Zero to One-Eighty by Adrian Cooke 2016-12-28T23:04:10Z http://ztoe.net/feed/atom/ WordPress Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[Inheritance]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=4912 2016-12-27T07:44:59Z 2016-12-25T00:27:51Z Related posts: ]]> [Kurt Vonnegut - Breakfast of Champions]
From a photo of Elena’s 2011 trade paperback.

Imagine an excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions…

I am going to make a wild guess now: I think that the end of the Civil War in my country frustrated the white people in the North, who won it, in a way which has never been acknowledged before. Their decedents inherited that frustration, I think, without ever knowing what it was.

The victors in that war were cheated out of the most desirable spoils of that war, which were human slaves.

…in the voice of John Malkovich. Because that is who performs the audio book version on Audible.

Review: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[Who’s standing up to symbolic violence?]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=4676 2016-12-27T08:16:57Z 2015-06-05T18:06:28Z Related posts: ]]> Adam Goodes with Aboriginal flag as backdrop
Image: NITV.

“Provocative columnist” Andrew Bolt recently called Adam Goodes’ traditional war cry an act of “symbolic violence,” saying that the Sydney Swans player was sending an inflammatory message to the non-Indigenous members of the crowd. Goodes performed the dance after scoring during a game in the Australian Football League’s indigenous round last Saturday. But Bolt’s choice of terminology, about an event that took place during National Reconciliation Week, suggests that something quite different was going on.

Decades ago sociologist Pierre Bourdieu used the phrase symbolic violence to describe a type of social power used to control language and speech. This type of symbolic violence occurs when a dominant group in society uses cultural institutions (such as mass media) to decide what amounts to acceptable public speech, and to push certain kinds of ideas to the edges, especially critical thinking about the power relationships between different groups. By this definition, when Goodes asserted his Indigenous identity he was actually standing up to symbolic violence. He expressed himself in a way that doesn’t fit neatly within dominant narratives (e.g. that Australia is an Anglo-Celtic society into which other groups must assimilate).

The incentive to prevent acts such as Goodes’ is strong in post-colonial contexts where the settler society is vulnerable to having it’s legitimacy challenged by the Indigenous claim. For Bolt, Goodes “violated” the prohibition against thinking about and openly acknowledging cultural domination. Bolt is upset that Goodes broke the rule forbidding minorities, especially Aboriginal people, from referring to themselves as distinct from the dominant Anglo-Australian culture. Actually, he seems super upset to see an Indigenous man standing up to the cultural understanding of Australia as a white country. Commentator Waleed Aly says it better than me at around 1:00 in this video.

For many Indigenous people the meaning of Goodes’ action was an affirmation of their culture. It was an opportunity for Indigenous children to recognise one of their own people expressing identity in front of a large audience. It filled some with a sense of recognition and pride. Indigenous voices have, historically, been sidelined in public debates of this nature. Adam Goodes saw an opportunity to use his profile as a football player to move away from the sidelines. While there’s plenty of anger in the comments on various stories about Goodes right now, the IndigenousX Twitter account has been a wonderful source of Indigenous commentary on the matter.

As usual, Andrew Bolt has said his piece. For some other perspectives, give IndigenousX a try. They are a great and deadly mob.


Thanks, ABC

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[‘But I’m demilitarized!’]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=4636 2016-12-27T08:17:36Z 2015-04-18T16:53:46Z Related posts: ]]> [Fortress, cropped]
Cover image from Use of Weapons (Orbit paperback, 2008)

With apologies to those already in the know, I feel the need to express my conviction that Iain (M.) Banks was a genius, and is, by those of us nerds who followed his work, greatly missed.

Here’s an example of machine brio: artificial intelligence, very far in the future, sassing a human commander in a world scarcely crazier than the one we’re in now. This was first published in 1990:

“Can I cuddle up with you when you sleep?”

Sma stopped, detached the creature from her shoulder with one hand and stared it in the face. “What?”

“Just for chumminess’ sake,” the little thing said, yawning wide and blinking. “I’m not being rude; it’s a good bonding procedure.”

Sma was aware of Skaffen-Amtiskaw glowing red just behind her. She brought the yellow and brown device closer to her face. “Listen, Xenophobe—”

“Xeny.”

“Xeny. You are a million-ton starship. A Torturer class Rapid Offensive Unit. Even—”

“But I’m demilitarized!”

“Even without your principle armament, I bet you could waste planets if you wanted to—”

“Aw, come on; any silly GCU can do that!”

“So what’s all this shit for?” She shook the furry little remote drone, quite hard. Its teeth chattered.

“It’s for a laugh!” it cried. “Sma, don’t you appreciate a joke?”

“I don’t know. Do you appreciate being drop-kicked back to the accommodation area?”

“Ooh! What’s your problem, lady? Have you got something against small furry animals, or what?” Look Ms. Sma, I know very well I’m a ship, and I do everything I’m asked to do—including taking you to this frankly rather fuzzily specified destination—and do it very efficiently, too. If there was the slightest sniff of any real action, and I had to start acting like a warship, this construct in your hands would go lifeless and limp immediately, and I’d battle as ferociously and decisively as I’ve been trained to. Meanwhile, like my human colleagues, I amuse myself harmlessly. If you really hate my current appearance, all right; I’ll change it; I’ll be an ordinary drone, or just a disembodied voice, or talk to you through Skaffen-Amtiskaw here, or through your personal terminal. The last thing I want is to offend a guest.”

Sma pursed her lips. She patted the thing on its head and sighed. “Fair enough.”

“I can keep this shape?”

“By all means.”

“Oh goody!” It squirmed with pleasure, then opened its big eyes wide and looked hopefully at her. “Cuddle?”

“Cuddle.” Sma cuddled it, patted its back.

She turned to see Skaffen-Amtiskaw lying dramatically on its back in midair, its aura field flashing the lurid orange that was used to signal Sick Drone in Extreme Distress.

Excerpt from Use of Weapons (Orbit 2008, US edition, pp. 74–76). I got my copy from The Strand, where they have a good selection, but you can of course get it via The Book Marauder.

Though if you wait until next year you can probably get it on the Kindle Flex delivered by a Suburban class Rapid Consumption Unit drone to your iPhone’s current geographic location.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[Science, duty, and maybe love]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=4516 2016-12-28T23:04:10Z 2014-08-30T16:41:06Z Related posts: ]]> Marie Carmichael Stopes met Robert Falcon Scott at an Antarctic expedition fundraiser in 1904. She asked to go with him but he declined, and the Terra Nova Expedition took place without her. Instead she gave him a crash course in paleobotany. Stopes impressed on Scott the value of Glossopteris (fern) fossils in proving Eduard Suess’s theory of the supercontinents Gondwanaland and Pangea.

Scott’s party perished in March of 1912 from exposure and malnutrition. Once lionised by the British for his team’s heroic efforts, Scott’s leadership and culpability have come under scrutiny in recent years. Eight months after they died a search party discovered the frozen bodies of Scott and his two remaining compatriots, just 11 miles from the supply depot. In their tent was 30 pounds of rock containing Glossopteris fossils.

[Gondwana fossil map]
Continental distribution of Glossopteris in green. (Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

The artifacts provided strong empirical evidence for the theory of continental drift, establishing that the same fern species was once present in Antarctica—as well as South America, Africa, India, and Australia—because the land masses were at one time interconnected.

Elizabeth Truswell recounted the story of Stopes and Scott on the Australian radio program Ockham’s Razor in 2011. Sister program The Science Show today celebrates its 39th birthday, re-running Truswell’s tale, and leading us to wonder about the poignant mix of scientific curiosity and human devotion that, whatever the personal failings of its subjects, uncovered the astonishing truth of Gondwana for later generations.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[Intro to Bitcoin]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=4367 2016-12-27T08:21:00Z 2014-03-16T20:34:19Z Related posts: ]]> [coloured blocks]

The story of Bitcoin has a lot going for it: mysterious disappearing creator, libertarian ethos, elegant system design, treasure hunt, social unrest, hackers, technobabble, a recent crisis, and my favourite: a sense that despite all the punditry and hype the meaning of it all hangs just out of reach. So I’m making a list of some resources on Bitcoin, organized from the more accessible to the more technical, as a way of keeping track and in case it’s interesting to you as well.

Origins and mechanics

From the more factual and didactic:

  1. The Bitcoin phenomenon,” Late Night Live (audio: 28 minutes). Phillip Adams talks to economist Yanis Varoufakis and technologist Andreas Antonopoulos. Introduces some basic concepts such as the blockchain and compares Bitcoin to the gold standard. [2014-03-13]
  2. Heart of a Gambler,” The Talk Show (audio: 2 hours, 24 minutes). John Gruber talks to tech journalist Glenn Fleishman and they get into a rather long discussion; the main topic begins around 26:26. Fleishman provides an overview of Bitcoin mechanics and the back-and-forth with Gruber helps to flesh out concepts such as how transactions update the blockchain, what mining is, and how minting conflicts are resolved. [2014-03-07]
  3. How the Bitcoin protocol actually works,” by Michael Nielsen, is a description of Bitcoin’s structure that introduces components sequentially. Read this to understand what the elements of Bitcoin are as well as the problems they are intended to solve. Introduces proof-of-work systems and Bitcoin wallets. Discoveries: mining is the same thing as validating transactions; what Bitcoin transaction messages look like. [2013-12-06]
  4. Paul Bohm’s answer to the Quora question “Is the crypto currency Bitcoin a good idea?” discusses Bitcoin’s proof-of-work function as a solution to the Byzantine Generals’ Problem and assesses that it’s an efficient way to achieve consensus in a distributed system. Bohm concludes that if the value of decentralisation rises, so will the value of Bitcoin. [2011-06-07]
  5. Bitcoin: A peer-to-peer electronic cash system” (PDF), by Satoshi Nakamoto. The original Bitcoin paper which is surprisingly short. [2008]

Risks and possibilities

To the more opinionated and speculative:

  1. Bitcoin is as good as gold, and that’s bad,” by Wesleyan economics professor Richard Grossman. Grossman says that if the US had used a finite monetary standard like Bitcoin in 2009 the financial crisis would have been worse than the Great Depression. [2014-03-03]
  2. The Bitcoin boom” by Maria Bustillos looks at some of the motivations behind the creation of Bitcoin and takes a middle-of-the-road approach to the currency’s current status and future prospects. [2013-04-02]
  3. Registries need to price in Bitcoin,” by Mark Jeftovic, of Canadian company easyDNS. Jeftovic argues that domains should be priced using a non-national currency like Bitcoin instead of US dollars. (I’m an easyDNS customer, for what it’s worth.) [2013-05-27]
  4. How Bitcoin can turn the cloud inside out,” by Jon Evans who speculates that blockchains—though not necessarily Bitcoin—could change the architecture of the Internet for the better by decentralizing identification and resource distribution systems. [2014-03-22]
  5. The Bitcoin bubble and the future of currency” by Felix Salmon who views the currency’s design as fatally mistrustful: incentivising malware, tending towards deflation, and lacking safety mechanisms. Yet Salmon thinks we can use Bitcoin to diagnose problems with current financial institutions and explore more accountable alternatives. [2013-11-27]
  6. In the Critical Path episode “Fruit Fly Analysis” (audio: ~11:30–12:55) Horace Dediu mentions Bitcoin’s blockchain as a potential technological core around which the “jobs to be done” of banking could change, thereby disrupting the banking industry. [2014-12-18]

See also

Searching for the father of Bitcoin. An alternative genealogy. [2014-03-10]


† Working hypothesis: popularity of Bitcoin could create a system capable of challenging government control, and corporate domination, of the Internet.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[Restore ‘Show plain text alternative’]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=4332 2016-12-27T08:20:43Z 2013-12-24T07:32:03Z Related posts: ]]> Apple removed the ability to view plaintext alternatives in the latest version of Mail. This is silly.

Please use Mail > Provide Mail Feedback to ask the Mac OSX Team to restore “Show plain text alternative” as a menu item and via Command-Option-P in the Mavericks version of Mail.app.

[message to Apple]

I added it to a recent Apple Store survey for good measure.

[another message to Apple]

Update – Feb. 25: See also: Mail improvements in OS X 10.9.2 by Joe Kissell.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[The tragedy of Tohoku]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=4215 2016-12-27T08:23:49Z 2013-04-20T18:39:59Z Related posts: ]]> From the Ashes
From the Ashes by Jason Hill, March 29, 2011

The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck northern Honshu on March 11, 2011. Eighteen days later, the photo above was taken in Iwate Prefecture by Canadian-born photographer Jason Hill, who wrote:

It is very hard right now. There is debris everywhere. Bodies are still being found. Food and water is still hard to come by. Everyday we try our best to help in some way. We donate, we give. We encourage. We hope. If we are religious, we pray. We work hard now, so that at some point, this scene will emerge. Among the wreckage, the bodies, the chaos, a small flower will bloom and signify that spring is here.

Last month, two years on from the tragedy that plunged the region and the country into crisis, writer and teacher Roger Pulvers wrote a column for The Japan Times called “Tohoku has been truly rent asunder for untold generations yet to be born.” On today’s episode of The Science Show you can hear Pulvers reading a modified version of the piece. It starts around 24:47. This excerpt begins at 29:46:

I’ve recently met several people who’ve sent their small children, not only out of the region, but out of the country to ensure their safety. The comparisons with Chernobyl are not only on levels of radiation. The secrecy with the Japanese government and TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company that are owners and operators of the Fukushima plant, the secrecy over personal losses, damage to the environment, decontamination costs and harm to the health of maintenance workers at the plant, rivals the cover-up by the former Soviet government.

The people who made their livelihoods in the contaminated regions of Tohoku were abducted by both their government and an energy industry that deceived them into thinking that nuclear energy was 100% safe in a land plagued by earthquakes and tsunami. The very fact that the present government of Japan, under the leadership of Prime Minister Abe, is intent on reconstituting the nuclear power industry, is not only an insult to those victims of radioactive contamination in Fukushima Prefecture, but an attack of monumental proportions on all people living in Japan.

As in Taro, the town where the seawalls did not protect the people, it is the assumption of safety that leads to complacency. It was complacency and a false sense of security that lead to deaths in the town. And no amount of clichéd assurance will prevent the multitude of deaths that are likely to occur in the event of a nuclear accident in the future.

Is there any difference, I wonder, in this official deception and the one we have seen since the end of Word War II? In the nearly seven decades since the end of the war, half-hearted apologies have been made to the victims of Japan’s aggression. But as with war responsibility, so it is with the responsibility to come to terms with the oversights and crimes in Fukushima. The not-so-hidden agenda is: don’t ask, don’t tell, and wait it out until all the victims are dead.

Not all enemies of a country come from the outside. A nuclearized Japan is the greatest terror facing its people. If this terror persists, then the only flowers that will bloom, will be those on the graves of children living now, and in generations to come.

I stayed in Japan for a few months in 1997, and I have several close friends there. The worry about the fate of Tokyo was a creeping horror in those first days and weeks after the catastrophe when everyone was uncertain whether prevailing winds would shift and send radioactive gusts over one of the most heavily populated areas on the planet. But nowadays that anxiety is largely confined to memory, as against the ongoing devastation of survivors who will never be able to return to their homes.

In the same episode, not long before Pulvers’ essay (around 10:25 for those interested), nuclear engineer Richard Lester explains why he thinks it’s so unlikely that our energy needs can be met without nuclear power generation, while at the same time reducing carbon emissions to the extent required to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

I have heard many arguments on either side of the debate over nuclear power that was restored to prominence by the Fukushima disaster, and I’m still unable to form an opinion one way or the other. (A search for nuclear power and climate change provides ample reading.) Though proponents on either side talk with conviction in their voices I wonder how sure they are in their hearts, or whether it’s even possible to know. How can anyone weigh a nuclear disaster in one hand and runaway climate change in the other and come to a sane assessment?

Either way, there’s one thing that is clear: the only way of addressing this problem democratically is to radically increase government transparency surrounding the political economy of nuclear power, and I don’t know of a single government that is showing adequate leadership in this regard. So we should pressure our elected officials over that, if nothing else.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[‘Compromised molecular structure’]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=4154 2016-12-27T08:24:19Z 2013-02-17T20:31:19Z Related posts: ]]> [El Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina]
El Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina, by Lydia Wagner

Poignant Lydia.

The pictures from South America aren’t as good as my other work. I have two excuses: the camera had focus issues, and so did I. I was distracted and heartbroken. You could say the 60D’s problem was more mechanical but my stupid little brain is just another compromised molecular structure, isn’t it?

Read the post, and check out the pictures:

  1. Buenos Aires, Argentina
  2. Ushuaia, Argentina
  3. Estancia Harberton, Argentina
  4. Tierra del Fuego National Park, Argentina
  5. El Calafate, Argentina
  6. El Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
  7. Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires
  8. Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
  9. Iguazu Falls, Argentina
  10. Santiago, Chile
  11. Cerro San Cristobal, Chile
  12. Valparaíso, Chile

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[Way of the future]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=4127 2016-12-27T08:24:45Z 2012-12-04T02:20:32Z Related posts: ]]> [North Main St in fog]
N. Main St., 7 a.m. Nobody is planning to put a Starbucks here.

Regarding Centerplan’s proposal to Wesleyan for a new bookstore on Washington Street:

Major retail stores or restaurants at this location would make traffic worse throughout much of the North End, not just at the proposed site. Because this section of road is so congested, the addition would probably increase traffic cutting through the North End via Prospect, Spring, High and Grand. The volume of traffic that does this to avoid the Washington-Main intersection is already very high. Adding another blockage on Washington will make it worse. Cars not stopping at stop signs, and driving too fast on these streets, is already a problem, and our neighborhood has a lot of children, students and other pedestrians.

As for national chains, it doesn’t really matter what they are, the reason they want to be there is because the road is busy and the rent is cheaper, otherwise they’d be headed to Main Street. It’s a car-centric business opportunity and that’s not necessarily in the best interests of Wesleyan or Middletown.

Regarding the Wesleyan Bookstore itself, I’m with Ed and Karen.

You can’t fight progress, but at least you can blog about it.

Update (Dec. 2016): This story had a surprisingly good outcome.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[Regarding the sound of falling leaves]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=4119 2016-12-27T08:25:23Z 2012-11-18T20:47:52Z Related posts: ]]> [yellow maples]
Woods near the Coginchaug

You have to listen for it each year, but if you’re lucky, during fall in New England, there comes a brief time when you can hear the sound of leaves drifting from the trees and hitting the ground cover below. It’s a rustling sound, but not as dry as you might imagine. The bright shapes still have some suppleness to them as they reach the floor.

This morning I saw maples, yellow in the oblique morning light, quietly releasing their cargo, making for a soft pattering that could be heard in the longer moments between passing cars on the nearby bridge. If I could record this sound for you it would no doubt be inaudible, or insensible, like trying to capture a subtle sunset with a mediocre camera.

Snow has a sound, it’s true, but the tone of leaves falling in autumn is somehow more surprising.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[Straight to the pool room]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=4100 2016-12-27T08:25:37Z 2012-07-20T23:19:15Z Related posts: ]]> beneath_clouds.jpg
Vaughn and Lena in Beneath Clouds (2002)

The best Aussie films list is about to turn 6. I’ve updated it to include a total of 68 titles, and another 58 contenders. That’s 68 recommended films since 1991 so far—over three good Australian movies every year. And that doesn’t include the ones I haven’t reviewed for the list yet.

This is easily the most popular thing I’ve written, and probably counts for about 80% of the traffic to my site in the past year (the page gets roughly 2,600 hits a month). Since so many people are interested in Australian movies, many of whom had left comments and suggestions, the least that I could do is sit on my couch and watch some flicks.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. I also combed through the comments, adding suggestions that people had made over many months (and explained why I had to reject a few of them). You may not like them all, but I think they are all worth your time. That’s the main thing I consider when deciding whether to move one from Contenders to the list proper: is this film worth 90–120 minutes of someone’s time? If the answer is yes, then up they go.

Check out the best Australian films since 1991 when you have a moment, and enjoy!

† The top countries visiting this site are, in order: USA, Australia, UK, Canada, India, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, France, Sweden, Philippines, Spain, Denmark, Brazil, Japan, Malaysia and Belgium.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[Understatement]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=4021 2016-12-27T08:26:47Z 2011-09-17T23:03:04Z Related posts: ]]> [Haitians protest against MINUSTAH]
Footage by Ansel Herz, Mediahacker. Watch it →

On September 14 the BBC reported on the protest by Haitans against MINUSTAH (the U.N. mission) in Port-au-Prince, saying:

The UN peacekeeping force was first deployed in Haiti in 2004 to restore order following the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Its mandate was extended after the devastating earthquake in January 2010, and its strength was increased to around 12,000.

Minustah has helped post-earthquake recovery efforts and supervised this year’s presidential election.

But it has also drawn controversy, including allegations of excessive use of force.

Some Haitians regard it as an occupying force.

No kidding. U.N. troops brought a cholera epidemic to Haiti, and recently it came to light that several of them gang-raped an 18 year old Haitian man in July. And that’s lately. This force has been installed in Haiti since 2004.

[clouds of tear gas and burning tyres]
Police fired tear gas canisters, someone lit tyres. Footage by Ansel Herz.

Good that the BBC covered this story at all, but if you really want to know what’s going on with the U.N. in Haiti check out Ansel Herz’s Mediahacker or follow him on Twitter.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[Hyperventilating]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=4012 2016-12-27T08:27:59Z 2011-09-17T19:05:19Z Related posts: ]]> Just the facts, ma’am
[Haringey arrest stats]
6,807 innocent people arrested in three months

Tottenham is in the London borough of Haringey:

From April 2011 – June 2011, 6,894 people were stopped by the police in Haringey. 6,807 were innocent. Black people were 26 times more likely to be stopped than white people nationally, but no more likely to be guilty of a crime.

Then on Friday, August 5, 2011 the police shot and killed Mark Duggan, and said that he fired a gun at them when he didn’t. Duggan was a father of three, who had hoped to marry his partner Semone Wilson and move out of Tottenham with his family.

[Mark Duggan]
Mark Duggan

Not long after some residents started burning vehicles and buildings, and other residents allege that the police allowed this to happen without intervening. People’s homes were destroyed.

[Tottenham burns]
Tottenham burns. Watch it →

Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the British Parliament on August 11 saying:

It is simply preposterous for anyone to suggest that people looting in Tottenham at the weekend, still less three days later Salford, were in any way doing so because of the death of Mark Duggan.

But facts need to be joined together

The following week, Paul Gilroy talked about how dealing with these problems involves understanding the “interconnecting parts:”

When I talk about the poverty of the imagination, I mean that we are thinking like people who approach these things through the lens of a privatized world. We only think of these things as individuals, and we don’t see them as connected. The last week has been an amazing class, a primer, to give us the opportunity to understand how these things function today.

Here’s more.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[Who are you wearing?]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=3975 2016-12-27T08:27:13Z 2011-03-26T19:06:15Z Related posts: ]]> [Hameem factory fire]
Hameem garment factory burns (Photo credit: Reuters/Andrew Biraj)

Yesterday marked the one hundredth anniversary of the garment factory fire in New York City that killed 146 workers, the majority of whom were women. Democracy Now! devoted the whole March 25th episode to this story. They played an excerpt of Amy Goodman’s interview from 1986 (the 75th anniversary) with the fire’s last survivor. The workers who died had been active in the labour movement in the lead-up to the tragedy. The deceased were largely blamed for their own deaths in the ensuing court case. Their compensation for working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was roughly $3 per hour, in today’s money.

On December 14th last year a Bangladesh factory at Hameem caught fire, killing twenty-nine workers and injuring over one hundred. The rate of pay there is $0.28 per hour. Labels that produce clothes at this plant include Gap, Phillips-Van Heusen, JCPenney, Abercrombie & Fitch and Target.

Something to think about.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[Static FBML no more]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=3966 2016-12-27T08:27:24Z 2011-03-26T17:58:22Z Related posts: ]]> [Facebook page tabs]
“Tabs” on the Wesleyan Facebook page

From the Facebook Developer blog last week:

Starting Friday, March 18th, you will no longer be able to create new FBML apps and Pages will no longer be able to add the Static FBML app. While all existing apps on Pages using FBML or the Static FBML app will continue to work, we strongly recommend that these apps transition to iframes as soon as possible. Lastly, we want to be clear that our deprecation of FBML does not impact XFBML, such as the tags that support social plugins.

One’s instructions have been stale since Pages were updated in February with design changes and a new admin identity model. So it goes.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[A so-called emptiness]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=3948 2016-12-27T08:28:45Z 2011-03-02T23:00:11Z Related posts: ]]> [stones at Jolly’s Lookout, overlooking the D’Aguilar Range]
Enhance it!

Writer Jennifer Mills was recently interviewed by Anita Barraud about her new book Gone (2011, University of Queensland Press) about a hitchhiker making his way through the outback on a journey of thousands of miles. One of her answers is a nearly perfect statement of how Australian settler culture projects its own anxieties onto the landscape:

Anita Barraud: “Some of us are meant for the desert,” says one of Frank’s rides, a tough woman with dyed black hair. Do you think that holds true?

Jennifer Mills: I don’t know. I think you do get a sense that places call you. And I’ve been in Alice [Springs] for five years now and I sort of… I feel like that’s maybe a little bit of a myth that people hold on to, that they’ve been called, or that they have some reason to be there, because when it comes down to it, it’s just rocks and dirt, really.

AB: Ah, so you’re a bit more pragmatic about it?

JM: Well, I don’t know. I’m kind of…

AB: Because part of it—the story here—there is quite a lot of discussion, and mainly from women, I think too, interestingly, that the rides he gets some of the women—“Out here, you change your mind about a lot of things,” says one woman that picks him up.

JM: I think the desert is transformative, and I don’t think that’s because of anything the desert’s doing. I think it’s because of what the desert represents to us, and what human culture says about the desert. And we have a very precarious and contested relationship with the Outback in Australia. It’s very large in the national pysche. We’re a very urbanised population and at the same time and yet we constantly refer to this great so-called emptiness at the heart of the country, which was never empty and isn’t really our heart. And so I think there’s an element in the book of trying to interrogate that kind of mentality in our culture, and I don’t think I have any answers for… what the truth of it is. A lot of questions, all bunched together.

The book goes on sale in Australia on Monday. See also…

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[Genie is a superhero]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=3927 2016-12-27T08:29:23Z 2011-02-18T00:12:32Z Related posts: ]]> [illustrated Super Genie]
Super Genie, by the irrepressible Chris Piascik

It will probably come as a revelation that Genie is a superhero. You wouldn’t have known this because she usually works incognito. But the media being what it is, that was never going to last. It started about two weeks ago. What can I say. The talented Misters Piascik and Cohen are filling a need in the market. Pets are Superheroes. The only question is, when will you ask them to unleash yours? Let’s not forget that there is a world to save, people.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[A parable for Homo Sapiens]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=3912 2016-12-27T08:29:52Z 2011-02-10T00:37:33Z Related posts: ]]> [Statue of Liberty at sunset]
Enhance it!

I’ve linked to Stuart McMillen’s work before, but I really enjoyed his new story about what happened to the reindeer on St. Matthew Island. Sincere, clear and to the point. See also Turbines.

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[‘Doing the whites’ in kWh]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=3462 2016-12-27T08:30:43Z 2010-12-27T06:06:58Z Related posts: ]]> [Danger: High Voltage]
Metal signage near my house

Analysis of survey data in a study published this year shows that most people underestimate energy usage differences between household appliances, modes of transportation and recycling materials. The researchers speculate that the 100 watt light bulb example serves as an anchor point for thinking about energy usage, and that people make insufficient adjustments from this baseline when estimating the energy consumed by other things.

Our estimates don’t scale

This graph from the paper summarizes the household appliance findings, which is where they focus the majority of their attention in the discussion:

[Google PowerMeter screenshot]
Perceived vs. actual energy used and saved by devices and alternatives.

A few of these surprised me. Adjusting a washing machine’s setting (presumably to use only cold water?) can save about the same amount of energy than it takes to run a central air conditioner, which in turn uses about the same amount of energy as a clothes dryer (measured in watt hours). Laptops consume significantly less energy than desktops. A space heater and a room air conditioner use about the same amount of energy, but a dishwasher uses a lot more. Note that the scale is logarithmic, increasing by a factor of ten with each tick.

Lack of incentive

All this got me thinking about what would motivate people to understand appliance power differences better, and adjust their appliance usage or purchasing behaviour accordingly. If you’re interested, like I was, to know more about the energy consumption of household appliances, Michael Bluejay’s site (I keep reading this as “Michael Bluth”) is a great place to start as he provides a good overview as well as a lot of up-to-date links to more specific information. But all this requires a fair bit of effort and just knowing that you may have your estimates wrong is scant incentive to learn how much it’s costing you to run the dishwasher several times a week, or to wash in warm water.

The authors of the paper say that, when asked how they could use less energy, survey respondents are more likely to think of curtailment behaviours (merely cutting back) rather than switching to more energy efficient devices, probably because the latter requires spending money now. It wasn’t clear to me at first why curtailment is considered much less effective than what amounts to buying more stuff, especially at a time when people are lucky just to have a job. One of the researchers explains elsewhere that curtailment is a problem of declining incentive over time: remembering to repeat the cutback activities versus buying appliances that are able to do the cutting back for you.

Rebound effect?

What about the “rebound effect?” I have read or listened to criticisms of efficiency recommendations that claim that if consumers adopt technologies that use less energy they will use those technologies more. As if on cue, one of the items that caught my eye on Bluejay’s site was mentioned in a comparison table: the very small energy consumption of LED night lights (0.5 W) compared with regular ones (5W). Thinking of the incandescent night light we use I checked out LED alternatives on Amazon, and the top reviewer for this popular product liked them so much he got one for every room.

Seems apt. But the reviewer didn’t mention that efficiency was important to him (though other reviewers do). One can think of reasons why this might have nothing to do with a “rebound.” Maybe he was looking for a light for every room and just liked these ones. Or maybe he chose energy-efficient LEDs because he wanted to use so many, rather than the other way around.

So is this effect real? Maybe, but it might not be big enough to worry about. According to Climate Progress, for example, evidence-based answers to this question are hard to find because of the many confounding factors in accounting for rebound behaviour. The aforelinked post describes an analysis of driver behavior in the US over the period 1966–2001, where better fuel economy was correlated with a modest increase in driving. But significantly, the authors report that the magnitude of the effect declines over time, and also with income level. It doesn’t take much to imagine that with the current economy being what it is, another oil price spike like 2008’s will suppress any rebound effect related to driving that compact car you got out of Cash for Clunkers.

Measure it

Since the paper about how people estimate their energy consumption was framed as a problem of individual choices in daily life it makes sense to look at what would motivate people—not just assist them but actually drive them—to make better choices, possibly (or probably) by educating themselves as a means of saving money (i.e. where saving energy is not the focus). In the case of home appliances, if you are “merely” motivated to save energy then measuring your usage is a way to test what works and know for sure if you are using less power/saving money overall (despite whether some of your usage behaviours rebound a little).

By way of anecdote, my Dad’s car estimates for him what his range is based on his driving behaviour. Not only does he like this, he treats it as a game to see how far he can drive on a tank. The numbers go up and down in real time, and it’s easy to associate this feedback with efforts at control such as maintaining a constant speed, lower revs, and fewer hard stops. There is maybe a five second lag after a throttle change and the dashboard displays an updated number. Gasoline prices in Australia are not as high as those in Europe, but they are significantly above the US, and could be seen as glimpse at our future here.

I just read a fascinating article in Home Energy Magazine from 1993 on Bob Hubbard’s new-at-the-time, off-the-grid, PV-powered house in Arizona. At the time that he built this house, Hubbard worked in the solar energy industry, so he had a comprehensive understanding of how to build efficiency in, and designed the building to use about a tenth of the energy consumed by a typical American home: about 855 kWh compared to the regional average of 9,300 kWh. (It’s big too, at 2,600 ft2.)

What became clear as I read the story was just how important it was that Hubbard was able to measure the effect of each of his appliances and systems, both at the planning stages and after he moved in: from assessing the baseload of the house when nothing was being actively used, to knowing which time of day was best to use power tools, and even to determining that the gas oven had a hidden power cost while it was running that was not covered in the manufacturer’s specifications.

Software can help

All of this was possible because of the continuous monitoring and feedback of energy usage that Hubbard designed into his house. At the time it was built the entire residence was completely off-grid, and generated much more electricity than the two occupants used. The article suggests that if the house had instead been connected to the electricity grid his monthly bill from the utility company would have been about $7. Almost twenty years later, this is exactly the area where software could make a mark and help the general public to reduce their living costs.

Here’s an example of how real-time feedback makes a difference based on the writer’s experience with a “moment-of-use” monitor (in this case a PowerCost device):

A few minutes after one of my children started showering, the display unit jumped from its 3–400 watt idle value to over 1.5 kilowatts. […] I realized that was from the hot water heater turning on. When I hear the AC relay flip and the house begins to cool off, I watch the display unit jump to over 3kw. I found this type of monitor to be an effective way to begin understanding the systems in my home and how different behaviors affect how much energy we use.

This is a great example of the immediate usefulness of being able to receive feedback about your energy consumption, though it probably falls into the same camp as curtailment behaviours in that it takes a bout of motivation on behalf of the individual and is not easily sustainable even if you are a geek about it. The most well-known moment-of-use device is the Kill-A-Watt, which is affordable and easy to use, but only allows you to test devices that plug in to a wall socket. Even with the PowerCost which attaches at the breaker box, there is no data logging, so you have to be paying attention to the device to get any useful information out of it.

The web makes it awesome

It’s in web-based monitoring that the real leap forward lies:

[Graph of perceived vs actual energy for household appliances]
Electric utility partnership with Google PowerMeter

Currently this is available almost nowhere. Obviously (well, it seems obvious to me, but I could be wrong) this is awesome, but it won’t take off until it’s something you can order through your utility company, and ideally would allow integration of different energy sources (e.g. electricity, natural gas, user-uploaded data on wood, pellets, propane, etc.). However, the good news is that if you are super motivated you can get started on this right now by purchasing a compatible device, or—if you have mad phreaking skillz—by making your own using open source hardware and software.

Google PowerMeter is a Google.org project, and doesn’t cost anything. (I’m not saying that there is therefore “no cost.” There are privacy implications, though from what I have read the status of this product means that Google is not intending to try to make money out of it, directly at least.) What it does do is makes it trivial to include energy monitoring in your life the same way that you check your bank balance online. And it allows you to represent the data in different ways and compare your usage history with data from the general population.

I suppose this is what people who use the term “smart grid” are talking about, or maybe the idea of combining something like this with appliance-level communication within the home, which—provided it can all be done without using too much power—would make it much easier than it currently is to (a) have a clue, and (b) care about how much energy you consume, in the home and beyond.

Update: a promising development.

† This was in 1993. As of March, 2010 the national average is a rather shocking 11,040 kWh (with regional averages ranging from 6,252 kWh in Maine to 15,624 kWh in Tennessee).

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Adrian Cooke http://ztoe.net/ <![CDATA[Please help Haiti now]]> http://ztoe.net/?p=3434 2016-12-27T08:34:37Z 2010-11-25T16:50:32Z No related posts. ]]> [British and Haitian Red Cross volunteers at La Piste camp]
Photo: British Red Cross in Haiti

More than 1,400 Haitians have died from cholera in the past five weeks, and additional medical help is urgently needed:

The real death toll may be closer to 2,000, U.N. officials say. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians are likely to catch the disease, they say, and the epidemic could last a year, complicating an arduous recovery from the January 12 earthquake.

It can be hard to determine the best way to help. I’ve done a little digging and found that GiveWell’s charity rating system is thoroughly researched so it can provide you with a good handle on which charities to support and how to make your dollar stretch as far as possible.

GiveWell lists Partners in Health and Doctors Without Borders as charities with distinctions for their work globally, and they recommend Partners in Health specifically for their work in Haiti.

Please remember Haiti now, and help if you can.

PS: This Sunday is the Haitian general election.

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