Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Enough Already!

Ok. I am sure that you have noticed some of the substitutes for real conversation enhancers that that have started to be accepted as valid over the last couple of years. They have really started to get on my nerves because they really just deflect questions or provide convenient excuses. That is how I have started to use them. Here are a few of my favorite (or least favorite).

  • "At the end of the day, ..."
  • "It is what it is."
  • "We are gonna shock the world." (In response to being an underdog)
Please feel free to add a few of your own.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Nominations Complete & Other Stuff

UPDATE on 2008 Weblog Awards:

Guys, the nominations for the 2008 Weblog awards are complete for the "Best Parenting" category. Kristy ended up with a "Score" of 30. In that category, that puts her at #4 out of 79 nominees. Over the next week or so, the finalists in each category will be notified, and the voting will begin on December 8. I will let you know if Kristy is a finalist so that you can vote for her.

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As many of you know, I am in Minnesota this week. Kristy is being examined by the doctors at the Mayo Clinic. This facility is world class and occupies the greater part of downtown Rochester. I have been impressed by how nice these people are. It is quite obvious to me that Mayo spends money on getting the best people and doesn't worry about having the newest possible examination tables (see below). That tells me that they care more about patient care than image. We are very hopeful that these docs can find out what has been plaguing her for the better part of a year.






Another thing that I should mention is that many people feel that Fibromyalgia is a crap diagnosis or made-up syndrome. Before this week, I will admit that I was one of them. After spending over 2 hours here with the experts at Mayo, I was sure that was going to be the diagnosis because no one can seem to find out what the deal is with her. The woman calmly explained that, while she has some elements that fall into the syndrome, Kristy doesn't fit with fibromyalgia. That impressed me. I think that the diagnosis is probably misapplied in a lot of places, but here in Minnesota, I think that they have it right.
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I watched #2 Texas TCEH get massacred by Oklahoma tonight. While I am always happy when the Red Raiders get embarrassed, I just wish that the Sooners were not involved.
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I guess that is enough random stuff for one post.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Nominate Kristy's Blog!

Ok! I know you like my blog, but I know who the best writer in the family is. The nominations for the Weblog Awards have started, and I think she writes the best parenting blog on the web. Sophie provides the material, and Kristy makes it hilarious.

I have started the nomination process, but you can nominate her as well. Here is the link for the nomination. Scroll down a little to find "Best Parenting Blog" and either 2nd my nomination or add your own. If you login via one of the supported authentication services (Typekey, WordPress, OpenID, Yahoo, AIM, etc.), your nomination will appear instantly. I don't have one of those accounts, so you probably won't see my nomination for about a day.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chasing Mathematical Rabbits

Well, I am traveling this week for work. What that really means is that I sit in front of the TV a lot after 11-12 hours of work (usually watching the World Series of Poker on ESPN). I know that makes me a little weird. As some of my friends know, I got interested in poker a couple of years because I think it is an interesting mathematical problem.

For me, it is not as interesting when you see all the cards. It is quite simple to calculate the odds of winning when you know the cards (as on ESPN). The interesting problem for me was figuring the best hands to play against whatever number of players that are dealt a hand. Being an engineer and computer programmer, it wasn't enough for me to guess which hands should or shouldn't be played against 8 others players. I spent a great deal of time writing a Monte Carlo program that would:

  • Randomly shuffle a deck of 52 cards
  • Deal cards for 2-10 players
  • Deal the community cards in Texas Hold'em (5 cards)
  • Determine the winner
  • Repeat millions of times
I now have a database of over 100 million hands. It would give aspiring poker players some insight into when they should chuck their hands. How valid are my simulations that use random numbers to simulate these hands of poker? That is a good question, and I asked it myself. Here is the summary of the community card hands compared to the traditionally calculated statistical probability for each hand:
  • Straight Flush: 0.001536% (Sim), 0.001539% (Prob) --> Ratio = 0.99776
  • Four of a Kind: 0.023971% (Sim), 0.024010% (Prob) --> Ratio = 0.99838
  • Full House: 0.143659% (Sim), 0.144058% (Prob) --> Ratio = 0.99723
  • Flush: 0.196929% (Sim), 0.196540% (Prob) --> Ratio = 1.00198
  • Straight: 0.393720% (Sim), 0.392465% (Prob) --> Ratio = 1.00320
  • Three of a Kind: 2.110972% (Sim), 2.112845% (Prob) --> Ratio = 0.99911
  • Two Pair: 4.754903% (Sim), 4.753901% (Prob) --> Ratio = 1.00021
  • Pair: 42.249452% (Sim), 42.256905% (Prob) --> Ratio = 0.99982
  • High Card: 50.124858% (Sim), 50.117737% (Prob) --> Ratio = 1.00014
So, I have confidence that I programmed the darn "simple" problem right. It still doesn't help my poker game much because my "dumb" players all play the entire hand regardless of their two starting cards.

The next step is a Bayesian approach (using an expert opinion about probable outcomes based on limited information) to eliminate poor starting hands and improve the usefulness results of the program. Since I am not a poker expert, I need help figuring out the fold percentages for each of the 169 starting hands. Don't forget this percentage will change depending on the number of players that have a chance to beat you!

Who's up for the challenge?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Is This Real?

Well, I feel like I am going to throw up. I had this same feeling back in 1992 as the whole Hendrix College campus celebrated Bill Clinton's victory around me. It is good that the outcome is known early enough to get a good night's sleep. I do find some hope though:





Based on this logic, I can forget about sending my mortgage payments in the future, AND the gas station is going to just let the pumps run wild for anyone who shows up. WOW! What a country!

I have just two questions about this:

  1. Does the mortgage thing happen now that the election is over or do we have to wait until after the inauguration?
  2. Is this deal for all Americans or just the ones that voted for Obama?
I will have to call Chase Home Finance tomorrow to get answers to these very important questions, but I am still not sure how you prove that you voted for him. Anyone want to place bets about whether or not Chase will take my call seriously?

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On a serious note, I am glad that I live in Arkansas tonight rather than Kentucky, Indiana, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, Alaska , or Massachusetts. These are the seven states that still ban alcohol sales in some form on election day. I think there may be a need to stop by Crossover Liquor (in Fayetteville) to pick up some Maker's Mark before the night is over. I am just glad the election is behind us, and maybe a drink or eight will make it seem like a happier outcome.

Congrats to the Obama supporters. It is a historic night for this country, and the moment will be remembered for a long time. If I were you, I wouldn't count on him fulfilling many of those campaign promises. As for me, the only campaign promises he made that I actually believed are the tax hikes.
  • BTW, increasing taxes and practicing trade isolation are the worst possible things that you can do in a slow down or recession (just ask Herbert Hoover), but that seems to be Obama's economic plan.

In any case, I am installing an intrusion detector on my wallet that wails "I told you so!" over and over when taxes are increased and praying that the next four years won't be as bad as I think they are going to be.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

To Blog or Not To Blog?

I have spent the better part of a month not blogging. Mainly, I have boycotted writing because the global warming goofballs are realizing that people don't want to hear about how bad they are treating the earth when they are constantly hearing about how far in the toilet the economy has gone. Also, I almost had a coronary the last time I looked at the 401k balance [NOTE TO SELF: Don't go to www.401k.com again for a while].

However, I have been thinking about why we are having a "crisis" on Wall Street. In my mind, it boils down to one thing: The government started messing with the free market. I think this conclusion is legitimate when I ponder the following:

  • The Community Reinvestment Act -- This brillance passed by Congress during the Carter Administration required banks to make approximately 30% of their loans to people who probably weren't going to pay them back. That is truly dumb business, but banks "wrote it off" and continued to extend credit to each other.
  • The Government Sponsored Entities (GSE's) -- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The leaders of these two abominations used the organizations as their own personal piggy bank by taking tremendous risks while inflating their asset sheets. They were able to do this because they are sponsored by the government and didn't truly answer to anyone. That is, until the whole house of cards crumbled around them bringing the financial markets to a stand still.
  • I watched Treasury Secretary Paulsen ask to become the czar of the entire U.S. financial system (no review by the judicial system or congressional oversight of any of the decisions of the Treasury Secretary's decisions in this "crisis"). This insulted everything associated with free markets and capitalism. I truly couldn't believe that this was a sincere proposal.

Finally, we are asked to believe that the same clowns that created the mess that we witnessed over the last few weeks will be able to fix the problem. So, I asked myself if I could say anything coherent about this mess. AND, the answer came back, "Not even close."

I truly can't wait for the election to be over. I am pretty much resigned to the fact that my taxes will go WAY up because the Dims will control the White House and both houses of Congress. I guess it's about fairness. Hopefully, they will be dumb enough to actually try to implement some of their proposals. If they do, I am pretty sure that we will get another 1994-style mid-term election.

In any case, I should probably do all my blogging between now and inauguration day. After that, I am not sure that we won't have a "Fairness Doctrine" for talk radio and a "Hate Speech Code" for the blogosphere.

Can anyone tell that I am a little bit depressed about the state of our nation?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Parts for Sell?

As I mentioned in my 101 Things About Me (see #22), I have pretty random thoughts sometimes. Today, for some reason, my mind drifted to organ donation of all things. Don't ask why. Sometimes, it is better to just accept it. There was probably an organ donation PSA on the radio that I subconsciously absorbed. Anyway, we constantly hear about the lack of donors for organs and I got started wondering about how to change that.

My simple answer to this equation of lack of donors is to provide some sort of financial incentive. As with a lot of things, the simple answer brings in philosophical support or objection. That's why I thought about writing this post. The money involved will not directly impact the person donating the organs, but the donor's family could benefit from donation. In fact, the one group of people that suffer the most in this "transaction" are the only ones that DON'T get compensated for the donation. The hospital and surgeon get paid well for performing the operation. The organ bank gets paid for "procuring" the organ. The recipient gets a new organ and (possibly) a greatly extended lifespan. If people knew that their loved ones would benefit from organ donation, then it would be more likely for them to end up checking the organ donation. What do you guys think about this?

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On a different but related note, blood banks in this country are constantly telling us that the blood supplies are at critically low levels. I think the reason for this is a lack of incentive to donate (other than goodwill). In New Mexico, we had a "scandal" where the salaries of the executives of the blood donation organization (NOT the Red Cross) were published and were well in excess of 6 figures (before the decimal point). This caused quite a stir because all the profits from the operation were the result of blood products derived from donors who received ZERO compensation. In addition, a person who had donated gallons (literally) of blood over the years was charged something like $600 for a unit of blood (the $ figure is likely off, but you get the point) by this same blood donation organization.

As many of you know, I have donated plasma MANY times over the years, and I have the scars to prove it. Those trips to Westgate Biologicals weren't really donations because I never did it for free. However, I can't actually make myself donate during blood drives. The incentive isn't there. I guess I am not much of the "hero" type. What are your thoughts on this one?

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FULL DISCLOSURE: I am an organ donor. "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

I warned you. This one is truly random.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Stand Up for Chuck

Well, if nothing else, the political season usually provides me with a few laughs. This is pretty sad because most of the time politicians are just arguing about the different proposals for re-distributing my income to someone who didn't earn it. This week did provide me with good chuckle when the Democratic VP candidate Joe Biden spoke in Missouri. At a fairly large rally in Columbia, he decided to recognize State Senator Chuck Graham (in a wheelchair):

  • "I am also told that, uh, uh, Chuck Graham, state senator, is here. Stand up, Chuck, let 'em see you... Oh, God love you. What am I talking about? I tell you what, you're making everybody else stand up, though, pal. I tell you what, stand up for Chuck."
You think I am making this up, right? So, here it is on YouTube:



I am pretty sure that Biden is confused about who is President. It is either that or he believes that John Kerry went ahead and made sure people that people like Chuck would walk again. Now, you are asking yourself, "Self, what the HELL is Russ talking about now?"

I am glad you asked that question. Here is a quote from John Edwards in Iowa back in 2004:
  • "If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."
For those of you who aren't aware, John Kerry decided after losing in 2004 not to allow people like Chuck and Christopher to walk again. Perhaps "the One" will find it in his heart to do it. Of course, Obama can only get to this is AFTER he is elected president, stopped the rise of the oceans, and started the healing of our planet.



You have to prioritize these things. Anyone else thinking, "God/Messiah Complex"? Man, I love the Presidential season. You get great comedy. AND, it's free!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Go Ahead, Make Her Day

Ok, I just love this picture of the next Vice President of the United States. There is just something about a nice looking woman with a fully automatic weapon.


The funny thing is that questions have surfaced about whether or not Sarah Palin is tough enough to face down foreign leaders. Clearly, they haven't seen her shoot.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Meltdown at the DePriest House

The Fighting Texas Aggies just lost to the Red Wolves of Arkansas State University. The final score was 18-14. The Ags missed 2 field goals and failed to punch it in with 2nd and goal from the 1. Don't bother calling because I am not answering the phone.

I blame myself. Sophie is not wearing her Aggie Cheerleader uniform. I figured we were playing ASU and the Ags wouldn't need the big guns. I don't think I will make that mistake again. Soph has tried to comfort me the only way a 4 year-old knows how. She gave me a big hug. I did feel better and the game didn't seem important anymore.

I will be ok in a little while. Probably not tonight, but definitely by tomorrow morning. If this had happened 10 years ago, I would have been in a funk for a week. I guess that is called "perspective". I just hope this whole season doesn't need a lot of this kind of perspective.

By the way, I wouldn't call Chip or Cable after this particular game. They haven't figured out this perspective thing yet. I hope your teams fared better this weekend.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

College Football Returns!!!

Well, it has been over 8 months since the last college game. The wait for real football (not spring games, recruiting, or NFL exhibition games) is over. I am very excited about it. College football is my favorite sport these days (once this was major league baseball). Sadly, the two teams that I am interested in watching are playing "directional" schools, so they will not be on television.

I gave you my reasons for hating soccer last week, so this week I will give you my reasons for loving college football.

Debates -- The system of determining a champion in college football's highest classification is so screwed up that it actually encourages debates about "Mythical National Champions". For example, invite an Alabama and Arkansas fan to your next party and ask them who won the 1964 National Championship. I bet they have different answers. Arkansas's argument is so legitimate that the AP changed their rules after that season.

Teams You Love To Hate -- To about half of the population of college football fans, the Fighting Irish are a symbol of all that is wrong with our country (entitlement, elitist, etc.) while the other half believes that Notre Dame is the best team on the planet. My list of teams that I want to see lose every Saturday includes Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Miami, Oklahoma and Texas. I would likely throw a big party if all were to lose on the same day.

Irrational Fans -- These are the guys that lurk on message boards for the faintest hint that a 17-year old from Timbuktu who runs a 4.3 40-yard dash has included their school in his final three. It is kind of sad that their weekends can be ruined because the whims of a teenager didn't include attending their favorite school. These irrational fans include my dad who begins EVERY season with the expectation that the Razorbacks will lose at most 2 games because, "The Hogs are good, but you know how stout the SEC is. You KNOW that they would win any other conference."

Rivalries -- Michigan/OSU, USC/Notre Dame, Texas/Texas A&M (the BEST ONE!), etc. Sure, I know the Yankees and Red Sox don't like each other, but you will see the players that play for both teams during their career. The same goes for the Bears and Packers. In college football, they play 3 hours for 365 days of bragging rights that can't be escaped until the next clash with that rival. You will find strange and humiliating wagers associated with these games.

So, if you are wondering my plans for weekends over the next few months, I will be trying to find someway to watch football on Saturdays. If fate is kind to me, the Aggies will be on TV. If not, I will be re-living the last two Fridays after Thanksgiving. I have bragging rights until that day. That's when they go up for grabs in the Lonestar Showdown.

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**Cross Posted at the Arkansas 7-on-7 Football.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Kindred Spirits*

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Well, my soccer post generated more than just a comment. In my email, I had a note from my buddy Cable who was mentioned in the post. He has put even more thought into his hatred of the foul Un-American game that is soccer. I asked him if I could put the email into my blog. He has agreed.

So, what should you know about Cable? He is a nuclear engineer working as a researcher at Texas A&M. He will finish his Ph.D. soon, right Cable? He has two kids and a very patient wife. I imagine living with him is almost as difficult as living with me. Basically, I believe that the only thing that has ever caused us to disagree is an R. C. Slocum/Jackie Sherrill debate that has gone on for at least 10 years now. He has finally (reluctantly) admitted that the dismissal of R. C. as the Aggies head coach was a mistake.

Without further ado, here is Cable's top ten list. It even finishes with a David Letterman twist.

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*Post by Guest Blogger Cable Kurwitz

Hey Russ,

Nice article. You should read this Guardian editorial. However, there is growing evidence that it is a weak link [between soccer and communism/socialism].

I continue to stand by my soccer = socialism theory and feel Jack Kemp said it best when he stated, "a distinction should be made that football is democratic capitalism, whereas soccer is a European socialist sport." I do not agree with Franklin Foer who stated in his book, “[soccer] represents a direct threat to American culture and tradition.” I felt his conclusions were more anti-American than anti-soccer. I dislike the global game of soccer because of its simplicity, constantly running clock, and the idea that you could essentially never take risks and tie every match. I dislike the European terms, the lack of grading, and/or the failure to develop a method of accurately grading players performance. Most of all, I dislike the continued desire by those socialists within our borders to be more like the world and embrace soccer. As Europe slouches back toward socialism and a communist wave pours over South America, I realize that doing the opposite of what world thinks is the better course of action. So, with this in mind, here is my top 10 list of arguments against soccer:

  1. Soccer is the ultimate game of the state that seeks to smash the individual and promote the state. Why do you always see the shots of the Proletariat cheering with the little, faceless players on the large expanse of some super stadium with a name like The Giant of Alberdi or the Big Stick? Baseball is perfect because it promotes the individual. A bad pitcher can’t be helped by the rest of the team. Also, because all 162 games in baseball count (no friendlies), one can compile statistics to accurately rank each player. As in America, the individual triumphs.
  2. Why do the officials appear to be secret police types with black uniforms?
  3. What is a yellow or red card? Do you collect them like baseball cards? What would you do if someone ran up and shoved a yellow index card in your face? I would have a hard time not laughing or ripping it up and handing it back to Mr. KGB.
  4. My favorite example is the organized hooligans associated with each team similar to the Nazi stormtroopers or red guards. Heck, this is celebrated in Berkeley with a match of anarchists named after the Kronstadt or communist aptly named the Left Wing.
  5. Everyone gets an equal chance to play!
  6. As one city official told me (and I later saw on TV), “We don’t keep score so everyone wins.”
  7. As Russ mentioned, soccer is played with the feet like some animal versus proper sports that utilize our hands.
  8. Why is the timing of the world cup similar to the typical Russian/Chinese 5 year plan?
  9. Soccer is the only sport with the capability of ruining a WWII Stallone movie.
  10. Finally, soccer shoe maker Umbro markets the Zyklon shoe. What a gas!
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Thanks, Cable. I don't feel like the lone kook on this one anymore. There are at least two of us.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Why I Hate Soccer

Over the years, people have noticed that I have distinct dislike for the game of soccer. When people first asked about the hostility toward futbol, I would usually say something like, "It is boring." The dislike was actually a gut feeling that went beyond the fact that the game is boring. I just didn't know how to say, "I have a visceral hatred for the game that I can't quite define."

Years later, my buddy (Cable) brought forth the theory that the popularity of soccer in Latin America was well correlated with the spread of communism in the same region. So, for lack of a better explanation, this became my answer when I was asked about the growing hostility toward the game. I know that correlation is not the same as causation, but I wanted to avoid being associated with anything that might be communistic.

After pondering the question for some time, I think I have finally hit on the real answer. First, I believe that three things separate humans from animals: (1) a soul; (2) the ability to reason; and (3) opposable thumbs. While I don't want to call soccer players and fans soulless (even though it is possible), I think that the game of soccer insults at least two of these three differences. In other words, it draws us closer to animals rather than further from them.

Here is how soccer works against reason. The basis of the human intellect and reason is our brain. A very hard skull protects it from injury. Parents are now putting helmets on kids for all manner of activities. In sports that have the possibility of head injury, they put on helmets. The athletes getting prepared for football, baseball, cycling, hockey, and NASCAR stop to put on a helmet to protect their brain. Think about that. The redneck climbing into a race car puts on a helmet while youth soccer coaches encourage kids to go home and practice hitting the soccer ball with their heads. This is contrary to every human instinct of protecting the brain. The only other sport that comes close to this is the brutality of professional boxing.

Soccer violates another of the differences between humans and animals when it requires the players to ignore their hands. Other sports (basketball, tennis, curling, even poker) pay homage to the fact that we have opposable thumbs and can pick up and control tools with our hands. In soccer, you can be kicked out of the game for exercising the instinct to use your hands.

So, there you have it. That's why I hate soccer.

AND, I didn't even get into the non-competitive attitude of youth soccer and how that will damage American competitiveness in the world economy. Before you say it, that doesn't make me a kook.

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Here is a very good article about the some of the problems facing the nuclear renaissance that I wrote about earlier.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

For Those of You That Still Doubt the Agenda...

Ok. Thanks to all commentators (Josh, Kristy, Annie, and Lora Lee) for encouraging me to continue writing for a while longer. A day doing hands-on "approach to critical experiments" with highly enriched uranium (HEU) in the famed Superblock facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has given me some inspiration to find something to write about. For those that don't know (no offense, but I am pretty that is almost anyone that is not a nuclear geek or anti-nuclear protester), Superblock is LLNL's plutonium research facility. Here are some pictures from previous classes (if you look closely, you can see the cute little PU [plutonium] skunk on the lab coats). They have been taking pictures during the class, so eventually my class will make onto that site.

So, it took me about 10 minutes of web surfing to find something that really ticked me off. To me, it also proved that government science is not what it once was. On August 4th, Anthony Watts posted a story about a negative trend in the carbon dioxide level as measured at the Mauna Loa observatory for the first time since the measurements began. On August 5th, Anthony decided to check the data again. Amazingly, the data has CHANGED less than 24 hours after his post. Anthony has a very nice blink comparator of the changes to the data that occurred.

What's the big deal? Well, for one thing, the increasing trend in the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is one of the driving forces behind "Cap and Trade" legislation for energy producers and huge carbon taxes on individuals. If the trend was started to go negative despite increased energy production in such places as China and India, it would conclusively show that humanity has little effect on the already trace amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In any case, I couldn't find a statement of the NOAA website that either explained why the data had been changed (or even that it had changed). There is a disclaimer on the site that says it is "subject to change." We are talking about a measurement with an instrument. If my data from experiments (like those today) were "subject to change," no one would ever have confidence in me as a nuclear scientist and my ethics would be called into question (especially if all my changes favored my hypotheses). It is truly astonishing the amount of change that is tolerated in the name of climate science.

Anthony was a little more industrious (you can see how if you read his post) and got an answer that satisfied him. A commentator on Watt's Up With That summarized my entire problem with this adjustment:

  • "The changes go all the way back to 1974 (for those who haven’t seen the other thread). I sometimes theorize that NOAA & GISS must have time machines that allow them to get new readings 34+ years after the fact. I can imagine no other reason that policy makers base decisions worth hundreds of billions on an ever-shifting chimera of data."

We are being asked to support further research on global warming by people that are not only adjusting temperature data on a monthly basis, but they are also now adjusting carbon dioxide measurements (not model calculations) that go back over 30 years. To me, this requires faith in both the time travel abilities of these teams and a high confidence in their ethical standards. I just don't have either. And until James Hanson or Pieter Tans (the latest data adjuster) walk on water, I never will.

AND, I will continue to believe that the whole man-made global warming thing is a big grab for governmental control of our lives.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Crossroads

I don't know if it is the summertime doldrums or something else, but lately when I start to think about something to write about, I hit a brick wall. Nothing seems to charge me up enough to put the fingers on the keyboard and churn out a post. So, I am beginning to wonder if I will keep going with this project that started as basically a dare (see the last paragraph) from Annie. When you really think about it, that is kind of a silly reason for writing a blog.

In any case, I am struggling with whether to continue to search for things to write about or to discontinue writing MPU until I get re-motivated by something. The struggle is not because I have a large audience. (An average of 50 or so people drop by on a daily basis. That's not very many.) It stems from the fact that if I stop writing on a regular basis, it is likely that I will never get back to it.

SOOOO, that's where I am. I will keep my eyes open for something to get me revved up, but it may be a couple of weeks. I suggest that if you want to know when I put something new up, use the "Subscribe" button below my "Favorite Sites". If you have never used a feed reader, the Google reader is pretty awesome. Let me know in the comments if you need an invitation for a Google account.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Why? Why? Why?

Ok. I have a question. Why do things break at the most inconvenient times? Here are some examples from the last month or so:

  • My brother-in-law and his family had arrived Friday afternoon to visit us. I was leaving for a trip to Denver on Saturday afternoon. So, that is the time that the damper motor that controls the AC in the guest room decides to strip a gear.
    • We had to shift our plans for the guest sleeping arrangements.
  • On July 2nd, our neighbor knocks on the door to let us know that he had to turn off our sprinkler valve because it was flooding the street. Of course, we were headed out of town for the weekend.
    • The sprinkler repair company couldn't get it fixed until the Monday after the Independence Day break because everyone had scheduled vacation that week.
  • On the Friday morning before my brother and his family arrived, the same damper motor breaks AGAIN! (Or maybe it was never fixed right the first time. Regardless, we had a hot house and people coming to stay with us.)
    • We had a great experience getting this fixed (see below) after dealing with the crappy home warranty company. BTW, avoid 2-10 Home Warranty Company like the plague. They're supposed to be "one of the better ones", but they certainly weren't very helpful with our problem. They gave Kristy a ton of trouble, but she won. She always wins.
  • Today, before heading to Albuquerque in the morning, I came home from dinner and gathering stuff at the office to find water flooding the street. Again.
    • Hopefully, the sprinkler will be fixed this time. Apparently the glue they used the first time didn't hold. Yeah, you heard that right. Glue.
There are FOUR examples of this inopportune timing for breakdowns. I have others from our time in College Station and Albuquerque. Not that it really matters, but what are the theories out there for WHY this happens? I know I can count on Josh for a theory, but I am hoping for other contributors.

Here is the good story that I promised you earlier. When the AC zone system broke down, I called my friend Brian who owns Da Vinci Construction in Northwest Arkansas. He does fabulous work, and we trust him to help us with these types of things. He suggested that we use his HVAC "hook-up" to look at it. Hutcherson Plumbing & Air (specifically Eric Heckathorn) came over and fixed our problem on his way home from work. He had already worked a full day, but he spent another hour working at my house. THANK YOU, ERIC (and Hutcherson Plumbing & Air)! If you ever need help with HVAC (or plumbing), give them a call. They were great!

So, Josh, I am anxiously awaiting THE theory.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Stupid Human Assumption

Early this week, I experienced another "poke the monkey" episode (see the comment section). This time, my loyal commenter, Josh, sent me a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) article that links global warming with increased incidence of kidney stones (here is press coverage that attempts to explain the journal article). In a previous post (Wanted: Fact Checker), I talked about the seeming lack of rigor in the peer review process at PNAS. I don't think peer review was the problem in this case, but the article does have some serious issues.

The first serious issue that I have with the journal article is well covered at Steve McIntyre's Climate Audit website. Here is the kernal of importance from Steve's site:

  • "... it turns out that the current kidney stone dataset is not so good for a variety of reasons. These include undiagnosed, asymptomatic stones, lack of correct documentation of recurring events, or those who just plain don’t go to the hospital. In fact, there could be up to a 35% error in the baseline prevalence of kidney stone disease! See, reconstructing climate records is nothing compared to ascertaining a census of those suffering of kidney stones."
Apparently, we really don't know how many people suffer from kidney stones very well. Since we don't this number now, how will we be able to determine whether a future increase in kidney stone incidence is due to medical science improvements in kidney stone diagnosis or to increased temperature caused by global warming.

The other real issue I have with this sort of study is that it makes the classic assumption of "stupid humans". I don't follow kidney stone medical literature, but from what I can gather, a mean annual temperature above a certain degree (I think it is 13 degrees C) is correlated with increased risk of kidney stones. Basically, where it's hot, there is higher percentage of the population that is diagnosed with kidney stones.

The authors of the study assumed the worst case among the climate scenarios published by the IPCC (SRESa1b) and placed the GCM modeled temperature increases on top of today's instrumented temperature record to get mean temperatures in the future. I have no problem with this except for my well-known objections to GCMs that I will lay aside for now. What we end up with is a greatly expanded "Kidney Stone Belt" in the southern and southwestern U.S.

Where does the "stupid human assumption" come into play? In the press account, we find out the best way to prevent kidney stones is to simply drink more water. The authors implicitly assume that humans will not change their behavior in response to climate shifts. Does that make sense to you? I know if I started hearing about 30% rises in kidney stones among my neighbors, I would start drinking more water. Actually, the response of an individual to this sort of increased risk is "so easy even a caveman could do it."

Finally, an interesting tidbit that came out on Climate Audit: "The SE United States has actually undergone slight cooling over the past century." Isn't that a kick in the pants to the authors? It is cooling in the present Kidney Stone Belt.

Now, if there were just someway to tell me if the authors of this study are looking for more funding of kidney stone research... Ahhh, there it is. "The related cost of the predicted increase in kidney stones would be $900 million to $1.3 billion as the kidney stone belt expands northward and westward from warming, the researchers said."

As my buddy Chip would say, "What ARE the odds!?!"

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What Can Replace Petroleum?

I saw this article about 4 weeks ago, so I apologize if you have seen this already. Since I first read this article, I have been too busy doing other things (like this) to write about it. It is also a little bit perkier than the stuff I normally write about. The article appeared in the Times Online and discusses the fact that some researchers in Silicon Valley have engineered bacteria that excrete substances very similar to petroleum.

Apparently, a company called LS9 has been asking a very intriguing question. They have been asking, "If you removed all constraints, what would the ideal biofuel be?" Interestingly enough, they came up with petroleum as the answer to that question. So, some genetic engineers, biochemists, synthetic biologists, metabolic engineers, bioinformatic specialists, and chemical engineers got together with venture capitalists to make petroleum derived from biological organisms. The initial results seem to suggest that they have done it, but we will find out for sure over the next couple of years.

This is the silver lining to $4/gallon gasoline and $140/barrel oil. High energy costs leads bright and daring people to come up with innovative ideas like this. The initial projections based on pilot production is that with optimum feedstock (like sugar cane), the company projects that it can break even if the price for the end product (bio-petroleum) is approximately $50/barrel. The equations are more difficult when the initial feedstock is something less the optimal, but there is a tremendous amount cheap (or waste) biomass available.

As you might expect, there are questions about the scale up to commercial production. Others (like Walt) might wonder when the greedy oil companies are going to get together and buy the patents and company to make this apparent solution disappear like they did with the water car and the spaceship from Roswell. The basic question I have for the LS9 people is whether the bacteria can be modified to efficiently use cellulose based materials as the feedstock.

In any case, I think the answer to the question of what will replace petroleum in the future is ...(drumroll please) ... PETROLEUM. I guess we will need that 12 step program for oil addiction recovery just a little bit longer. WHOOP!

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As a side note, I have added to my list of 101 Things About Me.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ho Hum, Physicist Claims End Is Near, Again!

OK. These days I am struggling through the day to get my work done with a nagging ailment (see Item 7, Number 3 here). So, finding new material for posts on subjects that I am used to writing about has becoming very secondary when I get a free moment. Luckily, I have friends like Cable and Brett (guest blogger extraordinaire) to, as Kristy says, "Poke the monkey."

A couple of days ago, I arrived at work to an email from Brett asking me what I thought about this article. If you don't feel like going through the effort of clicking the link, here is the summary. The international physics community (along with many governments) has gotten together to build the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) on the border between France and Switzerland. Some people including physicist and lawyer (that's a real combination) Walter E. Wagner have filed a lawsuit in Hawaii (somehow this group thinks that the state of Hawaii has jurisdiction over an international accelerator located in Europe). The lawsuit seeks to prevent the facility start up because there is "a significant risk that ... operation of the Collider may have unintended consequences which could ultimately result in the destruction of our planet (emphasis added)." I quote the lawsuit because I couldn't make this stuff up if I wanted to do so.

This would be extremely funny if it was the first time Wagner and his group tried to stop an accelerator from starting up. The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory faced an essentially identical lawsuit back in the late 1990's. RHIC overcame that legal challenge and has been operating (or destroying the world depending on your perspective, I guess) since mid-2000.

Perhaps physicists bring this on themselves by being somewhat flippant in the face of grave questions or before world changing experiments. For example, Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb) tells us that to lighten the mood shortly before the first ever test of a nuclear weapon (Trinity test at White Sands Missile Range), Enrico Fermi offered to take bets from other physicists on whether or not the fission implosion weapon would ignite the atmosphere. He also allowed the side bet as to whether this ignition would just destroy New Mexico or the whole world. None of the physicists really believed that this would happen (a few weeks before Edward Teller had done the calculations anyway), but the soldiers were not so sure of the outcome after listening to the wagers being proferred.

Anyway, my first reaction to these claims of world destruction by physicists is to chuckle whether the prediction is made by giants like Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller or by Lilliputians like Walter Wagner, James Hansen, or Gavin Schmidt. That's what the giants would want while the others will never understand why I am laughing at them.

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By the way, gout is a real b&*^%. Avoid it like the plague if at all possible. I have had trouble walking the last few days because of the pain in my foot.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Crimes Against Humanity?

I received an email recently from one of my grad school buddies (who shall remain nameless) asking the following question:

  • "When are you going to write about the article on Drudge about the NASA chief calling for oil company executives to be charged with crimes against humanity? This has so many great angles, government employees calling for citizens to be charged in an international court, a scientist who would rather imprison a voice of dissent rather than argue the scientific merits of his position, the whole tie in with former NASA employees who had a different opinion."
Well, my first response was that this had to be a joke that he was playing on me to get me to post something silly. So, I did a little research on the matter. While it wasn't the "NASA chief" making these claims, it was James Hanson, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Father of AGW Science Scare Tactics. Most people leave off the "Scare Tactics" portion of his title, but I like to be thorough and complete in my writing. Hanson is also the guy that will tell you that he was "censored" by the Bush administration for having to put his NASA related (i.e., government funded) public presentations through the standard review and approval process required for ALL government releases of information. If you read this Guardian article, he doesn't sound at all censored to me. He sounds like a stark raving lunatic.

The email question says it best. A government scientist is calling for trials of the oil company executives for funding research in an area that just MIGHT affect the bottom line of their companies. Are these international trials going to be held in Salem, Massachusetts? Will I (and thousands of other scientists that don't believe that AGW is a big deal) be "invited" to attend these trials or will we just be dragged there and put in the stockade while the world "experts" selected and funded by Hanson's agency determine our fate?

Let's back up a second: High crimes against humanity? I think he is placing these executives and scientists in the same category as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Joseph Stalin, Josef Mengele, Pol Pot, Chairman Mao, and the list goes on. Failure to believe in JUNK SCIENCE that tells us that a trace gas will cause all sorts of havoc if we don't sacrifice to the AGW gods is now morally equivalent to genocide in the mind of Hanson (and some others). Someone please tell me that "Dr." Hanson will be back on his meds soon. If not, please tell me that he will be relieved of his duties at NASA before the Bush administration leaves office next January (it should happen TODAY).

Well, Cable (I mean, "nameless"), that is all the energy I have on the subject for now. Perhaps, I will get to write on this again before the United Nations-Tribunal for Deniers of the Significance of Anthropogenic Global Warming (UN-TDSAGW*) assembles in Salem. If not, writing MPU has been a fun ride.

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*Perhaps this acronym will become as common and recognizable as UNICEF, but I sincerely hope not.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Nuclear Renaissance?

A common question that arises when people find out that I am a nuclear engineer is, "Do you think that nuclear power will make a comeback in the U.S. after such a long time since the last nuclear plant was built?" I suppose this question comes up because the "new" energy policy that brought us the silly idea of ethanol as part of the solution to our energy problems also included the idea that next few nuclear power plants (the next generation) built should receive a LARGE subsidy from the Department of Energy. While I disagree with the idea of subsidies (whether energy, agricultural, or cultural), I am beginning to wonder if the renaissance in the nuclear industry discussed in Nuclear News is real.

Why do I think there might be a real change in the energy portfolio in the U.S.? Well, I can think of two really good reasons:

  1. The diffusion of a finite number of anti-nuclear activists across multiple proposed projects will make the success of each of the projects more likely.
  2. The "presumptive" nominees of both major political parties seem to buy the snake oil that Al Gore and his buddies are selling.
To elaborate a little further on the anti-nuclear activists, I have always believed that there were only a small number of hard-core activists. The reason that they have been successful is because they could show up at every proposed nuclear site and make a good show of "community" concern. As the number of proposed sites increases, the disruptive nature of this small group of dedicated activists is diffused. Another change (pre-certification of standardized designs) in the regulatory climate that takes away all technical issues except site specific ones has taken away another tool of this group: the endless delay tactic that costs the utilities time and money.

Why does the global warming stance of the major political candidates matter for a new nuclear future? Well, the likely outcome of this November's election will be a Democrat controlled legislature with a President whose stated beliefs will lead us to some form of carbon taxation. This means that nuclear capacity that doesn't generate carbon dioxide may move from just being clean, safe, and reliable to being the economic choice as well. A study (results published in Nuclear News) has shown that a $45/metric ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation will make the nuclear option economically favored over both coal and natural gas for new capacity.

Let's be clear. I don't actually believe the idea that nuclear power needs carbon taxation to be economical. However, if the opportunity presents itself to demonstrate its capability due to this ridiculous policy, I am all for it. And, in answer to the original question, I really do think that nuclear power will make a comeback.

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For the curious among you, there are currently 15 submitted Construction and Operating License Applications (COLA) and 15 that are classified as "Forthcoming" COLA. Here is a breakdown of their locations:
  • Submitted
    • 4 in South Carolina
    • 2 in Texas
    • 2 in Alabama
    • 2 in North Carolina
    • 2 in Georgia
    • 1 in Maryland
    • 1 in Virginia
    • 1 in Mississippi
  • Forthcoming
    • 5 in Texas
    • 4 in Florida
    • 1 in Idaho
    • 1 in Michigan
    • 1 in New York
    • 1 in Louisiana
    • 1 in Pennsylvania
    • 1 in Missouri

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Do You Believe in "The Fever"?

Not too long ago, former Vice President Al Gore won an Oscar and shared a Nobel Peace Prize for telling the world that the earth has "a fever" and humans are the cause of it. As a commenter on one of the blogs I frequent pointed out, Irena Sendlar (nominated for the same Peace Prize) rescued 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, but lost out to Al Gore who made a slide show. It is just a little bit ridiculous.

In any case, Gore told us that the fever was caused by things like driving big SUVs, using lots of electricity, and flying around the world on private and commercial jets. My question to you is, does Al Gore really believe this junk that he spews on a regular basis? And if he does, what kind of sociopath does that make him?

I am asking that question in all seriousness. On June 17, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research released the latest energy use numbers for Al Gore's family home in Nashville. The numbers show that the family home used 213,210 kilowatt-hours of electricity last year (~10% increase from the previous year). This means that, in an average month, his house uses about 19 times more electricity than the average American home. AND, this is after the Gores spent thousands of dollars in energy efficiency upgrades. (By the way, if you live in an average American home, you use about 11,000 kilowatt-hours in an entire year.)

I don't know about you, but if I really believe something to be true, my actions tend to follow that belief. Sooo, if I were responsible for convincing millions of people that they should feel guilty (and pay huge carbon taxes as penance) for causing the earth's meltdown, I would make changes in my life that reflect that. Here are just a few things I would not do if I BELIEVED the global warming B.S.:

  • Use more electricity each month than 20 average American families.
    • I would look for some ways to downscale.
  • Fly in a private jet to attend climate change "summits" in Bali.
    • Teleconferences are much more carbon friendly to the earth.
  • Drive around in those fever causing SUVs.
    • The Secret Service would have to really justify it for me.
On the other hand, I genuinely respect someone like Ed Begley Jr. (although I don't agree with most of the things he believes). Some time back, he was convinced that American lifestyles were harming the planet. So, instead of making a slide show and throwing an Oscar party, he made a LOT of changes. He started recycling everything, installed solar panels and wind generators, modified his exercise bike to charge his solar batteries, and much more. Most people can't afford to do what he has done, but he has put his money where his belief is. More people should do that. I don't know that I would want to hang out at a cocktail party with Ed because I am afraid of the conversation that would ensue when I threw away my napkin, but he does "practice what he preaches."

So, until I see the former VP living the life of Ed Begley Jr., I will think he is a snake oil salesman and/or a sociopath that doesn't care about how his actions affect the rest of the globe. I believe those are the only options left to me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Gas Is Cheap?

Lately, nothing that I have read or heard has lifted my bad science barometer ("It's pronounced thermometer" for you Seinfeld fans) enough to generate the emotions needed for a post. However, I have been thinking about gas prices quite a bit. I know everyone has complained about the high price of gasoline. Although I hate the fact that it takes $50 to fill my Honda Accord, you are not going to see the standard complaints here.

My thoughts have been focused on this question: Do we really need an alternative to gasoline? This may seem like an odd thought when you see signs like this:




So, why do we still use gasoline? If any of the alternatives (ethanol, methanol, bio-diesel, waste vegetable oil, fuel cells, electricity, compressed natural gas, water, or whatever) were cheaper, then we would have no problem making the transition. As a matter of principal, I think that Americans would DEMAND that the cheaper transportation alternative make it to the market NOW. That tells me that the gasoline that costs us $4, $5, or $10 per gallon is still the cheapest means of travel that we can find.

Am I a masochist that wants to pay $10/gallon for gasoline? No, but I understand the reality of what happens when we decide as a country (that should be read "Democrat Controlled Legislature") not to drill for oil in our territories that we know contain the lifeblood of industrialized economies. Why should Americans expect to have cheap energy when we continue to elect representatives that stand in the way of that very thing? Before you go too far down the path of seeing me as a pure Republican backer, you should know I feel the same way about John McCain, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins (all Republican Senators).

So, you guys tell me. At what price do you change your lifestyle? When do you DEMAND something different?

As for me, until I see a change in what we drive and a different type of fuel going into it, I will continue to believe that gasoline is our CHEAPEST option.

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Update: I think Vaclav Klaus (President of the Czech Republic) has been reading my posts.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Memories of my Grandma Hazel

I really don't want to be a downer to anyone, but there is something that I feel I just have to write about. It has absolutely nothing to do with what I normally discuss. While I was in the Netherlands, my 85 year-old great grandmother died. When most people discuss their great grandmother she is often a woman that they have heard stories about, remember vaguely from distant memories of childhood, or have never met.

Grandma Hazel was much different than that.

She attended weddings, graduations, family reunions, Sunday get-togethers, special anniversaries, and anything else that MIGHT have a dance. She did all of these things until just a few months before she passed away. Her obituary noted over 100 living descendants, and a slideshow at the funeral had pictures of her with just about all of us at various points in our lives. Among the MANY pictures was a five generation shot that included Sophie, and it made the sting of losing my Grandma and my Granny (my mother's mother) even more deep.

So, what do I remember about Grandma? Here are a few things that really stick out:
  • I remember playing at the playground near her house with Amanda and my cousins Shane and Freddie. The funny thing is that Adam is missing from those memories of that playground for some reason.

  • I don't recall a single time that I saw Grandma without a smile. I know for a fact there were times when she was unhappy and faced really hard times (she was widowed in 1962), but I don't think that you could ever have seen that from her disposition with her grandkids.

  • I remember that Grandma loved the Independence Day celebrations at the Vandervoort Picnic Grounds. Mainly, she loved to dance and there were always at least a couple of dances during the 4th of July week.

  • I remember that I was taller than Grandma in about the 5th grade. I am not exceptionally tall, but Grandma was probably 5 feet tall when she wore her high heels.
There are so many more memories, but rather than continue down Memory Lane, I guess I'll just leave it at that. I will miss Grandma Hazel a great deal, and I am pretty sure that over the next few years as we add children, nieces, and nephews to our family that I will fully realize how much she was a part of all our lives.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Border War

I have struggled to find a good topic since returning to North America. Thankfully, the legal system in the U.S. is always screwed up enough to provide me with something to write about. In this case, I have an order (from June 3, 2008) from U.S. District Judge James Nowlin (Western District of Texas-Austin Division) in a case between Wal-Mart and a Texas woman (Ruth Waggoner).

I don't know what the dispute is about, but apparently the attorneys are squabbling over where the Wal-Mart corporate representatives will be deposed. Miss Waggoner's attorneys want the deposition to take place in San Antonio while the Wal-Mart lawyers want the deposition to happen in Bentonville. Judge Nowlin seems to be a little ticked that the attorneys can't even decide on where to do this kind of thing and are wasting his time with deciding something like this.

Anyway, he declares that he is sympathetic to both parties for the same reason: The football rivalry between the Arkansas Razorbacks and Texas Longhorns. He takes two really big swipes at the Razorbacks, then he declares that the Longhorns and USC Trojans played the game of the 21st century when the Longhorns won the BCS Championship for the 2005 season.

At first, I thought it was pretty funny. Then, I decided that it must be one of those "internets" kind of deals that you always find in email forwards. Well, I would have been stuck in limbo over it had the Wall Street Journal Legal Blog not declared it to be real.

So, there you have it. A judge with a pretty good sense of humor seems to have plenty of time to follow his favorite college football team. He's also got the judicial appointment for life going for him, "Which is nice." By the way, the deposition is ordered to place in Texarkana (500 State Line Drive) with each party staying on their respective side of the border.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Return of the Blogi

To anyone who is still dropping by this site let me say, "HOWDY!" I haven't posted for over a week because I just got back from spending that time in the Netherlands with little to no internet connection. I presented a paper on improved control rod reactivity curves for the Annular Core Research Reactor at the 13th International Symposium on Reactor Dosimetry. The Netherlands was beautiful, and I saw lots (and lots) of wind turbines. They are pretty impressive close up.

I just wanted to post something to let everyone know that the blog had not died. So, I ran across this on the "Watts Up With That" blog:

Greenhouse Calculator

What is it? Well, I am hoping that you will follow the link and calculate the age at which you should die to insure that you don't use "more than your fair share" of the earth's resources and report it back to me in the comments. My magic number is 2.5 years. What this means is that 32 years ago my mother should have put a pillow over my head and killed me in my sleep (anything else would have made her cruel, right?).

The website is targeted at educating 9-13 year olds on their destructive future lifestyles. I am guessing someone with a very low carbon footprint does not have broadband internet access, but that is JUST a guess. Anyway, please chime in with how much past your fair share of living you have gone (mine number is +32). If you don't want to give a differential that might reveal your age, just let me know your age of "responsible" death, whether you have passed it yet, and your thoughts on this type of indoctrination. Uh, I mean, education. I REALLY do hope that this carbon footprint website doesn't lead to increased suicide rates because of ridiculous guilt trips in young, impressionable websurfers out there who ride to school in their parents Hummers, live in Al Gore type of houses, and have big allowances.

Also, even if you have to change your answers, make sure you get to see the greenhouse pig explode. I am pretty sure that it was meant as a real horror show.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dude, What Are You Thinking?

There is a country song by Dierks Bentley that goes something like "Well, I know what I was feeling, But What was I thinking?" What brought this song to mind? I was reading this article about "Australia's best known expert on global warming" and found out that he thinks that the global warming situation is much worse now than it was just 3 years ago.

As I read his proposed solution to our "problem," I forgot all about the fact that the global temperature has stayed the same (perhaps even cooled) since 1998, so how could it be much worse? Right? I just kept saying to myself as I read further, "Dude, what are you thinking?" In any case, I am going to tell you what he is feeling.

Tim Flannery has proposed that the world should start polluting like crazy. Well, that is a little bit of a paraphrase, but he really does want to use jets traveling across the globe to disperse sulfur into the upper atmosphere. The sulfur would reflect sunlight back into space before it makes it to the surface. Of course, the sulfur will change the color of the sky. And, for those of you who have paid attention over the years, sulfur emissions in the form of sulfur dioxide from various industrial enterprises, including electricity generation from coal, are one of the main ingredients in acid rain. In the U.S., we have even reduced the amount of sulfur that we allow in diesel fuels to limit this sulfur dioxide pollution (and increase the cost of the fuel).

You might think that Flannery has at least modeled the effect of dumping large amounts of sulfur into the upper atmosphere or thought about what burning "extra" sulfur in jet fuel might do to the engines. You would be wrong. Here is a quote, "The consequences of doing that are unknown." However, he is one those "Don't just stand there, do something!" (even if it is wrong or dumb) kind of guys.

Anyway, I promised to tell you what this global warming "expert" is feeling. Dr. Flannery is now beginning to realize that the scientific basis for the cause that he has dedicated much of his professional life is crumbling like a house of cards. He is feeling desperate to justify his existence as a climate scientist and the money he has spent on climate research over the years. So, he feels that he needs to emphasize the urgency of our dire situation.

Well, it's either that or he is just a plain old fashioned kook. I'll leave that for you to decide, but I will tell you that I have made up my mind about Dr. Flannery.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Russ the Barbarian

Over the last 15 years, I have taken the time to read lots of "science" related news stories, opinions, and blogs. Recently, I ran across this peculiar tidbit. In addition to increased (and decreased) El Ninos, increased floods (and droughts), and increased heat waves (and cold spells and blizzards), the phenomenon of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW; or is it climate change now?) will lead to the "barbarisation" of societies. Believe it or not, Mohan Munasinghe, vice president of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made this claim in a recent speech given to Cambridge University.

Munasinghe believes that problems like poverty, damage to the environment, polarization of societies, and terrorism will increase due to climate change, and he claims that these things are already starting to happen. He doesn't explain how, but all of these things will somehow get worse because the temperature of the planet increases by a degree or two. (By the way, I am still looking for the explanation of global mean temperature.) We have cultures that live from the Arctic to the Equator (and everywhere in between), yet somehow all of these ailments come from a very gradual increase in temperature that occurs over the span of a century. In fact, these changes are imperceptible without satellites and a large number of ground stations distributed around the globe (and there are PROBLEMS with the ground station network).

In any case, I went to my Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary to get the definition of barbarian: "Of or relating to a land, culture, or people alien, usually believed to be inferior, to one's own." I guess when you come from a country like Sri Lanka (criticized by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United States Department of State, and the European Union for human rights violations) as Munasinghe does, then technological advancements in the developed world that help to deliver food and life saving medicines to the world's poor can seem alien. However, I am still struggling with that inferior part. Maybe the inferiority comes into the equation because the Western world is typically NOT considered one of the worst perpetrators of "enforced disappearances" or plain ol' political killings.

This is the part that really gets me about these IPCC folks. The science upon which much of the argument for human causes of global warming (the infamous "hockey stick" figure in Al Gore's movie) has been utterly and completely discredited by McIntyre and McKitrick among others. Now, instead of just admitting that they were wrong, they continue to make these ridiculous claims of catastrophes that might happen if we don't do something right now. Someone needs to let these clowns know that it is time to put down the shovel because the hole that they are digging is already pretty deep.

I just wish that someone with some real political power (I am pretty sure that my "8" faithful subscribers/readers and I don't count on this score) would stand up and tell people that the AGW emperor has no clothes. Until then, I will definitely continue to keep my hands on my wallet whenever I am in the same general vicinity as these IPCC hacks.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Guilt By Association

After that very well written detour into America's pastime (THANKS, Brett!), I figured it was about time to go back to why I began writing this blog in the first place. So, I started thinking back on my post about things that really get me cranked up and decided to take a step back and elaborate further on why I don't now (and never will) consider myself an environmentalist. At some point, I might be happy with the label of steward or conservationist, but never the "E-word."

First, over the years, many commentators (George Reisman and Rush Limbaugh among others) have noted that the environmental movement is the current residence of many former communist leaders (e.g., Mikhail Gorbachev) and current socialists (e.g., Al Gore). Reisman takes it a step farther and states that the environmental movement also contains recycled elements of Nazism. While the second part of Reisman's assertions are tough for me to accept, the tendency for state control and central planning by an elite committee of scientists (social or otherwise) makes the claim of recycled communism easier to believe. I am very much a free market capitalist (Adam Smith is a hero of mine), so why on earth would I want to associate with a bunch of communists and socialists sporting different titles.

Next, those in the environmental movement that we are being told are "moderates" stress the importance of the emissions trading schemes and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. These guys want to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide to some large percentage less than 1990 levels (Kyoto numbers). That particular scheme was rejected something like 97-0 by the Senate. I would assume that nothing would make these people happier than reducing the U.S. economy to Third World levels. People like that are generally not very much fun at parties because they are always telling you why we should feel guilty for our American lifestyle.

Finally, among the environmentalists, there are those that believe that “if all humanity disappeared the rest of life would benefit enormously . . . If the ants were all to disappear, the results would be close to catastrophic.”* There are others (like Les Knight) who have founded organizations whose purpose is the extinction of humanity (Voluntary Human Extinction Movement). These guys don't sound like ordinary college students out there recycling or riding their bikes instead of driving to me. They sound like extremists fanatics that want at least a 90% reduction in the world's population. Again, these are not people that I want playing against me in fantasy football or on my team in a bowling league.

So, if you're curious, I am not an environmentalist because of who my associates would be if I accepted that label. You can call me anything in the book (I have probably been called it before on the football field), but please don't call me the E-word.

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*Edward O. Wilson

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Perfect Day*

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Last Thursday night, my best friend (Brett) arrived from North Carolina to attend an Arkansas Razorback baseball series with his dad and me. Although I met Brett at Boys' State in the summer of 1991, I really got to know him as a freshman at Hendrix College where we spent most of our waking hours together that first term as we attended Calculus I classes with Dr. Eslinger ("Stay with us, Brett."), Chemistry I classes with the legendary Dr. Warfield Teague ("Jaybird said to tell you,'Hey!'"), baseball practice, and flag football games. [As an aside, Brett, Shawn Mathis, and I formed the four year nucleus of the best flag football team in the history of the world. The story of putting together that team is a series of blog posts by itself.]

Anyway, Brett and I are generally about as similar as our hometowns, Pine Bluff (Arkansas) and Mena (Arkansas). If you have questions about how alike these towns are, think about how similar New York City and a farm in the middle of Iowa are. However, despite our differences, we get along very well somehow. Brett knew about Kristy's blog (and mine), and he asked to write a post on her blog after the Friday night game. Kristy and I fought over who would get to "host" his post, and we both won. So, here it is. Enjoy!




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*Post by Guest Blogger Brett Yates

May 9, 2008—Fayetteville, AR.

Okay, so I completely understand that it is rather shallow (and quite possibly frivolous) to say that one of the best days of my life revolved primarily around a college baseball game. I know most peoples’ “best day ever” usually involves a religious / spiritual event, a wedding, or the birth of a child. And, as this is my first attempt at writing a blog post (yep—that’s right, I’m a virgin blogger!), I hope this small 24-hour excerpt of my life isn’t subjected to eye-rolls and ho-hums from the people that frequent this back road of the information superhighway. However, as Russ has allowed me to guest-blog, please allow me to reset what happened today . . . a day as perfect as any that I can remember.

It started simply enough to the innocent bystander—drinking a cup of coffee and staring at the rolling foothills of the Ozark Mountains. However, it was the morning of my first day of vacation. . . A well deserved vacation. I had just finished up the commissioning efforts of a $250 million pharmaceutical project at BiogenIdec in Research Triangle Park, NC. So, this was a particularly sweet cup of coffee—it was one that wasn’t going to be followed by fighting a deadline and dealing with co-workers, subcontractors, e-mails, and other Dilbert-esque scenarios. And, I was getting to hang with Russell, Kristy, and a little girl that MUST be the cutest 3-year old on the face of the planet. Things were off to a good start. And, to top it off, my Dad was coming up to watch the weekend Razorback baseball series against the South Carolina Gamecocks with Russell and me.

Following a morning that included a trip to the grocery store with Sophie and Russell (a blog post in and of itself!), I went to go pick up my dad. The journey back to Northwest Arkansas to see Arkansas play baseball has evolved into a father-son tradition over the last three years. It started in 2005, when he and I saw the Hogs sweep Auburn in a three-game set. In total, this is my 5th trip in 3 years; however, since the first trip, the games had been laden with disappointment. Losses in the regional tournament in 2005, against LSU in 2006, and the regional tournament in 2006 had left the bitter taste of disappointment in my mouth. Would this be the trip that the Hogs turned it around on the diamond? Probability told me not, as this team was struggling for wins. So, I had already preliminarily determined that this trip would provide more enjoyment in just seeing my friends and family. And, if we did steal a win against South Carolina, it would only add to my joy, as I just can’t stand the state of South Carolina. If South Texas is considered the “rear end” of the United States, then South Carolina is the armpit. If you are one of the nice, civilized people from South Carolina reading this . . . then I apologize—and make sure you tell the other two that I’m sorry.

My dad’s face lit up as Russell and I pulled up in the parking lot to pick him up. We returned to the house for a couple of adult beverages and some catching up conversation before making the trek to Baum Stadium. Knowing that a win was integral for the Diamond Hogs to continue their season, a sense of confidence began to spread thru our loins. The green grass and perfectly manicured field sent chill bumps up and down my arms and back. And, after hearing the fight song, calling the Hogs, and hearing the national anthem, we were ready for a little bit of “America’s favorite pastime.”

(WARNING: For non-baseball fans, here’s where it gets a little boring.)

The game started on a positive note—two solo home runs in the 1st inning gave the Hogs a 2-0 lead; but, it was short-lived. S. Carolina countered with 2 of their own in the next inning, and then took the lead in the 3rd. The Hogs tied it up in the bottom half of the 3rd, but things went sour staring the 4th inning. Two Arkansas errors and timely Gamecock hitting extended the lead out to 9-3, and later 11-5 in the top of the 7th inning. It looked as if my journey from the east coast would again have a loss tainting an otherwise enjoyable visit. This team just didn’t seem to have the winning mentality that I had seen in past Arkansas baseball squads. I decided I would just have to chalk the trip up an experience that was better than my usual work-related pharmaceutical documentation. Rumor had it that the team had arranged for a big fireworks show after the game—an event that young Sophie was looking forward to as much as I had been looking forward to the game. Well, at least that would bring a little highlight to the night!

The bottom of the fifth and sixth innings had provided a couple of conversation catalysts. Our spunky 2nd baseman Ben Tschepikow had gotten an infield single and magically moved to 2nd base. (Later, thanks to the internet, Russell and I determined he had advanced on a balk for which we are yet to find an explanation) He scored on an error one batter later—a run that seemed pretty insignificant at the time, but later would symbolize the miracle behind the night. How had Ben gotten to second base? Oh well . . . it didn’t matter . . . probably not important, right? Also, one inning later, Logan Forsythe belted his 2nd homer of the game, again slightly aided by the breeze blowing out to right field . . . at least HE was having a good game.

The rest of the 6th inning, as well as the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, were a blurry whirlwind. Russell, Dad, and I continued to obviously state that we sure could use a few more homeruns. Russell, using all 7 years of his Ph.D. education had deduced that if we could only get a couple of runs an inning, we would be back in this game. (Hats off to the new math!) The Razorback batters left the bases loaded twice and two runners on once. We had left more men “on” than Lindsey Lohan and Tara Reed after a night of clubbing. The South Carolina bullpen pitchers were up and down more than Ron Jeremy’s you-know-what during the making of an adult film. And, after the Hogs shutdown the South Carolina hitters in the 8th and 9th, we came up to bat with one more chance down 11-8.

Ironically, back in the 3rd inning, the guy behind me had sarcastically stated, “Man, I hope this doesn’t end up to be another 11-10 game.” My thoughts drifted back to the Nostradamus-like prediction—using Russell’s new math to deduce that this would result in a catastrophic and disheartening loss. I decided to change seats, moving back a row to sit behind my dad and Russ in seat # 23 (my old college baseball number). This, I determined would be my “good luck seat.” Would it work?

Wilkins slammed a 2-2 pitch to right for his 4th hit of the game. Brett Eibner drew a walk, giving us runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs, and bringing the tying run to the plate and our hopes to a new level. Our aspirations for a win were quickly squashed after a strikeout and Tscheipikow’s line out to right after hitting it “on the screws.” We almost started leaving for the car, but I gazed back at the lucky seat sporting “23,” and sat down for one more batter. Chase Leavitt, who had hit the cut-off man as many times as the 3-year old Sophie had on this night, corked a slow dribbler to a sprawling Gamecock 2nd baseman and beat out the infield single by inches. This should have brought Sean Jones to the plate—an Arkansas player hitting .162, but had a homer and a single on the night.

“Now hitting for the Razorbacks, the freshman, Jacob House!” the public address announcer proclaimed. House . . . House . . . my mental rolodex starting flipping—the name didn’t ring a bell. “Is this the time to be bringing in an 18 year old freshman to pinch hit?” I asked my dad and Russell. They shrugged their shoulders, and the South Carolina bullpen continued to work harder than a dentist in West Virginia. My mind began to race to what the most disappointing finish could be: 1) the kid gets a double, and the runner on first gets hosed at the plate trying to tie the game; 2) we tie it up, and lose in extra innings—not only extending the night, but also delaying the fireworks for Sophie; 3) we leave the bases loaded for the third time in four innings.

But then, on a 1-0 pitch, the hand of God reached down from the heavens and touched the bat of the teenage Razorback hitter from Mansfield, TX. Young House struck the cowhide sphere, lifting a fly ball into the air into right field. I hope God had call-waiting, because his prayer line was immediately flooded with the pleas of 7,500 cardinal and white clad Hog fans—“Get out of here!” we all said in unison. The scientist in me kicked in . . . it’s too high, the 5-10 mph breeze that had been blowing for the first 8 innings sending a chill into my father's legs had vanished, and the Ozark air had grown heavy and humid. During the flight of the ball, I must have glanced back and forth a dozen times between the parabolic flight of the ball and the right fielder drifting back, arm out looking for the fence. Did it have the distance?

To tell the truth, I never saw the ball go over the fence—that’s right, the game winning grand slam landed in the South Carolina bullpen, clearing the wall by a yard stick. I never saw the stunned, jaw-dropped expression on my father’s and Russell’s face. Like Elvis, I had “left the building.” I sprinted up the stairs from our 2nd row seats and out into the street screaming like someone on fire. I jumped up and down, throwing my fist into the air like I had just won the powerball lottery. I ran back into the stadium, down the steps back into Section 99 to see that my father and Russell were still leaping in excitement. I hugged my dad—I tackled Russell. Unbelievable . . . magical . . . miraculous. The best ending to a sporting event I had ever witnessed in my 33 years.

(Okay, non-baseball fans—wake up! Time for the meaningful and exciting conclusion.)

And just when I didn’t think the night could get any better, it did. An experience that really brought me back to reality—a slap in my smiling exuberant fact that reminded me of what is really important in the world. Moments later, after calling the Hogs and singing the fight song, we found Kristy and Sophie. . . . Yes, of course, after the win, we were going to stay and watch the post-game fireworks.

I had forgotten how exciting fireworks were to a small child—as adults, we get calloused to things after we have seen them dozens, even hundreds of times. But, during the 15-minute pyrotechnics display, I focused more on the face of a smiling child as the “bombs bursted in air.” My father had offered to hold Sophie during the show, and locked his 71 year old arthritic arms around her as she “oooohed” and “ahhhed” and announced "that's my favorite one!" hundreds of times. I don’t know who was smiling more—Sophie or Dad?

When the grand slam won the game for the Hogs, a 33-year old acted like he was 3, and celebrated the proverbial game-winning fireworks. But, what really made the day perfect was watching my dad and Sophie watch the real fireworks. It’s the little things that end up being really important—like a balk call in the 5th inning. Sophie will forget about this day in a few years. Probably sooner, as other exciting moments vie for position in her little memory.

For me, it was one of the best days ever.

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Postscript: Unlike the South Carolina right fielder, #15 Harley Lail ("Not your fault, One-Five!"), we had an extremely enjoyable weekend. In addition to a great time with friends, the Hogs won all three games this weekend. Here is a link to the YouTube video of the rally.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It Doesn't Add Up

This post is a little different because I am going to take you guys with me as a wander around a problem that has been festering in the edges of my mind for quite some time. (For those not lulled into a coma, there's a reward at the end of this lengthy meander.) I am hoping for insights (in the form of comments) that might help clear the fog. Here is the list of related questions that has me bogged down in some cloudy thinking:

  • What is a global mean temperature?
  • How do you measure it?
  • If we don't measure it directly, how is it put together, inferred, or made up?
  • How would you validate that the method is correct?
There are more percolating, but my thinking is so muddled that I couldn't force the questions to make sense as I tried to put them onto electrons (paper for the old-fashioned out there).

When I hear the words "global mean temperature", my mind drifts back to my days in an undergraduate thermodynamics class where I learned that, physically, the temperature of a gas is the average kinetic energy (energy of motion) of the molecules in the gas. So, based on that definition, I would assume that the global mean temperature has to relate to how fast the atmospheric molecules are bouncing around. This makes sense if the atmosphere was well mixed and no temperature differences exist. We know this is not the case, so I am back to square one.

Another possible way to define the global temperature is to look at the blackbody radiation emitted by the earth and use Stefan's law (or Wien's displacement law) to define the temperature. There, we run into a couple of problems. First, the earth isn't really a blackbody. It is more of a gray body because it does not absorb all the radiation incident on it, but we can adjust for that. Second, Stefan's law tells us that the energy flux (energy emitted per unit area) of the blackbody radiation is proportional to the 4th power of the temperature in Kelvin. This is the sticking point for me.

Let's look at some "average" winter temperatures for the Arctic and the Tropics (I am making up these numbers to show the mathematics). Let's assume that the Arctic has a day where the air temperature is 250 K (-23 degrees C and -9 degrees F) while the same day the Tropics has an average air temperature of 300 K (27 degrees C and 81 degrees F). If I ratio the two energy fluxes that result from these temperatures, we get the following:
  • (250 x 250 x 250 x 250)/(300 x 300 x 300 x 300) = 0.48225
Here's the problem with this number: there is over twice as much energy flux in the Tropics compared to the Arctic, and this example is a relative moderate temperature difference. For example, I did not compare Death Valley in the summer to Antarctica in the winter (these happen at the same time). It also means that relatively small errors in measuring this global mean temperature (still don't know for sure what this is) can result in fairly large errors in the value of the energy flux from the earth.

So, I finally get to ask my first question, "What is this global mean temperature that I keep hearing about?" I have yet to receive an answer that satisfies my physical intuition about problems like this. This leads to my second question, "How do you measure a global mean temperature?" My humorous guess is that you stick a thermometer in the rectal cavity of the earth and read the value that shows up, but I don't really think that is the method.

That is the lead in to my third question, "If we don't measure it directly, how is it put together, inferred, or made up?" I am well aware that the UK folks take a temperature, the NASA folks take a temperature, and a few other groups do so as well. Will someone please tell me what calculation they have done when they tell me that the "temperature anomaly" from January was +0.002 degrees C?

Finally, we have arrived at my final question, "How would you validate that the method is correct?" I don't understand the numbers that these groups spit out each month and year, but without telling me their methods (NASA is famous for this) or giving me access to their data (in many cases), I am supposed to believe the numbers produced of each of these groups. For those of you who don't know me, I'm not a take-my-word-for-it kind of guy.

For those of you who have made it this far, you probably think I am joking. I SERIOUSLY don't know what any of these global warming numbers mean. I was trained as a physicist and I work with complex equations every day, but the metrics that are being provided make NO sense to me. I am hoping that one of you out there that stumbles across this post will be able to point me to some book, journal article, or presentation that will explain the physics of these numbers that I keep seeing.

Until someone can help me out, I am going to keep believing my thermometer theory. That, and the fact that these guys taking our planet's temperature don't want us to know about the wool they are pulling over the eyes of their funding agencies.

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To end a torturous post with something funny, here's a clip that may show the fate of these temperature anomalies ten years from now (in case you miss what the woman says at the beginning, it's just a satellite):

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