The Tree

This week I’ve seen news of a lot of really bad weather. Tornadoes, blizzards, floods…. It would be interesting to see an analysis of the costs. The National Centers for Environmental Information have studied the issue. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Overview introduces some of the issues in performing an analysis. This graph is interesting and it has a cut off of events costing 1 billion or more, so it still ignores many substantial disasters.

Some people scoff that these costs are not serious, that they’re not increasing or that to talk about the cost of climate change as being a threat to the country is ludicrous. I think that is very ostrich-like–if we willfully don’t look at it, it won’t be a problem.

Some countries have higher stakes in the climate. Some of the Pacific island nations can’t survive the sea level going up–they won’t have any land to be a nation over. I remember the glaciers that have shrunken so dramatically in the Rockies. Greenland and the Antarctic are melting too. If you calculate the volume of ice in those two places and divide it by the surface area of the ocean, if even part of them melt, the ocean will flood many places. Eventually, beach front property won’t be a good investment anymore.

A fallen tree crushing the sidewalkBut, more to home, I found some branches on the sidewalk from my tree. I was pretty fortunate. None of them were really big–I could break them into smaller pieces with my knee. My neighbors to the west had more serious problems with their tree last year. The extreme cold killed about 3/4 of the tree and the city cut it down before it hurt someone. The picture isn’t of my tree, but I thought it fit–I’ve been really fortunate and am grateful.

The Unreasonable Virus

Recently, I was talking with a clinic’s office on the phone. I had trouble getting the information I needed. Until I stopped myself, I started thinking that they were trying to be intentionally difficult. It seemed that the person had set up arbitrary walls to keep me from talking to the right person.

I realized that my experience with past businesses that have unreasonable call centers led me to expect that all phone services want to avoid helping. I have called phone company A and they have many levels of menus that all lead to the same place: not talking to a human. If I do reach a human, they forward me through several offices who each provide minimal information. Credit card company W has many ways to get lost on their customer service number.

Rubber stamps on a carouselIn my recent experience, I’d been hit by the unreasonable thought-virus: The expectation that service businesses are unreasonable and provide as little service as they can. The virus goes to the level of expecting to be abused; that it is a normal way of doing business.

The thought is a virus because it can be spread. A service professional who’s had experience with unreasonable systems, will help propagate their own version of the same negative experiences.

Organizations that have good customer service help the virus go away, but it is a difficult thought to clear up.

Internet mega-services company G is really helpful. Every time I have a question, I get to someone knowledgeable right away. They help me with my questions and give some extra information for the likely next questions I’ll have soon.

I wish there were a lot more G’s and a lot fewer A’s and W’s.

Original image: Stamp Carousel . By Christian Schnettelker (see Webdesign Agency) [Image license]

Gas price history

I’ve found copies of my old gas price spreadsheet. Now I have a history of the Indiana gasoline prices from Nov. 2003 to Dec. 2015.

One of the reasons I wanted to find the data is to show the cliff. Between Oct. 8 and Nov. 7, 2008 the price of gas here dropped 40%.

Online sources show that the price of crude oil dropped rapidly in that period, but not as rapidly as the gas price in Indiana.

A graph of the price of gas

A graph of Indiana gas prices between 2003 and 2015

I’m still looking for data from the 20 month gap in 2009 and 2010.

Annotating the Election

I’m struck by how the U.S. Presidential candidates are using such retro technology. The internet has infinite possibilities but Donald Trump and the other candidates only allow you to participate in the margins.

A focus of Trump’s site is to promote his positions and show his successes as a celebrity. The only interactive parts of the site help him raise money and sell merchandise. The web site lets you “get involved,” but that section is very 1968. The way you get involved is to sign up for a newsletter to receive updates from the candidate. In ’68, you could get newsletters from the Nixon campaign in the mail. That’s not that much different from the emails I’ll get from the Trump campaign.

In the new century, Web 2.0 technology can provide much more to citizens than broadcasts from a candidate’s campaign. Right now, the changes since the election of Nixon in 1968 have come down to little more than allowing instant self-promotion. We can get updates from the candidates whenever they choose to broadcast info, but only on their terms.

We *can* mention @realdonaldtrump on Twitter and *feel* like we’re connecting. It’s a complete illusion. There are hundreds of tweets every minute that reference @realdonaldtrump. Donald Trump has made about 30 posts in the last 24 hours. His interactions were with other television celebrities, not everyday Joes like me.

He definitely isn’t personally involved with any of the endless Twitter conversations. A special effects tour de force lets us imagine that Twitter gives us a connection to him.

However, we are not in 1968 and there are other ways to interact. One I’d like to mention is Open Annotation.

The concept of open annotation is to allow users to “discuss, collaborate, organize your research or take personal notes” of the information on the web.

In 1945, The Atlantic had an article As We May Think written by Vannevar Bush. Near the end of his article, Bush foreshadows some of the basic concepts behind the world wide web.

One part of the article explores the possibility of finding connections between distant information sources and then sharing those discoveries with others. These connections could include comments that would be separate from the actual documents. In other words, notes in the margin for others to find. has implemented the tools needed to write those notes–to annotate the web. Their web page allows you to access or create annotations by pasting a URL into their “Annotate!” tool. They also allow you to access a page’s annotations directly by clicking on a bookmark has created for browsers.

One core property of open annotation is that annotation doesn’t require cooperation of the host of a website. However, nothing is changed on the host either; the annotations are only visible through the annotation tool. For example, when Donald Trump talks about China as a currency manipulator, one can add this annotation to reference Wikipedia:

A screen image of an annotated web page

An annotation of Donald Trumps web site’s discussion of U.S. China Trade Reform

Private annotations allow one to keep crib notes of the evidence supporting or refuting a candidate’s claims. Public annotations let one share that evidence.

It is possible to do more than just name-drop Donald Trump on Twitter. One could annotate his discussion of Second Amendment rights with statistics about gun violence in this country and relevant court decisions. You might annotate Hillary Clinton’s web site with information from her Senate career related to education.

You can annotate the candidates’ content today. You can connect distant pieces of information on the web in the place where that information is most relevant–by the candidate’s own words.

This isn’t 1968. The Internet is interactive. Name-dropping a candidate is not participating in the civic life of your community. Open Annotation lets you expand the margins using the technology of today.