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March 17, 2007

What's on your email signature?

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Olivia Barker's February 28, 2007 USA Today article focused on the new new thing: putting your entire life story along with your resumè, a list of personal references and various and sundry disclaimers after your name in outgoing emails.

Mine is short but sweet and appears above as the illustration for this post.

These always crack me up:

This e-mail message and all attachments transmitted with it may contain
legally privileged and confidential information intended solely for the use
of the addressee. If the reader of this message is not the intended
recipient, you are hereby notified that any reading, dissemination,
distribution, copying, or other use of this message or its attachments is
strictly prohibited. Furthermore, e-mail sent via the Internet can easily
be altered or manipulated by third persons. For this reason, we do not
assume any responsibility for changes made to this message after it was
sent. If you have received this message in error, please notify the sender
immediately by telephone or by electronic mail, and delete this message
and all copies and backups thereof. Thank you.

Ha.

Members of the jury will please disregard the confession of guilt they just heard.

Once it's out of the box it can't be put back in.

Just 'cause it's email doesn't change reality.

Whatever that is.

March 17, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Just So Story — Rebecca Cioni asks: 'Why Eight?'

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Last weekend (Saturday, March 10, 2007 at 9:22 p.m., to be precise) I received the following query via email:

"Dear Joe: I noticed you always post eight posts a day. Why eight?"

Indeed.

Why not nine, or seven?

Or none?

I replied as follows:

"Dear Rebecca: This is the best question of the month and as such deserves a thoughtful reply tomorrow morning when I'm all energized."

Well, it's now Saturday afternoon a week later but I'm forging ahead nonetheless.

Some years ago, when I began bookojoe, I decided the best way to get big globally was to address myself to the world as a whole.

Since at any given moment one-third of the world is asleep and the other two-thirds up, about and doing stuff, I figured why not put up a post every three hours, around the clock, so that anyone on the planet was never more than three hours away from the next post no matter what time of day or night.

Hubris is key to this kind of thinking.

But I digress.

I did just what I noted above, and continued to have posts appear every three hours around the clock for a long time.

I was enabled by TypePad's advance post feature, which lets you preschedule a post anytime in the next year, to the month/day/hour/minute.

Then one day I looked at my statistics and thought about things, and realized that about 75% of my readers came from the U.S. and Canada.

Now it's about 65% as my global ambitions begin to bear fruit — but I digress yet again.

So I figured, why not post during the waking hours of the majority of my readers?

It worked — traffic about doubled over the next six months.

And eight a day seemed a manageable number — not too big, not too small but, rather, "just right."

And so, Rebecca, that's why there are eight posts a day: one every three hours requires precisely that many.

In my next Just So Story I'll explain why posts appear one minute after the hour.

March 17, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future' – by Orrin H. Pilkey and Linda Pilkey-Jarvis

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Cornelia Dean's insightful review of this new book appeared in the February 20, 2007 New York Times Science section.

Long story short:

1) Nobody knows anything

2) Doubt everything

3) Assume nothing

Here's the piece.

    The Problems in Modeling Nature, With Its Unruly Natural Tendencies

    When coastal engineers decide whether to dredge sand and pump it onto an eroded beach, they use mathematical models to predict how much sand they will need, when and where they must apply it, the rate it will move and how long the project will survive in the face of coastal storms and erosion.

    Orrin H. Pilkey, a coastal geologist and emeritus professor at Duke, recommends another approach: just dredge up a lot of sand and dump it on the beach willy-nilly. This ''kamikaze engineering'' might not last very long, he says, but projects built according to models do not usually last very long either, and at least his approach would not lull anyone into false mathematical certitude.

    Now Dr. Pilkey and his daughter Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, a geologist in the Washington State Department of Geology, have expanded this view into an overall attack on the use of computer programs to model nature. Nature is too complex, they say, and depends on too many processes that are poorly understood or little monitored — whether the process is the feedback effects of cloud cover on global warming or the movement of grains of sand on a beach.

    Their book, ''Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future,'' originated in a seminar Dr. Pilkey organized at Duke to look into the performance of mathematical models used in coastal geology. Among other things, participants concluded that beach modelers applied too many fixed values to phenomena that actually change quite a lot. For example, ''assumed average wave height,'' a variable crucial for many models, assumes that all waves hit the beach in the same way, that they are all the same height and that their patterns will not change over time. But, the authors say, that's not the way things work.

    Also, modelers' formulas may include coefficients (the authors call them ''fudge factors'') to ensure that they come out right. And the modelers may not check to see whether projects performed as predicted.

    Eventually, the seminar participants widened the project, concluding that erroneous assumptions, fudge factors and the reluctance to check predictions against unruly natural outcomes produce models with, as the authors put it, ''no demonstrable basis in nature.'' Among other problems, they cite much-modeled but nevertheless collapsed North Atlantic fishing stocks, poisonous pools unexpectedly produced by open pit mining, and invasive plants and animals that routinely outflank their modelers.

    Two issues, the authors say, illustrate other problems with modeling. One is climate change, in which, they say, experts' justifiable caution about model uncertainties can encourage them to ignore accumulating evidence from the real world. The other is the movement of nuclear waste through an underground storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, not because it has failed — it has yet to be built — but because they say it is unreasonable to expect accurate predictions of what will happen far into the future — in this extreme case, tens or even hundreds of thousands of years from now.

    Along the way, Dr. Pilkey and Ms. Pilkey-Jarvis describe and explain a host of modeling terms, including quantitative and qualitative models (models that seek to answer precise questions with more or less precise numbers, as against models that seek to discern environmental trends).

    They also discuss concepts like model sensitivity — the analysis of parameters included in a model to see which ones, if changed, are most likely to change model results.

    But, the authors say it is important to remember that model sensitivity assesses the parameter's importance in the model, not necessarily in nature. If a model itself is ''a poor representation of reality,'' they write, ''determining the sensitivity of an individual parameter in the model is a meaningless pursuit.''

    Given the problems with models, should we abandon them altogether? Perhaps, the authors say. Their favored alternative seems to be adaptive management, in which policymakers may start with a model of how a given ecosystem works, but make constant observations in the field, altering their policies as conditions change. But that approach has drawbacks, among them requirements for assiduous monitoring, flexible planning and a willingness to change courses in midstream. For practical and political reasons, all are hard to achieve.

    Besides, they acknowledge, people seem to have such a powerful desire to defend policies with formulas (or ''fig leaves,'' as the authors call them), that managers keep applying them, long after their utility has been called into question.

    So the authors offer some suggestions for using models better. We could, for example, pay more attention to nature, monitoring our streams, beaches, forests or fields to accumulate information on how living things and their environments interact. That kind of data is crucial for models. Modeling should be transparent. That is, any interested person should be able to see and understand how the model works — what factors it weighs heaviest, what coefficients it includes, what phenomena it leaves out, and so on. Also, modelers should say explicitly what assumptions they make.

    And instead of demanding to know exactly how high seas will rise or how many fish will be left in them or what the average global temperature will be in 20 years, they argue, we should seek to discern simply whether seas are rising, fish stocks are falling and average temperatures are increasing. And we should couple these models with observations from the field. Models should be regarded as producing ''ballpark figures,'' they write, not accurate impact forecasts.

    ''If we wish to stay within the bounds of reality we must look to a more qualitative future,'' the authors write, ''a future where there will be no certain answers to many of the important questions we have about the future of human interactions with the earth.''

March 17, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

normalroom.com — 'Global homes, wonderful lifestyles and fabulous interior design'

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Hey, sign me up — I'm in.

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Yesterday I received a personal invitation from Anssi Koskinen to stop by and pay a visit to Normal Room.

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As they say in Buenos Aires (and many other cities, wherever Spanish is spoken): "Abre los ojos."

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See how the other 99+% of the world lives.

March 17, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Helpful Hints from joeeze — The Microwave Memory Hole

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It's happening with increasing frequency.

I open the microwave door and inside is a cold, dead burrito.

Oh, yeah, I think — forgot about that.

It's only been there since lunchtime or overnight.

The penny dropped not two minutes ago.

As I placed my Patio brand Bean & Cheese burrito (isn't it odd that their Bean & Beef, Beef & Cheese and Chicken & Cheese varieties are simply dreadful? But I digress...) inside for its three minute stint under the beam, instead of tossing the wrapper into the trash as I usually do, I decided to leave it up on the counter, right in front of the microwave.

Doh!

A mnemonic — why has it taken me decades to see the light?

Better late than never, I guess.

Next trip into the kitchen, guess what?

Burrito par-tay.

No more dead burritos.

My new motto.

March 17, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Crank LED Flashlight/Cellphone Charger

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Son et lumière — what else do you need?

From the website:

    Crank LED Flashlight/Cellphone Charger

    Emergency LED flashlight even charges your cell phone with a few cranks

    A one-minute crank gets you 40 minutes of continuous light, six minutes of standby phone time and two minutes of talk time on your Nokia®, Samsung®, Motorola® or Sony Ericsson® cell phone (adapters included).

    Keep this device handy and you won't have to worry about batteries.

    Turns on at a press of a button; choose to illuminate all five of the LED bulbs, or just two.

    Five 10,000-hour LEDs.

    6-3/4" long.

$24.99.

March 17, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

50 Greatest Cartoons Of All Time

Now tell me the Internet's not like nothing else on earth.

Clicking here takes you to a website that links to most of the cartoons so you can watch them wherever you happen to be.

Below, the list — best first.

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March 17, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Hem Clips

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You don't have to know a needle from a noodle to realize these must have tons of uses outside the sewing space.

Just 'cause I can't think of any doesn't mean the same is true for you.

From the website:

    Hem Clips

    Smooth, stainless-steel clips slide onto fabric and hold hem in place while you sew or baste.

    No more tedious pinning (or pricked fingertips!) — plus adjustments are a breeze.

    Built-in measure assures straight, accurate hemlines every time!

    Can also be used with press-on hem binding.

    Hem Clips measure and hold without pins.

    Ideal for skirts, dresses, drapes.

    4-1/4" long.

....................

12 for $6.50.

March 17, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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