Help Wanted
Occasionally I have questions the collective intelligence of readers can answer best, so I'm using this space to post my queries. Anyone offering an answer can respond in the comment section of that query. Your replies will help greatly. I'm happy to credit anything I use.

I may not be able to comment on every comment, so thanks in advance. -- KK
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The Big Here

The Big Here

You live in the big here. Wherever you live, your tiny spot is deeply intertwined within a larger place, imbedded fractal-like into a whole system called a watershed, which is itself integrated with other watersheds into a tightly interdependent biome. (See the world eco-region map ). At the ultimate level, your home is a cell in an organism called a planet. All these levels interconnect. What do you know about the dynamics of this larger system around you? Most of us are ignorant of this matrix. But it is the biggest interactive game there is. Hacking it is both fun and vital.

The following exercise in watershed awareness was hatched 30 years ago by Peter Warshall, naturalist extraordinaire. Variations of this list have appeared over the years with additions by Jim Dodge, Peter Berg, and Stephanie Mills among others. I have recently added new questions from Warshall and myself, and I have edited or altered most of the rest. It's still a work in progress. If you have a universal question you think fits, submit it to me.

I am extremely interested in hearing from anyone who scores a 25 or better on the quiz on their first unassisted try. I'd like to know how you got your Big Here education. I have a few small prizes for anyone who scores (on the honor system) a perfect 30, without Googling.

The intent of this quiz is to inspire you to answer the questions you can't initially. I'd like to collect and then post the best step-by-step suggestions about how to answer a particular question. These are not answers to the quiz, but recommended paths on how one might most efficiently answer the question locally. Helpful websites which can provide local answers are wanted. Because of the severe specificity of local answers, the methods provided should be as general as possible. The emerging list of answer-paths will thus become the Cool Tool.

Post your methods in the comment section for each question linked in red to my Help Wanted page. I will award a copy of the next paper-book version of Cool Tools to the person providing what I consider the best solution method(s) for each question.

30 questions to elevate your awareness (and literacy) of the greater place in which you live:

1) Point north. [Recommendations for answer methods]

2) What time is sunset today? [Recommendations]

3) Trace the water you drink from rainfall to your tap. [Recommendations]

4) When you flush, where do the solids go? What happens to the waste water? [Recommendations]

5) How many feet above sea level are you? [Recommendations]

6) What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom here? [Recommendations]

7) How far do you have to travel before you reach a different watershed? Can you draw the boundaries of yours? [Recommendations]

8) Is the soil under your feet, more clay, sand, rock or silt? [Recommendations]

9) Before your tribe lived here, what did the previous inhabitants eat and how did they sustain themselves? [Recommendations]

10) Name five native edible plants in your neighborhood and the season(s) they are available. [Recommendations]

11) From what direction do storms generally come? [Recommendations]

12) Where does your garbage go? [Recommendations]

13) How many people live in your watershed? [Recommendations]

14) Who uses the paper/plastic you recycle from your neighborhood? [Recommendations]

15) Point to where the sun sets on the equinox. How about sunrise on the summer solstice? [Recommendations]

16) Where is the nearest earthquake fault? When did it last move? [Recommendations]

17) Right here, how deep do you have to drill before you reach water? [Recommendations]

18) Which (if any) geological features in your watershed are, or were, especially respected by your community, or considered sacred, now or in the past? [Recommendations]

19) How many days is the growing season here (from frost to frost)? [Recommendations]

20) Name five birds that live here. Which are migratory and which stay put? [Recommendations]

21) What was the total rainfall here last year? [Recommendations]

22) Where does the pollution in your air come from? [Recommendations]

23) If you live near the ocean, when is high tide today? [Recommendations]

24) What primary geological processes or events shaped the land here? [Recommendations]

25) Name three wild species that were not found here 500 years ago. Name one exotic species that has appeared in the last 5 years. [Recommendations]

26) What minerals are found in the ground here that are (or were) economically valuable? [Recommendations]

27) Where does your electric power come from and how is it generated? [Recommendations]

28) After the rain runs off your roof, where does it go?   [Recommendations]

29) Where is the nearest wilderness? When was the last time a fire burned through it? [Recommendations]

30) How many days till the moon is full? [Recommendations]

The Bigger Here Bonus Questions:

31) What species once found here are known to have gone extinct? [Recommendations]

32) What other cities or landscape features on the planet share your latitude? [Recommendations]

33) What was the dominant land cover plant here 10,000 years ago? [Recommendations]

34) Name two places on different continents that have similar sunshine/rainfall/wind and temperature patterns to here. [Recommendations]

Posted on January 6, 2006 at 11:08 PM
What technology wants

The love of technology

I'm looking for passages from literature, science fiction, or personal essays of writers who wax lyrical and poetic about technology. A paragraph where they get all purple about the joy or grandure of a machine, technlogy or man-made landscape. Any suggestions? The more specific the reference, the better.

Posted on July 27, 2004 at 9:38 PM
What technology wants

What does technology want?

Yeah, I know that technology is not a person so it can't "want" something the way you want something. But a large system like technology can and does exhibit tendencies and urges overall, independent of individual human caretakers, and this is the meaning of "want" I have in mind. If you still have problems imagining how technology as a whole can want things, then I suggest you ignore this question and not post in this thread. For those who want to play, imagine that the Technium, the system of technological cutlure, has an agenda greater than the agenda of its parts, and that human preferences have little impact on its urges. If the Technium is a system with its own non-human agenda, what does it want? What are its inherent biases, trajectory, and desires? What does technology hope for?

Posted on July 13, 2004 at 11:01 PM
Cool tools

The world's best how-to?

I consume vast quantities of how-to material. My kids joke that I always prefer to learn things from books rather than from a person, and it is true. A great how-to book can be much better than on okay teacher. There's mountains of very good material to choose from today in almost any subject you can think of. What I am looking for right now are examples of legendary, extraordinary, amazingly great cases of how-to guidance. What are the best how-to books, videos, software, websites that you've ever seen? I don't care what the topic is, I am primarily interested in the execution. What's a book or program that teaches its skills and information better than anything/anyone else? Again, the subject can be anything -- rock climbing, rock gardening, rock music, rock polishing, whatever.

Another way to say is, who's a teacher you never met that taught you some skills in a way you never forgot?

What the best non-teacher/non-classroom how-to you've encountered? And where can I get hold of it?

Posted on June 8, 2004 at 9:20 PM
What technology wants

What are other examples of leapfrogging?

One of the hoped-for blessings of technologies in the third world is that new stuff can allow them to leapfrog across the dirty industrial development the North has experienced. The first example to come to mind is cell phones in China, which promises to leapfrog over the laborious chore of wiring the large country with land lines. But when it comes to a second example, everyone draws a blank.

Does anyone know of other examples of leapfrogging technology -- where a latter generation of technology leapfrogs over a intermediate generation? At any time in history.

Posted on March 25, 2004 at 1:41 AM
What technology wants

Unpredicted technologies

In his wonderful and little-appreciated classic, PROFILES OF THE FUTURE, Aurthur C. Clarke pointed out that there are two kinds of technology, the expected and the unexpected. As illustration, Clarke made a list of "unexpected" technologies. This include X-Rays, nuclear energy, photography, superconductors, lasers, Carbon 14 dating, and others.

I am very interested in the nature of unexpected or unanticipated technologies and would like to acquire a longer list. I'd love to have nominations of technologies that were relatively unexpected. I can't offer a hard definition of unexpected, since this will vary by expertise and time. Clarke defined "expected" as "concepts that have been around for hundreds or thousands of years" before they became real. I would narrow that to say "concepts that have been around for decades."

What technologies were unpredicted?

Posted on March 15, 2004 at 11:43 PM
What technology wants

What technologies do you reject?

The Amish are famous for rejecting technology, but their pattern of rejection often bewilders outsiders. For example some Amish folk use roller-blade skates, diposable diapers, chemical fertilizers, and even cell phones, while rejecting 110-volt electricity, private cars, insurance, and zippers. I dare anyone to make sense of those decisions, even though there is a logic. The tangle of Amish technology might best be illustrated by their farm combines which are powered by diesel engines yet pulled by horses. Outsiders look at that and go HUH? Why pull a diesel engine with horses? Isn't that hypocritical?

No it's not, and more to the point, I've noticed a similar pattern among my friends. I know a guy who uses the web but not email, or who has wi-fi but no phone. When I press harder I find that MOST of my friends have this neo-amish pattern of rejecting some technology but using others.

So, what I'd like to know from readers here is, what technologies do you reject, and which recent ones do you rely on? If you could also give me some clue to how long you've rejected a technology (6 months or 6 years) that would be helpful. The stranger the dissounance, the better.

I may jump in to press replies for clarity.

Posted on March 2, 2004 at 1:00 AM
Cool tools

What's a good intro into glassblowing?

After a visit to a Venitian glassblowing shop on our vacation this summer, my kids are interested in fooling around with some simple soft glassblowing experiments. Can anyone suggest an entry level book/video/catalog or website on setting up a basement trial? I'm looking for a minimum of equipment and maximum of fun and education. Pointers welcomed.

Posted on July 29, 2003 at 5:21 PM
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