Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The far, far future

Cycles of Time � Not Even Wrong

Last year, I mentioned Roger Penrose's new book about how the end of the universe might become the start of a universe (sort of a cycling universe but not caused by the now pretty much discarded idea of a Big Crunch.)

Peter Woit now has a review of it out, and he discusses the whole idea in his blog. As someone who does not like wildly speculative physics, it is to be expected he may make an observation like this:

Attempts to get a Big Bang in our future as well as our past generally strike me as motivated by a very human desire to see in the global structure of the universe the same cyclic pattern of death and rebirth that govern human existence. To me though, deeper understanding of the universe leads to unexpected structures, fascinating precisely because of how alien they are to human concerns and experience. Just because we might find a cold, empty universe an unappealing future doesn’t mean that that’s not where things are headed.
People should remember that Tipler thinks advanced intelligence will make the universe contract, although I forget exactly how, and don't have time to check again right now.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Licence to print money

I find it hard to believe, but Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides has already taken $623,000,000 world wide, in 10 days of release.

The last one ended up at $963,000,000.

Regardless of the quality of this latest instalment (and I haven't seen it yet), we can rest assured another one is in the making.

An Indian on ice

IBNLive : Bahar Dutt's Blog : On the road to the Arctic

Further to my recent interest in Tromsø, Norway (donations to fund my expedition there would be gratefully received - I'll blog all about it, I promise), I note the blog entry (linked above) by an Indian conservationist.

Yes, she likes the place very much, but I wanted to highlight the following comments she made about how Indians behave while travelling in their own country:
Its not easy getting to the Arctic, even though it may seem made easy by modern day travel. But even most sophisticated airjets get hit by volcanic ash. It has thrown flights at most European airports in a tizzy. But I am amazed by the almost zen like attitude with which the Europeans face such disasters even as their summer plans go for a toss. I can just imagine the pandemonium which would break out if flights were cancelled at any of our Indian airports. As Indians strangely we are the worst behaved in our own land. Passengers would be shouting at helpless airline staff, dropping names, threatening to call up some minister or VIP if they are not put on the plane. I was witness to a similar scene at Raipur airport. A rotund man walked up to the Kingfisher airlines counter and demanded: "I am retired DGP Punjab. Please give me the front seat, and give it fast else I will report you to the police." The poor girl asked him politely to wait, but he continued shouting. And this with a retired police office. Imagine the hell that would break if he was still in service! And hats off the our airline staff who have to put up with such tantrums!
Now that an actual Indian has raised the issue of misbehaviour of Indians while travelling, it might be safe for me to note that on my last two holidays (in Australia and New Zealand last year,) I have encountered Indian tourists who, while not being spectacularly rude as they may be on the subcontinent, were clearly being very inconsiderate and showing a very selfish attitude.

How widespread do other travellers find this, I wonder? I had read before that there is nothing quite the dog eat dog nature of a queue to a travel counter in India, but I would have thought that when they were overseas they could live more to the standard of the country they find themselves in.

To be fair, while I'm not sure if it still exists, aggression in queues (blatant pushing in, really) also could be experienced in Paris amongst those from Eastern Europe. But it's been a long, long time since I was there, so maybe that has changed.

Where does the strong Indian sense of entitlement come from, I wonder. I thought all Eastern religions were philosophically inclined towards encouraging acceptance of your lot in life. Maybe that only works for those too poor to travel.

More carbon tax thoughts

Gillard needs to sell a strong climate plan

Kenneth Davidson sounds pretty reasonable in this column. There is one major weakness in what he says, I reckon, but readers can work that out for themselves!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Andrew Bolt and the 1 m sea level rise

Andrew Bolt on his TV show today noted a map of Sydney Harbour showing minor changes to the coast line with a 1 metre sea level rise. Does that look so serious? he said.

It would seem unlikely that he would recall there was a lengthy assessment done a couple of years ago on the effect on the coast line of Australia of 1 m rise. From the executive summary:

Of the 711,000 existing residential buildings close to the water, between 157,000–247,600 properties are identified as potentially exposed to inundation with a sea-level rise scenario of 1.1 metres.
Nearly 39,000 buildings are located within 110 metres of ‘soft’ shorelines and at risk from accelerated - erosion due to sea-level rise and changing climate conditions.
The current value of existing residential buildings at risk from inundation ranges from $41 billion to $63 billion (2008 replacement value).

I presume replacement value does not include the loss of value of the land itself.

Anyway, what's $50 billion dollars in lost buildings between friends, Andrew?

It's about time he was more serious about the consequences of being wrong.

The amazing turnaround Curry

Judith Curry 2007: We should not ignore the risks of global warming � My view on climate change

Bart Verheggen notes the amazing turnaround that Judith Curry made in the space of 3 years from being strongly against doing nothing re CO2, to being her current bleat of uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty.

It's astounding to read her Washington Post article of 2007 and compare it to her blog of today.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Saturday night observation

Spiderman 3 was a better film than Spiderman 2, in my opinion.

Please resume your normal activities....

Friday, May 27, 2011

What an odd man

Male lactation: Can a 33-year-old guy learn to breast-feed? - By Michael Thomsen

Just a weird story of a man who really needs a wife, and a baby.

Watching the spinning top wobble

Readers are no doubt aware that the question of whether or not the unusually large number of tornadoes in the US at the moment can be (partly?) attributed to climate change is the subject of much discussion in the media and blog-o-sphere.

Of course, "lukewarmenists" are on one side of the fence, as demonstrated by Judith Curry, who ends a post which notes two sides of the argument this way:
Cumulative catastrophic weather events are being used to support the case for global warming action. Sorry Bill and Joe, but we need to look at each type of extreme event, in different regional locations, and then interpret them in the context of the local historical records, and then cumulatively in context with the teleconnection weather regimes and multi-decadal oscillations. Once we’ve done that and then find an upward trend in frequency and/or intensity that cannot be explained by problems with the data record or natural climate variability or weather roulette, THEN lets talk about the potential impact of global warming.
Even for a scientist who loves to talk up uncertainty, I think this is being very disingenuous. She may as well say: we'll have to wait for another 30 or 40 years to see if tornado rate really is increasing, and can understand long term patterns in tornado rate, before we could call this one.

Both sides acknowledge the difficulty of assessing the long term tornado record, because of issues with reliability of reporting, population and housing changes which make simple "death rate" comparisons pretty meaningless, and technology issues to do with radar, etc.

My hunch is that there is quite a bit of record keeping uncertainty for other extreme events too. For example, after the recent Queensland floods, skeptics liked to point out that the 1893 Brisbane River flood was much higher (and there were a series of floods that year.) However, what struck many here about this year's floods was their vast and protracted extent - from Rockhampton in the North, many hundreds of kilometers inland, then right down to the coast. My guess is that a really detailed comparison of the extent of rainfall in the whole of south Queensland between 1893 and now might be a bit tricky, given what I presume would be much more widely spaced rainfall records in 1893 compared to what we have now. (That may not be a correct assumption, and I guess river heights may be a good way of comparing the two years as a proxy for the total rainfall and its extent; but on the other hand you have modern dams which complicate that comparison. I would like to know what meteorologists think about this.)

Of course, the other point to note about Australian weather records is that you have none at all going back more than a couple of hundred years. I would guess that you only have widespread, reliable records going back 150 years.

Apart from the record keeping issue, I am sure Judith Curry would argue that there is a lot of uncertainty with understanding multi-decadal oscillations, yet she wants them fully understood before we can even start looking at the AGW attribution question. Curry's approach is just another of her ways of suggesting no political action on climate is appropriate for the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, Michael Tobis has had a series of posts about the whole attribution question, and his take makes much more sense. In his first post about this, he ended with:
I think that we are seeing another instance of excessive attention to "attribution" in a statistical sense. The climate is changing with increasing rapidity. Some of the changes will be anticipated, some not. We shouldn't presume that changes will be locally monotonic. They won't be. Under the circumstances, we'll get extraordinary runs of just-the-sort-of-awfulness-we-get-around-here in various places as the system wobbles about. I mean, what did you expect?
In a follow up post, he addressed this more broadly, using an analogy I like:

Now, this sort of outbreak event is not entirely unprecedented either, though it seems to be emerging as the single most severe instance in the satellite era.

But it's a, forgive me, black swan of a sort. One thing about really really severe events is that you can't do statistics on them. They are too rare to form a large enough collection to draw conclusions.

But you may have a flock of shouldn't-be-black stuff. Black doves. Black, um, pelicans. Black seagulls. Black other stuff. I'm not much on this bird business, but the thing is, although you know these things exist, and you know they are too rare to extract a trend, you shouldn't be seeing any of them very much.

Hot summers in Moscow. Year after year of flooding on the Mississippi. Huge tornado outbreaks. At what point do we get to look at the collection of weird events and say something is going on?

Let me admit, first of all, that there are all sorts of statistical warning signs associated with this question. Selection bias, observer bias, post hoc definitions. Our intuitions may well be misleading us.

On the other hand, there is the question of rolling a thirteen. The more we disturb the climate, the more excursions it will make into unfamiliar territory. As we perturb the climate, as it wobbles around more and more, it will more and more often hit these weird peaks.

Perhaps local events like tornados will show no trend, but tornado outbreaks, when they happen, will be more severe. The ocean, after all, is further from equilibrated with the atmosphere and with space. Air masses will encounter each other in unfamiliar ways. Perhaps strange things will happen. Perhaps (and I am not being Eli-style coy here, perhaps not) they already are happening.
As I say, I find this intuitively pretty compelling, and very appropriate to keep in mind when you read something from some climate organisation (like NOAA, which has been doing a lot of this lately) that says "climates scientists say there is no attributing .......insert latest wild climate event....to global warming."

Everyone knows that precise attribution is complicated and difficult - there have only been a couple of papers (one about the English floods, and I forget the other) which did dare to claim attribution of a couple of extreme events to global warming.

But that doesn't mean that it's not right to suspect that there is something to do with climate change if a number of extreme weather events start piling on top of each other, as they have in 2010 and (seemingly) 2011.

I don't know who first used the analogy, but while the long term predictions of climate change may be right about a warmer atmosphere having less tornadoes rather than more, the climate moving from one state to another may well be like a spinning top that has been given a big kick and wobbles back and forth for quite a while before eventually settling down into a new period of long term stability.

(Michael Tobis refers to that idea in his post, although he also makes the claim that people think of AGW and climate change in the wrong order, but I do find he gets a little confusing on that point.)

Anyway, while I don't wish death and mayhem on anyone, as far as I am concerned, if outbreaks of unusual extreme weather events continue for the next year or two, I would be happy to see them start to convince the public (and politicians) of the need to address CO2 production seriously and with urgency.

Update: I have been thinking how to summarise their respective positions. Is this fair?:

Curry: there's so much uncertainty about this, it's wrong for anyone to be referring to it having anything to do with AGW or climate change at all.

Tobis: the uncertainty as to how exactly climate change will play out means that the rapid accumulation of extreme weather events in the shorter term, even if they were not predicted as likely outcomes of global warming in the longer term, is consistent with climate change, even if you can't individually attribute events to climate change.

Me: Curry and all lukewarmenists like to play up uncertainty and must know that this is used for political purposes. As John Nielsen-Gammon's recent post (which I referred to recently) suggests, uncertainty as to being able to work out everything about past and current weather and climate is no killer reason for disputing AGW, which is likely to have major effects.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Strange bedfellows

Anthony Watts' "long awaited surfacestations paper" had as one of its co-authors John Nielsen-Gammon. I hadn't heard of him before, but some commenters around the place noted that he was no skeptic, and said he ran a pretty good blog (Climate Abyss) on climate change. (Some said they couldn't understand why he would get involved in any project with Watts.)

At Deltoid and Rabett Run, the biggest climate change blogs so far which have spent time pointing out how Watts' paper had disproved his own claims about warming bias for the US mean temperatures, Nielsen-Gammon made some comments which seemed to be attempts to protect Watts from too much criticism. Some at Deltoid had a go at him about this: why shouldn't Watts be strongly criticised for the way he pre-empted (inaccurately, and for skeptic propaganda purposes) the results of his own project for years.

Anyway, I see that Nielsen-Gammon has a new post up at his own blog which does show how much of a non-skeptic he really is. It really does confirm that he and Watts make very strange bedfellows on any climate research paper.

So, here are the best parts from Nielsen-Gammon's post:

“If carbon dioxide supposedly causes global warming, then what caused the Roman Warm Period?”

This question just floors me. I have a hard time figuring out why I’m supposed to fully understand the energy balance of the Earth 2,000 years ago, prior to the first thermometer or the second satellite,* before I’m allowed to examine data from comprehensive global observing systems to figure out what’s happening right here and now.

I’m pretty sure that what’s really being asked is the following: “The Earth’s climate has had warm and cold periods before. Why can’t this be the same old thing again?” This is a little easier to address, but still there’s the unspoken expectation that all possible natural explanations need to be understood and excluded before we should accept an anthropogenic explanation.

This does sound like a cautious choice, seemingly consistent with Sherlock Holmes the climate scientist, who would say that you should exclude all the plausible explanations before concluding that the remaining explanation, however implausible, is the correct one. The problem, though, is that the anthropogenic explanation is not the implausible one, it’s the obvious one.....

...at least one of the primary causes of the relatively warm decade of the 2000s is obvious: WE’VE MUCKED WITH THE ATMOSPHERE SO MUCH THAT IT HAD TO GET WARMER. Even just the direct effect of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases would be enough for a few tenths of a degree of warming, and the odds are overwhelming that climate feedbacks would further enhance the warming. Heck, we’ve probably done so much to the atmosphere that some of the natural processes are no longer in play. My guess is that we’ve fairly successfully prevented the next glacial period, for example....

In my previous post, I discussed some of the things that affect the Earth’s climate. I need to know more about them to see how they affected the Roman Warm Period. How much brighter was the Sun during that time? Was there a lull in volcanic activity? How much did the Romans clear forests and alter the local climate? I need to know how the climate forcings changed before I can say which one (or which combination) caused the Roman Warm Period.

After all, the only reason we know that greenhouse gases have been a major contributor to the current warming is that we’ve got decent global measurements of them, we’ve got observations from space that show the reduced infrared emissions because of those gases, and we can calculate (with simple or complex models, it doesn’t matter) that the expected rise in temperature is in the right ballpark to be greenhouse-gas induced. Oh, and we can measure the other forcings, such as solar output and aerosols from volcanoes, and they’re nowhere near large enough. Many of them, in fact, would cause cooling!

And no, I’m not impressed by how much the Earth has cooled over the past decade.


I see that Anthony Watts has re-posted Nielsen-Gammon's post about the surfacestations.org results on diurnal temperature range (the significance of which remains unclear, but at least Watts can claim it as a useful result). I would not however, hold my breath waiting for Dr John's strongly pro-AGW post to turn up at Watts Up With That.


gulfnews : Rosie to take over Oprah's show

They must be getting desperate for talk show host talent in the United States.

Today's news from Tromsø

Mobile phone coverage in Finland and Norway is interfering with a type of radar used to research the Northern Lights:

The scientific organisation operates five Aurora borealis radars in the Nordic region, two of which are stationed beyond the reach of mobile phone networks in the remote Svalbard Islands that belong to Norway. The Kiruna scatter radar, in turn, is experiencing problems similar to those in Sodankylä.

An EISCAT radar situated in Tromsø, Norway, keeps sending a powerful radio signal into the upper atmosphere, less than a thousandth of which is then scattered back to the surface. These soft whispers are then caught by using 300-tonne, house-sized dish antennae of the scatter radars.

These “whispers” will provide scientists with information, for example, about the Northern Lights, as the upper atmosphere contains electrically charged particles, from which the radio signal scatters.

“These days, at times the mobile phone traffic blots out the quiet scattering”, explains Professor Markku Lehtinen from the Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory, which is an independent department of the University of Oulu.
Well, I guess I'm a bit surprised that research into the Northern Lights is still active. They should just ban mobile phones.

Gittens on Abbott

I like this summary by Ross Gittens of how Tony Abbott is running the carbon tax argument:

I don't like using the L-word, but Tony Abbott is setting new lows in the lightness with which he plays with the truth. He blatantly works both sides of the street, nodding happily in the company of climate-change deniers, but in more intellectually respectable company professing belief in human-caused global warming, his commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 and the efficacy of his no-offence policies to achieve it.

He grossly exaggerates the costs involved in a carbon tax, telling business audiences they will have to pay the lot and be destroyed by it, while telling the punters business will pass all the costs on to them. He forgets to mention that most of the proceeds from the tax will be returned as compensation.

He repeats the half-truth that nothing we could do by ourselves would reduce global emissions, while failing to correct the punters' ignorant belief that Australia is the only country contemplating action. Last week's news that Britain's Conservative-led coalition government has pledged to cut emissions by half within 15 years is ignored. Economists call this mentality ''free-riding''; the old Australian word for it is ''bludging''.

Today's comment to Andrew Bolt

Andrew Bolt keeps tediously repeating Robyn Williams' carelessly worded comment re 100 m of sea level rise, prompting me to comment at his blog today:
Andrew, you're big on pointing out carelessly worded statements by any "warmenist", yet won't dare mention that Anthony Watts, the person who runs the world's largest skeptic blog, recently disproved his own claim that the US mean temperature record had been inflated by weather station siting issues.

Be honest and admit your own fellow traveller made a major false claim for years, and you swallowed it all; helped promote it, in fact.
We'll see if that makes it through his thread minders.

UPDATE: comment was let through. That's good. Someone asked for a link, I have tried to reply to provide it.

Keith, who seems to have been here and thinks I'm a nasty person, says Andrew did acknowledge the Watts result on his radio show. I would be curious to know when so I could listen. Is it too much to ask Bolt to acknowledge it on his blog too, given that he has previously given surfacestations.org lots of skeptic publicity? I don't think so...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cannabis madness - yet again

ABC The Drum - High risks: cannabis and psychosis

I always like to read comments by psychiatrists condemning the use of marijuana due to its mental health risks. There's a heap of such material it to be found in this article by journalist Quentin Dempster reporting on a symposium on cannabis and mental illness held last week.

Here are some examples:
Both the Mental Health Review Tribunal in NSW and the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre have said publicly that if cannabis was removed from the chemistry of young brains, the incidence of schizophrenia in this country would be dramatically reduced. Adolescents who start to use cannabis at any time are considered particularly vulnerable because the human brain does not complete its development until the early to mid 20s....

Professor Jan Copeland, director of the NCPIC (www.ncpic.org.au) a government-backed preventative agency, told 7.30 NSW that if cannabis was taken out of the picture the incidence of schizophrenia in Australia could be reduced by 8 to 14 per cent. She could not be more specific. That guesstimate was based on overseas studies. There have been no studies in Australia. This is revealing....

The pharmaceutical and pain relief benefits of CBD (cannabidiols) in cannabis have been studied internationally but one experienced psychiatrist, Dr Andrew Campbell, told the symposium paracetamol would have just as beneficial analgesic effects.
The comments are worth reading too, with, I think, many more people coming out than in years past to condemn marijuana for the mental health problems they have seen develop in someone they know.

The point is once again made that the problem seems to be higher concentration of THC in hydroponically grown cannabis. Some cannabis can be grown with more of the 'protective' component CBD, and the suggestion is made this "milder' form of cannabis could be legalised.

However, if it is the THC that many users like (for the quality of the high it gives them), and there is already a well established industry providing for that, is legalisation really going to have much effect on the illegal industry?

I have my doubts.


Multiverse = Many Worlds, Say Physicists - Technology Review

An interesting post on the suggestion by Susskind & Bousso that "the multiverse and the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics are formally equivalent." But this only holds if we are in a "supersymmetric multiverse with vanishing cosmological constant":
If the universe takes this form, then it is possible to carry out an infinite number of experiments within the causal horizon of each other.

Now here's the key point: this is exactly what happens in the many worlds interpretation. At each instant in time, an infinite (or very large) number of experiments take place within the causal horizon of each other. As observers, we are capable of seeing the outcome of any of these experiments but we actually follow only one.

Bousso and Susskind argue that since the many worlds interpretation is possible only in their supersymmetric multiverse, they must be equivalent. "We argue that the global multiverse is a representation of the many-worlds in a single geometry," they say.

They call this new idea the multiverse interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Clear? Well, no of course not, and its untestable. But still, of interest.

UPDATE: Mathematician Peter Woit at Not Even Wrong says that even he can't really make sense of this and other papers that try to draw similar multiverse/quantum theory connections, so don't feel so bad!


Michael Bronski's A Queer History of the United States: What do 500 years reveal about gays in America? - By Johann Hari - Slate Magazine

Quite a few things I didn't know about homosexuality in modern history are mentioned in this review.

Speculative physics, again

Small bangs and white holes

The article suggests that maybe some gamma ray bursts are from white holes.

Well, if anything is up for grabs, how about naked singularities, I wonder?

Northern view

Further to my new found interest in Tromsø, Norway, here is a nice webcam feed from the university there. Even now, midnight has quite a lot of brightness.

I should work out how such feeds are embedded.

Colebatch on carbon tax

Let consumers carry the can on carbon

My favourite economics writer has a good explanation of the Carmody suggestion to tax consumption of carbon instead of production.

I think his explanation of the problems with the idea is particularly worthwhile noting. As Colebatch himself has had a change of heart about this, it is clearly is not a case where it is obviously better than the alternative; just arguably better.

UPDATE: Alan Kohler's column about what Australia needs to do is also well worth reading, and makes considerable sense to me.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Arctic dreams

I mentioned recently that I'm reading a biography of Herbert Dyce Murphy, the Australian Antarctic explorer (well, he was on the Mawson expedition) who seems to have led an unusual life.

Before he was off to the Antarctic, he had several whaling and other trips through Arctic waters. No doubt, it's reading about this that has caused me to have dreams lately about visiting towns in spectacular Arctic settings.

Which has led me to releasing while awake that I know next to nothing about what's in the Arctic circle, and whether it does have any decent towns or cities in scenic locations.

So, first stop, to refresh my memory of how the Arctic Circle is even defined, it's off to Wikipedia. It's more complicated that I thought:
The Arctic Circle marks the southern extremity of the polar day (24-hour sunlit day, often referred to as the "midnight sun") and polar night (24-hour sunless night). North of the Arctic Circle, the sun is above the horizon for 24 continuous hours at least once per year and below the horizon for 24 continuous hours at least once per year. On the Arctic Circle those events occur, in principle, exactly once per year, at the June and December solstices, respectively....

The position of the Arctic Circle is not fixed, but directly depends on the Earth's axial tilt, which fluctuates within a margin of 2° over a 40,000 year period,[2] notably due to tidal forces resulting from the orbit of the Moon. The Arctic Circle is currently drifting northwards at a speed of about 15 m (49 ft) per year, see Circle of latitude for more information.
It's creeping away from me as I write.

Anyhow, there is lot more land within the Arctic Circle than I would have guessed:

I didn't realise so much of Greenland was within it, or quite that much of Russia either.

So, how do I find a nice town inside the Arctic Circle? Googling around led me first to the Canadian town of Inuvik. However, this photo from the town's home page, indicates that it hardly counts as Paris of the North:

(And make sure you don't miss the Inuvik Petroleum Show that's on in June.)

What other towns or cities are up there? Yahoo Answers indicates that the three biggest cities inside the circle are Russian, and the largest is Murmansk. Yes, I've heard of it, but what's it look like?:

Well, no one holds high hopes for Russian cities looking good, do they? But maybe I am being unfair. That glossy magazine Monocle, which I've occasionally looked at in the newsagency and wondered who on Earth it is aimed at, has a short slideshow and commentary about the city, which is kind of interesting. A little sadly, you will also see that new shopping centres in far flung Arctic Circle Russia look exactly like what's been built down the road from you:

So, what about Norway? Yahoo Answers says Tromsø is pretty big - 62,000 people. And look - it's where Joanna Lumley went to see the Northern Lights in that nice documentary she made a couple of years ago. So, some photos please:

Wow. It looks a little bit like Hobart, but with more mountains, snow and wackier architecture. (OK, maybe it's just the bridge that reminds me of Hobart.)

According to Wikipedia:
In the 19th century, Tromsø was known as the "Paris of the North", probably because people in Tromsø appeared as far more civilized than expected to foreign tourists.
Mind you, it's a very chilly Paris of the North. According to a table on the Wikipedia page, the average maximum temperatures in December, January, February and March are all below freezing. (-2.2 in January.) Despite this, the main street, when you can see not under snow, looks quite normal in a quaint European way:

But, once again, this post proves, if nothing else, that new shopping centres, even in the Arctic Circle, look like every other new shopping centre in the world:

(I am distressed to see that they suffer from Giant Face Poster syndrome, as do some of our shopping centres, as I have noted in the past.)

Well, that's it. I'd say for towns in the Arctic Circle, Norway, and Tromsø in particular, is the place to go. Especially in September this year, when Roxette will be touring there. (Isn't the internet grand? There's not much else to be found by Googling for blogs about Tromsø, except to learn that there was an Italian uni student who went there to study* in 2007, made 6 posts about the women, the nightclubs, the drinking, and the free condoms everywhere, and that's it for his blog. I wonder if ever left.)

Of course, winning Lotto is the only foreseeable way of actual making the trip within the next 8 years. Either that or sudden exotic benevolence of a secret billionaire from my vast readership. (OK, it's Lotto or nothing, I know.)

So, that's it for my Arctic dreams. I should go finish the book.

* This strikes me as a particularly unusual place to go to university, but indeed, it does have a large university:
The University of Tromsø with 6.500 students and 1.700 staff members is the northernmost university in the world and one of 6 universities in Norway. It offers a broad range of subject fields in six faculties/schools with studies in humanities, social sciences, natural sciences/mathematics/statistics/informatics, law, medical sciences and fisheries science. All the main subject areas are offered at Bachelor's, Master's and PhD level. The prioritised research subject fields are mainly related to the Arctic and subarctic regions; Northern Light and space research, fisheries research, biotechnology, multicultural societies, indigenous studies, community medicine, theoretical linguistics, among others.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday night observations

* Just Like Heaven is a very charming movie. Probably drives hospital doctors crazy; but very charming.

* There is no better dinner in winter than ox tail stew, with mashed potato and beans, and a glass of red. (It is also the reason you just have to have a pressure cooker, even if you never cook anything else in it.)

* Tony Martin really is very funny. Why have I forgotten to bookmark The Scriveners Fancy, even though I did read it once before? I enjoyed this recent article, particularly given that I have been reading through Andrew Bolt's blog threads lately.

* Watching Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End on TV last weekend, I decided it's not so hard to follow after three viewings. Sure, it's bloated, but it's still a fantastic looking film, with some clever ideas and impressive sequences. The new movie - On Stranger Tides, has critics pretty divided whether it works as a "re-boot" of the series or not, but I'm not put off.

* I wouldn't mind seeing Thor, too. It has made a lot of money despite quite a few poor US reviews. Not sure what explains that (the bad reviews, when it is clearly a popular success - the takings did not drop off quickly, which indicates it does have good word of mouth.)

* This post is a lot like using Twitter, I suppose, but I refuse to get into social media beyond blogs. Twitter is the Fantales of social media, and barely worth the effort.

* Speaking of movies: oh dear, the first teaser trailer for Spielberg's Tin Tin movie is out; and I remain very uncertain as to whether the creepy "is that living mannequins doing the acting?" quality of motion capture movies has been overcome. Why do smart people, like Robert Zemeckis and Spielberg, think this is a good technology. I have never seen it used in a way in which I can get over the "uncanny valley", at least when it is humans being depicted. Still, I might be wrong, who knows.

* Why is there still not so much publicity about Anthony Watts being wrong about the key part of his pet project?

Look up this fact, Andrew

Andrew Bolt has a post this morning in which he complains that scientists should just explain the facts, instead of making humorous videos which target him. (As it happens, I don't think that either video is all that good or funny.)

Anyway, I have been posting comments at his blog this week about Anthony Watts' failure to come up with the goods, and about the specific estimate of warming bias that he made to Bolt's face only last June. I don't think yesterday's comment got through on his "tips" page, although maybe I just didn't click "submit" or something.

So here is my attempt today, posted as a comment to his video post:

Andrew, you seem to be showing a distinct lack of interest in the fact that Anthony Watts' own co-authored paper has shown he was completely wrong when you interviewed him in June last year.

Are you having trouble remembering? He estimated that warming bias due to poor weather station siting in the US could account for .5 degree C of increase in the US temperature record.

You said that meant that 2/3 of the increase of .7 degree could be from this. Watts did not disagree.

His actual paper shows what 2 other studies had predicted - cooling biases had balanced warming biases and the US mean temperature record was accurate.

This is the second major, major claim on which Watts has been shown wrong - the other being that international weather station "drop out" was removing cooler stations and biasing the world temperature record.

This was quickly shown to be wrong, and not even "lukewarmenist" Lucia of Lucia's Blackboard believes it. Watts, as far as I know, has never retracted or apologised.

Andrew, why do you show no skepticism towards Watts? He made a wildly inaccurate estimate to your face, disproved by his own paper which he said was days away from being completed.

Do the right thing - get him back on the radio and ask him how specifically how he was so wrong, and to retract his earlier estimate made to you 12 months ago.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tamar dreaming


Here’s another photo from the recent trip to Tasmania – looking at the ridiculously pretty Tamar River north of Launceston. Good wine, good views; a very nice part of the world.

I’m going to have to post more slowly here for a while – a series of family things are happening soon which will no doubt distract me, and I really need to stop worrying about how many people are wrong on the internet (there are so, so many) and concentrate more on finishing work.

One thing I will be looking out for, though, is Anthony Watts’ spin on his surfacestation.org paper. He has promised a post about it, and I can’t wait to hear his explanation as to why, a year ago, he was telling Andrew Bolt that bad siting warming bias could account for .5 degree C of warming in the US. There is also no excuse for Andrew Bolt to ignore Watts’ (and others) actual paper.

If you have time, drop over to Bolt’s blog and ask for him to look into this, until he does.

Anyhow, see you around.

UPDATE: I just realised that, when using Mercury browser on my iPad, it treats surfacestation.org as an address and you can link to one of those empty domain search pages. Maybe there's a setting I need to change on Mercury? Anyway, it doesn't seem to happen on Firefox on my PC, or even Safari. Rest assured it wasn't intended.

Mini black holes re-appear

Mini black holes that look like atoms could pass through Earth daily

It's been a while since I've read anything new about mini black holes, but the paper above suggesting the type that may comprise a large part of dark matter in the universe was interesting. They argue that maybe they don't evaporate in Hawking Radiation, but have matter orbiting them sort of in the way that atoms have electrons around them. They do not consider that they would be dangerous at all.

I also saw recently that Adam Helfer, who wrote a paper years ago in which he questioned whether Hawking Radiation really existed (thereby gaining some prominence in sites concerned about whether potential mini black holes from the LHC could be dangerous) has another paper out called Black Holes Reconsidered. He still questions our understanding of Hawking Radiation, and also notes that, while they seem possible in certain scenarios, no one really knows what a naked singularity would look like.

Uncertainties continue in physics, then.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

For attention: Andrew Bolt

Well, the failure of the Anthony Watts surfacestation.org project to prove what Anthony Watts promised for years (that is, that poor siting of some US weather stations would be shown to give a misleadingly higher-than-it-should-be temperature trend) is getting some attention in the climate science blogosphere.

Notably, a site which I will soon book mark "Wotts up With That" has a couple of posts about it, as well as Deltoid (from whose hat tip I've been getting quite a few hits this weekend.)

I would hope that more climate science bloggers will specifically post on it - particularly Skeptical Science - and perhaps someone in the mainstream media (Andrew Revkin, George Monbiot: this is important!) Joe Romm should be able to have a (well deserved) field day too.

But for this post, I want to note what some Australian skeptic sites have said about this project over the years:

Jo Nova: I have never taken this blog seriously, in the sense of believing both the arguments used or that it is particularly influential (the latter because I suspect its slick appearance -which makes it look like a funded PR exercise, even if it isn't - actually works against it.)

Anyhow, her short "Skeptics Handbook", which is chock full of wrong arguments, devotes an entire page to claiming the location of weather stations is a major issue.

I await the amended version of the Handbook, containing appropriate acknowledgement of the reassuring findings of the surfacestation.org project that the adjustments and work of the climate scientists did result in an accurate mean temperature trend. (Ha.)

Andrew Bolt: Australia's most influential climate skeptic blogger by far, I reckon, has made repeated references to Anthony Watts' work:

May 2009: A post headed "No way these stations could measure warming" ends on this note:
But read Anthony’s full report here - an awesome testimony to the commitment to evidence and truth from volunteers that should shame the professional alarmists which relied on these stations for their warming scare.
July 2009: Post headed "How not to measure warming" contains many photos from Watts, repeats a Pielke Snr post which pooh-poohed the NCDC's claim that siting bias were likely to cancel each other out (a fact Pielke Snr now confirms - with nary a sign of embarrassment for being wrong before,) and ends with this:
Moral: If the US data on warming is so dodgy, how much can we rely on weather stations in vast countries such as China, Russia, Brazil and India? Or even in Italy (above)?
Answer to Andrew: Well, there you go. The US data wasn't so dodgy after all. (Or, to be more precise, the degree to which any US data was "dodgy," it did not, as expected by climate scientists looking at how to best assess it, have any significant consequences for judging temperature trend.)

June 2010: in a brief note of a radio interview, Andrew notes:
Anthony Watts of Watt’s Up With That tells us when dodgy siting of weather stations may explain two thirds of the warming measured last century. (Examples in the clip above.)
I have listened to the interview, and can confirm that Watts was claiming, only a year ago, that he was estimating, at that time, that it could account for .5 degree of bias. Bolt then said (to paraphrase): well, if the globe has warmed by .7 degree over the last century, it could be that 2/3 of that is not "real warming". To which Watts concurred.

June 2010: another reminder of Watts' tour of Australia, and extracts parts of the Counterpoint interview in which Watts says:

Michael Duffy: In which direction does the bias lie? Are you suggesting that the temperature has not got as hot as the American official historical record suggests?

Anthony Watts: That’s correct. It’s an interesting situation. The early arguments against this project said that all of these different biases are going to cancel themselves out and there would be cool biases as well as warm biases, but we discovered that that wasn’t the case.

My comment to Andrew Bolt: have you read the Pielke Snr post on Watts' blog yet? The one which notes that the warming and cooling bias did cancel each other out? The one which is consistent with earlier studies that said the siting is not the confounding issue for working out temperature trends that it seemed to be?

Andrew, I strongly disagree with your take on climate change, and your willingness over the years to seemingly accept anything a contrarian has said without (apparently) seeking the climate science response to the claim. (Have you ever had a detailed read of Skeptical Science?)

But, despite this, I find it hard to believe that you could not review what Watts has been saying about this pet project for years, and not now feel that you've been taken for a ride.

Care for another interview with Mr Watts where you put to him the very same things he was saying only a year ago in your studio?

I look forward to hearing it...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Lego success

Lego: Bricks and flicks | The Economist

The Economist notes that Lego is riding high, at the moment:

After nearly going under eight years ago, Lego now has 5.9% of the global toy market, up from 4.8% at the end of 2009. That makes it the world’s fourth-largest toymaker. It is doing especially well in America, where sales last year surpassed $1 billion for the first time. Worldwide sales were up by 37% in 2010, to DKr16 billion ($2.8 billion). Net profit increased by 69% to DKr3.7 billion. Meanwhile, the world’s biggest toymakers, Hasbro and Mattel, are struggling.
The article notes the success is certainly helped by its very successful Lego video games. I don't play them, but my kids do on Nintendo DS, and they certainly seem designed to have a long life and exhibit much wit and creativity. Congratulations, Lego.

Future rainfall worries

2,300-year climate record suggests severe tropical droughts as northern temperatures rise

A 2,300-year climate record University of Pittsburgh researchers recovered from an Andes Mountains lake reveals that as temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere rise, the planet's densely populated tropical regions will most likely experience severe water shortages as the crucial summer monsoons become drier. The Pitt team found that equatorial regions of South America already are receiving less rainfall than at any point in the past millennium.

Let the rubbishing begin....

Anthony Watts has devoted years to running a citizens project to identity poorly sited temperature stations in the US, all the while suggesting that such carelessness meant the temperature record there was unreliable.

Now he's had a paper published (worked on with Roger Pielke Snr, whose attitude towards climate change is to say it is very serious and CO2 production should be addressed, while simultaneously playing footsies with a "skeptic" like Watts who has run numerous wrong, misleading and deceptive arguments over the years to encourage popular belief that CO2 is not a serious problem).

Pielke has a guest post up at WUWT discussing the paper in which the exclamation marks are, I think, intended to hide the lack of importance [update: in the sense of anti-climatic failure] of their findings:

The Surface Stations project is truly an outstanding citizen scientist project under the leadership of Anthony Watts! The project did not involve federal funding. Indeed, these citizen scientists paid for the page charges for our article. This is truly an outstanding group of committed volunteers who donated their time and effort on this project!

Then we get this key point:
The inaccuracies of measurements from poorly sited stations are merged with the well sited stations in order to provide area average estimates of surface temperature trends including a global average. In the United States, where this study was conducted, the biases in maximum and minimum temperature trends are fortuitously of opposite sign, but about the same magnitude, so they cancel each other and the mean trends are not much different from siting class to siting class. This finding needs to be assessed globally to see if this also true more generally.
Yes: the world should be sure that they don't make the same mistake as the US has: errors that cancel each other out!

It gets better:

One critical question that needs to be answered now is; does this uncertainty extend to the worldwide surface temperature record? In our paper

Montandon, L.M., S. Fall, R.A. Pielke Sr., and D. Niyogi, 2011: Distribution of landscape types in the Global Historical Climatology Network. Earth Interactions, 15:6, doi: 10.1175/2010EI371

we found that the global average surface temperature may be higher than what has been reported by NCDC and others as a result in the bias in the landscape area where the observing sites are situated.
And here's a handy question and answer summary of his findings:
A: The minimum temperature rise appears to have been overestimated, but the maximum temperature rise appears to have been underestimated.

Q: Do the differing trend errors in maximum and minimum temperature matter?

A: They matter quite a bit. Wintertime minimum temperatures help determine plant hardiness, for example, and summertime minimum temperatures are very important for heat wave mortality. Moreover, maximum temperature trends are the better indicator of temperature changes in the rest of the atmosphere, since minimum temperature trends are much more a function of height near the ground and are of less value in diagnosing heat changes higher in the atmosphere;
So, the temperature which is most important for temperature in the rest of the atmosphere is the one that he thinks may be underestimated. Right. Got that.

With friends like these, the climate skeptic movement is really on a roll.

I've been saying for ages that I can't really make head nor tail of Pielke Snr's position. He just seems to like spending his time snarking at how other climate scientists are not looking at things in quite the right way (that is, his way.) The snark seems to lead to his willingness to work with anyone in an attempt to score points against the rest of the climate science community. You could say much the same of Judith Curry, although she seemingly likes to spend her time even more on the fence of the fundamental question: does she believe there is a serious need to start reducing CO2 now? She's just happy to carp on and on about uncertainty instead, but in a way which (as far as I can tell) fails completely to advance the question of how to assess or reduce the claimed uncertainty.

Watts and his supporters in comments are trying to paint this as an important contribution to the science of climate change. Well, it tells us nothing much that others hadn't already expected, but I suppose its good to have the confirmation. But it is impossible to believe that it has worked out in the way he would have hoped. All those posts of photos of weather stations too close to concrete, etc. Obviously he was encouraging belief that US temperature rise were all a silly, silly mistake that he had seen through.

Anthony Watts is already in defensive mood in the comments. He's fully expecting the snark, which so far has not been appearing at his blog in large numbers.

That should be rectified soon, I hope.

Expect much discussion of this around the climate blogs.

UPDATE: looking back through Watt's previous surfacestation posts, I see he was happy to promote a Orange County Register editorial in 2009 about his work:

These influences produce readings higher than actual ambient temperatures, Mr. Watts said. Moreover, the research revealed “major gaps in the data record that were filled in with data from nearby sites, a practice that propagates and compounds errors.”

These inflated, error-prone, tinkered-with temperature recordings are one of several measurements cited by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as evidence man-made global warming is a threat. But the Heartland study concluded, “The U.S. temperature record is unreliable. And since the U.S. record is thought to be ‘the best in the world,’ it follows that the global database is likely similarly compromised and unreliable.”

When will the apologies start?

Where space dreams and cross dressing intersect

It's that time of year in Brisbane when you can never be sure how cold it might get during the night, so it's not unusual that you can fall asleep under a quilt only to wake up too hot later.

I think it was this that led to last nights dream, in which I had arrived at a small lunar base with my own accommodation, which was actually just like a largish canvas tent, only airtight. But when I put it up (inside the existing base, so I was not in a spacesuit) I found there were lots of small pin prick hole in the fly, and I had to try to tape them up, while complaining about poor quality control at NASA.

Once satisfied with the tent, I was sitting inside it reading a book about the incredible extended isolation that the first Antarctic explorers often suffered, particularly those who had to wait out a winter. It suddenly occurred to me that this was not a good book to bring to the Moon, where I was going to be confined to my tent for about 7 months. The dream soon morphed away into something else (I was in Seattle and an elderly women seemed to think the government was controlling the weather, and then there was some sort of parody of Sex and the City going on, from which I was eventually saved by waking up feeling crushed under too many blankets.)

As it happens, I have been reading some stuff about Antarctic expeditions, but really, I would know better than to take it to the Moon in real life. One of the books (which I got in Hobart, which tends to have a lot of titles on Antarctica) is this:
Herbert Dyce Murphy inspired Patrick White's The Twyborn Affair; he appears as a woman in one of E. Phillips Fox's best-known paintings; he prevented Douglas Mawson's Antarctic expedition from imploding.
Lady Spy, Gentleman Explorer tells the story of one man's fascinating double life - a gentleman adventurer who also dressed in drag to spy for British Military Intelligence in pre-World War I Europe.

In 1911 Murphy sailed to the Antarctic with the Mawson expedition for a gruelling exploration of the frozen continent, a trip of terrible hardship which claimed lives - probably unnecessarily - as this controversial view of Mawson demonstrates.

We all love a story of cross dressing explorers, don't we?

It's not a bad read so far, although the author does seem almost too keen to make it clear that her relative did not enjoy being a pre War spy in drag. He certainly had an adventurous life, even apart from the lady spy period, which was fairly short anyway.

I must try to adjust the bedcovers better tonight.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

For my own reference...

Second Glance: Appreciation of Pauline Kael

I always liked Pauline Kael's reviews, and in fact mentioned her in conversation last weekend, not realising that there was this article about her to be found on Arts and Letters Daily.

The fading voice

Christopher Hitchens: Unspoken Truths | Culture | Vanity Fair

Poor old Christopher is losing/has lost his voice and writes about it, quite movingly, in this piece.

Great moments in university advertising

I noticed an ad at the top of Rottentomatoes that I thought had an amusingly inappropriate picture on it, and followed the link to this page of Open Universities Australia, which even the link says is about their "terrorism" related courses.

The picture is there (top left, in case you need to have it pointed out):

That seems a particularly enthusiastic grope going on, doesn't it? I'm sure that's why most people get into Security and Counterterrorism as a career.

Then the page also includes this heading:

Sorry, I can't enlarge this without blurring it more, so you have to click on it to see it more clearly, and see whether it's just me, or do all those heavily armed counter-terrorists look like they're about 16? (I know, I know, you hit your 40's and all police officers start to look like kids, but really...)

But then the body of the article starts like this:

Yes, the writing is about starting your studies in Early Childhood Education, for which lessons in use of a submachine gun would, no doubt, come in very handy for class control. (Nothing gets the kids' attention better than a burst of gunfire into the air, I guess.)

Anyway, count me as officially amused. And is someone at Open Universities having a lend? Maybe it was a student's work on display? Or is it deliberately diversionary advertising? (So you thought you wanted to be a heavily armed policeman/security dude, but did you consider teaching primary school kids first?)

Roman urban myth

BBC News - Rome braces for 'prophet-predicted quake'

It can't be allowed to happen: mad Muslims would probably claim it as punishment for the death of bin Laden.

Pays to look up every now and then..

BBC News - Dubai: 'Suicide jump' from world's tallest skyscraper

A man has committed suicide by jumping from the world's tallest skyscraper in Dubai, according to its owner.

The man, in his 20s, fell from the 147th floor of the 2,717ft (828m) Burj Khalifa, landing on a deck on the 108th floor, local media reported.

I wonder who uses the deck on the 108th floor. It seems from a previous article that it is not the tourist observation deck.

The future of coccoliths

Ocean acidification: Carbon dioxide makes life difficult for algae

Here's some bad ocean acidification news for us all, about coccoliths (the calcium carbonate shells of some algae.)

"We know that the world's oceans are acidifying due to our emissions of CO2 and that is why it is interesting for us to find out how the coccoliths are reacting to it. We have studied algae from both fossils and living coccoliths, and it appears that both are protected from dissolution by a very thin layer of organic material that the algae formed, even though the seawater is extremely unsaturated relative to calcite. The protection of the organic material is lost when the pH is lowered slightly. In fact, it turns out that the shell falls completely apart when we do experiments in water with a pH value that many researchers believe will be the found in the world oceans in the year 2100 due to the CO2 levels," explains Tue Hassenkam, who is part of the NanoGeoScience research group at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen.

Professor of Biological Oceanography Katherine Richardson has followed research in the acidification of the oceans and climate change in general and she hopes that the results can help to bring the issue into public focus.

"These findings underscore that the acidification of the oceans is a serious problem. The acidification has enormous consequences not only for coccoliths, but also for many other marine organisms as well as the global carbon cycle.".....

And from the abstract of the PNAS paper itself:

However, ancient and modern coccoliths, that resist dissolution in Ca-free artificial seawater at pH > 8, all dissolve when pH is 7.8 or lower. Ocean pH is predicted to fall below 7.8 by the year 2100, in response to rising CO2 levels. Our results imply that at these conditions the advantages offered by the biogenic nature of calcite will disappear putting coccoliths on algae and in the calcareous bottom sediments at risk.
This is the worst sounding bit of ocean acidification research that has come out for quite some time.


Club Troppo - In Praise of Gillard’s Malaysia Solution

I think Ken Parish's assessment of Gillard's "Malaysia solution" is pretty much spot on. Even Andrew Bolt was conceding on his show that it may well work to stop boats coming, and the trade off is not as bad as it seems.

Best almost flying toy ever?

I have seen something about this device before; maybe I even had a video here, but I can't be bothered checking. But this video seems new, and it's awe-some. (Did I sound like a cool dude just then? Oh well, must try harder.)

A bit more detail needed, but still..

Small Modular Reactors: Safer and Cheaper? | Climate Central

How come I've missed the Climate Central blog til now? It looks pretty good.

Anyhow, a few weeks ago they had the post linked above about small nuclear reactors, which I have speculated before might be the better route towards rapid roll out of nuclear power. But I did wonder about the wisdom of burying them.

The post does deal with some of their questionable aspects, but more detail is needed.

And I need to clean up my blog roll again.

Great heading

Spotted in the New York Times: Apart From The Vampires, Lincoln Film Seeks Accuracy

Tim Colebatch on the budget

Takes guts to squeeze the middle class

I haven't noticed Tim Colebatch writing at The Age much lately, but here's his take on the budget delivered last night.

I still say he's the clearest, most balanced economics columnist around today, so I find his view of the budget pretty convincing. Short version: it does cut quite a bit, and the real issue in getting back to surplus is the drop in revenue.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Harrison the Wise

‘Cowboys & Aliens’ star Harrison Ford: Most special-effects films are soulless now

I've said much the same myself at this blog over the years:

“I think what a lot of action movies lose these days, especially the ones that deal with fantasy, is you stop caring at some point because you’ve lost human scale,” Ford said. “With the CGI, suddenly there’s a thousand enemies instead of six – the army goes off into the horizon. You don’t need that. The audience loses its relationship with the threat on the screen. That’s something that’s consistently happening and it makes these movies like video games and that’s a soulless enterprise. It’s all kinetics without emotion. I don’t have time for that.”
I certainly hope the oddball combination of cowboys and aliens works.

Ecstacy down; shamans up.

Designer drugs beat Ecstasy�(Science Alert)

Here's a story detailing the current trend in ecstasy and "designer drug" use in Australia and elsewhere.

The trend is down, as it has been in many other countries over a number of years. I thought the explanation may be in the recognition of undesirable effects on long time users, but it might be more mundane than that:
Regular ecstasy users have also indicated that there has been a marked drop in the purity of ecstasy, with a significant number of tablets containing no MDMA, the active ingredient of ecstasy.

Mind you, drug users value playing with their brain chemistry over common sense:
Designer drugs which have been picked up by the survey, albeit in small numbers, include mephedrone and BZP, a central nervous system stimulant which reportedly has more side effects than amphetamines.

“In our 2010 survey, 16 per cent of users reported recent use of mephedrone, a synthetic stimulant closely related to amphetamines but with hallucinogenic properties,” said Dr Burns.
Oh yes, like that sounds like a good idea: combine amphetamines with hallucinations. Not only will you find bugs under your skin, you'll be awake for 30 hours to watch them.

It is of interest to me, though, to note that one particularly intriguing drug, DMT, has a small number of illegal users here. This drug was the subject of an interview with researcher Rick Strassman at Boing Boing recently.

If you're going to have a hallucination, I suppose having one in which spirit guides or angels are there to meet you is probably the most interesting kind to experience.

But, as with nearly everyone else older than a teenager, I don't believe the "Doors of Perception" theory that any drug is really letting you see into the true nature of reality. I therefore still wouldn't trust what exactly DMT is doing to my neurons to let me "see" the "spiritual" world. My intuition is that it can't be healthy.

Thanks, Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi helps fund Qld cyclone shelters

Since I have done my fair share of ridiculing the laws and society of the Gulf states over the years, I should say that this gift to my home State was very nice of them. Thanks.

Do not trust them

Favorite Denier Tricks, or How to Hide the Incline | Open Mind

Good post by Tamino (he's been on a roll lately) showing why you cannot take any graph, or any statement, at Watts Up With That on face value.

In other climate change news, this paper, about observed changes to cloud cover over 25 years sounds to me like an important one, but I haven't seen it written up anywhere yet.

Monday, May 09, 2011

TV reviews from the weekend

Bolt Report: I didn't see all that much of it (and the time slot of 10am on a Sunday is going to help ensure this continues in future. I reckon all people interested in politics, even on the right, are going to be more interested in a range of views from Insiders rather than the mono-view of Andrew Bolt, and an hour devoted to politics on a Sunday is more than enough for most people.)

The opening part, where Andrew got to editorialise (it was rather like him reading out one of his own columns) reminded me of Alan Jones' short-ish TV career. I seem to recall he did much the same thing. The problem is, it doesn't make for great television, particularly when those watching already have read his views in the Herald Sun. Just how often can we expect something unexpected from him in one of these openings?

And then the panel "debate", in which three commentators who hate the Gillard government got to express their hatred of the Gillard government. I didn't see all of this, but I was hoping Mark Latham would at least get to say at some point "And by the way, Andrew, I think you are completely and hopelessly wrong on climate change. I consider it the most important political issue for years to come." Because that is what Latham believes. But, I am guessing, Mark didn't get past the invitation to put the boot into former co-worker Gillard.

No, I think the show is not going to work. Andrew Bolt worked best in debate on Insiders, where he had other people to rein in his tongue when needed. Too much control in his hands will not work, I expect.

Dr Who: Apart from the irritating reversion to Russell Davies era reference to homosexuality, where a 1969 FBI agent notes his desire to marry his black boyfriend (oh yes, so very likely, that scenario), I realised something after watching this somewhat confusing and rambling episode.

Namely, the greatest bits about the modern revival of Dr Who are definitely not the episodes with the long story arcs. Yet Steven Moffat is concentrating on the long story arcs to the detriment of the show overall.

Think about it: the most memorable parts of the new show have been individual episodes in which characters and situations rang emotionally true. For me, none of these memories come from the multipart episodes with complicated plots.

Let's face it, with time travel done in the rubbery way it is on this show, we know that there is never any dire end of the universe situation which can't be undone. So it's starting to get tedious that great dramatic "this will be the end of everything" plot arcs still seem to be what the show is now concentrating on. And since Moffat took the helm, the stand alone episodes have, by and large, been weaker than they were when he was writing them for Russell Davies.

There is a small element of interest in trying to pick up hints as to what is going on in the current series, but really, I did consider the first Moffat series story arc to not be particularly effective or memorable. They are just too cluttered.

Anyway, I'll keep watching, but I think I have now put my finger on the problem with the Moffat approach.

Update: I've decided my take on Dr Who sounds too cranky. I still like the characters in the current series quite a lot, it's just that I've decided that Moffat is way too fond of the long, complicated plots running through a series. Now, I suppose you could say that the "traditional" show has always been long stories told in weekly episodes, but they were never as grandiose and messianic as the long arc plots as they developed under Davies. (In fact, I don't think there was much in the way of long episodic stories under the first season or two of Davies, but they did come much more to the front as he went on.) And, as I say, I tend to find it is the "stand alone" episodes turned out to be the most memorable. So I would prefer it to go back to that "new" direction.

A handy Hayek summary

Friedrich A. Hayek, Big-Government Skeptic - NYTimes.com

I've never been all that interested in books by economists with a broader philosophy about society: short summaries of their views seem to be all that can hold my interest.

This review of a new edition of one of Hayek's books seems to provide a useful summary with respect to him.

I note these bits:
(It may, however, surprise some of Hayek’s new followers to learn that “The Constitution of Liberty” argues that the government may need to provide health insurance and even make it ­compulsory.)
So, Labor was following a Hayek line in introducting Medicare?

And the last paragraphs seem key:

In the end, what drove people on the left crazy about Hayek back in the 1950s is the same thing that makes him appealing to a Glenn Beck today. Hayek made the slipperiest of slippery slope arguments: the smallest move toward the expansion of government would lead to a cascade of bad consequences that would result in full-blown authoritarian socialism. If anything, however, the history of the past 50 years shows us that the slippery slope has all sorts of ledges and handholds by which we can brake our descent into serfdom and indeed climb back up. Voters in the United States and Europe took seriously the arguments about the dangers of big government and reversed course after the 1980s. Indeed, the pendulum swung so far backward that financial markets were left dangerously unregulated prior to the financial crisis. President Obama’s return to “big government” didn’t last more than a year before it was met with fierce ­resistance.

In the end, there is a deep contradiction in Hayek’s thought. His great insight is that individual human beings muddle along, making progress by planning, experimenting, trying, failing and trying again. They never have as much clarity about the future as they think they do. But Hayek somehow knows with great certainty that when governments, as opposed to individuals, engage in a similar process of innovation and discovery, they will fail. He insists that the dividing line between state and society must be drawn according to a strict abstract principle rather than through empirical adaptation. In so doing, he proves himself to be far more of a hubristic Cartesian than a true Hayekian.

Hard to believe....

Rampaging dollar 'could hit $US1.70' as budget and industries threatened | The Australian

This rise against the US dollar is all very nice for the Australian tourist, although I still don't understand why our dollar has made a slower rise against the Yen.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Magical intrigue in Iran

Ahmadinejad allies charged with sorcery | World news | The Guardian

Maybe it's just me missing the articles, but this story seems to have been overlooked this week in the wider media, given the excitement and intrigue of the Bin Laden killing.

It's pretty fascintating:

Close allies of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been accused of using supernatural powers to further his policies amid an increasingly bitter power struggle between him and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being "magicians" and invoking djinns (spirits).

Ayandeh, an Iranian news website, described one of the arrested men, Abbas Ghaffari, as "a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds".

The arrests come amid a growing rift between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei which has prompted several MPs to call for the president to be impeached.

The article then explains the people involved in a power play underway in Iran, then gets back to the magic bits:

But the feud has taken a metaphysical turn following the release of an Iranian documentary alleging the imminent return of the Hidden Imam Mahdi – the revered saviour of Shia Islam, whose reappearance is anticipated by believers in a manner comparable to that with which Christian fundamentalists anticipate the second coming of Jesus.

Conservative clerics, who say that the Mahdi's return cannot be predicted, have accused a "deviant current" within the president's inner circle, including Mashaei, of being responsible for the film.

Ahmadinejad's obsession with the hidden imam is well known. He often refers to him in his speeches and in 2009 said that he had documentary evidence that the US was trying to prevent Mahdi's return.

What a fantastic Muslim conspiracy theory: the US trying to prevent the return of the Hidden Iman. I presume that someone, somewhere, is figuring out how the death of Bin Laden factors into this.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Suggested posters for today's No Carbon Tax rally in Brisbane

Only time for a couple.....

Sketchbook Pro improves

Yay. Sketchbook Pro, my iPad sketching and art app of choice, has finally been changed to make it easier to keep favorite brushes and colours on the screen.

This news will mean nothing to nearly every reader, but it's significant to me. I find doodling with a finger is the second most enjoyable thing about an iPad.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Doesn't look like this on TV...

One in three Africans is now middle class, report finds | Global development | The Guardian

Sounds to me like the African Development Bank might be talking things up a bit, though, when the report notes figures like this:
Possession of cars and motorcycles in Ghana, for example, has gone up by 81% in the past five years.
The significance of that all depends on the base you're coming off, after all.

Anyway, it's of interest. I tend to have little interest in visiting the place partly because I've read about too many parasitic and other diseases that can be caught there. (Yes, I know, tourists do go there and survive.)

A story of fish, ice and history

I mentioned in my photo post of Tasmania yesterday the Salmon Ponds just outside of Hobart, and how much I enjoy visiting them.   (I had previously been there by myself in 1995; this time it was to show my family.  Children like it a lot because you buy fish pellets with which to feed the large, hungry trout and salmon.) 

The place provides a short history on the introduction of trout and salmon from England to Tasmania which involved several failed attempts to ship the eggs there under sail.   The credit seems to belong mainly to one Sir James Youl:  born in Parramatta, educated in England, moved to Tasmania, then to England again.  (Call me ignorant if you will, but I find it  a bit surprising to realise that “normal”people from even the first half of the 19th century were undertaking the lengthy voyage to and from England for reasons such as education.)  The short story of what he did regarding shipping fish is shown in his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography:

Youl is best remembered for the introduction of trout and salmon to Australasian waters. Earlier attempts in 1841 and 1852 had failed because of the difficulty of keeping ova alive under artificial conditions en route to Tasmania. His shipments on the Curling in 1860 and Beautiful Star in 1862 failed, and next year he directed experiments involving the use of moss in ice-vaults. On 21 January 1864 the Norfolk left England carrying more than 100,000 salmon and trout ova packed in moss in the ship's ice-house. Ninety-one days later the first successful delivery of living ova was made into Tasmanian hatcheries on the River Plenty. Victoria and New Zealand had supported the Tasmanian ventures and their rivers were soon stocked also.

But the details are a bit more interesting, and by the wonders of Google Books, you read it all as recorded in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London from 1870.   The story starts at page 14.  You can download the entire volume as a 47 MB .pdf  if you want a full nine hundred or so pages of the Proceedings for that year.  (If you do download it, make sure to check the index at the back, where the digitiser’s fingers are caught on the scan on more than one occasion.  I suppose he or she must have been tiring of the job by then. )   

So, back to the story.  It seems they first tried to ship out salmon spawn, but these attempts all failed.  They then hit on the idea of transporting the fertilised eggs, but in the first attempt in 1852, in a large tub of water with 50,000 odd ova, they hatched too early, the water got too warm and putrid, and none survived. 

Someone hit on the idea of keeping the eggs cold, so the next attempt in 1860(the first involving Youl, it seems) involved using ice in the ship to cool the water.  But all did not go well:


Note the reference to Wenham-Lake ice?   I noticed at the Salmon Ponds this visit that the ice used in these attempts came from America.(!)

I have a vague recollection that I had once read about the American ice trade of the 1800’s, but I’m not sure.   But again, to my surprise, I see now that an enterprising fellow by the name of Frederick Tudor, made a highly successful business of cutting ice from the lakes of New England  and shipping it to England and even further afield (it even made it to India.)  

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but this strikes me as a little known and unusual example of  global enterprise:  ice shipped from America then used in attempts to get fish eggs to Australia.

So back to the fish.   The next attempt was in 1862, involving a different set up, but the ship struck bad weather, the ice again ran out, the water temperature rose and the eggs again all died.  But this time they found that some eggs, laid in moss and put directly in the ice box, had survived longer.

This led to Youl in England running experiments with the fish eggs on ice.  (You can’t freeze the eggs, just keep them really cold.)   It slows the development down, long enough to get them to Australia.

So the successful method was eventually implemented in 1864, with the fish ova packed in wooden boxes between damp moss (some had charcoal in them too), holes were drilled in the sides, and they were packed in ice in the ship’s ice house.   They survived the 3 month trip, and were taken up the Derwent River, being carried overland on poles to the Salmon Ponds, were they hatched and a significant number survived.

Maybe it’s just because I love eating salmon and trout (it’s certainly not because I am a fisherman of any note), but I find this unusual bit of Australian history a pretty fascinating story of 19th century determination and enterprise.