Extreme Environmentalism

Updated on Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Speaking of Gaia, I read Michael Lind’s Why we should embrace the end of human spaceflight on Salon yesterday with horror. He marshals a bunch of straw man arguments against humans in space, the worst of which is dismissing the threat of a planetary catastrophe:

“A sufficiently large asteroid or comet impact like the one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs could do the job. But if a massive bolide threatened the Earth, we would send unmanned spacecraft, not Robert Duvall or Bruce Willis, to steer it away or destroy it.”

That’s a little complacent. Even if we ever get perfect asteroid defenses cracked you’ve still got to worry about cosmic strings, strangelets, radiation storms, Von Neumann probes, DNA hackers, the Yellowstone super volcano and anything shown on a Saturday afternoon on SyFi. All of our eggs are very much in one planetary basket.

Take the Gaia hypothesis to its ultimate conclusion: if the planet is a super-organism then humanity is the reproductive system. We’re the best bet to spread life beyond Earth and ensure its continued survival. The asteroid scenario may trigger panspermia but that would be for a lucky few bacteria, not Homo sapiens sapiens.

Colonizing space is difficult, expensive and for most people unappealing. But stop thinking about the planet you’re leaving to your children and start thinking about the universe you’re leaving to whatever our DNA based planetary ecosystem may evolve into.

A real environmentalist would focus on making this planet uninhabitable so we escape before it’s too late.

;)

Merging Resource Dictionaries for fun and profit

Updated on Sunday, September 30, 2018

Here are two scenarios where merged ResourceDictionary objects are the way forward.

I’m working on a WPF project that needs to be single instance. Heaven forbid that the WPF team should pollute the purity of their framework with support for this kind of thing (or NotifyIcon support but that’s another story) so I’m using the code recommended by Arik Poznanski: WPF Single Instance Application. I like this because it both enforces a single instance and provides an interface that reports the command line passed to any attempt to launch another instance.

An issue with using this code is that you need to write a Main function and so App.xaml is set to Page instead of Application Definition. Once you’ve done this the program works fine but the Visual Studio designer fails to load resources in UserControls (and in Windows containing those UserControls).

The fix is to factor all of the application level resources out into a separate ResourceDictionary (i.e. MergedResources.xaml). Once you’ve done this merge the new ResourceDictionary into App.xaml as follows:

Next, in each Window or UserControl reference the same ResourceDictionary:

The designer will now be able to find the correct resources for each UserControl and Window.

The second scenario is factoring resources and other Xaml into a DLL. To pull resources in from a referenced assembly you just need to use a Pack Uri when merging in the remote ResourceDictionary:

If you’re putting Windows and UserControls in the DLL use exactly the same approach to reference the resources using ResourceDictionary.MergedDictionaries and you’ll get designer support for these as well.

Radio 4: Can I buy you a new hard drive?

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

I love that Radio 4 is available outside the UK on iPlayer. It’s an essential link to home. But why, oh why, oh why is each program episode only available for a few days? It’s so frustrating to find an interesting looking series and then discover that it’s halfway through and you can’t listen to the first episodes.

BBC, I’d be happy to send you a new hard drive if that would help. It really can’t require that much space to keep the content around for more than a week.

While you’re at it: per-program RSS feeds and more podcasts please.

Reviews and links for March 2011

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids by Tom Hodgkinson

3/5

It could have been a great one page idle book - leave the kids alone more. But I guess that wouldn't fly with the publisher so it's more of a manifesto for a more traditional childhood - four hour school day, build things from wood, raise and eat your own pigs. Possibly idyllic but far from idle. Also, Hodgkinson denounces computers yet the book wants you to visit its blog. Entertaining and occasionally inspirational nonetheless.

 

The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle

2/5

Derivative, and requires batteries which is the last thing you need with a book. I think Carle phoned this one in. Actually, it's like when thriller writers get too famous and farm the hard work out. It reads like an "Eric Carle's" or "Eric Carle with Grant Blackwood" kind of book. Introduces a small range of insects but manages to use "whirred" twice. Has Mosquitoes out at night rather than being a dawn/dusk phenomenon. The only saving grace is the unexpected twist with the Luna Moth.

 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

4/5

It's a geeky, Hispanic coming of age / family history epic. To read it you need some Spanish, some knowledge of the Dominican Republic (rather distractingly sketched in via footnotes - I wish Díaz had included an appendix instead) and to have read a lot of SciFi.

 

Links

- EU envoy defends Bahrain police from BBC News - Home (How do we fire Robert Cooper? Seriously, how is a sniper and 'accident'?).

- Obama's war tent from BBC News - Home (Surely he's just doing that to screw with Gaddafi?).

- Radiation Chart from xkcd (Radiation perspective...).

- Are cloth seats a public health hazard? Possibly. from Boing Boing (Of course. And which Muppet decided to carpet BART?).

- Chrysler Tells It How It Is from Failblog After Dark (It looks real - someone got fired for tweeting this).

- VIDEO: Murakami's book on silver screen from BBC News - Home (I hope they didn't screw it up...).

- Facebook adds suicide help system from BBC News - Home (Also needed, a 'net' underneath the wall.).

- What should you do if a cash machine overpays? from BBC News - Home (Really BBC, you needed to crowd source this one?).

- Herpetology from xkcd.com ('herpetology is a silly field').

- Dear Oprah: Some thoughts on your credibility. from Boing Boing (In her defense, she has a lot more hours to fill these days...).

Is PAD dead?

Updated on Thursday, December 26, 2019

I’ve been a member of the Association of Software Professionals (née Shareware Professionals) for nearly ten years and I publish PAD files for most Catfood products. The idea is that PAD provides a standardized XML format for syndicating product information out to download sites. I used the ASPs PAD directory back in 2009 to analyze product information available in this format.

It used to be that download sites were a significant source of traffic and downloads, especially cnet’s Download.com. This just isn’t the case for me any more. I need to really massage Google Analytics to find any referral traffic from download sites. While I have PAD files available I no longer make any effort to promote them. Given a spare minute or two it’s far more effective to write a blog post.

Historically Download.com did a great job surfacing new products. They’ve shifted to emphasizing paid placements and the most popular so unless you’re a category killer (in a pre-defined category) it’s much harder to get traction. Lower tier download sites used to offer some SEO benefit but I really don’t see this any more as the sites have got wise to preserving their limited link juice.

Other than inbound marketing efforts my best source of traffic is creating Google Gadget versions of my products where appropriate. These provide independent value and link to the downloadable version for people who want more (a fusion of freemium and shareware).

Having got to the point of giving up on PAD I’m excited to see Ryan Smyth’s rallying cry in the introduction to a series on this topic on cynic.me:

“I’m going to once and for all shut up the many nay-sayers that are constantly poo-pooing on PAD, Robosoft, and download sites.”

Maybe I’m just doing it wrong. I hope so and I’ll be happy to learn something if this is the case.

Siriusly?

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

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Reviews and links for February 2011

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Agents of Treachery: Never Before Published Spy Fiction from Today's Most Exciting Writers by Otto Penzler

3/5

A good mix of spy stories set everywhere from WWII to Somali pirates.

 

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro

3/5

Five short stories, all lightly interconnected and all about music and some sort of personal transition. Engaging characters, sharp prose and a very funny turkey scene.

 

Terminal World (Gollancz S.F.) by Alastair Reynolds

2/5

Promising start, but then sags badly and ends inconclusively. Which makes me concerned that there might be a sequel or even a trilogy in the works. It's the first Reynolds book that I haven't liked - more blimp opera than space opera with a passive, repetitive protagonist.

 

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson

4/5

An interesting mediation on belief, that boils down to how normal it seems for a minister to not believe in God, and then how extraordinary for the same minister to believe to have met The Devil.

 

Links

- What happens when you stick your head in a particle accelerator from Boing Boing (I used to have nightmares about this while commuting on 280).

- Rolls-Royce to show electric car from BBC News - Home (It can travel a foot between recharges...).

- England reading test to include non-words from BBC News - Home (This really seems very silly).

- What do you put in nine bins? from BBC News - Home (One of them is just for cats.).

- Fan held over 'air crash mockery' from BBC News - Home (Bad taste, but should you really be arrested for causing 'alarm or distress'?).

- Keen On… MIT Professor Says Robotic Moment Has Arrived, And We Are Toast (TCTV) from TechCrunch (Bollocks. Or rather, replace robot with dog or cat and get the same result.).

- Tarmac lorry sheds its load on M3 from BBC News - Home (Sounds like one hell of a speed bump.).

- Playmobil Stop Motion Joy Division from Boing Boing (I'm hoping this is a whole YouTube genre...).

- After Failing To Get Hacked Last Year, Google Paying For Chrome To Be In Pwn2Own 2011 from TechCrunch (If you're still not using Chrome this should provide some inspiration to make the switch. There's really nothing better, other than telneting to port 80.).

Intelligence Squared Two-Party Debate

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

On Tuesday Intelligence Squared US held a debate on the proposition that “The Two-Party System Is Making America Ungovernable”. David Brooks and Arianna Huffington argued for the motion, Zev Chafets and P.J. O’Rourke against. I’ve included the video of the debate at the end of this post.

I argued for the two-party system to be broken up last year - Republicans and Democrats: Too big to succeed.

Chafets and O’Rourke won the debate in terms of swing (scoring is based on a vote before and after the debate) but the final break down was 50% in favor, 40% against and 10% undecided.

Huffington started with a somewhat lame opening argument, claiming that we’re somehow at a unique junction in history where our problems really need fixing:

“so while the two-party system might have been okay during the ordinary times, we’re not living in ordinary times right now.”

Overall, she focused too much on current issues rather than the systematic functioning (or not) of government.

O’Rourke, as one might expect, was amusing in refuting the proposition but the thrust of his argument is that nobody could do a better job, the public isn’t that interested, the system is broken but why bother trying to fix it:

“I would simply concede the debate if I were able to imagine some other political party or independent candidate – left, right, or fanatically middle-of-the-road – who would do a better job.”

For a free market demagogue like O’Rourke this is incredible. This is like claiming in 2007 that AltaVista and Yahoo! while not perfect are as good as search is likely to get so why would we need Google?

Brooks really got to what I see as the nub of the issue. He argued that politics is full of good people who want to to the right thing being made into worse people by having to conform to brutal tribal party affiliations:

“But they’re in a tribal mentality in what – what they can achieve is severely limited by the tribal sort of Tutsi versus Hutu nature of our politics of the current two-party system.”

This brings Romney’s desperate distancing from the individual mandate to mind.

Also from Brooks:

“The University of Maryland had a very interesting study where they took Tea Party people, they took liberals, and they said, “Here’s our budget problem, you deal with it.” And the Tea Party people acknowledged that they had to raise taxes, and the people on the far left acknowledged some spending had to be cut. They could all do it. But the two-party system can’t do it.”

Finally Chafets cited the US being in the 90th percentile of the World Bank’s Index of Governability as some sort of argument in favor of the status quo. I guess it depends on your definition of governability – being able to reliably elect a government versus having that government actually represent the interests of the electorate once in office.

Here’s the video:

Reviews and links for January 2011

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big City Backyard into a Farm by Manny Howard

4/5

Alternatively funny and painful. Manny Howard is clearly not cut out to be a farmer but he battles through problems that seem to be mostly of his creation and manages to feed himself briefly from his back garden. Given he's doing this with a largish plot of land and an expense account it's a warning to anyone with urban agriculture ambitions. The death toll on the farm is pretty extreme - not the necessary slaughter of chickens for food but the number of avoidable accidents that border on abuse. Am now even more inspired to leave farming to the professionals...

 

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris

4/5

Wind in the Willows Gone Wild.

It's nothing like his normal experience-mining, but hilarious none the less. Dark, grotesque fairy tails mixing the worst of animal and human behavior together.

 

Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear

5/5

After the mediocre FBI books this is a breath of fresh air. A man wakes up on a mysterious ship, supposedly on a slower than light mission to colonize a far off planet. But something has gone horribly wrong. Bear is channeling J.G. Ballard here, Hull Zero Three is mysterious and surreal and eventually haunting. It's hard SciFi with just enough horror (reminiscent of Pandorum and Moon, but much richer than either film). I think it's probably the best novel he's written, and I nearly missed it after assuming he'd gone soft with Quantico.

 

When Will There Be Good News? (Jackson Brodie #3) by Kate Atkinson

4/5

Bit of a rhetorical question in the title, good news is pretty thin on the ground in this brooding third outing for Jackson Brodie. Very good, but need something light now...

 

Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher Series #15) by Lee Child

3/5

The biggest hobo is back, and faced with by far the nastiest baddies in the series so far. It's the typical small town with a dark shadow setup and you know there's only one man for the job. Reacher has it a bit too easy in this installment. Child sets up some fearsome opponents but then knocks them down almost as an afterthought. While billed as a sequel to 61 Hours (also published in 2010) Worth Dying For stands alone with only a small nod to the bind Reacher found himself in at the end of the last book.

 

Zero History (Bigend, #3) by William Gibson

5/5

Excellent.

 

Links

- Microsoft warns on browser flaw from BBC News - Home (Main flaw would be still using IE...).

- Turning body heat into energy from BBC News - Home (Isn't it already energy?).

Response to GGNRA Draft Dog Management Plan

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

On Friday the National Park Service published their GGNRA Draft Dog Management Plan which is now open for public comment until April 14, 2011. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area encompasses over eighty thousand acres of Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties. In San Francisco GGNRA managed lands include Baker Beach, Crissy Field, Fort Funston and Ocean Beach. If you care one way or the other about dog access to the GGNRA please take the time to review the plan and send in your feedback. I’ve reproduced my comments in full below.

My family lives in San Francisco and owns a dog. Many of the places we regularly go for walks are in the GGNRA. I fully accept that dogs can cause trouble and even danger and that there should be areas in the park that are free of dogs. Dog owners are a large user group though and I’m concerned that the NPS is going too far. If you walk your dog in the GGNRA here’s why you should be concerned:

The plan significantly curtails off-leash dog walking. For example, Fort Funston could go from this (red shaded area is off-leash, click for larger version):

Fort Funstong - Current Dog Access

To this (yellow shaded area is off-leash):

Fort Funston - NPS Proposed Dog Access

Worse than any of the proposed immediate changes is that the new off-leash is different from the old off-leash. The plan creates ‘Regulated Off-Leash Areas’ or ROLAs. A key part of the ROLA definition (PDF) is:

“ROLA areas are subject to adaptive management as identified in each alternative. Subject to monitoring, an area can be changed from ROLA to on-leash or no dogs if compliance is not achieved.”

In other words, despite the two thousand plus page dog management plan we’re being asked to accept that the NPS can revoke access in the future without further consultation. The ‘adaptive management’ described in the plan would use NPS maintained statistics to downgrade off-leash to on-leash to no dogs at all and explicitly rules out ever moving any area in the opposite direction.

Here are the comments I’ve submitted to the NPS (comment ID: 457979-38106/85):

General Comments

My family owns a dog and lives in San Francisco. We visit the GGNRA at least once a week. The Draft Dog Management Plan would reduce our enjoyment and use of the park considerably.

In the plan the enabling legislation for the GGNRA is quoted: “In order to preserve for public use and enjoyment certain areas of Marin and San Francisco counties, California, possessing outstanding natural, historic, scenic and recreational values and in order to provide for the maintenance of needed recreational open space necessary to urban environment and planning, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is hereby established”. The plan also discusses the long history of off-leash dog access before and after the creation of the park.

Because open space is so limited in San Francisco, and because the GGNRA controls the entire coastline I strongly support continued access to provide reasonable exercise and recreation for dogs and their owners.

I’m very concerned about the tone of the plan and some of the specific provisions.

The objectives listed in the executive summary all relate to controlling, reducing and restricting dog access. Given the park’s charter to provide ‘public use and enjoyment’ and ‘needed recreation open space’ an important objective should be to preserve sufficient space for off-leash dog access.

The plan exhaustively lists real and theoretical issues related to dog access however there is no comparable section discussing issues with prohibiting or restricting dog access. These include wasting limited park resources on restricting responsible dog owners rather than cautioning the irresponsible, forcing dog owners to travel further to take their dogs for a reasonable walk and increasing the likelihood of aggression by concentrating dogs in increasingly small designated areas.     

The plan also continually discusses dog access in the context of park-wide regulations preventing any off-leash dog walking. San Francisco donated properties to the GGNRA on the proviso that traditional recreation would be maintained. The tone suggests that leash-free access was a mistake, and that the park service is begrudgingly fulfilling the park’s mission only when forced to do so. I’d have much more confidence in the process if the plan started from the position of accepting a variety of recreational activities, including off-leash dog walking, and then attempted to balance the varied needs of visitors, culture and wildlife from there.

Given this I find the adaptive management provision of the regulated off-leash areas (ROLAs) to be unacceptable. This provides the NPS with a mechanism to further erode dog access to on-leash only and even to prohibit dogs entirely without further consultation. The plan further states that under no circumstances will the reverse be true – once dogs are banned the park will never consider opening up access again. This is a far greater threat to preserving the park for future generations than any amount of dog access.

Rather than penalizing the vast majority of responsible dog owners the Dog Management Plan should focus on enforcing existing rules and regulations.

Below I discuss the proposed plan for the sites we visit regularly:

Fort Funston

The preferred alternative is far too restrictive. When the closed section of trail to the north of Fort Funston is open again there should be off-leash access for the full length of the beach and alongside trails so that a loop can be made down the sand ladder and then returning via the central or northern access trails. Of all the GGNRA sites Funston would seem to be the best candidate for Alternative A – maintaining current access – especially if the preferred alternative is selected for restricting most of Ocean Beach. We visit Fort Funston weekly, rain or shine, and given how heavily the area is used I’m surprised at how rare it is to encounter any problems.

Crissy Field

The preferred alternative is a good balance. When the east beach is busy there can be far too many dogs and people competing for space. For this reason we usually visit Crissy field when the weather is too severe to walk on an ocean facing beach and so it tends to be just dog walkers anyway.

Ocean Beach

The preferred alternative is reasonable, provided that Fort Funston is not overly restricted (see above).

Marin Headlands / Rodeo Beach

The preferred alternative massively reduces the trail available for hikers with a dog. We often complete the loop up the coastal trail to Hill 88 and then down Wolf Ridge / Miwok to return to Rodeo Beach. The trails are rarely crowded and a well behaved dog has no more impact than a person. The Hill 88 loop should be kept open to off-leash dogs. The preferred alternative for Rodeo Beach is acceptable.

--

Update January 17, 2011: KQED has a Forum segment on the dog management plan at 9am PST today. Join the discussion or access the audio archive here.

Update February 2, 2011: Sign up for this Facebook page: Save Off-Leash Dog Walking Areas in the SF Bay Area.