Sunday, May 27, 2007

Note to self: website content is a variable, not a constant

This is just an "I hate finding out that what I've apologized for publicly probably wasn't in fact my fault" post.
Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly. ( * )
- Roger Ebert

The same holds for reporting what's present and what's missing on someone else's website. Here are a couple of recent instances involving The Union:

A March a commenter took The Union to task for not covering a large peace march in Grass Valley; yesterday she told me that photos of the peace march are now up on the paper's website. She doesn't think they were there before.

A little over a week ago I noted that old comments on pre-2007 stories at The Union's website were no longer visible; a couple days later they were visible, so I issued a retraction (not just on NCFocus, also offsite here) assuming I'd screwed up somehow; then a few days ago I revisited the page and comments were missing again.
(the Union's webmaster reports that he is looking into it)
So either I was mistaken in thinking the problem had gone away, or else the comments really did make a cameo appearance before going offstage again.

In any case, the moral for bloggers is this: any time you report that X is missing or Y is present on a website, note the date in your writing, and take a screenshot, lest later on you (and others) be faced with wondering whether to trust your lying eyes.

and for altruistic webmasters, a request: where feasible, if you make a change, say that you've done so, rather than inflict this uncertainty upon your readers.

note: it is still possible that both I and the commenter misperceived or misremembered; IMO not probable, but possible.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Annoyingly ahead of our time

The fine (particularly recently) Conover on Media once characterized your correspondent as "annoyingly ahead of her time" - and it is extremely apt, at least when "out to lunch" isn't more so.

And I just realized another way that it fits -
I've been reading Jay Rosen's Assignment Zero interview with Christopher Anderson of NYC Indymedia, and they're discussing what motivates citizen journalists; and reading between the spoken lines, it's pretty clear that Anderson thinks it has to be political passion, and is a bit dubious about the prognosis for (Assignment Zero parent)'s brand of citizen journalism:
Are there enough people in the world who care about journalism (not political journalism, or journalism motivated by politics) to create something more ... god, I hate the word "objective," but something less ... partisan? Just because they care about good journalism?

and put that way, it does shall we say the beaten track...

...and also oddly reminiscent of a certain Assignment Zero contributor's profile:
Joined because: I want to help make crowdsourced journalism work. The reason - I want to see better journalism, and part of better journalism is more diverse journalism - one form may illuminate the blind spots of another. And the blind spots of our current journalism badly need sunlight.

Why would anyone care about "journalism" enough to go out and do it themselves, when they could just pick up their city's paper and read the news they needed to know?


But what if it's 10 years down the road, and your city no longer has a paper covering the news, or watchdogging local government? How much do you value journalism then? How will you get it?

I suspect I'm only ahead of the beaten track.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Disturbing moments in horticulture

If your tomato plant seems to be....shrinking...and growing sparser by the day, it might not be your imagination, and it might not be due to poor plant health.

But who ever heard of squirrels eating tomato leaves?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Crowdsourcing, County Supervisors and An Inconvenient Truth

Great news from Nevada County - global warming's not a problem; or even if it is, we should ignore it; and transparency is overrated. These are the messages I read as being sent by 4 of Nevada County's 5 supervisors to their constituents.

Regular readers may recall that in early April NCFocus did an interim report on a small crowdsourcing project here in Nevada County; one person in each district* had emailed their County Supervisor to ask whether and when he or she had seen the global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and whether they were willing to have this information be public.

This project emerged from your correspondent's experience at the March 27 Board of Supervisors' meeting; during the public comment period I had asked whether the Supervisors had seen the film - by then it had been out on video for four months, after having shown in town for two months last summer - but chairman John Spencer jumped in to inform me that I was not permitted to ask questions during this period, I could only comment. His implication was that the general public had no right to know this information, that it was between a supervisor and that supervisor's constituents, if the supervisor chose to tell them.

I interpreted his unwillingness as stemming from a desire to avoid publicly answering an inconvenient question; subsequent events have not altered this impression.

The four of us contacted our supervisors to ask. The results:
  • District I Supervisor Nate Beason answered my email after a week had passed; he did not recognize the legitimacy of the questions, and was only willing to say that he had seen the film, not when.
    (My reason for asking "when" was to find out whether he had seen it before or after the supervisors' meeting at which I was prevented from asking about it.)

    (Mr. Beason did subsequently speak* at Nevada County's StepItUp 2007 event on global warming, but - as with his speech* at the Town Hall Conference on peak oil in 2005 - did not take questions from the audience or remain in the room.*)

  • District II Supervisor Sue Horne did not respond to an email asking whether her views had changed. Last summer she'd had this to say to her constituent:
    I do not believe that global warming is the impending crisis that Mr. Gore and others would like all Americans to feel personally responsible for. I will tell you quite honestly, Mr. Gore has little credibility in my view, and I have no interest in viewing a film he is associated with.

    I have attended a rural counties conference in which this subject was addressed by experts in the field. The consensus was, yes, there is global warming. It is probably cyclical in nature, and it is debatable as to what degree the earth is warming. Also, equally debatable is whether a change in human behavior to reduce ozone levels would have any sustaining altering affect on the planet's warming taking into consideration the natural atmospheric occurrences of our planet. I do believe in being good stewards of this beautiful planet we have been blessed with utilizing common sense and responsible actions.

  • District III Supervisor John Spencer did respond to his constituent and answer the questions, but was not willing to have his answers be public.

  • District IV Supervisor Hank Weston saw the film last summer, during the two month stretch when it was playing in local movie theaters, and found it informative and worthwhile.

  • District V Supervisor Ted Owens was asked by Truckee-based freelance writer Ronnie Colby for his views on An Inconvenient Truth; Colby did not receive a reply from Mr. Owens.

That, in a nutshell, is Nevada County's government.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Thoughts on burying the lede

Why can't these smart, talented speakers make their ideas stick? The first villain is the natural tendency to bury the lead - to get lost in a sea of information. ... *

So why do reporters feel the "natural temptation to bury the lede*"?

Assertion: it's because we're social animals and maybe we're a little bit insecure, so when we reach a conclusion, and we want to show it to our readers, we don't want to coerce them, and we want company, especially company in which we're the expert, so we try to lead readers to our conclusion along the same path we took to get there, figuring that with someone to lead them, they'll have an easy time of it - it'll be like a field trip, they'll admire the flowers we point to along the way and the lovely path we've made for them, and then will be awestruck upon sighting the hike's destination. And it's that much more fun for us to keep them in suspense along the way.*

But instead the readers get tired and cranky when we're only partway there, because they don't see the point.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Special Doolittle edition

Sac News and Review - Will Doolittle do time?
Some history I didn't know:
...The week of the [1994] election, voters received a letter with an endorsement of Doolittle by James Roosevelt, a founder of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and a son of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had signed the original Social Security Act into law in 1933. The mailer was significant because Doolittle had received extremely low ratings for his congressional record from all the major senior-citizen groups. Even more significant was the fact that, by then, Roosevelt had been dead for two years.

Mr Doolittle is not happy with the search of his Virginia home; his Auburn Journal op-ed on this subject

The Dump Doolittle blog

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Schwinn electric bicycle questions and answers

August update: the bikes appear (from Schwinn's website) to be available now, but are only 250 watt not 400 watt(?). Answers from Schwinn are in italics below.

I've emailed Schwinn asking these questions about their three models of electric bikes.
  1. From the Schwinn FAQ:
    ... We expect the electric bikes to be here in early summer, at which time they will be available through independent Schwinn bike dealers all over the US.
    Do you mean summer of 2007? (i.e. are they not available yet?)

    [Apparently they weren't, but as of August, from their website, it looks like they are.]

  2. We live in a hilly area - what is the recommend max. grade, for the electric Schwinns?
    (for the UrbanMover electric bikes it's up to 12%10-14%, for the Giant Suede electric bike IIRC it's up to 15%)

    We don't have a specific grade recommendation...

  3. If you take the bike up steeper-than-recommended hills, what are the consequences - do you merely get temporarily reduced power...?
    ...but requiring the battery to power extra work like climbing a steep grade will shorten the distance it can travel on that charge.

    Can this damage the motor?
    I'm sorry, but I don't yet have a definitive answer for that question.

  4. Does the battery sit on top of the rack behind the seat?
    What are its dimensions (of battery plus whatever it's contained in, if anything)?
    The battery is integrated with the rear rack, but is relatively small and easily removable through a simple plug-in system.
    (update: from this Engadget post, looks like the battery fits under the rack)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

NCFocus proprietor achieves fame, fortune

well, except for the "fortune" part.*

kindly note the "with reporting from" credits for Assignment Zero First Take: Wiki Innovators Rethink Openness, published today on Wired.

Quotes on pseudoscience and other pseudoinformation

Einstein on real science:
If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research.

Feinman on Cargo Cult Science:
there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science....[namely] a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty...
the idea [in real science] is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.

The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising.

BDL on payola punditry:
Say...that there are
(i) people who write what they believe;
(ii) people who write what they are paid to write; and
(iii) people who write what they are paid to write but who want you to think they write what they believe.
People in category (iii) are--by their own actions--less credible and less trustworthy than people in categories (i) and (ii). Evaluating their arguments is difficult, time consuming, and requires constant research and fact checking.

Given that there are many too many good people working hard in categories (i) and (ii) to read, is there ever any reason to ever read anybody in category (iii)?
...[and] is there ever any reason to read anybody...who tells us that it doesn't matter which category--(i), (ii), or (iii)--people are in?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Electric transportation roundup

  • Bike Commute Tips Blog
  • Specs for the Ezee Quando folding electric bike (sold by Electric Bikes NW)
  • A UK electric bicycles forum, with a bike reviews section.
  • Study: cyclists who jump red lights may be safer than those who stick to the law.
  • From the UrbanMover FAQ:
    a report from Leeds University ...reveals that in a survey of electric bike owners, a third of respondents used their bikes typically at least once a day and 81% used their electric bikes at least once a week. Therefore an electric bike typically gets used at least twice as often as a conventional bicycle.
  • At Daily Kos, a 'showroom' of current and near-future 3 and 4 wheeled electric vehicles, with photos.
  • Sunday May 6 NYTimes A Two-Wheeled Option (With a Battery) for Commuters - article on electric bikes
  • New owner in Chicago reports on his $300 Mongoose Cruiser electric bicycle from Target.
  • Informative and interesting Peak Moment interview with happy Suede E owner (and commuter) Sally Lovell, who also has a bike trailer, and is a fount of knowledge on safe and successful biking. She tried several kinds of bikes before settling on the Suede:
    ...being able to test ride a bike on hills made all the difference to me. I first looked at E-bike, E-Go scooters. Then at Electric Bikes Northwest I looked at the Meridian, the Giants, and...another used one... The only one I actually took out onto the hills was the Giant Suede E, because it was what I wanted for price, weight, gear ratios and commuter durability.
  • This $1500 electric Schwinn has a 400180-250-watt motor (in front wheel) and a lithium-polymer battery. ("One charge will last approximately 60 miles")
    Schwinn also makes $1700 and $2000 electric bikes. It'd be nice to be able to try out one of the Schwinns...
  • Electric bicycle substrate: Torontoist's Insane in the Bike Lane, about its all-too-frequently appalling condition
  • Suitable Transport - electric bicycling, on a Schwinn, in a suit, along the coast of Australia from Melbourne to Sydney.
  • Unsuitable transport - the The World Naked Bike Ride to protest oil dependency.
  • Electric bicycles in Nevada County, that I'm aware of*:
    • Giant Lite step-through (NiMH)

    • Giant Suede E step-through (NiMH)

    • UrbanMover Sprite (NiMH)

    • Iacocca E-bike (SLA)

    • EZip on a Mongoose(SLA?)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Electric bicycle report: Comparing the Giant Suede to the UrbanMover Sprite

Xtreme Outfitters here in town sells Giant bikes, and - for a couple more days* - has a Giant Suede electric bike on the premises. I went over there today and was able to take the Suede for a test ride. It was surprising how different it felt; for handling I prefer my Sprite, although the Suede will likelymay* do better on our hills.

Both the Suede(E?) and the Sprite* have a NiMH battery.

Suede Pros
  • Price - $1000, vs the Sprite's $1200-plus-shipping (since nobody up here sells them yet)

  • More powerful battery(36v, vs 24v for UM Sprite) and motor(240w, vs 200w for Sprite)(In UK UrbanMover's motor is 200w, but U.S. distributor says 'the US specification does have a 250watt motor' * )

  • Controls - on the handlebar you get an on/off switch, and a high/med(?)/low power, and a 'cruise' (didn't try anything but on/low) - vs. for the Sprite the on/off is via key in the battery, and there is no high-vs.-low.

  • Apparently 8 gears, vs 6 for Sprite

  • Specs say max range (on flat ground...) is 30 miles if you pedal, vs Sprite's 18

  • Nice treehugger coloring - silver and manzanita-green.

  • Sturdier stand - a bilateral stand that you rock the bike back onto, as opposed to the Sprite's somewhat marginal kickstand.

  • The convenience of having sales/support/service/assembly from a local bike store

  • Suede's tires are kevlar lined; Sprite's are puncture resistant. (equivalent?)

Suede Cons
  • Handling. It just feels clunkier; partly it's because of the marshmallow-soft upright-style seat, which wobbles a bit as you pedal; partly (I think) it's because the motor is in the front wheel, vs. rear wheel for the Sprite. And it seemed like this changed the bike's turning dynamics, in a counterintuitive (thus unstable) way - it's likely that this is something you can get used to, but beware of this behavior if you're taking a test ride.
    (This was how it felt to me; your mileage may vary.)

  • Battery removal/insertion...

I came away from the experience glad I owned the Sprite; but the real question will be hardiness of the respective bikes in our area. This past weekend someone told me he'd been warned off electric bikes years ago because (he was told) the motors burn out on our hills; if this caveat still applies, the Suede(if 36v vs 24v battery makes a difference) or Schwinn* (if 400 watt vs 250 watt motor makes a difference) may be the better choice.

Calling all electrical whizzes - I am hopelessly confused on what this all means...
(and to make things even more interesting, Electric Bikes Northwest reports that wattage specs aren't necessarily comparable for different brands of electric bicycles.)