Long Now Media Update

Posted on Friday, October 21st, 02011 by Danielle Engelman
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Timothy Ferriss’ “Accelerated Learning in Accelerated Times”

There is new media available from our monthly series, the Seminars About Long-term Thinking. Stewart Brand’s summaries and audio downloads or podcasts of the talks are free to the public; Long Now members can view HD video of the Seminars and comment on them.

Long Now Media Update

Posted on Wednesday, October 19th, 02011 by Danielle Engelman
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(downloads tab)

Laura Cunningham’s “Ten Millennia of California Ecology”

There is new media available from our monthly series, the Seminars About Long-term Thinking. Stewart Brand’s summaries and audio downloads or podcasts of the talks are free to the public; Long Now members can view HD video of the Seminars and comment on them.

Laura Cunningham, “Ten Millennia of California Ecology”

Posted on Tuesday, October 18th, 02011 by Stewart Brand
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Eco-continuity in California

A Summary by Stewart Brand

California ecology used to be much more driven by floods and fires, Cunningham said, showing with her paintings how the Great Valley would become a vast inland sea, like a huge vernal pool progressing each year from navigable water to intense flower displays to elk-grazed grassland. Lake Merritt in Oakland was a salt water inlet. On the Albany mudflats grizzly bears would tunnel into a beached humpback whale for food, joined by California condors. Every fall at the Carquinez Strait a million four-foot-long Chinook salmon headed inland to spawn.

Only 300 years ago the whole Bay Area was grasslands, routinely burned by the local Indians. There were oaks in the valleys, redwoods in the Berkeley Hills, and extensive oak savannahs inland. The hills were greener more of the year than now, with fire-freshened grass attracting elk, and native perennial grasses drawing moisture with their deep roots.

Cunningham researched the ancient landscapes using old maps, photos, paintings, scientific reports, sundry local experts, and 30 years of fieldwork. She witnessed the last wild condors feeding on a calf carcass, chasing off a golden eagle. (The condors are now back in the wild, spotted as far north as Mt. Hamilton.) To learn about the behavior and ecological effects of wolves and grizzly bears, she studied them in Yellowstone Park. (The California golden bear was enormous, up to 2,200 pounds.)

Along the Pacific shore there used to be 10-ton Steller’s sea cows (extinct in 1768), a giant petrel with an 8-foot wingspan, and a flightless diving goose that ate mussels. Further back, in the Ice Ages before 12,000 years ago, the ocean was lower, and San Francisco Bay was a savannah occupied by huge bison (6 feet at the shoulder), a native full-sized horse similar to the African quagga (Cunningham shows it with quagga-like stripes), Columbian mammoths, and the giant short-faced bear (10 feet tall standing up).

For current Californians Cunningham encourages local restoration of old ecosystems, perhaps learning to live with more flood and fire. With her multi-millennial perspective, she’s pretty relaxed about climate change. As much as long-term ecology is about continuity, it is about change.

[If you like these SALT talk summaries, all 100 or so of them are collected in Kindle format for $3, available here.]

Simon vs. Ehrlich, Round 2

Posted on Thursday, October 13th, 02011 by Alex Mensing
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Roger Pielke Jr. made an observation on his blog recently regarding the past decade’s rapid increase in commodity prices and the classic debate between optimistic Cornucopians and pessimistic Malthusians. In 01990 ecologist Paul Ehrlich – who has spoken at The Long Now Foundation’s SALT series – lost a decade-long bet to economist Julian Simon. In 01980, Simon had predicted that prices (of just about everything) would continue to fall as the human population increased. They tracked the price of five metals over the course of the next ten years, and they all became less expensive.

Since the beginning of the millennium, however, prices have risen fairly steadily. In August of 02011, The Economist noted that current prices of the five metals chosen for the Ehrlich – Simon bet exceeded 01980 prices. Had the bet lasted for three decades, rather than one, Ehrlich would have won.

What Pielke points out, however, is that if we zoom out even further and look at The Economist’s records since 1845, the last decade’s spike in prices could be interpreted as one more blip in a long-term trend of Cornucopian price decreases. Or is the global economy showing the first signs of a long-in-coming collapse, as predicted by Malthusians?

Long-term bets such as the $1,000 wager between Simon and Ehrlich can place people’s predictions about the future out in the open for public scrutiny and comment – encouraging those who would speak to think carefully before they do so. One project of The Long Now Foundation, Long Bets, provides a forum for long-term bets and discussion. On the site, you can view current bets, place your own, or challenge someone else’s prediction.

Dr. Laura Welcher at the Internationalization and Unicode Conference – October 18th

Posted on Tuesday, October 11th, 02011 by Austin Brown
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With thousands of languages and writing systems used all over the world, making computers and the web widely accessible has taken a herculean effort, with much yet to be done.

One of the main tools used in the expansion of the web’s global reach is Unicode – a database of over 193,000 characters from 93 different writing systems and the standards for using and representing them.

Unicode is maintained by The Unicode Consortium, which sponsors a conference each year to share knowledge and discuss the future of Unicode.

This year the Internationalization and Unicode Conference will be held October 17th – 19th in Santa Clara, CA.

Long Now’s Dr. Laura Welcher will be delivering a keynote presentation on Tuesday October 18th of her work on The Rosetta Project, a publicly accessible digital library of human languages, and The Language Commons:

The Rosetta Project shares the Unicode vision of a world where people can use communication technology on their own terms – in their own language.

According to World Internet Statistics, over 80% of all web communication is in about ten languages, with over half in either English or Chinese. The remaining 20% represent “everyone else” including about 400 languages with speaker populations above 1 million, which collectively comprise about 95% of everyone on earth.

Because of essential technologies like Unicode, we are poised to see this breadth of human languages flourish online and on mobile devices, providing for these languages a critical new domain of language use in the modern world. I will present several efforts underway at The Rosetta Project including the “Language Commons” that rely on Unicode as an essential technology in building the multilingual Web.

Farewell Roger

Posted on Wednesday, October 5th, 02011 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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 On September 30th 02011 Long Now lost of one of our own, emeritus board member Roger Kennedy.  Roger came to Long Now while we were trying to find a Clock site back in 01998.  He jumped in immediately leading us on amazing road trips throughout the south west.  His knowledge of ancient America was beyond encyclopedic, and his joy of the high desert contagious.  Roger’s direct guidance led us to the limestone cliffs and ancient bristlecones of  Mt Washington near the Great Basin National Park, a site we eventually purchased.  Roger’s generosity and sage wisdom will be missed always. Farewell Roger.

Washington Post obituary

National Parks Traveler Obituary

Beyond 10,000 AD

Posted on Thursday, September 29th, 02011 by Austin Brown
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Long Now encourages a 10,000 year perspective, but if that just isn’t enough zeroes for you, check out FutureTimeline.net, a site that literally goes Beyond 10,000:

Welcome to the future! Here you will find a speculative timeline of future history. Part fact and part fiction, the timeline is based on detailed research that includes analysis of current trends, projected long-term environmental changes, advances in technology such as Moore’s Law, future medical breakthroughs, and the evolving geopolitical landscape. Where possible, references have been provided to support the predictions. FutureTimeline.net is intended to be an ongoing, collaborative project that is open for discussion – we welcome ideas from scientists, futurists, inventors, writers and anyone else interested in the future of our world.

As a resource for science, technology and futures thinking, the site is chockfull of links and ideas. Just as an example, did you know that in about 3,000,000,000 AD, our own Milky Way may begin to merge with Andromeda?

Laura Cunningham Ticket Info

Posted on Tuesday, September 27th, 02011 by Danielle Engelman
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Laura Cunningham on Ten Millennia of California Ecology

Laura Cunningham on “Ten Millennia of California Ecology”


Monday October 17, 02011 at 7:30pm Cowell Theater at Fort Mason

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! &#8226 General Tickets $10

About this Seminar:

Ecologically, the past is always present if you know where and how to look. Paleontologist-biologist-artist Laura Cunningham spent 20 years exploring California’s archives and relic lands to reconstruct exactly what life used to look like here over the past 10,000 years. Her beautiful images and her insights about long-period ecological change are collected in her new book, A STATE OF CHANGE: Forgotten Landscapes of California.

Like many regions, California is busy restoring portions of the natural environment to previous conditions—native meadows, riparian woodlands, salt marshes, old-growth forests, along with the animals that used to populate them. But there is no static past to restore TO. With Cunningham’s guidance we can choose to restore to a particular period: say, before the white invasion; or, during the Medieval Warm Period; or, before the human invasion; or, during the Ice Ages. With her inspiration, we can begin to envisage the ecological changes coming over the next 10,000 years.

Slow Science

Posted on Monday, September 26th, 02011 by Alex Mensing
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When it comes to  society’s propensity for compromisingly short-term thinking, not even the scientific community is immune. A recent post on John Horgan‘s blog at Scientific American discussed a few of the trends responsible for the hastiness (and resulting shoddiness) of too much of our scientific activity. Among the trends is an overemphasis on ‘popular’ research topics, which statistician John Ioaniddis has shown leads to more inaccurate publications.

The likelihood that a claim will hold up, he argues, is inversely proportional to the initial attention that it gets from other scientists and the media. Large, fast-moving, “hot” fields, which can yield large financial payoffs, tend to have the worst records.

Thankfully, the primary subject of Horgan’s post is not fast-paced failure, but an interesting effort to promote slower, better science. A group of scientists based in Germany have published “The Slow Science Manifesto,” which praises the essential nature of “accelerated science of the early 21st century” but scolds those who demand that scientists constantly produce research with immediate practical application and clear meaning and intention. “Science needs time,” they assert, “to think.”

Science needs time to read, and time to fail. Science does not always know what it might be at right now. Science develops unsteadi­ly, with jerky moves and un­predict­able leaps forward—at the same time, however, it creeps about on a very slow time scale, for which there must be room and to which justice must be done.

The Manifesto concludes: “We cannot continuously tell you what our science means; what it will be good for; because we simply don’t know yet. Science needs time.” This statement corresponds neatly to a sentence from a chapter (titled, not incidentally, “Slow Science”) in Stewart Brand’s book The Clock of the Long Now: “Rigorously collected old data keeps finding new uses.” Brand proposes that the Long Now Library could help facilitate the kinds of long-term projects that produce large useful data sets by helping scientists overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of such endeavors. Perhaps the authors of The Slow Science Manifesto would agree with his analysis:

…in light of their great accumulative value, why are long-term scientific studies so rare? Well, (1) they’re not about proving or disproving hypotheses, the coin of the scientific realm; (2) they don’t generate quick papers, the coin of a scientific career; (3) they bear no relation to scientific fashion, where the excitement is; (4) they’re not subject to money-making patent or copyright; (5) the few that exist usually die when their primary researcher dies; (6) they’re extremely difficult to maintain funding for; and (7) ever growing archives are an expensive hassle to service and keep accessible.

The Long Now Foundation has, in fact, already had the opportunity to support a long-term scientific project. In 02008 the Nevada System of Higher Education received funding from the National Science Foundation to study climate change in the Great Basin. As part of the study they needed to install permanent climate monitoring stations over a wide range of elevation levels and ecosystem types, and the Long Now Foundation’s property in Nevada provided some key locations for constructing stations. If the project overcomes the challenges and pressures that drove a group of frustrated scientists to publish their Slow Science Manifesto, it will one day become a valuable bank of ‘rigorously collected old data,’ and future scientists will continue to use and reuse it for purposes that, quite frankly, we’ve never even dreamed of.

Mechanicrawl 02011

Posted on Wednesday, September 21st, 02011 by Austin Brown
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This Saturday September 24th, Long Now brings back Mechanicrawl – a self-guided exploration of the mechanical marvels along San Francisco’s North Shore. A single ticket – free to members of partner organizations – provides access to all the attractions and special demonstrations going on throughout the event, 10:00am – 5:00pm.

You can get your tickets online, either in advance or on the day of the Crawl.

It’s an increasingly rare opportunity, not to mention an astounding sight, to behold the steam engines of the SS Jeremiah O’Brien running, and they’ll be fired up for the day. You can also geek out with Aaron Washington of the USS Pampanito crew over their Torpedo Data Computer, chat with their HAM radio club, drop by Long Now and meet some of the engineers on the 10,000 Year Clock as they demonstrate some of our prototypes, and catch one of the SF Maritime Park’s guided tours of the Balclutha, a square-rigged sailing ship docked at the Hyde Street Pier… before lunch!

There’s tons to do, check out www.mechanicrawl.org for details and ticket info.

Feel free to wander as you’d like between all the different attractions listed on the site, but take a peek at the Demos tab to see the scheduled activities you may want to join in on as well.

We’ve created a public layer in Google Maps that you can see on your smartphone to have all the locations and details at your fingertips during the event and you can follow Mechanicrawl on Twitter (@Mechanicrawl) for updates and reminders.

Come spend the day in the sun (oh, and below-decks) with us!