Posted by David Brooks | Sunday, December 21, 2014
A subtropical worm known as the "crazy snake" because of its S-shaped path and frenzied ability to escape bait cans is becoming a problem in northern New England, reports the Burlington Free Press. It decomposes material relly well, which is good for composting but not so good for the balance of organics on the forest floor.
Unchaperoned in the woods, the crazy-snake goes crazy, devouring and diminishing layers of moist leaf litter and mulch — "seed banks" that are critical to forest regeneration. The subsequent decline of the understory promotes erosion, deprives ground-nesting birds of cover and drives deer to browse more aggressively on mature saplings.
The worm detectives have tracked the spread of Amynthas through mulch-and-leaf piles, nursery plantings, greenhouses and backyard compost piles and gardens. Scientists elsewhere in New England and the Midwest are in agreement: This is no garden-variety earthworm. Wisconsin six years ago banned possession of the worms.
Like all invasive species, it has a trick: If it gets sterilized by parasites (one potential bio-control) it reproduces asexually, since it's a hermaphrodite.
It's a problem in Connecticut, too. I wonder if it's in New Hampshire?
Posted by David Brooks | Friday, December 19, 2014
The Gulf of Maine Research Institute is going to start issuing "lobster forecasts" based on water temperatures, with the idea of letting fleets time their catches. From the Portland Press-Herald:
Early indicators of lobster movement could help the industry prepare for the kind of conditions that occurred in 2012, when unusually high ocean temperatures prompted lobsters to shed their hard shells and migrate toward shore several weeks earlier than usual, resulting in a market glut and plummeting lobster prices.
Lobsters molt so they can grow into new, larger shells. A molted lobster, which has a soft shell, is typically called a “shedder” by Maine lobstermen. Scientists are spotting trends now that indicate shedders will appear earlier this spring than is typical.
The Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest-warming areas in the world's oceans, which is part of the reason why the cod fisheries have collapsed (this NY Times piece explains it). It may also be part of the reason why efforts to restore th Atlantic salmon to the Merrimack River have failed.
Posted by David Brooks | Thursday, December 18, 2014
Following up yesterday's post about Portsmouth contemplating airbnb, the city is also contemplating Uber, the smartphone-using hired car service. Portsmouth would love to have Uber in town, but: "Drivers for Uber and other ride-booking companies meet the city’s definition of taxi drivers, so they and their vehicles are subject to the same regulations as taxis and cabbies."
That's from a Portsmouth Herald story (read it here) about a hearing of the city's Taxi Commission, called in response to a local resident who has become an Uber driver. Uber has opposed regulations in all the cities where it sets up, claiming that it makes sure it's drivers are fine without any bureaucratic, competition-limiting rigamarole, so this tussle is unlikely to end quietly.
The story noted one thing I hadn't thought about: cab drivers can pick up drivers on the street, which Uber drivers can't do. So if Uber/Lyft/etc. kills cab companies, only smartphone-carrying folks can grab a ride.
Posted by David Brooks | Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The Portsmouth Herald has an interesting story about local regulations conflicting with the so-called "sharing economy." (I prefer "middleman economy," since the businesses involved are just enablers between provider and customer, skimming a bit off the top without doing much work)
In that city a couple had been operating a bed-and-breakfast via Airbnb until the city of Portsmouth told them to stop. So they asked permission to become a real b-n-b. No dice, said the zoning board, but judging from the story it was an interesting discussion.
(The homeowner) said the online system of renting rooms for short-term stays is a “new phenomenon,” but it’s “not a phenomenon that’s going to go away.” He encouraged board members to embrace the concept. “We think this is good for Portsmouth,” Jeffrey Cooper said. “Portsmouth should welcome it and be accommodating,”
Uber's fights with regulators get all the attention, but Airbnb is potentially even more disruptive - especially if the guy next door uses it to create a de-facto motel.
Posted by David Brooks | Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Slate reports that Americans' love of putting colored lights outdoors for the holidays can be seen from space:
The Suomi satellite carries an instrument designed to measure nighttime lights as a way to track energy use. It’s sensitive enough that it was able to detect a 20–30 percent increase in brightening in the urban cores of 70 major U.S. cities during the Christmas season and a 30–50 percent increase in the suburbs.
Americans aren't alone, it says: The phenomenon was first noticed in Cairo, due to lights celebrating the end of Ramadan.
Posted by David Brooks | Monday, December 15, 2014
I'll #SaveYouAClick - yes.
My Telegraph column today crunches the numbers of per-mile costs for a Nissan Leaf vs. Versa in light of sub-$3 gas and electric prices spiking this winter. The result: Electric cars are still half as expensive per mile, roughly.
They're more expensive to buy and there's the whole range-anxiety thing, so this is far from the only story. But I thought it was interesting.
Posted by David Brooks | Sunday, December 14, 2014
Forgive me for bringing up politics, but since energy is a hot topic these days it seems relevant: This article from E&E (Environment and Energy) News says that the sweeping GOP control of New Hampshire government in the November election is bad for Northern Pass, despite the cliche of Democrats = pro-environment and Republicans = pro-business.
Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a pro-business Republican and chairwoman of the Finance Committee, explained that the issue has effectively brought together those concerned about private land rights with environmental activists, not to mention those who view the cable as a raw deal. In New Hampshire especially, that is a tough coalition.
Jack Savage of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests believes the atmosphere is heavily against the project along bipartisan lines, unlike in neighboring Vermont, where only a handful of people showed up at the first presidential permit public hearing for TDI's proposed cable through the state. In New Hampshire, more than 300 attended the first such meeting on Northern Pass, most of them to indicate displeasure.
Further, there are now so many proposals to bring lots of energy into New England - Quebec hydropower through Vermont, natural gas up through Massachusetts - that Northern Pass no longer has the advantage of novelty.
Posted by David Brooks | Friday, December 12, 2014
When I was much younger I got my private pilot's license, and even though I haven't flown since Reagan was president I'm very glad I spent the time and money. Nothing teaches you to focus, and also generates a little self-confidence, like landing a plane solo. It's not really very hard to do in a forgiving craft like a Cessna Skyhawk, but the knowledge that you could easily kill yourself if you do it wrong makes the experience ... well, interesting.
But bigger planes are getting less interesting as automation moves into the cockpit, to the point that some folks are worried that it's making pilots dumber. So reports this interesting short piece in Slate:
We found that pilots who habitually let the computers do the thinking and who allow their thoughts to drift during flight were more likely to have deteriorated cognitive skills. It’s tempting to call this laziness, but that’s not exactly right. Mind-wandering experts like Jonathan Smallwood are quick to point out that our minds are restless. When we’re not given something stimulating to think about, our minds naturally drift onto something else that is. ... Many have pointed out that “sitting and staring” at a computer that does our job for us is not something that creative, interactive, problem-solving humans are cut out to do.
There's another angle to this story: The number of pilots is declining. More than 800,000 people had various types of pilot licenses in the U.S. in 1980; that's down to about 620,000 now. The high cost of aviation fuel and restrictions of post-9/11 flight are largely responsible, but maybe it's just less fun to be a professional pilot than it used to be.
Here in Nashua, Daniel Webster College cut its pilot training program a couple years, and although a small program has been returned in an innovative way as I recently reported, there's still a lot less pilot training happening in Nashua than there used to be. Flights at the city airport have fallen by more than one-third in the past decade, mostly because of that cutback.
Posted by David Brooks | Thursday, December 11, 2014
The Telegraph's web folks have informed me that my best-read story online for the month of November, by a mile, was a tossed-off item about the history of daylight saving time that I slapped together to fill a hole in the next day's paper.
Since it contained nothing that couldn't be found in 10 minutes of Googling, I assume the popularity is due to the headline: "Time to change the clocks again - because who wants to argue with Ben Franklin?"
In a way this is depressing, when I think of all the brilliant, insightful, witty pieces that I crafted last month only to have them ignored by everybody except for 17 people and some search-engine spiders. On the other hand, it provides me a handy tool for increasing online traffic: Always mention Ben Franklin.
I'm writing about electric cars today: Ben's kite goes in the lede!
(The best part of my story? This comment on the bottom from a reader: "Why is it every year we have to have the same articles on the time change who cares set your clock back you don't need to write an essay about it every year.")
Posted by David Brooks | Wednesday, December 10, 2014
A famous person wrote this sentence to another famous person - can you guess who?
"If the rabble continues to occupy itself with you, then simply don’t read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptile for whom it has been fabricated."
No, not the Hollywood/Internet starlet of the moment: It was Albert Einstein, writing to Marie Curie. Proof that Internet trolls and online obnoxious behavior has been around since the days when Planck's constant was still variable.*
I learned it from this great Slate piece that looked through the latest release of Einstein's papers. It's well worth a read, even if you are a reptile from the rabble.