Archive for July, 2005

recycle for pay

Thursday, July 7th, 2005

The NYTimes reports that numerous companies are offering cash for your old cell phones. Besides getting cash, or in some cases reward points, you also can save the environment.

Many of the sites take all phones – including clunky, brick-shaped dinosaurs – and simply recycle those that cannot be reused. Phones taken in that still have value are tested, outfitted with any needed accessories and then sold to dealers who resell them as refurbished phones in the United States or abroad. Some phones are donated to charities for use as emergency phones.

Even if cellphones sent in are not worth reselling, precious metals like gold from their circuit boards can be extracted and reused, said Rob Newton, president of OldCellPhone.

And by keeping used phones out of landfills, these potential money-making opportunities can also help the environment.

“It’s very important to remember that although each phone is small, they’re really a bundle of highly toxic materials,” because they include chemicals like arsenic, nickel, zinc and lead, said Joanna D. Underwood, president of Inform, a national environmental research organization.

The sites are:
Cell for Cash
Old Cellphone
Phone Fund

None of the sites are in Canada, I’m afraid.

McGill’s Online Community

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

I noticed recently that in addition to the McGill staff directory, there is now a McGill students directory, where lucky students, such as myself, can be listed. It’s an opt-inable through minerva, and I’d imagine most people will miss noticing it completely. The fact that the directory is not able to be indexed by search engines will probably limit the usefulness of the directory. If someone knows my name, and knows that I am atttending McGill, there are considerably easier ways to find one of my email addresses. I suspect the number of students in it will pale before the directory juggernaut of facebook.

Which brings me to ponder: where is McGill’s online community? Here we have a large group of intellectual and generally technologically savvy people, who it seems would benefit from being able to confer in an informal manner across a wide range of subjects, and yet no academic discussion boards, no forums, no chat rooms (no, listservs don’t count). While it’s true that WebCT provides some basic features, I have yet to see them used in one of my classes(although I do once recall a roommate having an interesting chat with a physics professor in one of his classes), and they are generally confined in my experience to the course assignments and tests immediately at hand, not an environment for a lot of free flowing educational discussion.

Imagine for example, having a board devoted to modern linguistics topics, perhaps moderated by a few linguistics professors, perhaps a physicist with an interest in linguistics could wander by, maybe pose a question, or help with some physical or mathematical questions the linguists might have. One of the great problems with online communities, the generally poor behaviour which comes with apparent anonymity, could easily be eliminated by McGill, by giving access only to members of the McGill community (the minerva login system seems to be pretty flexible for example), and by forcing people to be readily identifiable.

Beyond initial setup troubles, this seems like it would be an easy and effective way for McGill to counter some of the very justified ‘impersonal’ and ‘bureaucratic’ slurs lodged its way. While I can forsee some rules that may have to be put in (perhaps restrictions on specifically course related discussions and some political issues which tend to become never ending topics), I think the potential in this case certainly outweighs some of the pitfalls.

a different sort of sustainable

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

The former Fed Chair speaks up about unsustainable America… not so much environmental, but then again, isn’t everything hinging on the environment?

Politics and the hockey stick

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

While we’re awaiting the decision to come out of the G8 summit on the issue of climate change, here’s the political dimension to the hockey stick controversy posted previously. It illustrates why this isn’t just a healthy debate between two groups of scientists but a case of harassment, the goal of which is likely the elimination of their federal research funds.

From Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science:

[US House of Representatives] Energy and Commerce Committee chair Joe Barton has sent a threatening letter [on June 23rd] to the heads of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Science Foundation, as well as to the three climate scientists who produced the original “hockey stick” study. Barton isn’t simply humoring questionable contrarian attacks on the “hockey stick” graph; he’s using his power as a member of Congress to intimidate the scientists involved in producing it.

You can read the actual letter here.

In what I would call, “death by a thousand forms”, this is what the head of the Congressional Committee is demanding:

  1. Your curriculum vitae, including, but not limited to, a list of all studies relating to climate change research for which you were an author or co-author and the source of funding for those studies.
  2. List all financial support you have received related to your research, including, but not limited to, all private, state, and federal assistance, grants, contracts (including subgrants or subcontracts), or other financial awards or honoraria.
  3. Regarding all such work involving federal grants or funding support under which you were a recipient of funding or principal investigator, provide all agreements relating to those underlying grants or funding, including, but not limited to, any provisions, adjustments, or exceptions made in the agreements relating to the dissemination and sharing of research results.
  4. Provide the location of all data archives relating to each published study for which you were an author or co-author and indicate: (a) whether this information contains all the specific data you used and calculations your performed, including such supporting documentation as computer source code, validation information, and other ancillary information, necessary for full evaluation and application of the data, particularly for another party to replicate your research results; (b) when this information was available to researchers; (c) where and when you first identified the location of this information; (d) what modifications, if any, you have made to this information since publication of the respective study; and (e) if necessary information is not fully available, provide a detailed narrative description of the steps somebody must take to acquire the necessary information to replicate your study results or assess the quality of the proxy data you used.
  5. According to The Wall Street Journal, you have declined to release the exact computer code you used to generate your results. (a) Is this correct? (b) What policy on sharing research and methods do you follow? (c) What is the source of that policy? (d) Provide this exact computer code used to generate your results.
  6. Regarding study data and related information that is not publicly archived, what requests have you or your co-authors received for data relating to the climate change studies, what was your response, and why?
  7. The authors McIntyre and McKitrick (Energy & Environment, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2005) report a number of errors and omissions in Mann et. al., 1998. Provide a detailed narrative explanation of these alleged errors and how these may affect the underlying conclusions of the work, including, but not limited to answers to the following questions:
    a. Did you run calculations without the bristlecone pine series referenced in the article and, if so, what was the result?
    b. Did you or your co-authors calculate temperature reconstructions using the referenced “archived Gaspe tree ring data,” and what were the results?
    c. Did you calculate the R2 statistic for the temperature reconstruction, particularly for the 15th Century proxy record calculations and what were the results?
    d. What validation statistics did you calculate for the reconstruction prior to 1820, and what were the results?
    e. How did you choose particular proxies and proxy series?
  8. Explain in detail your work for and on behalf of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including, but not limited to: (a) your role in the Third Assessment Report; (b) the process for review of studies and other information, including the dates of key meetings, upon which you worked during the TAR writing and review process; (c) the steps taken by you, reviewers, and lead authors to ensure the data underlying the studies forming the basis for key findings of the report were sound and accurate; (d) requests you received for revisions to your written contribution; and (e) the identity of the people who wrote and reviewed the historical temperature-record portions of the report, particularly Section 2.3, “Is the Recent Warming Unusual?”

aesthetics; environmentalism is only skin-deep

Monday, July 4th, 2005

I think two quotes can summarize this follow-up to the UK wind farm controversy of late:

“It’s not that I’m against wind power – we do have to find alternative, renewable sources of energy,” Sir Chris said in an interview, gesturing toward the Whinash ridgeline from a highway coffee house near here. “But I think each site should be assessed like a balance sheet, on one side the aesthetic and environmental impact that a particular wind farm will have, set against the benefit of the amount of clean power that’s going to be generated. On that kind of audit, Whinash just doesn’t make sense.”


“If we don’t get a move on in cutting our carbon dioxide emissions, our landscape is going to be damaged on a scale that is presently unimaginable,” said Tony Juniper, the head of Friends of the Earth.

both quotes from this New York Times article, aptly titled “Menacing the Land, but Promising to Rescue the Earth.”

Combining art, technology and nature

Monday, July 4th, 2005

Graham Flint is a physicist and photographer who takes mega pixel photos of the environment and other fragile places. I don’t mean 4 mega pixels but 1,000 mega pixels or giga pixel photos. These images are first taken with a very large format camera and then transferred, piece by piece into a computer.

The images of US National Parks are particularly impressive. The photo at the bottom of the page show you just how large these images are.

nobody’s friend

Monday, July 4th, 2005

President Bush has ruled out any hope for the USA’s involvement in a Kyoto-like deal, and disuaded the G8 from focusing on such issues, the BBC reports.

However, he concedes that our activities (us, the humans, with the oil-filled pens) are “to some extent” to blame.

Here is the best graphical global warming depiction I have ever seen.

necessity (as established through True-Cost analysis) is the mother of invention

Saturday, July 2nd, 2005

“Too much of the debate at the moment is either nuclear or wind, when really we should be looking for a holistic approach.” spokesman for the Royal Academy of Engineers.

Authorities in the UK have approved £400 million for 209 400-ft wind turbines (try to picture that!) Falling in line with the Apollo Alliance, an enviro-labor agglomerate, this project will inject many much-needed jobs into the local area. The heart-warming article tells the whole economic storyline.

Another bout of climate-based currency speculating has hit the street. While nuclear power seems to be like the most ‘bang for your buck’, and conventional wisdom seems to be eating it up like no trans-fats, the New Economics Foundation sees many unaccounted costs tacked on to the bottom line. This dramatically increases the supposed cost per nuclear power kilowatt-hour, so says a new report, “Mirage and Oasis: Energy choices in an age of global warming”, linked to from an informative NEF article.

Once again, economists are (hopefully) reminded of the elusive objectiveness of a cost-benefit analysis, and how an “attractive bottom-line” is relative.

Those who are not so convinced are speaking out without hesitation, as a representative from the Nuclear Industry Association confidently puts it: “This report is grossly out of kilter with almost all other reports that have been done.”

So while wind power has gained the stamp of approval from mostly everyone except aviarian-protectionists, nuclear power has some sorting out to do, and carbon-free energies of a different sort are coming in from the wings. Clean-burning coal, another favorite of the Apollo Alliance for its heavy labor base, is being pushed to the production and construction phase. It’s nice to see how far we’ve come since the Wall Street Journal doubting the existence of clean coal.

And if it can’t be clean-burning, then at least it can cleanly captured before it is released – this is the principle behind Germany’s new CO2-free coal-fired power plant. An explanation of several pre- and post-combustion CO2-saving technologies, brought to you by the BBC. Another GHG-trapping-for-utilization project is unfolding in Scotland.

Let’s not forget our responsibility as activists: e the people’s new petition begs for clean coal development.

arts and science together; communications improved

Saturday, July 2nd, 2005

Another one of society’s dualities is broken, or at least stretched so some of us can remember the buddhist non-duality of duality and non-duality (think it through…)

Artists and Scientists share knowledge and build wisdom together at MIT. Neat ^_^

Can blogging save the world?

Saturday, July 2nd, 2005

Since the concerts have been announced, people have been asking, can Live 8 save the world by compelling people to pressure their G8 leaders to take a stronger role combatting global poverty. That’s also the question currently being asked by bloggers posting live from the various Live 8 concerts. Watch live.

In addition to bloggers posting from the actual concerts, many news organizations are asking individuals, whether they’re at the concerts or not, to moblog their impressions.

Update: even though the artists have donated their time, this hasn’t stopped AOL and MS from plastering their advertisements all over the webcasts.

Biodegradable material and computer chips

Friday, July 1st, 2005

Packaging is a significant contributor to overall computer waste. One such component is the packaging used to ship computer chips from place to place. To ship its chips, Fujitsu uses reels. These resemble the old 0.5 inch tape drive reels that you used to see in movies whenever a scene required a large computer.

Fujitsu to Use Biodegradable Plant-based Materials for All of Its Embossed Carrier Tape Used in Packing for Reel-based Shipment of LSIs

Fujitsu Limited … announced that it will shift completely to the use of biodegradable plant-based materials for the manufacture of embossed carrier tape, used for packing large-scale integrated circuit chips (LSIs) when shipping them on reels. Embossed carrier tape is a packing material that protects semiconductors from shock and static electricity. Fujitsu expects an 11% reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2 ) emissions by employing biodegradable plant-based materials to produce embossed carrier tape, in place of polystyrene, a material which was conventionally used in the industry.

Now if we could only introduce biodegradable materials into the chips themselves.

Japan is a large emitter of greenhouse gases and it is demanding reductions in GHGs in all sectors of the economy.

Happy Canada Day

Friday, July 1st, 2005

Flash maps

Friday, July 1st, 2005

My main research involves the use of geographic information systems for social change. Here are two excellent examples of the application of Flash to Internet mapping.

  • This effective yet simple application shows, over time, the geographic distribution of soldier fatalities in Iraq. Note that you can click on the layers to the right to compare, for example, US fatalities to all other coalition partners.
  • This application shows hundreds of front pages of newspapers from approximately 40 countries (I wonder who’s doing the scanning every day). To see a front pages, click on a region of the world and then surf over the country/state/provincial polygons. Be patient as some pages take time to load.

    One of the intended consequences of the site is that you can conduct an armchair ethnography of how regions of the world, but especially the US, perceive a particular event.

    The application is from the Newseum, “the world’s first interactive museum of news”, that opened in Arlington, Va., in 1997. Its mission is simple: to help the public and the news media understand one another better.”