November 9, 2009

Desire Lines

From Wikipedia:
A desire path (also known as a desire line or social trail) is a path developed by erosion caused by animal or human footfall. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination. The width and amount of erosion of the line represents the amount of demand. The term was coined by Gaston Bachelard in his book The Poetics of Space.[1] Desire paths can usually be found as shortcuts where constructed pathways take a circuitous route.

They are manifested on the surface of the earth in certain cases, e.g., as dirt pathways created by people walking through a field, when the original movement by individuals helps clear a path, thereby encouraging more travel. Explorers may tread a path through foliage or grass, leaving a trail "of least resistance" for followers.

The lines may be seen along an unpaved road shoulder or some other unpaved natural surface. The paths take on an organically grown appearance by being unbiased toward existing constructed routes. These are almost always the most direct and the shortest routes between two points, and may later be surfaced. Many streets in older cities began as desire lines, which evolved over the decades or centuries into the modern streets of today.
A short piece in the New York Times entitled "Ploughing Detroit into Farmland" points to this nice post from Sweet Juniper that explicates the emerging desire lines around the vacant urban landscape of Detroit and which can be seen in the photo above, also from Sweet Juniper.

It's not a term that I was familiar with, though one that I'm now glad I know as I've always been a bit of an intrepid desire path follower. If you've spent any time in a developing country, and Africa in particular I think, you know that desire lines are as ubiquitous as feet and you've no doubt seen vast stretches of forlorn untrodden sidewalk as everyone wisely follows their own much more efficient and no less demarcated desire paths across, around and over it. My own favorite encapsulation of the difference between desire paths and paved roads always came when asking if I was following the right road from one village to another village in the Botswana bush, the reply would inevitably be: "This is a road but it is not the road."

October 23, 2009

Links: Random and Assorted

1. Add this to the list of things not to tell your children: bunnies being shot, frozen and burnt for fuel in Sweden. (via)

3. An Interview with Dr. Cruelty regarding the supervillian sense of humor:
No, I'm sorry, I still don't—

They're stuck in a pit! They can try to get out but they can't! They will surely die down there, poisoned by snakes! They're trapped!

Right, I understand that but—

It's hysterical, come on! They. Can't. Get. Out.
4. File away for New Years, how to make the McNuggetini (via and recipe)

5. In case you missed them: Gapminder added FAO agricultural data to their visualizer; the FAO's Hunger Report; IFPRI's 2009 Hunger Index.

6. Steven Rattner's behind the scenes account of the auto bailout is worth a read.

7. Charlize Theron one ups Bill Easterly and makes out with the highest bidder to raise money for Africa. Now there's a slippery slope . . . .

Here's what the researchers concluded: Using a high-speed camera that photographed people flipping coins, the three researchers determined that a coin is more likely to land facing the same side on which it started. If tails is facing up when the coin is perched on your thumb, it is more likely to land tails up.
How much more likely? At least 51 percent of the time, the researchers claim, and possibly as much as 55 percent to 60 percent — depending on the flipping motion of the individual.
In other words, more than random luck is at work.

October 12, 2009

Comedians Solve World Hunger (Again)

Sarah Silverman makes a suggestion for solving world hunger. The NSFW should be a given, but if not, well, the language is NSFW.

Silverman, of course, isn't the first comedian, nor is she the funniest, to take aim at solving global hunger, here's the classic Sam Kinnison piece from the 80's.

September 1, 2009

Religion Matters in the Hood

While fatherhood hasn't left me much time to blog of late it has left plenty of odd moments (i.e., the wee hours of the night) to read blogs and one I've been especially enjoying of late is Tales from the Hood. Today's post is a good example why as it deals with a topic near and dear to my heart, the intersection of religion and development, here's an excerpt:
I am saying that we need to see religion as more than a curiosity or a barrier. I am saying that I see significant room in the aid industry to expand our understanding of the ways in which Religion affects people, broadly speaking, and the ways in which religions are powerful forces in the communities where we work. If the statistic is right and 85 percent of the recipients of aid that we deliver are religious (it’s actually probably higher than 85 percent), then we see a necessarily incomplete picture by sticking with the concrete, the tangible, the scientific. I’m not saying that we should all embrace religion (this is a very personal choice for everyone), but I am suggesting that we need to move beyond arm’s-length tolerance: It is not enough to simply know intellectually that communities in southern Laos are Theravada Buddhist: we need to know what that means specifically in the life of that community and in the lives of those who are to benefit from what we do there. It is not sufficient simply to know that recipients of aid in rural Afghanistan are Muslim; it’s not even enough to overtly make the link between that fact and what it means for us and how we structure and run programs there…

The aid programs that we design and implement and monitor and evaluate nearly always take place in contexts where religion is a central part of peoples lives. For us to be less than complete in our understanding of what that means necessarily limits our ability to fully comprehend the impact of those aid programs.
The whole thing is recommended. My previous posts in a similar vein are tagged under "religion matters."

August 25, 2009

2 Videos

Beautiful video of food prep at Alinea via Eat Me Daily:

Bill Streever was on NPR today talking about his new book Cold and talking about hibernating arctic ground squirrels. Full transcript isn't up yet but here's the gist:
"As [the squirrel] hibernates, he begins to cool off. In fact, he cools off to a temperature that's just below the freezing point of water, so around 30 degrees Fahrenheit," says Streever. "When he hits that temperature — when one would think this animal is, for all intent and purposes dead ... he spontaneously starts to shiver," and his temperature rises.
Of course, You Tube has you covered with this video of the process which is great on many, many levels:

August 20, 2009

The Million Dollar Book

From Eat Me Daily comes word of the planned publication of a book on wine expected to retail at a cool million dollars:
The book, weighing 66 pounds, will highlight the top 100 wineries in the world and come with six bottles from each winery, presumably driving up the astronomical price tag. But is it worth it?

Assuming the Wine Opus costs about the same amount as their other titles, it would cost approximately $2000 without the wine chaser. Divide what's left of the $1m between the 600 bottles of wine, and you get an average of $1663 per bottle. For comparison, the most expensive, standard-sized bottle on, a Dom. de la Romanee Conti La Tache Grand Cru 2004, retails for $1,579, but the second priciest, a Ch√Ęteau Mouton Rothschild Pauillac 2005, is a comparative bargain at $749.
Feel free to browse the other titles available from Kraken Opus, the self-described maker of "the most luxurious series of publications ever created." Hint: the Prince one comes with an iPod - cha-ching!

August 19, 2009

Engineers are a Matter of Fact People

Names of telescopes:

The only conclusion can be that all the creative energy of astronomers goes into thinking about what aliens look like and therefore they have no time left over to think up names for their equipment. That, or space dementia. Gleaned from this little piece in the Economist on the future of astronomy and the possible implications of it being guided by computerized robots rather than the hunches of mere mortals in the line of Galileo, Kepler, et al.

July 2, 2009

Factbook eXplorer

The OECD released an interesting new data/statistical visualization tool: Factbook eXplorer. You know it's good because the "X" is capitalized.

June 22, 2009

AIDS, Religion and Development

Via Travis Kavulla's Twitter feed I see that he has a long and worthwhile essay in the New Atlantis touching on one of my favorite talking points, the necessity of recognizing the role of religious beliefs, systems and structures when engaged in development work on the African continent:
The Western public-health lobby, bred in a culture that preaches unconstrained freedom of the individual in the realm of sexual relations, is put off by talk of moralizing policies, or of any policy that de-emphasizes condoms. But it needs a dose of its own advice. It must stop imposing its own agenda on Africa. It must realize that HIV has a social dimension that must be addressed, that Africans are naturally wont to view this disease, which perversely inverts the life-giving act of sex, as a moral calamity. The sooner the donor community realizes this, and reorients its policies to fit African realities, the better.
There is much more to engage with there than I have the time to do at the moment so please give it a read.

June 14, 2009

Tips For Those Who Actually Want to Travel

As with all other areas of my life these days I'm a few days behind working through the old feed reader but when I finally got around to it I was happy to see this post from Erik Hersman in response to Nicholas Kristof's well meaning (?) primer on travel in developing countries. Erik's list along with those he's culled from the comments is worth bookmarking while Kristof's . . . . not so much.

My addition would be to buy, carry and read whatever local English language daily you can get your hands on. A little local knowledge and a few relevant talking points with the man/woman on the street can go a long way in establishing that first foot of insider good will.

May 23, 2009

Congo Importing Farmers

It's not colonialism if you are invited, right?  (Or, is it the refusal to leave when asked?)  As the article points out there are problems with this plan but it seems potentially more desirable (with the possibility for greater long term local returns) than the wholesale leasing of huge tracts of arable land to sovereign states.

May 12, 2009


Posts have been a bit scarce of late and will be more so in the next few days, as we just had a baby.  We are sleepy, we are excited, we are parents.  

PS - In the meantime If you missed Justin Timberlake on SNL, I'm up late these days, there are a couple of skits that are worth watching - I don't love his music but the guy has skills - that monologue was brilliantly done.  The Geithner opening was a couple minutes too long but funny:

May 5, 2009

Markets in Everything: Home Victories

With the usual apologies to Marginal Revolution, from the AJC:
Georgia, which has beaten New Mexico State by an average of 32 points in three previous meetings, will pay the Aggies $925,000 to come to Athens for another game.

The Bulldogs will play New Mexico State on Nov. 5, 2011, in Sanford Stadium.

Georgia is to pay New Mexico State the $925,000 — believed to be the largest payout UGA has made to a visiting team — by Jan. 31, 2012, according to the contract between the schools, obtained this morning by the AJC.
By my calculations that's an average margin of victory cost of $28,906.25 per point.  Memo to Coach Richt, pull the offense back in the second half and you could save a few hundred thousand dollars the next time contract negotiations come around.

May 4, 2009

Spamming the White Man's Burden

Andy Baio documents the latest development in 419 spam with the receipt of this email:
From: jenifergoodluck (Your Big Fool)
Date: Mon, May 4, 2009 at 6:11 AM
Subject: You Owe Me
Since you haven't fallen for my stupid scam letter let me go ahead and be up front with you.

Because I am a Nigerian, you owe me something. The fact that my decadent forefathers sold their neighbors and relatives into slavery means that you owe me a lot of money, especially if you are white. I will accept $1000 USD from you per month for the next 12 months. That will settle your debt towards me that was created by our forefathers.

Moreover, it is imperative that you begin to acknowledge my inherited right to steal and be corrupt without oppression from anybody's legal system. I am entitled to instant riches at the expense of everyone outside West Africa.

This starts with you, my friend, so start paying up now by Western Union.
Check Andy's post for the full story but his theory is that this call for colonial reparations is actually a hackers retaliation to an earlier more standard 419 email.  Another possibility is that it is viral marketing for either Western Union or Dambisa Moya.  

April 26, 2009


1.  On the Path of Walker Evans.  If you've never read or at least thumbed through Let Us Now Praise Famous Men do yourself a favor and pick a copy up some time.

2.  For all the budding hypochondriacs: 4 ways to track the swine flu.  Health Map also has a Twitter feed and there is this often updated, fairly comprehensive Google map.

3.  The cost of fast food per calorie.  Sadly, does not reflect your cost in terms of healthcare.

4.  A good post-World Malaria Day reminder from Easterly that distributing mosquito nets without adequate preparation/education is rarely enough.

5.  More rich country - poor country farming deals in the works - this time the players are Kuwait, Cambodia and small rice farmers.

6.  Andrew Bird's great album Armchair Apocrypha is a $1.99 mp3 download on Amazon today- highly recommended.

April 20, 2009

The End of The End of Poverty?

I saw this trailer four or five months ago and honestly didn't even make it through the first of its three minutes - but that had more to do with the fact that I find Martin Sheen somewhat unbearable.  However, I get the impression that Tyler Cowen doesn't think I'm missing very much by skipping either the trailer or the film, which he summarizes as a "screed of mistruths and error."  Is it just me or is that the most straight forward opinion that Cowen has ever expressed.  The film's website is here if you're interested in finding a viewing at which to form your own opinion.

April 18, 2009


1.  The US Working Group on the Food Crisis is urging ag ministers at the upcoming G8 agricultural meeting to reject "green revolution policies" as a way forward for African agriculture.

2.  Farmers in India agree as they struggle to deal with the repercussions of their own failed "green revolution:"
But now these farmers are running out of groundwater.

They have to buy three times as much fertilizer as they did 30 years ago to grow the same amount of crops. They blitz their crops with pesticides, but insects have become so resistant that they still often destroy large portions of crops.

The state's agriculture "has become unsustainable and nonprofitable.
3.  I think I may have linked to this before but in case I forgot be sure to check out Yes magazine's spring issue.  The theme is Food for Everyone: The Local Food Revolution and there is some good content there, including a sweet chart (free pdf download) showing how a community food system works, excerpted below:

4.  An increasingly relevant topic in our household: homemade baby food.

5.  I've long been fascinated by the postal system and the amazing fact that you can drop a piece of paper in a metal box and for less than two quarters have someone carry it across the country for you and deliver it to another little box that you specify.  Amazing and incredibly inefficient but what can you do - here's an in depth attempt at an answer.  (via)

6.  Some press on WFP's P4P.  U c?

7.  On the religion and development front this piece by Bryant Myers entitled, "Working with the Poor with a Bias towards Peace" is worth your time.  Myers worked with World Vision for thirty years and left to take a teaching position at Fuller Seminary a couple of years ago.  A move that, as an alum, I was particularly glad to see as it signals a recognition that good intentions are not enough, but faith-based relief and development must also be grounded in and aware of best practices (an admittedly moving target).

8.  Muji's online US store is up and running.

9.  Elizabeth Warren totally won me over on the Daily Show this week - engaging, open, honest and smart.  This four minute clip from the end was as solid an explanation of the lay of the land and a possible way forward as I've heard, but watch her whole interview if you have the time.

April 17, 2009

Your Depressing Map of the Day

Slate took data from the Labor Department's local area unemployment statistics starting in January 2007 and running up to February 2009 and mashed it into an interactive map on which you can watch employment bleed out of the country - further visual evidence that the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 have been simply brutal on the jobs front.

April 12, 2009

African Exports: Religion

The New York Times has had a couple of surprisingly good religion beat pieces in the last few weeks and today's long essay on the Nigerian based Redeemed Christian Church of God is another example.  It's a much better presentation of a genuinely relevant global religious trend than Jon Meacham's recent (and over covered) Newsweek piece on the end of "Christian America."  Pentecostalism is one of the four or five most important trends currently shaping Africa and the global south and thus, by definition (or population, if nothing else), the world.  If "Christianity" emerges as another truly global force in the future it will certainly not be an American variant but an African one.  This piece is a decent introduction and for further reading start with Philip Jenkins's The Next Christianity and The New Faces of Christianity.

April 11, 2009

Building Codes: Mapping Technology and Tradition

Heads up to all the loyal readers in or passing through Baton Rouge, LA next week. Do yourself a favor and check out David West's (one of those rare persons with no discernible "web presence" as he spends most of his time making actual things . . . luddite) show at the Glassell Gallery.  The gallery is located downtown in the Shaw Center, which is worth a trip in and of itself, so you really can't miss with this one - definitely worth your time.

Disclaimer:  Amongst other things, David and I share parents.


1.  Are big farms the key to African development?  As I've said before, I think Collier is wrong on this one.  There will certainly be some large farms (there already are), some no doubt driven by development and scarcity elsewhere (i.e. China, South Korea, etc.), because a few folks will figure out how to make money off of it, but there need to be a lot more medium sized farms meeting regional farms and there need to be a lot more subsistence farms with access to appropriate technology so that farming can move from being a life line to being something akin to a legitimate credit line.

2.  Are diversified organic cropping systems as profitable as conventional mono-cropping?  A new study says yes:
"In our study we found that diversified systems were more profitable than monocropping," explains Joshua Posner, University of Wisconsin.
With feed grade premiums the organic systems were more profitable than the Midwestern standards of continuous corn, no-till corn and soybeans, and intensively managed alfalfa.
Rotational grazing of dairy heifers was as profitable as the organic systems. And to our surprise, including risk premiums into the evaluation did not change the ranking of the systems. This study indicates that governmental policy that supports mono-culture systems is outdated and support should be shifted to programs that promote crop rotations and organic farming practices.
Full paper here.

3.  Has Mugabe stolen the Ark of the Covenant?  Talismans are a powerful cultural force throughout Africa and it's no surprise that this one pops up all over the continent.

5.  Gmail finally adds the ability to insert inline images - revolutionizing family newsletters throughout the world.

6.  The Seattle Times discovers potato boxes.  One of the problems with getting people to grow their own potatoes is that they are so freakin' cheap and not enough people have had fresh ones to realize how big a difference there really is - as opposed to tomatoes which everyone knows you have to grow yourself if you want to eat a decent one.

8.  Stamp Out Hunger is coming up in less than a month so start buying an extra can or two every week and put them out for the mailman on May 9th.  Seriously, this is a no brainer.  

April 5, 2009

Adoption as Development

The best commentary yet on the Jolie/Madonna strategy of "saving the world one tiny exotic baby at a time" comes from SNL:


1.  Restaurant chains taking a beating - get your Outback, Krispy Kreme, Arby's and Sbarro while you can.

3.  What Would Jesus Bet?  I'd love to read this piece in the New Yorker on game theory, online poker and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson but for some reason it's gated.  I didn't even know the New Yorker required registration?

4.  Flaming Garbage Cans in Hip Hop Videos.  A blog chronicling exactly what it claims.

5.  Hunger eclipsed at G-20 Summit, not surprisingly.

April 2, 2009

Atlas of Global Development

The World Bank's recently released second edition of the Atlas of Global Development is available for viewing online, but unfortunately not downloadable.  

April 1, 2009

Tauntaun Sleeping Bag

By far the best April fools bit I saw today was this one from ThinkGeek -  the tauntaun sleeping bag:
This high-quality sleeping bag looks just like a Tauntaun, complete with saddle, internal intestines and glowing lightsaber zipper pull. Now when your kids tell you their favorite Star Wars movie is "Attack of the Clones" you can nestle the wee-ones snug in simulated Tauntaun fur while regaling them with the amazing tale of "Empire Strikes Back".

Use the glowing lightsaber zipper pull on the Tauntaun sleeping bag to illustrate how Han Solo saved Luke Skywalker from certain death in the freezing climate of Hoth by slitting open the belly of a dead Tauntaun and placing Luke inside the stinking (but warm) carcass. If your kids don't change their tune on which Star Wars film is the greatest ever, you can do your best Jar Jar impression until they repent.

Perhaps even better is this seemingly legitimate bit recently added to the sidebar, apparently after ThinkGeek received a deluge of emails from customers:
ATTN Tauntaun Fanatics! Due to an overwhelming tsunami of requests from YOU THE PEOPLE, we have decided to TRY and bring this to life. We have no clue if the suits at Lucasfilms will grant little ThinkGeek a license, nor do we know how much it would ultimately retail for. But if you are interested in ever owning one of these, click the link below and we'll try!
Looks like something just got added to the baby registry.

March 31, 2009

Barack the Barbarian: Quest for the Treasure of Stimuli

Apologies for two comic book posts in a row but this one pretty much proves the worth of the medium.  I give you - Barack the Barbarian: Quest for the Treasure of the Stimuli.  Some plot summary:
In the distant future the story of Barack Obama has become a little... distorted. According to THE MADDOWIAN CHRONICLES he was the one destined to save the great republic of America and dethrone the overpaid despots of the time. Join Barack, Sorceress Hilaria, her demi-god trickster husband Biil, Overlord Boosh and Chainknee of the Elephant Kingdom. Who can the lone barbarian trust, if anyone?
Click through for your comic book requisite Barack beefcake and Palin pinup.

March 30, 2009

NYT Global

New global edition of the New York Times.

Baker's Pharmacy, Where are You?

One of the things that it's been fun to think about as impending fatherhood approaches is the possibility of one day re-entering the world of comic books with my son.  But I don't know if you've noticed or not those things have gotten expensive.  We're talking $3 on average and, as the NYT reports, some of the more popular titles are rolling out price increases to $4.  Comic books are an interesting medium, and one that I don't think is unfair to call niche these days, in that they probably are "underpriced" for the existing fan market (excluding myself and possibly my good friend Miles who is my lone spokesman for the first grade demographic) but perceived as overpriced by the market of potential fans who have so many other, often much more interactive, options with a fairly similar market spectrum.  Here's what the president of Marvel says in the piece:
Mr. Buckley felt that, because of comic books’ origin in the world of pulp and disposable entertainment, the effort that goes into their creation is sometimes underestimated.

“Comics are a legit form of entertainment, and there are highly respected and well-paid individuals creating them,” he said. “People have an affinity for nickel and dime comics from the 1940s, but we’re competing with video games, film and television.” He added, “We need to keep the talent on the books to make them work.”
Their current pricing scheme supposedly subsidizes the cost of the less popular titles by increasing the price of the more popular titles but why not subsidize across mediums.  Why not subsidize comics with the much more lucrative (I'm assuming, I don't claim to know the margins on any of this) video game, film and television productions?  Are comic books even the primary entry point for new fans into the super-hero genre?  All of that to say that my new excuse to my wife as to why those boxes of comics have to stay in our closet is that the medium may not even be around by the time "junior" gets old enough to appreciate them so I've got to hold on to what I've got.

March 29, 2009

Two of My Favorite Things

Two of my favorite things get connected in this piece from the NYT - Wikipedia and Jane Jacobs:
Mr. Lih at one point enlists the urban reformer Jane Jacobs to back up this point. For him, urban stability is replicated through the transparency of wikis — every change ever made at Wikipedia (every discussion as well) is recorded. Ms. Jacobs, he writes, “argued that sidewalks provided three important things: safety, contact and the assimilation of children.” She may as well have been talking about wikis, he says: “A wiki has all its activities happening in the open for inspection, as on Jacobs’s sidewalk. Trust is built by observing the actions of others in the community and discovering people with like or complementary interests.”


1.  Sign the kids up for the summer: cooking camp for teens.

2.  The White House garden story has gotten more press than it is probably worth in terms of it's potential impact on food systems (seriously, have you really been worried that el presidente wasn't eating well?) but I've been keeping an ear open for blow-back from the conventional ag camp regarding all the applause over an organic "first garden" and apparently it's out there.

3.  Colonel Sanders practices a little enlightened self-interest by filling in pot holes around Louisville, KY.

5.  With all the talk of collapsing bee colonies new emphasis has been placed on the role that wild bees play in crop pollination.  Here's a method that I had never seen for encouraging/protecting wild colonies:
Cane came up with the idea of using corrugated plastic totes—available from suppliers of mail and package handling equipment—as nesting shelters, and has tested them during spring and summer in California, Oregon, Wyoming and Utah. His experiments show that the lightweight, rectangular bins, each 23-1/2 inches long by 15-1/2 inches wide by 15-1/2 inches high, serve as a sturdy, inexpensive and reusable shelter for protecting bee nests against wind and rain.
Growers, professional and hobbyist beekeepers, and backyard gardeners who want wild bees to live near and work in their fields, orchards, vineyards or home gardens can use the totes to house nesting materials, such as five-sixteenths-inch diameter paper drinking straws enclosed in cardboard tubes and stuffed inside empty cardboard milk cartons. Wild female bees such as the blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria, can use the straws as homes for a new generation of pollinators.
Wild bees are needed now, perhaps more than ever, to help with jobs usually handled by America's premier pollinator, the European honey bee, Apis mellifera. Many of the nation's honey bee colonies have been decimated by the puzzling colony collapse disorder or weakened by varroa and tracheal mites or the microbes that cause diseases such as chalkbrood and foulbrood.
A single corrugated plastic tote can accommodate as many as 3,000 young, enough to pollinate one-half to one-acre of orchard. And, unlike bulky or stationary shelters, the tote houses can easily be moved from one site to the next.

7.  Something for the kids: MS Office 2007 Ultimate for $59.99.  Ok, not just for the kids - you just need a .edu email, enrolled in a class somewhere (or be of low moral character), and use a PC.

March 25, 2009

Obama and Global Poverty

The Judeo-Christian tradition compels us to prioritize the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable, whether in our own country or internationally. Not only is this the right thing to do, it is the best interests of our nation that we reach out to the rest of the world at this time. President Obama's administration represents a new opportunity to restore our moral standing in the world. Recognizing and responding to the increased hardship in developing countries caused by an economic crisis not of their making will be the first test of the administration's commitment to addressing global poverty.
Ruth Messinger at the Huffington Post.

Journal: Food Security

Inaugural issue of the journal Food Security is free online.  Norman Borlaug writes the forward, on this his 96th birthday, so you know a bit of the direction they lean.  Looks interesting.  (via)

March 24, 2009

Shorts: Planting, Eating, Fighting

1.  In a move that brings climate change right into your own backyard, the USDA is in the process of updating its plant hardiness zone map to reflect the gradual shifting of warmer climates to the north.  In addition to drawing on a much more robust data set than the 1990 version the new map will be much more sophisticated and nuanced:
They also describe the new map as much more sophisticated than the 1990 version, which was based on a data set covering only 13 years (1974 through 1986 for the U.S.). The revised map draws on 30 years of data and uses a complex algorithm to factor in other variables that affect local temperatures, such as altitude and the presence of water bodies.

"All we could really do earlier was draw a straight line between data points, but now we're trying to input a lot of other information," says USDA spokeswoman Kim Kaplan. "We'll pick up more heat islands and cold zones, and the edges of zones will be defined more clearly."

The new map is being developed by Oregon State University's PRISM Group, a team of modelers that also produces climate maps for other state and federal agencies. Unlike past versions, the 2009 map will be GIS-compatible, storing and linking layers of information in a digital version that can be read with widely available GIS (geographic information system) viewing programs. It will have a resolution of 800 square meters, so users will be able to zoom in on their hometowns or zip codes and see where they lie within zones.
This last quote sounds like a t-shirt waiting to be made:  "All gardeners are in zone denial."

2.  From Duncan Green: food prices for the poor aren't coming down.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was hearing much the same thing today.

3.  Tyler Cowen dubs Paul Collier's new book, Wars, Guns and Votes, a "must buy" of the year.

March 21, 2009


1. "Tyler Perry is simply reflecting the thinking of a lot of uneducated, working-class African-Americans.'' Anecdotally, I know that sentence to be untrue, I work with plenty of educated African-Americans who love Perry, but ever since we moved to Atlanta, the center of his "empire," I've been fascinated by him. His show "House of Payne" comes on 2-3 times a day here on a local affiliate and it is amazingly bad. It is quite literally the TV equivalent of a train wreck and I can't look away. The man is a genius. He filmed 100 episodes of the show in a year, doing almost 3 a week so that he could get into syndication faster and make the real money. The cast was showing up to the set and seeing their dialogue for the first time on the day they were filming. And believe me, you can tell. Horrible acting, dreadful writing (not, mind you, horrible actors or writers, but people being asked to do the impossible) - you would think it was farce if it didn't take itself so seriously. The man is making money hand over fist and seems to be a gaming the system to perfection.

2. Layoff, a recession inspired video game. (via)

3. Jac Smit, often called the "father of urban agriculture, has a new website.

4. Is the Big Picture a Bummer Today? Nice single serve ribbing of one of my favorite sites.

5. The New York Times covers the annual angst-fest that is the San Diego Comic Con Hotel lottery.

6. There are some helpful things to hear in Douglas Bowman's explanation as to why he left Google - I see lots of relevance for those working in (and making decisions about) development and community building:
When I joined Google as its first visual designer, the company was already seven years old. Seven years is a long time to run a company without a classically trained designer. Google had plenty of designers on staff then, but most of them had backgrounds in CS or HCI. And none of them were in high-up, respected leadership positions. Without a person at (or near) the helm who thoroughly understands the principles and elements of Design, a company eventually runs out of reasons for design decisions. With every new design decision, critics cry foul. Without conviction, doubt creeps in. Instincts fail. “Is this the right move?” When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems. Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.

Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such miniscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.
7. I really like the fact that the White House will have a garden again, though it remains to be seen whether or not the Obama's access to fresh, local produce will have any impact on the much more important issue of rehauling the American public's food system, and these pictures released by the White House are great but come on, somebody get that woman some Carhartts.

March 20, 2009

Your Job Sucks

Chances are, your job sucks.  Or so says BusinessWeek in their list of "The World's Worst Places to Work."  It's a list heavy on developing world urban centers - 6 in India, 5 in China and the rest scattered primarily around Africa and Asia - with a cumulative population of somewhere in the neighborhood of 160,000,000 (based on a quick Wikipedia perusal).  Compiled by ORC Worldwide, a global HR firm, the criteria run mainly to poor infrastructure, likelihood of crime/violence, humidity and the fact that "there is little for Westerners in the way of cultural and recreational opportunities."    

March 18, 2009

That's What She Said: Pope Edition

William Easterly has already said everything that I wanted to say about the Pope's comments on condom usage in Africa.  However, here are a few semi-anecdotal asides:

1.  While living in Botswana, my base of operations, Francistown, had the highest HIV infection rate of 15-25 year olds in the world.  There was no shortage of condoms.  Nor was there a shortage of groups advocating for an A-B approach only (that's "abstain" and "be faithful" minus the C, "condom" for those not familiar with the infamous triad).  There was a shortage of groups offering real alternatives and solutions to the 15-25 year olds looking to avoid a positive diagnosis in the midst of rapidly changing cultural and social norms that had the deck stacked against them.  In a culture where women have few if any sexual rights how do you ask a man to put on a condom?  What's worse - the beating that is sure to follow such a request or the possibility of a disease somewhere down the road?

2.  Regardless of where you land on the condom argument the sad truth is that the Pope's statement probably hurt women and other sexually marginalized populations the most as they are the only ones who probably could have benefitted from a more nuanced message from the pontiff.

3.  Somewhere I have a photo I took of a group of boys playing soccer with a ball made entirely of condoms (thrown out by a clinic after they "expired").  Did I mention there were a lot of condoms around?

4.  The problem in my little slice of the world at that time was not condom usage.  It was a lot of things - a healthcare infrastructure scrambling to play catch up with relatively limited resources, finding an effective medium through which to educate a culture that never publicly discussed sexuality about the dangers of sexual intercourse, replacing the traditional sexual initiation/education model that rapid urbanization was demolishing, the necessity of economic transience, etc., etc., etc. -  and none of them were very effectively solved by the simple math of "do I or do I not use this piece of latex."

5.  Balloons.  You see a lot of condom balloons knocking about as well.

6.  To quote the Pope, HIV/AIDS is "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems." Nor can it be overcome by the church alone, which even aggravates the problem.  One of the greatest tragedies of my time in Botswana was seeing how unwilling churches and secular NGO's were to work together and realizing how many instances there were where they could have been incredibly effective partners.  The lack of imagination and basic trust from both sides in the face of an unfolding epidemic was depressing to see.  In many places on the continent that has changed some, but not enough.

7.  Am I the only one that thinks the above sentence from the Pope would have been a good time for someone in the crowd to shout "That's what she said."  And if so, does that make me a bad person?

March 16, 2009

Shorts: Pop Culture

1.  It's a strange world:  "Paramount has acquired the rights to a forthcoming Wired magazine article about diamond thieves that J.J. Abrams will produce as a feature film, according to The Hollywood Reporter."  I'm a sucker for a heist movie, so I will of course see this.

March 9, 2009

Shorts: Watchmen

1.  For the moment, Watchmen is the #1 selling book on Amazon.  (via)

2.  The New York Times released its inaugural Graphic Book Best Seller List last week.

3.  Track by track look at the Watchmen soundtrack and its connection to the book by Evie from Awesomed By Comics.

February 27, 2009

Bon Iver"s Blood Bank $0.99 @ Amazon

In case you haven't snagged it already, Amazon has Bon Iver's new EP for $0.99 - for the next few hours at least.  Highly recommended.   

Rose McCoy

NPR did a great piece on songwriter Rose Marie McCoy this afternoon. You can tell just by listening to her conversation with the interviewer that she made her money with words so listen to it if you have time (though it looks like most of the transcript is there).  These were a couple of my favorite lines:  
In 1954, McCoy and Singleton wrote a song called "Trying to Get to You," which was first recorded by a black vocal group called The Eagles. Elvis Presley heard their version in a record store in Memphis, and he decided to record the song on his debut album for RCA Records in 1955.

"Elvis did that just exactly like The Eagles, exactly," McCoy says. "Every breath, every sound, everything. Amazing how he did that. ... He wasn't a big star at that point, and we thought he was terrible because we thought he couldn't sing. We didn't understand, but we was grateful. Thank God for Elvis."

. . . . .

"They wanted to hear what you had," she adds. "And if they liked it, they didn't care if you was black or white. We thought it was the blues and they called it rock 'n' roll; I still don't know the difference."

February 26, 2009


1.  Really interesting write up by Waxy on a group of 240 Chinese fans of the Economist who collaborate to translate each weeks issue behind China's infamous "great firewall":
While researching Oscar screeners last month, I stumbled on a remarkable example of online collaboration in China that's completely undiscovered here. In short, a group of dedicated fans of The Economist newsmagazine are translating each weekly issue cover-to-cover, splitting up the work among a team of volunteers, and redistributing the finished translations as complete PDFs for a Chinese audience.
 As usual, there's lots more of interest that follows including the translation process, self-censorship, distribution and what the Economist thinks.

2.  Louis CK on Conan, "everything is amazing and nobody is happy."

February 21, 2009

Recently Spotted: Civil Religion


Snapped on the way home from work.  

Hard to complain if he's getting folks there at 7:30 on a Sunday morning.

February 20, 2009


1.  No Lunch Left Behind, Alice Waters rallying for school lunch reform ahead of the upcoming renewal of the Child Nutrition and Women Infants and Children Reauthorization Act, set to expire in September.  Nice accompanying graphic:

3.  Beer not recession proof after all, down 14% for the quarter, more here.  Previously.

4.  Another great series of photos from the Big Picture.

February 19, 2009

"Extinct" Bird Seen, Eaten

From National Geographic, an early contender for blog post title of the year.


February 16, 2009

Singin' 'bout Coprophagia

I just realized that Andrew Bird does precisely that in "Tenuousness:"
When coprophagia was writ
Know when to stand or when to sit
Can't stand to stand, can't stand to sit
And who would want to know this?
Click. Click. Click.
This seems to be the best version You Tube has to offer:

James Beard Semifinalists

The James Beard Foundation announced the semifinalists (pdf) for their 2009 Restaurant and Chef Award's a few days ago.  It's a list that seems more useful for the layman and casual eater than the finalists and eventual winners (they rarely seem to be surprises) as, it goes without saying, it is more expansive in both number and locale.  The usual suspects are all there but there are also a lot of chefs and restaurants who won't make it to the final cut because they are a little out of the way (as far as the culinary world is concerned) and under reported - the long list of rising stars is especially nice.  Which is an apt enough description of our home city, which happens to be fairly well represented at this stage of the game and your city might be as well so take a look.

Aside:  Am I right in thinking that they don't, but should, announce semifinalists for the media, journalism, author, and design categories? 

Farmers and High Speed Internet

Interesting post from Daily Yonder mining the USDA's 2007 Census of Agriculture to look at high speed internet access in rural areas.


The whole thing is interesting but here's the final summary:
The Census asked only two questions pertaining to the Internet: Did the farm operator at any time in 2007 have internet access? And, did the farm operator have a high speed Internet connection? The Census did not ask about price or the kind of connection the operator purchased — DSL, cable, satellite.

The nation has little sense of who has and who lacks broadband connections in rural America. The Senate stimulus bill, in fact, requires the Department of Commerce to prepare “a comprehensive nationwide inventory map of existing broadband service capability and availability in the United States.”

Until that report is completed, however, the Ag Census may have the most complete survey of broadband availability and use in rural America.

The Census collected answers from so many rural residents — more than 1.3 million farms ranging from mega-ranches in Texas to hobby farms in Washington — that it gives a good picture of how deeply broadband has penetrated into rural America.

The map at the top of this story shows a clear divide between the eastern and western United States. Farms east of the Mississippi River, especially in the South, use broadband Internet far less than those farms in the Great Plains, the Mountain West and the Pacific coast. Some states are clearly more broadband-savvy than others.

Is that because of the local economy, state policy, national broadband initiatives, local government? It’s impossible to tell, but the variation in broadband use across rural America is so large that it raises questions about the extent of economic and social inequality among rural communities.

Gillian Welch's Revival $1.99 @ Amazon

Honestly, I haven't turned into a shill for Amazon.  I just haven't had time to do much blog-wise beyond passing on noteworthy links and Gillian Welch's Revival album for $1.99 at Amazon is EXTREMELY noteworthy.  (You see what I did there.  It works on two levels.  One, it is awesome.  Two, it is music and music is composed of notes.  Do you see that?  Do you see what I did?).  This recommendation comes even more strongly than the Andrew Bird recommendation of a few days ago (Manuel, back me up on that one.).

This is an album that every person with ears should own - it's one of my all time favorites.  Again, if you don't know Gillian Welch, do your requisite googling and You Tubing but for goodness sake if you like puppies, pies or oxygen you're gonna like this album.  

You've got 24 hours.

February 13, 2009

Links: Some Old, Some New

1.  Gapminder updated their handy one slide/sheet global HIV chart.

2.  Lovely, Lovely Charts.

3.  Declining nutrient content in fruit and vegetables, report here.

4.  To make.

5.  Two from the Ag Biodiversity Blog:  the back and forth (and back again) debate on whether or not small farms (or big farms) can save Africa; and poultry of the world:


6.  Amazon doing their part for, um . . . . valentines I suppose, free download of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On".

February 12, 2009

Wendell Berry's Standards for Technological Innovation

Both Waxy and Kottke pointed to this interesting piece by Kevin Kelly entitled Amish Hackers.  It reminded me of a short essay by Wendell Berry published, amongst other places, in Harper's back in the late 80's (originally?) entitled Against PC's (the Harper's version is gated but here's the essay as well as subsequently published letters between Berry and readers.).  He ends with this list of "standards for technological innovation:"
To make myself as plain as I can, I should give my standards for technological innovation in my own work. They are as follows:-

1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.
6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.
7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.
8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.
9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

February 11, 2009

If You Don't Know Now You Know

My brother is the only actual artist I know personally and he's already one of the hardest working guys around so maybe he doesn't need the advice but for those of you who are like myself and find your artistry expressed in the more mundane tasks of your day I'm going to add my recommendation to the plethora of others already out there and suggest you watch Elizabeth Gilbert's TED Talk.  Gilbert's writing isn't my particular taste but the good Judge John Hodgman, her friend and fellow TED attendee, nailed it as to why this particular talk is so effective (and interesting to me in particular).:
BUT WHILE SHE IS ADORED in this video, and I adore her as well, the magical thing you may not be able to get through this embedded video is how skeptical the audience initially was of her, and how masterfully she won over this bunch of jaded billionaire/genius TEDTOPIANS through simple, good storytelling.

PS - Come to think of it, David, you should watch this one too.

February 6, 2009

La Machine in Liverpool

The Big Picture has another amazing photo set up, this time of an "event" that was part of Liverpool's Capital of Culture year.  The best way to describe it seems to bit this bit pulled from one of the photographer's captions: "street theatre on a city scale with a 50 foot spider."


There is, of course, plenty of You Tube coverage as well.

Andrew Bird: Noble Beast - $1.99 @ Amazon

Buy.  This.  Album.  Even if you have no idea who Andrew Bird is trust me on this one thing and buy this album.  I assume it is a mistake and that Amazon will correct it momentarily, because seriously, how can this album be $1.99?  Either way the deal only lasts 24 hours so don't dally.  

$1.99?  Are you kidding me?

February 5, 2009

Gates @ TED

Video for the much talked about Gates presentation at TED is now available.  I can't help but like the guy and even if you don't agree with his methodology you've got to respect his passion and the considerable footprint he has in the development world.

I also noticed via the TED blog that Hans Rosling presented again this year and it sounds like he utilized Gapminder's recently updated HIV/AIDS data sets to do so, I love his presentations so I'll be keeping an eye out for it and hopefully he swallows another sword

February 2, 2009

Tough Guy Challenge ≥ Refugee Run?

On his excellent new blog, Aid Watch, Bill Easterly recently took to task the UN High Commission on Refugees for putting together a "Refugee Run" at the Davos economic conference for its embodiment of what he sees as "sensationalizing, patronizing, and dehumanizing attitudes" towards refugees and their plight (a topic he returns to in another great post today as well). Perhaps the real problem with the UNHCR's simulated refugee experience was that they undersold it - look how successful this year's Tough Guy competition was at getting people to crawl through the mud under barbwire and they require £250, an updated tetanus shot and a signed death warrant:


For further proof that the UNHCR should probably be setting up shop outside of extreme sporting events rather than high level meetings of the World Economic Forum see the rest of the photos at the Big Picture.

Aside: Like Easterly's commenters I've got mixed feelings about "educational" events such as the "Refugee Run" - which I have no personal knowledge of, but which is by no means the first or only such recreation in the attempt to raise awareness of a cause - they are legion and their effectiveness and "worth" are widely disparate.  Having been involved in the advocacy/education arm (for lack of a better term) of non-profit work for the last couple of years I've participated, observed and even led more than a few of these with varying degrees of success and uncertainty.  One of the things that I think those of us who are passionate about these issues forget is that the journey towards becoming an informed advocate for causes of global injustice is just that, a journey, a process of becoming aware, educated and empowered.  For a lot of people that process begins with empathy.  Some people encounter extreme poverty, violence or hunger through travel, some through relationships, some by reading books by esteemed authors such as Monsieur Easterly and some by participating in "educational" events like the "Refugee Run."  None of these individuals will emerge from their respective encounter with the full picture but they may emerge with a desire to see more fully.  Again, from my own experience, there are ways to talk about issues of gross global injustice while at the same time affirming the dignity and worth of those trapped in their midst.  I am a fan of Easterly and his writings but I would wager that far more passionate, well informed, active advocates have begun their own journey at the entrance to a "refugee run" than they have at the introduction to one of his books - though I highly recommend they seek out a copy as soon as they come out the other side!

February 1, 2009


1.  Zimbabwe abandons its currency, a fitful and far too late acknowledgment of reality by the government.

4.  Nice little piece on Updike and religion from PBS's Religion and Ethics News Weekly.

6.  TED recently put up a video of a talk by Scott McCloud on understanding comics filmed back in 2005.  Via Jesse Thorn, who recently interviewed McCloud on The Sound of Young America, a podcast favorite of mine.

7.  The Big Fix - long, but, in my very unqualified opinion, worth reading piece in the NY Times Magazine breaking down the bail out and its many ripples. 

8.  Motown #1's, 26 of them in fact, for $1.99 (for another few hours at least) from Amazon's MP3 store.  By the bye, they've got a Twitter feed announcing their daily $1.99 deal.

January 28, 2009

State of the States: Importance of Religion

Not much new or surprising in this report by Gallup but I do like pretty maps.


Links: Food and Ag Edition

1.  Giving a cow a name increases her annual milk yield by almost 500 pints.  This is pretty cool but my guess would be that dairy farmers who call their cows by name and "treat them as family" are the types of farmers who are also taking greater care in other matters more central to an increase in milk production, if those were controlled for I hazard the increase would disappear.  But I like this bit:
Dr Douglas added: "Our data suggests that on the whole UK dairy farmers regard their cows as intelligent beings capable of experiencing a range of emotions."
2.  The Feeding of the Nine Billion.  A summary post by Alex Evans on the release of his excellent year long study report (pdf) of the same name looking at global food prices and scarcity.  Definitely worth a download and read.  I especially like this bit from the executive summary on the need for a 21st-century Green Revolution (emphasis mine):
Invest in a 21st-century Green Revolution. The 20th-century Green Revolution achieved astonishing yield increases. Now, a 21st-century equivalent is needed – one that not only increases yields, but that also moves from an agricultural model that is input-intensive (in water, fertilizer, pesticide and energy) to one that is knowledge-intensive. Genetically modified crops may have a role, but ecologically integrated approaches – such as integrated pest management, minimum tillage, drip irrigation and integrated soil fertility management – often score higher in terms of resilience and equitability, as they put power in the hands of farmers rather than seed companies. Additional funds for public research and development are also vital: the budget of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research has fallen by 50% over the last 15 years, for example.
3.  Getting fat in rural America.  Blog for Rural America points to the release of the Center for Rural Affairs' new report Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity in Rural America (pdf) - also worth a read.

4.  When banks manage the food crisis - from the Food First Institute.

5.  Tom Philpott over at Grist has some thoughts on the Gates Foundation's plans to boost food production in Africa as outlined in their annual letter.

7.  Reason on agricultural subsidies, a topic that rarely comes up outside of Farm Bill discussion.

January 26, 2009

Obama Backlash?

Years from now when historians look back at the Obama presidency and seek to determine precisely when the backlash began they will point to two historical artifacts.

This song (opens popup player - lyrics are here for those with stout hearts but weak constitutions) by Garrison Keillor from this weekend's A Prairie Home Companion and this video by a parade of . . . . luminaries(?).  (Oh, I strongly encourage you - do not listen or watch either of these.  No, I'm serious.  They.  Are.  Awful.) 

Marbury has the take down.  

Like many, I have been worried about the state of political satire and comedy under an Obama presidency, but apparently his supporters have all co-conspired to fill in the gap - taking one for the team if nothing else, I suppose.

January 23, 2009

Good Music, Good Cause

The new compilation put out by the Red Hot folks looks pretty freakin' great.  Artist and track list here, and you can listen to new tracks contributed by The National and Bon Iver via their handy widget below.

January 20, 2009



Tough to fool a baby, even more so if said baby is a Jedi.

January 19, 2009

Clif Bar Voluntary Recall

Heads up - keep an eye on the peanut news mis amigos, I've had a mild case of a salmonella strain before and it was one of the most unpleasant 24 hour periods of my life.

January 16, 2009

Links: Themes Edition

1.  Basketball:  
a.  The Audacity of Hoops - it's the only sport I follow and as someone who worked through many of the trials of early adolescence playing on a dirt court in his backyard I really enjoyed this piece. 

b.  A similarly themed anecdote from Peggy Noonan:
This week in the transition headquarters, the president-elect walked by a row of offices. Someone had given him a basketball; he dribbled it as he walked down the hall. Suddenly a young veteran of the campaign turned to another and said, "The black guy with the basketball is the next president." For them it's a rolling realization: You know it, lose it in the flow, realize it again, and suddenly it's new again. The aide says, "He's in a line with Washington and Lincoln, and luminaries like JFK and Reagan." He shakes his head wonderingly. I have seen new guys say this about new presidents most of my professional life. I never see it that I'm not moved. To this day.
c.  Ankle Insurance Co.


2.  Africa:
a.  Advice to Obama's Africa team from the Global Development Center: Don't Change Too Much.  

b.  Similar thoughts from US News and World Report.

c.  Flying toilets still abound.

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