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Comment A couple suggestions (Score 2) 178

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. Really a book about architecture and urban planning, but sets out the idea of a pattern language that has been very influential in many fields, particularly software engineering.

The Mythical Man-Month by Frederick Brooks on a lot of the pitfalls of managing big software projects.

Comment Wild bees (Score 1) 174

This is typical Margaret Wente: uninformed pro-business status-quoism attacking anyone who might question "progress."

Honey bees aren't the big problem; the problem is wild bees. There are only three species of domesticated bees, compared to many hundreds of wild bees, most of which are important pollinators (ecologically and economically) and some of which fill unique ecological niches. Honey bee health is an important indicator for wild bee health, but honey bees aren't themselves under threat as a species because, thanks to human caretaking, they can breed quickly and any lost colonies can be replaced. Bee hive numbers are really nothing more than an indicator of demand for bees. If anything, more bee hives might be indicative of a problem, because more domestic bees are needed to pollinate crops when there aren't enough wild pollinators. Wild bee numbers are way down over the last few years, and there is pretty good evidence suggesting that neonicotinoid pesticides are a big factor in that, and a relatively easy problem to "fix." Keep in mind, they only came into widespread use around 10 years ago, and we did just fine before that.

(Full disclosure: I am a volunteer with Sierra Club Canada, though I haven't directly worked on the bee issue myself and this is completely my own thoughts on it.)

Comment Re:I hate to imagine it (Score 1) 126

Researchers confirmed through DNA sequencing that the infection in the child is not a new infection, but was the one passed from the mother.

Well, if it was a reinfection then I would expect the mother (or possibly father) to be the likely source. There are all kinds of ways that a mother could accidentally pass on the virus to a young child, especially if her infection isn't well-managed and the child isn't on anti-retrovirals. Could they tell the difference between the original infection and a reinfection if they came from the same source? I can't see how they could.

Submission + - NASA: Our Technology-Dependent Lifestyle is Too Vulnerable to Solar Flares (

peakprosperity writes: In 1859, a massive coronal mass ejection (CME) known as the Carrington Event slammed into Earth. Aurorae, normally observable only near the poles, appeared in the sky as far south as Hawaii and Cuba, providing enough light to read by at night. The then-new global telegraph systems in Europe and America were brought down. Reports of sparking pylons and operators receiving electric shocks abounded — there were even accounts of people being able to send and receive messages over wires that had been disconnected from their power supplies. Fast-forward to 2013. Our planet is orders of magnitude more dependent on its technology systems. And a solar event the size of the Carrington Event has not recurred since. How vulnerable are we, should another one arrive?

Comment We will never run out completely (Score 1) 663

Of course we're never going to run out of fossil fuels. It becomes uneconomical to extract the stuff long before we run out. It never completely dries up, it just gets more and more scarce expensive and plays a lesser and lesser role in our lives. Take methane hydrates: we've known that there were massive quantities of energy stored in this stuff for decades, but we're only now getting to the point where anyone would think about using these incredibly hard-to-access, hard-to-process resources as fuel. Going back a few years, the same was true for shale gas, oil sands, deep-water offshore oil, etc. This is a point that Charles Mann unfortunately missed in his article: we're exploring this stuff because we're desperate.

This could be an okay thing if we replace oil with sustainable sources of energy (as the techno-utopians would predict) or a disastrous thing leading to the downfall of civilization (as the doomers would predict). I find myself in the middle camp: we will partially replace our fossil fuel use with renewables and increased efficiency, but the increasing cost of fossil fuel use will also force us to reduce the amount of energy we use and, consequently, our standard of living.

Comment Incandescents still much, much more convenient (Score 1) 1080

So I've tried an awful lot of energy efficient bulbs, and I use them for most of my lighting, but I still find incandescent bulbs indispensable. The biggest problem with these other bulb technologies is that they lack the de facto standardization that has come from many decades of incandescent use. Sure, if I just want a 60-watt equivalent bulb for a regular light fixture, that's great. But what if I need something a bit brighter, for my enclosed ceiling fan? I can never seem to find a bulb that is bright enough and fits in the enclosure. Same goes for my dining room chandelier, and the lighting for the vanity in my bathroom. And even if I do manage to find a bulb that is bright enough and fits properly, there's a good chance it'll be an odd colour, and now when I stand in front of my bathroom mirror I will look an odd shade of green. Sure, maybe there are bulbs out there that are perfect replacements for the incadescents I know and love, but they probably don't have them at the store I was at, or it's hard to figure out which one to buy. So I might go through two or three different $5 bulbs before I'm happy with the result. Or I could buy a $0.50 soft white incandescent and get exactly what I want every time. At $0.12/kWh, it's not worth the effort to replace a 25-watt bulb that I use for 30 minutes a day (even considering that I'll have to replace it every year or so).

Comment Vote counting is the least of the USA's problems (Score 5, Insightful) 500

Of all the things Canadians can mock about U.S. elections, your difficulty in counting up the votes isn't even the top of the list. The most mind-boggling thing is that your election campaigns take most of a year, ensuring that for about 20% of the election cycle, any given politician (including the president) is basically unable to engage in their actual job of governing the country and is instead campaigning. In Canada, election campaigns typically last about six weeks; before the election is officially called, campaigning is prohibited. The result is that politicians can spend vastly more time doing their jobs and campaigns cost vastly less money.

Oh, and don't get me started on how incredibly bad an idea it is to have elected judges, prosecutors, sheriffs, etc. Here (Ontario) I think there are only five officials we actually vote for: representatives in federal and provincial legislatures, city councilor, mayor, and school board trustee. Everyone else is appointed, usually de facto by committee.

Comment Re:Moral? (Score 1) 299

There's more to being domesticable than being tasty though. Galapagos tortoises were, according to historical accounts, incredibly delicious, so much so that they never managed to get one back to Europe because the sailors would eat them. The problem is that while most domestic animals are ready to eat in a year or less, tortoises take decades to mature. Even if we managed to hold off eating them for long enough to get a tortoise farm started, it wouldn't be economical. Hence, delicious tortoises are on the verge of extinction.

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