Archive for June, 2006

can’t visit parks; too busy websurfing

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

First saw this in the New Scientist: “Video games, surfing the web and high gas prices can explain a dramatic fall in the number of visitors to US National Parks.”

This finding comes from an article in the The Journal of Environmental Management by Oliver Pergams and Patricia Zaradic (in press), “Is love of nature in the US becoming love of electronic media? 16-year downtrend in national park visits explained by watching movies, playing video games, internet use, and oil prices”. (BTW, that’s the most descriptive title I’ve ever seen in a journal.)

Aside from the troubling implications (why actually see the park when you can visit it online!), the article contains a nicely straightforward analysis of data. Comparing annual number of park visits to a variety of annual cumulative or average numbers, the authors found significant correlations in the decline of park visits to the average number of hours per year of television watched, video games played, home movies watched, theatre movies watched, and Internet used. The decline in park visits also correlates with the rise in the absolute price of gasoline. The drop was measured from 1987 to 2002, so it’s not reflective of the spike (in real dollars) of gasoline that we’ve experienced this year.

The authors mention that these factors also track the growing sedentary lifestyle in North America since in-home entertainment doesn’t require so much physical activity (except for the muscles in one’s hand, of course). This and the price of gas will continue to contribute to a decline in the number of park visits.

For those of you with children, heed the following from the article (p. 1): “It has been found important that people be exposed to natural areas as children if they are to care about them as adults.” If you want your children to connect with nature, start taking them to national and regional parks NOW.

Update: Of course, the National Park Service might very well elevate the number of park visits by accommodating the electronically abled.

whaling music

Saturday, June 24th, 2006

I hate to make light of the dreadful ruling at the International Whaling Communication meeting but the stop whaling people have created an innovative connection between activism and the Internet: the whale remix project.

You can work online or offline to incorporate actual recordings of humpback whales into your own music. Rhythms can be added by clicking on a major ocean area. You can also add specific ocean sounds, such as bubbles and dolphins. Submit your song and you could win a video IPod.

it’s getting hot in here

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

In the US, the National Academy of Sciences released its report to Congress today. The conclusion?

The Earth is the hottest it has been in at least 400, maybe more.

The National Academy of Sciences studied tree rings, corals and other natural formations, in part, to conclude that the heat is unprecedented for potentially the last several millennia.

Human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming, the Academy says.

The study was commissioned by Congress, in part to refute the attack by US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee chair Joe Barton on the climate scientists who created the long term model of global temperature change (the hockey stick). Is the debate over (or more importantly, the attack on scientists)? If you think yes, then I have some real estate in southern Florida that I’d like to sell you…

early Friday cat blogging: the stacked edition

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

our dearly departed Lisa and Robert’s ‘children’ now in Indiana.
Crouch and Sideris spawn

environmentalists take to youtube

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

First it was Flash animation and now this. From Greenpeace, which was also one of the first nonprofits on Google video.

(I’ll try to figure out how to embed youtube without it destroying the whole style sheet. OK, got most of it. Works when you click the play button below the image. If you click on the image then you’re transferred to youtube.)

Here’s another one that is a short alternative news piece on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Montreal last year.

so much for my oblate spheroid

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

NOAA just announced a new projection system that shows rotating spatial data on a sphere. It’s called Science on a Sphere. Four computer controlled projectors (one computer per projector, plus a fifth coordinator computer) project images that appear to move on a six foot spherical movie screen.

Science on a Sphere takes flat, two-dimensional images and data taken from spherical objects like planets and moons, and synchronizes and blends them into animated presentations. Most of the almost 100 presentations created so far are silent displays meant to illustrate lectures.

This is something you have to see, so the NYTimes has a short video on the subject. The NOAA site has the best video, though. My favorite is the x-ray sun. The 500-year CO2 simulator is pretty scary and in-person it must be one of the best visualizations of climate change available.

The system costs a whopping $180,000 for the hardware and software. I’m sure it could be done for cheaper and it could be better as well. Start with a weather balloon for the screen. The stick of gum-sized Linux machines could function as the “computers,” although I wonder if this couldn’t be done on a single computer (if necessary, could we do it with virtual machines?). Projecting the 2-D to 3-D data (that’s geographic projections, guys) is the mathematical stumbling block but most GIS software can handle it now. The specs state that the software accepts most graphics formats, but these are static .gifs, .jpegs, etc. Integrating the system with a GIS platform would allow the user to add/modify layers and create annotations on the fly (think of a sketch map, except rotating and 6 feet in diameter). I’ve simplified some of the details, but it’s doable.

Of course, this division of NOAA probably worked out a very nice GUI and, of course, they’ve managed the coordination of the projectors. The site mentions that they’ve developed an API and they adopted an Open-Source Software License so perhaps we will shortly be able to download the source code so we can create our own applications.

(The oblate spheroid is a geography reference. Planets tend not to be spheres. Most are oblate spheroids. That’s why in addition to projections, you also need to worry about things called datums too.)

who’s worrying about the disposable cameras?

Sunday, June 11th, 2006

Just saw the announcement for the disposable digital video camera from pure digital technologies, Inc. (okay, the original was announced last year, but this is the new model.) There’s lots of buzz about them in the popular press. The video camera comes with USB connector, flash memory, and an LCD screen. Is anyone worrying about the computer hardware on these throw-away devices?

According to The Internet Consumer Recycling Guide,

Recent studies have show that, despite the recycling claims on the boxes, less than half of disposable cameras are ever actually recycled. Enough cameras have been tossed to circle the planet, stacked end-to-end. Local film developers often have little or no incentive to return the camera bodies to the manufacturers, and not all parts of the cameras are recyclable. Kodak has started to minimally reimburse developers for the costs of sorting, storing and shipping, but processors are still faced with a bewildering variety of types, brands, and procedures for dealing with them.

I’m going to contact pure digital to see what their policy is on managing disposal. I’ll let you know the results.

I can stop anytime…

Sunday, June 11th, 2006

The Associated Press is reporting that Amsterdam, The Netherlands, has opened up the first detox center for video game addicts. Video games are said to be potentially as addictive as gambling and drugs. This essentially renders excessive gaming a disease, linked to endorphin production and withdrawl symptoms.

The article, of course, ignores the private clinics that have been operating in the US (don’t know about Canada) for some time where parents of means can send their kids to kick the horse (or is it the hedgehog?).

I should be more sympathetic since people can turn any number of activities (e.g., food, television, even exercise) into addictions. But it’s hard to take this seriously when the article throws in the “gateway drug” scenario:

It can start with a Game Boy, perhaps given by parents hoping to keep their children occupied but away from the television. From there it can progress to multilevel games that aren’t made to be won.

So, that initial pecking on the keyboard leads to obsessive playing of Worlds of Warcraft? The rest of the article is fairly reflective on the reasons for addictive behaviour. The perpetual temptation, however, is to embellish this into something frightening because it’s relatively new and therefore unknown. This leads to sensational media coverage (Danger, danger, Will Robinson, your child could be addicted to that PSP!) and the periodic re-surfacing of the meme of innovation as a horrific social/political condition. Here’s the latest edition in which the mainstream media and political structure create a discourse of hysteria instead of reflecting on root causes.

But back to gaming. Here’s a Wired article from 5 years ago on exactly the same subject.

so much for the US being the center of climate modelling

Friday, June 9th, 2006

A Boston Globe article reports that NASA has delayed or cancelled a series of climate satellites. To give you a complete picture of how much world wide climate change modelling will be impacted, consider that

The space agency has shelved a $200 million satellite mission headed by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor that was designed to measure soil moisture — a key factor in helping scientists understand the impact of global warming and predict droughts and floods. The Deep Space Climate Observatory, intended to observe climate factors such as solar radiation, ozone, clouds, and water vapor more comprehensively than existing satellites, also has been canceled.

And in its 2007 budget, NASA proposes significant delays in a global precipitation measuring mission to help with weather predictions, as well as the launch of a satellite designed to increase the timeliness and accuracy of severe weather forecasts and improve climate models.

What this means is that less empirical data will be available for showing the human-induced effects of climate change. This also impacts weather monitoring over the US. Data from these satellites would also used by the US Department of Agriculture, so the loss of satellites will impact knowledge about US crops. Quite a bit of payback for complaining climate scientists like Hansen, isn’t it?

Anonymity Away!

Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

I came across the name of an old (relatively speaking I suppose) friend on the internet recently. As is standard procedure for me these days, I proceeded to put their name into Google, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that they had not only numerous hits in various communities, but a small personal webpage that they controlled.

People whose personal web pages come up while searching for their real name are typically what I would deem first class citizens of the internet: there are links to their contributions in online discussions or work, and you can both contact them easily, and with some work and a decent amount of background knowledge, get a good idea of their presence on the internet. For certain groups of people, the academic and tech communities come to mind, having insignificant-to-no results on a Google search immediately generates skepticism: where are the journal articles, the mailing list postings, the bug reports? You do not see such people being able to take part effectively in the discussions on most respected forums or blogs, RealClimate being one example.
If Google can’t find anything they’ve done, the question begs itself, have they done anything? While clearly the answer is generally yes, and the fault lies in the information not being available on the internet for search engines to find, there are generally few reasons for someone to allow themselves to be completely invisible on the internet. If you do not project a presence on the internet in a mildly significant and traceable way, it is difficult to contribute meaningfully to online projects: with no ‘credentials’, it’s tough to be taken seriously.

For a few years now, there have been options for those who didn’t have the technical wherewithal or time to bother setting up their own webspace, Geocities and Angelfire come to mind. Even with these tools, it wasn’t necessarily a fun or trivial task to put up a mildly decent website, and accordingly, only a small percentage did. With the bubble inflating once more, myspace and facebook (now the 4th and 28th most popular English language websites in the world respectively) would seem to vault millions of users into this first class citizenship. Now minor internet celebrities have links to their facebook or myspace profiles, and I have even seen such links proferred as evidence in defending online personas from accusations of ‘sockpuppetry’. Presumably the mild amount of time invested in the profiles of social networks websites provides a reasonable way to ensure that a unique legitimate person is behind each account.

It will be interesting to see where online communities go, greater dependance on the verifiability of participants, something that governments and those with an interest in monitoring activity on the internet would love, or a turn back towards near anonymity and its associated benefits and pitfalls.