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Carsten Führmann
781 followers -
Such a big playground, so little time.
Such a big playground, so little time.

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A nice article in the German newspaper FAZ about metrics (like child mortality) that got ever better throughout the last century. Based in findings by the late Swedish scientist Hans Rosling.

The only strange part it that it doesn't mention Steven Pinker's work.
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Lello book store, Porto

So here we are, +Frau M and I, on vacation in Portugal, beginning with a three-day stay in the city of Porto, which gave the country it's name.

Among many attractions, the city sports the Lello book store, widely believed to be among the most beautiful books stores in the world. And it lives up to that reputation.

Opened in 1906, it is highly reputed by and connected with famous Portuguese writers. It has a neo-gothic facade, and an art deco interior with a spectacular wooden staircase and a colored ceiling window.

A lady from the neighborhood told us that in the Nineties the store almost had to close because of declining business. But then things changed. In particular, J.K.Rowling allegedly mentioned that she came up with ideas for the first Harry Potter books in Lellos, and that it's staircase was an inspiration for Hogwarts. Since then, word got around, and now the bookstore is so popular you can't just get in. You first need to get a four-Euro voucher which you can use to buy books there. The store was forced to introduce that scheme to protect itself against tourists who only want to look around.

Fortunately, this didn't impact the quality of the store. Theirs staff are friendly and excellent. One of them explained to us how Portuguese literature ticks, and went into deep discussions of one particular author.

So yeah, it's definitely worth checking out Porto for a number of reasons, and Lello is one of them.
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04.04.18
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Farewell, love

My wife +Frau M took this picture of our lovely cat Mokka last night. Today, we followed the vet's advice and had her put to sleep forever. She hadn't been able to eat for days, and yesterday a pancreatic tumor was diagnosed.

Mokka must have felt quite sick and been in pain. But that didn't keep her from seeking and giving affection until her last hour. Until one or two weeks ago, she was quite active. I thought we'd have her around for several more years. I'm quite angry at the universe right now.

We got Mokka and her pal Smolle from the animals shelter in the autumn of 2012. Both cats had been handed in together under shady circumstances, and back then their age had been estimated to five years. (Smolle is still in perfect health.)

It is amazing how much personality such a small animal can have. In the beginning, I could hardly tell our two new black cats apart. About two years later, I could virtually read my cats' thoughts, and they could read mine.
Mokka had some very distinctive habits:

- When I returned home, she was frantic with joy and always jumped on that particular table where I could best pet her.

- She had lots of nuanced sounds, but she did not meow. Instead, she did some elaborate curring; sometimes demanding, sometimes asking, sometimes just expressing satisfaction. And she had a special sound for when she saw birds, something like "eh-eh-eh-eh". And she purred like a champion.

- She loved sitting on my wife's lap or on mine, and the greatest thing for her was having a laptop put on top of her. She really loved to prop up that laptop.

- She loved to sit on our file server - a floor heating specifically designed for cats (see foto).

- We didn't let our cats outside (the traffic is too dangerous), but we let them into the big staircase of the three-family house in which we lived. She loved to inspect every corner, having cobwebs hanging in her face when she returned to the flat. And she loved to visit our neighbours, who in turn enjoyed her visits.

- She was smaller than our tomcat Smolle, and occasionally he chased here. But she jumped and climbed better than the chubby male. Sooner or later she would find an elevated position where she had "airspace sovereignty" and could strike down on him.

We won't forget her anytime soon. I may never forget her beautiful, inquiring eyes searching my face, and I will miss that joyful greeting when I come home.

Farewell, darling.
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Tabarnia I've long privately pondered the logical problem of separatism: What if a separation makes a part of the separating unit want to separate from the separators? To my unspeakable delight, some coastal Catalonians had the same idea and put it into action. Initially a joke, it seems on the verge of turning serious. Whatever side one takes in the Catalonian question - I think it's great that this theoretical discussion has started. Of course, this also applies to the Brexit.
Tabarnia - Wikipedia
Tabarnia - Wikipedia
en.m.wikipedia.org
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"Pretend it's 1994". I'm not nostalgic or a technology denier, but I still like what's written on the blackboard of this Irish pub in Nuremberg. (Very nice pub, by the way.) It's also cute in its futility, since most phones have data flatrates these days.
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I'm following up on my previous post about declining insect population. +John Baez​ has written this way more elaborate post about the situation. (And made me look like the lethargic dabbler that I am :)
Where have all the insects gone?

In Germany, it seems the population of insects has dropped about 75% over the last decade. This is bound to affect birds and other animals higher up the food chain.. and indeed, bird populations have been dropping too.

The cause is unclear, though places for birds to live have been going away, and the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, known to kill insects, has been rising over this time.

Here's the news:

...a new set of long-term data is coming to light, this time from a dedicated group of mostly amateur entomologists who have tracked insect abundance at more than 100 nature reserves in western Europe since the 1980s.

Over that time the group, the Krefeld Entomological Society, has seen the yearly insect catches fluctuate, as expected. But in 2013 they spotted something alarming. When they returned to one of their earliest trapping sites from 1989, the total mass of their catch had fallen by nearly 80%. Perhaps it was a particularly bad year, they thought, so they set up the traps again in 2014. The numbers were just as low. Through more direct comparisons, the group—which had preserved thousands of samples over 3 decades—found dramatic declines across more than a dozen other sites.

One can hope it's some sort of mistake. But it seems these folks are being careful:

The members monitored each site only once every few years, but they set up identical insect traps in the same place each time to ensure clean comparisons. Because commercially available traps vary in ways that affect the catch, the group makes their own. Named for the Swedish entomologist René Malaise, who developed the basic design in the 1930s, each trap resembles a floating tent. Black mesh fabric forms the base, topped by a tent of white fabric and, at the summit, a collection container—a plastic jar with an opening into another jar of alcohol. Insects trapped in the fabric fly up to the jar, where the vapors gradually inebriate them and they fall into the alcohol. The traps collect mainly species that fly a meter or so above the ground. For people who worry that the traps themselves might deplete insect populations, Sorg notes that each trap catches just a few grams per day—equivalent to the daily diet of a shrew.

Sorg says society members saved all the samples because even in the 1980s they recognized that each represented a snapshot of potentially intriguing insect populations. "We found it fascinating—despite the fact that in 1982 the term ‘biodiversity' barely existed," he says. Many samples have not yet been sorted and cataloged—a painstaking labor of love done with tweezers and a microscope. Nor have the group's full findings been published. But some of the data are emerging piecemeal in talks by society members and at a hearing at the German Bundestag, the national parliament, and they are unsettling.

Beyond the striking drop in overall insect biomass, the data point to losses in overlooked groups for which almost no one has kept records. In the Krefeld data, hover flies—important pollinators often mistaken for bees—show a particularly steep decline. In 1989, the group's traps in one reserve collected 17,291 hover flies from 143 species. In 2014, at the same locations, they found only 2737 individuals from 104 species.

The picture here shows a hover fly.

Since their initial findings in 2013, the group has installed more traps each year. Working with researchers at several universities, society members are looking for correlations with weather, changes in vegetation, and other factors. No simple cause has yet emerged. Even in reserves where plant diversity and abundance have improved, Sorg says, "the insect numbers still plunged."

This consistent with other trends. For example, bird populations have been dropping in Europe. In 2014, a study published in Ecology Letters revealed that most common species (the top 1/4) had dropped in population by 92% since 1980.

We are in the midst of a mass extinction event. A mass extinction event is a bottleneck. The species that make it through will make up our future. So, it's a time when small changes can make a big difference.

Bird and insect populations can bounce back quickly if we let them... unless their species has gone extinct. So: help these species in your back yard. Help stop the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Help support nature reserves. Help stop development that destroys wild or semi-wild land.

The quote is from this article by Gretchen Vogel:

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/05/where-have-all-insects-gone

The photo is by Jef Meul for National Geographic. Here's the paper on bird populations in Europe:

https://www.seo.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/ecology-letters.pdf

An overview of the 6th mass extinction:

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/

#savetheplanet
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An interesting German article about the extermination of insects and what an ordinary person can do about it. / Ein interessanter Artikel zum Insektensterben, und was man als Privatmensch dagegen tun kann. (via +Frau M)
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Sunday morning. The other three mammals in my flat
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I may not be the greatest fan of the Catholic Church, but this is awesome.
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