Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hadley December temperature anomaly

Hadley says...that December's 2008 temperature anomaly was +0.308°C

(Q: why does Hadley report temperature anomalies to 3-significant digits but NASA GISS only to two?)

So, for the 3rd month in a row, surface temperatures are warmer than the previous year's -- and for five out of six of past months. But overall Hadley has 2008 cooler than 2007, +0.327°C to +0.399°C, and 2008 as the coolest year since 2000.

Meanwhile, as RealClimate wrote today, the world's continue to melt. And this decade's temperatures are far ahead of last decade's. How exactly do you want to slice this data?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike

I was sad to see that John Updike died yesterday. I had my Updike period, when I was living on Long Island, going to graduate school at Stony Brook. I had to take a semester off for a back surgery, and one of the first books I read during my recovery was a large edition of Updike stories, 600 or so pages, a thick paperback with a red cover. It's still around here somewhere. It appealed to me because I thought that was how adults were supposed to live, that I would be leaving graduate school in two years or so and and taking a train to the City like so many of Updike's characters, carrying a briefcase and an umbrella, and coming home and drinking a slow bourbon or two and feeling generally...absolutely, fucking lost.

I don't remember its title, but the story I remember the most is about this guy who ventured around his upper-middle-class neighborhood swimming through all the pools in all the backyards, one after the other. That is what adventure had come to mean to him. That was scary.

I think you can only get Updike it you once lived somewhere within 40-80 miles of NYC and at least a few times took a train there, from Connecticut or Long Island or New Jersey. That was the life of his characters, on the train, waiting for the train, waiting to be picked up from the train, in their London Fog jacket (yes, I have one), the trees bare and the scene cold, or maybe the trees hot and breezy, but no one ever all that happy, every man looking to bang every wife who pulled up in front of every train station to pick up her husband, but of course it was all just fantasy.

I think John Updike always wanted to be Robert Frost, but knew he could never pull it off. I don't know who Robert Frost wanted to be.

Obama (week 1), and Iran

Barack Obama has been about as impressive as is humanly possibly in his first week, and (as I somewhat fear) he seems ready to take on all possible problems at once. Including climate change (not so much on health care yet, though).

It's impressive that he gave his first TV interview to a station representing Muslims. This is clearly a guy with a very big brain above his shoulders.

Iran is sort of the weird cousin in the Middle East, so maybe Obama's letter will do a little good. But from everything I can tell, their problem with us is that we're over there in the first place, especially with large troop numbers in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden has said so.

And why are we there? Oil. We invaded Iraq for it and we're establishing multiple permanent bases in Iraq for it and it's no wonder they resent our presence, any more than we would if the Chinese or Afghanis started to build camps in northern Montana or positioned ships in the Gulf of Mexico.

I don't see Obama's letters or interviews addressing any of that. I don't seem him as power-craven as Cheney/Bush, but he still has a lot of pressure behind him from the American business community.

And it's going to take more than a TV interview and a letter to undo that. And I can't blame anyone in the Middle East for thinking the same thing.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Blogging vs Journalism, and Kevin Drum

As you know, I have previously expressed doubts about the usefulness of blogging and its inadequacy in replacing real journalism -- which more and more, as traditional newspapers expire, people think blogging is supposed to do.

Here's a perfect example of what I'm talking about:

Kevin Drum, writes, as's main blogger:
Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In the Water

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE TO GO BACK IN THE WATER....She's b-a-a-a-a-ck! And she wants you to know that she's not just a smarmy, pathetically ignorant right-wing attack dog whose 15 minutes expired three months ago. In fact:

Gov. Sarah Palin believes all Americans must work together for the future, regardless of their party affiliation. Gov. Palin is the official chair of SarahPac, and its supporters are Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and those unaffiliated with any political party.

Roger that. I'm sure there are just loads of Democrats who are signing up to support Sarah. I can't wait to see the list.

Kevin can't wait to see the list.

But, as a "blogger," he apparently will just sit back and wait until this list is delivered to him.

If it is, maybe he'll dare to comment on it. If not, he'll surely ignore his curiousity and move on to the next subject -- cats or something, whatever he falls across at 8:57 in the morning, Pacific Time when he's on the line.

But don't count on anything.

It never seems to occur to Drum that he himself might be the one to contact the Palin camp and actually ask the question, who are the Democrats supporting Palin?

It's a good question -- I want to know too. So why can't Kevin make a phone call or two -- or six -- to Alaska and find out? Is Mother Jones not paying his phone expenses? Are phone calls to Alaska really that expensive anyway? (No, they're not.)

So what's keeping Kevin Drum from this very small investigation, from a couple of cheap phone calls? Simply the cojones to dare to ask?

It's laziness. It's complacency. It's the blogger mentality.

Bloggers think someone else needs to do the research, and they're just a typing monkey who repeats what they read, with maybe clever thought added (and maybe not).

Oh, and ten times the readership.

This is exactly why blogging will never replace journalism -- and why it's a crime that any blogger gets paid more than a few $K/yr to spout their opinion -- it's based on nothing.

Do you people want facts, or just guesses? Do you want commenters afraid to make a simple phone call to a governor's office, or do you want people who will give you an answer or two?

Honestly, I can' tell.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Random Science

Some interesting things I have come across:
  • Apple juice might help prevent Alzehemier's Disese -- at leat in mince. Drinking apple juice helped mice perform better than normal in maze trials, and prevented the decline in performance that was otherwise observed as these mice aged.
  • Tree death rates have more than doubled over the last few decades in old-growth forests of the western United States, most probably because of global warming. The death rate is now about one tree/acre/yr.
  • About nine in 10 Americans heard the rumor that Barack Obama is a Muslim, making it possibly the most prevalent rumor of the 2008 presidential campaign, according to a nationwide survey. However, only 22 percent of those surveyed said they actually believed that Obama is a Muslim. (Still far too large, in my opinion.)
  • lasers might someday be as small as a speck of dust.
  • MRSA has been found in swine and swine workers in the US midwest.

Radio Interview Today

I'm going to be on the Lars Larson Show (KXL 750 am Portland) today at 12:30 pm PST. You can listen online here.

UPDATE: Due to an apparent bad cell phone connection, my interview didn't last longer than about 15 seconds. Alas.

Global Warming Polls Dead Last

This Pew Research Center poll isn't very encouraging: concerns about climate change come in dead last in a list of 20 choices. Jobs and other belly-filling activities come first. We humans are just not evolved to consider slow, century-long problems, even if they might be the end of us.

I try to be an optimist but reality keeps getting in the way.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Faking the Inaugural Music

I didn't have a chance to watch the presidential inaugural live, as I was driving into Portland for an appointment that morning. But I heard the Yo-Yo Ma/Itzhak Perlman instrumental, called "Air and Simple Gifts," on the radio and it was quite moving. Later my mother, who was in town and who watched it live, called it the highlight of the ceremony.

And now we learn that it was faked. Recorded beforehand. The musicians were just playing along for show.

In this NY Times article they have a dozen reasons why that was OK. It was too cold. Strings might have broken. It was windy.

God forbid actual nature should be any part of the ceremony, that it should alter the perfect plan.
Mr. Perlman said the recording, which was made on Sunday at the Marine Barracks in Washington, was used as a last resort. “It would have been a disaster if we had done it any other way,” he said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “This occasion’s got to be perfect. You can’t have any slip-ups.” The musicians wore earpieces to hear the playback.
In fact, the occasion did not have to be perfect. Nothing ever is. Obama's recitation of the constitutional oath wasn't perfect, and he did a do-over, and so what -- it adds to the charm and memory of the situation. Had their performance been affected by the weather, history would have noted their brave attempts to do their best in trying circumstances. Had their performance overcome the weather, they would be heroes.

Now, they just look a little like cretins.

Like my note yesterday about the inaugural field trip for some California teenagers, let's try and drop the notion that life is supposed to be perfect. It was never intended to be so, and it never will be, no matter how hard anyone tries. In the cracks between perfection, we find our great moments and our weak moments, and, most of all, the real moments. They are clunky and smelly and awkward and funny, but they are genuine. Is that what this is all supposed to be about?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


So some parents of some California teens paid for them to go to the Inauguration in DC, and -- imagine this -- the trip didn't work out as planned.

Missed buses, missed events, missed sleep -- you surely know the scene.

Except that these parents are now threatening to sue.

Really. As if life is some kind of guaranteed amusement park ride, where you put your kid on and, sometime later, she comes out having been scared and amused by all the promised spooks, and none but them too much. Like this is how life works out.

I predict that, 20 years from now, these kids will look back on their trip fondly, hardly remembering the cold or that they missed most of the Inauguration and most of its events, but instead recall that they sneaked a pee behind the bushes next to the Justice Department, that the delectible, brown-haired beauty of the ninth-grade Jennifer Doherty, drolls in her sleep (though her breasts still looked magnificant), and that they got extra fries at the McDonalds in Chantilly, Virginia at 2:30 in the morning.

Chill, parents. This is life.

The Superstitions

A dozen years or so when I was living in Arizona, my girlfriend and I were hiking into the Superstition Mountains outside Phoenix, with packs on, to spend the night down in a gulch somewhere, just to get out under the stars, something I don't do enough of anymore.

We had been hiking a few miles and we can to a fork in the trail and stopped to take a drink of water, and then out of the shadow of a big cactus this guy on a big horse appeared. He was drekked out in full cowboy regalia, and his horse was big and strong and beautiful, in full splendor, like that Robert Redford movie with Jane Fonda. He had on all the requisite equipment, and looked like he had been on the trail since Mexico or somewhere, or maybe for his whole, entire life.

He looked down at us with his mustache and squinted eyes and ever so slightly tipped his hat, and we looked up at him and nodded hi, not a word exchanged, and then he and his horse wondered off down the trail like this was 1865. Sharon and I looked at each other, shook our heads and smiled, and then moved on to look for a campsite. Even still it seems like a dream, but I swear it happened.

Monday, January 19, 2009


"I'm burning gas until I feel alright."

-- Eagles of Death Metal, Wannabe in L.A.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Electrical Industry Research

"The electrical industry famously spends as much on research as the dog food industry."

-- Lisa Margonelli, "A Green Stimulus For the People," The Nation, Jan 12/19, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Worldwide Energy Consumption

Worldwide energy consumption is about 500 Quadrillion BTUs. (A quadrillion is 1015.) I was trying to figure out what that means, and it turns out to be the kinetic energy of the Earth if it were moving about 1 cm/sec. I find that impressive, I think. Hey, it's a big planet.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Oregonian Op-Ed

I have an op-ed in today's Oregonian: "Climate Change: The Last, Final Problem."

Basically, it argues that climate change is, long-term, essentially an insolvable problem. The proposals being advocated today -- take less car trips, car pooling, mass transit, making your home energy efficient (if you can) -- are far, far too little, and far too late.

The drastic and overwhelming changes we need to address the global warming problem as so enormous that we cannot afford to delude ourselves into thinking that a few small lifestyle changes will solve the problem. They won't. We literally need to completely remake our lives -- and that has never happened in the history of mankind, and there's absolutely no evidence that it will happen today, or anytime in the future.

It's not a pleasant situation, and I don't know the answer. Geoengineering is probably the best answer, with all its uncertainities and unintended consequences. The long-term physics are simply against us. We should have have listened to scientists like Wallace Broeckner three decades ago. We did not. We can't even get it together today, and there's no evidence we will get it together tomorrow.

Obama and Climate Change and Financial Reality

I found this on Benny Peiser's CCNet list: 
Don't expect the American government of president-elect Barack Obama to spend a fortune combatting climate change, an economist said Saturday at Guelph's annual environmental symposium. "The U.S. government's broke," University of Guelph economic professor Ross McKitrick told an audience of almost 150 attendees at Rozanski Hall. "Don't look for any costly action in the next few years," said McKitrick, a skeptic of man-made global warming.
--Vik Kirsch, Guelph Mercury, 12 January 2009
Unfortunately, I think this is true. I've never seen an incoming administration with so many expectations on it, going in -- a symptom, I think, of how horrendous the Bush administration has been for this country. Obama is expected to solve the financial crisis, the health care problem, the climate change problem, the social security problem, the Middle East problem, rebuilt American's image in the world, etc. It's simply impossible. And the climate change problem, because it's still seen as something 25-75 yrs in the future, will probably be one of the first issues sacrificed.

Just Some Stuff

A few interesting things I've come across:
  • Yale University has put some of their basic courses online, if you miss your freshman days.
  • Joost is going to broadcast the Presidential Inauguration live, if you aren't near a TV that day.
  • James Hansen was chosen by his peers to receive the 2009 Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the American Meteorological Society.
  • NASA GISS says Dec 2008 was +0.45°C above the long-term average
  • Hansen has a new note out on 2008 temperatures, saying about what you'd expect it to say: 2008 was warm, not quite as warm as some of the past few years, but pretty warn if you compare it to a couple of decades ago.

Monday, January 12, 2009

UAH Dec temperature anomaly

UAH's temperature anomaly for Dec 2008 is +0.18°C, essentially the same as RSS's.

Thus, the last two month's worth of satellite data is warmer than the previous year's. Year-by-year, though, it's the coldest satellite year since 2000.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Flying Cars

The Times of London has an article about a new flying car, really, a car that converts into an airplane. It sounds impressive, but I think it really shows that flying cars aren't practicable, and aren't ever going to be practicable.

This flying car -- the Terrafugia Transition -- cruises at 115 mph, and stalls at 51 mph. It requires 1700 ft to take off.

How is that ever going to replace the car? Bernoulli's Principle just doesn't all it in any realistic sense. It's not like Inara Serra just punches the controls and her shuttle climbs out of its port and back towards Serenity.

I'd love to have a flying car, believe me. I just don't see it happening.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Best Television Ever

The best three minutes in the history of television: The Bodeans on Letterman, 1987:

Arlington National Cemetary

Last night I was reading about the Arlington National Cemetery.

Near the end of the Civil War, the Union was running out of room for new burials in plots in Washington DC and Alexandria.

So, looking to expand, they took over Robert E Lee's farm in Arlington for additional room, putting graves literally in his front yard. Lee was busy fighting (and losing) in central Virginia.

So some of the north's most hallowed ground was really established as a thumb in the face to R.E. Lee and his wife.

It was a very brutal war.

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."

– Zen saying

Light Bulb

"Either this kid has a light bulb up his butt, or his colon has a great idea."

-- Scrubs

RSS Temp Anomaly

RSS is first out of the blocks with their December temperature anomaly: +0.174°C.

That's warmer than last November. but otherwise the coldest month in 6 months.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Mote for Oregon's Climate Change Research Institute

Oregon State University just made a great choice for director of its newly established Oregon Climate Change Research Institute: Philip Mote, the current Washington State climatologist.

Mote is well-known here in the Pacific Northwest and an impressive scientist, especially on issues of climate impacts in the Pacific Northwest on snowpacks, etc. I've heard him talk a couple of times and he's always impressive, and very science-based.

Along with OSU's Jane Lubchenko being appointed head of NOAA, Oregon science is looking pretty good these days.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Time to Start Walking

From Robert Lee Hotz's Jan 2 column in the Wall Street Journal, "The Warming Earth Blows Hot, Dry, and Chaotic":

Alaska's low-lying ice fields are disappearing at two to three times the rate of a decade ago, according to aerial surveys by researchers at the University of Alaska. Since 2000, Greenland alone has lost 355.4 square miles of ice -- an area 10 times the size of Manhattan -- Ohio State University researchers reported. Using data from two NASA satellites, they determined that Greenland's 32 largest glaciers lost three times as much ice last year as the year before.

"I wouldn't run for the hills," says glacier analyst Eric Rignot at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "But it might be time to start walking."

More on the Oregon Mileage Tax

The LA Times has an article today on the proposed Oregon mileage tax, and tomorrow's radio program "Think Out Loud" on Oregon Public Radio is covering the topic (9:00 am PST).

Regardless of what any state official says, this system clearly has the ability to track where you're at. One of the functional requirements listed in the program's Final Report (p. 14) is
Zone differentiation and mileage counting. An on-vehicle device must have an ability to collect and differentiate miles driven within pre-established geographic zones, and provide mileage information to motorists.
Obviously this requires positional tracking, though at what frequency I'm still not sure.

Also, let's dismiss with the notion that the state will not be able to access this detailed data. The ODOT official in charge said:
In more than one interview with the Democrat-Herald and others, James Whitty, the ODOT official in charge of the project, tried to assure the public that tracking people’s travels was not in the plans....

“The concept requires no transmission of vehicle travel locations, either in real time or of travel history,” the report said. “Accordingly, no travel location points are stored within the vehicle or transmitted elsewhere. Thus there can be no ‘tracking’ of vehicle movements.”
As anyone who has ever written even a small computer program knows, you will always be able to access the most intimate data in any system so that you can debug it and troubleshoot it when necessary. Sure, there might not be nice, neat administration screens in ODOT headquarters where this data can be readily called up, but all that means is that you go to the administrator running the system, he/she logs in as a superuser, and has access to everything. At worst, you call up the programmer who built it all, and of course he knows all the ways in. Anyone who has ever dealt with a computer system of any extent whatsoever knows this -- to deny otherwise is kind of insulting.

Also, the costs look high. From p. 31 of the Final Report, the prototypes cost $662 per unit. Yes, the costs of a final program would be less, but the state does not quote a price, saying only that GPS units will likely fall below $100/chip in a few years.

So clearly this is going to cost car owners at least a couple of hundred of dollars per car, just for installation.

Station costs seem over $400/station.

The Final Report estimates (p. 32) the state's operation cost at $1.6M/yr, or less than 3% of the total mileage fee collected at the pump.

Alarmingly, "vehicle-to-pump associations" -- how often the pump recognized your car when you pulled into a service station -- was only about 80% at the trial's end (Final Report, p. 36). A 20% failure rate is huge.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The CO2 of Your Offspring

Americans emit on average about 23 metric tonnes of CO2e per year per person.

So, over an average lifetime, one American will emit roughly 2000 mt.

However, having a child changes everything. According to a new paper in Global Environmental Change,
Under current conditions in the United States, for example, each child adds about 9441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female, which is 5.7 times her lifetime emissions. A person’s reproductive choices must be considered along with his day-to-day activities when assessing his ultimate impact on the global environment.
This is interesting but not, of course, a reason not to have children (though I'm sure some skeptic will twist it in that way.) Humans aren't going to solve global warming by deciding not to have children. Sure, we could use less reproduction, but obviously we can't do without it and the solution we're looking for involves technological change and not living in mud huts without children. But it's something to think about.