Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Middle East via The Times

The Times has a couple of good travel stories relating to the Middle East. First, here's an amusing story on new, quite silly, gargantuan themed resort in Dubai, called Atlantis.

Actually, this part sounds pretty cool (if you are rich enough to afford it):
For more drama, you can always go for the Lost Chambers suites: the bedrooms look out through huge underwater picture windows into the resort’s 11m-litre lagoon, stocked with sharks, rays,angel-fish, trevallies and more, in dense, multicoloured shoals.

Fine for romantics, as long as you don’t mind a fishy audience – though the sight of the rays gliding past is so mesmerising, you might not get round to anything energetic.

But the silly part is the imaginary theme:
It takes a certain damn-the-torpedoes guts to spend £750m on a premise this self-evidently daft: the “discovery” of a 10,000-year-old civilisation that never existed, on an island that’s still being finished...

The keynote the Lost Chambers. In a dimly lit stone labyrinth full of startled fish are great bits of fallen masonry covered with mysterious runes (though, presumably, they’re not that mysterious to the guy who made them up). You wouldn’t think you’re supposed to take all this stuff seriously, but they do, they really do.

From the top down, Atlantis’s staff treat their newly constructed ruins with po-faced reverence. Their eyes take on a spooky, glazed look when they talk about it, like freshly indoctrinated members of a Californian UFO cult.

“This is the Abyss,” my guide says. “It was here the Atlanteans mined their minerals – they lowered their miners down this well. Fascinating, isn’t it?”

“But... it’s not real, is it?” I mumble. My words simply don’t register. “We expect a lot of school parties,” he says. “Education is a big part of our work.”

The funny thing is, I quite like fake environments. I love Disney World, for example. But Dubai 's attempt to create man-made excitement out of a bit of desert by the sea leaves me cold. It just seems to be trying too hard, somehow, and too much of it is designed for decadent tastes.

Which brings us to Emirates, the airline which intends first class to be literally a travelling spa:

Although the launch of the A380 initially prompted wild speculation that the aircraft would feature shopping malls and cinemas, Emirates has come up with a genuine wheeze – showers.

You have to have deep pockets of course – the shower spa room is only for the lucky 14 passengers who will occupy the First Class suites, but the favoured few will be allowed to spend 25 minutes in the spa itself – beauty treatments available – and five minutes in the shower which is regulated by a five-minute timer that glows green, amber and red as the allowance runs down.

And you thought getting out of the toilet to get back to your seat in a hurry during sudden turbulence was a worry.

Actually, the most interesting feature of the story is this: the apparent great fuel economy of the A380:
“Emirates will have the lowest fuel economy of any aircraft in the world,” said chairman and chief executive Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al-Maktoum in Hamburg. “We will use just three litres of fuel per passenger per 100km (60miles) – the A380 unites sensible business with social responsibility.”
If only one of them would fit in my garage.

Even more architecture porn (and this time I mean it)

Have a look at item 2, and just try and not laugh.

More architecture porn

This time in the New York Times: a slideshow of houses by John Lautner. Very 60's feel, but in a very good way.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Edit mess

Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan, and the rise of the choppy fight scene. - By Dennis Lim - Slate Magazine

I couldn't agree more with this article's suggestion that current editing of action movies makes a real mess of fight scenes.

All hail Steven Spielberg, whose direction (and whoever does his editting) is like a beacon of clarity.

Jerry, Jerry

Jerry Lewis detained for carrying gun at airport
Comedian Jerry Lewis was detained by police in Las Vegas late last week when airport screeners found an unloaded gun in his baggage, authorities said on Tuesday. Lewis, 82, had a small .22-caliber handgun when he arrived at the security screening area on Friday at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport
But get this, he was on his way to do a one man show! He's still working? I hope he's arranged for some sight gag at his funeral.

Big news?

'Bigfoot' sighted in remote Canadian forest - Telegraph

There's been a lot of stuff about Bigfoot appearing at The Anomalist in the last month, mainly because of a claim, mysteriously unverified, of a group finding a dead body!

But a couple of people who sight a hairy walking thing in the woods of Canada, that's a bit more interesting.

Gloria Jeans survives

Gloria Jean Speaking Requests

Starbucks decline in Australia has come as a bit of a shock. I think I have said here before, I always thought Gloria Jeans was a better product anyway.

I didn't know anything about where that franchise started, but it would appear (see link above) to have been from Gloria Jean, a hairdresser, in Chicago. But wealth can't stop stuff like this:
Just when she thought life would be really good and she could sit back and enjoy life after selling Gloria Jean's, her husband asked for a divorce by fax and a couple years later she finds breast cancer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Not quite the Rocketeer

Inventor plans to unveil jetpack at air show

Well, it's not really a jet, has only flown to a height of 6 feet, is very noisy and has a 30 minute range.

I'm underwhelmed.

The shame of seeing a lawyer

In rural Japan, a shortage of lawyers - International Herald Tribune

The most interesting part of this story is about the vastly different cultural attitude the Japanese have towards lawyers:
Here in Yakumo, four clients came to see Hirai on a recent day: an older woman worried about leaving an inheritance to an adopted son; a middle-aged salaryman who had hit a female employee; two clients involved in land disputes, one dating from the 1930s.

Like many Japanese who consult lawyers, the four seemed embarrassed about doing so.

"Japanese by nature don't want to publicize their problems," Hirai explained. "And coming to see a lawyer is to admit that there are problems inside your home or workplace."

It was precisely to dispel the shame of consulting a lawyer that Hirai chose to open his office in the town's most prominent square.

Red State/Blue State

This clip from tonight's Daily Show is quite funny, and it has the added benefit of not featuring much of Jon Stewart:

Kevin and Penny don't spread the word

Magnetic Island News - Magnetic Island, North Queensland, Australia

Late last week on the TV news we saw Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong going for a look at a bit of a look at the Great Barrier Reef, and afterwards talking about how global warming will harm it.

I see from that famous newspaper, The Magnetic Times, that Rudd was told about more than global warming. It would appear that ocean acidification got a detailed mention too. From the above link:

Katharina Fabricius, a Principal Research Scientist from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), who, along with fellow Magnetic Islanders, Dr Glenn De'ath and spatial analyst Stuart Kininmonth, is involved in a soon-to-be released web-based atlas of the reef, told Magnetic Times, "Sheriden had three hours to brief the Prime Minister who then gave a twenty minute speech in the Council Chamber that showed he really got the message. It went really well.” ....

Dr Fabricius described the serious effects of climate change on the reef which has prompted the making of the Atlas. “Climate change is already evident on the reef in two forms. One is water temperature which, from records which go back to the 1870s, shows that the ocean's water temperature has increased by 0.7 degrees C in the last hundred years. Corals have a low tolerance to only minor increases in water temperature, and hot water has led to the mass bleachings that have begun to happen in the last twenty years.”

Of even greater concern is ocean acidification. The world's oceans absorb about half of the atmosphere's CO2. With increased CO2 in the sea water it becomes more acidic. Models predict that the pH (the measure of acidity and alkalinity) has already declined by 0.1 units which means that shellfish, crustaceans, corals and other marine creatures which utilise the carbonate in the water are less able to calcify.”
Well, why on earth in the evening TV news grabs don't we hear the PM, Penny Wong and others talking specifically about ocean acidification as a vital issue if Australia wants to preserve its extensive coral reefs? They clearly know about it, yet for some reason it still gets little media attention.

It also remains the issue that Andrew Bolt never mentions, I suspect because he can't find any credible ocean scientist type who can rebut the dire concerns other than by saying "it's all a conspiracy, everything will be alright, you just wait and see."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sony does the right thing - sort of

Sony opens up e-book Reader to other booksellers

As far as I know Sony have never released the Reader in Australia. God knows why; we're not exactly the end of the earth anymore.

But now with this opening it up to be able to buy books other than from Sony, it might be on its way. I hope.

Some updates

* Discover magazine answered my email and said that the mistake in the ocean acidification article was noted shortly after publication, and the error will be noted in the September magazine. Oddly, though, they just leave the web version of the article un-amended. Seems a peculiar way to run things.

* Brideshead Revisited has opened to (surprise!) generally good reviews in the States. There are some, though, who call it a travesty, and that's good enough for me. AO Scott gets amusingly personal with this comment on the lead actor:
Charles is a complicated character, who causes a lot of trouble in the Flyte-Marchmain family even as he pretends to be a detached observer of its internal drama. The role calls for a mix of diffidence and magnetism — Charles is a shy, stoical seducer — but Mr. Goode shows all the charisma of a stalk of boiled asparagus molded into the likeness of Jeremy Irons. The film can’t explain why Julia or Sebastian would conceive a risky, tempestuous passion for Charles other than that Waugh seemed to think they might.
* Anthony Lane reviews Mamma Mia! and has a good line or two:
The legal definition of torture has been much aired in recent years, and I take “Mamma Mia!” to be a useful contribution to that debate.

Sounds fun

Time Lord opens the Tardis to a new generation of Prom-goers - Times Online

Caitlin Moran reports on the Dr Who prom held at Albert Hall.

Dr Who continues to be silly fun, marred only occasionally by Russell T Davies slipping in his hints to impressionable youth that being a sexual libertine, across both gender and species borders, is oh-so-cool.

Has anyone else noticed how important the music is to each episode of the re-invented show? It's loud, often annoyingly so, but there is no doubt that it sells excitement. It's really like Star Wars, where so much its emotional hold came from the score.

Long investigations

While the Qantas incident is all very interesting, it would appear to be an accident that will be explained quickly.

The same can't be said for the British Airways crash in London in January. Since the Air Accident Investigations Branch issued its special bulletin in May, we have heard no more from them. The Wikipedia article notes that the investigators have found:
...cavitation damage to the high pressure fuel pumps of both engines, indicative of abnormally low pressure at the pump inlets. After ruling out fuel freezing or contamination, the investigation now focuses on what caused the low pressure at the pump inlets. "Restrictions in the fuel system between the aircraft fuel tanks and each of the engine HP pumps, resulting in reduced fuel flows, is suspected."
This seems a very peculiar scenario, given that it affected both engines at the same time. I am very curious to see the final explanation.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A question of qualifications

Sceptical global warming bloggers tend to rush to take encouragement when anyone with some scientific sounding qualification agrees with them. For example, Dr David Evans' recent article in The Australian made a big splash in sceptic circles, yet it seemed clear from the opening of his article that he was not even claiming to be a scientist with expertise in atmospheric modelling. (His own biography gives his qualifications as being in electrical engineering.) As Deltoid (far from a favourite blog of mine, but he has his moments) pointed out quickly, Evan's "killer" point about troposphere temperatures had been dealt with over at Real Climate half a year ago, and as far as I can tell, is not actually shaking the foundations of the IPCC to the ground in the way software writer David claims.

In a similar vein, Wikipedia notes that of the "30,000 scientists" who have signed the anti global warming Oregon Petition, those in the most relevant category of "atmospheric, environment and earth sciences" apparently number 3,697. There seems to be no easy way of assessing how many of them have actually worked on issues directly relevant to global warming or CO2. Also, as the Wikipedia article explains, it's hard to tell how many signatures are genuine, and indeed many who first signed in 1998 may well have changed their mind since then. The petition certainly has a murky past.

I don't see why I should be convinced by the opinions of your average physicist, doctor and engineer when it comes to questions of assessing global warming issues. After all, just because Edgar Mitchell has a Ph.D and been to the moon does not mean I give any particular credence to his claim that aliens have been here and the US government is hiding the fact. Perhaps a less extreme example to make the same point is the line up of 9/11 conspiracy believers that includes engineers, architects and physicists.

I am aware that there are warming sceptics that have all the specific qualifications and work experience to mean that they are very familiar with the topic. Fine, their opinion is definitely not to be dismissed without examination. However, I still say that the sceptics make their argument much weaker by cheering whenever anyone who can call themselves a scientist says they agree.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Break needed

No more posting for a week. Tax doom approaches.

A question

The answer to this is probably out there somewhere on the internet, but quick googling hasn't revealed it to me yet.

A few posts back, I mentioned a Nature opinion piece which argued strongly that America could not afford to wait to have an effective emissions trading scheme up and running in 10 or so years time. It argued that the urgency of action needed to limit CO2 to even 550 ppm meant that the US should concentrate on immediate deployment of current clean technology. R&D should be on the technology that needs to be deployed in 20 or 30 years time.

Assuming that the same argument applies equally well to Australia, a valid criticism of Labor's emission trading plans is that they do not place significant emphasis on immediate deployment of clean technology. (The Liberals can be criticised likewise, of course.)

But, my question is: what detailed schemes have been proposed by academics or others in Australia that concentrate on immediate large reductions of CO2. I read or heard about some paper a year or two ago, from which university I forget, which I think set out a rapid plan for significant reduction to CO2 emissions in Australia, and I seem to recall they placed a large emphasis on natural gas for electricity, at least as an intermediate step.

The Greens, of course, are running the argument that current technology can power Australia, but I don't know whether they are working to specific and detailed plans, or if they are just expressing the ideal. Their website seems light on details, so I suspect the latter.

Anyway, if anyone can point me to such detailed proposals, I would be interested.

Breaking rank

Miranda Sawyer wonders why female-friendly films are so bad

I like the way this starts:
We went to the theatre the other night, a desperate evening enlivened only by imagining just how much more fun we could have had with the hundred quid it cost us. The play was The Year of Magical Thinking, a monologue about death performed by Vanessa Redgrave (I know: what did we expect? Custard pies?).

Rampaging beavers

Beaver 'blight' is a warning to UK | Environment | The Observer

Last week, I noted that The Independent was full of praise for the beaver. This week, The Guardian (see above) has a cautionary tale of beavers causing havoc in South America:

'I have seen the impact of all sorts of animals introduced to new habitats, but I have never seen anything like the damage inflicted by these beavers,' said Josh Donlan, of the ACS. 'They move along rivers and lay waste to their banks. It looks as if bulldozers have been let loose. Millions of acres have been wrecked.'

Fifty North American beavers, Castor canadensis, were introduced to Tierra del Fuego, in southern South America, in the 1940s in order to establish a fur trade. It was a catastrophic mistake. Numbers multiplied dramatically and beavers spread across the archipelago, crossed the Magellan Strait and are now spreading through the mainland.

Damn. My plans for introducing them to Australia may have its opponents.

Told you

Malaria resistance gene ups HIV risk (ABC News in Science)

This story reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend in the late 1980's, in which I said maybe HIV had taken hold strongly in parts of Africa because of a genetic susceptibility in the black population. I could not remember for sure at the time when or where I might have read the suggestion, but in any event, it seemed plausible.

My friend dismissed the idea, thinking it was too close to racist.

Years later, we fell out in circumstances in which I do have to take some blame. Now I feel potentially vindicated.

The moral of the story is: you should try hard to keep friends, if you want to be able to laughingly claim vindication 20 years later. Or something like that, anyway...

Homeless, but with internet

Temporary arrangements | The Japan Times Online

Here's a good read about the working poor who are living in internet cafes:

Cyber@Cafe in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture, is home to around 25 people who "live" there. The cafe, located outside JR Warabi Station, occupies three floors of an office building and has a shower room, a washing machine and high-tech toilets for the convenience of its guests. Blankets can be borrowed for free. Guests paying ¥200 can spend 30 minutes in the cafe's comfortable 130 cm × 190 cm cubicles, which each have soft pads on the floor, a pair of black and red cushions, and a personal computer with a high-speed Internet connection.

The biggest attraction, however, is that guests who pay for a month's stay (¥57,600) in advance can register the cafe as their home and have mail sent there for an additional ¥3,000. At least four people have registered the cafe as their home with the local city government, according to Cyber@Cafe owner Akihiro Sato.

At current exchange rates, that's about $600 a month for your own little, tiny room with internet access. There are worse ways to live.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Discover magazine does ocean acidification in depth

There's a detailed article on ocean acidification just up at Discover magazine. (If you have read this article at Online Opinion, you may be surprised at how similar they are, but I have it on very strong authority that the Online Opinion piece was written without knowledge of the coming Discover article). Here's a lengthy section from Discover worth extracting:

Over the history of the planet, there have been many sudden peaks in CO2 related to volcanic eruptions, releases from hydrothermal vents, and other natural events. When the pH of the ocean dips as a result of absorbing this excess gas, bottom sediments rich in calcium carbonate begin to dissolve, countering the increase in acidity. This buffering process occurs over 20,000 years, roughly the time it takes for water to circulate along the bottom from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back up to the surface several times. Currently, however, we are pouring man-made CO2 into the atmosphere at 50 times the natural rate. “That overwhelms the natural buffering system for maintaining balance in ocean chemistry,” the Carnegie Institution’s Caldeira says. “To find any parallel in the earth’s history you would have to look to a sudden violent shock to the system far in the geologic past.”

One such event occurred 55 million years ago at the so-called Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), when 4.5 million tons of greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere. Just what triggered this enormous emission is not known, but scientists suspect volcanic activity may have begun the process. That may in turn have caused the planet to heat up enough to melt deposits of methane frozen in sediments on the ocean floor (something, incidentally, that could happen again), discharging even more potent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and further heating the planet in an escalating feedback loop.

Whatever the exact cause of the CO2 release at the PETM, the earth warmed faster than at almost any other time in its history. The average temperature soared 9 degrees Fahrenheit, entire ecosystems shifted to higher latitudes, and massive extinctions occurred on land and, most telling, at sea. The abrupt rise of CO2 acidified the oceans. James Zachos, a paleo-oceanographer from the University of California at Santa Cruz, analyzed sediment cores obtained from deep drilling in the ocean and discovered that bottom-dwelling creatures with shells disappeared from the fossil record for a period of more than 40,000 years corresponding to the PETM. And once the oceans turned more acidic, Zachos says, they did not recover quickly: It took another 60,000 years before sediments again began to show a thick white streak indicative of fossilized shells.

Drastic as the PETM was, the event is tame compared with acidification today. “Back then,” Zachos says, “4.5 million tons of CO2 were released over a period of 1,000 to 10,000 years. Industrial activities will release the same amount in a mere 300 years—so quickly that the ocean’s buffering system doesn’t even come into play.”

I wonder when any global warming sceptic is going to come up with convincing reasons why ocean acidification is not something to worry about. In fact, when are they going to give it any attention at all.

UPDATE: I've noticed that the figure of 4.5 million tons of CO2 being released during PETM must be an error. If you follow the link in the article (about PETM,) it indicates it should be 4.5 Gt. Disappointing to see an error like that turn up at Discover, but I'll email them now!

Current movies

Once again, join me for some bagging of movies I do not intend to see.

Mamma Mia has already been mentioned here, and while the music of Abba alone is enough to ensure its avoidance, I thought this snippet from a negative review was pretty funny:
A scene in which the groom’s shirtless beach blanket buddies, who are throwing him a bachelor party, peel him away from his bride in order to force him to join their merry band as they goose-step along the dock, while wearing flippers, with maximal flapping of arms, suggests a re-enactment of the invasion of the Sudetenland conducted by the Village People during a weekend on Fire Island.
On to The Dark Knight. Ever since Heath Ledger died, and there were stories of how playing this role messed with his mind, I have wondered whether this would put audiences off, as it may seem too much like watching someone self destruct on screen. (OK, so the death may well have been an accident, but still he wasn't the happiest chap at the time.)

I haven't read too many reviews, but I get the impression that the question hasn't troubled critics as much as I thought it might. A notable exception is David Denby in The New Yorker, who writes: you’re watching him, you can’t help wondering—in a response that admittedly lies outside film criticism—how badly he messed himself up in order to play the role this way.
This article notes that it was pretty daring of the studio to continue promoting the film by concentrating the attention on Hedger's ghoulish Joker appearance; I actually agree more with the line that it was in rather poor taste to do so and semi-exploitive.

In any event, the movie is being highly praised, with one of the notable exceptions (David Edelstein) being attacked by fanboys for failing to agree with them.

I just can't raise enthusiasm. Of all the superhero franchises, Batman has simply never held appeal. Maybe the childhood exposure to the camp television version (towards which I was also rather cool) means I can't take dark, brooding versions of the character seriously either. I really don't care how good the acting is in any version; the costume, the theatrical style of the villains, the whole concept just leaves me cold.

It seems particularly odd that the latest movie is being described as terribly bleak; a superhero concept that was surely never intended to be taken all that seriously by adults now finds that making any concessions to a child audience completely unnecessary.

I am not a fan of superhero stuff overall, but have found the Spiderman franchise enjoyable enough. Maybe it's the charm of Tobey Maguire that gets me past the costume in that case.

North Korean follies

In From the Cold: Resurrecting the “Hotel of Doom”

Somehow, the fact that Pyongyang has an unfinished 105 story pyramid-shaped hotel had escaped my attention, until now. Interesting.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Another little, tiny cause for optimism

Advance brings low-cost, bright LED lighting closer to reality

According to the article:
"When the cost of a white LED lamp comes down to about $5, LEDs will be in widespread use for general illumination," Sands said. "LEDs are still improving in efficiency, so they will surpass fluorescents. Everything looks favorable for LEDs, except for that initial cost, a problem that is likely to be solved soon."

He expects affordable LED lights to be on the market within two years.

A little, tiny bit of optimism

How the pope is saving Earth - Los Angeles Times

Despite the title, it is basically about the importance of (and relative ease) of saving rain forests to reduce CO2 emissions.

It even ends with this surprising claim:
Bush already has approved several significant tropical forest conservation projects in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama and elsewhere. With this deal, Bush could legitimately claim that he'd done far more, far sooner, for far less money to stop global warming than either the Kyoto Protocol or the failed congressional climate bill would have.

The Carbon Wars

I like to think that I might be the first blogger in the world to suggest limited global warfare as a cure for greenhouse gases, although I am probably wrong in that assumption. The suggestion is meant to be amusing, but all the same, if temperatures did go up suddenly in the next 30 years, and China was by then clearly the biggest emitter, is it entirely outside the realms of possibility? Seems to me that there's a half baked basis for some speculative fiction there.

So, this has got me thinking: what would it take to reduce CO2 if you were going to let warfare be part of the cure? Some immediate thoughts: submarines take out coal-exporting ships; cruise missiles for coal fired power stations; electro magnetic pulse weapons to take out power infrastructure. Encourage an insurgency by those hoards of young, sexually frustrated Chinese men who can't find a wife to overthrow the government. (They'll be so crazy they'll want to turn the country back into an agrarian society that does not have access to abortion or birth control, just so there can be women again!)

Of course, the other way of dealing with this is to let a mad ex-military character with a Captain Nemo complex run a private navy of nuclear submarines to do the West's dirty work for them. Just have to leave the gates of a nuclear submarine base open, with a little sign on the front "gone to lunch, please do not steal the submarines."

Ah, I'm amusing myself too much. Must go do some work before the tax office drags me away.

News Limited and global warming

Is Rupert Murdoch having doubts about greenhouse gas and global warming? Given his widely reported acknowledgement of the problem a couple of years ago, it seems surprising that News Limited papers here have been giving prominence to global warming sceptics recently, just at the time the government is seeking to convince everyone about its plans to reduce CO2.

I suppose it can be seen as confirmation that Rupert is more hands off than most people on the Left have previously assumed.

[Speaking of the Green Paper and the Left, it's been an odd sensation to be posting comments at Larvatus Prodeo on side with the lefty idealists in criticising Rudd for wimping out and not coming up with effective plans, instead of the political pragmatists who are simply happy that the fact that an ETS, any ETS, is coming. As I said at LP, the problem with schemes that are all spin and no substance is that they lull people into thinking a problem is being tackled, when in fact it continues to get worse, and the political cause of getting more serious action can be made all the more difficult.]

As for Brisbane, this winter has been quite damp and not terribly cold, and I note that quite a few spring flowering plants are starting their bloom already. (Azaleas, some peach tree the neighbour has.) The forecast temperature for the weekend is mid-20's, which is quite warm for July. Not sure how its going down south, but it seems an early spring here.

The Quiggin mystery

What happened to John Quiggin earlier this week? As the prominent centre Left economist with a big interest in environmentalism, I've been waiting for his view on the government's Green Paper. But on the day it was issued, his website mysteriously disappeared. It has now re-appeared, but no mention of the Green Paper.

I suspect that operatives for Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong have been holding him captive in a basement somewhere in a Commonwealth owned building in Brisbane, threatening to never let him grow a beard again unless he comes out strongly in support of their plans.

Just a theory.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Garden project of the future

Tardis Garden Sheds - outwitting snails one space warp continium at a time - The Red Ferret Journal

Geez, one of these would really impress my son. Pity it seems you can't buy them off the shelf.


The Road to Surfdom � Blog Archive � Crackers!

Louvre goes Islam

Culture: Louvre draws a veil over artistic neglect with bold new Islamic wing

Interesting story on the Louvre's new section for Islamic art.

More disaster talk

Death in the deep: Volcanoes blamed for mass extinction

The suggestion is that it was massive underwater volcanism that led to the anoxic oceans and mass extinctions of 95 million years ago.

If true, I suppose it is half-way encouraging that high levels of atmospheric CO2 alone might not lead to anoxic oceans. But, this is not something I feel particularly inclined to run the risk on.

The Nature article I linked to a couple of posts back argued that the world could reach 1000 ppm pretty easily. Here's the relevant section (if you are really lazy, just read the parts I have put in bold):

The goal of climate mitigation is to avoid dangerous human-caused impacts, which science suggests would mean limiting total warming to 2 °C above preindustrial temperatures. In turn, this would require keeping atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide below 450 parts per million (p.p.m.). According to the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, model studies based on our current understanding of climate–carbon-cycle feedbacks suggest that to stabilize carbon dioxide levels at 450 p.p.m. could require that cumulative emissions over the twenty-first century reach only about 490 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC), which equates to less than 5 GtC per year1.

Similarly, stabilizing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 1,000 p.p.m. would require cumulative emissions this century of only about 1,100 GtC. In other words, if annual emissions average 11 GtC this century, we risk the real, terrifying prospect of seeing 1,000 p.p.m. carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a 'best estimate' warming of a staggering 5.5 °C by the end of the century.

Carbon emissions from the global consumption of fossil fuels are currently above 8 GtC per year and rising faster than the most pessimistic economic model considered by the IPCC2. Yet even if the high price of energy from fossil fuels and power plants combines with regional climate initiatives to slow the current rate of growth somewhat, we will probably hit 11 gigatonnes of carbon emissions per year by 2020.

Lomborg on emissions trading

A better way than cap and trade - On Line Opinion - 17/7/2008

Doesn't sound particularly controversial, what Lomborg has to say about cap and trade schemes. (They are - relatively - politically palatable but aren't at all likely to do enough to make a significant difference.)

Lomborg suggests a much more serious commitment to R&D to get solar power costs down.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Emissions trading already too late?

Cleaning up on carbon : article : Nature Reports Climate Change

For anyone out there (if there is anyone) who thinks emissions trading schemes are likely to do enough to limit CO2 fast enough, have a read of the above detailed opinion piece that was in Nature in June 2008.

It argues:
The limits of a strategy built around carbon pricing can be seen in the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme, the world's largest system for pricing carbon and trading permits. A full decade after signing the Kyoto Protocol, European nations finally have in place a cap-and-trade system with a significant price for allowances, namely US$40 per metric ton of carbon dioxide. Yet utilities in Italy, Great Britain, the Czech Republic and Germany are reported to still be pursuing new coal-fired plants4, so we must clearly go beyond pricing carbon.
The whole scenario set out in the article about how difficult it will be to achieve stabilisation at 550 ppm is pretty depressing, really. But the author argues that:
...such is the urgent need to reverse emissions trends by deploying a multitude of low-carbon technologies that we must rely on technologies that either are already commercial or will very shortly be so. Fortunately, venture capitalists and public companies have begun to inject many billions of dollars into the development and short-term commercialization of most plausible low-carbon technologies. Governments should now focus their R&D spending on a longer-term effort aimed at a new generation of technologies for the emissions reduction effort after 2040, but the notion that we need a Manhattan Project or Apollo programme for technology development is mistaken. Instead, what is urgently needed is an effort of that scale focused on the deployment of technology.
It's all interesting, and well worth reading.

This is serious, but still...

I'm on record as wanting the world to do something effective about CO2 emissions, (it's the oceans, guys,) but still, I am getting some enjoyment from seeing Andrew Bolt and most of the Larvatus Prodeo crowd singing harmonies in their negative response to Kevin Rudd's greenhouse proposals.

Descent into tabloid

I had sex with my brother but I don't feel guilty - Times Online

The Times has entered well and truly into tabloid territory by running this strange piece which paints sister/brother incest in a soft-porn, soft-focus, filtered glowing light sort of way.

Given the number of comments, many have taken offence, although quite a few have been overcome by the faux romanticism of it.

I have been meaning to write something of sex, emotion and morality, in light of the Anglicans fight over homosexuality, and this article might just prompt me to do it. Someday.

Meanwhile, I'll just take it as another sign that Great Britain is indeed in a weird downwards spiral of decay.

Poorly chosen words

Christian doctrine offensive to Muslims, says Archbishop of Canterbury - Telegraph

Rowan Williams invites criticism again:
Discussing differences between the religions, Dr Williams acknowledges that Christian belief in the Trinity is "difficult, sometimes offensive, to Muslims".
More to the point is why it should be considered "offensive," by anyone.

Or alternatively, if you allow that people can be justifiably "offended" by members of other faiths believing that they are wrong, then Christians should be allowed to find Islam offensive too. But if everyone can claim offence, there is hardly any point in raising the issue.

Great moments in science

Study finds Aussies more likely to target Muslims in shootout | Herald Sun

The first line from the above report:
AUSSIES who find themselves under threat are more likely to shoot at Muslims, especially if they're in a good mood, a study claims.
Just how many people find themselves both under threat from Muslims and in a good mood, I wonder.

How helpful

Queensland’s vision splendid at Larvatus Prodeo

It's not often that I link to anything at LP with approval, but yesterday I was quoting Greenpeace, so I may as well continue my out-of-character run.

I mean, it is pretty ridiculous to be fretting about reducing our relatively tiny emissions while shipping millions of tonnes of coal to countries to burn or use in whatever manner they like.

The ALP thinks you should not sell uranium to countries that don't sign up to obligations to use it properly, yet when it comes to coal anything goes. (Has there been some talk of helping China build efficient power plants?; I can't recall. But there is certainly no legal tying of coal exports to any such efficiencies in its use.)

If you want to get top marks for idealism, and leading by example, then you would not cite the response "well if we don't sell it to them, they'll just buy it elsewhere."

UPDATE: those LP-er's are not taking the government's greenhouse plans at all well. Yep, it was a pretty good election for the Liberals to lose.

I think somewhere here before I have suggested the best answer to global warming may be for the US to wage war on China. (Well, if you must, just a limited war on their coal-burning facilities. Cruise missiles could be very handy that way. If the Chinese want to retaliate against US coal power stations, so much the better!) I work on the theory that there are very few problems in the world that can't be solved with high explosives.

Don't say I am not trying to be helpful.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Local problems with CO2 sequestration

Inside Business - 13/07/2008: Coal capture could be problematic

See the link for a short but interesting story on plans (and the initial pilot project) for CO2 sequestration in Australia.

Apparently, the current cost problem is more in the CO2 capture technology, not the storage.

I'll take their word for it, but I still assume that a major cost in the future will be getting the CO2 to the sequestration site. In this article they talk of using the Moomba area, which already has pipe in place which could be used for transporting the CO2. But for other areas, surely the transport costs are going to be huge.

I see that the trial Otway project will pump 100,000 tonnes of CO2 into the ground. Sounds quite a lot, but how much CO2 does Australian power generation generate each year? According to this BBC site: 205,000,000 tonnes. So the total Otway project (I am not sure over what period it runs) will remove about .048% of annual emissions.

See why I remain deeply sceptical about this as a concept?

UPDATE: here's a generally sceptical look at CO2 sequestration from the 7.30 Report earlier this year. (I missed it at the time.) I see that the 200 millions tonnes a year figure seems correct, but it will rise to perhaps 300 million by 2030. (!)

It just seems a hopeless task. Surely you would be better off giving high priority to decommissioning coal powered stations and replacing them with, well, virtually anything. (Natural gas as an interim, it emits much less. Then nuclear and solar.)

UPDATE 2: apparently, the government (and Martin Ferguson in particular) is a believer in sequestration. All to be revealed tomorrow, perhaps.

I also wonder how hard the government is looking at the possibility of using "algae reactors" to scrub CO2 from power stations? Here's an article from a 2006 CSIRO publication in which an American company argues that it has many advantages over sequestration.

The company is GreenFuel Technologies, and its FAQ section is worth reading. They estimate that, for an average American coal fired power station, you would need 3400 hectares of algal farms to get a 40% reduction in CO2. Sounds a hell of a lot, doesn't it? (A square kilometre is 100 hectares.) But then solar farms are not exactly small either. Maybe I would be aiming for less than 40% reduction....

Still, sequestration is not a walk in the park either, and at least algal farms have a potential product at the end which may help offset the cost. (It is also less energy intensive. You have to remember with CO2 sequestration, you have to use more energy just to get the CO2 out of the exhaust.)

UPDATE 3: Greenpeace put out a paper in May 2008 detailing why it is against sequestration. In the section on Australia, it says:
In Australia, CCS would lead, at best, to a 9% emissions reduction in 2030 and a cumulative emissions reduction from 2005 to 2030 of only 2.4%.[88] This is partly due to the lack of suitable storage locations. For example, in the Newcastle-Sydney-Wollongong area of New South Wales and at Port Augusta in South Australia, which together produce about 39% of Australia’s current net CO2 emissions from electricity generation, there are no identified storage sites within 500 km of the coal-fired power stations.[89] In comparison, a modest improvement in energy efficiency could – at zero or even negative cost – decrease emissions in 2030 by about the same amount, and cumulative emissions by twice as much.[90]
Well, they might just have a point.

Henderson and the Pope

The sorry sport of Pope bashing - Opinion -

Gerard Henderson's take on the current round of Catholic bashing is spot on.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Joe's pain

Admit it, you're as bored as I am | Classical and opera | Music

Joe Queenan writes a very funny column that confirms all my suspicions about what passes for modern classical music and opera. (The stuff that seems to appear once and is rarely heard of again.)

His contention: it is not popular because it is generally awful. Queenan says he has tried, really tried, to get into it, but failed:
When I was 18, I bought a record called The New Music. It featured Kontra-Punkte by Karlheinz Stockhausen and Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima by Krzysztof Penderecki. I was incredibly proud of myself for giving this music a try, even though the Stockhausen sounded like a cat running up and down the piano, and the Penderecki was that reliable old post-Schoenberg standby: belligerent bees buzzing in the basement. I did not really like these pieces, but I would put them on the turntable every few months to see if the bizarre might one day morph into the familiar. I've been doing that for 40 years now, and both compositions continue to sound harsh, unpleasant, gloomy, post-nuclear. It is not the composers' fault that they wrote uncompromising music that was a direct response to the violence and stupidity of the 20th century; but it is not my fault that I would rather listen to Bach. That's my way of responding to the violence and stupidity of the 20th century, and the 21st century as well.
Queenan writes that this year when he did see an audience respond reasonably well to a new composition, the explanation is that:
...nothing thrills a classical music crowd more than a new piece of music that doesn't make them physically ill.
Quite the wit, is Joe.

Slow down

The Urge to End It - Understanding Suicide -

I missed this last weekend, and found it via the always interesting Mind Hacks blog.

It's a fascinating article on suicide, and what can be done to decrease the rate.

The key point is that anything which slows down the process by which the victim intends killing him or herself helps drive down the rate. Even putting drugs in a blister pack instead of a bottle helps, as do bridge barriers, laws requiring guns to be stored unloaded in locked cabinets, etc.

A great read.

The Pope should visit more often...

Channel Ten evicts Big Brother

It's a miracle, I say. Can the burning of the Big Brother house begin now?

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I get all my relationship advice from the Times of India. How could you not, when they quote:
...Rita Gangwani, image enhancer and personality architect...
So now we know where Kevin Rudd got his makeover advice from.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tony Snow

Sad to see former White House press secretary Tony Snow has died. I thought he came across as very natural and likeable in his Colbert Report appearance earlier this year. (You get the feeling that Colbert genuinely likes him too, I think.)

Pebble bed updates

Pebble bed nuclear reactors have been getting a bit of attention lately:

* The Economist mentioned the South African plans for them in a favourable fashion in mid-June.

* China's version gets coverage here, and here.

* In South Africa, it seems there is some criticism about the amount of government money being put into the project, the cost of the program, and licensing delays with approval for the first demonstration reactor. It looks like they don't expect to start building until 2010 and then have it running by 2015. (Even so, I expect that around that time Australia will still be scratching around for safe places to pump CO2 into the ground at less than exorbitant expense.)

Brideshead Revised

It's hard to see why anyone would think Brideshead Revisited should be made into a film, given the great success of the TV series in the 1980's. It's hard to imagine a more faithful adaption of a novel into another medium, and the intensely Catholic themes of grace and redemption (it is a book all about religion) came through entirely intact.

If the preview is anything to go by, the forthcoming movie version looks like an absolute travesty. If you know the book or the series, go and have a look. You will see what I mean. (The whole style of the preview even seems wrong, almost laughable, for this type of movie. It seems to be hyping up the drama in what comes across as a very Hollywood way.)

Interestingly, Andrew Davies (the screenwriter) was quoted in The Independent in 2002 as saying that he wanted the movie to concentrate more on the religious tensions in the book. That was a rather odd comment, given that the series seemed to be made by tearing out the pages of the novel and having the cast read the lines.

Fast forward to 2008, and The Independent has a lengthy article about the new movie, pointing out the clear changes to the story evident from the preview, and explains that Davies is now credited as only one of the writers. I wonder if he in fact might now want to disown his involvement.

That Independent article also presents an amusing vignette of Waugh at the time he wrote it. As most readers who have made it this far into this post probably know, he was, to put it mildly, a man with many character flaws, despite his religiosity and renown as an author with a very dry wit. Pretty fascinating all the same:
For most of 1943, Waugh was sunk in gloom. He was fed up with army life. After serving in Crete with the Special Services Brigade, he had spent a year waiting to be given a company to command. None was forthcoming. It was agreed among the senior officers that the author-turned-soldier was spectacularly ill-equipped to command ordinary soldiers, because of his "total incapacity for establishing any sort of human relations with his men". He was, all agreed, a 24-carat, card-carrying shit. His rudeness, his dislike of the working classes, his fondness for bullying and horror of social contact with strangers made him, in the words of his commanding officer, Lord Lovat, "a total misfit".

For a year, he'd hung out in a London office,drinking gallons of wine with friends. In July, his father Arthur died. Evelyn's wife and children remained in Combe Florey, Somerset and rarely contacted him. "I should like to feel," he wrote to his wife Laura, "that, once or twice a week, you felt enough interest in me to write and say so... If by any chance the children should die, do come to London. I miss you."

Then he received the final kiss-off. He was advised to resign from the Commandos "for the Brigade's good". It wasn't just rejection and bereavement that brought him low; it was the condition of England at this point of the war, and the predictions of its aftermath. "Everyone I meet is despondent about the future," he confided to his diary. Wherever he looked, life was grotty, grey, sloppy, utterly lacking in style, grace and chic. By the year's end his nerve had broken. He asked the army for leave, and travelled to Chagford in Devon. In that frame of mind , at the beginning of February 1944, he began to write Brideshead.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Listen to the Church, Kevin

Health levy plan to 'hurt poorest': Catholic Church | The Australian

Well, they took their own sweet time coming out to criticise it, but the Catholic Church's health wing finally makes a detailed criticism of Labor's ideological attack on health insurance. Good.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

International notes

* A good essay about how American films have given up portraying realistic heroes. (The writer doesn't count superheroes, which is fair enough.) Much of what he says makes sense. It's a reflection of the Western Zeitgeist, I suppose, but you also have to worry a bit about whether Hollywood leads as much as it reflects.

* Everyone knows it is coming, and the early signs are already there. It's the question of what to do with the huge number of Chinese males who are going to be left single with a lot of aggression left to burn. Some extracts:
In the 2020s, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher Zheng Zhenzhen, estimates in a People's Daily interview that 10 percent of Chinese men will be unable to find wives, which could have a huge impact on Chinese society....

Over the past decade, as the boys hit adolescence, the country's youth crime rate more than doubled. In December, Chinese Society of Juvenile Delinquency Research Deputy Secretary General Liu Guiming told a Beijing seminar that today's teens were committing crimes "without specific motives, often without forethought."...
Chinese authorities did not show much subtlety in its posters for the one child policy, apparently:
....the government is adopting a softer tone in its propaganda. The red characters painted on village walls throughout the countryside have evolved from the 1980s slogan YOU BEAT IT OUT! YOU CAN MAKE IT FALL OUT! YOU CAN ABORT IT! BUT YOU CANNOT GIVE BIRTH TO IT! Now they read: IMPLEMENT FAMILY PLANNING FOR THE GOOD OF ALL CITIZENS. And, recently, the government added BOYS AND GIRLS ARE BOTH TREASURES. In 2003, it unveiled the Care For Girls program, which gives stipends to parents of girls in some provinces.
* Over in India, skin whitening products for women are big business, but a recent soap-opera style advertisement is annoying people. You can watch and read about it at The Independent.

* Still at The Independent, this article makes beavers sound so endearing I think we should try introducing them to Australia. (I guess they don't like the taste of eucalyptus trees, though.)

* Israeli schools are trying out the Bible in comic version, to encourage students who find the old Hebrew a bit of a problem. The example in the article looks a little in the style of Tintin to me.

* And finally, in Las Vegas, Michael Jackson looks even more pathetic on a shopping trip, if that's possible.

Good Germans

My current burst of off-blog activity will soon be at an end. Here's another recommendation to fill in the time.

Last Friday, I saw an episode of a German documentary series The Wehrmacht, entitled "The Resistance". It was a quick history of the resistance within the German army in WWII, and was pretty fascinating viewing.

The episode is up on Youtube in several parts, and it's well worth watching if (like me) you are only vaguely aware of the conspiracies to kill Hitler . (There are stories of smaller acts of heroism too, which are always encouraging to hear.)

The last episode in the series, which is about the German's disasterous decision to continue fighting a losing battle, is on SBS TV tomorrow night (Friday) at 8.30.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Architecture porn

Dezeen � Blog Archive � Casa 11 Mujeres by Mathias Klotz

I'm somewhat distracted at the moment, but in the meantime, have a look at a very appealing cliff-top house near the sea in Chile.

(I must admit, though, as soon as I see extensive use of glass near the ocean, there's a voice from the boring, practical corner of my mind whispering "endless cleaning".)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Free TV

Sharp Unveils Solar-Powered TV

I'm not sure just how many of the 1.6 billion people who live off the grid can afford to buy a TV, solar cell and battery combo so that can watch the TV signal that their remote area probably doesn't have anyway, but it will be a cool item for the ostentatiously Green to have in the city.

Notes of minor interest

School holidays: it must be family-friendly movie time. We went and saw Kung Fu Panda yesterday. It's good but not great. The animation itself is often lovely, but the fights are a bit too frenetic for my taste. It all seems to be over in a flash. Of Dreamworks animation, I would rate the first Shrek and Madagascar as better.

Speaking of Madagascar, they showed a trailer for a sequel that I had forgotten was coming. Here's hoping it can overcome the inevitable challenge of loss of novelty. (The penguins seem to have a lot of screen time in the preview, which is a good sign.)

The cinema also showed the shorts for Mamma Mia. It's amazing how long flakey, vacuous Euro pop can last, isn't it? I didn't rush out to see the stage show, so the movie is the first time I knew what the plot was about. Something about "free spirited" mother with adult daughter whose father could have been any one of 3 different men. The kids in the audience seemed to like the music, but this plot line may be a little hard to explain to any under 10 year old who still has a firm connection in his or her mind between marriage and having babies. Still, Tony Abbott could be accused of causing the same difficulty a couple of years ago, I suppose.

No matter how strong the reviews might be, it's not going to revive the romantic musical as an art form.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the cinema also showed the preview for The Love Guru. It made the film look fairly innocuous, and raised some laughs, so let's hope parents actually read reviews and know how badly it has performed in the States before they send their kids off to see it.

Friday, July 04, 2008

More on acidification

Acidifying oceans add urgency to CO2 cuts

This report notes an article on ocean acidification that is to appear in the July 4 issue of Science (although I can't see mention of it yet on the Science website.)

As I suspected, it's bad news for you oyster and mussel lovers out there who expect to be around in 50 year's time. But the worrying thing is, it is extremely difficult to be certain how it will affect the oceans and the planet overall:
"We know that ocean acidification will damage corals and other organisms, but there's just no experimental data on how most species might be affected," says Caldeira. "Most experiments have been done in the lab with just a few individuals. While the results are alarming, it's nearly impossible to predict how this unprecedented acidification will affect entire ecosystems." Reduced calcification will surely hurt shellfish such as oysters and mussels, with big effects on commercial fisheries. Other organisms may flourish in the new conditions, but this may include undesirable "weedy" species or disease organisms.

Though most of the scientific and public focus has been on the climate impacts of human carbon emissions, ocean acidification is as imminent and potentially severe a crisis, the authors argue.

"We need to consider ocean chemistry effects, and not just the climate effects, of CO2 emissions. That means we need to work much harder to decrease CO2 emissions," says Caldeira. "While a doubling of atmospheric CO2 may seem a realistic target for climate goals, such a level may mean the end of coral reefs and other valuable marine resources."
While on the topic, I note that Jennifer Marohasy recently posted 2 photos from diver Bob Halstead showing an area in New Guinea which has (apparently) volcanic CO2 bubbling up through the sea floor.

As with the recent Nature study of a similar site in Italy, the photo indicates that sea grass really loves those conditions. Halstead also says there is a "healthy reef" metres away. But it's impossible to take that as proof that corals will happily survive acidified oceans unless you have proper measurements of the pH in the area. Indeed, we don't even know for sure that the gas is all CO2.)

I think we can take it as a sign that sea grass will do well enough in future, but just how ecologically healthy is it to have sea grasses booming in areas where they previously have not been? Especially if they replace areas that are have been extensively coral for tens of thousands of years?

I also see that the ocean acidification sceptics in the comments following that post are relying solely on Dr Floor Anthoni as their source. As I have noted before, the good doctor does not claim to have any qualification in science or biology, and appears to be pretty much an enthusiatic amateur when it comes to marine ecology and chemistry. That's not to say that amateurs can't do good science, but if you are promoting theories that are somewhat outside the mainstream, the lack of a qualification even close to the field (the qualification is in computers and electronics in Dr Anthoni's case) is not exactly adding to your credibility.

Dr Anthoni appears to have irritated many scientists in the past with claims relating to fisheries, etc. To his credit, he appears to at least be open about the disputes he has had, and you can read the exchanges on his own website.

Still, it gives me no comfort if he is the primary source of the ocean acidification sceptic's arguments.

Kerry and Kevin sitting in a tree...

Why on earth is Kerry O'Brien still delivering such velvet-gloved handling of Kevin Rudd? Have a look at the transcript of last night's interview, mainly about the COAG meeting and its decisions relating to the Murray-Darling. The short version goes like this:

O'Brien: Mr Rudd, scientists say there is an immediate crisis in the Murray, has COAG actually addressed that?

Rudd: [waffle, waffle, waffle, asks himself and answers 4 questions ] Yes. Sort of. It'll take a year or two, but yes.

O'Brien: So, are you really, really sure you can promise us that that's true?

Rudd: well, I can't make it rain, but [asks himself 3 questions, waffle waffle waffle] yes. In a year or so.

O'Brien: Please forgive me, I'm now going to ask a really long question. [Short version: do you think emissions trading will be a really big issue for you?]

Rudd: we were elected to make tough decisions, [waffle waffle waffle] yes, more or less.

It seems to me that O'Brien's questions indicate that he knew there were grounds to specifically attack the COAG meeting for in fact refusing to do the immediate thing that the scientists demanded, but he refuses to put tough questions directly to Rudd. (Read the reports from Fairfax, News Ltd and the ABC that complain about the COAG result here, here, here, here and here.) Instead, O'Brien's questions are all open-ended invitations to Rudd to answer in any way he pleases. Mild scepticism would seem to be the strongest emotion O'Brien can bring himself to display in his interviews with our PM.

O'Brien has always treated Rudd this way, and I want to know why. Has Rudd's staff got some dirt on him or something? I find it truly puzzling.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Go Japan

Farming Solar Energy in Space: Scientific American

According to the article, the Japanese are looking into space based solar power: 2030 the agency [JAXA, Japan's equivalent to NASA] aims to put into geostationary orbit a solar-power generator that will transmit one gigawatt of energy to Earth, equivalent to the output of a large nuclear power plant. The energy would be sent to the surface in microwave or laser form, where it would be converted into electricity for commercial power grids or stored in the form of hydrogen.
Well, can't accuse them of not being ambitious.

Hard Friends to please

I see via Andrew Bolt that ABC is doing much, much better than it was 10 years ago. Of course, this turnaround did just not happen since Rudd was elected. It happened under the Howard government, who the Friends of the ABC thought was starving it to death and beating it into ideological submission.

Friends sometimes just don't know what is good for them.

Recent hits

Exploding asteroid theory strengthened by new evidence located in Ohio, Indiana

So, maybe an asteroid hit Canada about 13,000 years ago, causing a wee bit of upset to the climate in the process. Interesting theory.

On a similar topic, to commemorate its100 year anniversary, Australia's Duncan Steel wrote an article at Nature about the various theories that have been offered over the years regarding the Tunguska event. Unfortunately, it's behind a paywall, but Jerry Pournelle's email page seems to have copied it all out. Good reading.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Recommended reading

A few recent articles of interest:

* The New York Times magazine looked at the demographic crisis of Europe (and some other countries). So you thought Mark Steyn was exaggerating? How about this:
Around the time that President Kennedy went to Germany and gave his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, Europe represented 12.5 percent of the world’s population. Today it is 7.2 percent, and if current trends continue, by 2050 only 5 percent of the world will be European.
And bear in mind the age of that 5% too: 2025, 42 percent of the people living in India will be 24 or younger, while only 22 percent of Spain’s population will be in that age group.
The article offers explanations for the low birth rate of most European countries, and the relatively high birthrate of the US, but they still don't get around to quite explaining Germany. Worth reading anyway.

* The Atlantic Monthly has an interesting article about how GM is putting all its eggs in one electric car basket. I wouldn't be buying shares in the company at the moment.

* While your at the website, have a read about the Price Tower, a 19 story high rise building Frank Lloyd Wright designed in Oklahoma. It doesn't look much from the outside, but the article makes it sound like it's worth a visit. The writer knows how to use redundant information for amusing effect:
Wright, who is best known for his low Prairie-style buildings, had a complicated relationship with tall buildings, calling one an “incongruous mantrap of monstrous dimensions.” Yet late in life he created drawings for a 528-story skyscraper featuring atomic-powered elevators with five cabs strung vertically in each shaft. (It was never built.)
* Still in the US, the Observer's Ruth Fowler takes a long, cross country trip on Amtrak and enjoys it quite a lot. (Her article reminded me of a few long train trips I took in Australia as a teenager/young adult. It is a social way to travel, and it's a pity that it is no longer all that economically attractive.) Fowler makes me laugh with this account:
Amtrak employees themselves assume key roles in this peculiarly theatrical mode of travel. En route to Montana I was woken in the morning by a lady trilling over the intercom: 'I'm singing in the rain. Just siiinging in the rain! I'm brewing COFFEE! Mmmm, coffee! Rich, robust, strong, masculine, earthy coffee! Can you smell it? It wants you. This coffee wants you. I'm in the lounge car. Ask for Miss Olivia. I'm waiting for you with my enormous coffee pot. MM-mmm!'
* Bryan Appleyard has been in fine form lately, having spent a lot of time recently in America with some unusual consequences (a passion for cowboy boots, for one.) Some recent posts of his which are particularly enjoyable: all about religion and excretion; an assessment of Bill Gates as he departs Microsoft; a certain problem with people sometimes not getting Bryan's tone.

Just go read him regularly.

Fixing Firefox 3

If, like many, you have been surprised by the horribly ugly and strangely behaving drop-down address bar in Firefox 3 (the "awesome bar", apparently), there is an add on that at least stops it pulling unvisited bookmarks into it. (If I want to use a bookmark, I just go to the bookmarks tab.)

It's Hide Unvisited 3, and it appears to work well enough.

Actually, I now see there is another add on which apparently gives you back something very close to the old bar. Maybe I should try that too.

Meanwhile, work and stuff continues to bother me.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The future is green

Alternative energy: Microbe economics | Business |

I'm still busy, but in the meantime you can read about the potentially bright future of algae.

Did you know there is a National Algae Association? No, nor did I.

The only thing that worries me about the idea of huge vats of algae being grown for fuel and (potentially) food is that it's a little too reminiscent of Soylent Green. Let's hope they never decide that adding the occasional body is a good fertilizer for it.