Monday, August 31, 2009

How Science Reporting (Too Often) Works

For the entire cartoon, click here.

From: SMBC, via Boing-Boing.

Comment Spam

Sorry for all the comment spam from Asia that has been infesting this site. I've turned on comment moderation for posts older than one day. (Rejecting these spam is fun (sort of), at least for now.) Hopefully that will help. If not I'll turn on word verification, but I don't like that myself and would prefer to avoid it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cash for Clunkers Wrap-up

The final statistics for Cash for Clunkers are in, and Joe Romm says the program was well worth it.

I don't see it that way at all, at least from an environmental point of view. According to my calculations, the program saves 140 M gal gas/yr, worth about $530 M/yr. However, this represents only 0.14% of all gas used by Americans.

Assuming these new cars are kept for a total of 8 years (it takes 4 yrs just to pay off the carbon footprint of their manufacturing), then the program will save 1.7 Mmt/yr, what the country emits in 2.5 hours. And for that we're paying about $410/mt CO2, a huge amount ["mt" = metric ton] -- roughly 10 times the Waxman-Markey bill.

Christopher Knittel, a transportation expert at the Univ of California at Davis, calculated a value of about $500/ton, with a wide possible range.

Romm wrote:
A 9 mpg gain translates into annual savings of 3.8 million barrels of oil per year and nearly $1,000 for consumers at the pump -– not to mention that it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 660,000 metric tons a year. Okay, not a cost-effective emission reducer, but still, given the multiple benefits of the program, pretty darn good.
How is this good? For all of us spending $3B, a small handful of Americans get a new car and savings of about $1000 a year in gasoline. The country will now use a grand total of 0.1% less gas. The environmental consequences are very, very small, and far overpriced at that.

This was an economic stimulus bill only, for auto dealers and those in the middle class who can afford to buy a new car with a trade-in. (This is the same middle class who by-and-large bitch about the size of government and its programs.)

Monday, August 24, 2009


Here's a nice Web site run by physical geographer Ole Humlum that gives you all the monthly data you want on climate: , with updated graphs, too.

PS: Hadley says July 2009 was the third warmest July of all time, +0.491°C above their baseline.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


This isn't a very good recording, but in any case Usain Bolt is just beyond belief: 19.19 s for the 200 m, after running 9.59 s in the 100 m a few days before. He just doesn't appear to be from this planet.

For a look at the amazing quantum leap downward in the world record (in the 100 m), look at this Wikipedia graph. It hardly even seems possible.... A similar jump would be like someone running 9.3 s in the year 2045....

He ran 200 m at a faster speed than he ran 100 m (10.428 m/s vs. 10.422 m/s -- essentially the same given the accuracy of the clock).

Another One for Deltoid

Tim Lambert, as usual, injects a few sweet facts into the discussion, and (again) makes Tim Blair look like a fool.

The Internet Strikes Again

This is pretty good: this morning the Seattle Times published a story about a man who woke up in a Seattle park and did not know who he was or how he got there, and he had only vague recollections about his past. The police, detectives, and journalists all believed he was genuine, but had gotten nowhere on the case.

Within a few hours a reader recognized the man's photograph and commented on his identity ("Edward Lightheart"), and shortly thereafter people began sending in links and other clues that pinned the man's identity down precisely. People are now sending pictures and other information from around the world.

He still doesn't know if this is really his name or how he got to Seattle or what happened to him. But this is a real coup (and also perhaps a statement that you can't really disappear in this world even if you try).

Drop in World Temperatures?

Robert S. Boyd of McClatchy newspapers writes:
Official government measurements show that the world's temperature has cooled a bit since reaching its most recent peak in 1998.
Can we mathematically prove this amazing result? Let's try.

THEOREM: The world's temperature will always cool after reaching its most recent peak.

PROOF: Let X be a series {X1, X2, ..., Xn}. Let Xmax be the largest element in X. The "peak" of the set X is defined as that Xi for which Xi > Xj for all i not equal to j. Therefore Xmax > Xi for all elements in X not equal to Xmax. Therefore Xi < Xmax for all i not equal to max, by the principle of trichotomy.
Now, Let Ti be a time series of temperatures. By the lemma above, all temperatures other then Tmax are less than the maximum tempertature, i.e. "cooler" than the maximum temptrature (the peak). Thus all temperatures are cooler than the most recent peak. Q.E.D.

EXAMPLE: Consider the set of average mean tropospheric temperature anomalies as determined by the University of Alabama: June 2009: +0.01°C July 2009: +0.42°C
Clearly, Tjuly > Tjune, so by the theorem above and the principle of trichotomy Tjune < Tjuly. That is, the world is on a warming trajectory, at a rate of 492 degrees per century.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Seattle Votes Against Plastic Bag Fee

Yesterday Seattle voters declined a proposed fee of 20 cents per plastic shopping bag, 58% to 42%.

Plastic bag manufacturers outspent ($1.4M) those advocating for the ban by 15-to-1, most of it from the American Chemical Council.

20 to 30% of Seattle's shoppers already bring their own bags to the store. But if the fee can't pass in environmentally conscious Seattle, it's hard to see it passing anywhere.

Reminder: The world uses about 5 trillion plastic bags per year, requiring about 500M barrels of oil, or 2% of world usage.

Speaking Truth to Idiocy

Barney Frank says what needed to be said for weeks: "On what planet do you spend most of your time?"

Perhaps progressives, liberals, Democrats, and thinking people need a new slogan:

I'm from Earth. You?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

GPS unit for sale

Anybody want to buy a Magellan GPS 2000 Satellite Navigator (born 1996)?

In Defense of Britain's Health System

From the Washington Post:

In Defense of Britain's Health System

By Ara Darzi and Tom Kibasi
Fear is the weapon of choice for opponents of reform who have no substantive alternative to offer. America spends five times the share of its national wealth on health as Singapore, and yet life expectancy in each country is roughly the same. Even allowing for other factors, it is undeniable that the way a health system is organized and operated makes a difference. Americans fear that countries such as Britain and Canada ration care -- and that such rationing could and should never be tolerated in the United States. Yet 47 million uninsured is quite an extreme form of rationing. So at this moment, the burden of proof falls upon those who oppose change -- for they stand in defense of fear.

Monday, August 17, 2009

District 9

You should definitely see District 9, if you haven't already. It's even more original than Cloverfield, plus the camerawork won't make you queasy. You can parse it out on about five different levels, but I don't want to give anything away, because I only knew a little about it from the trailer and io9 now I wish I hadn't even known that.

It did well at the box office over the weekend (#1), but unfortunately I suspect its foreign flavor will keep it from being ranked among the all-time best SF movies, at least in America. For that it would have had to be set in Los Angeles (which would have totally ruined it, or course, if you're a real sci-fi fan).

See it.

Just Stuff

Stuff from the weekend:
  • see El Nino form before your very eyes.
  • learn how the whole economic game is rigged for the rich and connected.
  • this article says Portland (OR) drivers drive 20% less than the national average.
  • hundreds of thousands of hatchery fish died in Washington state during the heat wave two weeks ago, because of a parasite that thrives only in warm waters.
  • if you are thinking of trying Google's Chrome browser, my advice is to definitely do it. I love it -- it's crisp and clean and fast. Plus Firefox was crashing on me too often. Chrome is the best and most efficient browser I've ever used.
  • If you want to completely freak out your kitten, show her a nectarine pit. Mine spent 20 minutes treating it like a alien from outer space.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Five Times Katrina

It is amazing (and disheartening) to see how little attention Americans have paid to Typhoon Morakot.

This storm stretched from the Philippines to Taiwan.

The Taiwanese government just raised their death estimate to 500. This is in a country of 23M people. That'd be the equivalent of about 6,700 American deaths, or about 5 times Hurricane Katrina, or more than twice the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.

More than a million people have been displaced. Morakot is the wettest typhoon in recorded history -- by a large amount.

Yet Americans are too busy to notice because they're concentrating on death panels soon to be introduced by our government. Idiots. Dupes.

And Sarah Palin -- the exact kind of insipid but beautiful demogogue the devil would offer up if he is real and serious, won't even admit she was wrong. In fact, she boasts that she was right -- she fucking boasts about it!

I am seriously thinking of moving to Canada or Europe, because it's clear that there will be no significant health reforms here (and, as a self-employed person who cannot buy insurance at any price because of pre-existing conditions, I think my existence just might depend on it), and certainly not anytime soon (even Obama's plan wouldn't start until 2013).

So many Americans are just... stupid. The middle class in this country is being devastated, and deep down they all know it, but they have been so brainwashed to think that capitalism and free-markets are the solution they can't get out of their own way. Their incomes have remained flat for 30 years, while the rich keep getting richer. They know, but don't seem able to admit, that corporations control this country -- whether it's health, or defense, or financial -- and their donations and lobbyist's influence have a huge control over what Congress does.

They are losing benefits year-by-year, slowly and steadily. And they know it. They know employers are dropping health insurance because no one can possible keep up when health insurance inflation is 8x overall income inflation. They know that citizens in other countries have far fewer health worries, and pay less for better care. (They also get a lot more vacation.) But, my God, no, we can't possibly do anything like the French -- we've been taught they're nothing but wimps. (Funny, my travels in France revealed nothing but decent, charming, civilized people.) They know that American's are losing their houses and having to declare bankruptcy at huge rates. And yet they have been so brainwashed by Fox news that they do not even see it, let alone care.

How many Medicare-receiving idiots must stand up at a Congressional town hall and tell the government to keep its hands entirely out of health care?

This will surely be one of the most significant chapters in the upcoming book, "The Rise and Fall of the American Empire."

Frankly, I think the real rage being displayed at these town halls is that American's know they have lost their country to corporations, and that "government of the people and by the people" is a now-comical acronysm in a time when the typical Representative represents over 700,000 people.

That is to say, your Congressman doesn't care what you say. You Senator doesn't care what you say or think. Your contribution of $100 doesn't matter at all. You can't be in their face all the time in Washington, like a corporate lobbyist.

Americans know they have lost their country and that the American experiment is over -- and has failed. Sure, we're not nearly as bad as the early experiments in Russian Bolshevism or Marxism. But neither are we any longer thriving. A few of us are. Many, many are not. Too many/most are just on the edge of keeping it together -- with respect to housing, health care, education, leisure, etc. They see the Europeans getting six weeks of vacation a year and wonder why they can't get the same, and so their only alternative, besides admitting their country is failing, is to pretend that the Europeans are wimps, hopeless socialists, unfree citizens whose governments come along and tell them when to die.

It is all so depressing.

More from McCulloch

Hu McCulloch accepts Steig's lack of plagarism of his blog post... sort of.
But then he writes: However, while ignorance may be an iron-clad defense against plagiarism, it is a rather dicey position academically speaking. Surely Steig and co-authors would at least read the vigorous and serious discussion of their paper on Climate Audit, the Air Vent, and other blogs, even if they do not deign to participate.

If Steig doesn't follow CA, he must be the only person in all of climate science.

Are you kidding me? Do McCullough and those at Climate Audit really believe that professional climate scientists check CA every day, when it has time and time again proven itself smug and/or wrong? I am sorry to have to tell CA this, but they are not a major player in the climate change scene, and really, they never have been.

Why didn't McCullough submit his comment to Nature, and not just to Steig (who says he was in Antarctica and didn't receive it?) That's what journals are for.

Best Tattoo Ever?

This might be the best tattoo ever:

via: Oddee

Beautiful Crater on Mars

Here's a wonderful view of Victoria Crater on Mars, taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. One of the Mars rovers spent about two years prowling around the edge of this crater.

I love how its structure is so much like that of a drop of water:

I have sometimes wondered if anyone could ever predict the existence (and number) of these crown points at the top of the recoil.

Blogs Aren't Science

Realclimate makes such a good point today that it's worth reproducing and putting alongside every blog out there:
There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism, and pointing out errors — even fairly minor ones — is important and useful. The difference, though, between people who want to find out something about the real world and people who just want to score political points, is what is made of those errors. That is the test of constructive scientific dialog. Specious accusations of fraud, plagiarism and the like don’t pass such a test; instead they simply poison the atmosphere to everyone’s loss.
Peer-reviewed journals have well-defined rules about these things, and the best one is that have open and established procedures, and histories, and you can trust them. You can go look them up in the library if you want, even papers that are decades old.

Blog posts, on the other hand, can be modified without notice, or disappear, or make accusations outside the scientific process that get linked around the world and which are too often inflammatory, like McIntyre's smug "I gotcha again" posting of the definition of plagarism, when, as Realclimate explains, it certainly wasn't.

That's a big part of the climate change scene nowadays -- it's about scoring political points instead of "understanding the real world." It reduces it to a level the public can understand, but unfortunately it reduces it to a level the public can understand.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wind Power

This is interesting: wind power usually supplies about 4% of the Portland region's power. But during the big heat wave here two weeks ago, it failed for lack of wind.
...the heat wave also knocked out most of the region’s wind turbines. As the temperatures rose, the wind simply stopped blowing hard enough to spin the turbines. We’re now getting around 4 percent of our power from wind turbines, but they weren’t doing much of anything (during the heat),” Corson says.

Meanwhile, power demands were heavier than usual -- a record, in fact. Two regional coal-fired plants were off-line. (Perhaps coal is not the reliable backup for wind that skeptics claim.) The power company bought more electricity from California and such, so there were no blackouts. But this episode is making the company rethink its mix of wind- and coal-energy. The local Sierra Club says we just need more wind and solar.
“The wind is always blowing and the sun is always shining somewhere...”
Speaking of wind power, here's an imaginative view from a recent contest on redesigning suburbia (via IO9):

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Great Hubble Deep Field clip

With Friends Like This....

“Climate change is very real. Global warming creates volatility. I feel it when I’m flying....
-- Senator Debbie Stabenow, (D, MI)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

GISS: July 09 Very Warm

GISS says July was +0.60°C above their baseline, the second warmest July ever, after only 1998.

(Clink to Enlarge.)

RSS July Temperature Anomaly

RSS's temperature anomaly for July was also a sharp jump from the previous month, to +0.392°C.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sophie, on My Desk


I tend to name my cats after scientists & mathematicians -- stupid and geeky, I know. When I was a kid we had a cat Max, named after James Clerk Maxwell. (Hint: the English pronounce "Clerk" as Americans pronounce Clark.)

Did you know that Maxwell proved mathematically that the rings of Saturn could not be solid? You try and do that.

Eli is named after Elie Cartan, the inventor of spinors.

I have decided to name Daisy "Sophie," which in my mind I thought was the name of Emily Noether, who discovered important symmetry principles, but I was confused, as her name was Emily and no Sophie, but my mind was mixed up and its too late now, and besides I can't name this new cat Emily because several years ago I took in a sick cat for a week, who had drunk antifreeze, and named her Emma, which is too much like Emily. Emma was a wonderful little kitty, as are all kitties, and by the time I got her she couldn't move her hind legs and had to eat lying down, which was pathetic. I took her to the vet's several times, but nothing worked and she only lasted a week and I had to put her down, which I hated, but at the vet's she took the shot and expired almost immediately, and the vet said that meant she was totally gived out and ready to go.

"Emily" is too much like "Emma," so I will go with "Sophie." She is a very pretty grey with white socks on all her feet. Very friendly already, and up on my desk and purring. I put her down on the floor, and she found her way right back up.

(Eli is unhappily locked in the bedroom.)

As Mattie Ross said of her new pony Blackie:
"There's an old song that says:
'One white foot buy 'em, two white feet try 'em, three white feet be on the sly, four white feet pass 'em by.'
...But I don't hold to that."

A New Cat

Perhaps against my better judgement, I just took in a kitten from my neighbors below. Her name (for the moment) is Daisy. She's 11 weeks old:

She seems to have immediately fallen in love with wet food.

Eli, my 10-yr old cat, is so far not impressed. I thought he might take to her right away, since she is female, but so far I have had to sequester him out on the porch.

Eli has only known a few other cats. The male cats he knew he hated, the one female cat he knew he loved a lot (I'm hoping this will be a repeat of that), and the one dog he know he acted like he hated but I think they really cared for one another a great deal, but knew they could never show it.

This could be an interesting night. I just hope he doens't kill her.

The Caine Mutiny

In my effort to make up for the deficiencies in my knowledge of old pictures, this past weekend I watched The Caine Mutiny and True Grit.
1) Re: The Caine Mutiny: did you know that the actor Michael Caine chose his last name while in a pay phone talking to his agent. He looked up the street and saw a marquee with "The Caine Mutiny" on it. He later said that if he had looked in the other direction, he would have been known at "Michael One Hundred and One Dalmations."

Still, I don't think this was that good of a movie. Worst of all, I think Humphrey Bogart was the weak link.

2) True Grit: this was a great movie, and mostly not because of John Wayne, but because of Kim Darby, the 22-year old who played Mattie Ross. She's the one who shows "true grit" in the movie -- she doesn't back down from anything. Anything.

In the special features an older Kim Darby talks about her role as Mattie Ross, and quietly says, "I think what makes people really strong is that they try."

The one best John Wayne scene, maybe of all time, is when he's facing off with Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall) and his gang, and Pepper calls him an old fat man, and Wayne says, "Fill your hands, you son of a bitch" and charges at all four of them.

And, of course, kills them all, and even his horse gets killed.

What's weird is that the more John Wayne films I see, the more I think my grandfather was influenced by him. It's just subtle things -- the way he put on his coat and hat, the way he puffed when he was tired, the way he never complained about anything.

Man, I really loved my grandfather. He used to have us (his grandchildren) pick up concrete parking lot barriers, put them in the back of his truck, and set them down into the parking lot of his tavern. When a plane crashed up on in the mountains near where we lived, in a bad summer storm, with four passengers aboard, and they finally found it after four days of looking, he gathered up us grandkids in the back of his pickup and drove us up to see it. We tromped down through the woods about a quarter of a mile and came across the wreckage. The state police had removed the big stuff, but there was still a lot of material strewn everywhere and the whole place smelled horrible, like rotten meat. I especially remember there was a seat hanging up in a tree, and a bra in the branches. A bra! We kids rooted around down on the ground and found a piece of scalp with hair stuck on it, and something that looked just like a knawed-on chicken wing.

They never let kids near this kind of stuff anymore, which personally I think is a big mistake. You need to see these things -- dead bodies and murders and decapitations and such -- at least once. I am glad to have grown up when and where I did. (It doesn't even come up when you look for it on Google Maps.)

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Cash for Clunkers Program

Here are some interesting numbers from the wildly successful Cash for Clunkers program, from today's Oregonian:
Producing a new car releases about 8 tons of carbon dioxide, according to the Sightline Institute. By comparison, burning through a gallon of gas releases about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Someone who drives the national average of 15,000 miles a year would generate about 1.5 fewer tons of carbon dioxide by replacing an 18 mpg clunker with a car that gets 22 mpg. That means the 8 tons of carbon dioxide imbedded in the new car would be worked off in about five years.The break-even point comes sooner if the mileage improvement is dramatic. For example, it would take less than a year to recoup the carbon cost of a 46-mpg Toyota Prius replacing a 12-mpg gas hog.
Is that worth what the program costs taxpayers -- $3B now?

If someone keeps this new car for, say, 8 years, and it only saves the carbon of 4 mpg for 3 of these years, then (as the above numbers work out to 20 lb carbon/gallon gas), then they only save 450 gallons for those three years, or only 9000 lbs-C (4.5 tons-C). Thus the whole program (with 245,000 new-car sales) has so far saved 1.1 M tons (imperial tons), or 1.0 MmtC.

In other words, this program is paying about $3000/mtC, a huge amount.

In other words, this is a very poor environmental program and mostly a give away to the middle class, who otherwise complain about pork and government handouts -- except when it benefits them.

(Corrections welcome.)


Sarah Palin says to stop making stuff up, but really, you couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Editor's Comment on McLean, deFreitas, and Carter

I wrote to the editors at Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres about all the recent comments claiming errors in the the McLean, deFreitas, and Carter article, but didn't get far. But I did get this:
Dear David,

Thanks for your e-mail and interest in this issue.

As editors of JGR Atmospheres, we do not discuss the details of the peer review process and we will also not do that in this case. We will say that despite all the hard efforts made by reviewers and editors, the peer review process is not perfect. Occasionally, papers that contain errors or controversial statements without adequate discussion do get accepted for publication. In these cases, JGR Atmospheres encourages the scientific community to submit comments and discuss these papers in the peer-reviewed literature.


Joost de Gouw
Editor, JGR Atmospheres

Thursday, August 06, 2009

UAH July Temperature Anomaly

UAH's number for the July temperature anomaly is +0.410°C, the warmest July since 1998. It seems we're to attribute this to El Nino, even though the current El Nino has barely started, and in fact the latest SOI isn't even negative.

Whatever gets you through the night, I guess.

Whimsical Mathematical Theorems and Names in Physics

A friend of mine who is a filmmaker is looking for good examples of simple (& whimsically named) theorems in mathematics, as well as whimsical names in physics. Here's my list so far -- can anyone think of more?

Graph theory:

Whimsical names in physics:
  • Quark: taken by Murray Gell Man from a James Joyce novel and the line “three quarks for Mr. Marks”
  • Gluons: particles that “glue” quarks together
  • WIMPS: Weakly Interacting Massive Particles
  • Boojum: in the physics of superfluidity, a boojum is a geometric pattern on the surface of one of the phases of superfluid helium-3, whose motion can result in the decay of a supercurrent. The boojum was named by David Mermin of Cornell University in 1976. He was inspired by Lewis Carroll's poem The Hunting of the Snark.
  • neutrino: “little neutral one” in Italian
  • quark types: up, down, strange, charmed, top (was initially called “truth”), bottom (was initially called “beauty”); quarks also come in three “colors”: red, blue, and green
  • black hole
  • worm hole
  • inflation theory
  • GUTS: Grand Unified Theories
  • the Higgs boson is sometimes called the “God particle”
Here’s an interesting essay on the subject:
“The Physics of Silly Names”

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Warmest Sea Temps on Record

I missed this when it came out, but NOAA says sea temperatures in June were the highest ever for that month. In fact, each hemisphere broke the previous record (NH: 2005; SH: 1998).

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Gates Episode

I haven't commented on the Skip Gates episode, because, well, what't the point. But I think everyone is missing a vital aspect of it.

Perhaps it is about race -- I'm not sure. Frankly neither party looks very good in this affair. I can't read the mind of the police officer (re: racism), and I can't put myself in the shoes of a black man (though Gates seemed quick to toss the word "mama" around. But it was his house.)

In any case, what the case is about is class. Gates got handled with kid gloves because, regardless of his race, he's a member of the upper class. If you or I were in his situation, the police would have hauled you down to the station and no one would have cared and you'd never get an apology, let alone an acknowledgment that they did anything wrong. The newspapers wouldn't have written about and the President wouldn't have commented about it. You'd just be another of the hundreds (thousands?) of people who are, every day, subject to the arrogance of today's police forces. I've seen that in person, and I'm a "privileged" white guy.

Gates doesn't know how good he has it.

Sunday, August 02, 2009


How here's a forward-thinking city:
It is official municipal policy in Copenhagen that all citizens by 2015 must be able to reach a park or beach on foot in less than 15 minutes.
-- Wikipedia

McLean et al.

Deep Climate has a lengthy review of all the discussion over the recent McLean, de Freitas, and Carter paper in AGU-Atmospheres, as does Michael Tobis. The consensus is that the paper has some deep and obvious flaws -- the best explanation of them I've read is by the blogger Tamino, who lays it all out rather simply and convincingly. RealClimate described the paper as "atrocious." James Annan piles on.

It's gotten no major media coverage I can find. Even ClimateDepot isn't hawking it anymore. This paper appears to be going down in the annals of the Umm...No department, with Soon & Baliunas and a few others.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Earth Days

This looks like it will be a good movie. It comes out August 14th.


"Never underestimate the ability of a tiny fringe group of losers to ruin everything."

-- Bill Mahrer, on the birther movement