There’s been some moving and shaking on my friends’ websites recently (see the full list in the sidebar), so here’s a quick update.

Nicky has added some new t-shirts and hoodies for sale at Creative Current. For the discerning geek… “There are 10 types of people in the world, those who know binary and those who don’t”.

Dom Daher has updated his website and added some of his award-winning extreme sports photos as slideshows. Check the new slideshow at 20millimetre too.

Jamie and Helen and are still on the road but they’ve stopped off in Kyrgyzstan for a while where they’ve been volunteering for The Alpine Fund, “a small, non-profit, non-governmental organization using the incredible mountain resources of Kyrgyzstan to help the country’s most vulnerable youth.” Jamie worked on setting up their fancy new website and blog.

Olivia has still been doing her musical thing – watch out for her on the circuit in London and check out some of her tunes at myspace. Finally, travelorphan has been offline for a while but I’m assured she’ll be back to blogging soon enough…

Rachel Carson Distinguished Lecture by William C. Clark

Professor William C. Clark, of Harvard University, will be giving the forthcoming Rachel Carson Distinguished Lecture “Sustainability Science: An Emerging Interdisciplinary Frontier”. The lecture is on Thursday December 6 2007 at 3:30 PM (with a reception to follow) in the Radiology Auditorium (on Service Road) at Michigan State University (for directions, visit the CSIS home page). The lecture is free and open to the public.

I’ll be there and will try to write something about it here in the future…

Dr. William C. Clark is the Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy, and Human Development in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He is an international leader in Sustainability Sciences, co-chaired the National Research Council’s study “Our Common Journey: A Transition toward Sustainability”, and is editor of the Section on Sustainability Science for the Proceedings of U.S. National Academy of Sciences. His exceptional interdisciplinary research and other activities have been recognized by many prestigious honors and awards, such as membership in the National Academy of Sciences and the MacArthur Prize. Additional information about Dr. Clark, including representative publications, can be found at the CSIS home page.

Presented by the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife with support from the Office of the President; Office of the Provost; Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies; Graduate School; Environmental Science and Policy Program; College of Agricultural and Natural Resources; Michigan Agricultural Experimental Station; Center for Water Sciences; Sustainable Michigan Endowed Project; Science, Technology, Environment, and Public Policy Specialization; and Elton R. Smith Endowment.

What’s your model?

In their feature Formulae for the 21st Century, Edge ask ‘What is your formula? Your equation?’ Scientists, Philosophers, Artists and Writers have replied. Some gave their favourite, or what they thought to be the most important, formulas from their fields.

But many gave their models of the world. I think that’s why I like these so much – they’re models, simplifications, abstractions, essences of an aspect of life or thought. From Happiness (Danny Kahneman, Jonathan Haidt) and Creativity (Geoffrey Miller, Richard Foreman), through Cognition (Steven Pinker, Ernst Poppel), Economics (Matt Ridley), Society (Doug Rushkoff, John Horgan), Science (Richard Dawkins, Neil Shubin), Life (Alison Gopnik, Tor Nørretranders) and the Universe (Michael Shermer, Dimitar D. Sasselov) all the way (full circle maybe) to Metaphysics (Paul Bloom).

My favourites are the most simple – model parsimony, Occam’s Razor and all that. Here are a couple (click for larger images).

This got me thinking about why I like quotes so much too – because they’re models. Take the essence of an idea and express it as elegantly as possible. That’s what scientists and mathematicians do, but equally it’s what writers and artists do. Take it far enough, and being a bit of critical realist, I would say that all human perception is a model. But these elegant models are more useful than our sensory apparatus alone (which, along with our subconscious does plenty of filtering already) – they observe whilst simultaneously interpreting and synthesizing.

So what’s my model? I’m not sure – it would have to involve change. My personal models are continually changing, vacillating. Sometimes I believe time has an arrow, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the world is equations and energy, sometimes it’s story and sentiment. Sometimes life is light, sometimes life is heavy. Even when my model is relatively stable it’s usually paradoxical (or should that be hypocritical?) and ironic. I’ll try to parse it down to it’s most parsimonious state and then find some words and symbols to express it elegantly. Then I’ll post it here. I can’t guarantee that will be any time soon mind you…

In the meantime, what’s your model?

detroit river vs the thames

I’ve been busy recently. Those comments on the CHANS Science paper will follow soon, promise.

For now here is a grossly unfair, and probably invalid, comparison (but this is how it felt just looking whilst stood there). On one side of Detroit River is its namesake, Detroit, Michigan (top). On the other side lies Windsor, Ontario (bottom).

Looking across the river, whilst stood on the US side after walking through the large office blocks built when the city was at the centre of the automotive world, it felt a little like looking out at Rotherhithe from the Isle of Dogs. But Detroit and GM aren’t doing quite as well as Canary Wharf and I doubt whether the Windsor-Rotherhithe comparison is fair either. Anyway…

More vaguely interesting pics on the pictures page soon.


Top of the Rock

“I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

I, on the other hand, liked it immediately. Like London, it just has that energy that gets mind and body moving. I arrived the day after the tornado and the transport network was just getting back to normal. There were still a few problems though…

So, my highlights: Top of the Rock (the usual tourist thing of going to the top of something tall and checking the view – above); the UN HQ (below); Brooklyn Bridge (another US bridge about to collapse by the look of things); generally just hangin’ out with old friends enjoying the atmosphere with a few beers (Brooklyn Lager was pretty good); and learning to play wiffle ball in the street at 3am (not the easiest whilst half cut…) All good!

Oekologie #8

Welcome to the 8th issue of Oekologie, the travelling blog carnival of the best ecology and environmental science blog posts from the past month. Although the summer is often the time that ecologists and environmental scientists are out in the field doing what they love most (fieldwork) this didn’t stop some of us from posting stories that grabbed our attention.

Several of posts this month discussed the ecology of mammals, some more positive than others. Talking about Yellowstone’s Ecology of Fear, Jeremy at The Voltage Gate highlighted the benefits of the re-introduction of wolves to the National Park and that the restoration of historic ecosystems is possible. GrrlScientist notes that the egg-laying mammal Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna (named after Sir David Attenborough) is not extinct as was previously thought, and Tim at Walking the Berkshires emphasised the successes of the Khoadi Hôas Conservancy in Namibia for the conservation of elephant populations. Though problems remain, Tim suggests that it is possible for humans and elephants to exist side-by-side. In a great post over at Laelaps, Brian is less optimistic however about the management and survival prospects for the Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica).

More concerned with the The Other 95%, Kevin discusses the benefits for crabs moulting their exoskeleton (other than simply allowing them to grow). Concerning the plant world, Jennifer at The Infinite Sphere presents the invasive Purple Loosestrife and the trade-offs associated with controlling the plants with herbicides, and at Seeds Aside Laurent suggests a game for the next time you’re strolling through a meadow.

Lorne at Geek Counterpoint presents a review of the Storm World by Chris Mooney, pointing out the social aspects of the scientific study of the climate and hurricanes;

“Mooney also takes a long, critical look at how scientists communicate (or don’t) to the public, and how the media handles what information they can get their hands on.”

Finally, considering some of the larger issues, Mike at 10,000 Birds examines the ecological basis for conservation. Part of a larger series called Protect the Commons, he highlights the need to remember the fragile connections between things and to understand that “all is of a part”

That’s it for this month – check Oekologie #9 at Fish Feet next month. Remember to submit your best posts here.

bristol balloon fiesta

I just spotted that this weekend is Bristol’s Annual International Balloon Fiesta, Europe’s biggest. The night glows are always good fun – check the video below from last year:

If the wind is in the right direction the balloons drift across the city and land somewhere between Bristol and Bath. Sometimes they don’t make it – I remember when I was about 7 or 8 a balloon landed on my primary school field as we were walking to school in the morning (they take off twice a day, the first at dawn). Pretty exciting! I’ve never taken a hot air balloon ride but I think I’ll have to one day. It looks like graceful way to travel, looking out over the West Country landscape.

Fuel Efficient Collaboration

In a current thread on the <a href="; target=”_blank” class=”regular”>ECOLOG-L listserv there’s a debate going on about the environmental impacts of academics travelling to conferences in far-off places to discuss the environmental state of the world (the current case being this week’s ESA conference in San Jose). On correspondent suggested we might be better off taking better advantage of the internet and teleconferencing, as suggested by E.O. Wilson. Several people have responded noting the virtues of physically attending meetings including the opportunities to meet face-to-face with potential collaborators, funders and students and to see presentations of data that may not be published for a couple of years hence.

Another correspondent suggested that delegates consider the form of transport they take to reach the meeting – trains are commonly held as being more fuel efficient than planes for example. This led me to the Fuel Efficiency in Transportation page on the ubiquitous wikipedia. Assuming this page is correct, it suggests that generally;

  1. Cycling (653 mpg) is more efficient than walking (235 mpg)
  2. European trains (500 mpg) are considerably more fuel efficient than planes (67 mpg)
  3. Planes (67 mpg) are actually more fuel efficient than the average US car (36 mpg), but less efficient than a hyprid such as the Toyota Prius (77 mpg)
  4. Travel by the average US car (36 mpg) is of comparable efficiency to travel on an Amtrak intercity train (39 mpg)
  5. Travel by Steamboat (12 mpg) or Helicopter (4 mpg) is only for those who don’t give a jot about carbon emissions

Here mpg = miles per gallon of gasoline, and these are rough comparisons for the average occupancy of the vehicle which don’t really consider things like the distance travelled. There are many other considerations that need to be taken in these comparisons as James Strickland shows in his examination of the numbers.

Of course, the problem with this discussion is that the two most important factors that people consider when deciding how to travel are not accounted for: Time and Money. Flying internationally (and in many cases on short-haul too) is, in general, more efficient in both time and money than travelling by train (though some would say less fun). I can see currently that the advantages mentioned above for attending a conference in person do make it preferable to teleconferencing or online conferences. Maybe if ecologists really want to be environmentally friendly when meeting to discuss how the natural environment works they’ll need to go that one step further and embrace meetings in virtual words such as Second Life. Businesses are now experimenting with virtual spaces where remote workers come together to collaborate, and whilst it may take time to perfect and get used to this way of ‘meeting’ it seems like an option for the future. Whilst ESA 2007 is held in sunny a San Jose, maybe ESA 2010 be held in a sunny simulated city…

One year of meandering, One award

Today is the first anniversary of Direction not Destination, a year since I wrote this. Since then I’ve relocated from the OC to East Lansing with few other trips for work (Poland, Spain, USA), and otherwise (India, Dorset), in between. I was offered a couple of jobs, awarded a PhD and generally the good times have outweighed the bad.

Initially I didn’t really know how this blog would turn out or what I would do with it. It seems to have become a place for me to write some thoughts with a little more freedom than I’m afforded with work stuff, a place to keep track of what I am actually doing at work, a place to post some of my favourite pics, and of course at place just to have a quick rant every-now-and-then.

I’ve contributed to Just Science Week and Oekologie and generally some people seem to be finding my meandering thoughts interesting. So much so that recently I was awarded a Thinking Blogger Award! What a nice birthday pressie. Thanks to Jeremy at the Voltage Gate for the nod. Having been awarded this it is now upon my shoulders to nominate the five blogs that make me think. To be honest, and as I implied in the other post I made a year ago, I don’t go checking other individuals’ blogs directly that often. Instead, I usually stick to my favourite blog aggregator 3quarks and the Guardian’s excellent Comment is Free. Anyway, here are my five:

  1. 3quarksdaily“a daily must-read for intellectuals of all stripes”
  2. Prometheus – mainly for the havoc Roger Pielke Jr causes – he’s now blogging for Nature
  3. Resilience Science – overseen by Garry Peterson at McGill University
  4. Ecological Economics – a variety of authors from several disciplines
  5. World Changing – building the future ourselves

Here to the next year’s meanderings!



notes from sri lanka

Erin (AKA travelorphan) has been offline for a while, but on her return from the field she’s made several posts to her blog detailing some of her recent work and the events in Sri Lanka.

Many people are still trying to rebuild their lives following the devastation of the 2005 tsunami and Erin has had the opportunity to assist local evacuation and disaster management using activities such as community-led vulnerability mapping. However, much of this recovery goes on in the midst of an ongoing conflict, which is endangering those offering aid and diverting resources away from civilian and toward military uses.

Check out some of her notes and pictures. Stirring stuff.