Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Making changes...

...bear with us while we work out the design and layout.

Experimental Beatles' "music"

Paul McCartney wants to release a long-hidden experimental piece the Beatles recorded for an electronic music festival--a piece long thought mythical by fans. According to his description,

"I said all I want you to do is just wander around all the stuff, bang it, shout, play it, it doesn't need to make any sense," McCartney told the program.

"Hit a drum then wander on to the piano, hit a few notes, just wander around. So that's what we did and then put a bit of an echo on it. It's very free."

Not to disparage him personally, but this surprises me. I'm no fan of modern, abstract art, nor of its musical equivalents. But I'm able to understand that in the pieces regarded as "good" by the critics, there is still some planning and intelligence behind the pattern, even if it's deliberately obscure or ugly. So I'm surprised that in the Beatles' case, there wasn't any thought behind it--the sounds were intentionally random.

Well, maybe that's why the other band members vetoed the idea of releasing it earlier. Still, I hope he's able to get it out; I'm sure some of their fans would like to hear it, even if just for the novelty.

If you can read this, you are too close

No kidding! Words made with individual CO molecules, sitting on a copper sheet. Amazing.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Global warming estimates get revised downward

What got me onto that last post was actually this article in the Daily Telegraph. The author credits readers (note: the readers commenting on the blog!) of Anthony Watts' site and Steve McIntyre's with discovering large errors in NASA's global temperature numbers for October 2008. It's amazing the ability of a large number of educated laymen (and I'd imagine a few who work in this field are among the group, too) to spot errors that the official process missed.

It's like Glenn Reynolds puts it, "An army of Davids."

Anyway, the outcome of this week's dust-up is that NASA's Dr. James Hansen, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), was forced to revise the October temperatures downward. In explaining the error, it was admitted that for the Russian temperatures, they came from another organization, and that "GISS did not have resources to exercise proper quality control over the data it was supplied with" (I'm quoting the Telegraph, not GISS).

Huh. Shouldn't that make us skeptical of some of GISS's claims? At least a little bit?

How systematic errors bias global warming measurements

I'm not sure how to describe my opinions on global warming. I'm open-minded about the idea that there is man-made global warming; I consider it a real possibility because we know we're emitting CO2, and CO2 is a greenhouse gas. (That is, it allows visible light from the sun to pass through it, the sun warms the earth, and the warm earth emits infrared light back, but this is partially absorbed by the CO2.) So this could certainly cause the earth to warm. The question is quantitative: by how much?

But there's something that's been bugging me ever since I first heard of the concept of global warming: how well do we know the global temperature going back so many years? Our most accurate method of measuring temperature is a thermometer, but the weather stations are scattered unevenly across the earth and are mostly in populated regions and developed countries. Furthermore, if we're comparing the temperatures today with those of the 19th century (official temperature records in the US go back to the mid-19th century, I keep hearing), well, how widely were those stations placed in 1860? I'll bet we have a large selection bias as far as location goes.

Furthermore, a station that was out in the wilderness in 1860 is more likely to be near a developed area now, as the population has grown. And we certainly know about the heat island effect of cities--temperatures near the city are a few degrees higher than out in rural areas nearby, because of all of that asphalt and such. This alone should cause an artificial rise in one station's temperature record as nearby towns grow.

But surely atmospheric scientists have accounted for these obvious objections, right? I was surprised to find out that the answer is actually "no" or "poorly." Anthony Watts, a meteorologist, has been running an invaluable project to rate the quality of weather stations, and their possible systematic errors, based on their proximity to artificial heat sources and other biasing effects. He's been finding that a majority of the sites in the US have likely errors of several degrees, which is shocking. There are laughable examples of thermometers being placed right next to (even surrounded by) large, sunny parking lots! These are the kinds of things you'd figure were blatantly-obvious no-nos, but their data have been incorporated into the calculations of global warming. Who knows what the overall effect of these is?

Being an astrophysicist, I'm also interested in the effects of the solar cycle on the earth's climate, but I'll get to that in a later post.

Monday, November 10, 2008

In which tech writers forget there's a Rest Of The World

Remarkably narrow-minded article on "Five Useless Gadgets You Should Throw in the Trash" by a writer for Wired. (Of course, Wired) He thinks that printers, scanners, faxes, DVD or CD drives, and regular telephones (landlines, not cell phones) are "useless." He has a few caveats, but not enough to make up for the poor thinking of the rest of the article. This is the kind of thinking I'd liken to socialist central planning--"Why do you need your car? Take a bus everywhere! Why do you need your own house? Just rent an apartment--and there's no grass to mow!" He actually thinks that a printing "service" can replace your printer. I wonder how long their printouts take to get to you. But then, I'm sure you've never printed anything out that you couldn't simply wait a couple of days for, right?

I'm not going to call the author "stupid," as many have (or maybe they just meant the article--there's a decent case for that), but he's amazingly short-sighted.

The comment by "Sean" is priceless.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The risk from a carbon market

Think the collapse of the mortgage-backed securities market is giving us problems? Just wait 'til President Obama pushes us into a cap & trade scheme on carbon. Lawrence Solomon shows us how that will set up a "market" that will endanger all sides of the economy.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

WSJ on Michael Crichton

A very nice retrospective on Dr. Michael Crichton here. (And yes, he was a medical doctor!) I've read a lot of his novels and enjoyed every one. He has a talent for giving his characters thought-provoking discussions into the nature of science. Some of his chapters are nothing more than an extended conversation on a single topic, and these have often stuck with me for years afterwards, getting me to think more about it.

The first novel of his that I read was The Andromeda Strain back in junior high, and it was written in the pseudo-documentary style so well (with even the acknowledgements keeping up the pretense) that I kept turning back to the spine to check that I'd actually taken it from the Fiction section of the library!

The WSJ mentions Al Gore's displeasure regarding State of Fear, which critiques the anthropogenic global warming hysteria. It's a little ironic, considering that I've gotten the impression that he'd consulted Gore heavily for Rising Sun some years earlier. (I think Gore might have been mentioned in the acknowledgements, and there's certainly one of those extended dialogue chapters, with a politician who seemed to me to be favorably based on Gore.) The reaction of the Left to Crichton's discussion of global warming is a strange overreaction. I got an earful from a German astrophysicist at a conference in 2005 when some of us were discussing Jurassic Park. This guy was absolutely outraged by Crichton regarding global warming and was using really strong language and just anathematizing the guy. Yikes! Of course, this was also a person (the German fellow) who gave us a heartwarming anecdote about his parents meeting, all thanks to Mao Tse Tung, and so he has a soft spot for the blood-soaked Communist dictator. So he's got a different set of priorities than I do, let's say.

A load of manure from Reuters

"Media bias largely unseen in US presidential race" To quote Bill Cosby, "Riiiight!"

WSJ predicts GOP gets 30% of the black vote, post-Obama

Now there's a bold prediction! But why not? Blacks are often socially conservative (note their strong support for California's Proposition 8, among other things). James Taranto surprises me with some history: when a minority or marginalized group has one of its own elected to the highest office, it seems to integrate them into the political culture and reduce the sense of ethnic/racial/religious solidarity, politically. Read and decide for yourself.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Arbeit macht frei

Obama's campaign idea of encouraging community service has morphed into requiring it for middle school, high school, and college. (H/T to Derb in The Corner)

UPDATE: They've changed the text on the official website in the past few hours or so. The first time I saw this today, it said it would be required. Now it's part of some kind of deal, apparently in return for money for college, and at the secondary level vaguely worded as a "goal." Well, that part still sounds like a euphemism for a federal requirement.

The sinking of MSM Titanic

Funny Day-by-Day cartoon. Pre-election, but it has a timeless quality, I'm afraid.

Protein Wisdom on Sovereignty

He's said it well, and I could hardly agree more. The issue of treaties under our next administration is one that's got me worried...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Maybe next time.

One more thing I hope

is that the popular vote tallies remain as close as Fox News has them right now: 51 Obama vs. 49 McCain. I want this to have been a much closer election than the opinion polls have been predicting, with the last Real Clear Politics average having Obama up by 7.6%.

I've never bought the idea of a "mandate" for the President. The President gets his mandate by being elected, no matter how slim the margin. What I want tonight is for the results to show that McCain was just about as popular with the country as Obama was, despite the near-universal opinion that the country is some near-solid mass pushing for Obama.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Murtha wins

The offensive jerk from Johnstown, Penna. has apparently won re-election. Maybe now he'll feel free to tell his constituents what he really thinks about them.

Comments from Mark Levin

On The Corner:
"John McCain just gave a classy concession speech. If McCain had won, we were told of possible riots."

Good point.

And McCain's conceded...

California puts Obama over the top

Fox News has just called it for him. 275 electoral votes.

Well, congratulations to the Democrats for their victory. I'm going to go hide, now.


Virginia goes to Obama. Dang Yankee carpetbaggers in the D.C. suburbs...

Too many in a row!

Nuts! Harry Reid hit "change" twice and "mandate" once in the same sentence. I forgot "hope." Adding it to the rules below...

P.S: It's a good thing I'm just drinking water.

Murtha calls it for himself. Voters might or might not.

Jack Murtha (Jerk-PA) is holding a press conference to congratulate himself on his win, despite his ignorant, racist, redneck constituents. The networks aren't so sure he's won it, though. Nobody's called it yet, except him!

I'm calling Tennessee for McCain...

OK, that wasn't a big surprise. Pleased to see that McCain's got about 300,000 more votes than Obama so far, though. With Pennsylvania and Ohio going for Obama, it's going to be really tough for McCain to win 270 electoral votes.

For now, then, I'm at least hoping that McCain gets Virginia and North Carolina. If these Southern states go for a liberal Yankee, I'm going to be too embarrassed to hold my head up tomorrow.

Speaking of which, this will be the first Yankee Democrat to win the presidency since Kennedy. The wife and I were wondering the other day if this would be the left's chance to replay the Kennedy administration. A lot of the hagiography of Kennedy comes form him being an inspiring leader who was killed partway through his first term. In a sense, he didn't get the chance to let them down. My uncle was doing a computerized poll for the Republican party, leading up to the 1964 election, and he thinks that Kennedy wouldn't have won re-election. He was seeing Democratic voters starting to go for Goldwater. Admittedly, this was Texas, but it was movement away from the 1960 results.

So Obama might well get the chance to disappoint his followers. So much expectation is getting attached to him that he can't possibly live up to it all. I doubt his experience is up to the task, although he might be a quick learner and do passably well by the standards of a normal President. But I think that the bar is going to be set much higher for him than for a "normal President." The messianic fervor is just bizarre, and my question is whether it will burn out or keep going for a full term.

Election night drinking game

We're coming up with rules and phrases for election night drinking games here. I might have to add a few as the night goes on, but here are some phrases to start with:

One drink:
"move the country forward"

some version of "repudiate Bush"

Finish the bottle:
"I, for one, welcome our new messianic overlord!"
"I feel a tingle running up my leg."

UPDATE: Added "hope" to the two-drink list.