Sunday, February 10, 2008

I was wrong.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Though I had concluded that I had no time for writing, I've discovered that this assessment was simply wrong. To remedy this error, I've assembled some kindred spirits- bloggers who value writing based upon reason and passion- to explore some of the issues I pursued with you, the reader, here on The Influence Machine.
Please join us as we embark on a new project, Blue Island Almanack.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hello, I must be going

The blog world seems to be falling apart, perhaps devoured by The Nothing from The Neverending Story. I read others repeating this sentiment, and I see it manifest in the storied former Blogs of Note that go without updates for days, sometimes weeks at a time. Alas, the departed will shortly be joined by The Influence Machine.
Sadly, I can nolonger make time for this blog. I’m stretched thin with a renewed job-hunt, grad school, serving on my city’s environmental commission, volunteering for community groups, and come March, raising my first child. I'm "a bit of butter, spread over too much bread," as it were.
To those who have read and especially to those who have commented, you’ve made this experience rewarding. You’ve educated me about a great deal. I hope I’ve done a little of the same for you. I plan to keep reading others' blogs, though I may or may not keep using the name "E.R. Dunhill" when I comment. Perhaps ERD will be back in the future.
I encourage everyone to keep reading, keep writing (whether that's anything to do with blogs, or not), and keep an open mind.

Monday, September 10, 2007

On certainty

Some questions to the reader:
Can science prove human causation of global climate change? If so why are we still arguing about it? If not, is there any scenario in which we can accept some degree of scientific uncertainty? Has the bulk of scientific opinion been wrong before? If so, does this make science unreliable? Is it somehow foolish or ethically wrong to accept benefits from science without question, but shun science’s warnings?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Rudbeckia hirta

Black-eyed Susan (R. hirta)
General Botanical Characteristics: Black-eyed Susan is a native, warm-season, annual, biennial or short-lived perennial forb. It has one to a few stems 12 to 40 inches (0.3-1.0 m) tall, which are erect and sometimes sparingly branched. The lower leaves are 2 to 6 inches (5-15 cm) long, alternate and petioled. The upper leaves are mostly sessile. The inflorescences are few to many flower heads on peduncles 2 to 8 inches (5-20 cm) long. The fruit is an achene 0.06 inches (1.5 mm) long; there is no pappus. Black-eyed Susan has a taproot or a cluster of fibrous roots. It is a mycorrhizal species.
Sometimes flower stalks will appear in the first summer, but typically black-eyed Susan blooms from June to September of the second year. After flowering and seed maturation, the plants die. The seed is very small (1,746,000 per pound) and black, about 2 mm long and 0.5 mm in diameter.
Adaptation and Distribution: Black-eyed Susan is naturalized in most of the states east of Kansas and the bordering areas of Canada. It is adapted throughout the Northeast on soils with a drainage classification range from well-drained to somewhat poorly drained. It will perform acceptably on droughty soils during years with average or above rainfall, but best growth is achieved on sandy, well drained sites. It is winter hardy in areas where low temperatures are between -30 ° and -20 °F.
Uses: Erosion control: Black-eyed Susan is an important component in critical area treatment plantings along with grasses, legumes, and other forbs when used along road cuts, hillsides, and other areas subject to erosion.
Wildlife: This plant offers protection and food to several song and game birds.

Sources and further reading:
USDA Forest Service
University of Maryland, College Park (image source)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

On the value and onus of education

Some questions to the reader:
What is the value of education? Is it economic? Social? Spiritual? Something else? Is there worth in studying something that has no commercial or career value? Do people have a responsibility to be educated? Does the state have a responsibility to ensure that people are educated? Does education have to come from a school?

Thanks to Sociological Stew for a recent post that inspired these questions

Il silenzio

The world has lost an artistic treasure. Luciano Pavarotti, icon of 20th century opera, passed away today at the age of 71.
For my own part (and with Puccini’s dated stereotypes aside), I think Pavarotti’s performances of Turadot with Joan Sutherland are among the greatest music ever recorded. The tenor’s power and grace made the genre of opera once again approachable. He will be missed.

Image source: University of Texas

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I spent a good bit of my Labor Day weekend walking my dogs around a couple of large parks in suburban Maryland. There, I spotted a small army of flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida), several black walnuts (Juglans nigra), and stand after stand of trees that my untrained eye cannot identify past “oak” (Quercus consult-the-field-guide). I spent time in the butterfly garden above a clear lake that provides drinking water to thousands, and woods that seem too wild to be 10 miles from DC.
In a few weeks, there will be a group of geography students gathered at one of these parks to collect seeds from the places that mowers would otherwise cut them down. Those indigenous seeds will be handed-over to a partnership of nonprofits and state agencies to be sprouted and ultimately planted around the watershed. The new trees will grow to produce clean water, create food and habitat for wildlife, and build the biological bank of indigenous plants.
Collecting seeds will serve as a great opportunity to work directly toward a sustainable community, while providing a venue to address the concept of sustainability more broadly. Students will get their hands dirty and learn something in the process. These opportunities exist in every community, and it’s not necessary to be a scientist, an entrepreneur, or an activist to make lasting, positive changes. Sometimes, all it takes is gathering seeds to plant them where they might grow.

Image: Portrait of Shitao Supervising the Planting of Pine Trees: after Zhu Henian's Copy of Shitao's Self-portrait; Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

On carrying capacity

Some questions to the reader:
How many humans do you think the Earth can support? Can the current population size be supported forever, given our current resource demands? Can the current population size be supported forever, if all (or most) humans adopt an industrialized lifestyle? If the population must stop growing or shrink, whose responsibility is it to make sure that happens? Is anyone capable of wielding that authority over someone else? How should they ensure that it happens?