Thursday, May 30, 2013

Why can't the US be Sweden?

An interesting question, asked in my morning paper. The answer rather abstract, but well worth the read:

Now just because I'm pointing you to this study doesn't mean I agree with it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Whitehorse to the rescue

It wasn't popular, but at least one senator said it too:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A plea for pity and mercy

Someone has to say this, but it's not going to be popular:

In the ongoing Greek tragedy of climate denialism, it seems more than just merely ironic that the states suffering the most from extreme weather, such as Texas with hurricanes and drought, or Missouri and Oklahoma with tornadoes, are those that return climate denialists to power year after year.

While here we sit in New England, relatively safe from such things, having returned relatively sensible politicians for year after year.

The only word I can think of to describe the feelings we have as a far-away witness of such things is macabre, but even that doesn't begin to describe the depths of futility and despair that come up. And this is only the beginning of this "bitter cup." There's more, much more and much worse to come.

This all sounds callous of me, I know. I'm not unaware of the horrific tragedy, believe me. I'm an emergency responder and so would be having some of the hardest working days of my life right now if I lived in or close to Moore, Oklahoma. I have a very good understanding, from first experience, of what it must feel like to be a firefighter or paramedic right now in Moore.

When the best that can be done for folk in a pitiful state is triage, then it's time for pity and mercy.

I was taught to run triage, as part of my military medical training. Triage means that you sort the casualties logically into three groups: Those who will survive untreated, those who will almost certainly die if treated or not, and those who will live if you treat them. It's a method for economizing on scarce medical resources in a mass casualty situation.

When your shift ends, if it ends, all you will be able to do is weep. I've been there.

So, Senator Inhofe, where's the pity and mercy?

Because this is only the beginning. These kinds of things will happen more and more.

Whereas, if we reduced climate emissions beginning now, and found some reasonable way to get some of that carbon sequestered out of the atmosphere, if we were lucky enough to get CO2 down below 350 ppm, we would almost certainly have far fewer such events.

I think the good senator probably thought that this climate denial thing was a political game that he could play according to the normal political rules.

But it's not.

You can't filibuster the laws of physics.

Science communication

Just a note I found interesting from Dan Kahan of Yale. The links are to the Cultural Cognition Project, which we have used in class for several years now:
...the same research that supports the conclusion that “fact bombardment” doesn’t work is filled with findings of alternatives that work better in promoting constructive open-minded engagement with scientific information. By adroitly combining valid information with culturally affirming meanings, these communications succeed in getting people to reflectively assess evidence that they might otherwise dismiss out of hand (btw, if your goal is not simply to get people to open-mindedly consider evidence using their own powers of reason — if you just want to make them believe something, who cares how– you are not a science communicator; you are a propagandist).

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mechanically dis-inclined

One consequence of organizing the end-of-semester vehicle safety check activity (see recent posts) has been that I re-acquaint myself regularly with the state of mechanical knowledge among Today's Youth.

Which is, to say the least, not very good.

As a former RAF engineer and scion of the great engineering city of Sheffield, England, this to me is as great a harbinger of the end of civilization as 400ppm. In fact, I'm happy to connect the two for you, if you ever want to listen to a two-hour rant.

The Cliff Notes: We're heading for hell in a hand-basket because we are too lazy to learn about complicated unpleasant things.

A similar level of mechanical disadvantage nearly cost the young lady in this NYT article $3,000 for a couple of ten-dollar radiator hoses and a set of struts that I can get delivered to my home for $49.95 off the Internet in two business days.

But at least she began to learn enough from the experience to avoid such things.

Read it and weep.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Keystone realism: The penny drops

I was once very upset, as an overly idealistic undergraduate student, to be forced to learn in one of my courses on foreign policy, that old foreign affairs truism "Nations have Interests."

(Yes, I did take courses on foreign policy as part of my biology undergraduate degree. And you should too.)

But I learned it. And it stuck.

It even became a partial personality trait, particularly when I was taught a slightly different version of the same notion while working as a mental health aide in state-sponsored group homes for troubled and abandoned children (which is one of the many ways I worked my way through my BA and MS degrees).

We were taught, essentially, "don't expect mentally ill people to be nice to you. They can't be because they're sick, and if you don't keep an eye on them, they'll hurt you or someone else."

One general result of this trait is that I don't walk around expecting bad people to be nice to me, either on an individual or national level, or good people to be good all the time.

Humans remain scandalously corrupt animals, even when trying our best to be good.

You could call this ennui. Cynicism. There are lots of similar pejoratives. You can even argue that it's a self-crippling personal trait for an environmentalist, since it destroys activist enthusiasm. I might even agree with you.

But the usual academic moniker is "realism," and one benefit of using realism is that you get to be able to predict what will happen more accurately. You don't have to use it all the time, and you shouldn't. Too much realism is like too much of anything. Moderation in all things. A little is good for you. A lot makes you unpleasant to be around.

Anyway. My point: This was predictable:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Vehicle safety report

Nine students from Physics II Lab conducted vehicle safety checks on 36 vehicles belonging to students departing for the summer. Oil, coolant, other essential fluids, tires and tire pressures, and check engine light trouble codes were all checked.

The following list is of the fault conditions identified by our student workers, rectifications and or recommendations documented, all carefully supervised for safety.
  • Vehicle with worn front passenger-side tire, uneven wear, tire down nearly to the wire on one edge. Uneven wear suggests alignment at least half an inch out. Recommend new tires and alignment immediately. If this is not possible, driver not to exceed 55 mph on drive home
  • Vehicle with at least five quarts extra oil in sump. Especially if driven hard, front and rear crankshaft seals will be destroyed, then engine. Recommend remove oil to within proper range on dipstick. Driver shown how to do this
  • Three vehicles with tire pressure below 15 psi, indicating slow leak. One screw identified in one tire. Tire pressures increased to proper level. Recommend to all, fix slow leaks immediately, monitor tire pressure carefully thereafter
  • Three vehicles with dangerously high tire pressure, above 50 psi. Tire pressure reduced to proper level. Drivers educated on correct tire pressure. The correct tire pressure is not the maximum tire pressure written on the tire. It's the recommended tire pressure given in the owner's manual or written on a small sticker on the drivers-side door. Too much air in your tires can be dangerous too, just like too little air. You'll bounce more very time you hit a bump, and can bounce yourself clean off the road. You'll also wear out your tires unevenly.
  • One vehicle no or very little oil in sump. Dipstick clean of oil. Oil added to line on dipstick. Recommend driver monitor oil level very carefully. Good way to kill your engine
  • One vehicle check engine light indicates loose gas filler cap. On investigation badly fitting filler cap applied. Recommend purchase correct filler cap. Other check engine lights indicate evaporative emissions control failures probably secondary to filler cap problem, but recommend monitoring
  • One vehicle check engine light indicates evaporative emission system leak -- loose filler cap, lean mixture and/or loose vacuum line. Loose filler cap found, also cracked filler cap seal. One loose vacuum line found. Codes cleared. Recommend monitor check engine light, replace filler cap with new one to eliminate filler cap as source of leak, monitor carefully, take to shop if light comes back on or the lean mixture will result in early engine wear
  • Various vehicles check engine lights for oxygen sensors
Obviously some of these were likely to be dangerous and/or expensive. The weather was hot and muggy and the work quite hard and dirty. Our students can be proud of their labors to help their colleagues get home or to summer jobs safely.

Here are the photos from the day's activities.

Thanks to all the students who helped (Cat, Sam, Tasha, Ben and Ben, Adam, Jake, Kristen, and Frances).

Ben contrives to look both scholarly and practical at the same time

Adam adds fluids

Tasha in mid-exclamation, Frances on the compressor

Sam and Jake team-task a truck

Checking the coolant overflow container



Friday, May 10, 2013

News on sensitivity

This time from a deep hole in the Russian arctic -- an awesome expedition, by the accounts, with a very diverse team from all over the world.

The study points to higher, not lower, sensitivity (of the climate to a doubling of CO2).

This contrasts with our in-class efforts to understand (and replicate) the empirical results of Lean and Rind and Lean and Kopp, which leaned towards lower sensitivity, and with other recent empirical studies.

But then you have to explain the polar amplification, which we couldn't.

So, and this remains speculative, but important, we most likely have some kind of feedback in place related to the polar amplification. As a result, as I said over and over, we take the L & R results with a pinch of salt and apply them only to the very near future, if at all. And we monitor the heck out of the arctic. And we reduce emissions as fast as we can.

This L & R/L &K sensitivity disparity when compared with studies is only slightly disappointing to me. After all, what did we expect for an climate experiment that is so simple to do we can replicate it in class? At least, by now, students should understand the key variables quite well, having learned to manipulate them and predict outcomes themselves, however crudely. I believe that this result is empowering, especially for math-phobic undergraduate students, and that the process works well as the kind of affective pedagogy needed to overcome such phobia.

If all my students were Calculus III whiz-kids, I'd need a different project and a different pedagogy. I'd probably invest our time in EdGCM instead, and have us run small-scale Stella ® models on the side.

I'm going to post our L & R/L & K model results graph again, just to remind you of what you did while you're studying for the exam, and just because it's such a cool graph.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Before flight service

Dear students:

As part of the overall and superior customer service provided provided by Unity College, consider taking advantage of free vehicle safety checks this Friday afternoon May 10th, 12.00 - 4pm in front of the Activities Building.

Driving home? Driving thousands of miles out west for that summer job? Driving "upta camp" to hide away and recover emotionally? Or just driving as fast as you can to get away from college and all those bad grades and heartless teachers!

Whatever your reason for driving, don’t risk being stranded someplace remote, dangerous, or worst of all, totally uncool!

Instead, before you get in the olde jalopy and drive off into the wild blue yonder, let the experienced mechanics and other techy-geeky students of this year’s PS 2313 Physics II class check the poor old beast out.

We will check your tire tread and  tire pressures and pump them up if necessary, check and top off the oil and other fluids, clean your windows (dirty windows are a major source of vehicular accidents), 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 or years.

(Did you know you can save lots of gas by keeping your car’s tires at the proper pressures? And that tire pressure changes as the weather warms and cools with the seasons, so you have to check them regularly! Did you know that a blown oxygen sensor is easy to fix and can save on gas too and that your check engine light, if it's on, is very likely trying to tell you this $12 part is kaput? 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.)

Be safe, drive safe.

Mick Womersley
Professor and Flight Line Crew Chief
On behalf of Spring 2013 PS 2313 Physics II class

Monday, May 6, 2013

Summer job for SEM, other energy-keen students

HELP WANTED: Energy Conservation Specialists
Two individuals needed to install basic energy conservation measures in area apartments and retirement homes over the next two months.
The work involves installing faucet aerators, showerheads, cfl’s and other basic measures designed to save energy.
Must be responsible, hard working, and conscientious. Ability to interact with a wide variety of the public is a must.
Pay is $14.00 per hour PLUS a mileage reimbursement.  A reliable vehicle is required.
 Work sites are in Waldo, Knox, Hancock, and southern Penobscot counties.
There may also be the possibility of further employment after this project is completed.
For more information, contact:
 Paul Shepherd

Friday, May 3, 2013

Sir Ken Robinson on Education from the RSA

I needed to find this great video again for some colleagues, so I'm storing it here.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mitigation and adaptation materials for class

The AMS Climate Studies textbook we're using for GL 4003 Global Change doesn't have much information on mitigation and adaptation, just one fairly weak chapter.

Here are some of the additional materials we've used.

Don't put too much effort into these materials for the exam -- there will only be (at most) one or two paragraph-answer questions, plus a small number of multiple choice questions. In either case we will concentrate on the key concepts discussed in class (such as institutional control, combustion, UNFCC Scopes 1, 2 and 3, calculating GWP, monetization and RECs, etc, the multiplicity of schemes, whether voluntary or statute-based, AASHE, STARS, Clean Air - Cool Planet, RGGI, AB32, double-counting and corruption, unaccounted-for efficiencies such as transmission losses versus distributed power production, and so on).

But you may need these references for future reference (graduate school!).

The slides used in class, and

The main texts used to assemble the information:

Extreme weather and the American mind

From the same good folks that bought you the "Six Americas."