Category Archives: Linked List

Programming languages are dense

John Pavlus, writing at Fast Co.Design:

Unless you’ve had specialized training, looking at lines of code is like reading hieroglyphs, only less intuitive. According to findings by researchers from Southern Illinois University, this reaction isn’t just because you’re a n00b: they found that Perl, a major programming language used by untold zillions of developers, is no more intuitive to novices than a language with a randomly generated syntax.

While many programmers often cite Perl’s brevity as an asset, I can tell you it’s an incredibly dense language to learn (and not always in a good way). Pavlus rightly points out that many programming languages were designed by committees of engineers who often don’t value usability, but I think information density is another part of the equation. Engineers just love short and sweet, sometimes at the expense of ease-of-use.

Glacier thief arrested in Chile

Rory Carroll:

Climate change sceptics have acquired a new explanation for why glaciers are retreating: it’s not global warming, it’s theft.

History of the cruise ship

Adam Curtis explores the history of floating cities on the sea—also known as cruise ships—from their inventor’s utopian ideals to the exploitative practices that define the industry today:

In many cruise ships there are hundreds of workers from some of the poorest countries on earth who are paid minute amounts of actual wages – sometimes less than two dollars a day – to attend to the passengers’ needs.

Many of the ships’ workers can only get a living wage on the whim of the thousands of passengers above them – on the tips they choose to give them. And in the strange fun-world of the superliners the waiters, the cabin staff, the cooks and everyone else who serves, live in a state of continual vulnerability – unprotected by most of the employment laws that apply on land. Meanwhile many of the companies that own the vast ships pay practically no tax at all.

But it wasn’t always supposed to be like that.

Via Adam Rogers.

Allure of the Chinatown bus

Eric Jaffe, writing at The Atlantic Cities:

In research published in the latest issue of Urban Geography, Rutgers doctoral students Nicholas J. Klein and Andrew Zitcer examine the source of this enthusiasm among regular Chinatown bus riders. After conducting five focus groups with riders, Klein and Zitcer discovered that Chinatown curbside devotees see the service not just as a means of transportation but as an “authentic urban experience, a thrilling and danger-enhanced departure from daily life, and as an engagement with the multicultural city.”

Thrilling, that is, if you make it to your destination.

Honeybee highways

Louise Tickle, writing for The Guardian about habitat corridors writ small:

With more than 90% of the country’s flowering meadows gone because of intensive agriculture, what’s left is just fragments of land offering the occasional oasis of nectar. Getting bees, and the pollen they carry, from one fragment to the next – which may be hundreds of metres away – is a problem. And this is where hedgerows come in.

It’s well known that hedgerows are used as corridors by birds and mammals. What Ollerton, his colleague Dr Duncan McCollin, and their PhD student Louise Cranmer discovered by close observation of their subjects’ flying patterns was that the nearer bees and butterflies got to hedgerows, the straighter they flew alongside them.

What's a good chicken per cage ratio?

The proper answer is probably zero, but NPR’s Dan Charles reports on the baby steps egg farmers are taking to give egg-laying chickens more room, along with the odd partnership they’ve formed with the humane society to enact a federal law and the even odder enmity with cattle- and dairymen.

So if United Egg Producers, representing 95 percent of all U.S. egg production, wants this law and some of the industry’s fiercest enemies do too, who could be against it?

Well, as it happens, some influential farm organizations. Beef producers, hog farmers, dairy farmers and the American Farm Bureau have all lined up against it.

Bill Donald, a rancher in Melville, Mont., and president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, says it would be a terrible precedent to get the government involved in keeping farm animals happy. Who knows what regulations might come next?

I’m sure if egg farmers—and egg eaters—can swallow an incremental increase in price, then pig, cattle, and dairy farmers could handle it, too. A few pennies a pound would be well worth it to give these animals a bit more room.

Literate cities not always the wealthiest

Jack Miller, author of Central Connecticut State University’s annual report on literacy in American cities:

These findings suggest that a city’s quality of literacy has to do with many decisions that go beyond just how wealthy and highly educated is the population. Even poorer cities can invest in their libraries. Low income people can use the Internet. Low income cities can produce newspapers and magazines that are widely read throughout the region.

That’s good to hear. Libraries may seem like a nagging line-item in a city budget, but they’re worth more than many people think.

Via The Atlantic Cities.

Pack 'em in

Ariel Schwartz at Fast Co.Exist:

A prototype of Hiriko, which was developed in collaboration with seven automotive suppliers in Spain, is so compact that passengers can only get out by pushing the glass shell open. It’s a good thing the car doesn’t require gas; there isn’t even room for a gas tank. But when folded, three Hiriko vehicles can fit into a single parking space.

If you have a 55 square foot (or 5 square meter) space you’re dying to cram a car into, you’ll have to wait. The consortium plans on first selling them to city governments for car sharing programs.

Rise of the megacity

Paul Webster and Jason Burke writing for The Guardian:

Experts estimate that the number of megacities of more than 10 million inhabitants will double over the next 10 to 20 years.

They just keep getting bigger.

Perils of roadbuilding in the tropics

William Laurance writing at Yale Environment360:

Although the direct effects of roads are serious, they pale in comparison to the indirect impacts. In tropical frontier regions, new roads often open up a Pandora’s box of unplanned environmental maladies, including illegal land colonization, fires, hunting, gold mining, and forest clearing. “The best thing you could do for the Amazon,” said the respected Brazilian scientist Eneas Salati, “is to bomb all the roads.”

Big projects like the Belo Monte dam receive the lion’s share of attention, but the profusion of roads in the Amazon poses a greater threat. That’s not to say Belo Monte is net-positive for the environment—it’s probably not—but while we’re gasping in horror at the big gash, the Amazon is busy bleeding to death from a thousand smaller cuts.

Does the leap second matter?

Scott Huler has a great take on the leap second debate:

If you decide to leave the leap seconds out, the atomic clocks and the universe itself begin sailing on different paths. In a year or two your atomic wall clock and your radio station will disagree, and in a few thousand years they’ll be completely catywampus. It sounds like nothing, but in a world where we’re constantly encouraged to interact through screens and speakers, where we exist in climate controlled environments whose very existence is systematically dismantling the actual climate, anything that reminds us there’s a real world out there is a positive…

Divorcing superaccurate timekeeping from the universe it’s meant to describe solves no problem and exacerbates a profound one. Don’t do it.

Huler and I spoke about this at ScienceOnline 2012, and I think he’s right. Here on Earth, time plays a very specific role—to help us know where the Earth is in both its rotation and orbit. It also has very important cultural meanings—think high noon, midnight, and so on. It just so happens that it’s also useful in synchronizing things like computers, phones, satellites, and telescopes.

But there’s also another argument against abandoning the leap second, one to which Huler alludes in the first paragraph I quoted: The leap second debate is really an argument over scale. Certain people don’t want to deal with the issue in the near term and would rather push it off to some unspecified point in the future. It’s human nature to procrastinate—homework, chores, climate change—but inaction doesn’t solve the problem. Eventually, we’ll have to add a leap minute or a leap hour. When that happens, I’m guessing our descendants will wish we had just stuck with the leap second.

Tell me what you see

John Pavlus unearths a stunning set of maps over at Fast Co. Design:

Traditional city maps visualize just one aspect of urban design–the city’s intended structure, full stop. But add in a layer that visualizes how people actually use the city, and then the map becomes much more interesting. Eric Fischer did exactly that when he used Twitter’s API to collect tens of thousands of geotagged tweets and map them onto the streets of New York, Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay area.

What results are a series of inkblot webs that could easily be mistaken for blood vessels or root systems if the silhouettes of the cities they represent weren’t so charismatically obvious. Pavlus has a great eye for infographics, and these are no exception.

Unhealthy commutes or unfinished analysis?

This piece by Anne Price and Ariel Goodwin seems compelling at first glance, but I’ve grown more skeptical the more I read over. In it, they show a purported link between mode of commute (driving or carpooling vs. walking or biking) and obesity rate. The maps and figures they post are convincing enough, but here’s where I begin to take issue with their analysis:

As the Oct. 2011 article pointed out, the relationship between sedentary travel and health outcomes can be misleading when additional contributing factors are not taken into account. While it is not our intent to claim a direct causal link between transportation modes and obesity rates, it is hard to deny the existence of some geographic patterns.

And yet that seems to be exactly what they are doing. Here’s my question: Why didn’t they include those variables? That would have more clearly placed the role of commute mode in context.

Feeding more with less

John Vidal considers the future of food at The Guardian:

By 2050 there will be another 2.5 billion people on the planet. How to feed them? Science’s answer: a diet of algae, insects and meat grown in a lab.

Those three are staples of nearly every sci-fi diet—which would normally make me think twice about reading the rest of the article—but Vidal also looks beyond the clichés, profiling advanced selective breeding and desert farming with with salt water.

Disruption and diversity

Erle Ellis writing for Andrew Revkin’s YourDot series:

Humans have caused a net increase in plant species richness across two-thirds of the terrestrial biosphere, mostly by facilitating species invasions. In most regional landscapes, native species losses were significantly lower than exotic species gains, with agriculture species causing minor increases, but ornamental species sometimes play a large role that is still hard to assess.

There’s a growing sentiment that nature doesn’t always have to be defined as pristine wilderness. Given the breadth of human impacts, from species invasions to climate change, it’s arguable that there isn’t any pristine, untouched wilderness left. That’s not to say we should abandon conserving the wilder places, but it’s time we accepted the bits of life all around us for what they are—nature.

Does an airport line have to reach the airport?

Yonah Freemark, writing about the proposal in Washington, D.C., to forgo a direct rail link in favor of a people-mover:

Counter-intuitively, however, such a change in alignment could be a reasonable money-saver and may actually improve transit service for both commuters and air travelers. And though the question is immediately relevant to the Dulles Rail extension, it is equally valid to many cities, as the issue of extending rail networks out towards airports is frequently of concern for transportation planners in major metropolitan areas.

Having lived in the Bay Area, where BART did not connect to Oakland’s airport, and now Cambridge, where the T doesn’t have a direct rail link to Boston Logan, this is something I’ve often pondered. As usual, Freemark adroitly wades through the emotions and arguments to show that direct links aren’t always in riders’ best interests.