Friday, June 29, 2007

Visitor's-eye view of Grass Valley/Nevada City

Mark Hamilton's not the only blogging luminary to have paid Nevada County a visit recently; last month Michael D. Yates (blogger and author of Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate: An Economist's Travelogue, "the travel book the chamber of commerce doesn't want you to have") came through town as well. Yates has a keen eye for towns, and a mouth to match, and near the end of this post he tells us like he sees us:
Both towns play up their mining heritage, especially the smaller Nevada City, which has lots of shops in historic or at least historic-looking buildings. We've seen a good many towns like this, some more well-kept than others, and there is always a a kind of ersatz feeling to them. They don't seem like real towns anymore. The housing boom of the last few years has brought many retirees and urban refugees (unhappy with urban-suburban crowding and given the overwhelmingly white population, perhaps with the growth of urban minority populations) to this region, driving up housing prices and disturbing the laid back milieu established by the artists and now aging hippies who settled here in the decades after the mines played out. ...[M]ore than seventy houses were listed for rent in the local paper, a very high number for two small towns and a sure sign that the housing downturn is serious, at least here.

Ersatz? he's got a point. The same day a reader sent me this, in the coffeehouse we'd been comparing-and-contrasting Grass Valley and Nevada City, and one of us had said that GV's nicer because it is like a real town. I can count the number of downtown Nevada City stores I visit on a finger* of one hand.

Solutions? we don't got no steenkin' solutions. All will be in flux soon enough regardless - read Kunstler's latest on Peak Suburbia.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Announcement: A Voice is Born

There's a new infant in town, it's got multiple-personality disorder, and one of the personalities may well be yours.

This caterwauling creature is the Nevada County Voice, and its motto du jour is "collecting county content since 2007".

I hope you will pay it a visit, then suggest - and prioritize - improvements, over in the comments on its companion weblog.

and yes, there is plenty of room for improvement.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Electric bicycle update - 10 weeks later

An update on the UrbanMover Sprite electric-assist bicycle that arrived back in April - the owner's still happy, but the bike does have some drawbacks that weren't initially apparent.

One: I ride the bicycle now with three tires - a spare has materialized in my equatorial region, and is enlarging at an alarming rate. On short trips you really don't get exercise, although you can compensate by riding the bike with the power turned off where possible.
(if you buy one, try to get yours with the "torque sensor" option, that'll let you do more of the work on flat terrain)

Two: the bracket that holds the top of the battery to the seat post is plastic and underengineered, such that if the bike falls down, even from a standstill, the battery's momentum&weight will stress the bracket and - if this happens repeatedly - might cause it to fail. UrbanMovers, please re-engineer this part! (if you haven't already done so)

On the bright side, the service has been fantastic - I contacted the U.S. distributor requesting a replacement bracket, and he mailed it without delay and at no charge.
(well, one of the bright sides - riding it to do your shopping's pretty bright too.)

Question: how to give it a front basket or panniers - or attach a trailer? with just the back rack, carrying cargo can be stressful.
Answer: it was easy.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Better blogging elsewhere

If you want to read some fine writing, go to Japan via Robert Brady's Pure Land Mountain - and read the recent posts on his simian landlady and the ant migration, and also, well, just about everything else.

oh to be able to write like that...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A bolus of quotes

Why do we, scientists or nonscientists, hotshots or regular Joes, tend to see the pennies instead of the dollars? Why do we keep focusing on the minutiae, not the possible significant large events, in spite of the obvious evidence of their huge influence? And, if you follow my argument, why does reading the newspaper actually decrease your knowledge of the world?
[the News that oozes issue]

Laura Rozen:
The phenomenon of local papers like the KC Star avoiding publishing well reported material that local political constituencies would perhaps find inconvenient is an enormous disservice to the cities they cover. *

Philip Meyer:
We are trying to push journalism toward science. Almost everybody else, it seems on most days, is trying to push it toward art....

One response to information overload has been the elevation of spin. When attention-getting is more important than discovering and imparting the truth, the marketplace rewards those who are skilled at creating appearances. Our goal needs to be to find a way to help the marketplace reward the truth-tellers....*

the predominant criticism of our media is not based on a desire that [reporters] act more like partisans than journalists. It is based on the fact that they do not act like journalists at all.*

As for columnists -
Interestingly, almost *none* of these noted pundits ever call us to ask questions about our operations, or the deal, or our perspective. They just opine. *

If there is a point to mainstream journalism at all--rather than dueling press releases--it is that reporters get to ask questions. *

having access to a blog as a platform is useful, but for almost everyone using that platform to respond to a reporter’s story is about as effective as talking to yourself in an empty room.*

...every time a smart [blogger] invests a paragraph in pointing at [particular person's] stupidity, or makes a detailed analysis of the corruption of the big-money US media, while one of the smart person's friends is doing the same on her/his blog, good ideas and important facts are being crowded out.*

Obviously, the blogosphere gets a lot of its strength from its decentralized structure, but it seems to me that productive debate is a lot like life. If you pack a lot of enzymes and DNA and other molecules in a tight package, you get life. Disperse them, and you get a few random reactions. Pack comments about a particular paper in one place, and a real debate can emerge. Disperse them across the blogosphere, and you encourage cheap shots and irrelevant tangents, while good observations go unappreciated. *

There are two kinds of debaters: those who think debate is a method for testing the validity of propositions, and those who think it's about who wins. That second sort isn't worth anyone's time or trouble. *

when someone shows himself unable to understand or accept overwhelming evidence for a theory that is conceptually rather elegant and simple, it does indeed throw his intelligence and judgment into question. *

And, returning to Taleb:
certain professionals, while believing they are experts, are in fact not. Based on their empirical record, they do not know more about their subject matter than the general population, but they are much better at narrating -- or, worse, at smoking you with complicated mathematical models. They are also more likely to wear a tie.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

You can't judge a paper by its website

...or at least you can't judge with confidence, since the picture you'll form from the online site - bereft of columns, AP stories, the headlines applied to said stories and their placement - may be misleading.
(note: I realize* that the online paper likely *can't* show this info; but its absence can - and today, does - result in an online paper that's a lot more reasonable than its wood-pulp counterpart.)

Today, The Union illustrates this issue:
  • On the front page - and on the website - you'll find an IMO excellent article by Dave Moller, taking our county Board of Supervisors to task for refusing to say who had applied for the county Clerk-Recorder position (vacated by the no longer moonlighting Kathleen Smith), or who screened the six applicants such that only Gregory Diaz emerged to be interviewed by the BOS, or how the screening process went.

    Halo of the day to reporter Dave Moller.

  • But inside the paper, global warming denialism still reigns: you'll find yet another reactionary column by Pittsburgh PA former sports writer (and current denialist) Bill Steigerwald.
    (If you're reading the paper online you won't see this - the column's not visible on the paper's website, and googling steigerwald brings up nothing.)

So - today, the wood pulp Union informs with good reporting on the one hand, and disinforms with a beyond-questionable column on the other. But the online Union only shows the good reporting. Is this another reason to just get the paper online?

again though - Dave Moller done good.


I've sent an email to the paper's Readership Editor asking by what criteria they find it appropriate to run columns like Steigerwald's, and will report back the answer.
(or the stonewall, if past performance is any guarantee of future results)
(July 5 update: it was.)

For anyone who's curious: the global warming denialist Bill Steigerwald is not related to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center press officer Bill Steigerwald. (I'd asked both; only NASA Bill responded, saying no, they're very different people.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ask Dr. Science: a look at the data of global warming denialism

Question: What happens when you look into the data being wielded as evidence against global warming?

Answer: You find discrepancies - between how the information was represented and what's actually there, between what it purports to show and what it actually shows, and between the argument being made from it and the original researchers' actual views.

Russ Steele is Nevada County's premier right wing blogger; a retired engineer, for over a decade he has maintained that global warming is not occurring, or is occurring but isn't due to human influence.

Back in April Russ and I had a global warming dust-up, in which he challenged me to look at data assembled by an organization called "The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change", at a website called "CO2Science" [SourceWatch link] - Russ said they had cited 77 [peer reviewed] papers to show that there was a global Medieval Warm Period* (the IPPC said it wasn't global) whose temperature surpassed temperatures today, which would suggest that today's temperatures aren't out of the ordinary:
"Here is a map tracing the location of 77+ papers attesting to a MWP. ...There are 16 Level 1 [most sophisticated] papers...19 Level 2... 42 Level 3... Click on each of the locations and it takes you to the scientific paper, which you can read and decide for your self."

And on this occasion, I did look into it - and at last have the time to write up what I found.

Of the 77 papers, I looked for info on all of the project's "Level 1" papers.

Russ had said
"...attesting to a MWP..."
Well, not exactly - the "Medieval Warm Periods" they attest to weren't all at the same time - some of the periods don't even overlap - if it's a global period, surely the "period" should be, well, global? Some of the MWP "eras" mentioned are 450-900AD, 950-1200AD, 740-880AD, 800-1100AD, 600-1000AD, 1050-1400AD.
Does CO2Science make note of this variability anywhere? It's pretty fundamental.

Russ had said
"... Click on each of the locations and it takes you to the scientific paper, which you can read and decide for your self."

It turns out that CO2"science" doesn't link to the paper, or even provide its abstract; instead they provide a "Description" of the paper, that they write up themselves.

If you can find your way to the paper's true Abstract ( will help), in many cases you'll see why CO2"science" wouldn't want to print it, since it wouldn't support their "what global warming?" cause - e.g. for the Chesapeake study they cite, the paper's actual Abstract says,
"...temperature extremes in Chesapeake Bay associated with [North Atlantic current Oscillation] climate variability exceeded those of the prior 2000 years, including the interval 450-1000 AD, by 2-3 degrees C, suggesting anomalous recent behavior of the climate system."

Likewise, a little googling turns up an author of the Greenland studies they're citing, being quoted saying something they wouldn't appreciate, in USA Today:
"'ice cores changed our image of climate,' Johnsen says. 'Before we had thought that climate needed 10,000 years to change. We found it could change in 10 to 20 years; it could switch from very cold to very warm. This shook everyone.'"

I also emailed North American authors of three of the "Level I" studies, to ask their views on whether CO2"science" was citing their work to make a point they agreed with.

One did not reply.

A second - fortunately for CO2"science" - was not able to speak on the record.

The third was Dr. Brian Luckman, Professor of Geography at the University of Western Ontario and first author of Summer temperatures in the Canadian Rockies during the last millennium: a revised record (discussed here on CO2"Science")

He was not impressed:
"these results [in CO2"science"] are ... written in such a way as to imply a long sustained warmth which is not borne out... [Our] paper does not state that temperatures were higher in the past ( millennium?) than they are today.... Until we have many more well replicated temperature reconstructions that cover the period from ca 700-1200 AD, the whole concept of a "Medieval Warm Period" is open to question.

The email exchange is posted here on NCDocuments.

I'm fairly sure that, of the scientists who authored the 77+ papers that CO2"science" is citing, the number who accord that website any credibility will be vanishingly small.*

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Union's Commitment to Readers - does one exist?

Wed June 20 update:
At the end of this post I'd said "I'm hoping the inconsistency between word and deed... will turn out to be temporary", and that's how it has turned out: comments from previous years - at least, the formerly missing comments (including mine) to this column - appear to have been restored. Yes, it took a while, but many thanks to those who fixed the problem.
Moral: Sunlight is effective.

Original post follows.


Just what - and how sincere - is The Union's commitment to its readers? So far, the paper's actions have belied its announcements, and requests for clarification have not been answered.

Earlier this year, The Union unveiled a major website redesign, describing the new site as "an online community news site that allows social networking between Members." The Union's editor said the site is "...meant to showcase our readers' blogs, editorials, comments, poems, photos and other original editorial material - not just ours."

There's a problem: the redesign appears to have deleted prior* reader comments on articles and columns; for example, this column used to have 20 or 30 comments, including one I had linked to in an NCFocus post from last year.

I reported the absence of comments to The Union's Online Project Manager*, who corroborated the problem and reported it to the techs at parent company Swift Newspapers. Two weeks later*, he had not heard back from them.

To me this inaction does not indicate concern for "showcasing" readers' material. And if the earlier comments have really gone missing permanently, it wouldn't be the first time that The Union has engaged in wholesale deletion - without notice, and without explanation - of reader-contributed content.

Rather than engage in shoot-from-the-hip blogger denigration of the paper's commitment to its readers and their content, I emailed The Union's Readership Editor to check whether The Union does have any "commitment to readers" regarding permanence of their online content, and if so, what it is.

No answer.*

I emailed* her a second time, asking for confirmation that she'd received the email.

No answer.

It's pretty clear that my email to the Readership Editor had been received; the Union's Online Project Manager alluded to it by saying, "As far any written commitment to retaining comments on our site... Please see our terms of use - #7 will be the most related to your question."

But #7 is not related*; it only concerns offensive and abusive comments: " may delete any Content that in the sole judgment of violates this Agreement or which may be offensive, illegal or violate the rights, harm, or threaten the safety of any person...."

So unless The Union considers all reader comments to be offensive and abusive ipso facto, it appears that our local newspaper:
  1. trumpets its appreciation for reader comments with one hand while quietly "disappearing" older ones en masse with the other

  2. is not willing to address the discrepancy.
I'm hoping the inconsistency between word and deed - and the lack of response to emails - will turn out to be temporary.

Also - is it typical, for a newspaper's Readership Editor to be unable to speak on the record about the paper?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


edited*, to make clear that this isn't the fault of the "new regime".

It turns out that, while I had my brain to the grindstone over on the Assignment Zero crowdsourcing homestretch*, working on a piece extolling the rich harvest of low-hanging local fruit that's likely overripe for the picking by citizen journalist watchdogs, the Nevada County Grand Jury was releasing a report (PDF on county website, HTML on NCDocuments) slamming Nevada City's government for decades of mismanagement far above and beyond the norm - " unusual and so extreme in dollars, personnel, customer service, and efficiency, that it is difficult to quantify."

So, yeah. What I said.

It stems from lack of oversight; and it manifests in lack of oversight.

But the drinking water is great. Thank you Chris.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Reasoning by induction: journobloggers are real...

...and not just constructs of pixels and electrons.

or at least Mark Hamilton is.

Damn it's nice to talk* to someone who shares your interests.

I did talk his ear off though. So if you see a one-eared Canadian wandering around Nevada City tomorrow morning, be sure and say hello.