Sunday, March 29, 2009

How models work

Ugh ... sorry folks, this post ain't about sexy Hollywood models with million dollars bods. But if I have your attention, I was really talking about computer models. There are a bazillion kinds of those things so let's narrow it down to Climate Change and Global Warming.

This is big news lately, with our President sounding like he wants carbon dioxide mandates and major folks like Joseph Romm (Climate Progress), Freeman Dyson (a major physics denier dude), and Thomas Friedman (NY Times Pulitzer winner) getting published all the same week, duking it out. And there are thousand of more major peeps banging the pots and pans as well.

What it all comes down to are several ensembles of computer models that predict sea level rise, ice coverage, differential heating, and technical stuff I won't bore you about ... other than all these models suck!

Say what, Sammy?

It's a rather existential question because any models that try to predict things into the future are based on humans, and most of the time Mother Nature has a different idea in mind. So global models for sea ice totally missed their mark, a horrible thing for the "modelers." What happened was that sea ice was supposed to break up in a decade or two, like in the Arctic and now even the western Antarctic. They blew it. The stuff is melting at an incredible rate never forecast by ANY computer model. What happened was a classic case of under-shooting because all models done by humans are fallible.

Then there are there is over-shooting, where some models show global heating right now, even in a mild cooling stage, although in the long term they are perhaps correct because the thinking is "Mother Nature took off a year or two from warming." Excuses, excuses, the models that predicted rampant global warming also failed. Poor Al Gore has been severely abused by these notions.

Then there are the ... what can I say, weirdos who predict "crazy weather" from global warming. These folks don't know the difference between climatology and today's weather and unfortunately must be relegated to the loony bin, as no model can support those conclusions except when modeled results conflict with each other, or somebody tries to bloviate about "super hurricanes." The only folks to get away with that trick was the original Farmers Almanac that predicted sun, rain, hail, sleet, and snow all in the same day in Boston sometime in the 1800s.

A model only works for about 5 years of predictive value and I'm going to leave it at that. We have absolutely no idea what will happen in 50 or 100 years. I'm serious! But before you dismiss me as having sentiments one way or the other, I can tell you that climate change is happening right now. I can also say that if the climate was not changing, we'd be in for some very serious entropy problems.

And so far, as good as our bazillion-dollar satellites and billion-dollar super-computers are, we really can't predict very much other than some obvious things that are already happening. This does not mean that they are bad. It means that climate modeling needs a new generation of thinkers who can plug in the right kinds of data without being so political about it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Poof'n'Whiff Anniversary?

I had to ask Lori how long Poof'n'Whiffs has been, well, poofing and whiffing. She says four years and three-four months. It was before we moved from Leander to here on South Padre Island for sure. Moved in July, 2005 before Hurricane Emily.

Gosh, the dream it was back then, and many (including me at times) didn't think we'd ever move down to the seashore. People say I've changed since then - gosh I hope I didn't turn into an asshole again. Dang I hate that when it happens. It's been fun so far.

I guess in the next chapter, Sammie will get his own boat.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Shower Politics

Not a great picture, but here's an outside shower, one I've been meaning to fix with new pipe, valves, and a shower head - and that ugly rusty deadbolt. I came across an interesting article in Salon about 'shower politics.' Basically, those who take a shower (white collar) before work are treated much better than those who take a shower after work (blue collar). The writer does a pretty good job of explaining our outrage at the AIG executives who got millions in bail-out money, while company workers like at GM are getting the ... pink slips and the boot.

Here on the island is no different I guess, other than we don't care when you take a shower ... its usually after getting in the sand or in the water because otherwise you'll get itchy and pack sand into the bed at night. That's where our humble outside shower comes in!

The shower analogy is a good one also describe water issues. In many areas of the world we consider tapwater a given, something you can waste. However, parts of Australia and the Caribbean are in a horrible drought and most rely on meager rainwater collected in cisterns. It wasn't but last year at this time the Rio Valley was so dry the Rio Grand stopped flowing. Shower water is often used to water plants, flush the commode, and other beneficial uses. So there are people who watch their water use and those who do not.

Oh well, as Texas Week winds down now, and the daughter has just left to go back to Austin, I think I'm ready for a ... shower.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring Break 2009

Just catching up on things, noting the wonderful turn of the weather and more kids for spring break today, the few migrant birds and hummingbirds that have passed through, and mundane things like that.

I learned that Spring Break was invented in 1983 at the old Sandy Retreat hotel (which became the Mira Mar), where there parking lot was used for rock 'n' roll bands. The gathering was started by a bunch of Valley kids, not out-of-area college students. In 1984 the Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughn played there. Gosh, that was only 25 years ago. Steve Hathcock has a great story about the history in the last issue of the Coastal Currents local newpaper (sorry, not online). He has a rather amusing ending about Dionysus and how since ancient Greek times, people have been celebrating spring.

It's a break in things right now, as Lori and daughter head to Mexico for goodies and her boyfriend is checking out driving on the beach. Work has been quiet so I'll have to give them a jingle in a while. But it's definitely an "open door day," a good one too.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Grass-mud horse

There is a huge controversy about censorship now in China, something I knew was always repressive but here's a new twist: a children's song about the "grass-mud horse" and it's battle against the evil river crab (which actually stands for peace and harmony).

The way the words are pronounced, "grass-mud horse" sounds exactly like "f*ck your mother," which technically is spelled very differently. Wow, all these kids singing that song, this IS creepy. I have never heard of such a protest since the Falun Gong massacre.

Where were the grass-mud horses when President Bush was in power, anyway? Compared to our fearless Chinese counterparts, we're a society of wimps.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Last Blasts of Old Man Winter

Here's a computer model for Saturday's weather that shows expected rain and other stuff (click the pic to slightly enlarge). Most of the bad weather will be to the north, with some lingering showers in our area. It is expected to be cool the weekend, perhaps bad for Spring Break but good if we see some migrating birds. SPI is located towards the bottom center of the graphic in the pink part showing light rain.

So enjoy today, as a preliminary front is coming down with a chance of thunder this evening, some cool air, a secondary shot of cool air, and some over-running rain. By Monday things should be dry and on the mend - there are no big storms I can see behind this one yet.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why Twitter is sometimes funny

This is a chain on Twitter posts that started when one of us found a story about "male enhancement pills" that said they didn't work. I'm "Whams."

  1. Whams@southpadrelive Dood, I don't think you are near cute enuff to do lap dances, keep the day job!
  2. JW WilsonsouthpadreliveForget the free lap tops-Where do I sign up for free lap dances
  3. WhamsWhams@southpadrelive TMI brudder!
  4. sandy feetsandyfeet@southpadrelive Thanks for that visual, JW (not!)
  5. JW Wilsonsouthpadrelive@sandyfeet Yea I take them so it will stick out enough so i don't pee on my feet

Monday, March 09, 2009

Sam, Sam, the programmer man

That's a picture of an original Jim Franklin poster for the 'Thirteenth Floor Elevators,' one of the first real hippie bands that played at a cool place called the Vulcan Gas Company up in Austin, late 60s ("Conquero"). Jim went on to Armadillo fame later but these old posters are quite rare. I never got any prints but I do remember getting a bunch of cheap copy paper to staple them onto telephone poles downtown, which made for some rather unusual telephone poles.

But I digress, at the same time these hippies were blasting out electric rock 'n' roll, folks were programming on computers. I think this had something to do with the hippie movement. In essence, kids were making up any entire new language to communicate more effectively. I will never forget when one of the UNIX originals told our training class that "disk slash dollar dot splat" was the ultimate insult ... well you had to be there but the training was at the UT think tank technology incubator facility, millions of bucks and chaired by Admiral Inman himself.

So getting onto my point, since those days programming has changed, and boy has it. RegularHTML and SQL programming has gone nuts, and no telling what they do to jack up all those freaking graphics. It's amazing. DO YOU KNOW THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO PROGRAM IN FREAKIN' 'TWITTER'?

Ahem. I guess I am old school and went into a kind of statistics programming language called SAS, which was strange for a former English Major like me. SAS started in the 60's too, by a couple of hippies who left Big Blue (IBM) to work on applied mathematics, including such stuff as linear regression to analysis of variance and quality control. Unless you "sex up" your SAS output it looks like it was printed on one of the first linotype mainframe printers you ever saw.

Me I don't mind it a bit, and while I'm not getting rich I can make in the low six figures in the little job niche I wandered into. SAS has been berry, berry good to me. I guess I'm graphically challenged but viewing data in different ways, formats, and structures has always appealed to me, and a picture or movie is always better than reams of data. An emerging consensus is that when you really view data and visualize it, many of the common urban myths and old wive's tales turn out to be completely false!

So there I am, like the "best of 1998" and these mainstream programmers today are really hot. It's OK and it's all good, and as more people use computers communication will increase. I did put in a major plug for data programming, which can always use sexing-up. Just like them good old boys and girls did down on Congress Street at the Vulcan in Austin, Texas, light show and all.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Frumpy Hibiscus Effect

As spring keeps rolling into South Padre Island, the mind turns toward assessing the damage from the hurricanes, cold fronts, bugs, and plant diseases. This poor, stunted Hibiscus was a very expensive hybrid with double flowers, obviously never to amount to much. I got to looking around the island and many are in the same condition. Unfortunately, the only thing to do is to throw them away, dirt and all.

Salt might have something to do with it, but I noticed that after a plant gets stressed a little the bugs such as aphids will move in. Then some kind of ant "farms" the aphids. I think one or both help spread harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungus. For lack of a better expression I call it "frumpy hibiscus syndrome."

Interestingly, one common hibiscus I threw in the ground is going great, so how certain plants or varieties get sick is something of a mystery. But I'll be playing in the yard this weekend, trying to make sense of it all.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

George F. Will and Global Smarmy

I'm temped to post about global warming and the recent torrent of pubic outcry out the last two columns by George F. Will of the Washington Post. I just posted a note on Grist, a very green blog, that they missed the point and inadvertently allowed George to win the argument.

We all think that George is something of a skeptic, although his antiquated views shouldn't be a threat to the effort to educate folks about climate change - which most everyone will say is happening. But his main point was that each side has a certain orthodoxy about what to think, and anybody who disagrees with them are considered insane. He brought up the media articles done back in the 1970s that in very alarmist terms, said the Earth was going to freeze over solid.

Naturally the "greens" responded with reams of information, studies, and "proof" that George F. Will was a lying, insane skeptic. Some of the responses such as by Joseph Romm were so rabid and over the top they were comical. The facts are, George F. Will might have a limited understanding of the science and got things slightly wrong in a citation (he proves where he got the information though), but his points about alarmism, extremism, and orthodoxy were pretty much right on target.

The mistake was the greens who went on the attack failed to convince anybody but themselves and only served to illustrate what George was saying. Instead of trying to work with folks to calmly educate them and lead them down the path to understanding how global warming works, they screamed, shouted, and revolted, nearly foaming at the mouth. It's almost like a "dictatorship of the nerds." It's was almost embarrassing to watch them struggle to reclaim the high ground.

This is important because while public opinion puts global warming at the bottom of the top ten national priorities, Americans are fairly divided about being for or against the concept of global warming, very similar to the recent Presidential election results. President Obama intends to float initiatives for low-carbon vehicle standards and a cap & trade program for large industries, ones that have to be voted up or down in Congress. That's why this fight is so important.

Perhaps things just aren't going very well for the greens these days. The economy dominates the media and a recession had put off some construction plans for clean power. Obama's plans for investing in mass transit and "green jobs" were drastically scaled back - which was as if it was a slap in the face. And George F. Will won the debate on his own grounds because he took the high road and acted calm.

I guess I'll leave you with my perspective. If you reduce energy consumption that will save you BIG BUCKS. If one can harness solar, wind, and water power and make that competitive, that will also save money, especially if fossil fuel costs race skyward again. The US could save about 30 percent of its power costs simply by improving efficiency and that saves a ton of money. Oh and by the way, when you do that, CO2 emissions will also go down about 30 percent, not a bad side effect. I think that's the right direction to go.