NYC sledding locationsJAN 27

A bit late for today, but for future snow day reference, here's a crowdsourced map of good places to go sledding in NYC.

(via @alainabrowne)

Yellowstone: how not to manage a National ParkJAN 27

Related to my post last November about how the biodiversity of Yosemite Valley was mismanaged, author Michael Crichton shared a story at a 2005 talk about how the National Park Service has grossly mismanaged nature at Yellowstone National Park, resulting in less biodiversity, the disappearance of many natural species from the park, and catastrophic fires. Since this anecdote was part of a longer talk, I'll quote the whole thing from the transcript.

Long recognized as a scene of great natural beauty, in 1872, Ulysses Grant set aside Yellowstone as the first formal nature preserve in the world. More than two million acres, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. John Muir was very pleased when he visited in 1885, noting that under the care of the Department of the Interior, Yellowstone was protected from, quote, "the blind, ruthless destruction that is going on in adjoining regions."

Theodore Roosevelt was also pleased in 1903, when as President, he went to Yellowstone for a dedication ceremony. Here he is. This was his third visit. Roosevelt saw a thousand antelope, plentiful cougar, mountain sheep, deer, coyote and many thousands of elk. He wrote at that time, "Our people should see to it that this rich heritage is preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with its majestic beauty all unmarred."

But in fact, Yellowstone was not preserved. On the contrary, it was altered beyond repair in a matter of years. By 1934, the Park Service acknowledged that whitetail deer, cougar, lynx, wolf, and possibly wolverine and fisher are gone from the Yellowstone.

What they didn't say was that the Park Service was solely responsible for the disappearances. Park rangers had been shooting the animals for decades, even though that was illegal since the Lacey Act of 1894. But they thought they knew best. They thought their environmental concerns trumped any mere law.

What actually happened at Yellowstone is a cascade of ego and error, but to understand it, we have to go back to the 1890s. Back then, it was believed that elk were becoming extinct, so these animals were fed and encouraged. Over the next few years, the number of elk in the park exploded. Here you can see them feeding them hand to hand.

Roosevelt had seen a few thousand animals on his visit, and he'd noticed that the elk were more numerous than in his previous visit. Nine years later, in 1912, there were 30,000 elk in Yellowstone. By 1914, there were 35,000.

Things were going very well. Rainbow trout had also been introduced, and although they crowded out the native cutthroats, nobody really worried. Fishing was great. Bears were increasing in numbers, and moose and bison as well.

By 1915, Roosevelt realized the elk had become a problem, and he urged scientific management, which meant culling. His advice was ignored. Instead, the Park Service did everything they could to increase the number of elk. The results were predictable. Antelope and deer began to decline. Overgrazing changed the flora. Aspen and willows were being eaten at a furious rate and did not regenerate. Large animals and small began to disappear from the park.

In an effort to stem the loss, the park rangers began to kill predators, which they did without public knowledge. They eliminated the wolf and the cougar, and they were well on their way to getting rid of the coyote. Then a national scandal broke out. New studies showed that it wasn't predators that were killing the other animals. It was overgrazing from too many elk. The management policy of killing predators therefore had only made things worse.

Actually, the elk had so decimated the aspen that now, where formerly they were plentiful, now they're quite rare. Without the aspen, the beaver, which use these trees to make dams, began to disappear from the park. Beaver were essential to the water management of Yellowstone, and without dams, the meadows dried hard in summer and still more animals vanished.

The situation worsened further. It became increasingly inconvenient that all the predators had been killed off by 1930, so in the 1960s, there was a sigh of relief when new sightings by rangers suggested that wolves were returning. Of course, there were rumors all during that time, persistent rumors that the rangers were trucking them in. But in any case, the wolves vanished soon afterward. They needed to eat beaver and other small rodents, and the beaver had gone.

Pretty soon, the Park Service initiated a PR campaign to prove that excessive elk were not responsible for the problems in the park, even though they were. The campaign went on for about a decade, during which time the bighorn sheep virtually disappeared.

Now, we're in the 1970s, and bears were recognized as a growing problem. They used to be considered fun-loving creatures, and their close association with human beings was encouraged in the park. Here're people coming to watch bear feedings. There's a show at a certain hour of the day. And here's one of my favorites. Setting the table for bears at Lake Camp in Yellowstone Park. You see they're very well behaved.

But that didn't actually continue-the good behavior, I mean. There were more bears, and certainly there were many more lawyers, and thus the much-increased threat of litigation, so the rangers moved the grizzlies out. The grizzlies promptly became endangered. Their formerly growing numbers shrank. The Park Service refused to let scientists study them, but once they were declared endangered, the scientists could go back in again.

And by now, we're about ready to reap the rewards of our 40-year policy of fire suppression, Smokey the Bear and all that. The Indians used to burn forests regularly, and lightning causes natural fires every year. But when these are suppressed, branches fall from the trees to the ground and accumulate over the years to make a dense groundcover such that when there's a fire, it is a very low, very hot fire that sterilizes the soil. In 1988, Yellowstone burned, and all 1.2 million acres were scorched, and 800,000 acres, one third of the park, burned.

Then having killed the wolves, having tried to sneak them back in, they officially brought the wolves back. And now the local ranchers screamed. The newer reports suggested the wolves seemed to be eating enough of the elk that slowly, the ecology of the park was being restored. Or so it is claimed. It's been claimed before. And on and on.

The Park Service's bungling efforts at conservation were covered by Alston Chase in his 1987 book, Playing God in Yellowstone. (via @jhreha)

Update: As Crichton notes above, wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone in 1995 and their presence started what's called a trophic cascade. From Wikipedia:

Trophic cascades occur when predators in a food web suppress the abundance or alter traits (e.g., behavior) of their prey, thereby releasing the next lower trophic level from predation (or herbivory if the intermediate trophic level is a herbivore). For example, if the abundance of large piscivorous fish is increased in a lake, the abundance of their prey, zooplanktivorous fish, should decrease, large zooplankton abundance should increase, and phytoplankton biomass should decrease. This theory has stimulated new research in many areas of ecology. Trophic cascades may also be important for understanding the effects of removing top predators from food webs, as humans have done in many places through hunting and fishing activities.

In a TED talk, George Monbiot explains the surprising effects the wolves had on Yellowstone...they even changed the courses of the rivers flowing through the park.

Fascinating. A sort of trickle down ecology. (via @gasperak and several others)

Popular Electronics archiveJAN 26

Popular Electronics

This will really appeal to a certain type of nerd: the complete archives of Popular Electronics magazine in PDF format. Popular Electronics was the most popular magazine about electronics for hobbyists and was published from 1954 to 1982. If you're interested in this, the rest of the American Radio History site is amazing as well.

Mapping Greenland's ice layers in 3DJAN 26

Greenland Ice Layers

Using ice-penetrating radar and ice cores, NASA has been able to map the layers in the Greenland ice sheet.

This new map allows scientists to determine the age of large swaths of Greenland's ice, extending ice core data for a better picture of the ice sheet's history. "This new, huge data volume records how the ice sheet evolved and how it's flowing today," said Joe MacGregor, a glaciologist at The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics and the study's lead author.

Greenland's ice sheet is the second largest mass of ice on Earth, containing enough water to raise ocean levels by about 20 feet. The ice sheet has been losing mass over the past two decades and warming temperatures will mean more losses for Greenland. Scientists are studying ice from different climate periods in the past to better understand how the ice sheet might respond in the future.

One way of studying this distant past is with ice cores. These cylinders of ice drilled from the ice sheet hold evidence of past snow accumulation and temperature and contain impurities like dust and volcanic ash that were carried by snow that accumulated and compacted over hundreds of thousands of years. These layers are visible in ice cores and can be detected with ice-penetrating radar.

Ice-penetrating radar works by sending radar signals into the ice and recording the strength and return time of reflected signals. From those signals, scientists can detect the ice surface, sub-ice bedrock and layers within the ice.

New techniques used in this study allowed scientists to efficiently pick out these layers in radar data. Prior studies had mapped internal layers, but not at the scale made possible by these newer, faster methods. Another major factor in this study was the amount of Greenland IceBridge has measured.

It's amazing that the detectors and data analysis are sensitive enough to pick out different layers in the ice just from radar. (via @ptak)

Replacement SunsJAN 26

From the Russian Space Agency, a video of what the sky would look like if the Sun were replaced by some other stars. It starts off with the binary star system of Alpha Centuri, but watch until the end for Polaris, which has a radius 46 times that of the Sun.

See also the view from Earth of different planets replacing the Moon and imagining Earth with Saturn's rings.

Conscience rocksJAN 26

Removal of items from US National Parks is illegal (or at least highly frowned upon). In the case of the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, the removal of petrified wood has come to be seen by some as unlucky. Bad Luck, Hot Rocks is a book and web site containing "conscience letters" from those who are returning stolen rocks to the park.

Conscience Rocks

In the more than one hundred years since its establishment in 1906, however, some visitors have still been unable to resist the urge to remove wood from the park. Some of these same visitors eventually return their ill gotten souvenirs by mail, accompanied by 'conscience letters.' The content of each letter varies, but writers often include stories of misfortune, attributed directly to their stolen petrified wood. Car troubles. Cats with cancer. Deaths of family members. For many, their hope is that by returning these rocks, good fortune will return to their lives. Other common themes include expressions of remorse, requests for forgiveness, and warnings to future visitors.

100 bucket list booksJAN 23

Amazon has compiled a list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime "to create a well-read life". Lots of the usual suspects here, including Lolita, The Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird. But there are also some quirkier and more recent picks like A Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Fault in Our Stars, and Unbroken. Went through and counted...I've read 29 of these.

The endlessly rolling oceanJAN 23

If you'd like to relax for 80 minutes, watch this 4K video shot from the bow of a container ship navigating the South China Sea. Strangely compelling.

If you put this on the biggest, highest definition screen you have, it really looks like you're on the deck of a ship looking out at the ocean. Pretty cool.

Transparent streaming for free tomorrow!JAN 23

Transparent Show

All day on Saturday, Amazon will be streaming their acclaimed series Transparent for free (US-only probs) in celebration of the show's wins at the Golden Globes (best TV series and best actor for Jeffrey Tambor). Here's the press release.

"We're incredibly proud of everyone involved in the making of Transparent-the team took a risk and it paid off," said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com. "Big kudos and congrats to Jill, Jeffrey, and all the cast and crew."

Written, directed and executive produced by Emmy-nominee and 2013 Sundance Best Director winner Jill Soloway, Transparent is a 10-episode, half-hour novelistic series that explores family, identity, sex, and love.

Amazon is also offering a Saturday-only discount on 1-yr Amazon Prime subscriptions...$72 instead of the usual $99. I loved Transparent...if you're not doing anything for 5 hours on Saturday, I recommend hopping on this.

Matchbook Diaries of New York CityJAN 23

Matchbook Diaries is an Instagram account collecting photos of NYC restaurant matchbooks. Some notables:

NYC Matchbooks

NYC Matchbooks

NYC Matchbooks

NYC Matchbooks

The Shake Shack EconomyJAN 22

The food is fresh. Natural. Locally sourced. Sometimes even organic. That might sound like your local farmer's market, but it's actually part of a new and growing movement in the fast-food industry. Think Shake Shack, Chipotle, Panera. While we're not exactly seeing tractors in the drive-thrus, the rise of these chains (and the pressure on their predecessors that placed a lot more emphasis on the fast than the food) tell us a lot about economic inequality, the modern workday, and fries. From The New Yorker's James Surowiecki: The Shake Shack Economy.

Syndicated from NextDraft. Subscribe today or grab the iOS app.

The Hobbit: The Tolkien EditJAN 22

Someone called TolkienEditor has cut the three Peter Jackson The Hobbit movies down into a single 4-hour film and put the result up on BitTorrent. Their goal was to make the film hew more closely to the book, put the focus back on Bilbo as the main character, and to quicken the pace of the narrative.

The investigation of Dol Guldor has been completely excised, including the appearances of Radagast, Saruman and Galadriel. This was the most obvious cut, and the easiest to carry out (a testament to its irrelevance to the main narrative). Like the novel, Gandalf abruptly disappears on the borders of Mirkwood, and then reappears at the siege of the Lonely Mountain with tidings of an orc army.

The Tauriel-Legolas-Kili love triangle has also been removed. Indeed, Tauriel is no longer a character in the film, and Legolas only gets a brief cameo during the Mirkwood arrest. This was the next clear candidate for elimination, given how little plot value and personality these two woodland sprites added to the story. Dwarves are way more fun to hang out with anyway.

I enjoyed PJ's The Hobbit, particularly the second one, but my main criticism was the lack of focus on Bilbo. I couldn't rustle up any interest in the dwarves or their quest...they were a bunch of ex-rich dudes trying to get their money back. Bah! Martin Freeman was an amazing Bilbo and we just didn't get enough of him. (via @tcarmody)

Update: There is also a three-hour cut of the film that keeps even closer to the spirit of the book. (via @cdwarren)

Richard Scarry's Business Business TownJAN 22

Richard Scarry Business Town

Richard Scarry Business Town

Richard Scarry Business Town

What if the Busy Busy Town Richard Scarry wrote about was Silicon Valley circa 2015? Meet the fine citizens of Business Town. Great stuff, but did someone forget to credit Ruben Bolling's comic strip Richard Scarry's 21st Century Busy Town Jobs for the inspiration?

How to make almost everythingJAN 22

As you know, I love videos of how stuff is made. (See below.) Well, I just discovered this treasure trove of more than 300 14-minute videos from a Japanese show called The Making: playlist #1, playlist #2. Each video shows how a different thing is made, from wires to sugar to trophies to cheese and all of them are dialogue-free. Here's the one on how golf balls are made:

I can't wait to show some of these to the kids. Their favorite online video, which they request weekly, is this one on how croissants are made.

When I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13 years old, I watched this program on PBS that showed how a snack food manufacturer came up with a new snack food, from design to manufacturing. The thing that stuck with me the most was that they showed a number of the missteps in-between...like they tried a certain shape with a certain filling and it didn't work out in taste tests, that sort of thing. I LOVED seeing that trial and error in action. I only saw the show once, but it's one of my most vivid childhood TV memories. Maybe it's why I ended up becoming a designer?

Wait, wait! Holy shit, holy shit! I found the show! It was a NOVA program called How to Create a Junk Food that aired in 1988, when I was 14. I couldn't find the video or even a clip, but here's a review in the LA Times.

The ultimate weapon is the flavorist, a 20th-Century alchemist who analyzes natural things like Danish blue cheese or barbecued beef, reconstructs them chemically in the lab and produces their essences to punch up the taste of bland fillings.

Marketing and technology co-produce a croissant-dough cone with a moist meat or cheese filling that appears perfect. But when they test it on the mouths of real consumers (English housewives), it's a bloomin' flop.

Undaunted, the technologists go back to their gizmos and test tubes. After doing such goofy things as gluing electrodes to a chewer's cheeks to get "chew profiles" of different fillings, they come up with a second prototype, Crack a Snack. The wheat-cracker wrapped "savory tube" is called a "triumph of food engineering," which, we're warned, if it is given the proper image, "there's little doubt we'll buy it."

New Scientist wrote about Crack a Snack around the same time.

So yeah, now you know I'm the sort of kid who gleefully watched food engineering documentaries on PBS at 14. But you probably already suspected as much. (via @go)

Extraordinary BirdsJAN 22

Extraordinary Birds

The American Museum of Natural History's research library has an online exhibit of bird illustrations taken from the book Extraordinary Birds. (via @kellianderson)

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