April 2002 Archives
Two cool stories in last week's economist:
For the past decade Dr Engel, a lecturer in environmental sciences at Britain's Open University, has been collating examples of self-medicating behaviour in wild animals. She recently published a book on the subject. In a talk at the Edinburgh Science Festival earlier this month, she explained that the idea that animals can treat themselves has been regarded with some scepticism by her colleagues in the past. But a growing number of animal behaviourists now think that wild animals can and do deal with their own medical needs.
Eradicating Polio (premium story, subscription required):
Somalia is a particularly tough spot. It has been shredded by civil war since 1991. There is no state, unless you count a “transitional national government” that controls a few streets in the capital, Mogadishu. The rest of the country is controlled by warlords who, as the Americans discovered in 1993, are difficult to deal with. Yet somehow the anti-polio campaigners have managed it.
In each area, they seek the local warlord's permission before carrying out hut-to-hut vaccinations. They are careful to hire members of all the big local clans to help, and to rent the cars they need—but no more—from whomever the local warlord nominates. The cars come with drivers and Kalashnikov-toting guards, but cannot be used to transport vaccines over long distances. If driven to a rival clan's territory, they are liable to be hijacked.
In Somalia, the men with guns make the rules. The WHO has to adapt to this, just as the locals do. Somali women make money by building stick-and-plastic shacks at roadblocks and selling tea to waiting travellers. The WHO has followed suit, placing a vaccinator with a coolbox at every possible roadblock to catch peripatetic children. In their own bossy way, the men with guns thus help.
To reach more dangerous areas, the vaccinators wait for a gap in the fighting, and then pounce. There is a polio officer in every district. Some sleep in a different house each night to avoid kidnap, for people with foreign employers are assumed to be rich. Whenever it looks safe enough to fly in the coolboxes, they shout. With luck, their task is nearly done: no new infections have been reported in Somalia this year.
The people doing this work are incredibly courageous, and are mostly doing it without recognition. Read more about WHO's efforts; donate here.
As will likely become very obvious, I've got a new camera; this image is from a SkyTrain support pillar.
I've been wondering since I first saw this if it's a quote, or an original composition.
In other blogs I listed the reasons why it has been so hard to effect change in the Mozilla front end code. First is the problem of the target audience that leads to disagreement no matter what you're trying to do. You can't have a vision for a product, because your vision will always end up being someone else's nightmare. Another problem with the user interface is the clutter from the other applications. Finally there's the problem of Mozilla's perpetuated egalitarianism at the module owner level and at the contributor level. Everyone is leveled out, leaving the product with no clear direction or vision.
Also note that chimera is seen as the solution to the UI problems on Mac. It will be interesting to see how this will all play out; gecko (mozilla's rendering engine) might be the only part of the mozilla project that really has an impact on a large number of users. (Even that would be a good thing, of course.) That said, I would currently be loathe to adopt any gecko-using browser that didn't have a) tabs; and b) sidebar. Tabs are now a major part of how I browse - while reading a page, I just middle click on all the interesting links, which opens tabs up in the background. It's much much better then reading first, then re-scanning for links, and much much much better than the web technique I despise above all others, "open link in new window". The sidebar has too many useful little tools available for me that I use on a regular basis, and I'd like to see even more of them.
Alton Brown's first book, I'm Just Here for the Food, has been released.
Free as in Freedom - the online version; it's covered today on Salon. Was hard to track down the actual online copy - none of my searches on Google turned up the oreilly page; I probably should have thought to go directly to the publisher for the open version (which Stallman apparently insisted upon).