Dear John: Farming and technology in the near future.

Popular Culture, Science FictionMarch 29, 20170

I wrote this story a couple of years ago and have been trying to find a home for it ever since. As the issue of proprietary software’s relationship to agricultural technology is back in the news, I figure it’s time to stop shopping this short science fiction story around and put it in front of a real audience. For some real-world background reading, see:


DEAR JOHN.

It started with the tractor. Or, rather, it stopped with the tractor. John Willis climbed down from the cabin of his dead machine and removed the cowling. Everything looked fine. The diesel engine shined, its green accents still brilliant.

After years trading his skill with a wrench and a soldering iron for access to his neighbors’ equipment, he finally owned a tractor of his own. The latest model, too. Not ostentatious, but with just enough comforts to make up for the last ten years. The tractor was new, bought debt-free through the Farm Act and a decade of careful planning and backbreaking labor. Expensive, but built to last.

Except it didn’t last. For the third time in an hour, the engine seized, the wheels locked, the console went dead. Willis sighed. He had acres to till and he wasn’t in the mood to spend a day stripping the engine, hunting for some tiny defect. He could send it to the service yard, but he couldn’t afford to wait for an authorized repair. The quote alone would set him back a week.

He couldn’t afford another late planting. Not this year.

He started the tractor. It roared back to life, the engine purred but the console beeped and flashed with panic, a thousand different alarms. The manual, a massive, multi-gigabyte document, was sitting on his work computer, back in the barn. For whatever reason, he couldn’t get it to download to his field tablet. He put the tractor in gear and continued down the field.

Fifteen minutes later, the tractor was dead again.

Well, he thought to himself, at least there’s a rhythm to it. He limped down the rows in quarter-hour bursts.

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Building the future with open hardware. Monday Morning Salvage: March 27, 2017

Monday Morning SalvageMarch 26, 20170

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

I spent the last week at the annual Gathering for Open Science Hardware in Santiago, Chile exploring the future of science and the open-source movement with one of the most impressive hardware developers, hackers, makers, and artists in the world. It’s my travel day, so this will necessarily be a short one.

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Thursday Afternoon Dredging: March 23, 2017

Thursday Afternoon DredgingMarch 23, 20170

Cuttings (short and sweet):

Logo by Ethan Kocak

  • Watch thousands of blacktip and spinner sharks close to Florida beaches, courtesy FAU Elasmolab.

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Scientists deploy satellite tags on rarely studied sawsharks for the first time

marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharks0

An Australian research expedition has successfully deployed three satellite telemetry tags on sawsharks for the first time! These rarely-seen sharks have a toothy rostrum similar to a sawfish, but are true sharks while sawfish are rays. Sawshark rostrums also have sensory barbels, unlike the rostrums of sawfish. “This is actually a good example of convergent evolution where two distantly related species have adaptations that have converged to be very similar in looks and (purportedly) function,”said professor Jane Williamson, the head of the Marine Ecology Group at Macquarie University and the leader of this expedition. “Sawsharks probably use their rostrum in a similar manner to sawfish: as a tool for sensing and capturing prey, and possibly for self-defense.”

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“When we left the beach…” Monday Morning Salvage: March 20, 2017

Monday Morning SalvageMarch 20, 20170


Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

  • The poetry of Derek Walcott.

Walcott, from the Trinidad Guardian.

  • Nobel laureate, poet, and perhaps the finest English-language writer of any generation, died this weekend. His poetry, particularly the epic poem Omeros, which draws upon the themes of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to tell the story of colonization, imperialism, slavery, and humanity’;s relationship to the sea over more than 8000 lines.
  • If you’re new to the poetry of Derek Walcott, The Sea is History is a great place to start and the New York Times published a short selection of his poetry: The Pages of the Sea.

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Monday Morning Salvage: March 13, 2017

Monday Morning SalvageMarch 13, 20170

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

  • This Great White Shark, who definitely just poo-ed all over some unsuspecting SCUBA divers.

Jetsam (what we’re enjoying from around the web) (more…)

Please don’t ride sharks, and other great tips from the new guide to responsible shark diving

Conservation, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksMarch 12, 20170

Shark wildlife tourism* is a growing marine industry with big implications for shark conservation. While there are many competing definitions, generally shark wildlife tourism refers to SCUBA dive operators who offer trips that guarantee that you’ll see sharks, often through the use of bait or chum to attract sharks to the divers. This has become a contentious issue in marine science and conservation circles. That’s why last week’s news that  WWF, Project AWARE, and the Manta Trust released the first-ever guide to responsible shark and ray tourism best practices is so welcome. This thorough and well-researched guide guide is designed for dive operators who want to minimize their potential harm to sharks and rays while maximizing the potential conservation benefits of shark wildlife tourism.

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The call of the Chthulucene ?

Climate change, Fantasy, Science FictionMarch 9, 20171

We are currently in the Holocene epoch, and many of us have heard about calls to name the current era (from the industrial revolution) the Anthropocene (which dates back to at least the industrial revolution, if not before): a period when  humans change the essential nature of the planet through their activities (primarily via the production of greenhouse gases).

But what comes after the Anthropocene? Some sort of Mad Max style wasteland perhaps?

Donna Haraway (2015) proposed that there will be a new epoch, the “Chthulucene” where refugees from environmental disaster (both human and non-human) will come together .

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Thursday Afternoon Dredging: March 9th, 2017

Thursday Afternoon Dredging0

Cuttings (short and sweet):

Logo by Ethan Kocak

(more…)

Help an ocean student catch a break!

#OceanOptimismMarch 6, 20170

The Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), located at the very tip of Louisiana’s boot, is a special place. The only marine lab in Louisiana, LUMCON serves public universities and supports marine science for the entire state. I had the pleasure of visiting LUMCON late last year to lead an underwater robotics workshop for local high school students. It’s also currently lead by Dr. Craig McClain, commander of the good ship Deep Sea News.

The legendary Dr. M is currently fundraising for LUMCON’s summer programs, introducing K-12 students to marine science, supporting college course, and providing ongoing education programming.

LUMCON educators and scientists provide quality education at the university, K-12, and public levels; teaching marketable skills while increasing societal awareness of the environmental, economic, and cultural values of Louisiana’s coastal and marine environments.

We work hard to ensure our education programs are as affordable as possible. Indeed, our course tuitions are among the lowest in the nation. However, student tuition is still a barrier for low income students. Our Executive Director, Craig McClain, was one of these students. Had it not been for a scholarship provided by a generous donor, he wouldn’t have been able to participate in the LUMCON summer courses that would launch his career.

You can break those barriers by supporting a student with a donation to our Scholarship Fund.  Donate by April 15th to ensure a student can engage with marine science in the Summer of 2017.

Head over to the LUMCON Donation Page and help support students!

Help a student catch a break!

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