Disclosure: My work with the Wild Equity Institute

January 19, 2010

I’ve been helping a San Francisco nonprofit organization establish itself on Twitter, and in the spirit of full disclosure I want to explain my relationship with the group.

The nonprofit I’m working with is called the Wild Equity Institute. You can find WildEquity’s Twitter account at twitter.com/WildEquity. Wild Equity’s mission is to build “a healthy and sustainable global community for people and the plants and animals that accompany us on Earth.” Wild Equity Institute logo

My work with Wild Equity has been done completely pro bono. That is, I received no compensation for it and I have no economic relationship with WEI. I think Wild Equity deserves the opportunity to be on Twitter and part of the reason I chose to help the group is that I previously knew its executive director, but the fact that I helped it get started on Twitter shouldn’t be construed as a blanket endorsement of everything the Wild Equity Institute does.

If you would like to know more about my work with the Wild Equity Institute, or if you are connected with a nonprofit organization that would like to know more about how to get into Twitter without a big investment of funds and staff time, please call me at 415-685-3428.

Follow the Wild Equity Institute on Twitter.

Follow Tom Prete on Twitter.


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Can Critical Mass be saved?

December 22, 2009

San Francisco’s Critical Mass, the rolling gathering of bicyclists that has become a familiar enigma of the last Friday of every month, is in a fight for its soul.

Critical Mass riders fill the intersection of Market and Castro streets in 2005.

Critical Mass riders fill the intersection of Market and Castro streets in 2005. Photo by Flickr user Charles Haynes used under Creative Commons license.

Chris Carlsson, a thinking man’s bicycle activist who is a Critical Mass participant from way back, has a thought-provoking article on StreetsblogSF about what’s happened to San Francisco’s incarnation of this international form of transportation protest.

My own opinion of Critical Mass is no secret. I think it has long outlived its utility as a means of changing either private minds or public policy. It doesn’t even seem like very much fun anymore, with the promise of pointless confrontation with random motorists apparently the major attraction to some riders.

But Carlsson and his colleagues at the newish San Francisco Critical Mass web site aim to change all that, giving context to Critical Mass and offering advice on how to ride in it without being a big jerkface.

Cyclists will have a great chance to put these ideas into action in the Critical Mass ride this Friday, Dec. 25 — Christmas Day.

Read more about the efforts to revitalize Critical Mass on StreetsblogSF, and visit the San Francisco Critical Mass web site.

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‘Footloose’ on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach

December 21, 2009

San Francisco has a worldwide reputation as a wild, anything-goes town in which no form of debauchery or unbridled rumpus would be shocking. It is that, sometimes, but at other times the city has favored a prudish, conformist side that fastens its buttons a bit too tight. Would it surprise you to find that mere months before the Summer of Love, dozens of people trekked to City Hall to testify against allowing teenagers to dance at an Ocean Beach concert hall?

Poster advertising The Turtles in concert at Donovan's Reef, March 3 and 4, 1967.

Poster advertising The Turtles in concert at Donovan's Reef, March 3 and 4, 1967. Image from Rock Prosopography 101.

The Rock Prosopography 101 blog has a story of San Francisco when listening to music and dancing to it were two very different (and, in the view of some residents, dangerous) moral issues. Some of it, no doubt, will seem familiar to people concerned about the recent state crackdown on San Francisco nightclubs.

History is written by the winners, but sometimes the story of the losers can be more revealing. Most scholars of San Francisco rock music are at least generally aware of how the Fillmore battled with the City of San Francisco over various permits. San Francisco had a peculiar law left over from prohibition that required separate permits for presenting music and allowing dancing. In most cities, it was assumed that the right to present music implies the right for patrons to dance, but in San Francisco that was not the case. Apparently the original purpose was to discourage Speakeasies, but by the 1960s it had become a form of de facto bureaucratic control over San Francisco nightlife. …

It is informative to actually read the San Francisco Chronicle in 1967 and see how much pressure there was from younger people for the City to join the post-Prohibition era. One saga that received extensive play in the paper for months on end was an establishment called Donovan’s Reef, located at 2200 Great Highway (at Rivera), on the very Western edge of both San Francisco and North America. The venue had originally been called The Sea Breeze in the late 19th century, and then Roberts-At-The-Beach, after its proprietor, Shorty Roberts. It had not survived Prohibition very well, but had continued on as a sort of destination amusement palace and carnival. …

The Board Of Permit Appeals shot down every effort to allow a Dance Hall Permit for Donovan’s Reef. The club already had a Concert Permit, but patrons would be arrested if they danced. The strange tone of the article above, from the February 7, 1967 edition of the Chronicle, only makes sense if you understand that it is a sort of Ocean Beach replay of Footloose, arguing over the right to dance in public without police interference. After months of struggle, Donovan’s Reef had already opened, presenting rock bands but preventing patrons from dancing. Needless to say, it did not make for an ideal teenage experience.

Read the rest of the story at Rock Prosopography 101.

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I love Twitter, but I hate this book

December 15, 2009

I put off writing this review of “140 Characters” for far too long. The problem is, I love Twitter but I hate this book.

I think part of my problem with “140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form” is due to its subtitle. The truth is, it’s not much of a style guide.

‘140 Characters’ isn’t about how-to help

140 Characters: A style guide for the short form

140 Characters: A style guide for the short form

In the 12 years I worked in newspapers, I turned to the Associated Press Stylebook for advice on everything from the difference between Baptists and Lutherans to the correct way to note the caliber of pistol ammunition. I still keep the stylebook close at hand. But the AP Stylebook is a practical, no-nonsense guide to how to construct discrete elements of whatever it is you happen to be writing, regardless of whether it’s a serious analysis of international monetary systems or a column about a new cartoon show on TV. It spends little space trying to inspire writers to write, encouraging them to be creative or gushing about the joy of being a journalist. Even the AP’s Guide to News Writing is more “how to” than “how marvelous.” “140 Characters,” on the other hand, seems mostly concerned with convincing the reader of the unbearable wonderfulness of using Twitter.

I love Twitter. It’s interesting and informative — dare I say wonderful? — and I use it every day. I really wanted to like this book, but I don’t have any time for 179 pages of syrupy evangelism for Twitter. If “140 Characters” had been subtitled something such as “Find your voice on Twitter” and presented as an inspirational tome, the book might have been easier to swallow and might have been more clearly targeted toward the kind of people who go to writers’ groups to talk about how great it is to be a writer.

Read the rest of this entry »


My visit to San Francisco State University’s corpse flower

June 30, 2009

I took the kids to see San Francisco State University’s corpse flower — also know as a titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum — on Monday afternoon. It wasn’t fully open, but the fellow who cares for it said he thought it might be open by Wednesday morning.

If you go, you should keep in mind that the greenhouse is small, and crowded with plants. No more than six or eight people can get a good look at the flower (actually an inflorescence) at any one time. The aisles of the greenhouse don’t look wheelchair-accessible, but the corpse flower itself is near a door and it should be easy to get a wheelchair in the door and up close to the flower.

While we were there I took a look around SFSU’s greenhouse complex, which is pretty nifty. They have one room dedicated to California native plants, and even though it wasn’t open it was cool to see they had several varieties of manzanita to demonstrate adaptations to various water, soil and fire regimes.

Corpse flower, also known as titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum, at San Francisco State Universitys greenhouse, Monday, June 29, 2009.

Corpse flower, also known as titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum, at San Francisco State University's greenhouse, Monday, June 29, 2009.

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Wordle of Obama remarks on Iran

June 23, 2009

I made this wordle of President Barack Obama’s opening remarks on Iran at his June 23, 2009 press conference. This is based on the prepared remarks as provided by the White House, not on an actual transcript. It does not include Obama’s responses to any of the press questions about Iran.

Wordle: Obama_preparedtext_Iran_090623

Here is the text on which the wordle is based:

First, I’d like to say a few words about the situation in Iran. The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights, and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent, not coercion. That is what Iran’s own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government.

I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.

The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future. Some in the Iranian government are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others outside of Iran of instigating protests over the elections. These accusations are patently false and absurd. They are an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran’s borders. This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won’t work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States and the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they – and only they – will choose.

The Iranian people can speak for themselves. That is precisely what has happened these last few days. In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to the peaceful pursuit of justice. Despite the Iranian government’s efforts to expel journalists and isolate itself, powerful images and poignant words have made their way to us through cell phones and computers, and so we have watched what the Iranian people are doing.

This is what we have witnessed. We have seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands Iranians marching in silence. We have seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and their voices heard. Above all, we have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.

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Tips for the eco-friendly fisherman

June 8, 2009

June 8 is World Oceans Day, which means stories about local beach cleanups and how to choose the most environmentally sustainable fish at the restaurant or market. We’re also hearing a great deal about the perils excessive harvesting by the commercial fishing industry.

But what of the individual saltwater angler – the recreational fisherman (or woman) who fishes for relaxation, for a challenge, for a few tasty meals, or just for an excuse to get out of the house? How can these fishermen pursue their hobby in a way that will help ensure good catches in the future and sustainable fisheries for their grandchildren to enjoy?

Unfortunately, as a fairly regular – if not particularly skillful – fisherman, I know it’s not easy to know when I’m doing the right thing. I undertook a little online research for advice, recommendations and products. What I found was that there’s not enough good information out there. However, I’ve come up with some recommendations based not only on research, but also my own firsthand experience fishing San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean in Northern California.

I don’t want to point fingers or preach to anyone, but I do want to foster a forward-thinking mindset among my fellow fishermen by providing recommendations that will apply to most people in most places. If you have thoughts on what you read here, please leave a comment.

Please feel free to republish this post in part or in whole, as long as you credit me as the source.

The basics of eco-friendly fishing

The basic foundation of eco-friendly fishing is legal and ethical fishing. Follow this part of the recommendations, and you’ll be well on your way to being an eco-friendly fisherman.

  • Read up on all rules and regulations for the place you intend to fish and the kind of fish you intend to catch. Most of the time, these rules are aimed at ensuring the long-term health of fish populations, so be sure to follow the regulations.
  • Never kill a fish if you don’t intend to eat it.
  • Never deliberately fish for a species when you know the season is closed. Unintended catches are a fact of fishing (and one of the things that keeps it surprising and fun), but going after out-of-season species can put harmful stress on fish that need their energy for migration, spawning or protecting their young. It can also get you in trouble.
  • Respect marine protected areas and other areas closed to fishing. We may not always like it when a favored honey hole is put off-limits by new regulations. But one of the benefits of many closures is the creation of a “seed” population of fish that can produce young that will be available to catch in other locations.
  • Don’t hammer the same spots over and over again. In some situations, such as the sandy Pacific beaches of the United States, fish move quite a lot. A spot that was unproductive in the morning may be full of fish in the afternoon. But in other areas, such as rocky seamounts or rocky shoreline, slow-growing fish may spend their whole lives in a very small area. If you change up the spots you visit, you limit the possibility that you’re depleting the fish in a given location.
  • Pick up your mess. At many of the places I fish in the San Francisco Bay area and the nearby Pacific coast, litter is a significant problem. Cigarette packages, plastic bags, plastic bottles, bits of old line, rubber gloves, broken tackle – I’ve picked up loads of this stuff at some of my favorite spots, and it’s just depressing to find a meticulously cleaned spot littered again later. Don’t be one of Those Guys. Real fishermen clean up after themselves.

Catch-and-release tips

One of the most obvious ways to protect fish stocks is to release fish. But what’s the best way to ensure these fish survive?

  • Minimize touching fish with gloves, a cloth or even your hands if you intend to release them. Too much handling can remove the protective coat of slime from fish, leaving them vulnerable to disease. If you need to hold on to a fish to remove a hook, devices that grip the fish’s jaw are a better alternative.
  • Don’t take fish out of the water if you can avoid it. Fish are meant to be in the water, and any time spent on a dry shore, or the deck of a boat or pier, is stressful. Whenever possible, remove hooks while the fish is still in the water.
  • Use barbless hooks. I know, that little barb provides some reassurance that once you’ve hooked a fish it won’t come unbuttoned and get away. But in my own experience, I mash down the barbs of my hooks much of the time, and I find that the number of times a barb is the make-or-break factor in landing a fish is extremely small. And when I use circle hooks, I’ve never had a fish throw the hook even when there’s no barb. On the other hand, a barb may make it impossible to get a hook out without further injuring a fish.
  • Use circle hooks when fishing with bait. The point of a circle hook points toward the shank, an arrangement that would seem counterproductive. But in practice, circle hooks are easy to use and make it harder for fish to throw the hook. Best of all, circle hooks hook fish in the corner of the mouth nearly all the time, which means means less injury for the fish and makes it easy to reach and remove the hook.
  • Use knotless, rubber-coated landing nets. Rubber and rubber-coated nets are gentler on the fish’s slime coat. Some fish, such as halibut, are particularly susceptible to tail rot because their tails are easily split by the cord of traditional landing nets. Rubber, knotless landing nets reduce the possibility that the fish you release today will later die of disease.

Low-impact fishing tackle and other products

  • Use biodegradable line. Just this weekend, as I was picking a bird’s nest out of my casting reel, I thought about all the line I’ve unintentionally left behind when fishing. That line is slow to break down, and remains a hazard to birds and fish – and an annoying snag for other anglers. Makers of biodegradable lines claim that whereas regular monofilament can take 600 years to break down, their products disappear in about five years. As far as I can tell, these new lines still are available only in limited strengths and quantities, but they seem to provide an attractive alternative to leaving long-lasting line in the water after snags or break-offs.
  • Use non-lead sinkers. Standard gear for California salmon fishermen used to include big “cannonball” sinkers for trolling, which would be released to fall to the bottom when a fish was hooked. On the sea floor, these balls of lead might not do much harm. But closer to shore, fish and birds can ingest smaller sinkers. Many tackle manufacturers offer alternative sinkers that don’t use any lead at all. They’re a little more expensive, but I like them because they’re harder than lead and I think I can feel the bottom better with these sinkers. There’s at least one tackle manufacturer that takes the alternative sinker to an extreme, drilling holes in rocks. On California’s rocky shores, fishermen have long used small pouches filled with pebbles or sand as cheap sinkers in this tackle-grabbing environment. I’ve sometimes tied up a rock in a bit of cotton kitchen twine for a sinker in these areas, and it works quite well.
  • Use plain bronze hooks. Corrosion-resistant steel hooks have the advantage of lasting for season after season – or at least, being tolerant of not being rinsed off after being used in salt water. But a bronze hook that’s left in a fish that breaks off quickly corrodes away, leaving the fish free to feed naturally. I’ve looked for bronze circle hooks, but as far as I can tell these aren’t made.

Other products and practices for eco-friendly fishing

  • Use locally sourced bait when possible, and avoid non-native bait species. Live baits can carry parasites or diseases, or come packaged with materials such as seaweed that can harbor other organisms and unintentionally introduce them to your fishing environment. Locally sourced baits don’t have to be transported by air, truck or boat, and local fish already are used to feeding on them.
  • What about bait vs. lures? Some sources I found when researching eco-friendly fishing suggested that bait is better than lures because baits are biodegradable, whereas a lost lure means a chunk of metal or plastic left in the environment. That’s a good point, but I find that unless I’m using circle hooks, fish caught on bait too often swallow a hook deeply, meaning that it’s harder to land and release those fish without permanent harm. I’m not yet sure what I think about this question. However, one way of getting the best of both worlds is with biodegradable soft baits. They can’t replace Kastmasters, diamond bars and other metal lures, but the variety and quality of these products is impressive. And of course, one can always go old-school and carve plugs out of broom handles.

For more on journalism, politics, cities and the environment, follow Tom Prete on Twitter.

June 8 is World Oceans Day, which means stories about local beach cleanups and how to choose the most environmentally sustainable fish at the restaurant or market. We’re also hearing a great deal about the perils excessive harvesting by the commercial fishing industry.

But what of the individual saltwater angler – the recreational fisherman (or woman) who fishes for relaxation, for a challenge, for a few tasty meals, or just for an excuse to get out of the house? How can these fishermen pursue their hobby in a way that will help ensure good catches in the future and sustainable fisheries for their grandchildren to enjoy?

Unfortunately, as a fairly regular – if not particularly skillful – fisherman, I know it’s not easy to know when I’m doing the right thing. I undertook a little online research for advice, recommendations and products. What I found was that there’s not enough good information out there. However, I’ve come up with some recommendations based not only on research, but also my own firsthand experience fishing San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean in Northern California.

I don’t want to point fingers or preach to anyone, but I do want to foster a forward-thinking mindset among my fellow fishermen by providing recommendations that will apply to most people in most places. If you have thoughts on what you read here, please leave a comment.

Please feel free to republish this post in part or in whole, as long as you credit me as the source.

The basics

The basic foundation of eco-friendly fishing is legal and ethical fishing. Follow this part of the recommendations, and you’ll be well on your way to being an eco-friendly fisherman.

BEGIN LIST

Read up on all rules and regulations for the place you intend to fish and the kind of fish you intend to catch. Most of the time, these rules are aimed at ensuring the long-term health of fish populations, so be sure to follow the regulations.

Never kill a fish if you don’t intend to eat it.

Never deliberately fish for a species when you know the season is closed. Unintended catches are a fact of fishing (and one of the things that keeps it surprising and fun), but going after out-of-season species can put harmful stress on fish that need their energy for migration, spawning or protecting their young. It can also get you in trouble.

Respect marine protected areas and other areas closed to fishing. We may not always like it when a favored honey hole is put off-limits by new regulations. But one of the benefits of many closures is the creation of a “seed” population of fish that can produce young that will be available to catch in other locations.

Don’t hammer the same spots over and over again. In some situations, such as the sandy Pacific beaches of the United States, fish move quite a lot. A spot that was unproductive in the morning may be full of fish in the afternoon. But in other areas, such as rocky seamounts or rocky shoreline, slow-growing fish may spend their whole lives in a very small area. If you change up the spots you visit, you limit the possibility that you’re depleting the fish in a given location.

Pick up your mess. At many of the places I fish in the San Francisco Bay area and the nearby Pacific coast, litter is a significant problem. Cigarette packages, plastic bags, plastic bottles, bits of old line, rubber gloves, broken tackle – I’ve picked up loads of this stuff at some of my favorite spots, and it’s just depressing to find a meticulously cleaned spot littered again later. Don’t be one of Those Guys. Real fishermen clean up after themselves.

END LIST

Catch-and-release tips

One of the most obvious ways to protect fish stocks is to

BEGIN LIST

Minimize touching fish with gloves, cloths or even your hands if you intend to release them. Too much handling can remove the protective coat of slime from fish, leaving them vulnerable to disease. If you need to hold on to a fish to remove a hook, devices that grip the fish’s jaw are a better alternative.

Don’t take fish out of the water if you can avoid it. Fish are meant to be in the water, and any time spent on a dry shore, or the deck of a boat or pier, is stressful. Whenever possible, remove hooks while the fish is still in the water.

Use barbless hooks. I know, that little barb provides some reassurance that once you’ve hooked a fish it won’t come unbuttoned and get away. But in my own experience, I mash down the barbs of my hooks much of the time, and I find that the number of times a barb is the make-or-break factor in landing a fish is extremely small. And when I use circle hooks, I’ve never had a fish throw the hook even when there’s no barb. On the other hand, a barb may make it impossible to get a hook out without further injuring a fish.

Use circle hooks when fishing with bait. The point of a circle hook points toward the shank, an arrangement that would seem counterproductive. But in practice, circle hooks are easy to use and make it harder for fish to throw the hook. Best of all, circle hooks hook fish in the corner of the mouth nearly all the time, which means that it’s easy to reach and remove the hook.

Use knotless, rubber-coated landing nets. Rubber and rubber-coated nets are gentler on the fish’s slime coat. Some fish, such as halibut, are particularly susceptible to tail rot because their tails are easily split by the cord of traditional landing nets. Rubber, knotless landing nets reduce the possibility that the fish you release today will later die of disease.

END LIST

Low-impact tackle and other products

Use biodegradable line. Just this weekend, as I was picking a bird’s nest out of my casting reel, I thought about all the line I’ve unintentionally left behind when fishing. That line is slow to break down, and remains a hazard to birds and fish – and an annoying snag for other anglers. Makers of biodegradable lines claim that whereas regular monofilament can take 600 years to break down, their products disappear in about five years. As far as I can tell, these new lines still are available only in limited strengths and quantities, but they seem to provide an attractive alternative to leaving long-lasting line in the water after snags or break-offs.

Use non-lead sinkers. Standard gear for California salmon fishermen used to include big “cannonball” sinkers for trolling, which would be released to fall to the bottom when a fish was hooked. On the sea floor, these balls of lead might not do much harm. But closer to shore, fish and birds can ingest smaller sinkers. Many tackle manufacturers offer alternative sinkers that don’t use any lead at all. They’re a little more expensive, but I like them because they’re harder than lead and I think I can feel the bottom better with these sinkers. There’s at least one tackle manufacturer that takes the alternative sinker to an extreme, drilling holes in rocks. On California’s rocky shores, fishermen have long used small pouches filled with pebbles or sand as cheap sinkers in this tackle-grabbing environment. I’ve sometimes tied up a rock in a bit of cotton kitchen twine for a sinker in these areas, and it works quite well.

Use plain bronze hooks. Corrosion-resistant steel hooks have the advantage of lasting for season after season – or at least, being tolerant of not being rinsed off after being used in salt water. But a bronze hook that’s left in a fish that breaks off quickly corrodes away, leaving the fish free to feed naturally. I’ve looked for bronze circle hooks, but as far as I can tell these aren’t made.

other products and practices for eco-friendly fishing

BEGIN LIST

Use locally sourced bait when possible, and avoid non-native bait species. Live baits can carry parasites or diseases, or come packaged with materials such as seaweed that can harbor other organisms and unintentionally introduce them to your fishing environment. Locally sourced baits don’t have to be transported by air, truck or boat, and local fish already are used to feeding on them.

What about bait vs. lures? Some sources I found when researching eco-friendly fishing suggested that bait is better than lures because baits are biodegradable, whereas a lost lure means a chunk of metal or plastic left in the environment. That’s a good point, but I find that unless I’m using circle hooks, fish caught on bait too often swallow a hook deeply, meaning that it’s harder to land and release those fish without permanent harm. I’m not yet sure what I think about this question. However, one way of getting the best of both worlds is with biodegradable soft baits. They can’t replace Kastmasters, diamond bars and other metal lures, but the variety and quality of these products is impressive. And of course, one can always go old-school and carve plugs out of broom handles.

END LIST

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