Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Loves Me Some Cake!

Bonus points to anyone who gets the title. Dust? Anybody? Dust? High in fat? Low in fat?

It's my birthday today! I am now officially 2 years older than the age I thought I would live to. When I pointed this out to a friend recently, he reminded me that I also thought I'd have, like, 6 children by now.
"Well, yeah," I replied, "I figured I'd need pallbearers."

To celebrate my birthday, after the doom and gloom of the last post, I would like to post something whismical:
This is two chairs at a little table, complete with table cloth, sitting in the middle of a walkway on U of T campus*. On the table are two forks, two (full) glasses of milk, a little candle and a piece of chocolate cake (McCain Deep'n'Delicious, if I'm any judge). Just sitting there. At 8:30 in the morning on Friday the 13th.

I thought about eating the cake, but decided not to. I wonder if anyone else did, or drank the milk. A friend told me it was still there at 4:30 in the afternoon and the candle was still burning, so someone was tending to it. In any case, it made me smile. I like guerilla art installations.

* In the Davenport Garden, between Lash Miller and McLennan Physics, for people who know the area.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

With "Friends" Like This...

I have never been more disappointed in my species than at this moment, or at least my country.

The Globe and Mail has brought to my attention a non-profit organization called the Friends of Science. I don't have time to go over the entire website, nor to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of knowledge of the Earth's climate and the effects of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, but I happen to have some background in the subject, so I would like to take this time to discuss the "6 Things Everyone Should Know About Climate Change"

1. The Earth Is Cooling
Go look at their graph. Their own graph. Then tell me that you can see a cooling trend there. I can't even imagine how long it took them to cherry pick their regression line to get a negative slope. Only for two brief periods during the past decade does the average global temperature anomaly drop into the negative. And at this exact moment, according to their graph, we are on one of the sharpest temperature increases since the '70s.

2. The Sun Causes Climate Change
Well, I can't actually refute this one because I don't even know what it is they are trying to prove. Any kind of scientific reference would be nice, here.

Solar irradiance typically means sunlight at the surface of the Earth. So, I mean, yeah, the amount of sunlight that reaches the surface of the Earth is going to have a huge effect on the surface temperature. The question of why more or less solar energy reaches the surface of the Earth is a pretty big one and still under active debate.

3. Al Gore Was Wrong About Carbon Dioxide
So, this graph actually has a reference. Unfortunately, it is not from a scientist. I checked her out in Web of Science; there are four entries under Nova J and none of them are about climate or even geophysics.

This graph appears to be another case of cherry picking data. Does it seem strange to anyone else that the picked the period from 100,000 to 150,000 years ago to present? When in fact, there is 400,000 years worth of Vostok core data and 800,000 years worth of combined ice core data.

Now does it seem so cut and dried? The fact of the matter is that yes, the ocean is less able to take up CO2 when its temperature increases, so CO2 levels will increase at a greater rate as temperature increases. And since we're talking about basic science, the greenhouse effect of CO2 (and CH4 and H2O and various and sundry other trace gases) is something you can test in a lab. You, personally, can buy some equipment (or devise it yourself if you feel so inclined) and generate those exact curves. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere affects the Earth's radiation balance. The real question is: what positive and negative feedback mechanism exist?

4. Violent Weather Isn't Getting Worse
"Climate alarmists claim the[sic] global warming may increase severe weather events."
May. May. May increase severe weather events. Boy, that sure sounds alarmist to me. I haven't personally heard a single scientist use this in an alarmist manner and I suspect I won't until there is more evidence one way or the other.

5. It's Been Hotter Than This
I can't find any data that looks like this cartoonish graph. I can't find the Schönwiese paper online. I'd like to promise I'll go dig it out of the stacks, but I can't, so if anybody can send me that, I'll gladly add it to the post.

6. Climate Computer Models Are Proven Wrong
These are, presumably, the same climate computer models which this very website was using in all the above points (except 4, I think it was solely from observation).

I like the first graph. It looks very sciency. Unfortunately, I can't find that graph in any peer reviewed journals. Lindzen's website lists 2 submitted publications and 1 in preparation with Choi on the author list. It's possible that the graph is exactly what they say it is, but it seems more likely to me that they're taking it completely out of context.

If we move down to the second set of graphs, we can see that the difference we're talking about here is around 0.5ÂșC. I am also very curious about where these sondes were taken and whether the model averages were taken at those locations or not. They are a little sparse on methodology.

So, I hope I've shed some light on the "skeptics" arguments. I don't know what it is they're playing at. I can only guess that someone is giving them a lot of money to run a bad science propaganda machine, but who knows. I encourage you to go through the rest of the site, particularly their Climate Change Science Essay, and see what else you can find.

The point I'm trying to make here is that it's not nearly so cut-and-dried as the "Friends of Science" would have you believe. The atmosphere is a big, complicated place. I study it every day. I have seen mountains of data on all sorts of things. And the truth is, we don't know much about how it all works. But one thing I can say for sure is that our industrial society has now put the atmosphere into a state which hasn't been seen since before the advent of agriculture. Where we go from here is anybody's guess, but I don't think it's going to be status quo.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bohemian Like You

I've had a weird last few days.

I got my flu shot. Swine flu that is. The ol' H1N1. It hurt more than any flu shot I've ever had. Like, mobility limiting in my left arm. Also, I think I've determined that I have some kind of repetetive strain problem in my wrists, since those hurt the most. I had the shot Thursday afternoon. Each day after that I woke up in more pain than the day before. Then, miraculously, on Sunday afternoon, the pain vanished. Three days, almost to the hour.

I bought a table on craigslist. The listing claimed the table was in Liberty Village. Then, the seller responded to my email saying that the address was "XXX-XX XXXXX Ave (Liberty Village)". Weird. Apparently this person was very proud of living in Liberty Village. When I got there, I discovered it was a very up-and-coming neighborhood. The exact kind I usually avoid like the plague. The condo where I met the guy to buy the table had a concierge and all the residents were wearing Lululemon. Disturbing. But I got the table and got out alive and without catching yuppie.

The table was for my sewing machine. Which I also bought on craigslist. I paid $25 for it, which works out to about 50¢/lb. I don't know what year it was built, but I suspect it's older than me. It came with a lot of accessories, but not a lot of instructions. Mainly, none. I tried very hard to hunt them down, but the brand name is Domestic; you try a googling "domestic" and "sewing machine" and see how many hits refer to the brand versus how man refer to the adjective.

In desperation, I posted a facebook status pleading for any kind of lead. Fortunately, an old friend of mine managed to discover that the Domestic company was absorbed by the White company and that all White instruction manuals are available on the Singer website, for some reason. It turns out my sewing machine is capable of all sorts of things I didn't suspect like buttons, buttonholes and narrow hems. Not bad, for an old girl.

L dropped by my lab today for coffee, as she had the day off. We went for coffee. This is the first time I've been to my local Starbucks in about a week. This is because a week ago is when the $%&#*$ Christmas decorations went up. November is too G.D. early for Christmas decorations. Also, they've changed their medium/bold coffee to Christmas blend. I complained about this to the barrista who, after mocking me briefly, told me we could call it November blend if that'd make me feel better. It did.

After a long day TAing a 2nd year chem lab, I arrived home to a Toblerone bar on the kitchen table. This would have been a pleasant surprise in and of itself, but it turns out that Toblerones come in $#*@%mas themed cases. Fortunately, L had predicted my rage and replaced the *$(#%masy snowman with a badminton playing pirate.

For our final act of the day, just to prove we're still young, hip and with it, we went out to our local tavern for a little live music. We wouldn't normally go out like that on a Wednesday, but the bar is two blocks from our house and the lead musician in the band is a friend. It's extra weird going to a concert and yelling "I love you Barn" and having the lead singer yell back that he loves you too. I think the band has even improved since last I saw them perform, too, which was a pleasant surprise, since I quite enjoyed their playing last time.

And, on top of all that, a random stranger appears to have stumbled across my blog and added a very welcome comment.

All in all, it was a good day.