The Brick – a fable for our times

I wrote this parable in 2009 as a contribution to an online debate and then forgot about it for years. I recently came across it again, however, and thought it still deserved readers, so here it is. Feel free to share it.

The Brick

“G’day Tom,” said Jamie, “How’s things?”

“Not too bad, mate.”

“You’re limping, though. What happened?”

“Oh, I dropped a brick on my big toe when I was clearing up a couple of days ago. Continue reading “The Brick – a fable for our times”

Young Adult fiction with environmental themes

In 2011 I was working on an article about Young Adult fiction with environmental themes, for a review magazine which serves (I believe) mainly school librarians. During that process I published a “call for recommendations” here on Green Path with a short list intended to jog readers’ memories. It elicited several good suggestions, so I left the invitation open.

That article was published in Viewpoint Vol 20/2, Winter 2012, but I continued passively collecting recommendations for future reference. Suggestions up to 2017 have now been incorporated into the body of the post; the post is dated 2017 to reflect this, although the reorganisation was done in 2019.

Fiction Titles – the beginnings of a list

  • Jeannie Baker – Where the Forest Meets the Sea 1 A (http://www.jeanniebaker.com/)
  • One Less Fish 2 A
  • Aboriginal myths and legends often 2
  • The Lake at the End of the World 3
  • Lucy Christopher – Flyaway C, D
  • The Man Who Planted Trees 2 (war veteran in Europe)
  • The Blue Feather E (set for Yr 12 English but read and enjoyed a couple of years earlier)
  • Carl Hiaasen – novels specially for YA 2 D
  • Le Guin – The Word for World is Forest E  Plot is very similar to Avatar.
  • Kim Stanley Robinson – Forty Signs of Rain trilogy 2, 3 E briefly discussed here.
  • Carl Hiaasen – most of his novels 2 E

Continue reading “Young Adult fiction with environmental themes”

Demystifying science-speak

Here is a great table of word substitutions for scientists to make when talking to non-scientists, or for non-scientists to mentally make when reading scientific articles. I saw it on Real Climate and, like the person who posted it there, thought that it deserved a wider audience. It comes originally from a lecture by Richard Somerville at UC San Diego on communicating climate science, part of this course.

Terms that have different meanings for scientists and the public

Scientific term  Public meaning  Better choice
enhance improve intensify, increase
aerosol spray can tiny atmospheric particle
positive trend good trend upward trend
positive feedback good response, praise vicious cycle, self-reinforcing cycle
theory hunch, speculation scientific understanding
uncertainty ignorance range
error mistake, wrong, incorrect difference from exact true number
bias distortion, political motive offset from an observation
sign indication, astrological sign plus or minus sign
values ethics, monetary value numbers, quantity
manipulation illicit tampering scientific data processing
scheme devious plot systematic plan
anomaly abnormal occurrence change from long-term average

 

Greener computing: newsletters

As a member of several small clubs and societies, I (like many of my readers, I am sure) receive several newsletters every month, and as a newsletter editor myself I notice the presentation as well as the content. I see a gradual but inexorable trend towards newsletters which are both posted in hard copy via snail mail and sent via email, or have even gone all the way to online-only distribution.

As a conservationist (like many of my readers, I am sure), some of the emailed newsletters disappoint me. I’m sure their editors – well-meaning, under-appreciated folk one and all (like many of my readers, I am sure) – don’t realise that computing has a significant environmental footprint. That means, of course, that reducing the electronic size (the file size) of an emailed newsletter is worthwhile, saving carbon emissions just as an emailed newsletter saves trees and postie-bike emissions (as well as postage costs) in the first place.

How can we do it? What makes a ‘big’ file?

Saving a few test documents on your computer shows that words alone aren’t a problem. Twelve pages of text might become a 100-200 KB file – not big at all. Drop a photo into it, however, and file size explodes to perhaps 3 MB (that’s 3000 KB). Think, “Oh, a smaller photo will be okay,” and down-size the photo in Word and it will still be 3MB.

Oops! Why?

In a word, Word. By default, it saves the photo with the document at its original size, even when it shows and prints a much smaller version. If you’re foolhardy or a Word expert, you could dig down into its dialogue boxes to change that setting (look for “Compress Pictures”). Alternatively, and more reliably, you can re-size the photo before inserting it into your document. Use any basic image-editing software (Picasa is fine) and “save as” a new name so that you haven’t over-written your best-quality original.

How big does the photo need to be?

In the monthly newsletter I edit for Reef HQ Aquarium, my column is 7.6cm wide so I can simply set width=7.6cm. For an extra benefit we must look at “resolution”, which is how many pixels (dots) per inch (dpi), and save at the right width and the correct resolution. Glossy-magazine resolution is 300dpi, newspapers are more like 120dpi and computers have improved from a blurry 72dpi to around 96. More dots means a bigger file, and there’s no sense in printing anything people can’t actually see, so I have settled on 150dpi, which is better than screen resolution and just as good as the photocopier can achieve for the hard copies.

composite image at different resolutions
Reducing resolution from 300dpi to 150, 72 and (an extreme) 36dpi reduces this small picture’s file size from 140KB to 40, 16 and 12KB. The first change saves the most memory and is the least visible.

The composite image above isn’t necessarily at the stated resolutions any more although it does accurately represent the amount of change from one resolution to the next. This pdf is the same sequence of images at their original sizes.

Sending your newsletter as a Word file (.doc or .docx) can turn it into alphabet soup if the recipient’s computer doesn’t have your favourite fonts, and may even make it unreadable to anyone who hasn’t got the latest version of Word, so we should normally turn it into a pdf. In Windows, there’s one last tweak here: go to the preferences for saving pdf files and choose the “save at minimum size” option. The saving is smaller but worthwhile.

Using these strategies results in a newsletter of twelve A4 pages becoming a pdf of about 1000 – 1200 KB (1 to 1.2 MB). It would be between two and ten times that size with the same number of photos just dropped into the Word file and edited there – slower to send, slower to open, and burning up between two and ten times as much CO2 at every step for no visible benefit. Incidentally, the advantages of re-sizing your photos apply just as much to web pages: shrinking them to the right size and resolution will speed up page loading and save CO2 without any noticeable impact on the readers’ enjoyment.

A slightly different version of this article is due to appear in Waves, newsletter of the Reef HQ Volunteers Association, very shortly. Click here to download an earlier issue and see what it looks like … you might enjoy some of the articles, too.

Festival season in Townsville

Winter in Townsville is the season of festivals and outdoor events, since the weather is (pretty reliably) clear and sunny.

In the next few weeks there are at least three festivals which will attract a particular demographic, one which I must be part of since it is one I have identified from the inside. It can be characterised as arty-greenie-leftie-alternative and its members turn up in various combinations at Landcare working bees, as Reef HQ Aquarium volunteers, as members or audience members of Aquapella (listen to them on YouTube), at the photography club or pottery classes, at yoga and tai chi open days, at the book club, handing out how-to-vote cards for the Greens, chatting with wine-glass in hand at gallery openings, and so on. It’s a big enough demographic that they/we don’t really know each other but small enough that they/we often recognise one another by sight. I am confident that these three events will to be of interest to them/us.

EcoFiesta, 2 & 3 June 2012, 11am – 4pm

This free community event in Queens Gardens, North Ward, includes the Townsville Environmental Awards, a Welcoming Babies Ceremony, live entertainment and environmentally sustainable workshops filled with ideas to assist the community in becoming more environmentally conscious and sustainable. The event itself is carbon neutral. As I said a while ago, EcoFiesta was hippie-alternative in its first years but has drifted slightly towards commercialisation even as the mainstream has begun to embrace the whole greenie thing, and the festival is now almost mainstream.

Performers on the One Degree stage include Tim Griffin, Laughin Gear, Ranger Dan, Carinda Christie, Lonesome Trio and the headline artists for this exciting event are FourPlay and The Rosie Burgess Trio. Website

Townsville Literary Festival, 4 – 10 June

Workshops for teachers and writers, with local and out-of-town presenters, and other events for the broader public. Programme (pdf)

Palm Creek Folk Festival, 8 – 11 June

The Palm Creek Folk Festival is an annual event, held in June each year in the grounds of the Mountain View Lake Eco Park, 40km south of Townsville. The event takes place over four days and three nights, involving more than 100 performers and events with music concerts, dances, workshops, acoustic jams, youth festival, art and craft workshops, and special events. The Festival features the cream of local performers and selected national special guests. Website

All these events and many more were listed in the Townsville Arts e-bulletin, a free monthly listing sponsored by the city council and compiled by Sandra James and Teneale Grigg of the Community Information Centre Townsville, Inc. Visit their site to sign up for the newsletter if you want to be kept informed.