All posts by Greg Laden

A biogeofeminist talks about being a female climate scientist and communicator

Sarah’s talk focuses on why STEM fields needs feminism. In her talk, she takes a stand as an uncompromising advocate for a just and equitable world. Dr. Myhre is a paleoceanographer and science communicator, currently researching in the UW Department of Oceanography. She organized the Seattle chapter of 500 Women Scientists and has been recognized as an active voice for women in science and society.

Continue reading A biogeofeminist talks about being a female climate scientist and communicator

The Story of Ollie and his Flashlights

Ollie Andersen and his wife lived much of the summer in a cabin in northern Minnesota,where Ollie fished, watched birds, and spent considerable effort keeping his boat in repair, while his wife made canned goods and embroidery to bring to the market a few times a year down in Walker, not to make money, but to sell for the Leech Lake Area Benefit Association, her favorite local charity.

One day Ollie came up to the cabin after a couple of weeks down in the cities, and his mail box, out on the county road, was full of junk mail and a few good pieces of mail. Ollie had noticed over recent months that more and more mail was coming to the cabin address, and on more than one occasion he found several days worth either soaked because a bad rain had blown into the box, or found the mail knocked out by the wind and strewn around in the ditch by his drive. So, he decided, about mid August, on a plan to do something good and healthy for himself and deal with the mail box problem at the same time. Every evening, after dinner, Ollie would walk up the drive, out to the county road, and check on the mail.

Now, you have to understand a few pertinent facts. Continue reading The Story of Ollie and his Flashlights

Minnesota Northern Scowl

I call it the Minnesota scowl. It is a little like a Minnesota “stern look” but the latter is wielded as necessary and on demand. The scowl is always there, as a gumpy resting face. You’ve heard of Minnesota nice. This is the Minnesota scowl. Same thing, just more honest.

As far as I know it is an up north thing, not a city thing. In fact, just the opposite. I used to live in South Minneapolis in a neighborhood where everyone had literally gotten together in a series of meetings and decided that they would always smile at each other and say “hello” when out walking. There were hand-outs for those who had not attended the meetings. They also decided to walk around all the time. This produced a somewhat odd, almost uncomfortable, effect, at first. But in the long run, once people settled into it, it worked out pretty well. It made for a neighborhood that seemed friendly. It seemed like if you needed something – if there was some kind of an emergency – people would be ready and willing to help out. Continue reading Minnesota Northern Scowl

KDE Window Behavior

I usually do nothing fancy with my windows. I open them. Later, I close them. In between, I may maximize them or unmaximize them. I move them around the screen.

The two fancy things I do are: 1) “Maximize” a window onto a portion of a screen using drag magic of some kind (most Linux desktop environments have this) or b) tell a window to move itself to a different workspace.

Most, nay, all, desktop environments have a larger set of fancy window behavior control than this. The whole idea of controlling, or even having, windows in which software runs, is fundamental to the *Nix environment, and Linux is the modern and most widely used version of *Nix. But I think it is possible that KDE has the mostest and bestest of these abilities.

For example. You can right click on the top bar on the window and pick “more actions” from the context menu. This gives you “move,” “resize” and such, which you have access to in other ways. GBut it also gives you check boxes to “keep above others” or “keep below others” which is very hand when your multiple monitors start to fill up with stuff because your workflow has gone fractal.

Burrow deeper and you can get to “special window settings.” This allows you to control behavior of a particular window in very detailed and even scary ways. You should probably not do any of this, but you should have a look.

In between these two cantos of configuration, you can find “Windows Manager Settings” in the window title bar context menu. This allows you to mess with windows decorations, screen edges, desktop effects, etc. You can get to all this via other configuration tools, but this is a handy way to make adjustments on the fly while you are actually using software.

One thing you may want to adjust here is when and how windows become translucent. I never used that feature before, and having the windows become semi-translucent when being moved is the default in KDE. I think people like this because it is a quick and dirty way to see what is behind the window. I find it a bit disconcerting because I sometimes am still reading what it is a window while I’m moving it. I wonder if there is a way to make a window go translucent optionally. Probably. OK just checked, there is.

A key feature you will want to adjust is active screen edges and corners. Here you can turn on or off features that maximize, either to a full screen or a “tile,” the window you drag to an edge. This allows for quarter tiling. Right now I have the ability to mazimize a window by dragging the title area of the title bar to the top middle of a screen, to tile over the left or right half by dragging it to the appropriate side edge, or quarter-tiling the window by dragging it to a corner. It is a bit funky when I drag towards the second monitor … can get confused as to which monitor to tile the window on.

Windows. Not just for Windows any more. Never were, really.

Linux KDE Menu and Launcher Options: The Best

Buddy Hackett once said, “As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: Take it, or leave it.”

On your computer desktop, you often have multiple choices ON your menu, choices of recent documents to open, applications to open, system features to configure, or an option to shut down your machine or log out. Gnome, Mate, and many other desktops have a default menu built in. You can change the menu by installing alternative software. In the case of Mate and some other Gnome alternatives, the desktop comes with the “new and improved” sometimes called “advanced” menu that isn’t the default, and isn’t really an option … you have to fiddle to find out about it, mess around to make it install, then when you run it, you may run into trouble if it crashes. The version Mate supplies, in my experience over several years, crashes regularly.

The KDE Linux Desktop is a step above Buddy Hackett’s home life. Out of the box, you get three distinct options for what kind of menu you like. One of the main reasons people chose different desktops is how the desktop offers the user access to applications, documents, etc. In the old days, a multi-level menu was common. Then, the fancier menus were invented, sometimes called launchers, that would typically open with a list of favorites, or commonly used, software, and possibly recent documents, and a search function to find your things. Eventually, the full fledged dashboard, or “hud,” was invented. This is where the entire screen (or one monitor’s screen if you have multiple monitors), opens up with a bunch of icons and stuff. And, as noted, which of these approaches a given desktop environment was designed around often determined which desktop people liked to use.

Do not mistake this evolutionary scenario for an ordered list of betterness. All three methods have their benefits, and different people will prefer different methods.

You can have any of these three paradigms with pretty much any standard Linux desktop environment, but you will probably have to install, tweak, and mess with software that may not be reliable.

Or, you can use KDE and have all three paradigms as easily accessible, built in, well optimized, maintained options.

The KDE Application Menu looks like this:

KDE Application Menu

You click on the dotty-looking thing on the lower left, and out pops the usual top level menu. There can be three levels in total. You get quick access to power-off or log out, recent applications or documents, and you can alternatively add recent contacts. Note that there is a search window.

The KDE Application Launcher looks like this:

Sorry, this may be a bit hard to see, but in real life it is totally readable. (Also, I think you can configure the transparency option of the various transparent things in KDE). This shows favorite software, which is configurable. Note that I’ve not configured mine, were I to do so it would have a very different list. Just start typing when this launcher is visible, and you are now searching for software. See those partly visible icons along the bottom? They are normally totally visible (my screen shot is imperfect). They are “favorite,” “application,” which is basically the multi-layered menu but a bit different, “Computer,” which is places, “history” and “Often used,” (not currently configured) as well as the non-removable button to shut down the computer. You can pick among these choices, have all, none, or a subset.

If you chose as your “menu” option the “Application Dashboard,” you get this:

This takes up the whole screen, and gives you this giant icon-rich borwsing for stuff experience. Note the menu-ish list on the right. and, you can search by just typing. This is a bit like the Ubuntu Unity dashboard.

Each of these items is very configurable. This is an example of the configuration menu for the Application Menu:

You chose which menu-launcher-thingie method you want to use by right clicking on the menu doohickie in the lower left and chosing “Alternatives.” Then you pick one and chose “switch.” Easy. Looks like this:

This is what is built in. You can do all sorts of other things to enhance your menu-application experience. I suggest you don’t. Stop fiddling with your computer and get to work. But the nice thing about KDE is that you have three highly configurable approaches to finding your applications and recent files, which are built in, maintained, and not broken. This separates KDE from most or possibly all of the other possible Linux desktops.

There are two other ways to get to your applications. One is to hit alt-F2 or the hot key or Krunner, which is a simple one line window that pops up. You can run apps from this, and do a lot of other things as well. The other is to put an icon for your commonly used software on the panel (menu bar, whatever you want to call it) which is probably along the bottom of your screen.

Me? I put the icons for the five or six most commonly used apps on the panel. I’m not sure if I want the application launcher or the multi-level menu to be the default, but I’ll only rarely use it. That makes me think I’ll go for the multi-level menu. When I use the menu to find an app, I’ll appreciate the organized traditional hierarchy to help me find it.

Decarbonizing the not so low hanging fruit

We, we humans, need to stop releasing fossil carbon into the atmosphere well before 2100 or we are doomed.

The main reason we are not heading headlong into that project, getting it done right away, is because of the fossil fuel industry combined with a deep seated self-hate on the part of Republicans, who would rather end civilization and make all of our children suffer than to do something an environmentalist might suggest.

The road to decarbonization is the same as the road to electrification plus the road to making all of our electricity with something other than coal, oil, methane, and the like. This could involve a certain amount of liquid fuel that is generated using wind and solar power, and magical bacteria or something, perhaps with a mix of plant material or other bio-sources.

There are easy ways to do part of this fast. For example, building wind farms is easy and produces piles of electricity. Same with solar. “But wait wait,” you say. “Those sources are intermittent, we can’t…” But I say to you, if this is your first thought, you are out of date (or are a Republican?). Solar and wind are indeed intermittent, but we can still use them as the backbone of our power system. This is a problem, but not one that can’t be figured out and has been, in fact, largely solved using a number of approaches. And, that is off the topic of this post.

We can also put solar panels on our roofs to a much greater degree than we do now. It has been estimated that a reasonable, not overdone but pretty thorough, deployment of PV panels on the roofs of America would cover about 40% of our in-building electrical needs as they stand now. This added to the eventual (though expensive, yet easy) deployment of heat pumps and total electrification of everything in those buildings probably averages out (the heat pumps reduce energy demand, the electrification increases demand for electricity as compared to gas or oil).

There are other types of low hanging fruit as well, such as increasing efficiency, telecommuting.

But what about the hard to do stuff, the major uses of energy that can’t be changes so easily?

There is a new review paper out in Science that discusses this. The paper is:

Net-zero emissions energy systems, boy Steven Davis, Nathan Lewis, Matthew Shaner, et al. Science 360(6396).

If you click on that link, you might be able to see the paper, as I think it is OpenAccess.

The paper identifies the following areas as tough nuts to crack:

  • Aviation
  • Long-distance transport
  • Shipping
  • Steel production
  • Cement production

It identifies the following technologies as helpful:

  • Hydrogen and ammonia fuels
  • Biofuels
  • Synthetic hydrocarbons
  • Direct solar fuels

The paper also identifies “highly reliable electricity” and energy storage as key areas of further development.

I do not see any major surprises in this paper, but that is because it is a review paper. I think it is a useful read to help organize one’s thinking on the transitions we will attempt, should the Republicans allow it, over the next decades.

KDE Icon Magic (Linux)

In some Linux desktops, what you get is what you get when it comes to desktop icons.

You can usually specify if you want network locations or storage devices shown as icons, or maybe a trash can, shown, but not much else. This is where Linux looks stupid compared to at least some earlier versions of Windows and the Mac, where you can do more with icons.

But in KDE, icons are very very configurable.

(See this post for a short diatribe on why you should try KDE even if you haven’t considered it lately … I myself am a recent convert to this particular desktop.)

In KDE, you can right click on the desktop, then chose “icons” on the context menu.

You can then arrange the icons horizontally or vertically on the screen.

You can align them to the left or right of the screen.

You can sort them by the usual sorting criteria.

You can specify sizes, ranging from “tiny” to “huge.”

And you can lock them. When unlocked, you can move them around.

The images shown here are exemplars of some of these options, in various combinations.

Using KDE

I’m pretty sure the very first Linux desktop I ever used was KDE. I didn’t realize that it was actually a bit painful until I later discovered Gnome. I switched to Gnome because it worked better for me, and seemed to use fewer resources.

I never left Gnome, but Gnome left me. I won’t go into the details here, but as most Linux users know, Gnome 2.x was the high point of that particular world of Linux desktops (see THIS POST for definition of term “desktop”). With the demise of Good Gnome, mainly caused by Ubuntu (a distribution I otherwise have a great deal of respect for), I poked around among the various Gnome 2.0 desktop alternatives. Among them eventually emerged Mate, which at first, I thought was great. I used it as my main desktop for several years, until just recently.

But Mate had two major flaws. The first flaw was an attempt to simply everything. Mate never made an application to be part of its own desktop environment, but rather, it took old Gnome applications, then broke them slightly or failed to maintain them (but the Mate project developers did rename them all, to take credit for them, and add confusion). The second flaw was not fully maintaining the parts of the desktop environment it was responsible for, or fixing basic problems. For example, it has always been true that most people have a hard time grabbing window boundaries with their mouse in Mate. To fix this you have to go down into configuration files and manually change numbers. That is a bug that should have been fixed three years ago. I can only assume that the maintainers of Mate don’t have that problem on their particular desktops.

Among the main functions of a maintained desktop environment is keeping basic system configuration tools clean and neat and functional, but Mate messed that up from the beginning. I vaguely remember that an early version of Mate left off the screen saver software, so in order to have or use a screen saver, you had to install the old Gnome screensaver. The configuration and settings capacities of the Mate desktop are distributed across three or four different applications, at least one of which you have to find out about, find, install, and learn to use yourself, just to carry out simple functions. Basic categories of settings or configurations are distributed among these applications in a haphazard way. To do basic things like change the desktop appearance or mess with screen savers, etc, you have to be a power user.

But I thought Mate was still better than KDE partly because KDE was so strange. For one thing, single clicking in KDE was like double clicking everywhere else in the universe. Yes, you could reconfigure that, but it is still strange. The nature of the desktop, of panels, or widgets, of all of it, was just a little odd for me. Everything felt a little funny.

But over time, KDE did two things that Mate did not do. First, KDE continued to maintain, develop, improve, debug, make more efficient and powerful, all of its software. Instead of key software components going brain dead or not being maintained, or losing functionality like in Mate, KDE software got more powerful and more useful. At the same time, the software, and the overall desktop environment, got slicker, cleaner, more like the old Gnome 2.0 in many ways, and leaner, and less strange (single clicking is no longer a default!).

In the old days, it was probably true that Gnome used fewer of your computer’s resources than KDE. But the most current versions of Gnome and gnome like alternatives such as Mate probably use about 25% more resources than KDE out of the box. And, KDE out of the box is more configurable and overall more cool than Mate and many other desktops.

Here’s the key thing. When I first started using Linux, the feature I fell in love with was the workspace switcher, allowing one to maintain a number of virtual desktops, each with various things open on them. This is how I organize my work. It isn’t all that systematic, but in a given day, I’ll organically end up with all my stuff related to one project on one virtual desktop, and another project on a different virtual desktop. Gnome and gnome variants actually moved away from this standard. You can still have virtual desktops in current Gnome, but they are not there by default. Mate still has them by default, but I don’t trust Mate maintaners to maintain that.

But it is easily done in KDE, and with extra (mostly unnecessary) perks. In the KDE desktop environment, I can have the desktop background be different on my different virtual desktops on my desktop computer. Which sits on my desk. I can have other things be different on the different desktops. For me, this doesn’t do much because, as noted, my virtual workspaces evolve organically over time frames of hours or days. But someday, I may want a special desktop configured all special for some special purpose.

A couple of months ago, I had some problems with Mate. I uncovered an important and easily fixed bug. I told the maintainers about it. They told me to screw off. So I told them to screw off, and I started to explore other desktop environments. After realizing that they had been too rude to me, the Mate maintainers, to their credit, did fix the bug and tried to make nice. But I had already moved on. It did not take me long to get KDE up and running and configured as I like. And, I’ve hardly explored all the cool stuff it can do.

But I am exploring it now, and I’ll keep you posted.

See: KDE Icon Magic

Carl Hiaasen

I was reminded two days ago of Carl Hiaasen, when I was going trough a pile of books someone was getting rid of, and came across one of his. I always grab whatever Hiaasen books come along free, because I know that at some point, this will happen:

“Huh. That reminds me of something in a Carl Hiaasen book. Have you read any of those?”

“Uh. No. Never heard of him.”

“Well, you should. He writes pretty fun novels, like the one where the Native American guy and the ex-reporter hired a helicopter to drop Guccis and Macy’s gift bags full of poisonous snakes onto the deck of a luxury cruise linger off the Florida coast.”


“Oh, and there’s one about bass fishing. Double Whammy. It’s the name of a lure. Get it?”


“Oh never mind, it can’t really be explained, you can’t really describe these books so anyone. Just read it.”

And by this time I’ve dug out one of those Hiaasen novels I’ve been saving to give away, and I shove it into the person’s hands. “Just read this.”

And they do, then they read all the other ones too.

Carl Hiaasen’s first novel that got widely read is Tourist Season. It has been some time since I read it, but roughly, it is about a group of renegades who are living in the everglades (as in IN the everglades) and intent on stopping tourism in Florida, in order to see development roll back. They use interesting techniques.

The rest of Hiaasen’s novels, at least for several in a row, follow a similar approach. The main character is an ex-something. Ex journalist, ex cop, whatever. This individual finds himself embroiled in some sort of scheme or plot, typically involving grungy good guys pitted against truly evil villainous villains. Somewhere in there is a female love interest of the ex-dude.

While most of the characters change from story to story, two stay the same. One is the former governor of Florida, and the other his the Governor’s former body guard named Jim.

So the next two are in line are Double Whammy (the bass fishing one) and Native Tongue which is, obviously, about the blue nose vole.

Hiaasen also wrote several books for kids, with the same style but OK for eight to 12 year olds or so. Both my kids like them. See: Hiaasen 4-Book Trade Paperback Box Set (Chomp, Flush, Hoot, Scat).

The actual order of Carl Hiaasen non kid, fiction, books is as follows:

Not including the Governor of Florida:

Powder Burn, 1981
Trap Line, 1982
A Death in China, 1984

Including the governor of Florida, mostly, though I’ve not read the last three:

Tourist Season, 1986
Double Whammy, 1987
Skin Tight, 1989
Native Tongue, 1991
Strip Tease, 1993
Stormy Weather, 1995
Lucky You, 1997
Sick Puppy, 2000
Basket Case, 2002
Skinny Dip, 2004
Nature Girl, 2006
Star Island, 2010
Bad Monkey, 2013
Skink-No Surrender (2014)
Razor Girl (2016)

Hiaasen is a journalist and commentator long with the Miami Herald. He’s written several non fiction books that include his columns.

Today, of course, I’m reminded of Carl Hiaasen again, for a sad reason: His brother, Rob, was one of those killed in today’s tragic shooting in Maryland.

How To Reconcile the Insanity of Cladism with the Order and Beauty of the Linnaean System

Knowledge is knowing that a bird is a dinosaur. Wisdom is not charging people extra to see your reconstituted Jurassic Park style dinosaur zoo when all you’ve got is a barn full of chickens.

To really understand the meaning of this, please read my brand new essay at 10,000 birds, here:

If Birds are Dinosaurs than I’m a Monkey’s Uncle

… which is part of the Come At Me series of fantastic posts on that site.

This Book Is A Little Too Perfect For Summer Reading!!!!

When climate scientist Michael Mann and cartoonist Tom Toles wrote The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, they had no idea how bad it was going to get. Perhaps they needed to be more alarmist.

Anyway, this overview of climate change politics and denialism, in both text and cartoon form, is out in a new edition that has an updated “in the times of Trump” chapter, and in paperback form.

Pick up your copy of The Madhouse Effect, excellent summer beach reading, today!

The award-winning climate scientist Michael E. Mann and the Pulitzer Prize–winning political cartoonist Tom Toles have been on the front lines of the fight against climate denialism for most of their careers. They have witnessed the manipulation of the media by business and political interests and the unconscionable play to partisanship on issues that affect the well-being of billions. The lessons they have learned have been invaluable, inspiring this brilliant, colorful escape hatch from the madhouse of the climate wars.

The Madhouse Effect portrays the intellectual pretzels into which denialists must twist logic to explain away the clear evidence that human activity has changed Earth’s climate. Toles’s cartoons collapse counter-scientific strategies into their biased components, helping readers see how to best strike at these fallacies. Mann’s expert skills at science communication aim to restore sanity to a debate that continues to rage against widely acknowledged scientific consensus. The synergy of these two climate science crusaders enlivens the gloom and doom of so many climate-themed books?and may even convert die-hard doubters to the side of sound science.