Thursday, May 31, 2012

ABC viewing recommendations

Two TV stories that I recently found well worth watching on the ABC:

*  Foreign Correspondent did the story of the real Great Escape.   (That is, the true story that was behind the famous movie.)

*  Catalyst last a long science story on the earthquake devastation in Christchurch.  

As usual, top quality product from these shows.

Big solar thermal

In Pictures: The World’s Largest Solar Thermal Power Plant - Technology Review

Have a look here for some interesting photos showing the construction of a large solar thermal power plant near Las Vegas.

They do require an enormous, flat area.   Australia  does have quite a lot of those, but not always near where most people live.

Safe for the moment

Volcanic super-eruptions may have surprisingly short fuses

While the article's heading may sound like a bit of a worry, the story indicates that there might be at hundreds of years warning of a truly massive super-eruption:
These eruptions are known as super-eruptions because they are more than 100 times the size of ordinary like Mount St. Helens. They spew out tremendous flows of super-heated gas, ash and rock capable of blanketing entire continents and inject enough particulate into the to throw the into decade-long volcanic winters. In fact, there is evidence that one super-eruption, which took place in Indonesia 74,000 years ago, may have come remarkably close to wiping out the entire human species.

Geologists generally believe that a super-eruption is produced by a giant pool of that forms a couple of miles below the surface and then simmers for 100,000 to 200,000 years before erupting. But a new study suggests that once they form, these giant magma bodies may only exist for a few thousand years, perhaps only a few hundred years, before erupting.

But the better news:
As far as geologists can tell, no such giant crystal-poor magma body currently exists that is capable of producing a super-eruption. The research team believes this may be because these magma bodies exist for a relatively short time rather than persisting for hundreds of thousands of years as previously thought.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Depressed about coal

EPA Coal Rule: Why the fuel won’t be replaced anytime soon. - Slate Magazine

A really quite depressing read about the international increase in the use of coal:

Coal use is soaring because demand for electricity is soaring. Between 1990 and 2010, global electricity production increased by about 450 terawatt-hours per year. That’s the equivalent of adding one Brazil (which used 485 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2010) to the electricity sector every year. And the International Energy Agency expects global electricity use to continue growing by about one Brazil per year through 2035.

Perhaps the best example of growing electricity demand can be seen in Vietnam. Between 2001 and 2010, electricity use and coal use in the country increased by 227 percent and 175 percent, respectively. And more coal is on the way. Last September, Virginia-based AES Corp. finalized a deal to build a $1.5 billion, 1,200-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Vietnam’s Quang Ninh province.

Or consider China, which uses more than three times as much coal as the United States. About 70,000 megawatts of new coal-fired electric generation capacity will likely come online in China over the next two years. And the world’s most populous country has plans to build another 270,000 megawatts of coal-fired capacity. Over the next two decades, India will likely add another 72,000 megawatts of coal-fired capacity. For comparison, the total of all U.S. coal-fired electric capacity is about 317,000 megawatts, and that capacity is declining as generators switch to natural gas, which, in some regions of the country, is now cheaper than coal.

But we needn’t look only at developing countries. Germany may lead the world in solar-photovoltaic capacity with some 25,000 megawatts of installed panels, but RWE, the German utility, will soon begin operating the world’s largest lignite-burning power plant, a new 2,100-megawatt facility located south of Dusseldorf. Over the next two years or so, Germany will add 8,400 megawatts of new coal-fired generation capacity. And another 5,500 megawatts of coal-fired capacity is awaiting approval.

In fact, thanks to the slumping European economy, electricity producers in the region are already ramping up their use of coal. On May 8, Reuters reported that German utilities are likely to produce about 12 percent more electricity from coal this year than they did in 2011 thanks to abundance of cheap permits issued under the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Colebatch on bonds and debt

Here's the key passage from Tim Colebatch's column today, again attacking the idea that Australia is in trouble because of too much debt:
Since 1998, our bond yields have usually ranged between 5 and 6 per cent. But in recent days, the Office of Financial Management issued a new 10-year bond at a yield of just 3.15 per cent, a five-year bond at 2.65 per cent, and a three-year bond at just 2.52 per cent. Yields have fallen by half in a year.
Why? Because global investors have flocked in to buy Australian government debt. Their concern is not that we have too much debt, but too little. IMF figures show that of the 34 advanced economies, Australia has the third smallest ratio of gross debt to GDP: including state and municipal debt, it's just 24 per cent of GDP. By comparison, Germany has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 79 per cent, the United States 110 per cent, and Japan 241 per cent.

The Coalition and its allies are like a broken record warning that Australia is swimming in debt and putting itself in danger. That is simply untrue. Ask yourself: if Labor's borrowing has put us in danger, why is Australia one of only eight countries rated AAA by all three global ratings agencies? Sure, ratings agencies make mistakes, as we all do, but are they that incompetent?
He really is Labor's best friend - he has a dispassionate way of writing that I always find pretty convincing.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Weekend reviews

*  Men in Black 3:   it's pretty good, but to be honest does not contain all that many laughs.  It really is more of an science fiction action adventure movie (where the science is unimportant, like on Dr Who), and as such it works well.  I did not see the twist coming near the end that many reviewers noted is surprisingly moving.  (It is, and a great idea for the plot.  In fact, what is also surprising is that the movie was reported to have started filming without a finished script.  You would never guess it from the final product.) 

*  The McDonald's Sydney Stack burger:  features pineapple, tomato, bacon and (I think) beetroot.   I liked it a lot.  Another damned "limited time only" burger though, d'oh.

*  Picked up a flea market for $1 a dvd set of the complete second season of Scrubs (now 10 years old!).   Was very amused listening to some of the audio commentary (they don't do it for every episode, but still).  The creator Bill Lawrence and actors involved in the show come across as very down to earth types, and as they were doing commentary for shows they had made a couple of years previously, it was funny listening to them laughing at some stuff they had half forgotten.  And talking about trivia like their previous haircuts, etc.

Apparently, Neil Flynn (as Janitor) after the first season just improvised as huge number of his lines. 

It remains an enormously likeable show.

Friday, May 25, 2012

More on Australia's changing climate

Droughts & flooding rains: what is due to climate change?

This is the second article by Karl Braganza from the BOM on the topic.  It's good and clear. 

Influencing quantum

Entangled Minds: Consciousness and the double-slit interference pattern

Go to the link and have a look at the very detailed and interesting paper by Dean Radin and others about experiments in which subjects were trying to influence twin slit experiment interference patterns.

I wonder when some journalist is going to notice this.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Odd ideas

Quasi-Transhumanist Charismatic Christians

I can't remember where I read something recently that suggested that Christians who believed in a resurrected body were not really that different from transhumanists.

This seemed an novel idea, but I see from Googling that there is a bit of discussion around on the topic.

I also spotted the review of a book above which sounded kind of interesting:  about Christians of the charismatic variety who seek out techniques (not drug based) to achieve visions (or hallucinations) that they think is putting them in close communication with God.

Yeti watch

BBC News - DNA to shed light on yeti claims

Explaining climate change in Australia

A land of (more extreme) droughts and flooding rains?

Karl Braganza from the Bureau of Meteorology has a good explanation here about changes to rainfall expected (and likely already happening) in Australia as a result of AGW. 

To be honest, I didn't realise that the fate of the Northern part of Australia was rather uncertain:
The models cannot agree on rainfall changes across northern Australia, with some models suggesting wetter conditions, and others drier conditions, on average. This actually tells us something about the physical predictability of future rainfall in this part of the world. The models show that a range of different, predominant atmosphere and ocean circulation patterns are equally plausible for this region as the planet warms.
 On the other hand, the predictions for Southern Australia are clearer:
 The models are in much better agreement over southern Australia, which is expected to dry, on average, as the planet warms. This indicates that something more coherent happens to the atmospheric circulation in this part of the world, as you heat up the entire climate system.
But in any event:
 The models also agree that individual rainfall events will be heavier over most of the continent. This includes over regions that are expected to dry.
It's a good article, and the first in a series apparently.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

For my future reference

Easy Homemade Mayonnaise -

I've only tried making my own mayonnaise a couple of times, and failed on each occasion.  This article might help.

Not just my imagination

Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem. - The Washington Post

I had missed this article from April, in which, once again, it's pointed out that the Right has gone nutty in the US. 

A few things to keep you going

I'm busy with assorted stuff, but note the following:

*  Exactly as I guessed, it seems more scientist types are saying that making crops RoundUp resistant was and is a bad long term strategy.   It is short term gain for long term pain.  Common sense also suggests that making crops more and more resistant to more and more herbicides is not the healthiest thing for the environment.

*  Some talk about why universes might live inside black holes.

*  Real Climate talks about the paper I already noted regarding climate change and an increase in the water cycle.

Real Climate also talks about the Australian temperature reconstruction that shows an Australian "hockey stick"-ish rise in temperatures since about 1950.    

Media Watch on the appalling reporting of the "climate scientist death threats" story by the Australia was very good.  Andrew Bolt's attempted response was embarrassing. 

*  One thing that might have been thought to do better with more CO2 in the air, and oceans, was sea grass.  However, those in the Mediterranean are apparently sensitive to increasing warm water, and it might already be dying off in places because of that.   Another loser in the game of winners and losers.

Monday, May 21, 2012

"Summer" movie time

Hey, it's not just me who feels completely "over" superhero films.  Not that I was ever really into them, I suppose.    I unexpected enjoyed Spiderman 3, ever though most people seemed to think emo Parker just meant they couldn't take it seriously.  But really, comic book superheros on screen, from Batman to Superman to Captain America - just call me underwhelmed, generally.

As Charlie Brooker's acerbic column, written after seeing Avengers, notes:
Despite being almost completely incoherent, it's enjoyable bibble, and as good as superhero films are ever likely to get, which is excellent news because it means they can stop making them now. Seriously, they needn't bother releasing Batman Bum Attack or whatever the next one's called, because it won't be as good as Marvel Avengers Assemble 3D. Finally we can move on, as a species. 
Charlie even joins me in blaming spectacle done in the computer as part of the reason:

Finally – and this is an odd accusation to level at a superhero film – it didn't feel very real. I reckon only about 8% of what was on screen was actually there. The rest was imagined by computers. And please, leery tragi-men, don't dribble on about "Scarlett Johansson's arse in 3D" being "worth the price of admission". The film was shot in 2D and converted to 3D using software, which means you're actually drooling over a 2D image of Scarlett Johansson's arse wrapped around a wireframe model of an arse that isn't there.

So, I won't be off to see it.

But, I will be off to see Men in Black 3 next weekend (OK, I know it is originally based on a comic too, but the leads are not superheroes.)  Early reviews are not too bad:  most seem to think it better than 2, which really was not that bad when I watched it again on DVD recently.

I would also hope that Prometheus is good.  The David the Android promo clip is pretty creepily brilliant.

No Spielberg this summer, but you can't have everything.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Very late movie review

I think it was sometime in the last 12 months that I bought and re-watched the original The Day The Earth Stood Still.  It was, to be honest, rather slower than I remembered.  Certainly its most spectacularly anachronistic feature says more about us than aliens:  it was the way the widowed Mum immediately trusts a single male stranger who turns up at home to take her son on an outing in the city.   (Today, she would be arrested by social services for the alien failing to have a Blue Card.)    But still, it's a good film and a classic in serious 1950's moralistic science fiction.

Last night I caught up with the 2008 remake with Keanu Reeves.   As I think some reviewers noted at the time, Keanu does "alien" pretty well.   The film looks pretty good for the most part, and the switch to the aliens being concerned about the planet for environmental reasons rather than nuclear war is a good idea conceptually.    But I have 4 problems with it, which I will put in increasing order of severity:

1.  Kathy Bates as Secretary of Defence?   She just wasn't right for the role.  I kept expecting her to take a sledgehammer to Keanu's ankles for the sake of the planet.

2.  The black stepchild who wanted to blow up the aliens instead of befriending them.  This is rather against the tenor of modern children, isn't it, whether or not they have a dead father who in the military?   Besides, he wasn't a very good actor.

3.  Did it make any sense at all at the start that the government pulls a team of experts together to deal with a mystery, potentially destructive, object heading towards New York, only to put them in helicopters hovering above Manhattan while the unknown object hurtled towards Central Park?  That's a rhetorical question:  no, it made no sense at all.

4.  What happened at the end?   How did Keanu stop the nanobots?  Turned out to be pretty easy for him.  What did the alien clean up team think about this?   Was the Earth going to start again?  (Maybe it did - I was getting sleepy towards the end.)  Did the "ark" spheres still take the critters collected off the planet?  Why? 

It was the worst science fiction ending, in terms of ambiguity, I can remember, at least at the moment.  Just terrible.  This was, by far, the biggest downfall of the movie.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A fat cat amongst the pigeons

HDL ‘Good Cholesterol’ Found Not to Cut Heart Risk -

This would upset the apple cart a bit.  Particularly given this:
Researchers not associated with the study, published online Wednesday in The Lancet, found the results compelling and disturbing. Companies are actively developing and testing drugs that raise HDL, although three recent studies of such treatments have failed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Queensland floods: now with added warming

Soon after the Queensland floods of 2010/11, skeptics were quick to rush out and deny there could be any connection to global warming.

At the time, I thought "That's odd.  I'm sure I read that record sea temperatures - which, call me crazy, but just might have some connection with global warming - was one of the key reasons that led to the weather bureau giving a specific warning to the Queensland government in late 2010 that it was looking like a very high probability of big summer floods."

But there were some voices making a cautious connection between global warming possibly being responsible for making hot La Nina water temperatures even worse than they would otherwise be:
Professor Matthew England, co-director of University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre, is reluctant to explicitly apportion any of the flood crisis to climate change. But he stressed that “to exclude climate change would be premature”.
Earlier this week, he told Reuters news agency: “I think people will end up concluding that at least some of the intensity of the monsoon in Queensland can be attributed to climate change. The waters off Australia are the warmest ever measured and those waters provide moisture to the atmosphere for the Queensland and northern Australia monsoon.”
Professor England explained to me the waters to the north of Australia have warmed by about 0.5C over the last 50 years. Those waters are currently about 1.5C warmer than average, he said, so it’s likely that about a third of this warming is due to long-term ocean temperature increases, the remainder due to the normal La Nina cycle.
 (For anyone doubting the extent of the floods that came, and the high sea temperatures around Northern Australia that preceded it, you should have a look through the slides the BOM used at the flood enquiry earlier this year.)

And now, we have the first paper that does some detailed analysis.  The bottom line, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald is this estimate:
 A Sydney researcher, Jason Evans, ran a series of climate models and found above average sea surface temperatures throughout December 2010 increased the amount of rainfall across the state by 25 per cent on average....

Between December 23 and 28 many places experienced up to 400 millimetres of rain in a few days. "That [means] 100 millimetres of rain was attributable to sea surface temperatures," said Dr Evans, a future fellow at the University of NSW's Climate Change Research Centre.

While the flooding occurred during one of the strongest La Nina events on record it was insufficient to produce the extreme rainfall recorded, he said.

The effect of the high sea surface temperatures coupled with the impact of a La Nina, both of which are associated with above average rainfall over eastern Australia, plus tropical cyclone Tasha, combined to create an extreme weather event, he said.

The resulting floods stretched across 1.3 million square kilometres all the way to Brisbane, caused billions of dollars in damage and killed 35 people.
Now, the study does not actually look at what caused the high temperatures, and as such you can't really call it an attribution study relating specifically to the role of AGW.   (I suppose it's like the first half an attribution study - first look at whether warmer waters did contribute to increased flooding, then look at how the water got warmer.)    Still, surely it's reasonable to strongly suspect, seeing the gradual rise in the relevant sea surface temperatures over the last 30 years, that AGW might just have something to do with it.  From the university press release:

And this:

Sea-surface temperatures off northern Australia in the Indian Ocean, Arafura Sea and Coral Sea  were unusually warm at the time, in places as much as 2 degrees C, the study notes: analysing 30 years of historic measurements, the study identified a general warming trend there of at least 0.2 degrees C per decade.

“If the observed warming trend in the sea-surface temperatures continues, this result suggests that future La Niña events are more likely to produce extreme precipitation and flooding than is present in the historical record,” says Dr Jason Evans, of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre. Dr Evans led the study, to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, with a French co-author, Dr Irène Boyer-Souchet.
A few posts back, I noted that some studies indicate a substantial warming of nearly 3 degrees in parts of the Pacific by the end of the Century.

Here's the thing:  if sea temperature rises that are already being observed can make floods substantially worse, what's the situation going to be like in 50 - 100 years with another 2 - 3 degree increase?

And what's the best the climate "fake skeptic" world can come up with in response to this?  Well, seeing the study doesn't look at what caused the high temperature water:
"abnormally high ocean temperatures" may have simply been natural variability at work. But according to England, climate change "could not be excluded". Similarly, therefore, we cannot exclude the possibility that the Flying Spaghetti Monster was behind it, sneakily raising sea temperatures with his noodly appendage…
It's a really pathetic and lame attempt to turn around (what I would say) is an overly cautious choice of words into an attempted bit of logical ridicule.  

As for those who argue for adaptation to climate change as opposed to seeking serious reduction to greenhouse gases:  tell me how well you think Queensland can adapt to a potential increased severity (and frequency?) of floods affecting a million or so square kilometres? 

My hunch formed during 2010 - 2011 that increased intensity of floods was soon going to be recognised as one of the most serious aspects of AGW is still probably right, I reckon.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wes returns

I wouldn't say I'm the world's biggest Wes Anderson fan, but I really liked Fantastic Mr Fox.  I see that he has a new film out soon, with Bill Murray (again), Bruce Willis (!) and Tilda Swinton (!!), and it looks very eccentric indeed:


UPDATE: Surprise! It's getting good reviews.

Cat attack on your eyes

New funding for research on parasitic eye disease

People who read about science over the last few years would have heard about toxoplasma gondii (which you can catch from your cat's litter box, amongst other places) and its odd behavioural effects on rats and (possibly) humans.  I don't recall reading about this before, though:

Brooke Anderson-White, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in pathology, has received a grant from the Knights Templar Eye Foundation Inc. for research to develop vitally needed new treatments for severe eye infections caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite.

The parasite infects as many as a billion people worldwide, many of whom have no symptoms. However, it can cause severe problems in those with weakened immune systems or in infants infected during pregnancy, leading to the condition toxoplasmic retinochoroiditis. Infected children can develop severe vision impairment and blindness as a result of retinal scarring caused by the disease. Toxoplasmic retinochoroiditis is a major source of visual impairment in the United States.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Not sure what it means

Once again, there is talk from scientists about whether a quantum wave function is itself  "real".

I'm not sure of the importance of the debate.   The brief discussion of it at the link above suggests it helps solve the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment, and as we all like our pets to be either dead or alive (not in a fuzzy in between state) that could be a useful outcome.

Anyway, I need some better explanation of this...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Carbonara considered (more than you thought possible)

How to cook the perfect spaghetti carbonara | Life and style | The Guardian

I'm quite partial to a good pasta carbonara myself, and perfecting it is a bit tricky.

Little did I know that there are many different approaches to this recipe, and this l-l-long blog post about the variations certainly goes into a lot of detail.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Steganography appears again

Al Qaeda suspect's porn film found to contain treasure trove of secret documents

Once again, the topic of steganogaphy (software that secretly hides information within what appears to be ordinary media files) being used by real life terrorists is in the news.  My interest in this is just an adult version of an interest in invisible ink, I guess, but we can all have our fun imagining being a spy (not so much a terrorist):
The researchers from the German Federal Criminal Police (BKA), spent many weeks examining the hidden pornographic video* found on suspected Al Qaeda member, the Austrian Maqsood Lodin, when he was arrested in Berlin after returning from Pakistan. The video, called “Kick Ass,” was stored in a password-protected folder and within the video they found a file called “Sexy Tanja.” Further analysis of this file eventually revealed that it contained more than 100 concealed unencrypted documents describing Al Qaeda plans and operations.
A video file has ample room for concealing documents, and would be relatively easy to distribute. In Maqsood Lodin’s , the porn video contained hidden terrorist training manuals in pdf form in English, German and Arabic, along with numerous documents detailing planned future Al Qaeda attacks, and lessons learned from previous operations.
*  the comedy sketch writes itself.

Minimizing grid use

Novel battery system could reduce buildings' electric bills

I don't know what to make of this, but in some places (like all of Australia from about Sydney up), it's easy to imagine that domestic large scale batteries to store excess electricity generated by solar panels during the day could mean a house uses very little electricity off the grid.  If, say, an extra $10,000 on a new house build could give a very large saving on electricity use both during the day and night, would it make more sense to do that rather than having solar panels that feed back into the grid?  It would at least avoid the problems to the grid that feed in solar panels can cause.

Discouraging ocean predictions

Equatorial refuge amid tropical warming

From the link:
Upwelling across the tropical Pacific Ocean is projected to weaken in accordance with a reduction of the atmospheric overturning circulation1, enhancing the increase in sea surface temperature relative to other regions in response to greenhouse-gas forcing. In the central Pacific, home to one of the largest marine protected areas and fishery regions in the global tropics, sea surface temperatures are projected to increase by 2.8°C by the end of this century2, 3, 4. Of critical concern is that marine protected areas may not provide refuge from the anticipated rate of large-scale warming, which could exceed the evolutionary capacity of coral and their symbionts to adapt5.
I am, like George Costanza, no marine biologist, but that does sound like a heck of an increase in sea surfaces temperatures in waters that are already pretty warm.

The article goes on to explain that there might be some compensating upwelling which will cool certain Pacific Islands, but even so the temperatures will be up.  Just not as much.

Sounds like a hot time for many coral reefs.

In another article in Nature Climate Change, some researchers think that increased CO2 will hurt, not help,  phytoplankton, contrary to what you might expect:
Carbon dioxide and light are two major prerequisites of photosynthesis. Rising CO2 levels in oceanic surface waters in combination with ample light supply are therefore often considered stimulatory to marine primary production1, 2, 3. Here we show that the combination of an increase in both CO2 and light exposure negatively impacts photosynthesis and growth of marine primary producers. When exposed to CO2 concentrations projected for the end of this century4, natural phytoplankton assemblages of the South China Sea responded with decreased primary production and increased light stress at light intensities representative of the upper surface layer. The phytoplankton community shifted away from diatoms, the dominant phytoplankton group during our field campaigns.
 So how does the increased light happen in future?  This seems to be explained in the last part of the abstract:

Future shoaling of upper-mixed-layer depths will expose phytoplankton to increased mean light intensities5. In combination with rising CO2 levels, this may cause a widespread decline in marine primary production and a community shift away from diatoms, the main algal group that supports higher trophic levels and carbon export in the ocean.
Well, there you go.  More news of the giant climatological and ecological experiment that is underway, and that serious people should take seriously.  


BBC News - Gaia creator rows back on climate

Climate change deniers (as they have adopted "alarmists" and "warmenists" as a matter of routine, I'm not going to worry about using "denier" any more, although I have a soft spot for "fake skeptics") were all excited about Lovelock's recent interview where he said he had been too alarmist in his previous talk about how climate change would only leave a handful of breeding humans in the Arctic, and that "no one knows" what the climate is doing.   

As I tried to tell the selectively stupid at another blog, it's not as if Lovelock was ever "mainstream" on the topic.  My sentiments were summarised by a climate scientist quoted at the BBC (link at the top):
 One IPCC scientist, who said he didn't want to be drawn into a personal argument with Dr Lovelock, said: "Jim exaggerated the certainties of climate change before, which wasn't helpful then. His recent comments aren't helpful now

"They will be seized on by people who argue that science is too uncertain to inform policy - and that's absolutely not the case. He's blown too hot, now he's blowing too cold."

Prof Hans von Storch of the Meteorological Institute at the University of Hamburg told BBC News: "Lovelock certainly exaggerated in 2006. It seems that the extreme position on both sides are losing ground, and that is good."
James Annan is also happy to point out that he and others called out Lovelock's extreme pessimism at the time, including Tim Lambert in Australia.

That said, nearly everyone still likes listening to Lovelock.   He is a very interesting character with lots of good work behind him.  It's just that he has been well out on his own in terms of pessimism on climate change.

But does this wash with the selectively stupid will take his current view as indicating that everything is so uncertain that nothing should be done about CO2 emissions?  No, of course not.

Weasel watch

Weasels are sometimes very cute.  But not always. 

More to come.

Dream knowledge

Shortly before I woke up, I was having a dream which was set in a sort of fantasy RNA Show (the Ekka, if you're from Brisbane.)  I think it was Dick Smith who was walking around with me.   (Don't ask me why - apart from the fact he was recently on some TV promo for a current affairs program giving away money to people.)

It ended up at a table where Bob Geldorf and, I think, some other famous person, were drinking with Dick Smith and me.  There were nuts on the table being eaten as a snack (I remember walnuts in particular - toasted walnuts are perhaps my favourite nut) and Bob made the comment that he used to lead an unhealthy lifestyle in which the only thing he ate was nuts.  I asked whether he knew that peanuts were not actually a nut.   Then the person sitting next to Geldorf said "that's right, they're a legume."

When I woke up, I couldn't quite recall whether that was right (the bit about being a legume, I mean.)  The Peanut Institute confirms it is.

Some people dream of winning lottery numbers, or solve scientific puzzles.  My subconscious is quite a bit more useless.

Monday, May 07, 2012

The dangerous tub

The Japan Times has an editorial on an unusual topic:

An investigation into one of Japan's favorite pastimes — bathing — has found a startling statistic: 14,000 people a year die during bath time. That's nearly three times more deaths than from car accidents, 4,612 people....

Bathing seems such a comforting and pleasant activity that it is hard to associate it with danger. However, the deaths come from several different problems. Some deaths resulted from drowning when bathers fell asleep. Other causes were heart attacks, subarachnoid hemorrhages or strokes from the sudden shift in temperatures. Dehydration and injuries resulting from slipping were also among the causes.

Researchers at Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine found last year that the danger of heart attacks is nearly 10 times greater in winter than in summer — and much higher than the risk of cardiac arrest during exercise. The rapid blood pressure drop that happens when getting in the bath stresses the heart more on a cold day, which can lead to a number of complications.

Trying out the macro

My wife bought a new little digital, and readers would know I love how digital cameras, even the cheapies, do macro pretty well:

Not bad.  I must try and track down a bug now...

An interesting analysis

We need to talk about energy, not rates - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Alan Kohler is upset that badly needed investment in electricity in Australia is being stalled due to uncertainty, caused in large part by the Tony Abbott "must revoke the carbon tax" policy.

I'm sure Kohler is not alone in this view.   But where are the economists who feel this way?   Are they just going to sit on their hands, or wait until an election is looming and then say that dismantling the governments carbon pricing scheme, and replacing it with Abbott's second rate "direct action" really doesn't make sense?

Anyway, here is Kohler's depressing conclusion:

If they're all thrown out, as promised, then the new minister will have to start the process all over again. By the way, the shadow minister is Ian Macfarlane, who came within a bee's willy of negotiating an emissions trading scheme in 2009 with the then minister, Penny Wong.

Presumably he no longer believes in that crazy stuff.

Anyway, aside from whatever carbon abatement costs are imposed by either political party (they both have the same reduction target of 5 per cent by 2020), electricity prices are already set to double by 2017 because of chronic under-investment in east coast transmission and distribution over previous decades.

This price increase cannot be avoided – it is already locked in. In fact, it will be greater than that if the 20 per cent renewable energy target is to be met because renewable generation is always further away, so that transmission costs more.

The only antidote to the huge, looming increase in the price of electricity, not to mention the possibility of brownouts caused by the lack of investment in base load power, including nuclear, is energy efficiency.
Unless urgent action is taken, the rising price of power will destroy manufacturing and retail businesses far more effectively than the internet and the currency, which has a tendency to go down as well as up.

Japanese tornado

God really seems to have it in for Japan at the moment. 

A compilation video of yesterday's tornado, looking very much like footage we more commonly see from the middle of America, can be see here.

Of course, people interested in climate change will be curious as to how rare this is.  As the Wikipedia knows all, it indicates that tornadoes are indeed pretty rare, but not unknown, in Japan.  Other odd places that have had tornadoes on that list include Moscow in 1904.  I guess that wherever you can get a storm, a tornado may be possible.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Moogerah Dam

Enhanced version at Dodopathy

Good movies

First, Addams Family Values. The original Addams Family movie was on TV a couple of weeks ago, and went over well with the kids, so I went looking for the second at the DVD rental place. (Does everyone feel a bit of melancholy like I do for this slowly dying line of business which will probably be gone completely in 5 years?)

Both Addams Family movies are based almost entirely on the funny one-liner, but so many of them are terrific. I think the best from the second movie would have to be when Joan Cusack, playing Uncle Fester's conniving love interest, says "Isn't he a ladykiller", to get the cheery response from Gomez "Acquitted!"

Watching these movies made me realize how much I like the sense of humour of director Barry Sonnenfeld. He did the Men in Black movies too, and has a third one coming out soon. I will be there early unless it has catastrophic reviews: even though the second MIB was not thought of highly by many, and I found it to be better than I remembered when I re-watched it recently.

Second movie from yesterday: Charade. I'm not sure, but I think I had only seen this once, as a teenager on TV. I remembered liking it very much, but only recalled a rooftop fight and the ending. Re-watching it 30 something years later therefore was a relatively fresh experience, and I have to say, the only wonder is why it isn't more often talked about as the classic bit of entertainment it truly is. In my books, it was Audrey Hepburn at her peak: a screen presence who (as we all know) was impossible to dislike in anything. But give her a script full of funny one-liners, and a role that let her do her vulnerable/playfully assertive act with Cary Grant as her love interest: well, what can go wrong? (Don't worry, nothing does.).

For those who don't know, it is like a funnier Hitchcock movie, and set in Paris in the early 1960's.  (JFK's photo is seen on the wall of the US Embassy, and the movie was released just a couple of weeks after his assassination.  I wonder if that unfortunate timing, when I imagine lots of Americans were too shell shocked to be seeking out lightweight entertainment, partly accounts for it not being as well known as it deserves.)  

 I see that Jonathan Demme did a remake which I have never heard of: why does anyone ever think it a good idea to remake movies which worked fantastically well in their first incarnation?

Anyway, a good viewing day was had by all.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Liking hospitals

I've been at hospitals on and off a fair bit in the last few years, but never for anything too dramatic - it's just what happens when you have kids and an elderly mother.  Getting my Mum to one over the last few days is why I haven't been posting much.

It almost feels like this is something that one shouldn't say - but I really like hospitals.   I like them architecturally - the way they grow and expand, usually with walkways joining different wings and buildings.  (Doesn't everyone like elevated walkways?)   I think being an architect working on a hospital re-vamp must be one of the most interesting jobs around.  I like the challenge of finding your way around these complexes. I like the way beds get pushed around and up and down different floors. 

I like buildings with helipads and red flashing lights on the roof.   I like high technology of all types, and x ray and medical imaging technology is some of the fanciest and cleverest stuff you are ever likely to see.

I usually like the staff:  working odd hours, usually with good cheer.  I like how hospitals are much more convenient places than they used to be - the car parks are usually not too expensive; there may be a Starbucks in the foyer, or a sushi place just outside, even in public hospitals.    During the day they'll probably be a volunteer at a desk to help find you something.  

I don't really care for waiting for 5 hours to see a doctor, but hey, it's a free service and I don't feel I can complain too much as long as the person I am with is not in pain.  Besides, waiting there is a bit like a free drama show - trying to overhear what the drug addicted or mentally ill person is complaining about at the admissions counter, or wondering what sort of illness the guy clutching his abdomen might be suffering.  It also gives me the opportunity to understand how boring and regrettably enduring is reality TV, because I will not sit at home to watch 4 couples arguing with each other about their designs and accidents while doing a renovation of a row of old terrace houses. 

I'm not sure how many people feel this way.  The Yahoo Questions page asking "Is it strange that I like hospitals"  has few responses.  Hospital fans need their own support group, perhaps.  I'm here to help.