My calves are killing me. I decided to spend Friday exploring, starting with Mt. Coot-tha, a bush reserved 8 km from Brisbane city center. On the way, I stopped at Brisbane's real botanical gardens, at the base of the mountain.
Australia, not surprisingly, is colossal. For the dozens of reserves, sanctuaries, and national parks within striking distance, the town that marks the entrance to any proper rainforests or a visit to the reef is 29 hours away (same state though). I’m torn between Moreton Island, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, and Mt. Coot-tha Reserve for tomorrow.
Yesterday, I hung out with the world record holder for circumnavigating the globe in the smallest vessel. A couple years after doing this, he met his now-wife, who traveled South America with my aunt, trying to discover a solution to food security in the 1970s in the plant of amaranth. We went to the Powermill, a gutted powerhouse that sat unused for years and now is an art-space and bar-restaurant complex. Then to Farm Valley, famous for good restaurants for good Indonesian food, and the next door to much better gelato.
I have some pictures (not many, not much sight-seeing), but my backpacker’s hostel net connection is not far from excruciating.
My first day in Australia, operating on plane sleep over an endless night. But whatever hardship I expected from traveling in a foreign place, whatever vestige of roughness I expected from Australia's history, there was absolutely none. Brisbane is one of the most friendly, modern towns I've ever visited.
I visited the botanical garden in the city center, but it is mostly just a park. But I also visited the South Bank park, which was so, so much more than a park– with covered piazzas and man-made beaches and the Brisbane Eye.
It still seems foreign though, with its whale-song warblers, wandering giant ibises, big leaves. And a cat just climbed into my room.
Coffee is all the rage here, with tons of roasters, and one of the chains is just called "coffee is my life". I had, I think, the best cappuccino I've ever had (not difficult, given that it's been like my 6th to date), but the dusting of cocoa added a whole new level to it.
The rumors of expensive food seem to be right– there are tons of eateries, but the "lunch specials" tend to be $10-15. Other expectations seem to be different too. I was encouraged to invite people into my room. Indigenous people are really a concern that's one people's minds. And people can't seem to decide whether it's "so cold", like they were saying this morning, or if Brisbane has "perfect winter weather", drawing people out to sidewalk tables, like my [new] guidebook says.
My last activity of the day was the opening reception for the conference that brought me here, at 5pm. I went, I had a glass of wine and an hors d'oeuvre, spoke with one person, played with the cool technology screens, and left. I blame jet lag, though I've never really figured out how to do these conference receptions.
When a colleague of mine was asked what she'd be doing at her new job in Sweden, she answered, "I'll wake up each day and decide on the most important thing I could work on, and work on it, as long as it seems important, and then do something else."
The life of an academic is a pretty sweet deal– if sometimes brutal and dehumanizing. I answer to no one, no one sets my research agenda for me, and my only job to understand and think deeply about important issues. And between climate change, ecosystems, complexity, and the rest, the opportunities for doing that abound.
But this isn't what I want to do. I would much rather spend my time making art, snoozing in hammocks, writing sci-fi short stories, acting in local theater. Unfortunately, we're called on to pull the world back on track. If the world didn't have such strong drives toward persistent inequality and progressive exploitation, if the ethical demand wasn't there, we could seek a greater joy.
And yeah, yeah, seeking joy supports our capacity for ethical acts, and is an ethical act in itself. Maybe I'm wrong to spend my time at a monitor every day. Or maybe I would want to do it even if I didn't need to. But I don't really think so. I think we are asked to serve, because this isn't a utopia.
The challenges of this paradox– which I think are the challenges of really living– are quickly overshadowed by the challenges of actually doing the job that we think we're compelled to do. I don't often take the time to think deeply or to understand. I get quickly caught up in the action, which never seems to let up. One project leads to another, before the first ever finishes.
At a recent count, I'm working on 20 projects with 20 coauthors (not one-to-one, not including large groups). And I always want to join more. This isn't about the challenges of being overwhelmed with self-imposed work. But the self-imposed work is the fun and the futility, and pretty far from the final end.
I think I like hammocks and short stories because they're ends in themselves, rather than means to other means. But helping the world isn't about ends. The challenge is just to make sure that the ends get more time than discussions by water coolers and post on LJ and witty replies about new jobs.
I’m running a pair of seminars to introduce people to python, for the purpose of extracting data from various online sources. I still need to write up the content of the seminars, with plenty of examples at from trivial to intermediate. But first, I wanted to post the diagram I did for myself, to think about how to organize all of this material: a diagram.
How do the elements of python connect to each other, how do they relate to elements on the web, and how do elements on the web related to each other?
Boxes are python elements and ovals are web elements. I aimed to cover everything in brown, touch on items in blue, and at-most mention items in grey.
I’ve tried a number of feed readers, but I have some private feeds that I don’t want to run through any public systems, so for several years now (possibly since 2006), I’ve used Planet. Planet is a python script that churns out a combined feed as a webpage. Today I stripped out the private feeds and split the blogs I follow into Friends (and Communities), and News (and Webcomics).
A lot of the links have broken over the years, but I’m always adding more even if I don’t have time to read the ones I already have. Take a look, and fill me in on friends and good material on the interweb that I’m missing!
A bonus tool, I’ve been using the perl XML:RSS library to generate a bunch of RSS feeds where they’re missing, or improve them if I don’t like them. To wit:
I also had feeds for only the comics in the Phdcomics feed and for Mark Fiore videos, but they’ve since broken.
Sol, Amir, and I have been slaving away over a report on the business-case for fighting climate change. And it was released this morning! The media outlets give a sense of the highlights:
Today’s report from Risky Business – the project chaired by Steyer, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, and former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg – puts actual numbers on the financial risk the United States faces from unmitigated climate change.
[Quotes our guy:] “the most detailed modeling ever done on the impact of climate change on specific sectors of the U.S. economy.”
For example, by the last two decades of the century, if greenhouse gas emissions carry on rising unchecked, the net number of heat and cold-related deaths in the US is forecast as likely to be 0.9 per cent to 18.8 per cent higher. But the analysis also shows a one in 20 chance that the number of deaths will rise more than 32.56 per cent, and another one in 20 chance that it will fall by more than 7.77 per cent.
#RiskyBusiness: By end of the century, OR, WA & ID could have more days > 95°F/yr than there are currently in Texas | http://riskybusiness.org/
Higher temperatures will reduce Midwest crop yields by 19 percent by midcentury and by 63 percent by the end of the century.
The region, which has averaged eight days of temperatures over 95 degrees each year, will likely see an additional 17 to 52 of these days by midcentury and up to four months of them by the end of the century. This could lead to 11,000 to 36,000 additional deaths per year.
Capitalists Take on Climate Change.
Take a look! Here’s the media report:
And the scientific report (what we actually helped write):
I’ve recently gotten very into IFTTT, a tool for creating custom triggers– on anything from posting on my LJ to entering 50 m of my work– and performing custom actions– anything from copying the post to my WP blog to adding an event to my calendar. Take a look at How to Be 100x More Productive: The 35 Best IFTTT Recipes to get a sense of the usefulness.
It has limitations: I can’t trigger an arbitrary API call or post to more than one WP account. But it’s getting there.
I’m in a group studying Bayesian techniques for environmental research, under Upmanu Lall at the Earth Institute. We recently did a session on the packages available in R for modeling Bayesian Networks. Here’s the spreadsheet that came out of the meeting:
Obama plans to extend the marine reserve around the Pacific Remote Islands Area out to the 200 nautical mile limit of the US’s jurisdiction, doubling global marine reserves:
If we ignore these problems, if we drain our oceans of their resources, we won’t just be squandering one of humanity’s greatest treasures, we will be cutting off one of the worlds major sources of food and economic growth,” he said.
“This is incredibly significant and shows global leadership from the US on this issue” said Karen Sack from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“There is an amazing array of biodiversity around these islands, there are sea mount systems with a lot of deep sea species, all types of marine mammals.”