Monthly Archives: August 2011

I am a child of the library

I really am. When I was a kid, we had few books at home, and the library was two blocks away. Before kindergarten, so when I was less than five or six, I had worked out a route by which I would take my wagon to the library, crossing our urban streets away from the dangerous corners, to the library, pick up a pile of books and return the last pile. Then I would read them and bring them back.

After a summer of doing this they ran out of books in the children’s section, which was not very large (this was the small branch library on Delaware by the Post Office, for those of you who know mid 20th Century Albany Geography). So I started using the adult section.

Science books, travelers accounts, and eventually law books. the law books were important because my friend Kirk and I planned to get jobs, when we grew up, as superheros, and we felt that knowledge of the law would be important.

One day they changed librarians and the new librarian would no longer believe my story about taking books out for my brother, and I was no longer allowed to borrow books that were not in the children’s section. That upset me and ever since then I’ve had a hard time trusting or liking librarians. This could be why I have a substantial collection of my own books. But I still used the library all the time. Most of the schools I went to until 7th grade did not have libraries in them.

Then I went to The Milne School, and it had a very impressive library for a high school (in those days) which included first class murals that were, and probably still are, on the National Register.

I am a child of the library because that is where I have learned everything I know else-wise from experience. Yes, it is true and ironic: I’m a teacher who never learned very much in a classroom.

I was distressed to discover several years ago that almost all K-12 libraries in the US are now called “media centers.” This could be one of the reasons that it is so easy for irresponsible legislators, governors, and mayors to allow libraries to fester, shrink, and ultimately close. People grow up not really relating to the word “library.”

Well, that was all introduction to this video that I think you’ll enjoy. I have to admit, when Piers Cawley asked the audience about their recent library use, I assumed he was talking about perl libraries (or other programming libraries). I wonder how many in the audience thought the same thing.

Have a look, and sing along:

Continue reading I am a child of the library

A few connected items related to the coming apocalypse

And I’m only half joking:

Three degrees warming doubles risk of civil war

Global patterns of civil conflict are directly associated with planetary-scale climate change. Specifically in tropical countries, the risk of civil war have just been shown to double in warmer El Niño years (to about 6% risk per country per year) compared to cooler El Niña years (when the risk is about 3%).

A Not so Splendid Table

I love NPR, though I’m not a regular Splendid Table listener. This morning’s show featured a guest who claimed that all GMO’s are bad with no potential benefit to feed the developing world. That’s simply not true….

A book you probably already know about: Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food

With the world’s population projected to grow some 50 percent by midcentury, rigorous agricultural planning becomes indispensable to forestall the onset of ecological and human disaster. Ronald and Adamchak, a wife-husband team from the University of California at Davis, combine the training and insights of a geneticist and the know-how of a committed organic farmer. They examine the often-passionate debate about genetically engineered food and how it may affect the food supply of the future, meticulously dissecting arguments for and against such application of science.

Editing PDF’s

Linux probably has a lot more FOSS tools for editing PDF’s than other platforms. ImageMagick will do basic manipulation from the command line. But for a GUI interactive kind of editing, you should look at PDFedit

sudo apt-get install pdfedit

You can do what I’m pretty sure is one of the most often required tasks: Take a page or two out of an existing PDF file and put a page or two into an existing PDF file. Like when you mark up one page of a document, and need to scan the marked-up page and stick it back in the original, replacing the pre-marked up page.

It worked great for me!

Created Equal

I am not specifically recommending the book Created Equal becuase I’ve never seen it up close and cannot vouch for its qualities (and it is not cheap) but it was mentioned, with several photographs from the book, here, some time ago.

In Created Equal, photographer Mark Laita pairs images that are in some way “opposite” (though it is not always the case, in my opinion) such as this one of a country fair livestock show contestant and a Cajun guy with his gator, or a ballerina and a boxer, or a homeless man and a real estate developer.

Might be a good coffee table book for the person who has everything except a lot of social dichotomies.

(Photo from publisher’s publicity material.)

Good Night Irene

At present, Irene is a Category One hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph. In 24 hours from now, mid-afternoon on Sunday, Irene will be on or near the coast of New Jersey near Long Branch, and over the subsequent 12 hours she will be captured by mid latitude meteorological forces, converted to a tropical storm, and splayed across New York and New England. She’s heading straight for Springfield Mass, then over Vermont and New Hampshire and into Maine and points beyond, but she will be big and wide and wet and windy, so a large area will be affected.

Are you in Irene’s path? Have she been by your place yet? Anything interesting happen?

Bug Girl and Greg Laden Speak Skeptically with Desiree Schell

From ants to aphids, mosquitoes to mantises, entomology blogger Bug Girl has covered all kinds of things that creep, crawl and fly. This week, she joins us to talk about her favorite bugs, and why she finds them all so fascinating. And anthropologist and blogger Greg Laden joins us to discuss the cultural taboos surrounding eating insects.

Go have a listen!


Congress Wastes Funds Investigating Funds Not Being Wasted!!11!!

Congress is in charge of the federal budget. That is a constitutional reality. However, since members of Congress are elected and elections are, well, political, the federal budget is a political artifact. And this is often bad news for science.

It all started with William Proxmire. I still run into people now and then who extol Proxmire’s virtues when it comes to making government more responsible, but they are not remembering correctly. What Proxmire did was this: His staff would comb through federally funded science project grants looking for names of projects that could be made to look silly or wasteful, regardless of the actual value of the project, and thus circumvent the already in place process of grant review and funding. He’d take these grant titles to the floor of the Senate and make fun of the scientists. This was one of the first major steps in the degradation of respect for science that now plague us and that has become a clear and present danger for the health of our society and our planet.

And Congress continues to carry out these shennaigas, throwing science under the bus for shor term political gain as needed. And no, I’m not saying that science does not need to have watchdogs keeping an eye on things. But I am saying that Congress as a body and most members of congress as individuals lack the maturity or sense of responsibility to our nation to manage this job properly.

There is an interesting piece on NPR discussing the most recent round of anti-science ranting. You’ve heard of the “Shrimp on a Treadmill” maneno:

Take the case of the “shrimp on a treadmill.” Burnett says the senator’s report linked that work to a half-million-dollar research grant. But that money actually went to a lot of different research that he and his colleagues did on this economically important seafood species.

The treadmills were just a small part of it, a way to measure how shrimp respond to changes in water quality. Burnett says the first treadmill was built by a colleague from scraps and was basically free, and the second was fancier and cost about $1,000. The senator’s report was misleading…


Please have a look at the piece. And, if you have a minute, call or email your congresspeople and let them know that they should not engage in this senseless game playing.

Irene will be weaker than thought, but slow, big and bad enough

Hurricane Irene is probably at its strongest moment at this writing, as a Category Two hurricane, and will become weaker over time as she moves north. However, Irene is very large and will be moving very slowly. So, which is worse? Category Two hurricane winds passing quickly through an area or Tropical Storm force winds hanging around for a day? I suppose it depends of if you are a well built jetty or a fast food sign at a strip mall.

Continue reading Irene will be weaker than thought, but slow, big and bad enough

Happy Birthday Linux!

I remember one day when Richard Stallman, a nobody, was featured on a local news story. Since I was living in Cambridge, some local news stories were about work being done by Harvard or MIT researchers, and in this case, Stallman was an MIT Hacker who had just started to talk about this strange idea: Writing computer programs for free.

Here’s the thing: At the time, I was looking at the idea of working as a computer programmer to make money in order to fund a career of studying evolution and teaching and stuff. Then this Stallman guy gets on the TV and says, essentially, that writing computer programs should be done for free, and that he personally picks up the occasional teaching gig to cover his expenses.

What a jerk, I thought. You’re doin’ it rong!!!

And the rest is history. Mainly his history. And GNU history.

Anyway, a few years after that, in 1991, somebody tweeted this:

Hello everybody out there using minix –

I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).

I’ve currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work. This implies that I’ll get something practical within a few months, and I’d like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won’t promise I’ll implement them 🙂

Linus (

PS. Yes – it’s free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. It is NOT portable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that’s all I have :-(.

–Linus Torvalds

I'll be celebrating 20 years of Linux with The Linux Foundation!

Looking back it is rather funny that Linux Torvalds was sad because he only had AT harddisks. Last I heard from him he was finishing his dive certification in some tropical place while 8 gazilibilion lines of the latest Linux kernel were being compiled on a computer with more power than all NASA computers that ever existed prior to Apollo 13 combined. Linus and Linux have come a long long way!

Anyway, that “tweet” (and yes, I’m only joking about it being a tweet) was sent out on this day 20 years ago. Happy birthday Linux!!!!

Here’s a little video from the Linux Foundation for you to enjoy.

Continue reading Happy Birthday Linux!