Monthly Archives: May 2007

Wildfires and Climate

smoke_column_2.jpg Somebody’s been paying attention to global warming and wildfires:
…the Association of Fire Ecology said climate change will limit humans’ ability to manage wildland fire.

“Under future drought and high heat scenarios,” the declaration reads, “fires may become larger more quickly and be more difficult to manage. Fire suppression costs may continue to increase, with decreasing effectiveness under extreme fire weather and fuel conditions. Extreme fire events are likely to occur more frequently.”

Fire ecology group: Climate change will limit wildfire management By Perry Backus, the Missoulian, 31 August 2006

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Constant, Irrational Fear

2007-05-27--the-truth-about-wireless-devices.png Ain’t it the truth. The BBC broadcast a scare program about wireless Internet health concerns, based on nothing. It was bad enough that the BBC news felt compelled to contradict the story.

I can remember when newspapers did this about modems. And they were right that modems were dangerous! To traditional newspapers! Not to people.

Such alarmism is itself a risk to people, in giving them false information, and in scaring them so they’ll be more likely to make bad decisions.

If it bleeds, it leads. And if it doesn’t bleed, just pretend that it will make the reader bleed.


Graphic seen via Chandler Howell. Do follow the link.

Burned vs. Burned Up

prescribed burn Regarding the Georgia and Florida swamp and pine fires, one of the main questions is at what point does preservation offer greater economic gain than resource extraction. Looking at the big picture brings out two points: The figure "$33 trillion" was once projected as the value of ecosystems globally. What do you think of this type of economic analysis?

Polasky: The $33-trillion figure refers to one of the earliest studies that was done on the value of ecosystem services. The lead author was Robert Costanza. He and his coauthors tried to get at the notion of how we can establish on a global basis what the value of ecosystem services is. They came up with a number 33 trillion [USD] plus or minus a few trillion. There are a number of problems with the study. The most basic one is the question of what you are talking about when you consider all the ecosystem services of Earth. The entire system is our life support system. So what is our life support system worth? You don’t really have to have a scientific study in order to answer that question. The real value of the study was not the $33-trillion figure, which who knows what that means, but that it spurred people to focus on these issues.

Such values can be big, and the dollar value isn’t the only consideration. There is a bit of risk in that we can’t do without the biosphere, and some risk management is in order. Even beyond that obvious non-dollar value, there are further questions of species diversity and esthetics. Do we really want to kill off an ecosystem when we don’t really know what it’s doing for us, and do we all want to live surrounded by concrete?

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Smashing Hornets

wasp nest on window Fox News discovers hammering wasps:

If you get stung by a hornet, it makes sense to see if there’s a hornets’ nest near your home and, if there is, to exterminate it. It doesn’t make sense to forge out looking for hornets’ nests anywhere you can find them, smacking them with sticks. You’re bound to get stung again.

Straight Talk: Paul Has a Point, By Radley Balko, FOXNEWS.COM, Monday, May 21, 2007

Well, in an online op-ed, at least.

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Third-Party Measurement

Apdex It seems it’s not enough to just believe what ISPs tell you about bandwidth use:

NetForecast has been running live measurements of the ten Apdex Alliance Contributing Members.  The results from five different locations across the US show a great range of performance as seen by the users.  The measurement data is then summarized using both typical averaging methods and the Apdex method.  The results are documented in "Averages Hide the Real End-User Experience: Apdex Tells the Full Story," NFR 5086 by Peter Sevcik, April 2007.

The Apdex reports of the very same measurement data uncover many more performance issues.  For example, it finds a region where the users see chronic poor performance that was completely hidden by the averaging methods.  The ten weeks of data show that averages significantly under reported true end-user performance issues. It makes a clear case for reporting your measurements with Apdex!

The ISPs may not know where the users see chronic poor performance, either. Do they know how to ask the users? Do they know what to compare to in other ISPs?

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High and Critical

Chandler makes many good points about why people avoid dealing with risk management.  My favorite is this one:

  • People still can’t get their head around the idea of probability.
Why is it that they can understand that there’s a 25% chance of rain tomorrow or how much they stand to gain on a $2 ticket if their horse in the third race wins at 11-1, but not that there is a high likelihood that the critical vulnerability they refuse to patch will get worm’ed?

Reasons not to manage risk, by Chandler Howell, Not Bad for a Cubicle, May 15th, 2007

Because they’re getting paid now and they don’t think ahead?

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Your Risk Swamp

Bugaboo Wildfire Map Chandler commented on Wildfire Precedents about how some timber companies had mismanaged underbrush cleanup. That’s probably true in some places, but the details of the forestry and fire problems in the west and in the southeast are different. Fire is the usual method to clear underbrush in southeastern pine forests, But not the kind of fires we’re seeing this year.

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Microsoft RICO

Microsoft claims that I (and possibly you, dear reader) am violating 235 of its patents on Windows by running Ubuntu Linux:

After many earlier rounds of saber-rattling and FUD, Microsoft has announced that Free Software users — including everyone who, like me, uses Ubuntu Linux — are violating at least 235 of Microsoft’s patents, though they don’t say which ones. Microsoft are now threatening end users of GNU/Linux (that’s you and me again) with lawsuits unless we pay them protection money. "Nice operating system you got there, it’d be a shame if something were to happen to it."

The Microsoft position is this: even if you don’t use Windows, you still have to pay them as much money as they would have gotten for selling you a copy of it.

Microsoft says GNU/Linux violates 235+ Windows patents, Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing, Monday, May 14, 2007

Microsoft did stop short of saying it would sue Linux users or its own customers:

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WIldfire Precedents

I’m having a little difficulty finding historical statistics on wildfires. Here’s someone’s understanding:

My understanding is that the size of this fire is almost unprecedented with the exception being a fire in 1955 that consumed 58,000 acres.

The wind changed today. I can smell the smoke of my neighbor’s land again. The ash is falling again, too. Bitter snows.

The Waycross Wildfire 2, jimmorrow, April 23, 2007

When he wrote that towards the end of April, 55,000 acres had been burnt near Waycross, Georgia.

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Passport Friction

Ben Hyde has an interesting bunch of thoughts about verification friction:
We recently got new passports, a project that was at least a dozen times more expensive and tedious than doing my taxes. I once had a web product that failed big-time. A major contributor to that failure was tedium of getting new users through the sign-up process. Each screen they had to step triggered the lost of 10 to 20% of the users. Reducing the friction of that process was key to survival. It is a thousand times easier to get a cell phone or a credit card than it is to get a passport or a learner’s permit. That wasn’t the case two decades ago.

Friction, by Ben Hyde, Ascription is an Anathema to any Enthusiasm, 10 May 2007

He mentions some cases where friction may actually be socially useful, as in making it harder to get liquor and easier to get condoms, or some automobile traffic engineering. Then he gets to the especially interesting part. Continue reading