – Concentrating solar thermal power stations are ultimately designed to run a steam turbine, just like a gas-fired power plant. That means they need water (to turn into steam). Problematically, most such plants use water as a condensing coolant (70% of Caltech's water usage is as coolant for our 14MW worth of gas-fired power)… which is going to be hard to come by in the desert, where CSP will be built. Thankfully, there's a way to recondense steam without using a water coolant – but it does require a huge cooling tower. Not so great in Pasadena, but probably fine in the Mojave, next to acres and acres of mirrors. (tagged: solar energy technology sustainability green electricity water )
  • Rousing a Latent Defense Mechanism to Fight HIV – It turns out there is a gene in humans that produces a protein which inhibits infection by HIV, but it has a mutation – a premature stop codon – which prevents it from being effectively synthesized. This mutation doesn't exist in most Old World monkeys (and that's apparently why they can't get HIV). Undoing the mutation allows the protein to be synthesized, and grants HIV immunity to human cells. I imagine that undoing bad mutations like this, and our inability to synthesize vitamin C, might be the first place we see human germ-line engineering outside of disease avoidance (preventing e.g. cystic fibrosis). Really, these mutations are hard to distinguish from genetic diseases – they're just diseases that we, as a species, have learned to live with. (tagged: genetic engineering hiv aids biology science research plos medicine )
  • Anna in the Middle East – Anna Baltzer is a Jewish American who got a Fulbright fellowship to live in the West Bank in 2005, and document the experiences of Palestinians. She's been giving presentations about it ever since. Some parts of her presentation are available via YouTube too. From the 15 minutes I watched she seemed like a level headed critic. She's speaking in Boulder and Denver in May. (tagged: israel palestine politics fulbright peace war )
  • Twitter + Stimulus = Humans are Gullible – A wonderful demonstration of the power of the confirmatory bias. Twitter is the perfect platform for the injection of random falsehoods. Too short for citations. Instantaneous distribution. Make sure your followers are predisposed to agree with what you say, and you can get them to believe just about anything – within that constraint. Too bad the author seems to think this only applies to conservatives. (tagged: politics twitter statistics propaganda )

Shared Links for Sat, Feb 7th, 2009 through Tue, Feb 10th, 2009

  • Thefts puncture Paris bike scheme – More of Paris' Velib bicycles are being stolen or vandalized than expected. Not sure what their expectations were, but it is pretty annoying for basically every bike in the network to have been either stolen or damaged in only 18 months. The vandalism is probably impossible to stop (since it can be carried out while the bikes are locked in their stands) but the theft should be preventable with secure stands, and aggressive enforcement of responsibility for a bike while you've got it checked out (i.e. if the bike doesn't come back, your credit card is immediately charged for the total value of the bike, or possibly even more). I also can't help but wonder if the same functionality could be implemented with much, much cheaper bikes, especially in a city as flat as Paris. Singlespeeds with fenders and a basket, maybe 100 Euros each? With an RFID tag embedded – and put all the smarts in the racks. (tagged: bicycle bike cycling transportation paris velib )
  • Google Power to the People – Google developing tools to allow you to disentangle your own energy use, when the datastreams from smart meters come on line. Making this information easy to comprehend, pricing electricity to displace demand from the peak times, and allowing the largest energy users to schedule their use in an automated way could (without even changing anything physically) have a large impact on the amount of power generating capacity we (don't) need. (tagged: energy google sustainability green open data transparency )
  • WattzOn and Wesabe Join Forces – This is the post that made me wish the Elevations Credit Union was more internet savvy. I want to be able to apply all these big-brotherly tools to myself! (tagged: open data transparency energy wesabe wattzon money finance )
  • Numbrary – A library for numbers – mass quantities of publicly available data, mostly (entirely?) from the US Government. In a hopefully usable and searchable form. Many automatically generated charts and tables. (tagged: data transparency government statistics open )
  • Mayapedal – People building useful human-powered bicimaquinas, in Guatemala, where human labor is still a common prime mover: washing machines, coffee de-pulpers, corn de-grainers, grain mills, blenders, concrete microvibrators, etc. One kind of appropriate technology. There's also some YouTube videos on them, e.g.:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrqbtUKpSjo (tagged: bicycle guatemala appropriate technology human power energy )

  • Humanity In Motion – An incredible montage of what bicycles can be: safe, enjoyable, cheap, convenient, everyday transportation for young people and for old, for families, in a city largely unpolluted by the exhaust and noise of cars. (tagged: bicycle transportation amsterdam netherlands photos )