09.29.08

UnBearable

Posted in Cat, Financial, Politics at 10:21 pm by justakim

The financial market craziness makes me wish we were back to relatively harmless presidential politics. Someone sent me this story about a honey-stealing bear just before McCain told his overused bear boondoggle story on Friday.

Here’s some consolation political humor and some cute.

09.24.08

Ghost Town

Posted in Financial at 10:12 am by justakim

It was very interesting to observe peoples’ behavior last weekend. We went to pick up some kitchen stuff at a popular upscale outdoor mall and the place looked deserted. I mean, there were cars though not as many as usual, but we saw few people actually wandering around. Very dramatic change.

When I heard how Bernenke was on board on this bail-out, a chill went straight down my spine. I really hope that election politics takes a backseat for a bit. Small hope, I know.

If you want some reading on what hit us last week, read this article on the financial crisis.

09.10.08

Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee

Posted in Book, Conservation, Economic Development, Resources at 10:37 pm by justakim

Excellent journalist.

I’d first like to say that this author is amazing. In the first few pages, I was struck by how he could present these real figures with the familiarity one would expect of a fiction writer the characters they designed. This is my first McPhee book and it probably won’t be my last. If you’re at all interested in a good story and a glimpse at the environmental scene in the past, stop reading right now and go get that book. If you’re not likely to read this book, read on.

As many of you know, David Brower is a prominent environmentalist best known for his campaign to prevent a dam that would flood parts of the Grand Canyon. McPhee has arranged an elegant setup. He takes Brower out into the field with three of his adversaries. He uses these encounters to portray the nuances of the issues and beautifully illustrates the depth of these four people with background information along the way.

Round 1: Charles Park; geologist, professor, conservationist
Round 2: Charles Fraser; sustainable developer
Round 3: Floyd Dominy; farmer, dam builder, improver of farmland

There are some very remarkable things about these matches that really give the story a lot of depth and much to consider. One is that they all believed that they were doing good. Park thought that mined resources will benefit humanity and not using those resources would result in suffering. Fraser wanted to make nature available to a large number of people and to create something beautiful. Dominy saw the suffering of those hard working people who’d moved out west and could not make a living on their homestead and so from an early age, he built dams so that pioneers could survive. Brower himself wanted to preserve the land for its own sake and saw his cause as a war of attrition.

What was also intriguing was the amount of knowledge the opponents had. Park spent large portions of his year prospecting all over the world, and spends more time outdoors than any of them. Fraser, while not an outdoorsman, has already built a successful development with many environmentally friendly features way ahead of its time, and he has done his background research with an interest in history, recognizing the long record of human use in the area in question. Dominy is a native of the drought-prone areas and knows the needs and desires of the people.

The other thing that was so striking in these comparisons was how they all appreciated nature. No matter how vehemently they may be arguing, no matter how much they may irreconcilably disagree, when faced with the beauty of their surroundings, they would all pause, and enjoy the sight together. They all appreciated and admired the same thing. There is no ruthless destruction. There is no raping of the earth as it were. There were just different priorities.

It was very touching to have this vision of the environmental discussion of the past, and to be able to see the changes and similarities with the discourse of the present day. This portrayal brought respect and humanity to both sides that often gets washed out in the us-vs.-them mentality that often arises. And aside from being useful, it was beautifully written.

09.01.08

I’m Back!

Posted in Admin, Book at 1:31 pm by justakim

Nothing like a 12 mile all-day hike to put you in the mood to sit down and not move for the rest of the weekend! We did Mount Defiance, finishing our trip in the dark due to missing a trail. 12 miles, 10 hours. And then I log in and see a lot of 50-year-olds bragging about doing it in 3 hours! We even ran into one coming down as we were heading up. Crazy!

Despite being relatively pitiful, I feel good.

I had a lot of stray thoughts while the site was down.

We were busily ignoring the Olympics when it suddenly dawned upon us… August 8th, 2008. That’s a very very lucky number. No wonder they tried so hard to claim this one.

Wall-e was an excellent environmentally-themed movie. Even those most distanced from the environment appreciate it and understand responsibility. I got to see the silly inspiration for Wall-e in Short Circuit too.

Kent State is using electric cars on campus. Using electric vehicles in short range places like that is a great idea.

A friend sent me a link to EcoGeek which looks interesting!

I read a few things.

Encounters with the Archdruid: John McPhee is an amazing journalist that takes David Brower out into the environment with three of his adversaries, bringing the environmental debate of the times into a very personal setting.

Stumbling on Happiness: What we think we want isn’t necessarily going to make us happy so we should look to see how it made others feel as our best estimate as to how it will affect us. The book is sprinkled with Adam Smith quotes.

Freakanomics: There’s a surprisingly fun number of ideas in there, basically based on going out and checking the data to see for yourself how people act.

07.31.08

Demand Begets Recreational Supply

Posted in Conservation, Fun and Games at 11:44 pm by justakim

Have you been to REI lately?

It is amazing how quickly markets for the outdoor enthusiast are being developed. I’m sure many of you can think back to the days of the frame pack and ye olde hiking stick. Nowadays the equipment available, of things you need and things you wouldn’t have known you needed until you saw it, might have the gloss and flair of the electronics aisles. Some say it’s good. Some say it’s bad. I say it’s fascinating.

The growth in the outdoor gear market has sparked a lot of competition in improving and inventing products. The more money there is in it, the more business can be supported, the more companies wish to enter, the more they compete with each other… the better the consumer is in the end. More products, higher quality products, and cheaper products. There have been some great improvements and inventions in the recent past that would not have come about and been made available if there were no incentive to do so.

I think back to my first tent and comparing it to my current one, it reminds me of the difference between steel and aluminum bikes. Or carbon fiber.

When did this non-stick cookware show up? Ever want a titanium spork? Wicking fabrics? Gore-tex?

Can you say “personal locator beacon”?

Two things that seem to be ubiquitous on the trails these days are hydration systems and trekking poles. I never thought I could drink so much water, but how can you say no when the straw is right on your shoulder? And who would have thought that no good hike is complete without taking a pair of sticks with you. My knees have never had it so good, and it’s hard to imagine going back.

I honestly believe that there are some places that would have been inaccessible to me without trekking poles. I hear economists think at the margin. Well, I am the margin.

To the extent that I have personally gained from the quantity and quality of gear that I have used, I gladly welcome my fellow consumers. I welcome the technical-gear geeks that are always pushing for the next thing.

And to an extent, the equipment can lower the playing field in cost of entry, and sometimes in accessibility. A hardcore person might appreciate but scoff at the difference a few pounds makes, but if you’re starting out, any help you can get means you can go a little further, see a little more, and possibly enjoy your experience just a bit more. And make the next trip out easier, until suddenly you have another enthusiast.

Popularity breeds popularity. It piques the interest of the curious, it encourages the timid, it provides a topic of commonality.

I know that some worry that there are just too many people out there, loving nature to death. But there is a big difference between those who appreciate something they know, and those who will not miss the passing of something they never knew was there.

To those who enjoy the gear, go for it; you and I will benefit from each others’ business. To those who can do without, you have gained more opportunities to exercise restraint.

07.02.08

Food Fiascoes

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Economic Development at 11:09 am by justakim

This little blurb from the Economist suggests that increasing organic farming will be detrimental to the poor because organic farming is more expensive, less productive, and uses more land. Combine that with sensationalist titles such as “Some 1.5 bln people may starve due to land erosion” and you have a disaster in the making, right?

That’s a very simplistic view of the situation.

One would think that by definition, intensive agricultural production would be more detrimental to the land than less-intensive practices. Perhaps you may have lower yield, or require more work to harvest, but in the long run it is better to preserve the land being used. Add to this the costs of seeds and rising cost of fertilizer (which is tied to the energy market, and monocultural practices that necessitate shipping food around while strangling local farmers, and one must wonder how the poor can afford to live with conventional industrial agriculture.

Distribution prices are going up. And who knows about distribution better than Wal-Mart? Over the last two years, Wal-Mart has been sourcing more produce locally. Not only are they in on the game, they’ve been anticipating it. The forward-thinking is brilliant and profitable.

Wal-Mart said that in the United States, produce travels an average 1,500 miles from farms to consumers’ homes, and it should be able to save millions of “food miles” — the distance food travels from farm to plate — through local sourcing, better packing of its trucks and improved logistics.

In an example, Wal-Mart said that by sourcing peaches in 18 states instead of just two, as it did before, it saves 672,000 food miles and 112,000 gallons of diesel fuel — or more than $1.4 million dollars in transportation costs per season.

Meanwhile, our available fish stocks are changing due to climate change and overfishing. Lobster, crab, and squid are increasing while bottom fish are decreasing. Bad news for some perhaps, but that just means more squid for me!

But Nils Stolpe, communications manager for the Garden State Seafood Association in New Jersey, argues that people’s seafood diets change for reasons apart from availability.

“The reason we’re getting more calamari is because we’re getting more sophisticated as seafood eaters,” he said.

“Ten, fifteen years ago nobody ate salmon, because we weren’t in tune with eating salmon. Now everyone’s growing it, and we’re a lot more familiar with it.”

…say what? All my Northwest brethren understand the inferiority of farmed Atlantic salmon. Where was this guy ten years ago, in a shack? Everyone growing salmon would indicate it has to do with availability. Whatever. It doesn’t matter to me if people eat squid because it’s the popular food, the price, or because they are inspired to diversity. Squid is good. Lobster is good. Crab is real good. Changes are not so good, but tasty.

Onto more bad food news… I picked up some ice cream. I accidentally picked up the wrong kind (cinnamon dulce de leche != chocolate) and in my disappointment, I was pondering the Haagen-Dazs lid and discover they are out to save the bees. They are donating funding to reserach into the mysterious disappearance of the bees.

In case you’ve missed their disapperaance,

Bustling colonies, tens of thousands strong, were emptying in a matter of days. Systematic searches for dead bees around the colonies mostly drew a blank… “Imagine waking one morning to find 80 per cent of the people in your community are just gone,” says May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

There is no shortage of potential culprits; European honeybees make up the vast majority of commercial stocks in the US and they are susceptible to myriad viral and fungal blights and two forms of parasitic mites, one of which wiped out about half of the American honeybee population in the 1980s. Yet, in this instance, the precise cause of the sudden decline, dubbed “colony collapse disorder”, remains elusive. The pattern of disappearance offers few clues, since CCD appears to be widespread and plagues non-migrating colonies as well as those that are moved from place to place to pollinate crops.

Diversity loss could be catching up to us as well. A larger diversity in pollinators leads to more successful pollination. Researchers found that diversity in time of day, and pollination height of pollnators leads to more effective pollination. Different pollinators come by at different times of day, and prefer a different height off the ground to pollinate, so they hit a certain band. Similar groups share similar body types. Some plants specialize and work with a specific pollinator and their success is linked with that one species. Others attract a diversity and benefit from diversity.

The aforementioned European honeybees have threatened many native bee species in the US, including (probably especially) kinds that don’t sting. Great choice, folks.

06.30.08

Internet Behavior

Posted in And Now for Something Completely Different, Behavior, Fun and Games at 12:16 pm by justakim

Some online gaming companies have come to realize that customer behavior impacts sales (language warning). This article discusses how the game can be engineered to discourage certain antisocial behaviors that run rampant in multiplayer games today.

I really like not only the acknowledgment that gamer culture (or lack thereof) is a turnoff for many, and that it would be economically worthwhile to do something about it.

You don’t have to let (social filter) hurt your multiplayer game’s popularity or sales. Social environments can be designed to minimize bad behavior. Social conflict is inevitable in online gaming — but it doesn’t have to be as frequent or severe as it is.

But if you don’t design the social environment, your game will probably end up feeling like most do right now — like the lawless territories of the Wild West.

Censorship added by me.

It seems to me that online gaming will inevitably become more-or-less civilized, like a vast portion of the rest of the internet has become over the years.

Cowboy Carpool?

Posted in Energy at 10:03 am by justakim

Marketplace talks with a Rodeo champion about the cost of gas. These guys, who travel thousands of miles a year, are being hit hard. They’ve swapped cars for something more efficient while ditching the camper, and being more picky about which shows they attend. “They” are four bullriders.

“So what we’ve got here is a cowboy carpool?”

Ahahaha

06.27.08

Kluge: The haphazard construction of the human mind by Gary Marcus

Posted in Behavior, Book at 11:54 am by justakim

It’s alright

I picked up this book expecting it to get somewhat technical about the mechanisms of the brain. However, it lacked the depth and substance I expected (in comparison to other recent popular science books). Parts of it relied upon summarizing very succinctly research findings (such as the chapter on chioce basedon Kahnaman’s work), and others seemed to lack many references at all as the author describes his theories without more than anecdotal evidence (the sort that he warns readers against).

It was nice in that it got me thinking about evolutionary effects on the brain and how different aspects might be (or appear to be) less than optimal, but the arguments were not as convincing as they could have been. Either there is more evidene from the field of psychology that the author did not bother to elaborate on and reference, or there isn’t much evidence to support his ideas at all.

It was worth reading, not so much buying.

06.24.08

Move or Die

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation at 6:36 pm by justakim

Endemic California plants will become climate change refugees. As the climate changes faster than the general pace of evolution, the plants unique to California will have to find new places to live, or risk extinction.

“In nearly every scenario we explored, biodiversity suffers — especially if the flora can’t disperse fast enough to keep pace with climate change,”

…an island called California. *sniff* (book ref.)

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