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Comment Re:Positive development (Score 1) 161

The abundance of one species does not a healthy ecosystem make. I have a friend whose family owns a 1700 acre island off the coast of New England. It used to support an enormous white tail deer population -- and not coincidentally it had a plague of ticks, because everything in nature is food for something else. You would not have wanted to visit there back in the 1970s because the tick problem was insane. Everyone in his family has had Lyme disease, which also feasted on the swollen deer population.

Then in the 1980s the Western Coyote made it to New England, and a pack swam out to the island. In a single season they took down most of the deer herd, and now the island is a pleasant and sanitary place to live. And this is not some kind of odd aberration; this is how ecology works. If you disturb an ecosystem (say by killing off all the native timber wolves), weed species take over and they end up riddled with disease.

Weed species the ones who by sheer luck can live in conjunction with or off of large human populations. In a healthy ecosystem they may be cute, but an ecosystem dominated by weed animals can be nightmarish. I know lots of natural science geeks, and for the most part animals don't scare them. I once went for a walk with a girl who picked up a rotting coyote head and put it in her jacket pocket. She was TA'ing an anatomy course and wanted to show it to her students. But even she wouldn't go near a racoon, because unchecked by predation suburban raccoons are chock full of leptospirosis, salmonella and roundworm -- not to mention rabies. Those diseases can and do cripple, even kill people.

A world dominated by weed species would be quite horrible to live in.

Comment Re:More condoms less climate change (Score 1) 161

People per se have almost no impact on climate. It's what people do and how much in aggregate they do it.

Environmentalists are often stereotyped as pessimists, but really most of the people I know who've dedicated their careers are optimistic that technology can address many environmental problems. Sure, they'd like to see the global population stabilized, or even somewhat reduced, because that makes the job of preserving the environment much easier. But they actually believe the sustainability problem can be licked, even without reducing the global population by much.

I'll give you one example of how an actual environmentalist thinks. I was at a meeting with the sustainability director of a major sportswear manufacturer, and he was describing the research they were doing into improving the recyclability of polyester fleece clothing. He made the point that scale is critical to assessing the environmental impact. For a small band of hunter-gatherers, wild animal pelts would be the source of clothing with the least impact; wool would have intermediate impact; a chemical plant that reprocesses coke bottles into polyester resins would have a ridiculously large impact. But if you are making hundreds of thousands of garments, the impacts are actually reversed: the chemical plant has the least environmental impact. Once you turn those bottles into fleece you can continually recycle those molecules into more fleece. He describes recycling as "living off your environmental income instead of your capital."

Environmentalists -- by which I mean the people who are actually working on solutions to environmental problems -- generally believe that even with a large population we can make use of the products of ecosystems without disturbing the equilibria that sustain those systems. As one civil engineering environmentalist I know put it: I = P*S/T ; impact is proportional to population and standard of living but inversely proportional to technology. You can reduce the environmental impact of home heating by reducing the number of people; or you could do it by people getting used to being colder. But you can get the same result by insulating your house and heating it with renewable energy.

It's actually the anti-environmentalists who are the pessimists; they don't believe in people's ability to adapt, and they anticipate nothing but suffering from trying to do anything about problems. Their version of "optimism" is to discount any evidence that problems exist, or to convincing themselves if we do nothing everything will work out for the best.

Submission + - The FCC just passed sweeping new rules to protect your online privacy ( 1

jriding writes: Federal regulators have approved unprecedented new rules to ensure broadband providers do not abuse their customers' app usage and browsing history, mobile location data and other sensitive personal information generated while using the Internet.

The rules, passed Thursday in a 3-to-2 vote by the Federal Communications Commission, require Internet providers, such as Comcast and Verizon, to obtain their customers' explicit consent before using or sharing that behavioral data with third parties, such as marketing firms.

Submission + - How Police Body Cameras Fail (

tedlistens writes: Since the shooting of unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014—an incident that was not captured on camera—activists and city governments have stridently fought for more police oversight through body-worn cameras, and cities are responding, with the help of millions of dollars in body camera grants from the White House. But the public is discovering that the technology isn't foolproof: Cameras fall off, officers fail to record, and the video itself can be kept largely out of the public record, in deference to privacy laws, police policies, and the challenges of managing massive amounts of footage. But, critics worry, when video collected for oversight purposes isn't shared publicly—or isn’t collected at all—citizens might become more suspicious about police misconduct, amplifying mistrust amid an effort to fight it. An article at Fast Company details ways in which body camera programs are falling short of their goals, and ideas for improving what some have called the most rapid technology upgrade in policing history.

Submission + - Unencrypted Key Allows Drone Hijacking

An anonymous reader writes: A researcher has discovered a new technique for hijacking drones by attacking a popular radio wireless control protocol known as DSMx. The transmission protocol covers millions of hobbyist devices including radio-controlled toy cars, airplanes, helicopters and boats. While jammers are already available to intercept radio signals and disrupt flight paths, security expert Jonathan Andersson at Trend Micro DVLabs, has now found an exploitable vulnerability which allows a hijacker to completely control the drone itself. Andersson explained how the unencrypted binding key used to connect the remote transmitter with the DSMx receiver can be extracted from the protocol through brute-force attacks. He also found that a timing weakness allows for hijacker commands to be sent before legitimate ones, causing the compromised drone to reject the real operator’s instructions. Using a tiny device called Icarus, built using off-the-shelf electronics and software-defined radio (SDR), Andersson showed how an interceptor can take over control of the radio-controlled devices, locking out the original owner in seconds.

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