Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Books I Read This Year

I thought I'd list the books I read in 2021. My goal is always to read a book a week, but I never succeed -- this year I read 27, which is lower than last year's 32. I try to read a diverse selection, including nonfiction (N) and fiction (F); over the years 56% of the books I've read have been nonfiction. A few things here I read were to write reviews for Physics World: Seven Pillars of Science, Lightspeed, and (coming) A Quantum Life. After the authors I list the year of publications.

I've highlighted in bright yellow books I absolutely loved, and in light yellow books I thoroughly enjoyed. The Ministry for the Future was unique sci fi and I think would be quite appealing to anyone who closely follows climate issues. Tenth of December is a book of short stories from George Saunders, who has a wild imagination--the stories were a joy to read, and one in particular still quite memorable. And The Overstory by Richard Powers is simply one of the best novels I have ever read. It's a book about trees, and I'm still thinking about some of them, and the people who were involved with them. It's a remarkable book and I highly recommend it to everyone, especially those with an environmentalist bent. I cried more than once while reading it, and I'm actually getting a tear in the corner of my eye right now. I'm not even sure why--that's the beauty and power (and mystery) of this book. At least it was to me.

I'm interested in hearing what books you loved this year and would recommend.  

Just A Nice Chart

Earth's average global surface temperature compared to total radiative energy from the Sun. Diverging.


Friday, December 24, 2021

Didion Quote

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

-- Joan Didion, On Keeping a Notebook

Didion died on Thursday at age 87.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Omicron Less Severe Than Delta, But More Contagious

So it appears, based on a preliminary study in Scotland, that the omicron variant of COVID is more transmissible but less severe than the delta variant.

Perhaps good news for individuals, but bad news for hospitals.

From the Washington Post, about a study conducted in Scotland with apparently a population with characteristics close to the US:

The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, found that people infected with the omicron variant were almost 60 percent less likely to enter the hospital than those infected with delta, the globally dominant variant is being eclipsed rapidly.

The Scottish scientists said that recently vaccinated people appear to have some protection against symptomatic infection from omicron but less so than against delta. A third dose or booster of an mRNA vaccine was associated with a 57 percent reduction in the odds of developing symptomatic covid-19. Boosters gave better protection against the delta variant — more than 80 percent.


That group, led by Neil Ferguson, reported that those infected by omicron were 15 to 20 percent less likely to go to an emergency room with severe symptoms and 40 percent less likely to be hospitalized overnight, when compared with those infected by delta.

But they say the numbers are too small to reach definitive conclusions.

Still, those aren't odds I'm interested in playing. The unvaccinated clearly don't care anyway, but will no doubt use this as justification to stay unvaccinated, even though many of them will still die.


Ferguson also urged caution.

“Our analysis shows evidence of a moderate reduction in the risk of hospitalization associated with the omicron variant compared with the delta variant,” he said. “However, this appears to be offset by the reduced efficacy of vaccines against infection with the omicron variant.”

Ferguson stressed that given the high transmissibility of the omicron variant, “there remains the potential for health services to face increasing demand if omicron cases continue to grow at the rate that has been seen in recent weeks.”

To my surprise, new US COVID cases on Tuesday were down from Monday, 189,030 compared to 276,389. But they'll be higher today. We'll see how much higher. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

"Don't Look Up" Trailer

This actually looks like it might be pretty good:

Yesterday Saw Second-Highest Case Count in the Pandemic

Yesterday saw the second-highest number of new recorded COVID cases since the start of the pandemic, lagging only last winter's peak in the (uses fingers to count) third wave. I suspect today will set a record. On NPR this morning Fauci said this will likely peak sometime in January -- I forget if he gave a more precise time -- then decline just as fast. I wonder now if we aren't all going to get COVID by then. The hospitals are going to be a mess, if they aren't already. As in, you won't be able to get into one if you need to. I'm really starting to fear what's coming in the next few weeks -- it could be unprecedented. 

The New York Times says most new infections may soon be breakthroughs, that is, in the vaccinated, especially the unboosted. In the US, 61% are vaccinated (2 shots) but only 28% are boosted (3 shots). 

But with Omicron, being fully vaccinated does not appear to provide the same level of protection, in terms of infection and transmission. While the vaccinated still appear likely to avoid serious illness, there remains a risk they will experience symptoms. They may also pass the virus to someone else.

With the ability to spread widely and quickly, Omicron is poised to become the dominant variant. It’s unclear how severe or mild Omicron is for someone who has not been vaccinated and thus has no coronavirus immunity. In the United States data suggest that around 61 percent of Americans of all ages are fully vaccinated. There are millions of Americans who are not vaccinated.

Hospitals are already overburdened by Delta patients, and the consequences of many infections in a short period will be increasingly deadly. Even cases among the vaccinated can still lead to long Covid.

Fortunately, there’s mounting evidence that a third shot, which the Food and Drug Administration authorized in November for all adults, can increase people’s defenses. But only around 28 percent of Americans have received a booster.

From the Washington Post:

Monday, December 20, 2021

Hope in the U.S. Terminal Decline

The Omicron Surge

Seems like it's time to start worrying seriously about COVID numbers again, doesn't it? And getting serious about precautions. Again. I've gotten lax about washing my hands when I get home. We all still wear masks indoors here in Oregon -- haven't stopped since March 2020, and compliance is near 100% around here, in blue Oregon.

You hear that the omicron variant is more contagious but causes a less serious illness than the delta variant, but I am doubting that. After reading this excellent NPR article, it seems that conclusion was based on a large South African study where most participants had some prior exposure to COVID and thus had built up some natural immunity. That's unlikely to be the case in the US and Europe for the unvaccinated. So there may be some big surprises in store for them. As the graph below shows, already Denmark and the UK are getting slammed, highly vaccinated countries you'd think would have a handle on COVID by now. (Admittedly I cherry picked these two countries for their extreme and growing rates. That's the point.) Omicron is surging in the northeast US, and in Washington DC, and hospitals are getting slammed and in some cases at capacity. Check out this Sunday newspaper ad by Cleveland area hospitals. Being vaccinated and boosted, to me that's the scary part -- hospitals being so overwhelmed they can't take care of non-COVID patients who need emergency care or surgeries they have scheduled. (Of course, I'm fear getting COVID, too.) And for that I directly blame the selfish people who refuse to get vaccinated. It's absurd and I simply can't understand their objections, given the consequences of getting the disease and the risk they pose to society. It really seems like something in the water supply has removed rationality from a third of the people in this country. 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Save of the Year (Perhaps)

Malcolm Subban of the Buffalo Sabres, Friday night against the Penguins. Even Subban doesn't know what he did, let alone how.
Penguins still won 3-2 so it was OK.

Malcolm is younger brother of NJ Devils excellent defenseman and all-around rapscallion P.K. Subban. There's a still younger brother, Jordan, not yet at the NHL level. All play defense.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Einstein Quote

"I must seek in the stars what was denied to me on earth." 

-- Albert Einstein, in a letter to his secretary and lover, Betty Neumann, in 1924 

via A Quantum Life by Hakeem Oluseyi

Monday, December 13, 2021

NOAA: Fourth-Warmest November

Total global warming according to NOAA is now 1.09°C (via linear regression)

Friday, December 10, 2021

A Unique NHL Goal?

This alley-oop goal may be the most unique goal ever recorded in NHL history. It was scored Friday night by the Anaheim Duck's Sonny Milano, with the assist, the unique part, the alley oop, by Trevor Zegras. Watch afterward, even they can't believe they pulled it off:

The announcers get it wrong, missing that Milano batted the puck in. The goalies and defense looked stunned and confused. Zegras and Milano can't quite believe it.


A "Michigan" goal, also called a "Michigan lacrosse goal," is where a player scoops the puck up and whips it around the goal and in next to the goalie's head:

It's still rare, but becoming more frequently seen in recent years. Some people call it the "Sidney Crosby goal," because Crosby did it in the minor leagues as a 16-year old when he played for Rimouski Oceanic, though apparently he didn't invent it:

He's only tried it rarely in the NHL though, like here last season:

Some pros don't like it, some do, some won't try it. Young kids are the ones going for it -- in the top video, note that Trevor Zegras is only 20 years old, in only his second NHL season.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Swarm of Moderate Earthquakes Off Oregon Coast

Starting about 1:30 pm Pacific Time yesterday there have been a swarm earthquakes off the Oregon Coast. I get alerts from the USGS Earthquakes Hazard Program and so far there have been 27 of magnitude 4.5 or greater, with the highest M5.8 (twice). 

No tsunamis are expected or have been reported, according to EarthSky. They quote an ex-AP science writer who lives on the Oregon coast:

As of 7:05 a.m. PST [15:05 UTC on December 8], there were 56 quakes in the swarm, 13 of which were 5.0 to 5.8 magnitude.

Probably means nothing... except here we're all waiting for the M9+ that will probably devastate this entire region. Oh boy. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Nice Chess Writing

Maybe you know, but the World Chess Championship is taking place is Dubai right now, the defending champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway against Russian grandmaster challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi. Through eight games, Carlsen was up by 2 points. 

Here is how Oliver Roeder introduced his article about game 9 for, which I think is just beautiful:

Wonderful writing. 

However Nepomniachtchi lost game 9, and it's now clear Carlsen will retain his title. Carlsen just turned 31 on Nov 30. He was ranked #1 in the world at age 19, and became world chess champion in 2013 at age 22. (Only Gary Kasparov was younger, by about 5 months.) 

The current game 6 was the longest world championship game in history, 136 moves. It seems most think it wiped Nepo out psychologically, and perhaps physically as well.

Match is best of 14 games, with Carlsen now up 6-3. So the result seems to be a given at this point. I wish Carlsen, with his good looks and cool Gen Z personality, was bringing some growth to chess in the US, but we're probably too fucked up of country to hope for that now.

* I was chess champion of my high school, way back when we still dressed halfway decently and the world still had hope, except for the fear of global nuclear war and the end of all life on Earth. Also won a round robin tournament in my hometown among about 50 people when I was 16, beating a bunch of old men (viz. those now my age) and a too-smart little 13-year old Asian kid in the last game, for the tournament win, when everyone else was looking in over our shoulders, when he made a tiny mistake (I thought) around move 11 and I thought for 20 minutes, all those people hovering over us, then moved deep into his territory and tore him apart in a couple more moves. Maybe one of the best moments of my life. You know how those are, when you're 16. Wish I still had my written record of the game. My parents picked me up and I had a trophy and they didn't even notice or ask about it, and me, being 16, didn't say a thing.

Chuck Wiese Was Even Dumber Than I Thought

Awhile back I corrected Chuck Wiese for making the claim that the monstrous late June Pacific Northwest heat wave, which here peaked at 117°F (47.2°C), was natural. 

An ex-TV meteorologist, not a scientist, with only a B.S., his analysis included some bad physics based on a misunderstanding of the nature of blackbodies.

Actual scientists, doing real scientific analysis, concluded, not surprisingly, that the worst heat wave in the history of the world included a significant anthropogenic component: "It was almost impossible for the temperatures seen recently in the Pacific North West heatwave to have occurred without global warming."

In his usual fashion, Wiese responded with a fusillade of insults indicative of his uncertainties and insecurities. It wasn't pleasant to dig through his verbal crap -- no doubt its intended purpose -- but now that I have it's clear he only dug his hole deeper. 

Wiese wrote:

I have stated that the 15 micron band which composes the Q-branch of its radiation behaves nearly as a black body over that narrow range of wavelength where the absorption coefficients are very high similar to black body radiation.

Let's recall, yet again: a blackbody is one that absorbs all radiation incident upon it.

So a single band, like the 15-micron band, cannot behave "nearly as a black body." Period. It doesn't absorb all radiation, it only absorbs 15-micron radiation. End of story. So blackbody equations do not apply to it. 

Wiese just doesn't know what he's talking about.

And this is hardly the only reason why his analysis was ridiculous and nuts. 

The worst heat wave ever occurred (well, a 1000-year weather event) because of humans. It killed over 1,000 people. I doubt someone like Wiese cares -- for him they're just fodder in his culture war. But he was wrong. And he has to face that, and will one day or another. 

Why? Because things are not going to be getting any better.

Stunning Image From Mars

An image of the Maria Gordon notch on Mars from the Curiosity rover. The cliff on the right is 12 meters high.... I almost feel like I've hiked through here somewhere in Arizona.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Knowing the Future One Second Ahead

Lots I should be blogging about, but for the moment this will have to do: a goalie who knows where the shoots are going a second before the other team shoots them.