Putting the life back in science fiction

What to do, what to do….
November 7, 2010, 4:30 pm
Filed under: livable future, Uncategorized

Wow, that took way too long, but I’m back.

I’ve got a simple problem, and I’m posting it here in the hopes of some new ideas.

Unfortunately, this isn’t science fiction. On the up side, it might have a tech solution.

While I was reading those environmental reports, another problem showed up. That problem came from a friend who is also an environmental consultant. He’d been called in to salvage a couple of rare plants (and I’ll get to the stupidity of that in a moment), because the environmental paperwork said that was all that was on the site of a small housing development. Actually, the site had about an acre of really rare stuff, including a couple of endangered species. However, the grading permit had already been issued, the paperwork had been signed, and he got to pick the two plants he was going to save (not including the endangered ones, as they officially didn’t exist). To top it off, the rare species he was salvaging doesn’t survive transplantation, so this was a pointless gesture, just killing them slowly instead of bulldozing them.

So here’s another way developers keep their costs down: hire someone to lie on the paperwork. These liars are called biostitutes or conslutants in the trade, incidentally.

My group is trying to figure out how to catch these creeps. To gather evidence, my thought was to post the environmental documents online, and to get volunteers to take pictures and GPS points to show where the pictures were taken. Then we can compare what they wrote with what is actually there.

It it turns out that a lot of developers are lying, I do know some people in the local bureaucracies who are going to get very, very angry. Whether they can do anything depends in part on who’s in power, but we’ll see.

But that’s the question: what can my (small, volunteer) group do using low cost technology? How do we gather and use information about this problem, without getting sued by a developer?

Matt and whoever else, spread the word: I’m trying to crowd-source solutions on this one, and I’m pretty sure we’re not alone with this issue.


4 Comments so far
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Does your group have the personnel to handle the photography and interpretation of the photographs (for visitors who may not know what part of the image shows an endangered species)? If so, great. If not, this is going to be hard to get off the ground because unlike most crowd-sourced efforts this requires people on the ground at specific geographic locations.

If you’re in the USA the bar for libel and slander is set very high and there’s no chance your effort would cross it. There is always the risk that someone will try a SLAPP suit just to annoy and intimidate you. The best defense against the latter risk is to be legally unservable. The best implementation of the latter defense is to register your domain name through a privacy protection service, run the actual site on an offshore privacy guarding host, and avoid using any of your volunteers’ real names or other identifying information on the web site.

The best in private, censorship-resistant hosting is probably PRQ in Sweden. For $15 a month you can get basic web and email hosting at modest traffic levels, and you can be sure they will tell any lawyers or snoops to go suck a lemon. This is the site that hosted the Pirate Bay and now hosts Wikileaks, for point of reference.

To build the site, once you have the domain name I suggest setting up a lightweight wiki, with edit access restricted to your volunteers. Many people already have experience with using wikis (or can quickly learn) and it’s an easy way to upload and annotate content even if it’s not as slick as a completely custom application would be. Some cameras like the iPhone’s have photo geotagging built in, so that GPS coordinates automatically go in the EXIF data of photographs. You could have one page per site, with tagged photos, the lying developer’s documents, and any commentary you want to offer. What you do after that depends on what audience you’re trying to reach — regulatory authorities, local volunteers, bloggers, traditional news media, or some combination thereof.

Comment by Matt

Thanks Matt!

I hadn’t considered going off-shore, but that makes perfect sense.

Interpreting the photos is less of a problem than getting the wiki up, but I think we could manage…

Comment by heteromeles

Document it and send it all to Rolling Stone, aren’t they the only investigative journalists left in the US? Haven’t seen it myself but I assume they are a moss science journal.

Can you get any professional botanists from a local university to have a look at the place? The few academics I have approached have always been enthusiastic about helping out. A nice title always helps.

Comment by Pat

Thanks Pat.

Actually, there are high-caliber professionals around who are interested, but I’m not sure whether any local academics would touch it.

The problem is money. The developers in question might not be able to get a professor fired (or they might), but scaling back donations to a school can have a chilling impact on the faculty, especially when they are getting hit by budget cuts already.

At the moment, I think everyone’s gotten cold feet on this project, mostly because the people who are the most expert (the botanists) have the most to lose (their jobs, funding, and/or future employability). The time isn’t right.


Feel free to borrow Matt’s idea and implement it elsewhere.

Comment by heteromeles

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