Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Organic weed prevention? Not with Corn Gluten Meal

I've used this before and was considering it again as an alternative to Preen (a pesticide/herbicide) but found that there is no evidence that it does anything and actual evidence it makes weeds _worse_ because it contains 10% nitrogen.

Corn gluten meal did not prevent weeds from germinating in OSU study
Corn gluten meal is a natural substitute for a synthetic “pre-emergence” herbicide and has been advertised as a more environmentally friendly way to control weeds.

A pre-emergent herbicide is one that kills seedlings as they germinate. Pre-emergent herbicides generally have to be applied and watered in before weed seeds germinate. Other herbicides, such as glyphosate (e.g. Round Up) kill plants after they have emerged.

A by-product of commercial corn milling, corn gluten meal contains protein from the corn. It poses no health risk to people or animals when used as an herbicide. With 60 percent protein it is used as feed for livestock, fish and dogs. It contains 10 percent nitrogen, by weight, so it acts as a fertilizer as well.

The use of corn gluten meal as an herbicide was discovered by accident during turfgrass disease research at Iowa State University. Researchers noticed that it prevented grass seeds from sprouting. Further research at Iowa State showed that it also effectively prevents other seeds from sprouting, including seeds from many weeds such as crabgrass, chickweed, and even dandelions. Components in corn gluten meal called dipeptides are apparently responsible for herbicidal activity.
Corn gluten meal did not control any weeds in any trials under any circumstances over a two-year period. They found no evidence of pre- or post-emergence weed control in any of their trials. Because it contains 10 percent nitrogen, corn gluten meal proved to be a very effective fertilizer, causing lush, dense growth of turfgrass and of weeds in shrub beds.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Variable speed limit signs: Opportunity for evidence-based government?

Here's a challenge to WSDOT:  Are you willing to halt and reverse the variable speed limit signage deployment if, after a set amount of time, there has not been a significant reduction in congestion-related collisions?  Or, if the new signage actually causes more congestion or more collisions?

All too often the readerboards that give information on accidents seem to slow traffic down even more.

WSDOT - I-90 - Two-Way Transit and HOV Operations - Variable Speed Limit Signs
Tried and true on our mountain passes
WSDOT uses variable speed limit signs on US 2 at Steven Pass and on I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass to alert drivers to slow down during icy, snowy and congested driving conditions. Similar signs installed on European urban roadways incresed safety and decrease congestion-related collisions by 30% or more.

Human-readable privacy policies are good for everyone

I can't believe how many privacy policies are cut from the same tattered cloth and are written by corporate lawyers who are not concerned with people actually understanding them or in actually communicating the information that someone might be looking for in a privacy policy (CYA mode only).  I came across one that gets to the meat of the matters that should be important to anyone using an online service:
  • Who owns my data in your system?
"At, what’s yours is yours. Period. This Privacy Policy describes what little information we do collect from you (the “User”) as part of our web service (the “Service”), and how that information may be used and/or disclosed."
  • What are you going to collect and what are you going to do with it?
"Very little.  In fact, practically nothing.   You do not need to provide us with any personal information to set up free Drops. .... Although we know very little about you -- Drops are not totally anonymous.  When you visit our Service, some information is automatically collected, such as your computer’s operating system and browser type, version, and capabilities.  We also will track your Internet Protocol (IP) address and the time and date of your visit."
Now that is USEFUL information about data privacy that is understandable and I can get behind! privacy policy

The typical corporate privacy policy is typified by:
  • No information on the specific _service data_ that is being collected
  • No information on how the specific _service data_ is being protected
  • No information on how to view or correct or expunge information stored about you.
  • No details on the exact list of information collected about you.
  • Generic platitudes about SSL as the panacea for site security
  • Mostly irrelevant discussions of client-side cookies that are too generic or marketing-specific and not website or service-specific
  • Generic information about marketing data collection and emails
  • Only information about _website_, not software or service security (data is not contextualized; but the lawyers are happy because they have a checkmark in the box next to "Write Privacy Policy")
  • Focus too much on opt-out for marketing.
No wonder people don't care enough about their privacy.  They aren't able to understand what companies are doing with their data.

To be fair, the companies writing the policies (if they are big enough) probably don't really understand very well what is being collected or used so they are forced to write generic policies.  It's hard work to actually catalog and enforce customer data tracking and most companies don't think they need to do this, and customers enable they by not demanding this level of accountability.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fire caused by sunlight

Wow.  Was just recalling how a mirror on the passenger seat of my grandparents' car burned a hole in the dashboard on a sunny day when I was a kid.  Was a reminder to not leave mirrors attached inside the vehicle (even though having one to watch our little cutie would be handy)

Sunlight, Water, Bowl Likely Cause Of Bellevue Fire - Seattle News Story - KIRO Seattle
BELLEVUE, Wash. -- Investigators suspect sunlight was the cause of a fire that destroyed a deck and kitchen in an east Bellevue home on Sunday, said Lt. Eric Keenan of the City of Bellevue.

A glass bowl partially filled with water elevated on a wire rack in a sunny area of the home’s deck provided the right conditions to focus the sunlight and start a fire, Keenan said.

The fire occurred shortly before 3 p.m. Sunday in the 17100 block of Northeast Fifth Street.

The homeowners were away from the house when neighbors noticed flames and smoke.

Bellevue firefighters were able to extinguish the fire without injuries, and the family dog was rescued, but damage to the home is estimated at about $215,000.