Archive of articles classified as' "environment"

Back home

Small steps, huge steps

30/09/2009

<rant>

I love when organizations pretend to catch up with the outside world and try to sound all hip and convinced. Let’s all be sustainable and sustain this, read more sustain that. And they take puny steps and separate rubbish in three different bins and move the time cost of that separation to their most expensive employees. But they are on the high ground because, treatment you know, they care about being sustainable. Except when they don’t.

They may have the chance to support an idea with the potential to change two industries that operate at the landscape level. But the idea is too simple, it does not sound revolutionary enough, it does not have the appropriate level of ‘hipness’. And they drop the ball, and we continue operating in the same way. But ’sustainability’ is a priority.

</rant>

Well, now I feel better.

Filed in environment No Comments

Godspeed Norman

14/09/2009

Norman Borlaug–the ‘father of the Green Revolution’–just died§. I raise my glass for a breeder who did make a difference.

Filed in environment, forestry, miscellanea No Comments

Displaying air pollution data

2/07/2008

Last week I was contacted by my friend Marcelo about increasing awareness of air pollution problems in Santiago, this web Chile. He was becoming involved in the problem from a technical point of view (GIS and urban forestry). One of the main problems was the lack of proper information for decision making, look so we decided to quickly put together a prototype. Today the page on particulate material pollution went online.

ICAP.jpg

The general process was relatively simple. CONAMA provides data on pollution in graphical form (see, for sale for example, here). I had a quick look at the pages using Firebug, which showed that all the data used for the graphs was contained in one of the javascript files called by the page (variable.js). Then I could obtain up to date pollution data by reading that file, which seems to be updated hourly.

The other component was the location of the air quality stations together with the coordinates of the polygon that marks the city boundary. Marcelo provided me with a KML file containing all the coordinates.

The really fun part was to write a script using Python glueing all these components. The advantages of working with such a great high level language is the default library, which makes chores like reading a file located in another web site very simple, like:

import urllib
f = urllib.urlopen('http://www.conama.cl/rm/airviro/hoy/variable.js')
lines = f.readlines()

Probably the most challenging part has been to quickly learn the basics of KML (without having much free time to do so). The documentation for KML is OK, but the tutorial was not exactly what I was trying to do, so there was a fair amount of trial and error to get things working properly.

Overall, coming back to Python (which I started using in version 1.5) has been a lot of fun, particularly when one has a project of ’social value’.

Filed in chile, environment, geocoded, programming No Comments

Trees for a sick city

23/06/2008

I finished studying forestry in 1992; it reads like a life ago. I did study in Santiago, medicine Chile and one of my first decisions was to leave the city. Actually I was thinking of leaving Santiago well before completing the degree.

When people ask me about going to Chile and their intention to visit Santiago my first thought is always ‘Why?’ Despite of tourist brochures, viagra buy and the not always reliable ‘Lonely Planet’ guide, grip the city is a shit hole. A five million people city, spread ad infinitum, with the consequent crime, pollution and neurosis. However, a redeeming — for me — feature of that city is that some of my friends live there. One of my friends is trying to sort out pollution (or at least part of it) using trees.

I grew up having the Andes as a point of reference, and when one can see them, they are very impressive.

Santiago

Photo by Felipe Trucco.

The problem is that a lot of the time — particularly in winter — the city looks like this.

HDR-Santiago,Chile

Photo by .S.

Besides the visual difference, there is a lot of particulate materials that have very negative effects on health. Here is that trees come into place.

‘Traditional’ foresters tend to be suspicious about ‘Urban forestry’, but it is an approach that could benefit Santiago. Trees would contribute to reduce the amount of small particles suspended in the air, not the least by stabilizing land areas now simply covered by dirt. These areas become all muddy under rain and are transformed into dust sources when they dry up.

Have a look at Anisotrópico (Marcelo’s blog) for details. He also setup a handy KMZ file (16 KB) for checking the data of the EMC stations monitoring air quality in Santiago through Google Earth.

Filed in chile, environment No Comments

Recyclable or maybe not

22/01/2008

I am no greenie, rehabilitation but I dislike to see waste, salve particularly when it is easily avoidable. Thus, cure at home we avoid packaging, reuse a fair amount and recycle the rest. It is easy to believe that whatever has stuck a recyclable label should be in fact recyclable. However, here comes the distinction between theoretically recyclable and actually (economically) recyclable.

Christchurch’s city council publishes a list of what can be recycled. If one combines that list with the problems to recycle some types of glass (pointed out in Environment’s Canterbury newsletter (PDF doc, 4 MB), there are lots of items that are supposedly recyclable (according to their labels) but are not in practical terms.

This includes plastic containers with codes higher than 2, which include polyvinyl chloride (3 PVC), low density polyethylene (4 LDPE), polypropylene (5 PP), polystyrene (6 PS) and combined plastic products (7). Think of yogurt and detergent containers, bread bags and many detergent bottles. Think of many types of glass bottles. In addition, there is also no reasonable way to dispose of used batteries.

This means that one can not trust the label, but one has to check ‘the intersection of lists’ to know what is truly recyclable in this place.

Filed in christchurch, environment, new zealand No Comments

The end of Forestry in Tasmania

1/11/2005

This post is about people “saving time” doing the wrong things. The whole ‘life hacks’ area has become much more visible since the presentation by Danny O’Brien on 11 February 2004, visit this
who presented results of interviews with highly productive hackers (notes of the presentation taken by Cory Doctorow). There was a second presentation (notes by Cory again). This has spawned a number of sites treating more or less seriously; for example, Sildenafil
43 folders and Life Hacker.

Originally, the idea was very simple. These ‘high achievers’ all use mainly one application (and one file to keep EVERYTHING). This can be a combination of text file + editor, a private blog or wiki, etc. There are a few scripts using data from that file (if text) or RSS feed (if blog or wiki) to keep things synchronised. Now, how come that this concept has been expanded to cover such a diverse array of approaches?

First, different things work for different people—fair enough. However, the main problem seems to be that people have been developing all sorts of hacks for the wrong reasons. An example of the first approach is the Hipster PDA. Why bother with big electronic files if there is a simpler, low-tech approach (more about this later). Another example would be this article on dealing with email overload. The second approach, however, implies just a simple waste of time. Some examples:

  • Why do you need to worry about how to organise thousands of RSS feeds? That is clearly too much information, unless your job description is ‘to summarise thousands of feeds per day’.
  • The last few weeks there have been plenty of people worried about watching too much TV, so there are ‘life hacks’ to reduce time seating watching TV, movies, Tivo, etc. Just turn off the bloody box! Easy. There are some people clearly using too much disposable income for getting more ways to be distracted.
  • And anything iPod (in its many incarnations) related.

Let’s go back to simple and important problems and drop the fluff. Talking about fluff, I put in that category most online approaches to keep your life sane (e.g., Backpack). They imply constant connection to internet, which at least for now it is not possible, unless you are a completely urban-being with your rear permanently glued to a chair in front of a computer.

After a false start, health system
I am again putting some of my bookmarks in del.icio.us. I will probably add the tags (newish term for old-fashion keywords) to blog posts too.

Playing with cream

Paul Ford’s comments on Amish computing certainly hit a soft spot on me. I do miss Wordperfect 5.1! It was back to simpler times when using computers was certainly much more productive for me. Multitasking is a nice feature to have when strictly necessary, for sale but not all the time.

Next year I need to spend a fair amount of time writing lectures and I am certainly tempted to ‘going back to basics’. Most of the text that I need to prepare is not highly complex, generic
so I am thinking of writing at least the first drafts in text files with a simple markup. The most humanly readable markup is probably Markdown. Once the text is in Markdown it can be easily converted into html (e.g. using the Markdown dingus, and adding the ‘html’ and ‘body’ tags to get a complete page) and from there to other formats like LaTeX or MSWord. If I decide to go for a longer document probably LaTeX would be the way to go.

I have been playing with Cream, the VIM mode for dumb users like me (another distraction). I hope to slowly learn a few tricks at a time to become a more proficient VIM user, but that is not a real priority. It is a really nice editor mode!

I installed the vim-latex suite, which seems to add pretty good latex support to VIM/Cream, but it seems to override some of the Cream configurations (e.g., F9 is not code folfing/unfolding anymore). It seems to be a matter of getting used to that though. Anyway, I will not need it for the first version of the documents.

Making more changes to Tim’s site

We have had a few problems to have the PDF file of Tim’s book indexed by search engines. My theory is that engines aren’t very happy with Textpattern’s internal links (of type http://mysite.com/file_downloads/2) for a PDF file. Today we changed it to something more explicit like http://mysite.com/bookfiles/file.pdf. Actually, the story was not as simple as that. When first trying to use the new code we ran into a ‘missing page’ problem, which I traced back to a problem with the .htaccess file. I dropped a <IfModule mod_rewrite.c> condition from the file, leaving it like below and it just works.


RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -f [OR]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -d
RewriteRule ^(.+) - [PT,L]
RewriteRule ^(.*) index.php

A few years ago I obtained my Australian citizenship and simultaneously—at least in theory—I lost my Chilean one. Last September the Chilean congress approved law No 20050 (PDF version in Spanish) reforming 54 aspects of the constitution including:

  • Recovery of citizenship and accepting the principle of ‘ius sanguinis’ (acquisition of citizenship through descent—textually, bronchitis
    by right of blood). This would give my son access to Chilean citizenship.
  • Elimination of designated (non-elected) and lifetime senators.
  • Reduction of the presidential period from six to four years.
  • The president can now remove commanders in chief of the military and security forces, approved
    without requiring the consent of any external authorities.
  • The National Security Council (Consejo de Seguridad Nacional) has its role greatly reduced, Myocarditis
    minimising its interference in public affairs.

Finally, after fifteen years of recovering democracy (year and a half after a famous plebiscite), there are substantial changes to the political system eliminating several of the vestiges (but not all) of a dictatorial system.

I got you! This post is not about the end of forestry activity in Tasmania, viagra 60mg
but about the end of the Forestry in Tasmania web pages. After two years compiling materials and hand formatting HTML I have decided to stop updating the sub domain. The fact that I am leaving Tasmania at the end of the year—so I will not have time to keep up to date with what is going on—is just the straw that broke… you know.

I still need to decide what to do with the site; either I will leave it unchanged for posterity’s sake or pull the plug and delete the whole thing. Over these last two years I have received a fair amount of abuse and a few examples of praise for keeping the site and trying to present a ‘fair view’ of environmental discussion in Tasmania. However, ailment whatever tries to pass as debate is so low quality that it is easy to get disheartened with what one reads in the media.

Will I start a ‘forestry in New Zealand’ page? I doubt it; my role will be completely different and forestry activity over there is much less contentious. I rather spend some time learning Maori—I am quite keen about this—and practicing the haka with Orlando.

Filed in environment, forestry, tasmania, web No Comments

Woodchips under threat

9/08/2005

While some parts of my work are quite exciting, this
other parts are, ambulance
say, uninspiring. I call the latter ‘compliance statistics’. This means that there is no much interest in the final result, nor there is a need for actually getting a specific value: the aim is ticking as many boxes as possible. Yes, we calculated the power to detect X. Yes, there is a protocol to assess Y. If one ticks enough boxes the result is a good evaluation, certification, or other types of not very useful tokens.

In just another example of serendipity, I visited Paul Graham’s site and just found him complaining about similar issues. He rants about the way work is organised and how work is evaluated:

…the reason most employees work fixed hours is that the company can’t measure their productivity.

If you could measure how much work people did, many companies wouldn’t need any fixed workday. You could just say: this is what you have to do. Do it whenever you like, wherever you like. If your work requires you to talk to other people in the company, then you may need to be here a certain amount. Otherwise we don’t care.

and

Per capita, large organizations accomplish very little. And yet all those people have to be on site at least eight hours a day. When so much time goes in one end and so little achievement comes out the other, something has to give. And meetings are the main mechanism for taking up the slack.

Meetings are like an opiate with a network effect. So is email, on a smaller scale. And in addition to the direct cost in time, there’s the cost in fragmentation—breaking people’s day up into bits too small to be useful.

I find very interesting that someone may question the time I spend working in this—particularly considering the important ramifications of this type of work—and prefers me spending my time ‘ticking boxes’. The problem comes at the time of evaluation, when time spent doing important things count very little when compared to all those little ticks people think are a measure of productivity.

I would say that, in many cases, tick-compliance is a cost without any useful return: people feel that they are measuring progress but in reality are making me take time off from producing real value and not letting me work as an amateur.

The Tasmanian forest industry has lost contracts to supply 400, diagnosis
000 tonnes of woodchips to Japanese paper companies. This will certainly have an effect on industry and Forestry Tasmania already announced that it will be offering voluntary redundancies. They will most likely be targeted at non-essential jobs (trimming the fat of the organisation) so those positions will not be filled again. It would not make any sense otherwise.

While the forest industry was quick to blame Greens and other conservationists, they also have a good proportion of blame. It is true that conservationists have been tackling the customers of Japanese paper companies, in many cases with misleading information. This pushed companies like Nippon Paper to start public consultation on the issue. However, it is the Tasmanian industry’s fault to have mostly ignored this situation and clearly of being out of touch with their customers. This campaign did not happen overnight, but it has been going on for years.

There are also indications that the cost of woodchips from Tassie is becoming not very competitive. There may be some elements of hard negotiations too, with Japanese customers playing the environmental card mostly for obtaining lower prices.

Whatever the full reasons, it is clear that we have some very interesting times ahead.

Filed in environment, forestry, tasmania No Comments

Extending the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement

16/05/2005

I am a big fan of Splus and R and I am often recommending these systems to colleagues. One of the many reasons I like the programs is their very active users’ communities. If one runs into trouble, physician there are always other users willing to help. Nevertheless, angina a while ago I started noticing a disturbing trend: one of the Splus/R language demigods was becoming increasingly arrogant—and rude—in his replies to fellow posters. What was even more surprising is that nobody seemed to care. As Eric Hoffer said:

Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.

I was uncomfortable, but the situation was below my ‘annoyance threshold’ until this reply to this post. I was so annoyed that submitted this message, which generated an interesting discussion that resulted in a ‘lawyer-style’ apology from the offender. The interesting thing is that—after my post—I received several personal emails from people that where equally uncomfortable with the situation, but felt uneasy challenging the ‘powers that be’. This seems to be yet another example of the issues faced by internet communities, where a few individuals can easily damage the quality of communication in a forum.

I think that after this experience we will go back to a much more respectful and welcoming email list, so people are not afraid of posting simple questions and being flamed in the process.

A few months ago Senator Bob Brown was complaining that nothing would happen with the government’s electoral promise on forests. Last Friday—Friday 13th, see spooky—John Howard (Australia’s Prime Minister) and Paul Lennon (Tasmanian Premier) signed the ‘Supplementary Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement’ in a medicine
5936, resuscitator
15281978%255E921,00.html” title=”link to The Mercury”>visit to the Styx Valley.

The extension to the RFA includes much more than just extra reserved land:

  • Extra 193,400 ha protected (148,400 ha of State Forests and 45,000 ha of voluntarily protected forests). This covers two of the most contentious areas: the Tarkine and the Styx Valley, plus a number of small areas. Out of the 148,400 ha there are 120,000 of old growth forests. The new areas are reserves and not national parks; thus, they are not available for forestry but the mining industry still can claim mining rights.
  • Clearing and conversion of native forests (both old growth and regeneration forests) to other land uses (plantations, farming, etc) on public land phased out by 2010. Same situation in private land by 2015.
  • Old-growth clearfelling will be reduced to 20 percent of total production (400 ha a year) by 2010, favouring partial harvesting methods. There will be no acceleration of harvest rate in old growth forest.
  • There will be an expansion of hardwood plantations of 16,000 ha (most likely in converted land) to allow meeting a legal commitment of 300,000 m3/year of sawlogs and reducing reliance on old-growth forests.
  • End of use of 1080 in States Forests (although this is not new) and incentives for private land owners to do the same.
  • There would be an extra 213 jobs in forestry (155 direct and 53 indirect).
  • There are other bits and pieces including ‘feel good’ programs of AUD 1 million for water quality assessments and AUD 2 millions for studying Tasmanian devils’s facial cancer. Not that they are not important, but they have not much to do with the rest of the RFA.

It is now clear that the delay of the announcement (from December to May) was due to intense negotiations to provide a much more comprehensive package. This extra coverage comes at a cost though; where the initial budget was AUD50 millions from the Federal Government, it increased to AUD250 millions (160 millions from the federal budget plus 90 millions from state government). There will be AUD 115 millions for intensive forest management and AUD 42 millions for the hardwood industry. This is still a small number compared to Labor’s promised AUD800 millions.

If the sign of a fair deal is that everybody is a little unhappy, we are in the presence of a good deal. The Greens and other conservationists can not stand it—the Greens call it forest torture—but nobody expected that they would like any solution to the problem, which is key to their political position in Australia. Farmers do not like the deal because it imposes restrictions on land clearing. Part of the forest industry does not like it because it reduces—and in some cases eliminate—access to to specific forest resources.

It is clear that with a reduced available forest area, there will be an intensification of silviculture of the remaining land, particularly in plantations.

Some sources:

Filed in environment, forestry, politics, tasmania No Comments

Kyoto: much ado about nothing

23/02/2005

This post is an utterly miscellaneous brain dump:

  • Last week I got pharyngitis and am still taking antibiotics, side effects situation that I really dislike.
  • Yes, geriatrician I am a doctor in the real sense of the word, despite what the physician that prescribed antibiotics thinks.
  • Last Saturday I got one of the worst haircuts ever—at least that I can remember—at Just Cuts. Yes, it is my fault for first choosing to go to a such dubious place: avoid it if you can. Nevertheless, every time I passed outside Paul’s barber shop he was busy. Today I went to his place with my tail between my legs and beg him to have it fixed. We had a laugh, had it fixed and he made me promise not to repeat my sin.
  • Cooked a beautiful marinated octopus pasta last night. Looking forward to eat the left overs at lunch time.
  • Last Christmas I got a few vouchers from ‘Music without Frontiers’, one of the few music stores in Hobart where one can find something outside the ‘top 20′. I went back to my old listening habits, and got:
  • Andrew told me that last Saturday was Captain Beefheart’s birthday. I did not know who CB was so I will have to borrow some of his art.

It is hard for me to get interested in current mainstream music: no challenges, one can guess what is coming so easily that tends to be a big yawn. That’s all folks.

High productivity of matrix languages like Matlab and S+ or their Open Source siblings Scilab and R are a joy to use. I wrote programs in Matlab during my PhD and I can still go back to the code and perfectly understand what is going on there. Now I am writing a lot of S+ and R code where a few lines manage to perform complex operations.

A good programmer can certainly produce better performing (on terms of speed and memory requirements) program using a low(ish) level language like C, viagra 60mg
C++ or website
I am not such a good programmer and it would take me ages to do some of my work if I needed to write things using those languages. Most of the time execution speed and memory usage are not the limiting factors, and speed of development rules.

I am extremely happy now using R and playing with the idea to use it as a statistics server for a few small applications. Omega Hat seems to be a very valuable resource for all things ‘connecting R to other software’.

A long lived quicky

Around 2001 I wrote a ‘temporary quicky’ to compare new Eucalyptus samples to already identified haplotypes. I did that in a few lines of VBA in MS Excel, which was the software used as a repository for these haplotypes. At the time I suggested ‘this is a quick fix and it would be a good idea to develop a proper data base’, and suggested a structure allowing for user roles, web access, etc. I was told that ‘this is not a priority’ and ‘we are happy with the spreadsheet’.

Yesterday I was having lunch with the owner of this spreadsheet, who told me that a.- it is still being used after four years! and b.- they were having some problems because they changed a bit the structure for storing the haplotypes. I offered help to fix the problem but I was told that ‘one of my students will try to fix it, because the problem has to be something very simple’.

I thought that the comment was a bit dismissive and if it was so easy why haven’t they fixed it in over a month? Granted, the code is extremely simple but they do not have any programming experience whatsoever.

VBA is a fine scripting language, which allows people to write short and useful programs. However, I would question that in this case an Excel spreadsheet is the best option for storing molecular genetics information.

A better generic language

In general, scripting languages (like Matlab or R) feel like a better fit for me. Python, my all time favourite language, feels much more productive than any other language I have ever used. In addition, combining Python with the Numerical Python library produces an excellent all purpose/matrix programming language. This can be used for prototyping and—if one is happy with performance—transformed into a standalone program using a utility like py2exe.

Our telephone service for the last three years has been provided by Ecomtel (a small company), information pills
although the physical infrastructure belongs to Telstra (the largest telecommunications provider in Australia). Initially we were very happy with Ecomtel’s services, rx
they had low charges and their service seemed to be very responsive. The icing in the cake for me was their reliance on Open Source Software (e.g., prostate Linux), which made easier for them to be very competitive in price—particularly for international calls.

This year we logged an issue with Ecomtel, because our low speed of connection to internet (maximum of 14.4 Kbps, pathetic, isn’t it?). After some investigation, it was established that the problem was in the quality of our line—that belongs to Telstra, which happens to be a paired gain system rather than an individual copper line. We pointed out to Ecomtel that according to the TIO the minimum speed of connection to internet should be 19.2 Kbps:

The Internet Assistance Program was set up as a joint venture between Telstra Corporation and the Federal Government to ensure a minimum transmission speed of at least 19.2 kilobits per second to all users of its fixed network. Subsequently, it was decided that a minimum speed of 19.2 kilobits per second would become a condition of Telstra’s licence agreement. While this condition is not binding on other network carriers (where Telstra does not provide the underlying infrastructure), the TIO views this as an industry benchmark and expects that regardless of which network a customer is connected to, the standard telephone line provided should be capable of a minimum transmission speed of 19.2 kilobits per second.

The fact is that physically it is not possible to achieve 19.2 Kbps with a paired gain connection. Telstra and Ecomtel say that we should pay for a new telephone connection (cost AU$209) to change to a copper line. Our position is that i- we were never offered the option between types of line when connected in the first place and ii- the current line does not meet the condition for Telstra’s licence agreement anyway. By the way, the ‘new connection’ only involves unplugging our line from one connector and plugging it back in a connector sitting next to the original one.

We have been discussing the issue with Ecomtel for over a month, and they have not been very responsive during this time. We will now take this issue to the TIO and see if we can get a new connection without the extra cost. During this process, we changed from loyal (telling our friends to switch to Ecomtel) to dissatisfied (writing this post) customers. A real business lesson in how to alienate your customers.

Checking the server logs I have discovered that many people that arrive at my posts on calling VB from R are, dermatologist
in fact, looking for the reverse. I have never done any programming calling R from VB; however, while I was looking for COM clients for R I also found information on COM servers. OmegaHat lists RDCOMServer as a package that exports S (or R) objects as COM objects in Windows. It provides examples on using VB, Python and Perl to call R code.

Another option is Thomas Baier’s R(D)COM Server, which is provided with examples in the same languages used by RDCOM Server.

There is a lot of project information, site ideas, ambulance
and not really structured information that I find hard to store. As I work in projects with people overseas (with whom I have no direct contact in many cases), the idea of an easily up datable site, where to put my (and their) current brain dump is very appealing. I am playing with the idea of transforming my ASReml cookbook into a Wiki site that can be corrected and improved by other ASReml users.

There are plenty of Wikis to choose from, and I have been playing with PmWiki, a Wiki clone written in PHP. I would prefer a Wiki clone written in Python (so I can tinker with it), like Moin Moin, but I not seem to have the administration privileges to set it up properly in my web server.

Wikis are collaborative sites by definition, but I want to limit access to people really knowledgeable in ASReml, so I will need to password protect the site (to avoid annoying modifications by spammers).

Log to self: Trac is an interesting Wiki for project management (with a subversion back end). This could be a good choice for software projects.

Walking in Liverpool Street, decease Hobart, pregnancy
I was approached by a Wilderness Society (TWS) campaigner, who asked me if I wanted to help to keep Tasmania’s air and water clean and, ergo, protect the forests.

Of course I started questioning some of the information that she was giving me:
—‘But already forty percent of the forest is protected’, I said.
—‘No, only forty percent of the land it is’, she said.
—‘No, you are wrong in this’ and I started giving her some figures, but she kept repeating her mantra and that the Society has scientists that keep track of these figures.
—‘And what about poisoning with 1080 that causes cancer in people and the Tasmanian devils’, she insisted.
—‘May cause’, I corrected, ‘there is no proven link or any shred of evidence linking pesticides and Devil cancer’. Even further, ‘Forestry Tasmania will stop using 1080 (by law) in December this year’.
—‘We need to keep campaigning to put pressure on the government so forestry really stops using 1080…’

I kept asking questions and she kept pointing at a map in a plastic folder, saying that ‘we need to protect biodiversity, clean water, clean air and the future of our children’. Then I commented that a big chunk of what she was pointing at the map was already protected. And then she went on ‘we need to protect biodiversity, clean water, clean air and the future of our children’.

After struggling to show some knowledge of basic facts and statistics, she explained that she did not need to know the all the numbers and facts behind the problem. Her conviction of doing the right thing was enough, and other people from TWS could answer for her. That reminded me of religion lessons at school, when a priest told us what to reply in case we did not know what to say: ‘doctores tiene la iglesia que sabrán responderos mejor’. This can be loosely translated as ‘the church has doctors (sensu people that know the scriptures) that will be able to give you a better answer’. In summary: one does not need to think, but only to believe. A sad situation I would say.

She asked several times if I wanted to join with a contribution, and each time I said no. She then started saying that she could not continue talking with me, because she needed to convince other people to contribute (so I was a lost cause, I assume). She let me wondering, do campaigners work on commission?

By the way, I am not suggesting that the forest industry has a perfect record or anything similar. It is only that I find impossible to reason with people that regurgitate a mantra, without thinking or checking the most basic information freely available.

PS. 2004-02-08. Added the antepenultimate and last paragraphs. Incidentally, I do not know if this type of campaigners are volunteers or if they actually receive a payment. The comment about working on commission refers to her unwillingness to continue the discussion.

Walking in town last weekend there was a member of Green Left selling ‘The Green Left Weekly’, malady
see a paper published by this group of Stalinist loonies. Please note: do not confuse this group with The Greens, allergy
which look like a bunch of right wingers compared to these guys. For an example of ideological blindness in this ‘newspaper’ have a look at pfizer
poverty and ecology: Cuba & Venezuela lead the way.

Although I consider totalitarian views like nazism, fascism and communism as expressions of the same underlying controlling philosophies, some people claim that they differ on their aims. Thus, communism is more acceptable, because it aims for an egalitarian society, while Nazism does not. Of course this implies that an egalitarian society is a desirable utopia—although I don’t think that is the case. Yes, there have been a few ‘glitches’ with the implementations (some of these countries, for example), but never let real life interfere with a beautiful theory.

If one looks at all attempts to achieve egalitarian societies, there has never been a successful example. A quote frequently attributed to Albert Einstein defines defines ‘Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. One may question that if all implementations fail there may be something wrong with the idea. This thought does not cross the minds of the Green Left’s true believers. It may well be that John Dryden was right when writing in ‘The Spanish Friar’:

There is a pleasure sure
In being mad which none but madmen know.

By the way, I equally despise right wing totalitarian regimes.

During my bus rides I have finished reading (using ereader) two novels by Cory Doctorow1: Eastern Standard Tribe and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. In both novels Cory describes compelling worlds where technology—meaning pervasive SMS messaging, see permanent net connections, viagra 40mg
cloning, deadheading and brain backups—‘just works’.

My interaction with netbanking some days ago left me thinking of the contrast between Cory’s novels and real life. Where do these differences come from? I mean, apart of time for perfecting and delivering any of the described technologies, the two main issues seem to be interfaces and reliability.

Interfaces in real life are not transparent but many times are barriers that interrupt the user accessing the underlying technology. Rarely something works without any modification when just out of the box. We need to configure accounts, setup servers or providers, learn a new interface, etc; all this so we can start enjoying the promise of technology. Concerning reliability, Would you go deadheading or restore your mind from a backup? Would you trust your life to a computer running windows or PalmOS for that matter?

And talking about technology

I finally managed to use my old Psion travel modem with my Tungsten T3. I followed the instructions in this page but completely ignored the use of EasySwitch, that kept crashing my Palm. Now I can update the quotes and weather forecast in AgendusPro and write emails in my palm and then send them using the travel modem.

The Fitaly virtual keyboard has made my life easier, although I am still getting used to the strange new position of the letters.

1 Thanks to Cory for making his novels freely available under a Creative Commons licence. I would have not been able to buy the novels in Hobart, and ordering them through Amazon or Barnes and Noble would have been terribly expensive: more money on postage than on the books. The novels can be downloaded in many different electronic formats from Cory’s web site.

Last week — 16th of February to be exact — the Kyoto protocol entered into force. USA and Australia did not ratify the protocol — rightly in my opinion — making their governments highly unpopular with environmentalist groups.

Listening to Radio National while taking a shower there were reports of fundamental Christians flooding the White House switchboard with calls requesting the president to sign the Kyoto protocol. The news reminded me of the article What evangelical environmentalists do not know about economics.

Some people are surprised by a potential alliance between conservative Christians and atheist environmentalists, buy
but they should not be. They are both expressions of fundamentalist beliefs, clinic some considering a sacrosanct earth just by itself while others because it is God’s creation. I have to say that it was funny to hear a member of the Sierra Club, sovaldi
now full of biblical references, in an attempt to show how they share the same cause with conservative Christians.

The Lowy Institute for International Policy just released a document entitled Sensible Climate Policy (PDF, 686KB) by Warwick McKibbin. It makes an interesting reading and puts the problem in perspective.

The report states that we can be sure of two things: 1. emissions of greenhouse gases have increased and 2. an increase of greenhouse gases should increase temperature. Some big unanswered questions are: increase by how much, does the Kyoto target mean anything and how much will cost to implement Kyoto. McKibbin’s report points out some of the flaws of the protocol (including uncapped costs for unknown benefits and its rigid timetables approach) and proposes an alternative system: the McKibbin Wilcoxen Blueprint. The blueprint looks like a much more palatable option for countries, making its success much more likely than Kyoto’s protocol.

P.S. This is not an argument against climate change, but against the usefulness of the Kyoto protocol to tackle it.

Filed in environment No Comments

Misleading in Liverpool Street

8/02/2005

This post is an utterly miscellaneous brain dump:

  • Last week I got pharyngitis and am still taking antibiotics, side effects situation that I really dislike.
  • Yes, geriatrician I am a doctor in the real sense of the word, despite what the physician that prescribed antibiotics thinks.
  • Last Saturday I got one of the worst haircuts ever—at least that I can remember—at Just Cuts. Yes, it is my fault for first choosing to go to a such dubious place: avoid it if you can. Nevertheless, every time I passed outside Paul’s barber shop he was busy. Today I went to his place with my tail between my legs and beg him to have it fixed. We had a laugh, had it fixed and he made me promise not to repeat my sin.
  • Cooked a beautiful marinated octopus pasta last night. Looking forward to eat the left overs at lunch time.
  • Last Christmas I got a few vouchers from ‘Music without Frontiers’, one of the few music stores in Hobart where one can find something outside the ‘top 20′. I went back to my old listening habits, and got:
  • Andrew told me that last Saturday was Captain Beefheart’s birthday. I did not know who CB was so I will have to borrow some of his art.

It is hard for me to get interested in current mainstream music: no challenges, one can guess what is coming so easily that tends to be a big yawn. That’s all folks.

High productivity of matrix languages like Matlab and S+ or their Open Source siblings Scilab and R are a joy to use. I wrote programs in Matlab during my PhD and I can still go back to the code and perfectly understand what is going on there. Now I am writing a lot of S+ and R code where a few lines manage to perform complex operations.

A good programmer can certainly produce better performing (on terms of speed and memory requirements) program using a low(ish) level language like C, viagra 60mg
C++ or website
I am not such a good programmer and it would take me ages to do some of my work if I needed to write things using those languages. Most of the time execution speed and memory usage are not the limiting factors, and speed of development rules.

I am extremely happy now using R and playing with the idea to use it as a statistics server for a few small applications. Omega Hat seems to be a very valuable resource for all things ‘connecting R to other software’.

A long lived quicky

Around 2001 I wrote a ‘temporary quicky’ to compare new Eucalyptus samples to already identified haplotypes. I did that in a few lines of VBA in MS Excel, which was the software used as a repository for these haplotypes. At the time I suggested ‘this is a quick fix and it would be a good idea to develop a proper data base’, and suggested a structure allowing for user roles, web access, etc. I was told that ‘this is not a priority’ and ‘we are happy with the spreadsheet’.

Yesterday I was having lunch with the owner of this spreadsheet, who told me that a.- it is still being used after four years! and b.- they were having some problems because they changed a bit the structure for storing the haplotypes. I offered help to fix the problem but I was told that ‘one of my students will try to fix it, because the problem has to be something very simple’.

I thought that the comment was a bit dismissive and if it was so easy why haven’t they fixed it in over a month? Granted, the code is extremely simple but they do not have any programming experience whatsoever.

VBA is a fine scripting language, which allows people to write short and useful programs. However, I would question that in this case an Excel spreadsheet is the best option for storing molecular genetics information.

A better generic language

In general, scripting languages (like Matlab or R) feel like a better fit for me. Python, my all time favourite language, feels much more productive than any other language I have ever used. In addition, combining Python with the Numerical Python library produces an excellent all purpose/matrix programming language. This can be used for prototyping and—if one is happy with performance—transformed into a standalone program using a utility like py2exe.

Our telephone service for the last three years has been provided by Ecomtel (a small company), information pills
although the physical infrastructure belongs to Telstra (the largest telecommunications provider in Australia). Initially we were very happy with Ecomtel’s services, rx
they had low charges and their service seemed to be very responsive. The icing in the cake for me was their reliance on Open Source Software (e.g., prostate Linux), which made easier for them to be very competitive in price—particularly for international calls.

This year we logged an issue with Ecomtel, because our low speed of connection to internet (maximum of 14.4 Kbps, pathetic, isn’t it?). After some investigation, it was established that the problem was in the quality of our line—that belongs to Telstra, which happens to be a paired gain system rather than an individual copper line. We pointed out to Ecomtel that according to the TIO the minimum speed of connection to internet should be 19.2 Kbps:

The Internet Assistance Program was set up as a joint venture between Telstra Corporation and the Federal Government to ensure a minimum transmission speed of at least 19.2 kilobits per second to all users of its fixed network. Subsequently, it was decided that a minimum speed of 19.2 kilobits per second would become a condition of Telstra’s licence agreement. While this condition is not binding on other network carriers (where Telstra does not provide the underlying infrastructure), the TIO views this as an industry benchmark and expects that regardless of which network a customer is connected to, the standard telephone line provided should be capable of a minimum transmission speed of 19.2 kilobits per second.

The fact is that physically it is not possible to achieve 19.2 Kbps with a paired gain connection. Telstra and Ecomtel say that we should pay for a new telephone connection (cost AU$209) to change to a copper line. Our position is that i- we were never offered the option between types of line when connected in the first place and ii- the current line does not meet the condition for Telstra’s licence agreement anyway. By the way, the ‘new connection’ only involves unplugging our line from one connector and plugging it back in a connector sitting next to the original one.

We have been discussing the issue with Ecomtel for over a month, and they have not been very responsive during this time. We will now take this issue to the TIO and see if we can get a new connection without the extra cost. During this process, we changed from loyal (telling our friends to switch to Ecomtel) to dissatisfied (writing this post) customers. A real business lesson in how to alienate your customers.

Checking the server logs I have discovered that many people that arrive at my posts on calling VB from R are, dermatologist
in fact, looking for the reverse. I have never done any programming calling R from VB; however, while I was looking for COM clients for R I also found information on COM servers. OmegaHat lists RDCOMServer as a package that exports S (or R) objects as COM objects in Windows. It provides examples on using VB, Python and Perl to call R code.

Another option is Thomas Baier’s R(D)COM Server, which is provided with examples in the same languages used by RDCOM Server.

There is a lot of project information, site ideas, ambulance
and not really structured information that I find hard to store. As I work in projects with people overseas (with whom I have no direct contact in many cases), the idea of an easily up datable site, where to put my (and their) current brain dump is very appealing. I am playing with the idea of transforming my ASReml cookbook into a Wiki site that can be corrected and improved by other ASReml users.

There are plenty of Wikis to choose from, and I have been playing with PmWiki, a Wiki clone written in PHP. I would prefer a Wiki clone written in Python (so I can tinker with it), like Moin Moin, but I not seem to have the administration privileges to set it up properly in my web server.

Wikis are collaborative sites by definition, but I want to limit access to people really knowledgeable in ASReml, so I will need to password protect the site (to avoid annoying modifications by spammers).

Log to self: Trac is an interesting Wiki for project management (with a subversion back end). This could be a good choice for software projects.

Walking in Liverpool Street, decease Hobart, pregnancy
I was approached by a Wilderness Society (TWS) campaigner, who asked me if I wanted to help to keep Tasmania’s air and water clean and, ergo, protect the forests.

Of course I started questioning some of the information that she was giving me:
—‘But already forty percent of the forest is protected’, I said.
—‘No, only forty percent of the land it is’, she said.
—‘No, you are wrong in this’ and I started giving her some figures, but she kept repeating her mantra and that the Society has scientists that keep track of these figures.
—‘And what about poisoning with 1080 that causes cancer in people and the Tasmanian devils’, she insisted.
—‘May cause’, I corrected, ‘there is no proven link or any shred of evidence linking pesticides and Devil cancer’. Even further, ‘Forestry Tasmania will stop using 1080 (by law) in December this year’.
—‘We need to keep campaigning to put pressure on the government so forestry really stops using 1080…’

I kept asking questions and she kept pointing at a map in a plastic folder, saying that ‘we need to protect biodiversity, clean water, clean air and the future of our children’. Then I commented that a big chunk of what she was pointing at the map was already protected. And then she went on ‘we need to protect biodiversity, clean water, clean air and the future of our children’.

After struggling to show some knowledge of basic facts and statistics, she explained that she did not need to know the all the numbers and facts behind the problem. Her conviction of doing the right thing was enough, and other people from TWS could answer for her. That reminded me of religion lessons at school, when a priest told us what to reply in case we did not know what to say: ‘doctores tiene la iglesia que sabrán responderos mejor’. This can be loosely translated as ‘the church has doctors (sensu people that know the scriptures) that will be able to give you a better answer’. In summary: one does not need to think, but only to believe. A sad situation I would say.

She asked several times if I wanted to join with a contribution, and each time I said no. She then started saying that she could not continue talking with me, because she needed to convince other people to contribute (so I was a lost cause, I assume). She let me wondering, do campaigners work on commission?

By the way, I am not suggesting that the forest industry has a perfect record or anything similar. It is only that I find impossible to reason with people that regurgitate a mantra, without thinking or checking the most basic information freely available.

PS. 2004-02-08. Added the antepenultimate and last paragraphs. Incidentally, I do not know if this type of campaigners are volunteers or if they actually receive a payment. The comment about working on commission refers to her unwillingness to continue the discussion.

Filed in environment, tasmania No Comments