Archive for June 2009


June 25, 2009

Cap and Trade

Al Gore

Al Gore

If you Google Waxman-Markey, the ‘Climate Change Bill’ coming up in Congress this week, you’ll see that opinions on it are all over the map. Waxman-Markey Will Mandate Greener Building, Drive Green Renovation, Waxman’s Economy Killer, Waxman-Markey bill to address indirect land use change, Global warming bill still contains some smoke and mirrors, – no two giving the same opinion.

It’s a difficult topic, because it touches on economics, science and yes, politics. From an economic point of view, Megan McCardle notes that the bill seems to be low-cost.

But the real question, I think, is whether the low cost is a feature or a bug. The only way a bill is going to have an impact is if it causes real financial pain to American households–enough to get them to change their behavior. Waxman-Markey obviously is not going to do that. And indeed, the projections of its effect on global warming are entirely negligible.

Why should that be? Does this economist have the science to back up that statement?  No, and she doesn’t need it.  She explains that the reason is political, not scientific.  The reason is  – China.

China is not going to let its citizens languish in subsistence farming because 30 years from now, some computer models say there will be some not-well-specified bad effects from high temperatures. Nor is India. Global warming isn’t even high on the list of environmental concerns they’ll want to attack as they get rich; local air pollution is far more pressing. Thinking that we’re somehow going to lead them by example is like thinking that poor rural teens are going to buy electric cars because Ed Begley jr. has one.

In other words, if you believe that climate change is anthropological in nature, you must believe that nothing is going to change until and unless China and India come on-board.

Well, what about the rest of the world? From RealClearPolitics, Robert Tracinski and Tom Minchin point out that it’s not happening in other countries either.

As the US Congress considers the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, the Australian Senate is on the verge of rejecting its own version of cap-and-trade. The story of this legislation’s collapse offers advance notice for what might happen to similar legislation in the US—and to the whole global warming hysteria.

So what do the scientists say? Dr. James Hansen, the director of the Goddard Institute of Space Science (GISS) said this, as he was being arrested:

I am not a politician; I am a scientist and a citizen. Politicians may have to advocate for halfway measures if they choose. But it is our responsibility to make sure our representatives feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not what is politically expedient. Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, should be abolished.

I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think he’s saying that the science doesn’t matter; it’s what people feel is right that matters. That sort of works, because the science is apparently being ignored. But contra Hansen, it’s being ignored for the politics. The scientists are playing politics.

A source inside the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed many of the claims made by analyst Alan Carlin, the economist/physicist who yesterday went public with accusations that science was being ignored in evaluating the danger of CO2.

The source, who chooses not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said that Carlin was rebuffed in his attempt to introduce scientific evidence that does not accord with the EPA’s view of global warming, which largely relies on IPCC reports.

Kevin Mooney at the Washington Examiner publishes on the story:

Scientific findings at odds with the Obama Administration’s views on carbon dioxide and climate change are being suppressed as a result of political pressure, officials at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) charge.
“This suppression of valid science for political reasons is beyond belief,” said CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman. “EPA’s conduct is even more outlandish because it flies in the face of the president’s widely-touted claim that ‘the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over.’”

If this story was about anthrax, possible political manipulation in Congress and scientific intrigue, the story would not sell.  It is a mess, too convoluted, too unbelievable.  And there it is.  We buy it, we believe it’s plausible – why exactly?


Enceladus Is All Wet

June 25, 2009

…And Is A Moon of Saturn

Geysers on Enceladus

Geysers on Enceladus

Arrggg! So much news today! But the most interesting (unless you’re a real Michael Jackson fan) is from a paper published in the British journal Nature, by Frank Postberg of the University of Heidelberg.

The Cassini spacecraft has found what may be the strongest evidence yet that Saturn’s tiny moon Enceladus has an ocean beneath its icy surface. If the liquid water finding is confirmed, it would suggest that the moon may be one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for signs of past or present extraterrestrial life.

This is significant.

Tiger Stripes Indicate Organics

Saturns Moon Enceladus

You see, there are three ingredients necessary for life; an energy source, a good mix of organic chemicals (both of which Cassini has found on Enceladus already), and water.  Liquid water.

Researchers in Europe detected salt particles in the volcanic vapour-and-ice jets that shoot hundreds of kilometres (miles) into space, the strongest evidence to date of a liquid ocean under the moon’s icy crust.

If Jupiter’s moon Europa also has oceans below its frozen surface, the number of places in the solar system with the potential to harbor life is starting to look distinctly greater than 1.

Cassini has been circling Saturn since 2004.

Staring At The Sun

June 23, 2009
Not a Flower

Not a Flower

But Not For Too Long

What you see in the picture is not a flower, but a sunspot, close up.  Very close up.  The scale shown on the full size image indicates a bar that spans 10 million meters, or about 6,100 miles.  For comparison, the Earth’s diameter is about 8,000 miles.  What’s causing those flares, filiments and tongues of fire?  Why, magnetic fields, of course.

But you knew that.  You see, at the temperature of the Sun’s surface it’s hot enough (about 5,000 deg. K.) that electrons don’t stay tied to the nucleus of hydrogen (and some helium) very long, and go flying off.  That leaves a lot of naked, electrically charged stuff floating around for magnetic fields to play with, and boy, do they have a good time wallowing in all that plazma.

But that’s not the best part of that photogragh.  From Anne Minard at Universe Today:

In the just-released image above, the interface between a sunspot’s umbra (dark center) and penumbra (lighter outer region) shows a complex structure with narrow, almost horizontal (lighter to white) filaments embedded in a background having a more vertical (darker to black) magnetic field. Farther out, extended patches of horizontal field dominate. For the first time, scientists have modeled this complex structure in a comprehensive 3D computer simulation, giving scientists their first glimpse below the visible surface.

It’s good to know about the inner workings of the Sun, and sunspots are the portal through which we can study the sun’s interior.  Why should we bother?  There are two very good reasons.

Sunspots are the most striking surface manifestations of solar magnetism, and they are associated with massive ejections of charged plasma that can cause geomagnetic storms and disrupt communications and navigational systems. They also contribute to variations in overall solar output, which can affect weather on Earth and exert a subtle (and as-yet deciphered) influence on climate patterns.

A quote from Matthias Rempel, a scientist at NCAR’s High Altitude Observatory:

“If you want to understand all the drivers of Earth’s atmospheric system, you have to understand how sunspots emerge and evolve. Our simulations will advance research into the inner workings of the Sun as well as connections between solar output and Earth’s atmosphere.”

That’s the best reason.

The Only Place For News (on Iran)

June 21, 2009

Is On Twitter

Let Them Eat Ice Cream

Let Them Eat Ice Cream

Clearly. If you’re following only the MSM, that is, TV, the papers, even radio, then you’re not getting it.

Try here, instead.

Then learn all you can about Twitter.

Land Of The Free

June 21, 2009


Years, yea, decades ago, I had a “Social Studies” teacher (I put “Social Studies” in scare quotes intentionally) who left an impression.  J.T. is no longer with us, having died relatively young.  And that’s a pity.  Although a lifelong democrat, liberal and supporter of teachers unions, I suspect that despite our diametrically opposed viewpoints that we would have had great respect for each other and our positions.  Let’s say he was a liberal in a classic sense, which is indistinguishable from mainstream conservatism today.

He recognized me as having a conservative bent even as far back as 1970, when I was busy figuring out how to radicalize my fellow high school students and resist the draft. I never succeeded, btw.

I bring this up because he first introduced me to a pearl of wisdom that I have never forgotten.  We’re always ready to trade our freedom for a feeling of safety.   Of course we are.  People don’t (or shouldn’t) mind that when they buckle a seat belt.  And people reflexively support curbs and outright bans on cigarette smoking in public (and sometimes in private) places.  But is there a point at which we stay “stop” to this?

Homeland Security has instituted a requirement that private aircraft operators seek government permission each time we propose to take off if we are planning to depart for Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. We must provide advance detailed information about where, when, and who, including the names, social security numbers, addresses, etc., of all persons who will be in the aircraft. The justification for this, they say, is that we, our spouses, family or friends might be on their mysterious and top secret “No Fly List.” The most significant aspect of this is that Homeland Security has indicated that this is a preliminary step toward their ultimate objective of requiring this data submission prior to EVERY aircraft takeoff in America, regardless of destination. Keep this in mind as we continue.

It is important to understand that this requirement breaks entirely new ground. While ENTERING any country requires formalities, never, ever, has it been necessary to seek and receive government permission to LEAVE America, the “land of the free,” much less to travel within its borders. And never, ever, has it been proposed that such permission is somehow necessary to preserve “national security.” This is a requirement only previously seen in Iron Curtain dictatorships.

It’s only one data-point.  Add it to the complaints that gun owners have had for years, that smokers have had for decades, and that businesses have had forever.  The question is legitimate – Are we regulating ourselves out of our God-given rights?  Have we already?  I know the mechanism by which this is done – it’s done one baby step at a time.  What I don’t know, is why.

The 0.1 Second Brushoff

June 19, 2009

Ohhhh – This Hurts!

From, another reason to be so glad I’m married to the AstroWife…

Our brains get a first impression of people’s overriding social signals after seeing their faces for only 100 milliseconds (0.1 seconds). Whether this impression is correct, however, is another question. Now an international group of experts has carried out an in-depth study into how we process emotional expressions, looking at the pattern of cerebral asymmetry in the perception of positive and negative facial signals.

Hummm… Back in my bachelor days I noted with some chagrin that most women I saw in the grocery store spent much more time considering loaves of bread on the shelves than I ever saw them considering men in the local bar.  Well, me, anyway.

That’s when I stopped going to bars.   So glad those days are over.


June 18, 2009

Oh, Just Go For It!

Long time readers know that I’ve been using Linux on my home PC (networked with the Astro-wife’s XP box).  I had been rather happy using the Mandriva distribution for a few years.

Mandriva always had a good reputation within the Linux community, and was considered a good choice for those new to Linux.  That (well deserved) reputation was mostly due to its marvellous installation package.  Installing Linux can be daunting, you see, because of the nearly infinite customization possibilities.  There’s a fine balance between the power to build and fine-tune your system from scratch and being overwhelmed and lost in the details.  Mandriva found a “sweet-spot” between too-complex and too-powerless when it presented its choices.

Even better, the distribution was very good at having at-the-ready suitable drivers for all the peripheral devices that consumers put into their PCs.  When a manufacturer decides that its only going to support Windows, that can be a daunting effort.  Finally, like all Linux distributions, Mandriva has a great selection of software available for download.

Mandriva’s biggest downside was that it’s French.  I keeed!  I kid because I love!  But only partially.  That means that many of their best servers (but not all, of course) are in Europe and relatively slow.

Mandriva worked very well for me, so like the fool I am, I had to try something different.

Fedora is a long-standing, well regarded (and well used!) distribution that’s supported by Red Hat (trust me, you don’t want a distro that’s not going to be around for a while.  Support, especially financial support, is important).  It’s considered a bit of a stalking ground for Red-Hat Enterprise Linux, which is most explicitly not free, and very, very well tested.  Fedora is therefore thought of as “bleeding edge” and more or less up-to-the-minute.  Me likey.

Of course, all that means you’ll be introducing some bugs sometimes, when you use Fedora… which I’ve been doing for six months now.  Just recently I’ve upgraded to their newest version, Fedora 11.

Wow!  It’s fast.  Installation went very smoothly.  It was only weeks ago it seems (well, actually it was years ago, but it seems like weeks), that getting wireless to connect to routers was a major, major hassle, more black-art than science in Linux.  No more.  The full distribution immediately recognized my wireless card (D-Link with an Atheros chip set), chose a suitable driver (Ath5k, but madwifi is available) and connected as soon as I entered the password for my router’s encryption. I  might as well have been wired to the ‘net – it was that straightforward.

Printer, CD-RW, SATA-II hard drive, all recognized, all working properly, but those are the easy ones these days.  Sound and graphics – that’s harder.

I have seen complaints about Fedora’s inability to recognize certain sound cards.  Some of Creative’s models come up frequently in the user’s forums.  I haven’t experienced that problem, because I’m not using a separate sound card (I’m using on-board sound).  Regardless, it appears that the problems have much more to do with, not with Fedora, but with Pulse-Audio.  That’s a package that sits between the applications that play music/sounds (CD players, video and game players, internet radio players…) and the software that controls the hardware.  Pulse-Audio is not made by Fedora, and it does works very well.  But people are still confused by it, and apparently Pulse-Audio is not 100% bullet proof yet. Again, my on-board sound works fine under Fedora’s selection of software.

Graphics support has been a sore point.  Many Linux users are gamers, or would like to be, and require the latest graphics cards be powered by the latest drivers.  Unfortunately, none of the manufacturers fully support Linux.  They don’t like the idea of free video drivers, even if people pay for the cards.  The good news is that for both ATI and Nvidia (the most popular brands) default drivers exist and are getting to be pretty good.  The bad news is that the free default drivers do not support 3-D graphics yet (and 3-D graphics are becoming standard quickly).  The better news is that Nvidia has provided proprietary, but free of cost, drivers for its cards that work very well in 3-D mode, even for Linux (Yeah!).  The worse news is that ATI has not (boo!).  The best news is that Intel graphics cards are fully supported in Linux (Yes!).

I’m using an Nvidia 9600 ePCI card, myself, with the proprietary drivers provided by Nvidia, and it works marvellously.  It does mean, though, that the driver has to be installed manually, and that can be intimidating to a novice Linux user.  The very good news here is that the Fedora users community is one of the best and most knowledgeable around (take that, you Ubuntu users!).  It’s easy to find access to great scripts (look up ‘Autoten’ if you’re interested) that do all the work for you.  It took me less that an hour to install Fedora 11, restore my browser bookmarks, get online to install the last minute updates and bug-fixes, and run Autoten to install the video, DVD playback, assorted codeces for multimedia, and configure the desktop interface the way I like it.  Compare that with the 8 hours I spent installing XP on the Astro-wife’s box two months ago.

After using Fedora for six months I’m more than happy with it.  The most recent release, Fedora-11, is very fast booting and has been tremendously stable for me.  That’s amazing, considering that some of the software is supposed to be right there at the edge.  Fedora uses the Gnome desktop by default, but I prefer KDE myself.  KDE 4.x has been controversial, to say the least, but I really like the latest (4.2).  It installed flawlessly and has not crashed on me once.  Can’t beat that.