Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Comics: Brin's Picks

Contrary Brin
Word-of-mouth used to be the best way to share recommendations about (among other things) literature such as sequential art, a.k.a. comics, but even better is word-of-blog. I've never hear Science Fiction author and scientist David Brin speak, but I just picked up his recommendations in web comics, as published on his "Speculations on Science, Technology & The Future" blog.
About half of these I have already been reading - things like xkcd and Saturday Morning Brekfast Cereal - which leads me to believe that I might enjoy the other half of the list. What they have in common is an interest - chiefly humor - in science and technology, defined loosely. This makes some of them remarkably smart, while still funny. WE don't have Gary Larson to kick around anymore but a new generation has wrisen up, which is kinda reassuring!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

#Romney to Joplin: Drop Dead!

Mitt Romney Immoral
I have to give Mitt Romney credit: he can be brutally honest about his lack of feelings or interest in performing his duties. When asked, as the June 2011 Republican debate about disaster relief for the citizens of Joplin, Missouri, and for the victims of similar natural disasters, Romney replied
"We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all."
Well! the people of Joplin, and everywhere else in Tornado Alley, or in anyplace prone to natural disasters are on notice: for the federal government to help them is "immoral".

The Zoo has a fuller discussion of this incident and what it means in terms of Romney's personal moral vision ... go read it ... but what struck me about this conversation is that Romney seems to have learned nothing from the disasterous "dog poop" tale of his 2007 Presidential bid.
You remember that one? It seems that Romney thought that a good way to introduce America to his decisiveness as a leader was to talk about the time he had to hose dog poop off his car. The poop got on the car because he'd tied his dog to the roof before setting down the highway, and at highway speeds, the dog became frightened enough to lose control of its bowels.
The dog poop incident itself demonstrated that Romney is lacking something important in his personality; a person with ordinary empathy would know not to tie a dog to the roof of your car. But to tell the story in public, proudly, fully in the expectation that the public would admire the story shows a lack of ordinary human sensibility approaching mental illness.
This is not an illness that necessarily keeps a person from being a public leader. To the contrary, Romney's mental or emotional lapses seems to have served him well in enriching himself. Working at Bain Capital, Romney specialized in leveraged buyouts: borrowing money to buy healthy companies, driving the company deep into debt to pay off the loans, then letting the hulk collapsed, destroying jobs but leaving Bain and Romney rolling in money. This is a great way of making money, so long as you don't mind destroying lives.
From these three incidents we see a man who is calm and able and who ... if he appeals sufficiently to the Aristocracy of Wealth ... could be elected President. But we also see a man lacking in normal capacity to care for his fellow Americans, fellow humans beings, or even his dog. That he cannot see that his responses are disturbing to the average person pretty much shows that, while he may be a very valuable person when kept on task with a tight leash, he must never graduate from minion to mad scientist.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Paper(Less) Training Session!

This weekend was the GI Rights Training put on by Seattle Draft and Military Counseling Center, with help from Seattle University's Access To Justice Institute. It went very well, with training from some very experienced people and well over a dozen participants, most of whom were recruiting through SU/ATJI's blog listing service opportunities, although I believe at least one was recruiting through my World Peace Through Law Section newsletter. It was a great bunch of people and some very useful information!
Print Less Or ...
Even Better: Not At All!
I was heavily involved in planning the event, and as we put the budget together, suggested we turn our handouts into a PDF to mail to registrants, and then let them decide whether to print it out or bring it on their laptop.
This turned out to be a pretty popular idea, and had a lot of advantages:
  • Cost: It costs nothing to mail a PDF, whereas printing or copying would be something like a nickel a page. 20 copies of 140 pages added up to a lot of nickels better spent elsewhere.
  • Distribution: It was trivial to distribute the handout in advance of the course, which let people get a sense of what it was about. A couple of people called in sick and I take some comfort in knowing that, at the least, they can read the material.
  • Waste: Experience shows that most handouts end up bring thrown away or, at best, recycled, after being read possibly once. This seems wasteful. In addition, if we were furnishing hardcopies, we would have had to print extras in case of walk-ins.
  • Time: The handout could be worked on until later in the process than would have been possible had we needed to print it.
  • Utility: I found it a lot easier to search for things in the 140-page PDF than it would have been to leaf through 
The only big disadvantage I found was Page Orientation: a few pages were printed in landscape; it was a real pain to read them. I used to have a portrait-to-landscape screen flipper utility but I don't know where that is, which is kinda of ironic when you consider that the aspect ratio of most laptops would be better suited for landscape than for portrait.

I'm posting this mostly because I'm proud of the success of the program, but also because this week's Change The World Wednesday Challenge is all about saving paper. Some of the ideas I'm not sure I could really get into writing about, but saving a few thousands of sheets of paper this weekend is something I'd like to spread around. Wouldn't it be wonderful if distributing handouts this way became the norm?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Dead Crow Report

eReporting dead birds is serious business for monitoring outbreaks of diseases such as West Nile Virus. Also it may be valuable for purposes of science in general.
Today we saw two dead crows within easy walk of our house.
I'm trying to report them to King County at the dead bird reporting page  but there's a login problem that will have to wait until Monday to report. Meanwhile, I'll try emailing a report to  Dr. Marzluff at UW, who's doing a study of crows.
EDITTED: the doctor wrote back, thanking me for the information and commenting that it was probably just fledglings. So it may not be West Nile, which is good, although not very dramatic.