Monday, March 28, 2011

The NY Times Paywall

I am disappointed with the subscription plan recently announced by the New York Times.

Don't get me wrong -- I love the NYT. If I had to subscribe to only one newspaper, it would be the NYT.

But in this day and age I don't have to subscribe to any single news source. That's what's great about this age, and that's the problem.

When I was in graduate school at Stony Brook I used to love, during warm weather, walking across the railroad tracks to the local deli, buying a chicken salad sandwich and a knish and a copy of the New York Times, and walking over to the track of the local private school and sitting up in the bleachers reading the paper and eating dinner by myself. I guess I was a bit of a loner then. I guess I still am.

But these days I don't get my news from any single source -- I get it from all over, via the Web. This is a great thing.

But the Times disgital subscription doesn't recognize that. At several hundred dollars a year, it acts like my newspaper is still tossed onto my driveway every morning.

Those days are past.

Yes, I want to read Krugman and Douthat and Alessandra Stanley. I want to read their sports columinsts.

But I want to read lots of other people, too. And the NYT people aren't that great (except for maybe Krugman) that I want to read them at the exclusion of all other people on the Web, especially when all these other people put up paywalls as well.

I want good journalists to get paid. I want good newspapers to survive. But I also want to read all over the place. I'd pay about $30-40/month to read newspapers across the Web, but not to read just one of them. Those days are over in the era of the hyperlink.

I will miss clicking thoughtlessly on the NYT button in my bookmarks. I hope that in some fashion they succeed. But not, perhaps, in this fashion.

Japan = 10% of Chernobyl?

According to der Spiegel, a French model calculates that the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan has already released one-tenth of the amount of radiation that was released at Chernobyl in 1986 -- and that was as of last Tuesday.

This site says that the total radiation release from Chernobyl was 100 megaCuries, and that the total release from Three Mile Island was 15 Curies. Thus Chernobyl = 7M x TMI, and if the French model is correct Fukushima = 700,000 x TMI.

We have been very lucky that no one lives immediately east of Japan. (But I wouldn't want to be immediately west of Fukushima either.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Some interesting things I’ve come across recently:
  • over 28,000 species of nematodes are known, and there may be as many as a million.
  • The freshwater content of the upper Arctic Ocean has increased by about 20 percent since the 1990s.
  • The scariest path in the world.
  • This week's Science magazine says Peak Oil is most probably here: "Despite a near tripling of world oil prices, non-OPEC production, which accounts for 60% of world output, hasn't increased significantly since 2004. And many of those same experts, as well as some major oil companies, don't see it increasing again— ever. In their view, it's stuck on a flat-topped peak or plateau at present levels of production for another decade or so before starting to decline. “Stable [non-OPEC] production is the best we can hope for,” says energy economist Robert Kaufmann of Boston University. “I have trouble seeing it increase more. It’s a wake-up call.”
Will this mean less oil consumption, or more war for OPEC's oil?

Intriguing formulas from Randell Mills

I know that Randell Mills' ideas about "hydrinos" (a purported energy state of the hydrogen atom below the canonical ground state predicted by standard quantum mechanics) are not accepted and considered to be cranky, but you have to admit these formulas for the mass ratios of the basic (non-neutrino) leptons (the electron, muon, and tau particles) and the neutron-electron mass ratio are pretty intriguing:

Here alpha is, of course, the dimensionless fine-structure constant, the most famous number in all of physics (approximately equal to 1/137):

\alpha = \frac{e^2}{\hbar c}

Mills' book, The Grand Unified Theory of Classical Physics, is available for free here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Arizona Caves

Arizona -- who has acted Oh-so-tough against "illegal" immigrants (as if a mere line on a map should tell people where they can and can't go) -- caves because it is costing them too much money!

Here's the letter.

Congrats to all of you who have declined to travel to Arizona or do business with them. Perhaps now the other states who want to be hard-asses will get the message.

And the message is: America is changing.

Decline in Arctic Sea Ice Extent

Arctic sea ice extent has peaked, and it's not especially good news.

According to the JAXA satellite, Arctic sea ice extent peaked on March 8, 2011 at 13.89 M km2.

First, let's note that sea ice extent (akin to area) is not the absolute best measure of Arctic melting. That would be, of course, sea ice volume, which is modeled by PIOMASS.

But PIOMASS relies on modeling and is not a direct measurement, so some purists talk about ice extent.

This year, Arctic sea ice extent was lower than last year, and in fact, lower than any year since 2006:

Here the y-axis is in units of millions of square kilometers.

This is one way to look at the data. Here's another:

Which is best? Don't ask me -- deciding that is your job.

Incident on 57th Street

"He tried sellin' his heart to the hard girls over on Easy Street
But they sighed 'Johnny it
falls apart so easy, and you know hearts these days
are cheap'"

Monday, March 21, 2011

Battle of LA Aliens

From Roger Ebert's review of Battle: Los Angeles:
The aliens are hilarious.... They seem to be animal/machine hybrids with automatic weapons growing from their arms, which must make it hard to change the baby.

Actually this isn't so bad of a movie if you aren't expecting an original plot, great character development or sparkling dialog. But it does have great action, gung-ho Marines and some nice helicopter scenes. Any movie with gangs of helicopters is alright in my book.

(PS: Did you know there actually was a "Battle of Los Angeles," during World War II?)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Japanese Radiation Hits the US (at minuscule values)

The EPA announced today that radiation from the stricken Japanese nuclear reactor complex has hit the west coast of the U.S., though at extremely small values, far below natural background levels.

Today in Sacramento, radioactive xenon-133 was detected at approximately 0.1 disintegrations per second per cubic meter of air (0.1 Bq/m3; Bq is a becquerel), the EPA says, "which results in a dose rate approximately one-millionth of the dose rate that a person normally receives from rocks, bricks, the sun and other natural background sources. This validates a similar reading of 0.1 Bq/m3, taken from March 16 through 17 in Washington State."

They continue:
These types of readings remain consistent with our expectations since the onset of this tragedy, and are to be expected in the coming days.... Following the explosion of the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine in 1986 – the worst nuclear accident in world history – air monitoring in the United States also picked up trace amounts of radioactive particles, less than one thousandth of the estimated annual dose from natural sources for a typical person.
I don't know about you, but I feel better about all this when they give the actual numbers instead of vague qualifiers like "low."

So how small is a becquerel? According to Wikipedia: "...natural potassium (K40) in a typical human body produces 4,000 disintegrations per second, 4 kBq of activity. The nuclear explosion in Hiroshima (14 kt or 59 TJ) is estimated to have produced 8×1024 Bq (8 YBq, 8 yottabecquerel).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Data on Arctic Sea Ice Volume

PIOMASS has new data on Arctic sea ice volume:

(The gray bands are one- and two-standard deviations.) They don't give actual numbers, so it's difficult to tell how this point in time compares to last year. But overall the data is clearly nothing to cheer about, especially the change in the trend that occurred around 2001. (That is to say, the melting is accelerating.)

Of course, Congress has already decided there is no warming taking place, so just move along, OK?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Republicans and the Value of Pi

Some day this vote ("Committee Republicans Unanimously Reject Measures Reaffirming Science Behind Global Warming") is going to look just as asinine as this one.

For the sake of future historians, here are those who voted against moving an Amendment to H.R. 910 out of House Energy and Commerce Committee, which said
SEC. 4. CONGRESSIONAL ACCEPTANCE OF THE SCIENTIFIC FINDINGS OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY. Congress accepts the scientific finding of the Environmental Protection Agency that ‘‘Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.’’.

Note that the bill didn't even say why these changes are taking place -- only that they are.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

An A.T Journey

6 months on the Appalachian Trail -- I miss it:

Green Tunnel from Kevin Gallagher on Vimeo.

About Paper

Via: someecards

Quote on Cosmology

A radio interviewer once asked me why anyone should care about cosmology. I was about to launch into the usual "origins of everything we know" answer, but then stopped and said "You know, if you don't think it's just totally cool, I can't really help you out." 
-- Michael Lemonick, Time science correspondent

Picture from Japan

The most impressive picture I've seen so far, from Japan (via Al Jazerra):

More on the West Coast Tsunami

This SF Chronicle article says the tsunami hit Crescent City, CA about 7:30 am yesterday morning, with waves at least 8.1 ft high, destroying 6 docks and 35 boats.

Here's an impressive video from Santa Cruz, via CNN:


There are an amazingly large number of very strong aftershocks from the Honshu earthquake -- here's a list.

Speed of the Tsunami

The Honshu earthquake traveled about 350 mi/hr across the Pacific ocean to reach Brookings, OR.

3/10/11 9:46 pm PST
38.322°N   142.369°E

Brookings, OR tsunami arrival (appx):
3/11/11 11:00 am PST
42°3′27″N   124°17′11″W

Then it's some spherical trigonometry (or you can use this handy site) to find the surface distance traveled was about 4,633 miles in 13 hrs 14 minutes.

Videos of Oregon Tsunami

Tsunami Hits Oregon Coast

A tsunami from the Japanese earthquake hit the southern coast in Oregon, causing $10M in damage. The waves were less than 3 ft high, but powerful in places (especially Brookings). One man taking pictures was swept out to sea. Here's a photo gallery from the Oregonian.

Oregon coast tsunami damage
The tsunami struck about 11 am PST yesterday

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Art Robinson and His Children

Probably by now you know about Art Robinson's op-ed in World News Daily
art robinson.JPG

Robinson, who founded the somewhat mysterious Oregon Institute for Science and Medicine (responsible for the infamous Oregon Petition against man-made global warming) published an article in WND claiming that Oregon State University was mistreating three of his children.

(Re OISM -- who funds them? Do they have any students? Any classrooms? Lectures? I have never been able to figure this out.)

Well, Robinson said more than that. He used all kinds of inflammatory and charged language, making ad hominem attacks on several members of the Nuclear Engineering Department at OSU, where these "kids" of his are students.

I put 'kids' in quotes, because these are 'kids' are grown-ups in their 20s, and it's a little strange for a parent to be interceding in the graduate education of their children.

Curiously (and tellingly), Robinson didn't say what OSU's problems were with his children's graduate programs. You might have expected at least that from any reasonable complaint.

But no, Robinson encouraged criticism of OSU and its Nuclear Engineering faculty, yet wasn't willing to share any of the true facts behind the issue, instead choosing to claim that it was all due to political payback because he had the temerity to run for Congress.

(Which he lost handily to Peter DeFazio, 54% to 43%.)

I wrote Art Robinson on 3/7 when this story appeared, but he has not responded.

Naturally, many unthinking right-wing bloggers repeated his accusations without once bothering to ask for the other side of the story.

OSU says they can't comment due to federal privacy laws. But they have said:
“It is regrettable,” the university said in a statement, “that Mr. Robinson continues to spread these false claims, causing concern where none is due. Despite the significant and ongoing attention that the university has given these matters, he has engaged in a pattern of inflammatory and reckless communication riddled with inaccuracies.”
But the Corvallis Gazette-Times has done some digging, and interviewed one of Art Robinson's children, Joshua, yesterday.

Joshua Robinson is 29 years old, with three children, which raises the question of why his father is standing up for his rights instead of him doing so himself. The needed facts are sketchy, but Joshua Robinson (and his twin sister Bertha) have apparently been masters students for 4.5 yrs now.

Which is long time. When I was in graduate school at Stony Brook, most of us got our Master's degree in three semesters. Our graduate careers were only funded for five years -- you were expected to get your PhD by then, or pay your own way. (I took 5.7 yrs, and survived on basically nothing for the last 0.7 years, living with my girlfriend. Curiously, it was the best semester I spent there in terms of my personal and social life.)

I don't know if Robinson's children are part-time or full-time. But clearly the department has an incentive to move their students along, both to weed out those who don't make the grade (for their own sake if nothing else) and to make room for new students.

4.5 years is a very long time to be a Master's student. To me it indicates a problem, either in commitment or competence or both.

Friday, March 04, 2011

New Level of Limbaugh Inanity

Today in History: Rush Limbaugh reached a new level of inanity, questioning whether NASA sabatoged today's lost climate data satellite:

Of course, this is theater, as is most talk radio. This scene deserves some kind of award, though.

Cat Science

On the Repeating JAXA Data

It turns out there is a perfectly rational explanation for the repeating numbers in the JAXA data for Arctic sea ice extent. The area is calculated by counting pixels in a satellite photograph, and each pixel has an area of 156.25 km2. So the total extent is going to be an integer multiple of that amount: 0156, 0312, 0468, etc.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Corporate Tax Revenues Near Historical Lows

Kevin Drum presents an astonishing image:

Let's be clear: the difference between 6% of GDP and 1% of GDP is now about $750B/yr. That's about half of our federal deficit. And that doesn't even include the Bush tax cuts.

People: your government, your society, your very livelihood is being stolen out from under you. By corporations and by the super-rich.

Why are the only revolts occurring in the Middle East?

What is so scary is that many Americans are apparently now too stupid to understand this. Literally. The high-school graduation rate in Texas is 61%. For high school.

America is being chewed up and swallowed by the rich and powerful unlike any country that has ever existed. And what is worse -- and incredibly, incredibly sad -- is that ordinary Americans like those in the Tea Party Movement are abetting this process.

I almost wish I was living 150 yrs in the future so I could begin to make a really objective historical study and accounting of this era. It is going to make for some very fascinating reading.

I have a 6-yr old nephew and a 3-yr old niece. My advice to them, if they ask, will definitely be: seek your fortunes elsewhere. For we are a rapidly sinking ship.

Jacoby's Lack of Logic

Only a blinkered conservative Apparatchik could possibly write this:
Average federal wages far outstrip those in the private economy. When benefits are included, federal worker compensation averages $123,000 — more than double the private-sector average of $61,000. Federal employees don’t need collective bargaining to be treated well, and the lack of bargaining rights has not busted federal-employee unions.
This is Jeff Jacoby, the Boston Globe's token conservative.

Uh, Jeff: the very reason that these workers are outstripping the private sector (and more power to them) is because they are organized.

And more power to them.

Do we really want federal and state employees -- i.e. our neighbors, if not our spouses and ourselves -- to take pay and benefit cuts? If so, who do you suppose will be next?

Who has been next, in the great economic mess we've been experiencing since the mid-70s?

Where I grew up -- southwestern Pennsylvania -- most of the people I knew, my father and my grandpap and my uncles and my aunt (who bravely went to college in her 30s, with three kids, to become a teacher and a union activist) -- belonged to unions, mostly as steelworkers or machinists, and they did OK by them. They bought houses and cars and supported their families.

As their unions were busted, as the oil crisis of the '70s ruined the post-war environment, inflation and stagflation and all that, these men lost their jobs and their careers and their health and their aim. Men in their 50s were playing golf at the local course in the mornings, and tending bar in the evenings. Is this really the America we want for anyone?

Did February Sea Ice Extent Set a Record Low?

Joseph Romm writes that February 2011 Arctic Sea Ice Extent tied for a record low, but this isn't true according the Japanese JAXA satellite data.

According to JAXA, the average sea ice extent for Feb 2011 was in second place (according to my calculations):

avg for Feb 2006: 13.44 Mkm2
avg for Feb 2011: 13.52 Mkm2

Of course, sea ice extent isn't the best measure of Arctic melting -- that would be volume, which (as far as I know) is only calculated by PIOMASS (based, yes, partly on a model). That data isn't publicly available, so we don't know.

If extent was high I'm sure people like Romm would point out that it's really volume that matters. But since extent is low, they are OK with quoting it -- at least, according to someone.

Granted, it is strange that (as of March 1st) this year's sea ice extent is 2.6% below last year's value, what with the current phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation and all the northern hemisphere cold and all that.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Krugman on The Median Income Question

"Medieval theologians debated how many angels could fit on the head of a pin. Modern economists debate whether American median income has risen or fallen since the early 1970s. What’s really telling is the fact that we’re even having this debate. America is a far more productive and hence far richer country than it was a generation ago. The value of the output an average worker produces in an hour, even after you adjust for inflation, has risen almost 50 percent since 1973. Yet the growing concentration of income in the hands of a small minority has proceeded so rapidly that we’re not sure whether the typical American has gained anything from rising productivity."

-- Paul Krugman, The Conscience of a Liberal, p 124.

(Definitely a book worth reading.)

Why the Repetition in Sea Ice Data?

Here's something strange that I'm surprised no nitpicking skeptic (you know, the ones who snidely imply that every little error in every little thing anywhere refutes standard climate science): repetition in the JAXA data for Arctic sea ice extent.

Specifically the last 4 digits in the 7 and 8 digit numbers repeat far more often than expected by chance. For example, the extent numbers end in "0156" 59 times (as of today). "0938" comes up 54 times. Etc. These all occur much, much higher than chance (which is less than once in a data set this size), and suggest there might be a small systematic error in the data.

Weird. I've asked JAXA about it.