Monday, June 29, 2009

Timothy Egan makes a very insightful point in the NY Times, about automated cameras and remote surveillance:

There is something cynical, and certainly calculating in a bottom-line way, about city governments that ask all of us to be more involved with one another, our garbage, our plot of dirt, our newly demolished, formerly blighted communities, and then turn a cold eye to us.

My city has just joined others in unleashing software-and-camera laden vehicles that will prowl the streets, taking pictures of license plates and tire position to catch those who dare try to get another 15 minutes out of a parking meter. This is City Hall without a face. Lovely Rita, Meter Maid – I miss you.

NASA Stays with Imperial Units

Somehow this seems to succinctly sum up everything that is lacking with the NASA space program over the last several decades: they've decided to engineer the replacement for the space shuttle (Project Constellation) using imperial measurement units rather than metric units.
"The Shuttle and US segments of the ISS were built using the English system of measurements," says NASA spokesman Grey Hautaluoma. "And much of the Ares launch vehicle and Kennedy Space Center ground systems are legacy hardware built in the English system, too."
It's too costly to join the rest of the world:
NASA recently calculated that converting the relevant drawings, software and documentation to the "International System" of units (SI) would cost a total of $370 million – almost half the cost of a 2009 shuttle launch, which costs a total of $759 million. "We found the cost of converting to SI would exceed what we can afford," says Hautaluoma.
That's even though there have been two spacecraft disasters due to a mix-up of metric and imperial units (the Mars Climate Orbiter Probe in 1999 and the DART spacecraft in 2006.

Can you imagine having to ever again calculate something in foot-pounds?

Krugman on Climate Change

You need to be sure to read Paul Krugman's column today.

Here's an excerpt:
Well, sometimes even the most authoritative analyses get things wrong. And if dissenting opinion-makers and politicians based their dissent on hard work and hard thinking — if they had carefully studied the issue, consulted with experts and concluded that the overwhelming scientific consensus was misguided — they could at least claim to be acting responsibly.

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


"How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean."

-- Arthur C. Clarke

Friday, June 26, 2009

What We Get With Cap and Trade

Andrew Sullivan presents a telling graph about the effect of the Waxman-Markey bill on the US GDP: hardly anything in the long run. And that's assuming a cost of $1100/family/yr, which it way too high[*see below]. And It also completely ignores the cost of global climate change.

But then he writes:
This does put things in perspective, but what are we getting for that 1% decrease? By Manzi's estimate: "If the law works precisely as intended, in about one hundred years we should expect surface temperatures to be a about one-tenth of one degree Celsius lower than they otherwise would be." Small benefit; trivial cost. And that's the problem.
Actually, we get much, much more with this bill. The largest benefit is that it signals to the world we (the US) are finally starting to do something (however modest) to address climate change, and so they are now expected to do it too -- China (especially), Japan, the EU (who are already doing something, though not enough), and future US Congresses. And then together, each of us doing our part, we can solve this problem.

That's the benefit. It gives us leverage. It creates a coattail for others to grab on to. It puts our peg in the ground, allowing us to say, "match that," and to future Congresses, "surpass that."

This parsing out of individual climate actions -- the "this action will only lower temperatures by 0.000007°C" type of thing skeptics are fond of -- is extremely silly, because it completely mischaracterizes the problem, which is, of course, a global one.

There's also some hypocrisy involved, as these numbers come from climate models and their calculations of climate sensitivity. Of course, skeptics deny the accuracy of such models -- except, it seems, when it gives them the result they can use.

[*] According to the CBO, the cost of this bill is $175/household/yr, far less than what Manzi reports. It would cost low-income households nothing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Taco Bell's Grand Army Plaza

How far is society sinking? New York City has just sold the naming rights to some subway stops to Barclay's bank. $4M.

Hopefully subway riders will ignore it and just call the stop ... whatever they are calling it now, some nexus of the subway stops at Atlantic Avenue, Pacific Street and Flatbush Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn.

American don't care that their heritage is being sold out from underneath them.
Straphangers at the Atlantic Avenue station like Nick Desio, 53, a Citigroup employee who commutes from Long Island, said names were beside the point. “They can call it anything they want, as long as my train’s on time,” he said.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Warmest May in Four Years

Last month was the warmest May since 2005, according to the Hadley Centre: +0.394°C above the long-term average for the global average.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The upcoming sci-fi movie District 9 has a very interesting Web site....

The movie premiers August 14th, I think.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Quantum Mechanic$

Technologies based on quantum mechanics are responsible for 30% of the US's GDP, according to an article in the latest issue of Science.

That's about $4 trillion. Trillion.

(By the way, the article is about how spectacularly successful quantum mechanics is in making quantitative predictions -- and how it is almost certainly conceptually wrong.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Portland's Greenhouse Gas Emissions

I am forever trying to give Portland (OR) the benefit of the doubt on their claims about climate change, but almost every time I start to read something they've written they seem dubious almost immediately.

Here's the latest example. In the Executive Summary of Portland's Climate Action Plan 2009, page 9, they give their greenhouse gas emissions and population:

Total Carbon Emissions (mt):
1990: 8,875,739
2007: 8,809,630

1990: 584,000
2007: 702,000

I'm sorry, but as soon as I see such numbers I know the author hasn't a clue what they're talking about and the report is probably meaningless.

You just cannot measure Portland's emissions to seven significant figures. You can't.

With the population numbers they at least show a reasonable uncertainty of about 1 part in a thousand. But not for the emissions numbers. Are they seriously trying to tell me that they know for sure that Portland's 1990 GHG emissions were 8,875,739 mt and not 8,875,738 mt or 8,875,740 mt?

Maybe you know they were 9 Mmt. Maybe even 8.8 Mmt. I can't reasonably grant you much more accuracy than that.

In other words, someone just ran some big computer program and write down what it spit out, without even bothering to think about what it means. It looks stupid. It eliminates their credibility. It's not something anyone who knows even the least bit about science or mathematics or engineering can take seriously.

Why do they do this? You would suppose the the City of Portland is hiring smart people with college degrees. Is this what they learned in college? Really?

I'm sorry, and maybe I'm just a snob, but I was educated that, when you make a mistake like this right up front, everything else you say is tainted.

"Stop Using Zicam"

This will hardly make you reassured in the oversight of things-sold-to-put-into-your-body:
Because Matrixx has called Zicam a homeopathic product, the company was not required to seek agency approval before selling it.
In other words, to avoid scientific scrutiny of your product, you need merely label it as made using a process with no scientific validity.

Lovely. In a just world, these people who lose their sense of smell ought to be able to sue Congress for passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, a truly atrocious piece of legislation.

One good note: Wikipedia says "In the United States, homeopathy is much less common, and the percentage of people seeking homeopathic treatment declined from 3.4% in 1997 to 1.7% in 2002."

Unicyclist's Lane

Via: Portland Mercury Blogtown

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Explaining the Higgs

The Higgs field as a mass generating field is notoriously difficult to explain, even with analogies. Here's one of the best I've seen, by Ian Hinchliffe at LBL:

Martha Reben

"All at once the silence and the solitude were touched by wild music, thin as air, the faraway gabbling of geese flying at night. Presently I caught sight of them as they streamed across the face of the moon, the high, excited clamor of their voices tingling through the night, and suddenly I saw, in one of those rare moments of insight, what it means to be wild and free."

-- Martha Reben, A Sharing of Joy

Monday, June 15, 2009

Buzz Aldrin's Magnificent Desolation

I used to write a lot of book reviews for the likes of the San Francisco Chronicle, Salon, Northern Sky News, and others.

But anymore it seems that no one is interested in book reviews. I queried about 15 magazines and newspapers to review this latest book by Buzz Aldrin, and not one of them even responded to me, let alone to say no.

But I still receive books from publishers, and I still love to read them, so I'd thought I'd just review it here.

The most recent book was Buzz Aldrin's Magnificent Desolation: A Long Journey Home from the Moon.

Reading about the Apollo program always does it for me, and as the 2nd man to set foot on the moon Aldrin was right in the middle of that. He came back from the Moon a genuine hero.

And he has certainly done more, probably, than any other astronaut to continue to encourage the US's involvement in space exploration. And that includes his famous punch-out of someone who accused him and NASA of hoaxing.

But a curious thing happened as I progressed through the book. I began to like Aldrin less and less as his years went by.

Early on he was the big NASA moon lander, a PhD from MIT, and ex-fighter pilot, and he seemingly had it all. But as the years have gone by he seems to be advocating mostly for just one thing: Buzz Aldrin.

But let me back up a little. In this book Aldrin does an admirable and even courageous job writing about his post-moon feelings and his problems with depression and alcohol. People in his generation and at his level weren't supposed to have such problems. Certainly, his strict military father never abided them. Aldrin wrote some about this in an earlier book, and so in some ways this just feels like another book to promote his interests and make him some money.

The best parts of the book are when Aldrin is truly struggling with himself to find his path after the Apollo 11 landing, his middle-life crisis enlarged by his fame and his accomplishments. It had to have been a difficult transition for him. I wish he has spilled more about his feelings then, but he was a 1960s engineer, and feelings were not his expertise.

He lost his original marriage, sank into depression and alcoholism, and seemed severely lost. But then -- too quickly, it almost seems -- he found AA and then met a rich woman from Laguna Beach and all his issues came back into focus and he ended up back on top of the world, traveling everywhere, scuba-diving here and skiing there and meeting kings and queens and movie producers all over the world.

The problem, I think, is that Aldrin thinks his experiences with the latter are more important than anything he did on the moon, or prior to it. He clearly has a large ego and it clearly needs to be fed, and too much of the last half of the book seems to be just fodder for his ego, proclaiming about his beautiful and rich third wife and all the attention he gets on this or that forgotten sit-com.

Aldrin seems mostly to want to make a lot of money and fame from his name and his accomplishments. It seems to pervade every move he makes. But I'd be more satisfied if he himself valued more his time aboard the Gemini and Apollo missions, when he pulled out his trusty sliderule to calculate rendezvous coordinates, or the few hours he got to hop onto the moon. We need those heroes, a lot more than we need ex-astronauts who awkwardly appear on episodes of Punky Brewster. But even more than heroes we just need sound, level-headed people who have been there and know the ropes.

PS: Did you know that Buzz Aldrin's mother's maiden name was "Moon?"

Toles on Accumulated Nonsense

Source: Washington Post

Thursday, June 11, 2009

This Swine Flu "Pandemic"

There is something fishy about this just-declared swine flu pandemic.

The World Health Organization just declared a swine flu pandemic:
WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan made the announcement Thursday after the U.N. agency held an emergency meeting with flu experts. Chan said she was moving to phase 6 - the agency's highest alert level - which means a pandemic, or global epidemic, is under way.

"The world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic in the 21st century," Chan told reporters. "The virus is now unstoppable."

However, she goes on to say,
"...we do not expect to see a sudden and dramatic jump in the number of severe and fatal infections."

So the virus is now both unstoppable but not expected to result in a sudden number of new, serious cases.

So why should I care?

My first impression is that the WHO is playing with language in order to get certain funds released here and there. I'm not sure, and I'm not a medical journalist paid to suss all this out each and every day, but just as a thinking person I'm suspicious.

Which, in my opinion, is a huge mistake on WHO's part.

Look: I am not worried about getting the swine flu. I don't fly much, but even if I did I frankly wouldn't worry about it at this point. Nor do I fly internationally, but even then I don't think I'd really give it much thought, if any. The whole thing seems overblown from the beginning.

If this wording is really required to get certain funds released, then OK but the criteria really needs to be rethought. Because people are being made afraid for no reason whatsoever. Ordinary flu already kills up to 500,000 people/yr.

The BBC says (

It means the swine flu virus is spreading in at least two regions of the world with rising cases being seen in the UK, Australia, Japan and Chile.

WHO chief Dr Margaret Chan said the move does not mean the virus is causing more severe illness or more deaths.

If so, this is a very dumb and inappropriate use of language.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Obama connects

You know, I don't care -- I like this guy. Wherever he is -- whether buying hamburgers at Five Guy's or perusing the Great Pyramids or talking trash along side the Wizard's sideline -- he's a cool, ordinary guy who definitely knows how to connect with ordinary people and doesn't need handlers and trainers to make himself real. He is already real, in a way that Johnson or Nixon or Ford or Carter or Reagan or Bush I or Clinton or Bush II never were. They were always just secluded politicians who did not, and could not, connect. Obama connects. You have the feeling that even if he weren't president tomorrow, he'd still be basically the same guy. Did you see the NBC clip of his slipping out of his limo and into Five Guys to buy a burger? On the way in he patted a few people on the shoulder, just as calmly and friendly as could be, and waved hi to the rest, no less than he was a star point guard.

Before last year none of us would have ever guessed a black man would be POTUS. And yet he has settled into the position as simply as vodka over ice, as if history did not even exist. This is just beyond cool.

DNA Sampling Via Taser

Another piece of decency drips down the drain:

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Josh Marshall's Inexcusable Error

I used to read Josh Marshall when he was just a regular blogger. Then he decided he had to be an empire and took to focusing on the day's political minutiae, which was enough to get him off my screen.

The latest from his site is really beyond the pale. Naturally, in today's despicable mediasphere, it will do nothing but garner him more traffic. Which you suspect is probably his goal all along.

Some writer on his site, who is afraid to even use his real name and goes by the 11th grade-level pen name "The Insolent Braggart," suggested that global warming skeptics should be executed:

At what point do we jail or execute global warming deniers

June 2, 2009, 9:42PM

What is so frustrating about these fools is that they are the politicians and greedy bastards who don't want a cut in their profits who use bogus science or the lowest scientists in the gene pool who will distort data for a few bucks. The vast majority of the scientific minds in the World agree and understand it's a very serious problem that can do an untold amount of damage to life on Earth.

So when the right wing fucktards have caused it to be too late to fix the problem, and we start seeing the devastating consequences and we start seeing end of the World type events - how will we punish those responsible. It will be too late. So shouldn't we start punishing them now?


This is the kind of thing that does far, far more damage to the legitimate argument than anything any skeptic could ever say. It will never be forgotten and will exist as a thorn in side of everyone with something legitimate to say, forever, something they will have to work twice as hard to overcome. It's just an utter disgrace, and the fact that it's anonymous just makes it all the worse.

It's beyond me why Josh Marshall, who is trying his best to be a respectable journalist in a new age, would retain this person on his writing staff. IS's excuse?

I am not a trained writer... and was not able to get my point across.
Actually, this is the least of his problems. The real problem is he's not a trained thinker. He's just an idiot who reflects poorly on everyone.

The advent of ClimateDepot has seriously twisted the debate over this crucial issue, sending most of it to the domain of clowns and crackers. Which is, of course, their goal -- if they can trivialize the debate, no one will take it seriously, and they win.

And so IS's real sin is exactly that he enabled them to do this, and quickly.

He seems but a young graduate student somewhere, who lacks the maturity to take himself seriously. Until he learns -- and I'd say he has done enough damage already and doesn't deserve another change -- he will only putrify the debate and remain as a black eye on Josh Marshall and something for the global warming issue to live down. Thanks a lot.

If this is what a so-called leading blog on the blogosphere has to offer, even in correction, it just tells me again how stupid and juvenile this whole enterprise has become. And this is supposed to be our intellectual future?

New Hampshire & Same-Sex Marriage

I miss New Hampshire (especially its January's) and just might move back there someday. (Feb-April are the really tough months.) I especially like that they just approved same-sex marriage -- far more than Oregon has done.

It is, of course, the right thing to do, representing liberty in its full meaning. New Hampshire has been the traditional conservative stalwart in New England, but they're the smart, principled kind of conservatives as opposed to today's blowhards like Gingrich and Limbaugh and Boehner and Hannity who have no real scruples and whose principles are so transitory you can see right through them. NH's conservatives have always struck me as the kind of people who really *do* believe that all men are created equal, whether they approve of their actions or not, and will support that principle, even when it pains them personally. That consenting adults should be free to live their lives as they want, the government be damned.

(So, yes, polygamists should have the same right too.)

Five states in New England now offer same-sex marriage -- which is very impressive. American's aren't big on history, but you have to wonder if these people in this land don't understand a thing or two about freedom that the rest of the country does not. It is fun to watch the tide turn so fast. The world is mostly pretty fucked up, but every once in awhile you're surprised that people actually do the right thing. I just wish it were more often.

I do not understand why gays elsewhere are not refusing to pay their taxes until they have equal constitutional rights. "All men are created equal." The Constitution could not be clearer. Gays and lesbians seem far too willing to sit back and let history catch up to them, instead of forcing it to accelerate forward.

El Nino Imminent

It looks like another El Nino is on our doorstep, which will likely bring some higher global temperatures in the coming months.

Of course, even thought this decade is already the warmest decade since records have been kept, it won't matter unless it's warmer than the last notable El Nino in 1998. That would still indicate "global cooling."

And if it is warmer, it won't count because the temperature recording stations are biased. Unless, of course, they show that it's cooler. Then they're fine.

Indeed, the backtracking has already begun.

Besides, Venus and Mars are warming too, so it must be the sun. Except the solar minimum seems to be ending.

In any case, we know that all scientists are liars who fabricate data for the sake of getting another grant next year. If you don't go along with the whole charade, they'll disassociate themselves from you and call your mother bad names.

Besides, Al Gore is getting rich off of all this.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Wolf Like Me

"The strength of the wolf is in the pack, but the strength of the pack is in the wolf."

China's Deadly Silliness

I wonder if dictatorships know how utterly silly they appear when trying to use umbrellas to prevent CNN from reporting on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre:

Truth is, I am much more likely to remember these reporter's dances around these silly security umbrellas than I ever would any of your basic stand-up, nonbothered reports that would have been made in their absence.

Silly dictators.

RSS: This May Much Warmer than Last

RSS is the first out of the blocks this month with their monthly temperature anomaly: +0.090°C.

This is significantly higher than May 2008's value of -0.078°C, and an indication that 2009 is probably going to be significantly warmer than 2008 (though cooler than 2007).

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Portland's Image Infatuation

Bless their little hearts: Portland, Oregon wants to hire a consultant to answer questions like these:
  • If the city of Portland repaves a street, does it change the amount of carbon that makes its way into the atmosphere?
  • If the city uses a different type of truck or material in its road work, does that affect global climate change?
  • Does a change to traffic patterns on major streets alter the amount of air pollution in the city?
What can you say? This is the work of people who only want to be seen as being environmentally conscious, without actually having to make any real changes.

Sure, you might repave streets with material B instead of material A and let cars run a touch smoother, getting maybe 0.1 mpg more. I suppose it's possible.

Meanwhile, they are saving pounds of CO2 while ignoring all the tons of CO2 already being produced. They are focusing on the tiny small picture while ignoring the large picture.

It's like trying to lose weight by insisting on low-fat pepperoni on your pizzas. But you're still eating pizzas, you idiot. If you really want to lose weight, switch to salads.

A lot of this is going on in Portland. And, sadly, in the US now, too, with the Waxman-Merkley climate bill. They plan to cut back a little here and a little there, all the while ignoring that we'll still be putting massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere at a time when we need to essentially stop putting GHGs there -- and, in fact, begin to take some out. They think we will cut back our GHG emissions by 80% by 2050 just becasue they say so, when it's utterly, completely, totally impossible unless we have completely new energy sources and we completely reconfigure the entire energy sector of our civilization.

People just have no idea yet how serious this problem is or how utterly drastic the solution needs to be. And quickly.

In fact, it's probably already too late. And there is zero chance we will, or can, rebuild our civilization in time to avoid serious climate change, > 2°C.

And even now we can't get our house in order. Humans are...just stupid animals.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Bob Herbert, NY Times:

Karl Rove sneered that Ms. Sotomayor was “not necessarily” smart, thus managing to get the toxic issue of intelligence into play in the case of a woman who graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, went on to get a law degree from Yale and has more experience as a judge than any of the current justices had at the time of their nominations to the court.

It turns the stomach. There is no level of achievement sufficient to escape the stultifying bonds of bigotry. It is impossible to be smart enough or accomplished enough.
He goes on:
The amount of disrespect that has spattered the nomination of Judge Sotomayor is disgusting. She is spoken of, in some circles, as if she were the lowest of the low. Rush Limbaugh — now there’s a genius! — has compared her nomination to a hypothetical nomination of David Duke, a former head of the Ku Klux Klan. “How can a president nominate such a candidate?” Limbaugh asked.
Note that Limbaugh himself could not even make it through college (and a small state school at that).

Arctic Sea Ice

Arctic sea ice varies.

It's difficult to tell from one month to the next how things compare to previous years.

Sometimes it looks like this it indicates a much cooler Arctic year than in years past, and sometimes it looks otherwise.

But at the moment, here's how 2009 sea ice extent compares to the last two years:

(Click to enlarge.) ((That sounds vaguely sexual, doesn't it?))

This year just dipped below last year in extent. And while it was significantly behind 2007's record low of last year (over 5% more ice, as of a month and a half ago), this year now lags 2007 by just 1%.

It's hard to draw any conclusions except in an average sense. But that's kind of boring, blog-wise.

data source: IARC-JAXA