Townsvilleans or Townsvillians?

Green Path often needs to refer to residents of Townsville but I have always been ambivalent about both of the obvious terms, Townsvilleans or Townsvillians. The former preserves the silent “e” and is perfectly readable but the -eans ending looks vaguely wrong, while the latter is just that little bit harder to read, especially in a sans-serif font like Arial, because of the -illi- combination.

A little bit of not-too-serious research was in order, so I asked on facebook (my personal page, not the blog’s page). Names have been suppressed to protect my informants’ privacy.

Other candidates

People in Italy are Italians, people in Chile are Chileans, but in both cases the final vowel is sounded so they are not exact parallels. On the other hand, people of the Seychelles are Seychellois and Townsvillois is attractively exotic. Sadly, 99% of the Townsvillois who see the word will automatically rhyme it with boys, ruining it completely for the minority. 

Continue reading “Townsvilleans or Townsvillians?”

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 (
  • 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.