Monday, July 20, 2015


This letter just released from a consortium of UK professional and scientific bodies, including the RSA (of which I'm a fellow):

(Full text.)

The scientific evidence is now overwhelming that the climate is warming and that human activity is largely responsible for this change through emissions of greenhouse gases.
Governments will meet in Paris in November and December this year to negotiate a legally binding and universal agreement on tackling climate change. Any international policy response to climate change must be rooted in the latest scientific evidence. This indicates that if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming in this century to 2°C relative to the pre-industrial period, we must transition to a zero-carbon world by early in the second half of the century.
To achieve this transition, governments should demonstrate leadership by recognising the risks climate change poses, embracing appropriate policy and technological responses, and seizing the opportunities of low-carbon and climate-resilient growth.

Risks. Climate change poses risks to people and ecosystems by exacerbating existing economic, environmental, geopolitical, health and societal threats, and generating new ones. These risks increase disproportionately as the temperature increases. Many systems are already at risk from climate change. A rise of 2°C above pre-industrial levels would lead to further increased risk from extreme weather and would place more ecosystems and cultures in significant danger. At or above 4°C, the risks include substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, and fundamental changes to human activities that today are taken for granted.

Responses. Responding to the challenge will require deploying the full breadth of human talent and invention. Creative policy interventions and novel technological solutions need to be fostered and applied. This will require a sustained commitment to research, development, entrepreneurship, education, public engagement, training and skills.
Opportunities. While the threats posed by climate change are far-reaching, the ways in which we tackle them can be a source of great opportunity. There exists vast potential for innovation, for example in low-carbon technologies. Capturing this potential quickly and effectively will drive economic progress. There are also significant additional benefits available from climate mitigation and adaptation actions, including food, energy and water security, air quality, health improvements, and safeguarding the services that ecosystems provide.
Actions need to be taken now, by governments, individuals, businesses, local communities and public institutions, if we are to tackle this global challenge, deliver the required cuts in emissions, and take maximum advantage of the available opportunities and additional benefits.

Signatories in alphabetical order:

Academy of Medical Sciences, Academy of Social Sciences, British Academy, British Ecological Society, Challenger Society for Marine Science, Geological Society, Institution of Civil Engineers, Institute of Physics, Institution of Chemical Engineers, Institution of Environmental Sciences, Learned Society of Wales, London Mathematical Society, Royal Astronomical Society, Royal Economic Society, Royal Geographical Society, Royal Meteorological Society, Royal Society, Royal Society of Arts, Royal Society of Biology, Royal Society of Chemistry, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Society for General Microbiology, Wellcome Trust, Zoological Society of London

Monday, May 11, 2015

The toad abolished -- for now

College is out for the summer -- graduation was Saturday -- and the pace of activity has shifted from frenetic to manageable. The last few days were transitional, as we finished up grading and attended meetings still, but no longer had to show up for classes. This week we have two "in-service" training days. So Friday is our first official day of summer, and my calendar is free and clear of commitments from then until late August, except for one monthly meeting. This summer I have no field research, and so my primary college remaining responsibility is pen-and-ink scholarship, which, frankly is no hardship. I have a paper that needs to be revised for a different publisher, and a lot of fairly serious new books to read.

Work, or at least Philip Larkin's kind that feels like work, being essentially banished from our lives until fall, what will I do with ourselves?

Well, we'll work, of course, but it will be the kind of work that doesn't feel like work. We have five new chickens, three piglets, and six lambs to raise and sell, the older sheep and chickens to tend, some of which sheep will also have to be sold, a Land Rover that may need a clutch and certainly needs an emergency brake job, three other vehicles and a tractor and several miscellaneous items of small equipment to service and maintain, a garden to plant and grow and harvest and put up, three acres of rough pasture to keep weed free, several hundred skeins of yarn to sell, two more cords of firewood to put up, three hundred bales of hay to find, buy, truck, and store in the barn...

... and last but by no means least, a very small child to help learn to walk and talk.

Because of this new element in my life, I won't be adding much to my college blog this summer. Sometimes there are more important things. Apologies to long-time readers. We'll be back on track this fall.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Vehicle Safety Report

A total of twelve students and one instructor from Physics: Heat, Electricity, and Magnetism performed standard safety checks on a total of forty-eight student vehicles Tuesday, April 28th.

Thanks to students Andrew, Thomas, Clark, Sierra, Steven, Arthur, Carolyn, Matthew, Stephenie, Jacob, Wesley, Sylvester, and Andrew for all their hard work, their superior appreciation for the finer points of vehicle safety, and their high regard for their classmates' lives and property.

Photos: Students Wesley and Sierra in action on the day

There was high demand for our services, the most ever, and we were short staffed at times, so I couldn't get photos of each student worker, as I have done in the past. Apologies for that.

Most vehicles passed inspection. Vehicles were, on the average, noticeably safer than in the past.* Several more egregious safety concerns were noted that would have almost certainly related in a holiday travel "fail" and possibly a stranding, or worse, an accident:
  • Several vehicles were significantly low on oil, up to three quarts down. When you only have one or two quarts of oil remaining in your engine, the engine will begin to overheat because that little oil can't do such a great job of cooling and lubricating. You also might want to know why your oil is so low. Most likely you are leaking it or burning it. Either way, you must now monitor your oil level more carefully or you will cause a catastrophic engine failure, called a seizure. Essentially, your pistons will stick to your cylinder walls and/or your main bearings will stick to your crankshaft. Check the oil level every time you get gas. Write down how much you add, when you added it, and the odometer reading each time you check. Check the ground under where you park for signs of a leak. Monitor your oil pressure light or pressure gauge, check engine light, and temperature gauge. Hopefully, you'll figure out how much oil you're using and find the leak if there is one, then get it fixed.
  • Many vehicles had tires that had only a millimeter or two of tread remaining. The Maine regulations require at least a millimeter all round, but this isn't enough for Maine summer driving conditions if there is heavy rain or mud on the roads, especially in a rear-wheel drive vehicle. These students were advised to get new tires, preferably before taking any long trip.
  • Although a few were five or slightly more PSI down, no tires had dangerously low tire pressure. This is a first. Maybe our efforts to educate about such things are paying off!
  • Two vehicles had scored and rusty disc rotors visible through aluminum wheels. If disc rotors are scored, they need to be replaced or turned down on a lathe. Replace pads at the same time, and do at least the rear or front brake sets together, if not all four sets. If they are rusty, your brake caliper is not working and needs to be repaired. This is a very dangerous condition on any vehicle.
  • For the second time in a row, several students did not know how to turn on their headlights manually. Automatic headlights are fine, but Maine law requires you to have the headlights on whenever the wipers are turning, so you need to know where this switch is! Consult your owner's manual. You can get copies of your manual online if you have lost or never had yours.
That concludes our biannual community vehicle safety report. If you didn't get chance to get your vehicle checked out yesterday and are worried about the drive home, stop me or one of our student volunteers and ask us about it, or take it to a shop for a check up before your drive home.

*Enter "Vehicle Safety" in the Google Blogger search engine above to previous reports. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Monday, April 20, 2015

Vehicle safety checks next Tuesday 28th 


(And yes, this was a car once driven to and from college by a Unity student!)

Dear students:

Graduating? Or just getting out of Dodge for the summer?
Before driving off into the wild blue yonder, consider taking advantage of free vehicle check-outs next week, Tuesday April 28th, 1.00 - 4.30 pm, in front of the Activities Building.

Are you a stereotypical Unity College "rugged individual” type? How rugged? Do you really want to find out? Getting stranded in an unpleasant, uncool, or just plain dangerous neck of the woods is one really good way to find out.

Alternately, take advantage of the service offered by your fellow students to prevent such occurrences.

The new Star Wars movie isn’t quite out yet, but we know aging-but-truly-rugged pro star pilot Luke Skywalker always does his own maintenance and lubes on his X-Wing Starfighter. But are you properly trained to fix up your trusty star-steed?

Instead, let the experienced mechanics and other student grease warriors, this year’s team of brave volunteers, check the poor beast out.

We will check your tires and tire pressures and pump them up if necessary, check and top off the oil and other fluids, make sure everything seems firmly attached, and finally and perhaps most usefully, if your CHECK ENGINE light is on, we will use our computer reader to “pull” your trouble codes so you can finally know just what it is that your poor neglected automobile has been trying to tell you all these months.

(Did you know you can save lots of gas and help the climate just by keeping your car’s tires at the proper pressures over the changing seasons? That tire pressures can naturally raise around 4-to 8 PSI between winter and summer if not checked, because of cold? Did you know that a blown oxygen sensor is easy to fix and can save on gas too? Did you know that low oil level can kill your car’s engine? Well, now you know.)

Each participant will receive a written report on the serviceability of their vehicle, with details of any trouble codes and what they mean.

The college accepts no responsibility for the use or misuse of any of the information we give you about your vehicle, or for your car’s safety after you leave the campus, but we do suggest that it’s always better to know than not to know. In most cases.

Employees are welcome too. Thanks to the Maintenance and Student Affairs departments for aid in providing this service.

Brought to you by the students and faculty of this semester’s PS 2004, Physics: Heat, Electricity and Magnetism class.

Remember: Go green, or don’t go.

Mick Womersley