SAST 05

A few quickies for you today.

I’m betting that most of you have already seen the fuss over Juicero, but for those who missed it, the short version is that the company sells a variety of juices in bags–and a $400 machine (marked down from $700) to squeeze the juice out of the bags.

The controversy is not over “Why?” That’s quite clear: because there are enough people willing to shell out the money to buy the squeezer and the juice packets (at $5 to $8 a pop–though one hopes they don’t pop easily).

The controversy is over the fact that Juicero’s investors feel they’ve been defrauded because customers don’t need to use the squeezer to get the juice out of the bags. According to Bloomberg, hand-squeezing the bags produces almost as much juice as the squeezer, and does it faster.

Apparently, neither the investors nor Bloomberg have heard of a device called “the scissors,” which could be used to empty the bag even more quickly.

Let’s note, by the way, that the bagged juice is a perishable product, enough so that the bags can’t be shipped long distances.

My advice? Go to your local hardware store and buy a hammer. Stop at the local grocery store on the way home and pick up a box of zipper-seal baggies and a couple of pieces of your favorite fruit.

Place the fruit in a baggie and zip it closed. Pound the fruit with the hammer repeatedly. Unzip and pour.

When you finish your juice–which cost you considerably less than $400 unless you got the hammer on a military procurement contract–repeat the process, substituting Juicero’s executives and investors for the fruit.

Mmm, yummy!

Moving on.

There’s a letter to the editor in today’s SF Chronicle from one Lorraine Peters addressing the United Airlines fiasco. Ms. Peters suggests that United should have handled the matter differently. Instead of using force, she says, they should have made a loudspeaker announcement: “Attention all passengers, this flight cannot take off until the gentleman in seat (so and so) vacates it and disembarks with the other three passengers.”

I presume Ms. Peters is an investor in United Airlines.

Let’s not forget that the “gentleman in seat (so and so)” paid for that seat in the expectation that United would supply the service he paid for. Placing the blame on him when United failed to meet their obligation is disingenuous at best.

Allow me to propose an alternate loudspeaker announcement. “Attention all passengers. We fucked up and didn’t get a flight crew to the right place at the right time. The only way we can think of to fix our mistake is to kick four of you off this flight. So we’re going to sit right here at the terminal until four generous souls agree to disrupt their travel plans for the benefit of the rest of you. Complimentary drinks and meals will not be served while we wait.”

It wouldn’t have done any better by United’s reputation, but at least it has the virtue of being honest.

Moving on again.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (that’s the San Francisco Bay Area, for those of you in the outer provinces) has announced a regional plan to combat climate change.

Among the proposals included in the plan are such sure-to-be-popular items as “Explore vehicle tolls in high-congestion areas to discourage driving,” “Discourage installation of water-heating systems and appliances powered by fossil fuels,” “Encourage the removal of off-street parking in transit-oriented areas,” and (my personal favorite) “Start a public outreach campaign to promote climate-friendly diets.”

That first one’s interesting. I see some potential pitfalls in implementing it, of course. It’s taken months to get the local metering lights to work reliably; adding an automated payment system on top of that seems fraught with peril. Imagine the fuss the first time someone gets charged a four-figure fee to get on the freeway. More to the point, though, we had major congestion on the freeway yesterday outside of commute hours because of an accident. The metering lights at several on-ramps detected the slowdown and kicked in. If the payment plan had been in effect, would we have been charged to use the freeway while the police were examining the car that went off the road?

That last item, by the way, translates as “encourage people to eat less meat,” because meat production creates more pollution than growing and shipping plants. Maybe they should also tax “add-on” gadgets such as Juicero bag squeezers, since building and shipping them creates unnecessary pollutants. But I digress.

Needless to say, not everyone thinks the agency’s plan is a good one. According to the Chron story, the opposition–they quote a Chevron employee–is suggesting that local action is pointless because climate change is a global problem and needs a global solution.

Let’s not examine that logical fallacy too closely. Let’s just rejoice in the fact that a Chevron employee actually admitted that climate change is real and related to human activity.

Old News

According to an article in today’s Chron, a Stanford study found the portrayal of climate change in California middle school science textbooks “dishonest”.

I’m not going to link the Chron story; it’s a bit short for my taste. I prefer the story on the Stanford News site. Or, if you’re curious, the actual paper discussing the study is available for free.

The short version of the study is that the science textbooks currently in use in California present climate change as something that “may” be happening and that it “might” be “partially” caused by humans. In other words, the texts are taking the Republican anti-science line.

Bluntly, there is no scientific debate about the reality of climate change or its cause. There’s a political debate, but actual scientists are as united in their agreement about climate change as they are about the theory of evolution, the safety of vaccination, and, to be quite blunt, the existence of gravity.

My initial assumption was that this is another case of Texas setting the national standards for textbooks*. It turns out, however, that there’s more to it than that.

* We’ve covered the subject before, but it bears repetition. Texas is a huge part of the textbook market, so publishers often have to slant coverage of certain subjects to be acceptable in Texas.

Part of the problem is that the textbooks are almost a decade old. California, it seems, only updates its list of approved science textbooks every ten years.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Given the amount of time it takes to write a textbook, get it through the publication process, and then approved by school boards, it’s likely–and I’ll admit I don’t have any hard data on this–that the information in the books is three to five years out of date by the time a book makes it onto the “approved” list. By the time a school district actually replaces a textbook, it could be fifteen or twenty years behind current science. Anyone want to put a bet on the proportion of middle school astronomy textbooks that still list Pluto as a planet, nine years after it was demoted?

So yeah, if you care about the quality of science education in schools, have a chat with your local school board and make sure they know you disapprove of “teaching the controversy” in any field where the only controversy is political (see that list in Paragraph Four for starters).

And while you’re talking to them, find out how old the books they’re using now are. If you don’t like the answer you get–personally, I’d be upset at hearing anything more than five years–urge them to update. Schools are, in most states, free to add “supplemental” materials that provide newer and more accurate information, even if they haven’t been formally added to the state-wide approved lists.