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Archive for September, 2010

The Google Transparency Report/YouTube Censorship Graphing

h/t to Floating Sheep

An editorial in the NY Times this morning reminded me that Google is making some interesting data available about user created content, censorship and Geography on the Internet, namely Google’s Transparency Project. It includes both data on government requests to censor and traffic flows by country. The direct requests to censor is a difficult variable to understand (i.e., not well specified, see the FAQ) but the traffic data reveals some really interesting patterns.

The FS article continues at the link, and includes screenshots of results for various countries.

Googling the Censors

NYT OpEd, 9/28

Four months ago, Google unveiled a tool that allows users to monitor the requests received from governments to take down material or report data on the users of their search engine and other services. This month, it released another tool that will expose less overt attempts by governments to curtail its various services, including YouTube and Gmail.

The new tracker shows how traffic on YouTube in Iran fell to zero after the disputed presidential election last year. And how YouTube traffic collapsed in Libya in January after it aired videos of demonstrations by families of murdered prisoners and videos of partying relatives of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader.

Google Transparency Report

Transparency is a core value at Google. As a company we feel it is our responsibility to ensure that we maximize transparency around the flow of information related to our tools and services. We believe that more information means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual.

We’ve created an interactive map of Government Requests that shows the number of government inquiries for information about users and requests for Google to take down or censor content. We hope this step toward greater transparency will help in ongoing discussions about the appropriate scope and authority of government requests.

Our interactive Traffic graphs provide information about traffic to Google services around the world. Each graph shows historic traffic patterns for a given country/region and service. By illustrating outages, this tool visualizes disruptions in the free flow of information, whether it’s a government blocking information or a cable being cut. We hope this raw data will help facilitate studies about service outages and disruptions.

The search tools are at the link


Miscellaneous News

Not exactly the Sons of Anarchy

Sentinel Source/L.A. Times, 9/23

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles officials vowed to arrest and prosecute bicyclists for incidents like the one Friday night in which hundreds of riders swarmed a grocery store parking lot and broke out beer and marijuana, with some riding into the store and through the aisles.

Participants would be cited for violating traffic rules that endanger motorists or pedestrians, said police Commander Andy Smith. Those who engaged in violence would be immediately arrested.

The warning during a news conference at the downtown Los Angeles Police Department headquarters comes ahead of a mass ride scheduled for Friday and is aimed at protecting the rights not only of cyclists but also of those who share the roads and sidewalks with them.

Facebook Hopes Credits Make Dollars



Facebook began testing its virtual currency, called Credits, more than a year ago with some popular games on Facebook. This month, Credits passed a milestone when it became the exclusive payment method for most of the games created by Zynga, the No. 1 developer of Facebook applications.

Zynga is expected to have $500 million in revenue this year, according to the Inside Network, which tracks Facebook applications, as millions of users pay real money to buy virtual goods on games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars. Through Credits, Facebook will take a 30 percent cut.

By the end of the year, Facebook expects that Credits will be used to buy the vast majority of virtual goods sold on Facebook. The fast-growing market is expected to reach $835 million on Facebook this year, according to the Inside Network. To bolster that market, Facebook began selling Credits gift cards at Target stores across the country this month.

Can Someone Explain Facebook Credits to Me?

Baseline Scenario
James Kwak

To me, this sounds like an ultimately futile attempt to keep marketing spin one step ahead of the real world. Unless I’m missing something basic, Credits should be crushed by another competitor–Dollars. The value of Credits, supposedly, is that you don’t have to enter your credit card number every time you want to by something. This is true because you are logged into Facebook, which keeps track of your balance and deducts from it as necessary. But that has nothing to do with Credits themselves; Facebook could just as easily have used Dollars instead of Credits and gotten the same result (you use your credit card to put money in your Dollars account, and then when you buy things, Dollars come out of your Dollars account).

So why use Credits instead of Dollars? I can think of three reasons: (1) people are more likely to buy things with Credits than with Dollars, even if the real financial impact is the same, because Credits feel more fun, and Dollars remind them of their rent payments; (2) if Facebook tried to take a 30 percent cut out of Dollar payments, no one would go along; and (3) Credits sound much more exciting if you’re trying to build media hype and drive up the value of your company (something I’m very familiar with from the Internet bubble). Note that all of these are actually bad.

Snohomish Co. couple offers homeless free showers

Sept 23
Seattle PI

EVERETT, Wash. – Frank Fargo leans against a wall at First Presbyterian Church of Everett, holding a large sign that reads, “Shower to the People.”

The 57-year-old carpenter hands out laminated tickets to some of the men and women attending the church’s free community dinner on this weekday evening.

Those with tickets go outside the church where a beige fifth-wheel trailer is parked in the alley.

Louise Fargo, Frank’s wife, leafs through a magazine while classical music plays in the background. Towels are neatly stacked behind her. Toiletries peek out of plastic containers on the floor: toothbrushes, soap, deodorant and so on. New underwear, socks and clean, used T-shirts are available, too.

You Can Change Your School’s Food

by Ed Bruske

Common Dreams, 9/23

The problem, of course, is that school food operations nationwide have been allowed to slip into a state of perpetual poverty, making them easy prey for corporate vendors and food processors. Meanwhile, our first inclination is to heap more government standards onto the program in the mistaken belief that we can somehow legislate our way out of this mess without providing the money schools need to serve healthy food.

What I’ve learned over a period of months photographing school meals, blogging about them and traveling around the country investigating the school meals program is that while the movement for healthier school food has clearly identified where cafeteria meals go wrong, it has failed to articulate a clear message about what a healthy school meal should look like and how it’s to be paid for. Too many Americans see this movement as “elitist” and unnecessary. They need to be convinced otherwise. In our current economic and political climate, moms need talking points they can take to their PTA meetings and win with.

Handling Homelessness with Free Drinks

Tenderblog, 9/23

Giving drinks to chronically homeless drunks may be just what the Tenderloin needs. A recent story on ABC reported that San Francisco is considering setting up “wet houses:” government-funded locations where chronic drunks can receive alcohol rations. It sounds crazy, but it’s actually worked in Seattle. What ABC won’t tell you is exactly why the first pilot program in Canada, upon which Seattle’s program was based, worked. It worked because it dispensed small amounts of alcohol to drunks throughout the day, making overdoses less likely, and thus reducing health care costs to the city.

Water Scarcity: Pictures of Lake Mead on Colorado River at 54-Year Low

September 23, 2010

Links to various articles about Lake Mead. Down, down, down.

Fires, drought point to climate shift

B.C. 9/23

The second consecutive hot, dry summer in central and northern B.C. produced the biggest burned area since the province started fighting forest fires, and the lowest northern river levels ever recorded.

Fall rains have mostly doused the 2010 forest fires, but not before they burned 350,000 hectares of land. That’s an area larger than Metro Vancouver, and it’s nearly a third bigger than last year’s total burned area.

The summer of 2009 holds the distinction of being the most expensive B.C. forest fire season ever, with $382 million spent, much of it to protect Lillooet and other communities threatened with destruction. The total for 2010 is expected to come in at a relatively modest $230 million, still more than twice the average for the past 10 years.

The Squeeze on Global Rubber Supplies

Business Week, 9/23

Extreme weather across the globe this year, from drought conditions in Russia and Ukraine to flooding in Pakistan and Canada, is lighting a fire under commodity prices. Wheat prices have spiked since June, while corn rallied to a 23-month high, coffee reached a 13-year peak, and cotton advanced to its most expensive levels since 1995. Now the price of rubber, a key industrial commodity, is taking off.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber (GT) and Cooper Tire & Rubber (CTB), the two largest U.S. tiremakers, have begun notifying customers they will raise tire prices by as much as 6.5% by early November. Bridgestone, the largest tiremaker by sales, said in late August that it’s increasing prices by up to 6% in Europe, the Japanese company’s second price increase this year.

The industry is facing supply problems owing to bad weather that hit rubber production in Asia. “Drought earlier this year and heavy rains later on hampered tree-tapping across Asian plantations,” says Pongsak Kerdvongbundit, managing director of Von Bundit, a big natural-rubber producer and exporter based in Phuket, Thailand. “Global production will lag behind soaring demand for at least another two years.”

Also, the Amazon is experiencing its worst drought in 47 years, and Argentina its worst drought in 70 years.

Abu Ghraib, USA

By Anne-Marie Cusac
Utah Prison Watch

I’ve been reporting on abuse and mistreatment in our nation’s jails and prisons for the last eight years. What I have found is widespread disregard for human rights. Sadism, in some locations, is casual and almost routine.
Reporters and commentators keep asking, how could this happen? My question is, why are we surprised when many of these same practices are occurring at home?
For one thing, the photos of prison abuse in the United States have not received nearly the attention that the Abu Ghraib photos did. And maybe we have so dehumanized U.S. prisoners that we have become as distant from them as we are from foreign captives in faraway lands.

In February 1999, the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department settled a class-action lawsuit alleging numerous acts of torture, including mock executions, where guards strapped inmates into a restraint chair, covered their faces with masks, and told the inmates they were about to be electrocuted.

When I read a report in The Guardian of London of May 14 that it had “learned of ordinary soldiers who … were taught to perform mock executions,” I couldn’t help but remember the jail.


Bicycle News

Interesting video on how bikesharing is evolving.

The Social Bicycle System from Ryan Rzepecki on Vimeo.

Mysterious bicycle from the Netherlands



Sideways bicycle in the Netherlands


Copenhagen’s bicycle butlers



Bicycle medics:



Bicycle bar: 15 seat bicycle with sober person up front steering. Fargo, ND says no way.



FBI searching for Bicycle Bandit

The latest in low-budget bank robbing.



Parking bicycles robotically in Tokyo


Cops using bike bait to acquire prisoners



Wooden bicycle news. Damn, no photo. Only one of the guy’s house made of soil.



Further attempts to design bicycle seats for guys



Open Thread-2

Tea Party Express

h/t to The Awl.


Dancing Is For Everybody. No Excuses.

The Long and Glorious History of Beer

from Cocktail Party Physics, another great new blog find.

One of those confirming scientists, Lewis “Chip” Lambert, is now Cano’s partner in Fossil Fuels Brewing Company. The idea is to brew commercially viable beer using their prehistoric yeast, and use the proceeds to fund biofuels research. They teamed up with commercial brewer Pete Hacket of Stumptown, famed for its Rat Bastard Ale. A blind tasting director of Celebrator Beer News named Jay Brooks pronounced Tyrannosaurus Rat beer as “smoother, with softer fruity flavor characteristics [than Rat Bastard Ale] and just a touch of lemony sweetness that isn’t tart” — demonstrating that beer lovers might one day rival oenophiles when it comes to lurid descriptions of their favored beverages. Other reviewers have talked of a “weird spiciness at the finish,” and described it as “smooth and spicy.”

That unique flavor, says Cano, is partly due to the fact the ancient yeast can only metabolize a narrow selection of carbohydrates, unlike modern yeasts, which devour just about any kind of sugar it encounters. And he expects the ancient stuff will gradually evolve to more closely resemble its modern cousins in terms of a broader metabolism. That may alter the taste, so Cano is keeping a batch of the original yeast in storage, just in case. How such microorganisms survived for 35 million years trapped in amber remains a mystery, but suggests the tantalizing possibility that we could one day induce dormancy in infectious creatures, rather than killing them outright with antibiotics. If it can be induced by downing a tasty beer, so much the better.

Fafnir is publishing again

mistakes were made

“If you had to do it all over again what would you do different?” says me.
“Nothing!” says Giblets. “Giblets has no regrets!”
“I think I’d travel more or go back to art school or maybe not drive the car off that cliff back when you said ‘Hey Fafnir let’s drive this car off that cliff’,” says me.
“Oh, so we’re back to this again!” says Giblets. “That was like, eight whole seconds ago. Let it go already! You’re livin in the past!”
“Or at least maybe I’d pick a smaller cliff,” says me.”This’s been a really long cliff.”

Aerial Bicycle

from Hysterical Patents

Aerial Bicycle
Inventor: Hiram B. Nickerson, Stoughton, Massachusetts
Date: July 14, 1896
Patent Number: 563,793

Description: Improved aerial bicycle which is propelled on an elevated track.

Check the link for the illustration.


Photos: Bicycle helmets reinterpreted by Vancouver artists

Straight.com, 9/18

Fun photoessay!


Interesting Firefox addon:

Creates an HTML link to the current page using the selected text and copies it (into the clipboard) for pasting into other applications.


Tightened muzzle on scientists is ‘Orwellian’

Vancouver Sun


h/t to Neon Vincent at DK

The Harper government has tightened the muzzle on federal scientists, going so far as to control when and what they can say about floods at the end of the last ice age.

Natural Resources Canada (NRC) scientists were told this spring they need “pre-approval” from Minister Christian Paradis’ office to speak with journalists. Their “media lines” also need ministerial approval, say documents obtained by Postmedia News through access-to-information legislation.

The documents say the “new” rules went into force in March and reveal how they apply to not only to contentious issues including the oilsands, but benign subjects such as floods that occurred 13,000 years ago.


You Have No Quran Remix

h/t to Wade Norris at SquareState

‘Bottom kill’ complete, engineers test gulf well

WaPo, 9/19

Engineers were conducting tests Saturday on the cement injected into the bottom of BP’s blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico, and an official declaration that the well has been permanently plugged was expected sometime Sunday, officials said.

The pronouncement will be an anticlimactic end to a catastophe that began five months ago – after all, the gusher was capped in July.

This, though, is an important milestone for the still-weary residents of the Gulf Coast: an assurance that not so much as a trickle of oil will ever again seep from the well. The disaster began April 20, when an explosion killed 11 workers, sank a drilling rig and led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

They make it sound like it is something alive, this talk of killing.

Diseases are written about in terms of warfare.

Are oil wells diseases?


More Gardening Diary, With Photos, Including Scary Bug

I really failed last time. Failed you all, with my gardening diary that *should* have had photos, *should* have been illustrated thusly.

This time I’ll try to do better.

Okay, first let’s get back to the grave desecration.

Here it is:

The Concrete Vandalism Site

Yep, that’s where I was prying out the concrete next to the purported dog grave.

Here is some of that concrete, that I’ll use to set fence posts:

Concrete from Vandalism Site

And here is the rough compost I harvested from atop the site.

The Rough Compost of This Year

Awesome, eh? I haven’t sifted it yet, but there it is.

But now I’ve gotten interested in the more fresh mulch pile. Here it is in its semi-covered state:

Latest Mulch Pile Prior to Uncovering

And here it is after I took off the tarp:

Latest Mulch Pile Uncovered

Okay, so I took some of that and put it by the prickly pear, that I’m trying to grow into a fence:

Mulch in front of prickly pear

and in the process, I found a vinegaroon!

Found a Bug!

What a pleasure. They are entirely beneficial little arachnids that are common down here, when people aren’t so stupid as to kill them. They have no venom.

Aren't You Pretty?

In fact, I just had to get more intimate with the critter:

Give Mama A Kiss

before I sent him or her back to the mulch pile.

Back To Your Home, Rooner

Meanwhile, lots of other neat stuff going on.

Pecans coming in:

Pecans coming in

Pomegranates too:

Pomegranates doing all right

And what is this alien person, from the allium family? I really don’t think I planted anybody like this. She’s beautiful!

Mystery Lily again

The End of the Volunteer Sunflowers

oh, well.

The End of the Volunteer Sunflowers

My neighbor to the south. She’s Chicana, 80 years old. Still gardens.

neighbor Lily

Tithonia again. I really just can’t photograph Mexican sunflowers enough. I wish I was more patient, so I could get all the butterflies and the hummingbirds they attract.

Tithonia again

New Seeds!

From my favorite seedspeople.

New Seeds!

Concrete/resin grasshopper

Concrete/resin grasshopper

Wade Harrell ran a business that made these. Spiders and grasshoppers and bats and stuff too.

I had the good fortune to inherit many.

Last but not least,

Teh Dog

Still hot here.

Teh Dog

Happy gardening and communities, peoples.



Dreams of Gardens

I lived in Lakeville, Massachusetts when I was a teenager. We had seven acres of land, and we had gardens.

It was the first time I ever got into doing them kind of indie, though. I followed my mom around in Culver City, California, when I was a child.

But this was a whole new world.

I dream about these gardens relentlessly. They have made their way deeply into my internal mythos.

And they are always in trouble.

There is the kitchen garden. It always has little rows of struggling sprouts.

And there is the other, larger garden, further away, but not out of hose reach.

In my dreams, hoses play a large part. Are there enough hoses? Do they reach far enough?

And then there is the dryness. I have other garden dreams, that involve a different setup.

But the dryness is always an issue. There is always a patch of land I’ve forgotten to water, for too long.

And then in the dreams I go out to those neglected patches of land, at times. Invariably there are things growing there. There is stuff I forgot, but it’s doing all right.

That’s 2.0 Garden Dream. The Lakeville dreams are a little more dire. Generally there isn’t much growing. There aren’t surprises. Those dreams are about the root cellar, a lot. The decaying root cellar that was next to the outlying patch in Lakeville.

I wanted to move into it at some point, but that wasn’t feasible.

2.0 Garden Dream is more complex. There is an impressive tropical garden right next to the house. The other garden is more like a farm; it’s way off behind the property next door; a big field.

That’s the one that’s way too big for me to manage, that still has some good stuff growing when I go out to it.

In 2.0, I’m never all that worried about the tropical garden. It’s close, right there on the terraced slope in front of the house, and I know I can keep it going. It’s safe.

The big farm field is the worrisome part. It has so much potential! But I’m never even close to being on top of it. So it’s pretty much left to its own devices, but it never just all dies off. There are always some rows of vegetables.

2.0 doesn’t have hoses in it. It’s too big for hoses.

In the Lakeville dream, I often spend a lot of time looking at hoses, working out where the hoses will go, rearranging them.

At the same time, the patch by the root cellar is never really well tended.

I’ve had these dreams for decades. Not lately so much, but I’ve been thinking of them.

I need a breakthrough with this.

There are never any other people in these dreams, though my other sorts of dreams can involve people, usually either imaginary people or real people whom I cannot find.

In these, I’m on my own. Me and the hoses, and my inadequate ability to keep on top of the watering; and the thirsty, yet stalwart, plants.

And that tropical garden on the terrace in front of my house.


Remember Your Lovers

Remember Your Lovers by Sidney Keyes, 1922-1942.

Young men walking the open streets
Of death’s republic, remember your lovers.

When you saw with vision prescient
The planet pain rising across your sky
We fused your sight in our soft burning beauty:
We laid you down in meadows drunk with cowslips
And led you in the ways of our bright city.
Young men who wander death’s vague meadows,
Remember your lovers who gave you more than flowers.

When truth came prying like a surgeon’s knife
Among the delicate movements of your brain
We called your spirit from its narrow den
And kissed your courage back to meet the blade –
Our anaesthetic beauty saved you then.
Young men whose sickness death has cured at last,
Remember your lovers and covet their disease.

Young men walking the open streets
Of death’s republic, remember your lovers.

When you saw with vision prescient
The planet pain rising across your sky
We fused your sight in our soft burning beauty:
We laid you down in meadows drunk with cowslips
And led you in the ways of our bright city.
Young men who wander death’s vague meadows,
Remember your lovers who gave you more than flowers.

When truth came prying like a surgeon’s knife
Among the delicate movements of your brain
We called your spirit from its narrow den
And kissed your courage back to meet the blade –
Our anaesthetic beauty saved you then.
Young men whose sickness death has cured at last,
Remember your lovers and covet their disease.

When you woke grave-chilled at midnight
To pace the pavement of your bitter dream
We brought you back to bed and brought you home
From the dark antechamber of desire
Into our lust as warm as candle-flame.
Young men who lie in the carven beds of death,
Remember your lovers who gave you more than dreams.

From the sun sheltering your careless head
Or from the painted devil your quick eye,
We led you out of terror tenderly
And fooled you into peace with our soft words
And gave you all we had and let you die.
Young men drunk with death’s unquenchable wisdom
Remember your lovers who gave you more than love.



Public Still In The Dark On Transgenic Salmon

Center for Food Safety, Sept 3

A broad coalition of consumer and environmental groups, along with community fishing organizations and food retailers, declared today’s partial data release by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the genetically engineered salmon up for approval as a human food product insufficient and unacceptable.

Materials made available today on FDA’s website relate to an announcement by FDA officials on August 25 that the agency will potentially approve the long-shelved AquAdvantage transgenic salmon as the first genetically engineered (GE) animal intended for human consumption. The data provided by FDA today is rather scant given that the FDA has had 10 years to review the product. The study on changes in the morphology of the new GE salmon involved only 12 fish. The limited study on possible allergic reactions involved only 6 fertile GE fish and 6 infertile fish. These small sample sizes are inadequate for a full review of the health and safety of these fish when they are raised in a commercial operation. Rather than tell the company to run new studies with adequate samples sizes, the FDA is recommending the fish not be raised in the US, but that the eggs be produced in Canada and the fish be grown in Panama and imported into the US.

The GE Atlantic salmon under consideration was developed by AquaBounty Technologies, which artificially combined growth hormone genes from an unrelated Pacific salmon, (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) with DNA from the anti-freeze genes of an eelpout (Zoarces americanus). This modification causes continuous production of growth-hormone year-round, creating a fish the company claims grows to full size at twice the normal rate of non-GE farmed salmon. This could allow factory fish farms to crowd fish and still get high production rates despite the stressful conditions found there.

The word that springs to my mind is “carcinogenic.” Also, this is such a travesty, considering our country’s unwillingness to immediately effectuate dismantling of the dams that are killing off wild salmon populations.


Engineer This, Monsanto

Organic Practices Beat Out Genetic Engineering in Drought Tolerance

Change.org / Sustainable Food

by Kristin Ridley

Sept 3, 2010

It seems that genetically modified (GM) crops consistently fail to deliver, no matter what perspective you examine them from. DuPont called GM drought resistance the next “big thing,” and last year, Monsanto began hyping drought-resistant GM corn. Monsanto may feel it’s entitled to a little crowing after reporting yield increases between 6.7 and 13.4 percent over conventionally-grown corn varieties in drought conditions. But there’s one, little problem: Plain, old organic agriculture does a far superior job.

The Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial has been studying the performance of conventional-versus-organic agriculture in various conditions for more than 30 years, slowly dismantling the myth that organic farms produce less food with more resources. Want to guess how much of an increase in yields during drought conditions the Institute observed with organic corn compared to non-GM, conventionally grown corn? Try a whopping average of 31 percent higher! That’s the same kind of corn Monsanto used in its control group, proving that organic ag offers higher yields than GM plants. Looks like Monsanto shouldn’t have been so quick to toot its own horn.

Building up soil with organic material — which organic agriculture does fantastically — greatly increases the soil’s capacity to retain water. By contrast, conventional agriculture, with it’s over-reliance on chemicals, frequently depletes topsoil and organic matter. Comparing the Rodale Institute numbers with Monsanto’s results, it’s clear that improving the soil returns much greater results than engineering the genes of the plant itself. And unlike buying GM seeds, an investment in soil only increases in value, paying dividends year after year in the form of healthier, better-fed plants more resistant to drought and disease, which of course translates to increased yields.


Fine. Go Bankrupt.

BP Says Limits on Drilling Imperil Oil Spill Payouts

BP is warning Congress that if lawmakers pass legislation that bars the company from getting new offshore drilling permits, it may not have the money to pay for all the damages caused by its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The company says a ban would also imperil the ambitious Gulf Coast restoration efforts that officials want the company to voluntarily support.

BP executives insist that they have not backed away from their commitment to the White House to set aside $20 billion in an escrow fund over the next four years to pay damage claims and government penalties stemming from the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The explosion killed 11 workers and spewed millions of barrels of oil into the gulf.

On the same note, how do you expect me to stop beating my spouse if you won’t let me keep beating my spouse?

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