Monday, March 24, 2008
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Some 3,000 scientific robots that are plying the ocean have sent home a puzzling message. These diving instruments suggest that the oceans have not warmed up at all over the past four or five years. That could mean global warming has taken a breather. Or it could mean scientists aren't quite understanding what their robots are telling them.So...here we have an elaborate attempt to actually measure global warming; an experiment lauded because it would be immune to all the distortions of atmospheric temperature measurement that global warming skeptics have been complaining about. And the measurement shows (drum roll please) no warming trend.
This is puzzling in part because here on the surface of the Earth, the years since 2003 have been some of the hottest on record. But Josh Willis at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says the oceans are what really matter when it comes to global warming.
In fact, 80 percent to 90 percent of global warming involves heating up ocean waters. They hold much more heat than the atmosphere can. So Willis has been studying the ocean with a fleet of robotic instruments called the Argo system. The buoys can dive 3,000 feet down and measure ocean temperature. Since the system was fully deployed in 2003, it has recorded no warming of the global oceans.
What's a Goreacle Groupie™ to do? Why, blame it on a slight “breather” in global warming, or question the data, of course!
Based on past experience (i.e., ignoring satellite temperature measurement data, as it doesn't show any global warming trend), I predict this data will quietly disappear. The scientists who gathered it will all get large grants to produce more computer models instead of gathering that pesky real data...
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
In the early 1970s, I was in the Indian Ocean with the U.S. Navy, and I had occasion to visit Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon). Clarke was one of my boyhood heroes, so I looked him up – and got an invitation to dinner with him. Those of you who know me have probably already heard the story – the experience wasn't a particularly pleasant one. I won't repeat the story now, out of respect. But that bad experience aside, Clarke's body of work is something that has given me great enjoyment and even inspiration. I'm sad to know that there will be no more.
I'll leave you with one of my favorite Arthur C. Clarke quotes:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
At right are the flower buds on a prickly pear, just about to burst into bloom. Hopefully it will still be in bloom when I return next week...
Very few of the larger barrels were in bloom – perhaps four individuals out of hundreds. The best of them is definitely yet to come...
Monday, March 17, 2008
Sunday, March 16, 2008
If you're not familiar with chuparosa, you may not realize that at any given moment you're only likely to find a few individual plants with lots of bloom on them. It's very common to find a good-sized bush with just a couple of blossoms – so it can be quite challenging to find them (since the bush is a non-descript gray color)! On yesterday's trip, I only saw three chuparosa with abundant blooms; one of them is in a photo below. All the rest of these were on plants that had less than a half dozen blossoms…
As always, you can click on any photo for a larger view…
Despite the windy conditions I was able to take quite a few photos. I don't have time to post them today, so I'll be dribbling them out over the next few days. For starters, though, here are a few photos of a common species of butterfly in the Anza Borrego (though I don't know what it is). At right is one feeding on a blue phacelia in the lower Oriflamme. At right below is one that I noticed because of the noise and motion: it was flappy so energetically that I could hear it from ten feet or so away. I took this picture before I understood what was happening – it was caught in a spider web. I carefully pulled it out of the web, and then pulled off all the strands I could see clinging to its legs and wings. It fluttered away, apparently no worse for the experience.
As always, click on any photo for a larger view...
Thank you, Mr. Bow! And if you see a big white Tundra pickup with this on the back, you'll know you're behind SlighlyLoony…
And we got a lot of them! Enough to color the yard, cover our roof, and in certain spots form “drifts” a couple of inches deep. Very weird! The photo at right shows the view up the hill in our back yard: mossy rocks, manzanita, and ice pellets. The dogs weren't sure what the heck was going on, until one of them (Miki) figured out that the ground was covered with one of his favorite treats: ice cubes. Then he started to eat our yard…
The photos below show the pellets along the side of our driveway, close up, and around our peach tree (which is in bloom right now). Very odd!
Mr. Gore: please stay in loony land, wherever that might be – and stay away from Jamul!
As always, click on any photo to get a larger view…
Thursday, March 13, 2008
The new image processing technology is an elaboration of wavelet processing, a technique that's been around for over ten years, but is still being improved. You can read all about the new stuff here. Be sure to scroll all the way down to the bottom for a really nice demonstration of the power of this new technique...
The two technologies that offer the best hope for energy saving (compact fluorescent and white LED) have emission spectrums that are very “peaky”. For example, a white LED typically emits 90% or more of its light in either two or three very narrow bandwidths. If an object that is illuminated by such a lamp happens to be colored such that it doesn't match the colors emitted by the lamp, then it will appear to be a different color than it would have in sunlight (or incandescent light). If you've ever seen the peculiar way things look under low-pressure sodium street lamps (the yellow ones), then you've seen an extreme example of this. CFLs and LEDs aren't quite that bad, but to anyone who appreciates colors they can be very annoying. Perhaps even worse is a different phenomenon, often called “harshness”. This has to do with the opposite situation: when an object illuminated by CFL or LED light happens to be a color that matches the peak emission. Such an object has a peculiarly high intensity, almost as though it were glowing on its own. In reality, the object is reflecting more light than it would under sunlight of the same average brightness – another effect of the “peaky” emission spectrum – and our perceptual system interprets this as that almost-self-glowing effect.
Manufacturers of CFLs and LEDs are working to improve this discontinuous spectrum problem. In the case of CFLs, that means better phosphors and compromises on efficiency. There are multiple technologies being used and developed for LEDs, and I think in the long term the best LEDs are likely to be superior to the best CFLs (this is not true today, however).
This week's puzzler is back to history. As usual, no fair googling before you answer!
America has had a series of violent episodes in its schools, and many Americans believe the incidents are escalating both in severity and in frequency. That's actually a challenging thing to determine, as our population has increased rapidly throughout our history, and the number of schools (and the number of children in those schools) has varied greatly. This complicates analysis and comparison. But at least one data point is very easy: the worst incident of school violence in American history left 38 students dead. What year did this incident occur in?
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I recognized that I held those two views of America (politics, government, corporations, the military). One was of a state where everything was magically wrong and must be immediately corrected at any cost; and the other—the world in which I actually functioned day to day—was made up of people, most of whom were reasonably trying to maximize their comfort by getting along with each other (in the workplace, the marketplace, the jury room, on the freeway, even at the school-board meeting).
And I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace.
A 19-year-old medic from Texas will become the first woman in Afghanistan and only the second female soldier since World War II to receive the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest medal for valor.The honor, courage, dedication, and willing sacrifice of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq is a never-ending source of inspiration for me. For each Spc. Brown who is publicly recognized, there untold numbers of similar and smaller acts of valor and kindness by our troops over there.
Army Spc. Monica Lin Brown saved the lives of fellow soldiers after a roadside bomb tore through a convoy of Humvees in the eastern Paktia province in April 2007, the military said.
After the explosion, which wounded five soldiers in her unit, Brown ran through insurgent gunfire and used her body to shield wounded comrades as mortars fell less than 100 yards away, the military said.
"I did not really think about anything except for getting the guys to a safer location and getting them taken care of and getting them out of there," [said Brown.]
The lamestream media rarely reports such good news, but there are plenty of places on the web (milblogs, Centcom, and military-focused sites) that do. Reading about our troops in those places will inspire you – and make you angry at the one-sided, America-is-always-wrong reporting in the lamestream media...
Well, I'm not ignorant of it at all. In fact, my own impression was that the story was considerably over-reported in both the lamestream media (who really ought to be ashamed that they haven't taken on Spitzer far prior to this affair) and in the blogosphere, so there was little need for me to add my two cents worth (but then, that's never stopped me before!). Also, my personal reaction is complicated, and a little difficult to speak to.
My overriding reaction is to be saddened by the whole tawdry affair. To have New York and the entire country dragged through Spitzer's tittilating sex life is not my idea of American politics. And a recurring sad theme is the impact of all this on his wife and children.
But many other sub-themes are at play here as well:
- The businessman in me wants blood. Not in particular because of Spitzer's dalliance; that's just a means to an end. My inner businessman wants blood because Spitzer has been, for years, a sanctimonious self-serving bully, perfectly willing to shake down honest corporate managers for his own purposes (justice not amongst them). This is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to take the evil bully down.
- My libertarian leanings have me pondering why prostitution is still illegal in most of the U.S. It's a fairly pure case of government interfering in commerce between two consenting adults, and it's very well established that the criminalization of prostitution is (a) not reducing the incidence, and (b) not helping the prostitutes. Furthermore, as Michael Barone eloquently points out, for the most part, in most places (and certainly in New York), prostitution is generally not prosecuted as a crime. This selective prosecution opens the door for abuse – no matter what I think of Eliot Spitzer (and what I think is most definitely not positive!), I wouldn't wish him to be prosecuted for a crime that other citizens wouldn't be.
- As an always-curious American male, I'd really, really like to know just what in the hell makes a hooker worth $5,500 an hour?!? I'll bet more than a few women would like to know that, too. And why on earth did Spitzer feel the need to import a hooker from New York to hooker central (aka Washington, D.C.)?
- My inner judge is frustrated that Spitzer is going down for something insignificant and essentially meaningless, when he has committed many real crimes that have destroyed the lives and fortunes of honest American citizens. Instead, he has mostly been lauded in the lamestream media for his hard-charging attacks on successful American businesses for, well, being successful American businesses.
- My inner criminal prosecutor wants to know why Spitzer prosecuted some prostitution organizations, while simultaneously frequenting another. Was there some quid pro quo here? Perhaps a rate reduction from his favored supplier in exchange for taking out the competition? Also, did Spitzer (a very wealthy man) pay full boat for services rendered? Or did he enjoy a discount in return for laying off the prosecution?
- There is an enjoyable aspect of watching Spitzer wriggle: the irony of him being caught by law enforcement using a technique that Spitzer himself pioneered – the search for “structuring” (the arrangement of financial affairs in pursuit of a criminal enterprise).
- Watching Spitzer's wife stand beside him at his public apology was agonizing, raising painful thoughts of how their children would have to deal with. It also provoked a ponder. Could I imagine my own wife, in similar circumstances, doing the same thing? No. In fact, in similar circumstances I would never have the opportunity to apologize, because I would be dead. Most likely, I'd have been tortured for days in secret until I expired, after which my body would be chopped into bite-sized pieces and fed to the coyotes. By my wife. With a smile. We've seen the supportive political wife so many times in recent years – what is it with these people? It seems like they live in a completely different world than most Americans I know...
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
The starting point: a NASA scientist named Ferenc M. Miskolczi. Way back in 2006, Mr. Miskolczi began to ponder why the climate models were still using methods designed to work around the lack of computer power when modern computers gave them all the power they needed to do it right. This sort of simplification of models is very common when modeling complex natural phenomenon, as the amount of data and computation can easily completely overwhelm any computer.
But the climate models then (and still today!) used some simplifications that were, to put it mildly, suspect. Mr. Miskolczi focused on one particular such simplification: the models' assumption that the Earth's atmosphere had an infinite “optical thickness”, which basically is an assumption that the optical characteristics of the atmosphere are the same at every altitude. In fact, the Earth's atmosphere grows less dense with altitude (an approximately exponential decline), and by the time you reach 100 km (about 60 miles) in altitude there is almost no atmosphere at all – and the optical characteristics of the atmosphere change accordingly. It isn't constant at all. Mr. Miskolczi wondered what effect on the models would be obtained by replacing that simplification with reality – something modern computers are fully capable of doing.
The results were very interesting, to say the least. Keep in mind that Mr. Miskolczi's changes are still a model, not empirical evidence. All he did was to remove a simplification to make the existing models adhere more closely to reality. But when he did that, poof! Global warming disappeared, just like that. I just made a huge simplification of his study, but that's the essence of it in layman's language.
Of course with such startling and important results, Mr. Miskolczi immediately tried to publish his study. NASA (whose chief climatology scientist is James Hanson, whom I've posted about several times) refused. After finally giving up on getting his work published through his employer, Mr. Miskolczi resigned in protest – and published his study independently. You can read the whole thing here. Here's the abstract:
In this work the theoretical relationship between the clear-sky outgoing infrared radiation and the surface upward radiative flux is explored by using a realistic finite semi-transparent atmospheric model. We show that the fundamental relationship between the optical depth and source function contains real boundary condition parameters. We also show that the radiative equilibrium is controlled by a special atmospheric transfer function and requires the continuity of the temperature at the ground surface. The long standing misinterpretation of the classic semi-infinite Eddington solution has been resolved. Compared to the semi-infinite model the finite semi-transparent model predicts much smaller ground surface temperature and a larger surface air temperature. The new equation proves that the classic solution significantly overestimates the sensitivity of greenhouse forcing to optical depth perturbations. In Earth-type atmospheres sustained planetary greenhouse effect with a stable ground surface temperature can only exist at a particular planetary average flux optical depth of 1.841 . Simulation results show that the Earth maintains a controlled greenhouse effect with a global average optical depth kept close to this critical value. The broadband radiative transfer in the clear Martian atmosphere follows different principle resulting in different analytical relationships among the fluxes. Applying the virial theorem to the radiative balance equation we present a coherent picture of the planetary greenhouse effect.And here's a snippet from a representative page:
Here's some further reading on the above story (and its principals): here, here, here, here, and here.
On a related note, the lamestream media appears to be picking up on the idea that perhaps the fact that millions upon millions of dollars of research grants are at stake has something to do with the motivation of global warming proponents. Ya think? The preceding link is to a New York Times article whose author seems to be a bit bemused that global warming proponents would accuse the skeptics of being motivated by the money … as well he should be!
The past couple of months has seen more positive portrayal of global warming (anthropogenic or not) skeptics in the media than I've seen since the Goracle started his agitprop. I hope this will lead to some balance in the research funding, and (consequently) in the quality of the science emerging from it...
Sunday, March 9, 2008