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.: April 2008 --> April 2008

April 2008

» "Faced with data showing that drivers pay attention to cameras at intersections — resulting in fewer ticketable violations and ever-shrinking revenue from fines — municipalities across the country are reconsidering red light cameras, which often work too well." As Bruce Schneier says, Security is a function of agenda.  [ 04.01.08 ]

» I've mentioned it before, but it's Spring and you might just need this. Dave's Garden is a terrific resource for gardeners at all levels of experience, with articles, forums, and member-contributed databases on plant varieties and bugs.

The site claims that Plantfiles is the largest plant database in the world, and it ought to be - it's has been compiled by 26,514 gardeners from around the world. Gardeners share both their knowledge and their experience, ie "Here is how this particular plant did in my garden in this particular location". Founded in 2000, I would certainly look at this as something of a proto-Wikipedia.  [ 04.02.08 ]

» OwlCam! (via jessamyn)  [ 04.03.08 ]

» For those of you who really love bento, why don't you spend the weekend exploring the many Flickr groups devoted to this topic? They include a Mr Bento group for devotees of the popular Zojirushi lunchbox, Diet Bento, Vegan Bento, and even an Iron Bento competition, where members compete to see who can come up with the most imaginative use of an ingredient.  [ 04.04.08 ]

» Fannish crafters, you may be interested in these patterns: the Knitted Tardis (see it here) and (my favorite) the Extermiknit!  [ 04.07.08 ]

» Longtime readers will know what a fan I am Cool Tools, Kevin Kelly's extraordinarily useful site. For all of you who are interested in peeking beneath the hood, KK has just written up a combination history and colophon of the site, the cool Tools of Cool Tools.  [ 04.08.08 ]

» 110 best books: The perfect library, with reader comments for a more perfect library. (via wr)  [ 04.09.08 ]

» The Great McCain Story You've Probably Forgotten. How did McCain get to be McCain? Read this story about two men, one a powerful Senator and the other, a rookie Congressman and self-described "freshman right-wing Nazi"—McCain.  [ 04.11.08 ]

» Reader's Advisor Under the Radar: Great Recent Historical Novels You May Have Missed.  [ 04.14.08 ]

» An intersection of two of my great interests: food and politics. Can what you eat predict how you will vote? ([f that link takes you to a registration screen, try one of these Bugmenot registrations] Once you know the code, it's not too hard to match the candidate to the food. (For example, cereal preferences among supporters go like this: Obama supporters: Bear Naked Granola; Clinton supporters: Kashi GoLean; and McCain supporters: Fiber One.) See if you can guess which of these food pairings go with which candidates: Fuddruckers and Hardee's; The Cheesecake Factory and Panera Bread; and Red Lobster and Krispy Kreme.  [ 04.16.08 ]

» A Little Weekend Reading: Jan Chipchase is a human-behavior researcher for Nokia who travels the world talking to people about how they live and what they need. He's the centerpiece of a fascinating NY Times article on, believe it or not, the very concrete ways in which cell phones are alleviating poverty in the developing world.

Jan Chipchase and his user-research colleagues at Nokia can rattle off example upon example of the cellphone's ability to increase people's productivity and well-being, mostly because of the simple fact that they can be reached. There's the live-in housekeeper in China who was more or less an indentured servant until she got a cellphone so that new customers could call and book her services. Or the porter who spent his days hanging around outside of department stores and construction sites hoping to be hired to carry other people's loads but now, with a cellphone, can go only where the jobs are. Having a call-back number, Chipchase likes to say, is having a fixed identity point, which, inside of populations that are constantly on the move — displaced by war, floods, drought or faltering economies — can be immensely valuable both as a means of keeping in touch with home communities and as a business tool. [...]
[T]his sort of economic promise has also caught the eye of development specialists and business scholars around the world. Robert Jensen, an economics professor at Harvard University, tracked fishermen off the coast of Kerala in southern India, finding that when they invested in cellphones and started using them to call around to prospective buyers before they'd even got their catch to shore, their profits went up by an average of 8 percent while consumer prices in the local marketplace went down by 4 percent. A 2005 London Business School study extrapolated the effect even further, concluding that for every additional 10 mobile phones per 100 people, a country's G.D.P. rises 0.5 percent.

 [ 04.18.08 ]

» "[D]id you know that renters are 32 percent of American households? And that homes in foreclosure are less than 2 percent? ... Unfortunately, renters aren't as good at politics as the small minority of homeowners (and their bankers) who are in trouble. We don't have lobbyists in Washington, DC. We don't get a tax deduction for our rent and we don't get sweetheart government loans".  [ 04.21.08 ]

» Book Review: Knut: How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World, by Juliana, Isabella, and Craig Hatkoff and Dr. Gerald R. Uhlich.

When 8-year-old Juliana Hatkoff and her 11-year-old sister Isabella saw a picture of a baby polar bear who had been born at Zoo Berlin and then abandoned by its mother, they decided they wanted to write a book about it. That didn't seem very far-fetched to them—Juliana and her father, Craig, had written Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship, which had topped the New York times bestseller list just a few years before.

The resulting book, Knut: How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World is sure to captivate most little children (and many of their parents). It's the story of how zoo keeper Thomas Dorflein devoted 4 months of his life to caring for the polar bear cub, only leaving the zoo for 3 days at the end of that time. While the details about cub care are interesting, it's the pictures that really sell this book. Children love baby animals and pictures of newborn Knut sleeping on his keeper's lap, dirty Knut playing in the sand, and little Knut playing with an old boot will make for enjoyable browsing, and may even lead your little one to transform into a polar bear cub for some cuddling or polar bear play.

The book ends with a short section on polar bears, and a page on what the reader can do to help protect their habitat. The suggestions are standard: walk or bike instead of driving, turn off lights when you leave the room, and so forth. But this story of a cute baby polar bear will give children an emotional connection that can give you a starting point to talk about the steps you are taking in your own lives to reduce your impact on the environment.

This book was provided for review from the author.

 [ 04.22.08 ]

» Book Review: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hybrid and Alternative Fuel Vehicles, by Jack R. Nerad

This book is about a year old, but if you have been thinking about upgrading your vehicle, it will provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision about which new car to buy, and why.

The author, Jack Nerad (executive editorial director of the Kelley Blue Book) doesn't have an axe to grind. He seems genuinely interested in getting reliable information to his readers, providing both the benefits and disadvantages of the systems he describes. The only real complaint I have with the book is that it tries too hard to be fair, couching every mention of climate change in words like "some say" instead of just taking a stand. This is understandable given when the book was actually written—with a 2007 publication date, I'd place the actual writing in 2006—and that it is intended to appeal to the broadest possible audience. You would have to try hard to be offended by this book.

Otherwise, Nerad offers very clear explanations of 6 alternatives to reducing emissions: Hybrids, Flex Fuel/E85 vehicles, Natural Gas vehicles, Clean Diesel and Biodiesel vehicles, New Tech Gasoline vehicles, and Electric cars, with a final chapter devoted to possible future alternatives. In each main section he clearly explains how the technology works, examines common considerations such as safety, reliability, cost to operate, and repair costs, and provides a little formula for figuring out what the actual cost/savings for each vehicle would be based on your own driving habits.

It's a terrific, very thorough introduction to the subject—one I'll be referring to again when it's time to buy a new car.

This book was provided for review from the publisher.

 [ 04.23.08 ]

» Book Review: Housebirth: Your Guide to Buying an Energy-Efficient, Healthy New Home that Pays You Back, by Sara Lamia

Housebirth was created by Sara Lamia to help new-home builders think through the choices necessary for building a home. It might also be useful to buyers of existing homes who are planning to remodel after they buy.

I should say that I haven't used the book for its intended purpose—but it appears to be very thorough in the information it provides, covering everything from choosing the professionals you work with, "green choices", and potential fire code considerations. It is aimed at a mainstream audience—Earth-friendly tips consist of items like which types of windows save energy and considering a tankless water heater. This is not the book to buy if you want to read up on cutting edge alternative energy strategies.

That said, Housebirth there are plenty of green choices noted throughout the book, and this looks like a good starting point for anyone who is building a home for the first time. It is chock-full of checklists and worksheets, starting with exercises that are designed to help you identify your core priorities so that you can be sure you know what you really want in a home before you start to build. The book is interspersed with personal stories of choices the author made (including some last-minute decisions made after she realized her choices had not been thought through properly). My main complaint is its lack of an index. As it is, this is a well-organized workbook. WIth an index, it would be a useful reference tool as well.

If you've never built (or remodeled) a home, this book will help you identify your wants and needs, and then give you a good framework for understanding the process and many of the choices that are available to you. Even if you want to go further in greening your home than this book will take you, I recommend it as a good starting point to provide you with a framework for thinking through the many basic decisions and hires a new home builder will need to make.

This book was provided for review from the author.

 [ 04.24.08 ]

» Book Review: Hey Mr. Green: Sierra Magazine's Answer Guy Tackles Your Toughest Green Living Questions, by Bob Schildgen.

Hey Mr. Green: Sierra Magazine's Answer Guy Tackles Your Toughest Green Living Questions is a compilation of questions and answers from Bob Schildgen's popular column for Sierra Magazine. In it, he answers questions sent in by Sierra Club members about how to green their lifestyle.

Arranged in 5 sections - At Home, Food for Thought, Out and About (transportation), The Three Rs (reduce, reuses, recycle), and The Big Picture (the environment, politics, and religion) - the book reproduces the column's question and answer format, making it easy to dip into. Many of the questions are very thoughtful, and the answers are entertainingly written and seem to be very well researched. Followup questions are frequently included, providing a more nuanced discussion of the issues involved in each individual choice.

It's an easy, non-threatening read, probably most useful and inspirational for people with an interest in greening their lives but little motivation to research their questions themselves.

This book was provided for review from the publisher.

 [ 04.25.08 ]

» For Earth Day this year, I'm reviewing a few books I've received recently that have environmental themes.  [ 04.25.08 ]

» Nine years ago today, I wrote the first entry for Rebecca's Pocket. A lot has happened since then. As always, thanks for reading.  [ 04.27.08 ]

» It took 4 million years of evolution to perfect the human foot. But we're wrecking it with every step we take.

I'm afraid I have some bad news for you: You walk wrong.
Look, it's not your fault. It's your shoes. Shoes are bad. I don't just mean stiletto heels, or cowboy boots, or tottering espadrilles, or any of the other fairly obvious foot-torture devices into which we wincingly jam our feet. I mean all shoes. Shoes hurt your feet. They change how you walk. In fact, your feet—your poor, tender, abused, ignored, maligned, misunderstood fee—are getting trounced in a war that's been raging for roughly a thousand years: the battle of shoes versus feet.

Don't miss the trompel'oeil foot paintings (including stilletos!) that accompany the article. (via mamr)  [ 04.28.08 ]

» Hail to the Chef, Walter Scheib, White House Chef for the Clintons and Bushes.

The truth of the matter is that while presidents' families will occasionally provide the chef with a family recipe or one clipped from a magazine or borrowed from a Web site, for the most part, they have much more on their minds than what to put on the table every night.
And while we're on the subject, isn't the whole thing a tad sexist? I don't believe that anyone has asked Bill Clinton what he'll be looking for in a chef should his wife become president or what he'll serve at his first state dinner. [...] And, as far as I know, no one has asked him for a cookie recipe.

 [ 04.28.08 ]

» Women are valued for being nice. And when they aren't nice, they are seen as seen as personally flawed, and are punished for it.

That's my conclusion upon reading All Terrain's a discussion of a couple of studies on women in the workplace. First, there's anger. Women who get angry at work tend to be pegged as "angry people", while men are assumed to be responding to external forces. Then there's negotiating at work:

[The study] found that men and women get very different responses when they initiate negotiations. Although it may well be true that women often hurt themselves by not trying to negotiate, this study found that women's reluctance was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did. Both men and women were more likely to subtly penalize women who asked for more--the perception was that women who asked for more were "less nice."

There are so many ways to go with this - from work in general, to the current presidential campaign, to the gender disparity in salaries, and the dearth of female CEOs (and speakers at conferences).

None of this is to downplay the effects of actual discrimination: read Dalia Lithwick's enlightening discussion of the recent Supreme Court decision to bar women from filing for discriminatory pay if they complain more than 180 days after their first paycheck.  [ 04.30.08 ]



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