Thursday, July 31, 2008

Moon Landing

The July 20, 1969 anniversary of our landing on the Moon came and went with nary a mention by the media -- or anyone else as far as I can tell. I guess it's old news, compared to John McCain's use of Britney Spears in his racist ads complaining that Barack Obama is too popular. A little sad.

Phobos

On July 23rd, the ESA's Mars Express took an amazing photograph of Mars' moon Phobos:



Here the spacecraft is only 100 km from the center of the moon. (Phobos is only about 25 km in diameter.)

The resolution of this photograph is about 3.7 m/pixel.

--

The Russian Phobos-Grunt mission, to be launched next year, plans to land on Phobos and return a soil sample to Earth.

Mars is getting to be a very crowded place.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

NEJM Image Challenge


Sometimes it's scary how many things can go wrong with the human organism -- and I suspect any nondoctor probably doesn't even know the half of it. On the other hand, there is something I find morbidly fascinating by pictures of pathologies, too. The New England Journal of Medicine has a weekly feature called Image Challenge, which is worth perusing if this is also your guilty fascination.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Oobleck

I have played around with corn starch and water, but this is one of the weirdest natural phenomena I have ever seen. I'm not sure I will believe it until I try it for myself....



Via: Dark Roasted Blend

David Evans on GHGs

David Evans, a former carbon accountant, wrote a recent op-ed in The Australian that got some attention, "No smoking hot spot" (July 18th). Tim Lambert thoroughly critiques it here.

The first thing Evans wrote was
1. The greenhouse signature is missing. We have been looking and measuring for years, and cannot find it.
I thought this was one of the primary signatures of anthropogenic global warming...



IPCC 4th Assessment Report, WG1, Ch 9, FAQ 9.2, Fig 1, p. 703
(bottom three graphs)
http://tinyurl.com/27ocvp

so I asked him about it. He replied that he thought the climate models just got "lucky."
Comparing a model to observations doesn't prove the model works. It's encouraging to the model builders, but it's not proof. For instance, the model could just be lucky. (And I'm a model builder!)
I don't know how else you could prove a model works, but anyway. He went on:
The GCM models omit cloud complexities. They simply assume relative humidity is constant (observations in the last few decades shows in fact it drops steadily as the temp went up), so as temp rises there are more high clouds....

Also, the GCM models totally omit solar magnetic effects [ie. Svensmark]

Given their omissions, my guess is that the GCMs got "lucky" to get the Fig 9.2 results. For instance, I can make a model of plant growth predict global temperatures if you wish (obviously absurd), with sufficient tuning and funding :)
--

DeSmog blog notes that Evans has never published a single peer-reviewed paper in climate science, and that he earlier claimed "I am not a climate modeler." He has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.

Mangos

Since moving to Oregon I have fallen for the mango. I guess they're sold back east as well, but I never tried on until I moved here. Now I can't get enough of them...except that peeling them and eating them is always a big mess. This guy shows how to do it right:



Fans

Why are fan switches usually configured

LOW - MED - HIGH - OFF

and not the more logical

OFF - LOW - MED - HIGH

I'm just wondering. It seems silly to have to go through higher speeds to turn it off.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Plastic Bag Totalitarianism

Are people willing to make even small sacrifices for the sake of the environment? Some are. Some, not so much. Because, you know, it's all just a big plot to take control of their lives:

Mayor-elect Sam Adams accurately states, of The Great Paper/Plastic/Cloth Use Debate: "It's a simple behavioral change that we have to ingrain in ourselves."

And in a free society we do, indeed, ingrain behavioral changes in ourselves, freely, as we, individually, perceive the necessity to do so.

In a totalitarian society, however, behavioral changes are ingrained in the citizens by the government, for ends perceived by the state to be beneficial, or, in this case, by some Little Caesar in City Hall.

-- LOUIS SARGENT Northwest Portland, letter to the editor, Oregonian, 7/28/08

Sometimes I think people forget what real totalitarianism looks like.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

DailyKos on Dire Predictions

DailyKos gives Mann and Kump's Dire Predictions a nice review.

By the way, you can browse the book here.


Largest Wind Farm

Oregon is planning to build the largest wind farm in the world, 303 turbines that will produce 909 MW -- double the current wind capacity in the state. It will be on the northern side of the state near the Columbia River, out past the Dalles -- Gilliam and Morrow counties.

Oregon's total electricity consumption in 2006 was 6100 MW, or about 1640 W/person. (Per capita = 14,400 kW-hr/yr.) So this wind power would represent a decent chunk of that.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Paying for Roads

Gas taxes pay only a small fraction of the cost of roads, at least in Texas. And that's according to the Texas highway department. The rest comes from general revenue.

Here in Portland, every time the state or city decides to spend a few thousand dollars on improvements for bikes, the righty car owners whine and complain that bikes aren't paying their fair share of the roadway. It looks like, in fact, they aren't either -- or rather, that we all are.


Not Your Rain

In Washington state, at least, the rain that falls on your roof isn't yours. It belongs to the state and is considered public water. The state looks the other way for people who collect a few hundred gallons a year for their own use, but now some people want to collect more and they're on unsure legal ground.

Water is a big deal in the west, even in Seattle.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Quote


"...one must conclude that no mistake is too dumb for someone, somewhere to make if they think they can spin it into supporting their anti-science agenda. For them complexity is something to be abused rather than a challenge to be understood, underlining quite clearly (again) the difference between science and propaganda."

-- Gavin Schmidt, Realclimate.org, July 12, 2008

Poll on Plastic

A (nonscientific) Internet poll on whether plastic bags should be banned is running on the Oregonian's site today. Results at the moment:
BAN: 273 votes (48%)
No BAN : 292 votes (52%)

NH

Things I miss about New Hampshire: summer rain storms. Summers are pretty much perfect here in Portland (well, July-Sept) -- not too hot, zero rain, no wind -- but a little too perfect.

Banning Plastic Bags

Los Angeles recently banned plastic bags, effective July 2010. (Shoppers will have to either bring their own bags or pay 25 cents for a paper or biodegradable bag.) San Francisco banned them in 2007, and Seattle is probably going to ban them soon. (China is banning them too -- 3 billion a day.) Portland looks likely to as well.

A city commissioner here, Sam Adams (to become mayor in Jan 2009) is proposing banning them (he floated the idea several months ago), which I think is a good idea. I used to oppose it, for no better reason than that I use those bags for cat litter, but a month ago I bought a clothe sack from Safeway for $0.99 and I have to admit I love it. It's bigger and sturdier, plus you feel you're doing a little good for this crappy world. You just have to get in the habit of taking it with you when you plan to go to the store.

Adams wants to charge 5 to 20 cents per bag if you don't have a reusable sack and use a plastic or paper bag from the grocery. I hope it's 20 cents -- 5 cents isn't enough incentive.
Only 52 percent of the paper and 5 percent of plastic grocery bags given out in the United States are recycled, said Stephanie Barger, executive director of the Earth Resources Foundation in Costa Mesa, Calif.
I don't know what I'll do with cat poop once my (humongous) supply of plastic bags is gone. Probably have to buy other plastic bags just for that purpose. That defeats the purpose of the ban somewhat, but at least the bags won't end up in the oceans.

--

It takes 16 cc of oil to produce one plastic bag; 430,000 gallons to produce a hundred million of them. About 5 trillion plastic bags are used annually, requiring 500 million barrels a year, about 2% of all oil use.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

SLAC No More

In another sign that the world is going to hell, Stanford University is making the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC) change their name because it has the word "Stanford" in it. It's all about intellectual rights to the acronym SLAC and the word "Stanford," and pretty silly it seems to me, because each is a first-class place and you'd think either would be very happy to be associated with the other. But what do I know about the workings of the modern world?

A few years ago my old graduate school officemate Tobias took me and another grad school friend Joe on a tour of SLAC, where he was working at the time. It was a Sunday in the summer and the place was deserted. We got to poke all around and if you ever get the chance to do that in an accelerator (or anywhere, really), be sure to take advantage of it.

Dire Predictions


Got a copy of Mann and Kump's Dire Predictions yesterday, and spent the evening reading most of it. It's done in an interesting way--not your typical prose book, but an "illustrated guide" with lots of graphs and colorful pictures on glossy paper. And it's structured so that you can pretty much pick it up and look anywhere within and find something interesting to read. You can learn something no matter at what level you already understand climate change, but it would be especially suited for people who are not scientifically-oriented but want a nontrivial introduction to the topic -- below a Scientific American level. Or for kids -- I would have eaten this book up when I was in 7th or 8th grade.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Installed Solar Capacity

Source: Earth Policy Institute.

Parting Advice


"Make yourself useful and beware of easy women."

-- parting advice of the father of Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of the planet Pluto

Cohen on Tattoos

Richard Cohen, columnist at the Washington Post, doesn't like tattoos. But he thought he should at least try to understand them, so he went and talked to. . . a college professor.

Do you really need to say any more about the pundit class?


Monday, July 21, 2008

US Oil Production

Here's an interesting chart from ASPO-USA, showing US domestic oil production, historically and forecast into the future assuming we drill in ANWR and offshore and in your Aunt Molly's backyard:



(Click to enlarge.)

This is the best case scenario if the US, as currently configured, were to try and be oil independent.
"The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that drilling in ANWR would only reduce the price of gasoline by less than four pennies per gallon—20 years from now!"
-- ASPO-USA Media Guide
The LA Times has a front-page piece on Peak Oil today, but it doesn't really say anything new -- maybe we're there, maybe not, probably screwed in any case.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mann and Kump

Michael Mann has a book coming out with Lee Kump (and also from Penn State University):


I know some people I hope read it.

On Blogginheads.tv

Two guys at blogginheads.tv found my "rant" interesting enough to talk about for seven minutes. I don't think they really got my point.

First of all, I don't live in the southwest (but in Oregon) and I don't cover the southwestern water beat (I generalize among the physical and environmental sciences).

Anyway, I agree that there are some valuable blog posts out there, covering things that would otherwise be ignored by the MSM. I just don't see them coming from fishbowl blogs like Matthew Yglesias or Andrew Sullivan or Instapundit or anyone who feels compelled to post 35 times a day. They're so worried about the next post and bringing traffic to their sites that they hardly focus on their current post.

These posts too often lack depth, and they go into my brain and immediately bounce back out like a light beam off a mirror. It's like spending all day watching Good Morning America -- sure, once in a while they point to an interesting thing or two, but overall it's a big waste of time.

If, as Frank Lloyd Wright said, television is chewing gum for the eyes, then the blogosphere is increasingly chewing gum for the brain. Which is too bad.

With nothing learned or enjoyed, it's just a waste of time, and they're all little wastes of time but they add up to minutes and hours. They could easily add up to your whole day if you let it--you know exactly what I mean. Is this what 21st century life is going to be -- pinging back and forth between blogs, gossiping about every belch that comes out of John McCain's sixth-in-line advisor, checking the headlines 8 times a day, dissembling what Chris Matthews said this morning or enraged at something stupid Jonah Goldberg wrote on The Corner? This isn't healthy, physically or intellectually, or individuals or for society. Is this really how I should spend my latest half-hour, or should I read a paper from Science, polish the latest draft of a manuscript, or take a walk along the Williamette?

The world has never been more complicated and we've never needed to understand so many issues in so much depth. This medium is the answer. And yet more and more of the Web, and especially the blogosphere, seems to take us away from that depth and offers us tidbit for the microsecond. Yes, there are always a few good posts out there amidst the billions, some by smart and thoughtful writers with unique talents, many by educated specialists who want to share their work and their field, things that might even change the patina of your day. I'm going to focus on what I can learn there, and stop caring what Matthew Yglesias thinks of OpenLeft's latest quip about Instapundit's "heh" placed after today's 16-word anecdote disproving anthropogenic global warming.

No longer a Consensus?

A small subsection of the American Physical Society newsletter published a newsletter that presented a debate on scientific case behind global warming, and it was bound to be taken out of context, so shallow, sharp, and ideological is the current debate about global warming.

Steve Milloy at JunkScience.com does the task here. His minions propagate it forward.

But put the report in context:
  • The newsletter is calling for a review and debate, and is hardly a declaration. And in any case, it comes only from the editors of Physics & Society, which is only one newsletter among many at the APS and comes from only one forum of the APS and not the APS itself. I've been following the physics community for years, and until yesterday never even heard of this newsletter.
  • In fact, on its front-page today the APS says:
APS Climate Change Statement

APS Position Remains Unchanged

The American Physical Society reaffirms the following position on climate change, adopted by its governing body, the APS Council, on November 18, 2007:

"Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth's climate."

An article at odds with this statement recently appeared in an online newsletter of the APS Forum on Physics and Society, one of 39 units of APS. The header of this newsletter carries the statement that "Opinions expressed are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the APS or of the Forum." This newsletter is not a journal of the APS and it is not peer reviewed.

  • If you actually read the newsletter, you'd see that in actuality what they're presenting are two papers, only one of which disagrees with the consensus. The other paper is in agreement with the consensus. So why focus on one or the other? Both papers are mathematical and unlikely to be understood by anyone without a science degree. Therefore people are going to pick the one that backs their ideology.
  • I think Monckton cherry-picks his data to show a cooling trend from 2002-2008. I plotted my NASA GISS data and did get a negative slope for the linear regression over this interval. However, if I choose, say, 1998-2008, I get a positive slope.
  • One 8-page paper by one scientist hardly undoes the work of hundreds of scientists putting together the evidence for AGW in a thousand-page report.
  • CO2 is still a greenhouse gas, still responsible for about 30% of our earth's natural greenhouse effect (33 deg C), and it's basic common sense that more of it in the atmosphere is going to cause higher temperatures.
Sigh. People never look at the details before they jump to conclusions, especially when the conclusion fits their pre-conceived notion.

Of course, that's exactly what Milloy is paid to do, let's not forget.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hadley June temperature

Hadley is out with their June 2008 global temperature anomaly: +0.316°C.

That's the coldest June since 2000, but the warmest month in three months. It's a little above what NASA GISS has been reporting.

Einstein on E = mc**2

Here's an recording of Einstein reciting his famous equation:



I wonder how much of his appeal to the media and public was that he sounded almost childlike. At least when he spoke in English. I wonder if it was the same when he spoke German.

Via: Dark Roasted Blend

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On My Rant

I was thinking more about my rant the other day against the blogosphere, which got a lot more attention than I ever expected. The Guardian asked if they could reprint it, and it should be there in a few days.

It's certainly not that I think Matthew Yglesias is vapid or unintelligent or Andrew Sullivan or any of them. They're obviously all very smart guys with things to say, though perhaps limited by the need to post 25 times a day.

I guess I am just disgusted with the superficiality in our society, which has now taken over much of the blogosphere, especially the political blogosphere, which seems to have rapidly sunk into that hole. Maybe you care if Obama's third-to-main advisor has a pastor who once had dinner with a former Black Panther who once quoted Nietzsche when he was a 19-year old sophomore wearing dredlocks -- maybe that's all campaigns revolve around now -- but if so it is an utter fucking waste and I have absolutely no interest in it and I mourn for the death of my country. Paying attention to it all gets me nowhere, and why else to tune in to Yglesias or Sullivan 5 times a day except to find out the latest gossip. Is that what the blogosphere is about now -- gossip? Maybe.

I just don't see that they have much original to say, and so why am I spending my time there and not reading great books by Robert Pirsig and Charles Dickens and Chellis Glendinning and Edward Abbey and Thomas Kuhn and Warren Siegel and Stanislaw Ulam and Updike and Rick Bass and John Irving and Henry Roth and people who are writing for the ages and not for the current 15 minutes?

Yes, there are gems in the blogosphere, issues not discussed anywhere else (and certainly not on cable TV or even mainstream newspapers). But they are farther and farther apart and I can't spend time trying to dig them out.

And Obama, who once seemed like he might be an answer for those ready to give up, is clearly not that at all, but just another one of them. A product of the system, spit out at the top.

Some responses to my rant said that blogging is a conversation, and maybe I'm just not a good conversationalist. I live too much in my head.

Anymore most blogs just feel like things that get in the way of me living my life, really living it, instead of sitting in front of the damn computer for 12 hours a day trying to stay abreast of it all. Fuck it. It's disturbing my life and, I suspect, the lives of lots of other people. All this crap is not life. Instead I'm going to go out for a walk or up to the library or meet a friend for lunch or go sleep in a tent up in the mountains for a few days and get rained on, and then I'm going to focus on what little I can understand and can write about and communicate, in a manner and depth that matters.

I gave up TV a year ago and maybe the blogosphere is next. Who knows, maybe I'm on my way to living off the grid in a small cabin in the Cascade Mountains, a heartbroken hermit, but I just hate wasting my time on gossip and trivialities and every stupid thing they try to divert you with.

There are so many huge issues in our society and it seems clear to me that we are on a precipice and our future really hangs in the balance. Our economy is taking, we are at Peak Oil, 1/6th of the fucking country has no serious access to the health care system except for pitiful clinics at Wal-Mart, we are clearly not going to even begin to address climate change, our youth are wasting their lives in the Middle East securing oil profits, politicians lie rampantly and the media are pussies and those with power are clearly bought and sold by international corporations. We spends hundreds of billions on war, enriching the oil companies and the defense companies, and can't even pay Medicare doctors the minimum of what they're worth. And... I don't know, Americans don't even seem to care. They just go to work and go out to eat afterward, and polls show them to be happier and happier. So why am I getting angrier and angrier?

Global sea level

Like global temperature, global mean sea level has been showing some signs of slacking of in the last year or two:


(Click graph to enlarge.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hansen quote

This isn't the Hansen paragraph I was thinking of yesterday, but it is equally good:
"A major fight is brewing – it may be called war. On the one side, we find the short-term financial interests of the fossil fuel industry. On the other side: young people and other beings who will inherit the planet. It seems to be an uneven fight. The fossil fuel industry is launching a disinformation campaign and they have powerful influence in capitals around the world. Young people seem pretty puny in comparison to industry moguls. Animals are not much help (don’t talk, don’t vote). The battle may start with local and regional skirmishes, one coal plant or other issue at a time, but it will need to build rapidly – we are running out of time."

-- James Hansen, Yankee Ticket Prices and Fossil Fuels, 10 April 2008

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Invading Power Plants

British protesters say that next month they're going to invade and occupy the first coal-fired power plant built in Britain in 33 years. The "day of mass action" is August 9 at the Kingsnorth power station in Kent (2,000 MW). Should be interesting, though I doubt the protesters will actually be able to get into the building with all the sure-to-be massive security.

But you have to salute them for trying. Climate change is clearly the most serious threat the future has ever faced, besides maybe worldwide nuclear war (and who worries about that anymore?), and it is now clear that the powers-that-be will take no action at all that would threaten the profits of the world's corporations -- or, if they do take any action, it will be so weak and timid as to hardly address the problem at all. It really is a sort of war, and what else can you do except sit back and take it? Protest. James Hansen has called for uprisings from the younger generation whose future is being threatened and perhaps ruined -- it will be interesting to see what he has to say about this.

Mario Savio said, during the Berkeley free speech protest in 1964:
There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!
I do think people have given the world's governments enough time to have taken a significant chunk out of this problem -- 20 years now -- and hardly nothing has been done whatsoever.

UPDATE: Here's a video clip of Savio's speech.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Update on the Riemann Hypothesis "proof"

Li's proof of the Riemann Hypothesis that got so much attention last week? It has been withdrawn.

Arctic Sea Ice

It's looking more and more like 2008 is not going to have an ice free Arctic or even set a record for a minimum in Arctic sea ice. Here's a day-by-day plot of 2008 sea-ice as a percentage of 2007's.


Data source: http://www.ijis.iarc.uaf.edu
(International Arctic Research, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency)

Climate Change Daily Deceit?

This is curious: The Web site Climate Debate Daily, which purports to offer a balanced presentation of the climate change debate, lists as a "Dissenting Voice" this Newsweek essay from Robert J. Samuelson titled "Don't Hold Your Breath: Global Warming Promises To Become A Large And Gushing Source Of National Hypocrisy." Climate Debate Daily links to the printable version, which looks like it came out this past January. Newsweek says it was updated on January 22, 2008. What the page curiously doesn't say is that this essay originally came out in 1997, and the Richard Kerr Science article it highlights, about the limitations of climate models, came out in May 1997.

I suspect the science of climate modeling has changed a little in the last 11 years.

Why is Climate Change Daily pointing towards 11-year old articles as evidence against global warming? I haven't been very impressed with this site since its inception last year -- I'm not sure I can ever trust it now.

Limitations of Biofuels

Some interesting facts from an op-ed in today's Oregonian on biofuels:

What about biofuels as a way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels? Biofuel production, especially corn ethanol, is energy intensive. Even if we used the entire U.S. corn crop of 12 billion bushels to make ethanol, the net contribution would amount to just over one-half of 1 percent of our fossil fuel energy consumption. And even that number is highly optimistic.

What about cost effectiveness? The cost of using the nation's entire corn crop for ethanol would be about $7.6 billion. By comparison, studies estimate that raising the gas tax or tightening fuel economy standards could achieve 10 times as much in fossil fuel reductions for the same cost.

-- William Jaeger and Thorsten Egelkraut, Oregon State University

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

June Temperature Anomaly

NASA GISS says the June global temperature anomaly was 0.26°C, which is relatively low. (The average monthly anomaly over the last 10 years is 0.49°C, with a standard deviation of 0.14°C.)

Here's a graph:

The blue line is the 5-year moving average.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Blogosphere

Over the last six months or so I have been getting very frustrated with the blogosphere, and I find myself reading less and less of it. There just isn't much meat out there. Amateur bloggers just seem to spread useless gossip. And what's especially bad, "professional bloggers" seem so intent on posting 20 times a day that all of their individual posts are basically useless, conveying nothing whatsoever.

For example, I think Andrew Sullivan, by becoming a blogger, has completely ruined his standing as a writer of serious political and gay analysis. Now he posts 40 times a a day, and includes so many insipid or inconsequential things and meaningless pieces of campaign gossip, and very, very little (i.e. none) of what he writes changes my life in any way whatsoever. I have stopped reading him.

Or consider Matthew Yglesias. Consider his July 7th blog entry: someone named "RoboticGhost "asks:
"I wondered if you heard anything about water concerns while you were out West. I don't suspect it'd be that big of a deal in lofty Aspen, but many parts of Colorado are caught in the fight for water resources. Its town against town against farmer against industry, with some armed conflicts thrown in for good measure."

I didn't hear anything about that when I was in Colorado, but I did hear a lot about water last year when I was in Southern California and New Mexico. I'm far from an expert in this, but normally when you see shortages you're looking at an effort to allocate a valuable resource by regulatory fiat (and therefore special interest political clout) rather than price. Thus, I was strongly predisposed to favor this proposal for tradeable water rights from Michael Greenstone at Brookings when I read it months ago and reading it again it still seems right.

Stop and consider this in detail: someone afraid to even use their real name asks for an analysis of an extremely complex situation, decades in development, merely because Yglesias spent a few days in the west -- and in airy Aspen, at that.

RoboticGhost doesn't ask any journalist in the southwest who covers the water beat 40 hours a week, or any of a half-dozen writers who have written detailed and thoughtful books about the west and its water, or a thousand administrators whose job it is to ensure as smooth a water flow in the sw as possible. He asks a casual traveler.

And this casual traveler, who has spent his entire life living in apartments on the eastern seaboard, actually thinks he has something valuable to say, because a year ago he spent a few days in a Best Western somewhere in the southwestern US.

With no evident local knowledge whatsoever -- even admitting as much -- Yglesias nevertheless offers a solution to this enormous, complex problem, a solution based purely on some political theory he read in a magazine somewhere last year and which has absolutely no naunced understanding of the complexity of the true situation on the group or its many years worth of layered complexity or what privatizing water supplies would mean for hundreds of thousands of southwestern ranchers or the million living there facing ever rising water bills.

Who is this brilliant detailed analysis supposed to convince? Anyone? Anyone whatsoever? Yglesias's blog post is so extremely brief and vapid, so without context or insight or passion or concern, that it's just a complete waste of everyone's fucking time. Yglesias is only writing it so he can get on to his next post, which will mean just as little as this one, and only written because his employer requires 20 posts/day of semi-intelligent prose that appears to intelligent but which conveys nothing at all.

Why am I wasting my time reading this? Nothing Yglesias wrote there matters to me in the least. Nothing about it teaches me even the slightest thing, offers the slightest insight, solves even the smallest problem. I would be far better off reading anything by John Fleck or Charles Bowden or Colin Fletcher or or even Edward Abbey. It's only designed to get him some hits and maybe an appearance on MSNBC some night, and then tomorrow it's off to stories he'll cover equally vapidly.

And anymore I'm finding the entire blogosphere like this. Even what I write. It takes weeks and months and years to understand situations, to write from anything like a position of expertise. You don't get it by quickly flying out to Aspen and back, or by reading an article from the Brookings Institute or from Harvard's 321 course on Environmental Philosophy. It takes blood, sweat, and tears, it takes going out and looking at rivers, pouring over government reports and spreadsheets, hiking to the tops of mountains for the big picture, calling 25 people a day -- precisely the thing the blogosphere does least of.

So I am wondering why I am reading it any more, or why I am even writing meaningless tidbits in this blog (and that's all they are). Or why anyone is reading. Is this seriously the future of this magnificent medium? It would be a full-time job to really blog about a few serious issues on a particular beat, and who can possibly attract 125,000 readers a day and support yourself doing that?

So more and more I am focusing on real writing, detailed reporting for magazines where you can do some real investigation and reporting and your audience isn't just people reading over their calzone at lunch. I don't want to end up some vapid blogger who tries to say everything and so who says nothing whatsoever. Life is too short. I'm really not sure what the solution is.


Cuts by 2050

NY Times:


Pledging to “move toward a low-carbon society,” leaders of the world’s richest nations endorsed Tuesday the idea of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050, but did not specify whether the starting point would be current levels or 1990 levels, and refused to set a short-term target for reducing the gases that scientists agree are warming the planet.
Is it possible for a civilization to commit suicide? We shall see.


War Photos

Zoriah Miller, a photographer embedded in Iraq, took pictures of the June 26th suicide bombing in Anbar Province. They are graphic, and include photographs of both dead Iraqis and dead American soldiers. They show what war is really like, which in America our government only allows us to see if its fictionalized and sanitized in a movie.


credit: Zoriah Miller, www.zoriah.com.

Naturally the military kicked Miller out of Iraq. But you should view his pictures to see what they don't want you to see.

Via Think Progress.




Sunday, July 06, 2008

Susskind Lectures

One of the greatest failures of the 20th century, along with the holocaust, the killing of about 100 million civilians in various world wars, and the commercial decline of Beech Nut gum, was the utterly unrealized potential of television. Here was a unique medium that could spread unprecedented amounts of information to people all around the planet, but instead of lectures and presentations and seminars and speeches, it became contaminated with Gilligan's Island, the Love Boat, and the Jenny Jones show.

(OK, maybe the Love Boat wasn't that bad, in a kitschy kind of way, except in large quantities.)

Lenny Susskind's lectures are the kind of thing that television should have been all along. Thank god for the Web. You can watch and almost feel that you're in the audience. An hour's investment gives you a definite return, unlike so much of television today. And it reminds you why you like learning in the first place. Check them out.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Proof of Riemann Hypothesis?

The last few days have been an exciting one in mathematics, as a claimed proof of the Riemann Hypothesis was posted on the arXiv.

The Riemann Hypothesis, now 149 years old, is probably the most famous unsolved problem in mathematics, since Fermat's Last Theorem has been proven. (Had the RH appeared on a roll of toilet paper or something, with a flippant remark or a curse word beside it, it might well have eclipsed FLT in fame.)

The author is Xian-Jin Li of Brigham Young University, a mathematician amidst a group of people who have been making a serious push to solve the RH for several years. Li posted his proof on Tuesday at 12:43 pm MDT. Peter Woit blogged about it yesterday, and yesterday evening at 7:28 pm MDT Terry Tao of UCLA claimed to have found a problem in the proof.

But a new version of the proof (v3) was posted by Li last night at 8:44 pm MDT, so perhaps the story is not yet finished.

Li's proof is not long and does not look overly complex (of course, I'm not an expert in analytic number theory) -- you'd almost think you could understand it. There are even some integrals, which I did not realize were still allowed in modern mathematics.

Yang said there are two kinds of mathematical papers, the kind you can't understand past the first page and the kind you can't understand past the first sentence. Wouldn't it be amazing if the proof of the RH was the former!

PS: There is no shortage of purported proofs of the RH....

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Health Care inflation

Wow: Oregon's largest health insurer, Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon, raised rates yesterday by 26% for individual insurance plans due for annual renewal and by 16% for small group plans (small businesses with less than 50 employees).

What a disincentive towards entrepreneuralism.

The whole system is literally breaking down before our very eyes. It is amazing to me how passive politicians (at all levels) are about this. My own state representatives to whom I've written could hardly seem to care less.



Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Free Talking Dictionary

Now this is truly wonderful: HowjSay, a (free) talking dictionary.

All of the pronunciation features of online dictionaries I've seen to-date have required purchase of a subscription.


Happiest Countries

The 20 "happiest" countries in the world, according to a recent World Values Survey:
  1. Denmark
  2. Puerto Rico
  3. Colombia
  4. Iceland
  5. N Ireland
  6. Ireland
  7. Switzerland
  8. Netherlands
  9. Canada
  10. Austria
  11. El Salvador
  12. Malta
  13. Luxemburg
  14. Sweden
  15. New Zealand
  16. U.S.A.
  17. Guatemala
  18. Mexico
  19. Norway
  20. Belgium
In possibly related news: A survey of 17 countries has found that despite its punitive drug policies the United States has the highest levels of illegal cocaine and cannabis use.

A Dinosaur in NYC

Very impressive:



Via Dark Roasted Blend.