May 30, 2008

Dumbest Web Statistic Ever Produced? [LINK]

A company named C02Stats offers a free embeddable widget allowing you to display your site's monthly carbon footprint, and the inroads into your virtue that represents. As shown in the sidebar, mine hovers around 1/50th of an ounce, and I don't know how favorably that compares with exhaling. Maybe if I say something provocative about some jive-ass nonsense I can up that number a bit.

Really, this figure utterly ignores the environmental benefits these sites offer. I assume Wikipedia's footprint is large relative to other sites, but that site allows us to manufacture, store and ship fewer gigantic paper encyclopedias. Or compare Amazon with Apple's iTunes Music Store. Each sells music, but only one relies on large inventories of CDs and plenty of paper cartons driven around in delivery trucks. Okay, so maybe they use cellulose packing peanuts, but still...

Really, how much carbon is produced in generating these nonsense statistics? I'd come up with more reasons it's a pointless exercise, but I'd be wasting electricity.


Thanks for the link, Dr. Sanity, and for increasing my carbon assprint.

May 24, 2008

Police Log Items From Concord's Past [LINK]

The bizarre police log items noted in my prior post prompted me to write a letter to the Concord Journal:

The latest police log featured some truly amazing items: A man peering inside a house from a pizza delivery car, a woman rolling down her car window as if to menace a pedestrian "two Thursdays ago" but doing nothing else, a woman whose 22-year-old college graduate son no longer listens to or obeys her. It made me feel sorry for the town's police officers, and for those residents who are so easily rattled. It also got me to wonder what other past events might have been logged:

April 19, 1775: Multiple reports after midnight of a man riding his horse aggressively along the Lexington Turnpike, disturbing residents, and loudly shouting about "redcoats." Police responded to the scene but were unable to locate the man or any coats.

April 19, 1775: Reports of early morning commotion, a large crowd, and possible gunfire near the North Bridge, where teenagers are often seen consuming hard cider along the riverbank. Police responded to the scene, but the group had moved on.

September 19, 1845: Homeless man reported in forest adjacent to Walden Pond. Police located and questioned the man, who offered a lengthy explanation of his situation. Police eventually determined he had obtained permission from the property's owner, Mr. Emerson of Concord, to inhabit small structure. Officer advised the man of town ordinance prohibiting open fires.

June 20, 1852: Woman reported neighbor and party of guests engaging in transcendental activities. Officer responding to scene advised woman that idealist spiritual philosophy based on individual intuition is not against the law, but nevertheless asked neighbor to tone it down somewhat.

May 22, 2008

Then Throw Him Out [LINK]

A few items from the police log of the Concord Journal that make me feel sorry for my local police:

Monday, May 12

At 12:14 a.m., a Nancy Road resident requested police keep an extra eye in the area, because she believed a Dominos delivery person who drove a red sedan peered inside her home while delivering a pizza earlier in the evening.

Friday, May 16

At 9:34 a.m., an Annursnac Hill Road resident report [sic] that two Thursdays ago, on May 1, a female drove by him and rolled down her window while he was walking down Annursnac Hill Road. The caller said she did not say or do anything, however he thought this was aggressive behavior and wanted the incident logged.

Saturday, May 17

At 3:42 p.m., officers responded to a report from a Main Street resident, who said her 22-year-old son would not listen to her or abide by her rules since he came home from college.

May 19, 2008

Changing your mind [LINK]

I was struck by the lede of a recent AP item:

Global warming isn't to blame for the recent jump in hurricanes in the Atlantic, concludes a study by a prominent federal scientist whose position has shifted on the subject.

Two news hooks compete for your attention in this paragraph.

The first is that a widely posited link between global warming and increased hurricane activity may turn out to be unfounded, or that there may even be an inverse correlation. Either of these possibilities run contrary to the narrative that accompanied hurricane Katrina. (This itself should not be particularly controversial, as the IPCC's hurricane specialists posited at best a weak link between the two in the group's most recent report.)

The second is a bit more interesting. Why is it important to note whether the author of the study, Tom Knutson, has changed his opinion over time? Given the unsettled nature of emerging climate science, you would think researchers would change their minds all the time, and that such shifts would be unremarkable.

This paragraph echoes the idea advanced in the lede:

What makes this study different is Knutson, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fluid dynamics lab in Princeton, N.J.

He has warned about the harmful effects of climate change and has even complained in the past about being censored by the Bush administration on past studies on the dangers of global warming.

You're implicitly being asked to make an ad hominem judgement about Knutson.

Perhaps that judgement is that he is more credible in this matter after having held a seemingly contrary position, then abandoning it. The idea is that it usually takes a good deal of contrary data to get people to reassess their positions, especially those they've publicly espoused. Maybe he's done a better job thinking through both angles. Alternately, someone who complains of having been "censored" by the Bush administration cannot be characterized as its puppet or toady.

On the other hand, the judgement could simply be that Knutson is fickle: willing to change his public pronouncements based on the most insignificant shifts in how he interprets the data. Any particular position he stakes out is thus not to be trusted. That may even extend to what Knutson previously believed.

Regardless, I have to wonder if this piece would have made the national news if the report's author consistently posited the same conclusion. "Scientist who's been saying the same thing for many years says it yet one more time." As a matter of science, that shouldn't have any bearing on the report's findings. But this is journalism.

May 13, 2008

Encouraging Safe Driving [LINK]

Here's my latest idea that I posted to Governor Deval Patrick's website:

I have been thinking deeply about those "How Am I Driving?" bumper stickers that you see on many commercial vehicles. They must be effective in encouraging safe driving, or else the trucks' owners wouldn't put them there, would they? I call those numbers all the time, especially when I see courteous driving that deserves a compliment. Anyway, why not extend that idea and require all Massachusetts drivers to have a "How Am I Driving?" bumper sticker? People would call a single number and supply either the vehicle's license plate number or else a unique code that displays on the bumper sticker, then leave a message. The service would send a transcription to the mailing address associated with the vehicle. To tone down heated comments and weed out abusive ones, the system could rely on human transcribers the way SpinVox does for LiveJournal voice posts. Anything that encourages safety is a good idea, the way I look at it.

May 1, 2008

Is Obama The Real Thing? [LINK]

Today's letter to the Globe, this time about an editorial:

The Globe contrasts the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's racist and conspiratorial pronouncements with Sen. Obama, who offers himself "as the embodiment of a racially transcendent society." Fair enough, but the editorial insultingly asks, given the furor over Obama's association with Wright, whether America even wants such transcendence.

It is possible for Americans to crave such racial transcendence while being skeptical that Obama is its embodiment. It is right to ask what it means to be post-racial if it does not involve recognizing and repudiating bona-fide racists. It is right to be dissatisfied at Obama's "mesmerizing" (i.e., "hypnotizing") speech framing Wright's opinions as a matter of historical or cultural context.

I would prefer a president who is good at recognizing unhinged lunatics from the earliest possible encounter, and who responds unambiguously. After all, whoever assumes office will have to deal with North Korea.