Thursday, November 21, 2013

British bird atlas tracks climate change effects

I found this fascinating.

There's a slideshow with commentary here, and the atlas itself, expensive but a great gift for the birdwatcher, here.

More on the revolution

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Vehicle check report

Photo: Mandy checks the tire pressures.

Yesterday was the biannual Unity College pre-vacation vehicle check day, the aim of which is to make sure that those students who plan to drive home for Thansgiving and/or Christmas have a safe-enough vehicle in which to make the trip. Five student volunteers and one faculty supervisor checked around 25-30 vehicles from 12 noon to 3pm. We checked lights, fluid levels, tire wear (crucial in Maine winters) and tire pressure. We also "pulled" check engine light "trouble codes" using a computer-based code-puller device, and dispensed advice as to what to do about them.

Thanks to Mandy, Dani, Alex, Jake and Ben for their services to the college and overall superior appreciation for the finer points of vehicle safety, and high regard for their classmates' lives and property.

The latter two gentlemen had done it before, and so acted as trainers for the others. Here's Jake in action, not however wearing his safety glasses. Bad man.

I didn't get shots of Ben and Dani, mostly because I was too busy myself. But here is Alex, with safety glasses, getting ready to check out a nice jeep, that had, however, bald tires (and an owner who was too busy talking on her cell phone to really absorb our concerns about said tires).

As I mentioned, we checked out probably between 25 and 30 vehicles. Normally I can give an exact count, since I provide a specified number of vehicle check forms, and so the number of forms left, subtracted from the number I started with, gives the count. This time, however, we were forced to use some older forms and copy some new ones.

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:
  • Three 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.
  • One vehicle had a gas leak, which we were unable to locate, but could smell. Gas leaks are very dangerous since there is always a source of heat on a vehicle -- your exhaust system -- that is hot enough to ignite gasoline or gas vapor, causing a catastrophic vehicle fire. Really small gas leaks are often hard to find, though, because the gas evaporates before it drips to the ground. We recommended taking the vehicle into the shop.
  • Another vehicle had a cylinder head gasket leak. The coolant level was down a gallon or so, a very large amount and symptom of something being badly wrong. The vehicle was also spitting green coolant through the exhaust system on start-up. These are classic symptoms of a failed head gasket, which can lead to a seized engine. Except by an experienced mechanic, who must "baby" it constantly, this vehicle can no longer be safely driven, except to a shop, where a new head gasket or replacement engine is needed. Most likely, if an older vehicle, this is time for it to go to that great Parking Garage in the Sky. (Sorry, Ben! Tough luck.)
  • 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 winter driving conditions, especially in a rear-wheel drive vehicle. These students were advised to get new tires, preferably before winter really sets in.
  • Several vehicles had uneven tire wear. This is most often caused by poor wheel alignment, but can be caused by low tire pressure. The remedy is to get an alignment done at a reputable shop, and to check the tire pressure more frequently.
  • At least four vehicles had one or more tires with dangerously low tire pressure. When your tire pressure drops below 15 pounds per square inch or so, the wheel can no longer keep straight on the road and that corner of the vehicle will wobble dangerously on corners. The best that can happen is that you wear out a tire prematurely. The worst that can happen is that you get a nasty wobble at high speed on a corner or while passing on a highway. This can lead to loss of control, even a rollover accident. The remedy is to check your tire pressure more frequently. If the pressure in one or more tires is regularly down, you have a slow leak. Take it to a shop and get the leak fixed.
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.

PS: Former reports are here and here

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Vehicle checks today!

Dear students:

As part of the overall and superior customer service provided provided by Unity College, consider taking advantage of free vehicle check-outs this Tuesday afternoon November 19th, 12.00 - 3pm in front of the Maintenance Building.

Is your vehicle sustainable? Resilient? Adaptive? Or does it require mechanical mitigation. Or are you just tired of the gratuitous misuse of important terms in the sustainability debate?

Either way, don’t miss the opportunity today to have it checked out thoroughly. And don’t risk being stranded someplace remote, dangerous, or worst of all, uncool!

Before you get in the olde jalopy and drive off over the hill and through the woods to grandma’s house for a fine local food Thanksgiving, let the experienced mechanics and other techy-geeky students of this year’s team of volunteers check the poor beast out.

We will check your 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.

(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? 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

Monday, November 18, 2013

Shifting Skies

Bad news for Maine anti-wind activists: The National Wildlife Federation has come out in favor of wind power, among other renewable energy sources, following the lead of many other wildlife and environmental groups.

"Secular stagnation" -- the new macro?

This is a post by leading Keynesian economist Paul Krugman in which he posits, following the lead of Larry Summers, that the economy entered a new phase in the late seventies, early eighties, of "secular stagnation," whereby the only high growth years are during bubbles.

Read alongside the FaceBook posts and tweets of Robert Reich's "Inequality for All" campaign, which I've also been following, the net effect is an emerging new macroeconomics for the left wing in the US.

Of course, the answer I would give is my "Green Keynesianism" approach. But that's neither here not there at this point, when very few people even know what I mean.

We'll discuss Reich, Summers, and Krugman as we delve into modern macro in class on Wednesday.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Best barn ever

Extra credit assignment for Introduction to Economics

Here are the data for your extra credit assignment. You'll need to do the transformation we did in class (to the GDP numbers, from absolute to relative). You may then also need to average by year, and a time-lag, introduced stepwise might also increase the R-squared.

Five whole points for just getting it done, ten points for working out a time-lag.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

More on the typhoon

Final project assignment for EII

Due either the last day of the semester (Friday Dec 13th) or in time for the special EII section of the student conference (Monday Dec 2nd) -- your choice. Student conference participation is optional, but may be recommended for the best products.

Research an environmental issue of your choice. You may work in groups. Identify a thesis related to the issue and supporting evidence, as well as the environmental or conservation organizations that are working on the issue. Prepare a "New Media" presentation built around the thesis, providing supporting evidence, highlighting the work of the organizations.

Prepare a short outline proposal for your project and submit by email before Thanksgiving Break.

You may, if you wish, use a more traditional media format, but only after discussion with the instructor.

Examples of allowable new media:
Video documentary, if combined with interactive features
Video storytelling, if combined with interactive features
Web pages
Weblogs, Facebook groups, Twitter feeds (this last may be too short a format to achieve the learning objectives)
(The key defining feature is that the media are interactive for the user)

Allowable traditional media
Stage plays
Sketch comedy
Traditional video documentary
Journalistic writing
Fiction writing (short fiction would be best)
Slideshows and presentations
Papers and journal articles

The options are deliberately wide. Don't get lost in your choices! Pick an issue and format for your presentation that you or your group feel confident you can finalize and stick to it.

Use "backwards design" to help structure and outline your presentation, and also to organize your schedule: Start with your topic, and decide on a thesis. Then decide what your want to achieve with this topic and thesis. What is it that you want to tell, and to whom do you wish to tell it? From that, pick a media format that will best reach your audience, and then organize your schedule so you can deliver a product using this format.

Workshop time will be made available during class hours and by appointment with the instructor so that you can get help with this project. The Quimby Library Media Technician, Ms. Olson, is standing by to help you with video and other formats.

Here is a winning example from last year.

Climate change assignment for EII

Climate Change Reading Questions                    
Due date December 2nd, 2013

These questions are based on your reading assignments in the climate change unit of Environmental Issues and Insights, specifically Maine's Climate Future and the National Academy of Sciences reading, Climate Change, Evidence, Impacts and Choices

Answer each question fully and thoroughly, using complete sentences and paragraphs. The assignment should be typed.  If you use a source other than the assigned readings, please include a full citation for the source somewhere in your final document. Research other than the assigned readings may be necessary to fully answer some of the questions.
  1. Explain the greenhouse effect.
  2. How does evidence from  Arctic and Antarctic ice cores help explain whether or not the warming we have seen so far is caused by humans?
  3. If CO2 causes global warming, why does CO2 concentration lag behind temperature changes in ice core data sets?  Why isn’t it lagging behind now?
  4. How are climate models tested?
  5. Why is climate change predicted to cause increased precipitation and/or temperature in some areas and decreased precipitation and/or temperature in others?
  6. How will climate change affect Maine wildlife, including game species?
  7. How will climate change affect Maine agriculture?
  8. Why does sixty percent of current energy production get wasted before consumption and how might this fact help us reduce climate emissions?
  9. How do web pages, letters and booklets from groups such as the "Non-Governmental Panel on Climate Change" affect the perception of climate change in the public mind? Where does the money they use for these efforts come from? How do you feel about this?
  10. Do such groups prevent us from taking meaningful action? If so, what should be done about it?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


We've been tracking this technology here at STaD for many years.

Here's a great new video, found by student Michael A.:

Monday, November 11, 2013

More on Typhoon Haiyan, as well as cause for hope

Here is the latest news from the Phillipines. It isn't good. When we left this developing story Friday, we were hopeful that the Phillipine governments extensive preparations would help ensure a low casualty rate from the devastating typhoon. That hasn't happened. Thousands have been killed, and chaos reigns in much of the country.

One of the things that can happen when government and law and order break down after a natural disaster is looting and murder, and some of that is taking place.

The worst thing about this is that emergency workers, who have to find ways to get help to hurting people, may not be safe as they get their work done.

Remember, those of you that are planning a career in uniform, that in these kind of situations all peace officers are drafted to help, as are park rangers, as well as search and rescue volunteers. Our own Unity College SAR team is part of the Waldo County Emergency Management Agency asset list, and we have an agreement with them that Unity students will play a useful role in the event of a major weather or other disaster here in our part of Maine.

Given what is happening to our weather, it's really only a matter of time before the day when we must deliver on this promise.

In better news, from the scene of an earlier disaster in Haiti, where an earthquake in 2010 may have killed as many as a quarter-million people. Unity student Mike Ansara's dad was head of construction for this great solar hospital building, part of the earthquake recovery, and an interesting example of how developing countries can "leapfrog" the dirty development stage of industrial capitalism.

The second link contains a great movie. We'll study this in class today.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Another Arctic Thirty video

You can identify the results of solid non-violence training in this video here: The activists have their hands up to both obstruct the Russian special forces' activities, and to avoid being shot.

An excellent article on democracy versus dictatorship

From David Runciman:

The strongest storm ever to make landfall

Pity our poor fellow humans who had to live through this monster, especially the emergency services professionals, many of whom will not have time to sleep for days to come.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Inequality for all -- for Intro to Econ

Typhoon Haiyan and Letters from the Arctic Thirty

For EII today:

Finally, I discussed Monday how Keynesian economics integrates with climate emissions policy proposals -- badly, as it turns out. The result, were we to somehow find a political consensus to follow the most radical environmentalist prescription to end climate change, would likely be another recession, and the further weakening of the west vis-a-vis our international competitors, including the several authoritarian states, particularly Russia and China, that are largely responsible for rolling back the trend towards more democracy that was underway in the last decade of the last century.

No such political consensus currently exists among American politicians, but the problem remains in the background of the climate debate, nevertheless.

This creates a dilemma, but you can take the classical "between the horns" thrust. I outline two such approaches in this editorial here, my preferred solution, which is an all-out thrust into green technology, and the most likely actual process, which is that we "muddle through" messily to green technology because we can't get that political consensus, and burn some tar sands and frack most of Pennsylvania along the way. The second will require rather more in the way of adaptation and possibly some dangerous geoengineering that the first.

A new green tech revolution is infinitely preferable to muddling through. But what you notice about other great world historical events such as the run-up to World War II, or the abolition of slavery in the US, things rarely go as smoothly as the most radical proponents expect. I fully expect we will muddle through somehow, but probably not without a good deal of suffering.

Since these are my own thoughts and not the kind of peer-reviewed scientific material I've so far summarized for you in our climate change discussions, you're invited to dismiss them. They certainly won't be "on the test."

(But you should think about them at least a little before doing so.)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

New climate science journal resource, with free access

From Taylor and Francis. Very useful for students (and faculty) interested in advanced climate studies: