Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Development issues in the US

So… one of the messages from the readings on technology transfer and development is the unapplicability of “Northern” methods of agricultural technology within the “South”. Much of the South’s problems stem from colonial and post-colonial relationships with it and the North. One of the greatest questions I had as a child and traveling around East Asia was why certain methods were deemed to be “gospel” and others merely laughable attempts at order. (And why was order always such a sought-after goal?)

Some of the cultural mindset presented in the reading can easily be seen by the reactions of new transplants in Phoenix, AZ to xeriscape: “Why is everything dead?” With the mindset that a yard (a type of landscape taken from a culture matched with a certain climate) must be a green plot of land, people in the Southwest have produced the most bizarre type of scenery I’ve seen in the country – turgid cacti growing on fertilized and watered monoculture lawns, and probably wonder why their water bills are so high and why their expensive saguaro cacti keep turning spongy and dying. This is akin to what Scott wrote in his chapter:

The logic of beginning with an ideal genotype and then transforming nature to accord with its growing conditions has some predictable consequences. [Farm experiment] extension work essentially becomes the attempt to remake the farmer’s field to suit the genotype. This usually requires the application of nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides, which must be purchased and applied at the right moment. It usually also requires a watering regimen that in many cases only irrigation can possibly satisfy. (pg. 302)

The recent ongoing drought has made more people cognizant of the problems that are occurring, viz. water in their region, and some have taken on the idea of bringing the “native” Arizona to their neighborhood.

Of course, one looks at the near-entirety of US agriculture and you see this form of agriculture, much of it in areas that could arguably be better for not enduring the agricultural demands placed upon it. How is the readings on technology transfer any different when it is massively subsidized by internal governmental forces as compared to subsidized by an external government? How do the rural monuments to high modernism – the high dam, the monocrop agricultural field – affect a local mindset? In Arizona it has created the ability to have (prior to the spread of the cities) citrus groves, and green lawns. It has allowed the continuation of flood irrigation throughout the Southwest. It has produced the food that feeds the nation, all growing in land that is termed the “breadbasket” of the nation. However, if you look at metrics behind the numbers providing this surplus of food, you see a disturbing trend: high levels of groundwater consumption and elevated levels of fertilizer and pesticide application (and leaching) to name two. These have knock-on/peripheral impacts that aren’t felt by those in the region, and by us presently. However, when excess nitrogen fertilizers reach the nitrogen-poor waters of the Gulf of Mexico, they produce anoxic “dead” zones which negatively affects local shrimping and fishing. As groundwater levels drop, the per unit cost of extracting deeper levels increases, cutting into the farmer’s margin. When these resources eventually dry up, then farming will become impossible in these regions. Eventually another source of food will have to be found, or behaviors in production will have to be reconsidered drastically.

The possibility of even contemplating the possibility of using corn (!) to fuel the nation’s transportation needs is an great example of how we have entrained our vision along those of high-modernist constructs (i.e., technologies). It would have been ludicrous to even imagine the possibility of growing a nation’s fuel source. And on paper, it seems like it might be possible. However, this is when the calculations don’t take into account “the externalities.” The saying, “the real world is an externality” proves a point here: fueling the nation on corn ethanol is very potentially more polluting than continuing to use petroleum. The problems lie in the variation across space and time; production energy costs; distribution energy costs; and pollution costs.

What is the appropriate social context of a dam? This seems to be a paradoxical question, since we in the US assume dams as part of our landscape – and in Michigan, a part of the landscape that is usually thought of as being “Western” and “over there.” I would argue that much of the United State’s cultural ideation of “dams” has moved strongly away from the thousands of dams that dot Michigan’s waterways (many of which I have to contend with in fieldwork and research). I wonder even how many University of Michigan students think of Argo Dam or Barton Dam over that of Hoover Dam or even Glen Canyon Dam when the word “dam” is mentioned. However, is Hoover Dam in the “appropriate social context”? Upon examining the social context upon which it was built, a liberalist like myself might say that it was a high-modernist statement of man’s dominion over nature, and triumph over the desert. However, as the big dams grew up around the country, controversy came about as to their use and impacts; the social contexts changed, and people no longer felt it was “good” to put large dams along the Colorado River, especially in the Grand Canyon. Large-scale prostrative kow-towing to high-modernist ideals in the form of NAWAPA were dropped from consideration. Yet, obsolescence of ideology sometimes comes with concrete legacies. The lessons of the big dams of the West come as a package with their looming presence.

The above aren’t discussions of the problems of exporting technologies to developing countries, but examples of our own developing understandings of the problems surrounding the experiments that we have been unwittingly conducting with our own use of high-modernist methods. While we may laugh at the “backward” methods of those farmers producing enough for their own needs with their own local knowledge – the “craft” of farming – we should be cognizant of the experiment our previous generations have left running in the background.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Another story about a warm autumn.

I was walking on to campus today and saw this in Kerrytown. Yes, it is a Prunus blooming in autumn. (For those of you who don't know, Prunus species bloom in the SPRING.)

This isn't PROOF of global warming, but it is proof of a really warm October.

If you really want to have a scare about global warming, all you need to do is check out the forecast report from UNEP and a report of the actual measured numbers of global climate change.

Check out photos from the UNEP report.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Heisman Day

No, today is NOT the day that the Heisman trophy is awarded to some very successful NCAA football player. To day is the birth date of John Heisman, after whom the trophy is named. John Heisman was born this day wa~ay back in 1869. He started coaching in 1900 at Clemson University, and moved to Georgia Tech four seasons later. He also coached at University of Pennsylvania for one season and one season in Washington and Jefferson College before completing his final four seasons at Rice University.

So, why is John Heisman so famous? It wasn't only because of the now-coveted trophy that bears his name. John revolutionized the game during his career, creating many of the things we take for granted today including the backward hike (it was originally rolled or kicked backward, like in rugby) and was a major proponent of legalizing the forward pass (yes, it had originally been illegal, like in rugby). However, what we remember him most for today is his name and that trophy. However, throughout the majority of John's coaching career, the "Heisman Trophy" didn't exist.

The Heisman Trophy started out as an award given out by the Downtown Athletic Club of New York City (to where John had retired) to the best football player east of the Mississippi River. Two months after John Heisman's death in 1936, the trophy was renamed the Heisman Trophy in his honor. It is now awarded to the best NCAA football player in a season.

Now, as of this writing, Michigan has only won the trophy three times:
The University of Michigan's major rivals (Ohio State University and Notre Dame University) have each won the trophy seven times. This year, however, UMich has a very strong candidate in Mike Hart.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hello Kitty AK-47?

Yes! Even YOU can get a fuchsia-colored, hand-knitted stock-covered AK-47 sporting everyone's favorite KAWAII manga character: Hello Kitty. Yes, GlamGuns.com is offering this magnificent masterpiece for just dollars more than a mere $1K. On the site, you can also find a number of different "dolled-up" guns and gear; enough to make you wonder what "lateral thinking" went into the design of these things.

(Needless to say, I will not be making this purchase at this time.)

How to eat sushi: an instructional video.

... or not. You decide.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Personal health benefits of not driving.

I've been hypothesizing for some years that if only Americans walked, cycled, and rode public transportation (thus needing to walk or run to make a train/bus/tram/etc.), that obesity levels would be decreased. (I also think that if companies didn't sell sizes in 3XL or greater, people would have less incentive to allow themselves to become obese - but this is a less tenable hypothesis, I think.)

Well, No Impact Man has posted a graph showing relationships between people in different countries. I would argue that he shouldn't have used a line graph, since a line graph shows an implicit relationship between values on the x-axis. Categorical data - such as countries - should be shown as columns or bars. However, the apparent inverse relationship between obesity (red) and daily physical transportation activity (green). Of course, there are several possible variables that are affecting these results, including diet, portion size, affluence, and stress to name a few.

Results like this, however, seem interesting to me. However, I would like to know if something like this relationship could be replicated within a country, or even within a major city served by public transportation (such as NYC). Would you be able to find a similarly inverse relationship based on borough, distance-to-work, or diet? Similarly, would there be a difference between people who ride public transportation vs cycle? (I'm assuming that there is - but this raises the additional question of whether cyclists are a self-selecting group...)

Ahh... the internal mental debate continues.

Of course, you could probably show a relationship between %urbanized and obesity. (I'm hypothesizing that more rural communities are more obese than highly urban communities.) Anyone with data?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Portlands of the World.

When most people in the United States say Portland, they are likely referring to one of two cities: Portland, Maine or Portland, Oregon. Even in Michigan, it isn't always obvious which Portland someone is talking about when referring to the name (although they seem like you should intuitively know of which city they are speaking.

Today I decided to type "Portland" into Panoramio and see how many there are in the world. The website happily complied, and informed me that all these countries (and states/provinces) have cities named "Portland" (I've tried to link to Google Maps where possible, but when impossible, I'm using Falling Rain, or Panoramio's link):
The next time someone asks you if you've been to Portland, ask them which of the thirty-four Portlands around the world they are referring to. (And these don't take into account cities/towns/villages that are called "Portland" in a language other than English.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Checking to see if this works.

I'm checking out whether Saginaw Forest shows up as a "County Park" or not. It shouldn't since it is managed by SNRE and owned by the U of M. I'm also checking to see how easy it is to embed a map like this into a blog entry. Doesn't seem too difficult.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Weather back to normal.

It might not be a lot of news to many people out there, but finally the weather has come back to normal. With such warm temperatures continuing through the first week in October (leading to two consecutive days of record high temperatures, and almost a week of near-record temperatures), I can only say that I really wished that I had taken photos of all the undergrads walking around in shorts and t-shirts with the leaves changing. Now, however, there are people in various layers of clothing - from shorts and t-shirt to heavy jackets and scarves. Perhaps this is more amusing (perhaps I will even get a photo before acclimation starts to set in).

One other sign that temperatures are getting to where they should be is that temperatures in the building have been roasting today. So much so that I had to practice what my parents called "Russian air conditioning" (basically opening a window during winter to let the uncontrollable heat escape). I know that this is not environmentally-friendly of me, but one of the things that has been done to the rooms is disabling the thermostats (thus providing the occupants with a sense of control, but with about as much control as an armadillo in a Dime commercial.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

On Panoramio

I found Budapest's "Cemetery of Communist Statues" on Panoramio. True, some people label their photos "statue garden" or something similar, but I really like the idea of a cemetery for statues remembering a former regime. Kind of like the consolation prize equivalent of a memorial. I never looked for it when living there, and I'm happy now that I can use Panoramio and Google Earth to see these things. (It makes me want to fly back and check it all out. Ahhh, nostalgia.)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Big logs are difficult to move.

NOTE: This blog entry is an anecdote of me moving a large log from one end of a private park to another.

For those of you wanting to find plans on how to make a sawhorse, check:
AND, for those of you wanting to find information about log-trailers, check:

And now on to my (rather banal) story:

Yesterday, I helped move the large log that will be used for the cross-cut sawing competition in this Friday's SNRE Campfire [Homecoming] Event. The log was from a recently-downed pine, and therefore still pretty "wet". It was located on the far side of Third Sister Lake (with reference to the campfire site) and off the trail a little ways. The process of events went thusly:
  1. Arrived at Saginaw Woods (just west of A2) at 2:00PM(-ish);drove to far side of Third Sister Lake.
  2. Helped caretakers pull rowboat onto shore; discussed plans of dragging assessed log to water and floating it across the lake.
  3. Cleared brush, moved small dead pines to make a "trail".
  4. Started cutting the log with a chainsaw; I drove back to caretakers' house; one caretaker rowed back to other side of lake to get rope for tree moving.
  5. Collected three ratcheting straps and re-crossed the lake.
  6. Arrived at the other side of the lake; gasoline for the chainsaw ran out.
  7. Caretakers returned to cabin to get more gasoline; I continued to clear a path.
  8. Caretakers returned with gasoline, and proceeded to continue cutting the tree; I continued to clear a path.
  9. Chainsaw oil starts to run low; one caretaker and I return to cabin and fetch more chainsaw oil as well as a two-man crosscut saw; chainsaw stops going as we re-cross the lake.
  10. We use the crosscut saw to cut the log section (work proceeds MUCH faster than with the chainsaw).
  11. We realize that the tree length is VERY heavy (not easily moved).
  12. After much cajoling, we (three) move the tree segment onto an upturned dolly, but (even with some wheels on one end) the tree proves unwilling to easily move.
  13. We realize this method will be a non-starter if we try and move the tree over mucky ground on wheels, and realize we will have to move it up the short slope to the path (and eventually around the lake).
  14. I recall the presence of a light-weight boat trailer near the cottage, however, we would still need another set of wheels for the other (non-wheeled) section of tree; we cross the lake in the boat (for the last time in the evening).
  15. One caretaker leaves to get another set of wheels to move the tree; I collect a crowbar, axe, and metal plate from the garage, put them on the boat trailer, and wheel the boat trailer to the other side of the lake. (This last bit isn't too difficult, since I attached another strap to the boat trailer to act as a sling, thus taking much of the weight off my arms, and onto my shoulders.)
  16. Arriving at the other side of the lake, we set up the trailer on the path to take the log, and proceed to clear a trail from the log to the path.
  17. The caretaker returns with extra wheels; they get strapped onto the log after much levering and swearing.
  18. The log is dragged over the cleared trail to the path with the trailer. This required a lot of re-levering to keep the log on the cleared trail, with the help of the crowbar and lots of tugging.
  19. Once on the path with the trailer, the log needed to be turned to face the trailer (again with the help of the crowbar and tugging, but this time with a little swearing, since we had moved from packed dirt to sand and gravel).
  20. With the tree and trailer lined up, it was now time to put to log onto the trailer. The trailer was tipped up to bring the back-end to bear, and used as a lever to hoist the log onto the rollers (usually used to keep a boat in line whilst winching it onto the trailer). Due to a lack of a winch on the trailer, one of the ratcheting tie-downs was used instead. The process required further tugging and the occasional use of the crowbar. Each time the log was moved up the trailer, the ratcheting tie-down (which was standing in for a winch) had to be reset. However, once the log was in place, it acted as a nice counterweight, thus making the weight of the trailer (at the hitch end) effectively neutral.
  21. We all proceeded to move the trailer back around the lake to the location of the festivities.
  22. Arriving back at the cottage, we realised that the height of the log on the trailer (roughly 2.5 feet) would not be adequately high enough to get it onto the high saw horses (roughly 4 feet) used in the cross-cut sawing competitions. A solution was reached that would require pulling the log further up the trailer, thus allowing the log to be strapped to a sawhorse once the trailer was tilted up. (I'm sorry, I cannot really describe this process better.) This was done after much grunting and pulling.
  23. With one end of the log placed onto a sawhorse, the original plan of dragging it fully onto that sawhorse came up against another proverbial brick wall as we realised that the friction force of bark on wood was going to be far more than we could handle between the three of us. This meant some more re-thinking of our stratagem. We decided to use two of us to bodily lift the end of the log still on the trailer high enough to wedge a second sawhorse underneath. This was done with a lot of swearing and grunting, but the second sawhorse was now present holding the whole thing up at 4 feet.
  24. Now we just needed to move the saw horses together so that there would be enough of the log sticking out one end to actually have overhang for the competitors to cut. Using the same method as in the previous step proved to be too difficult due to a lack of leverage, and for a second we thought we were going to be in a bind. However, I tried lifting one end of the section of the log by bracing myself between the ground and the log. I was able to lift it enough that - by sections - we could slowly move the sawhorses together.
  25. However, as the sawhorses came together, I was moving closer to the center, requiring that I lift more of the weight of the log each time. (Did I mention that the log was heavy?) The only reason I could do it was because I just happened to be the right physical dimensions so that I could wedge myself under the log and lift with my legs and still not have my back bent. Luckily, I was able to continue doing this until the sawhorse was slightly past flush with one end of the log. This meant that I could start lifting at the very end of the log - leverage works.
  26. With two final lifts at the log-end, the sawhorses were flush with each other, and we could bind them to the log (thus preventing the possibility that it might fall off (or be pushed off by people walking through the forest and looking for a laugh). We ended at about 8:30PM.
  27. After showering off, I realized that my back along my shoulders was bruised from the lifting of the log, but at least it is now done. And when people comment that it must have taken a lot of people and possibly some machinery to move the log into place, I can say that it took only three people. (Pride is sometimes good, I feel.)
So, in short, it took three people (and some ingenuity) almost six hours to move a log from one side of a small lake to the other. However, we learned a few things:
  • Using a boat trailer to move a log along a road makes log-moving really easy (especially when you have the trailer balances so that the weight of the logs counter-balances the weight of the trailer).
  • A two-man crosscut saw is much faster than a chainsaw when cutting through a newly-fallen tree (and uses much less gasoline and oil).
  • Applying wheels to a log is a great way of moving a log through the forest along a cleared trail.
  • Three people can move a fecking huge log, but not without a lot of effort.
  • Mosquitoes don't care that it's the beginning of October - if it's hot enough for mosquitoes, they will persist.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

China, coal, and CO2

UPDATE (2/12/2008): China's coal and CO2 problems continue to be an important story in the lead-up to the Olympics.

Just a few days after reading Bush's climate change proposal, I read a blurb on Grist about China's own CO2 emissions proposal. This led me to wonder if there are numbers estimating China's CO2 emissions up to now, and projections of CO2 emissions into the future.

Doing a quick Google search for "China coal" and "China CO2" netted a few different graphical analyses, and I found something that (I thought) was interesting. Use of a metric which is effectively "CO2/GDP". This is an interesting metric, because it allows for someone to measure the energy "efficiency" of China's economy viz burning coal. It can also be used to guesstimate the amount of CO2 production through economic means. However, it does have some issues (which I will not get into at this point).

In their 2007 paper ("Forecasting the Path of China's CO2 Emissions Using Province Level Information"), Maximilian Auffhammer and Richard T. Carson state:

Our results suggest that the anticipated path of China’s Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions has dramatically increased over the last five years. The magnitude of the projected increase in Chinese emissions out to 2015 is several times larger than reductions embodied in the Kyoto Protocol. Our estimates are based on a unique provincial level panel data set from the Chinese Environmental Protection Agency. This dataset contains considerably more information relevant to the path of likely Chinese greenhouse gas emissions than national level time series models currently in use. Model selection criteria clearly reject the popular static environmental Kuznets curve specification in favor of a class of dynamic models with spatial dependence.
If you've taken a course in environmental economics, the environmental Kuznet's Curve is something that you have to learn about. Since I'm not an expert in economics, nor focusing on that topic here, I will leave for now, with only the link (I am sending this draft on to some people who I know might be interested in it, though). However, I will draw people's attention to the list of graphs toward the end of the paper (pages 24-27). The numbers seem to agree with the estimates presented below (just more evidence of reliability, perhaps even of verifiability).

Another point that I find interesting is how estimates of China's future CO2 emissions become higher with each passing year. Starting with the World Resource Institute's estimate, they noted in November 2006, "Surging Chinese Carbon Dioxide."

Graph taken from here.

And over at Mongabay, there are a couple stories about CO2 emissions - globally (in 2005) and in China (in 2006). I took the graphs presented on each web page, matched up their trends, and displayed the two forecasts outward from 2010 (produced in 2005 and 2006) of China and the United States. You will notice that the US forecast is effectively the same forecast from 2005 to 2006, but China's forecast was shifted upward by roughly 1,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions by 2025.
Modified from Mongabay

(Get ready for the conceptual bridge statement coming up.) The IOC had concerns about pollution and population at the Mexico City Olympic Games in 1968 - something that is much more of a concern at Beijing 2008 (even greater than when Athens held it). If the 2008 Games are going to be China's equivalent to a debutante ball, then it had best make sure that it's streets are truly bright, clean, and inviting. (I really don't like using the metaphor of a debutante ball, but it was the best thing that came to mind when thinking about how to metaphorize a "coming out" party.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Perceptions of science

"This failure [of climate change science in anticipating social impacts of climate change] strongly reflects the power, and danger, of a science policy dogma that asserts that more scientific understanding must lead to more societal benefit, and thus allows problems rooted in socioeconomics and politics to be redefined as agendas for scientific research."
(Sarewitz, et al. 2004)

Sarawitz et al were writing in 2004 - when the shift in climate policy was happening; a shift from mitigation to adaptation. Now, climate models predict a period of hundreds of years of warming under the most optimistic cases of global climate change. In the summer of 2007, SNRE led a conference called "Confronting Climate Change" where the expected impacts from climate change in various aspects of existence were assessed with behavior change adaptation in mind. There continues to be a sense that mitigation is important, but greater societal good will come out of an intelligent anticipation of climate change. Perhaps in this way science is starting to move in the direction of iterations between social needs and science research.

Sarewitz et al discussed this as "A third possibility [of science policy] would be to extend the notion of science policy itself to give equal weight to the processes of knowledge creation and use."

When I read this part - and the rest of the article, I was like, "OMG! A breath of fresh air." This line of reasoning seems to follow on what Gibbons et al discuss as "Type 2" science, and is a method by which recent groundwater policy was decided in Michigan.

Sidenote: Does this "third possibility" herald a paradigm shift in science practice, science policy, or public perceptions of science?

Sarewitz, D., G Foladori, N. Invernizzi, M.S. Garfinkel (2004) "Science Policy in its Social Context" Philosophy Today (Supplement 2004)

I'm a peacemaker?

From a link to Enneagram Personality Test, I'm apparently a 'peacemaker'. I hope that this means that I'm not synonymous with the B36, an Old West style revolver, or a reference to the United State's imperialistic past.

People of this personality type essentially feel a need for peace and harmony. They tend to avoid conflict at all costs, whether it be internal or interpersonal. As the potential for conflict in life is virtually ubiquitous, the Nine's desire to avoid it generally results in some degree of withdrawal from life, and many Nines are, in fact, introverted. Other Nines lead more active, social lives, but nevertheless remain to some to degree "checked out," or not fully involved, as if to insulate themselves from threats to their peace of mind. Most Nines are fairly easy going; they adopt a strategy of "going with the flow." They are generally reliable, sturdy, self-effacing, tolerant and likable individuals.


Nines frequently mistype themselves as they have a rather diffuse sense of their own identities. This is exacerbated by the fact that Nines often merge with their loved ones and through a process of identification take on the characteristics of those closest to them. Female Nines frequently mistype as Twos, especially if they are the mothers are small children. Nines, however, are self-effacing whereas Twos are quite aware of their own self worth. Nines also mistake themselves for Fours, but Nines tend to avoid negative emotions whereas Fours often exacerbate them. Intellectual Nines, especially males, frequently mistype as Fives, but Fives are intellectually contentious whereas Nines are conciliatory and conflict avoidant.

Is this me? I dunno. I never thought of myself as a "Nine".