Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Moving to WordPress

I'm moving this blog to WordPress. The new link is No particular reason other than because I can.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Extreme Events

Roger Pielke Jr has a great posting which comments on the testimony of Michael Oppenheimer from Princeton University and coordinating lead author of the IPCC special report titled Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, to the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming of the US House of Representatives. He takes issue with Oppenheimer's assertion that "assignment of cause for the damaging outcomes of such extremes" is a relatively new field.

Pielke says:
In suggesting that this is a "new" field he notably avoids discussing a large body of literature such as on tropical cyclones (in the US, Australia, China, India, Latin America, etc.), floods, European storms, Australian bushfires, etc. where peer reviewed work has explained damage trends solely in terms of increasing societal vulnerability. Why is it so hard for IPCC authors to acknowledge any of this literature?

I like that. Good question.

I'm going to dig out my text books to find out when this field of extreme events became "mature", but in the 1970's we learned all about environmental "extreme" events like flooding in my undergraduate and graduate courses in Hydrology. We learned that the probability distribution of many extreme events could be reliably be modelled using the Gumbell Distribution. For homework, we gathered data on "extreme" floods, wave heights, etc. and plotted those events on Gumbell Distribution probability paper (we didn't have Excel in those days). The data usually lined up in a straight line which enabled us to extrapolate to longer periods of time than for which we had data. For example, we could take fifty years of real data on maximum river levels and use that data to extrapolate to the 100, 500, or even 1000 year flood. That would then provide a basis up which to design flood control structures. I learned at my first corporate job that Gumbell distribution also worked well with maximum ocean wave heights.

All that before the IPCC existed to tell us what we don't know.

How to Give a Version of the Truth

This is a posting I've been thinking I should write for quite some time. I'm prompted as I again saw this graph of CO2 in parts per million, as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii since the 1950's, used this week at the Royal Society of Edinburgh by the Lord Kreps.

The first graph is as published by NASA where they show vertical scale from about 315 to 400 parts per million. The second graph, based on "cherry-picking" the annual numbers, is on a scale from zero to 400 parts per million.

When one is told before seeing this graph that we have a problem with carbon and then we see the first graph, the concern is pretty much "proven" without discussion. If one were shown he second graph would not be more difficult to support the "problem" assertion? Neither graph shows the "ideal" number of carbon molecules we should have in parts per million, probably because nobody knows.

All this reminds me of that great book "How to Lie with Statistics".

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Facing Up To Climate Change

This evening I attended the Royal Society of Edinburgh's lecture on "Facing Up to Climate Change" presented by The Lord Krebs Kt, FRS, FMedSci, Principal, Jesus College, University of Oxford. He's also a member of the House of Lord's Committee on Climate Change.

His message was clear

: the climate is changing--the proof is clear: rise of sea level, flooding, ocean acidity, etc. It's going to get hot, and hot is bad (extreme weather, uninhabitable regions of the world, etc.) And all this is caused by mankind.
: the science proving this "fact" is settled and beyond reproach, discussion, and "denial". (He said CRU was "exonerated", and he frequently used the word "denier" for those who do not agree with this assessment.)
: the key to solving this "problem" is to change mankind's behaviour to stop the climate changing.
: government's role is to ensure people to change their behaviour--probably via non coercive methods, e.g. psychological, because to do otherwise is politically impossible.
: buying "stuff" (consuming) does not lead to happiness and if mankind stops "unethical consumption", the horror of climate change will be prevented.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Electricity Collected from the Air Could Become the Newest Alternative Energy Source

It's headlines like this from what I thought were reputable science web sites that really p..s me off. As if this is ready for big investment now to fix our energy crisis. Oops. I can see it now. People will be pushing for the government to fund generation plants using this technology soon.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Great Tool For Writing

Dana Severance has written a good review of the of the great writing product "Scrivener". I'm doing more than a little writing at the moment on two projects: one is being done in Word and the other in Scrivener. Scrivener wins as a writers tool. Word 2011 comes out soon so we'll see how that compares with Scrivener 2.0 which comes out about the same time. There is no way that I can or will stop using Word as I have built up some valuable experience over the years, but Scrivener is so darn useful. Recommended.

Monday, August 16, 2010

We are so good about finding fault with those who have problems

This in the August 15th New York times talk about the risks associated with solar storms:

DESPITE warnings that New Orleans was unprepared for a severe hit by a hurricane, America was blindsided by Hurricane Katrina, a once-in-a-lifetime storm that made landfall five years ago this month. We are similarly unready for another potential natural disaster: solar storms, bursts of gas on the sun’s surface that release tremendous energy pulses.

Something in me tells me the world will not prepare/invest for this and when it happens we'll spend all our energy left on blame and court suits.

This is a risk that just feels like we should attempt to "manage" it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

This is terrific

The Chief Scientist, Professor David MacKay, of the UK's Department of Energy and Climate change has released the "DECC 2050 Calculator."
This tool is an interface to the first version of a calculator to help policymakers, the energy industry and the public understand these choices. This work is not about choosing a pathway out to 2050 today — such a task would not be feasible given the major unknowns and timeframe involved. However, this work enables us to better manage some significant long-term uncertainties and helps us to avoid making long-term decisions that are incompatible with meeting our 2050 emissions target.
The tool is easy to access and easy to use. Within the assumptions and logic of the model, you can draw your own conclusions about the energy policies the UK should take.

They have released the source code for the tool. I'm going to take a look and see how they handled the probabilistic aspects of the modelling.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What Engineering is Really About

There are so many reasons to remember what engineering is all about. It's not about fixing dishwashers, refrigerators, or computers. Engineering is an art. Engineering is a profession. More people need to learn how to think like an Engineer.

This NY Times article is recommended reading.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

And Why Can't Computers Work Better

In June I was asked via email to renew my membership in PMI (Project Management Institute). I renewed within a day of the that email. I've been happy with the benefits of being a member of PMI.

Since then, they must have sent me at least a dozen reminders ... email and postal mail, to remind me that my membership is soon to expire and that I should renew immediately. Sigh. I have.

I wish they had programmed their computers to work better than this. I wonder if they used PMBOK for their project to implement the renewable process.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Let's get Steve to England

I contributed to Steve McIntyre's trip to England to participate in the Guardian's Pearce Inqury. He would be pleased if you did same.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

iOS4 intall took about 90 Minutes...

I don't know why it took so long and I don't know if this normal or not. The install process took about 90 minutes or so. Maybe my sync wire is going bad and the whole time was spent on data communication errors or something. I don't know. Read a book while watching it go, so it was not a complete waste of time.

But boy is this a good upgrade for the iPhone:
  • Camera now has an electronic zoom. In the spirit of "the best camera is the one you have with you", this is a great feature which makes the camera more useful.
  • Folders for grouping start up icons. Good for usability
  • Mail has some upgrades which allows you to read all mail in all accounts from one view. I need to monitor a number of accounts and this is useful. At first glance, though, it's not clear how to tell which account the mail actually resides in. This would be needed to help me understand who I am when I reply.

Monday, June 21, 2010

iOS 4 ... trying to Install it. Seems a slow process.

My iTunes invited me to download and and install the new operating system to my iPhone, iOS 4. I said "yes, do it" and the computer and the iPhone are working on it as I write this.

It was a pretty big download taking about 10 minutes on the wireless connection to the house's broadband.

Now iTunes reports it's backup the iPhone. It appears to be much slower than a normal backup of the iPhone. In about 20 minutes of backup, it's progressed to what the progress bar suggests is about 5% or so. I suspect it might take all night. I'm glad it's the end of the day and I can just let the two gadgets work on it overnight.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Weather Great. Reading about Climate Change

The weather has been great this weekend and outside of a bike ride and a walk along the sea front I've enjoyed the time reading a couple of books which I recommend to anyone interested in the debate about climate change and energy for our planet:

"Climatism", by Steve Goreham

Both books are superbly written. For where I feel I am informed and understand the current issues and state of play both books are in line with my thinking. This gives them great credibility as they explain so much that is still new or still not understood. They talk of both the science and politics of the issues.


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Finally, Some Reasonable Comments about PowerPoint

I was meaning to write something here about all the articles about PowerPoint--the most prominent being the recent New York Times article about what the Army leadership was saying.

See this article in Slate about how to really communicate. From the masters.

I have an important presentation to make in Kazakhstan soon ... food for thought here.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

It's Complicated

An outstanding article in today's New York Times on complexity. They sum up:
Of course, nobody at Goldman Sachs or any other large financial institution meant to wreck the economy. The United States military didn’t invade Iraq or Afghanistan thinking that one day its efforts would be mounted on a bewildering PowerPoint slide. The engineers who designed the BP oil platform that exploded and sank and produced one of the largest oil spills in history built it with multiple back-up systems.

But complexity has a way of defeating good intentions. As we clean up these messes, there is no point in hoping for a new age of simplicity. The best we can do is hope the solutions are just complicated enough to work.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

NASA Movie on Hubble

What a great video from NASA about the History of Hubble--fantistic summary of a fantastics and earth-changing machine.

Nice Photos on CNN Web Site about Scotland

Some beautiful pictures of a beautify country.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

We Probably Need to Get Used to this Volcano

From today's Telegraph newspaper, word is that this personal and economic disruption could last some time:
The significance is that andesite has a markedly higher gas content than basalt. This may mean that even after all the ice in the crater has melted, the exploding volcano will continue to throw ash into the air rather than simply produce lava flows.

Blame and the Volcano Dust

It is refreshing, that so far, despite the world-wide personal and economic disruption, I'm reading and hearing nothing about calls for blaming anyone for this issue. Blame has not entered the conversation. Nor should it ever.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Plans Change due to Volcano

I happened to be in London for a terrific 2-day conference. The first day exceeded my expectations and I was looking forward to the second. I woke up early this morning to hear the news reports about the volcano in Iceland which erupted over night and its ash cloud caused all airports in Scotland to be shutdown, with the rest of the country expected to shutdown very soon. Within minutes after hearing of that, I received a text message from my airline advising that my flight tonight was cancelled.

I pondered that and decided that this situation would lead to transportation chaos throughout the country. I decided to skip the second day of the conference and head to take the first train home. I end up getting on a train which departed London at 9:00 a.m. and it's fully loaded.

The rest of the day will be difficult for those stuck away from home and having expected to travel. I can't help thinking that this could last a while.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Not in My Backyard

By accident I came across notice of a plan to install a single wind turbine "in my back yard".

The link to the Edinburgh City Planning Department for this application is here. I can't tell from documents here (yet) who is behind this other than it appears to be by the owners of and on the site of the "secret" nuclear bunker which was situated on Corstorphine Hill. The view from my back yard would be as shown below.

I am going to look into this. Not in my back yard.

P.S. On 13 April have written a letter to the Edinburgh City Planning Department stating our objections on the grounds of blight, noise and visual pollution, safety risks, destroying rare urban natural beauty, lack of adequate planning notification, and "debatable and probably wrong" assertions in the applicants planning documents.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Recordings of "Handling Uncertainty in Science"

Recordings of the March 22-23, 2010 Royal Society (UK) meeting on "Handling Uncertainty in Science" are now available for listening and downloading. See

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Ross McKitrick writes on failing to get a paper published that required the "revered" peer-review process.
"This is the story of how I spent 2 years trying to publish a paper that refutes an important claim in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The claim in question is not just wrong, but based on fabricated evidence. Showing that the claim is fabricated is easy: it suffices merely to quote the section of the report, since no supporting evidence is given. But unsupported guesses may turn out to be true. Showing the IPCC claim is also false took some mundane statistical work, but the results were clear. Once the numbers were crunched and the paper was written up, I began sending it to science journals. That is when the runaround began. Having published several against-the-flow papers in climatology journals I did not expect a smooth ride, but the process eventually became surreal."
Heard about this on Bishop Hill's blog.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Extracting Data from SharePoint

When I work with people about using SharePoint "as a management weapon" a frequently asked question is about how to get information out of SharePoint, in particular how to print. When using Sharepoint as a "management weapon" this is a natural need since getting the data into a form for presentation or further munging into insightful representations for other mangers and executives.

Doing this is often a lot easier (and less expensive) than people expect and anticipate. Since many perceive SharePoint as an "application", they sometimes expect SharePoint to provide some sort of bespoke functionality for printing and extract. Or they engage the services of SharePoint application developers (at great initial cost plus follow-on support costs) to do bespoke things.

One of the great things about SharePoint is that is is fairly "restrained" about doing bespoke and special things like this. It's inherent value is that it basically does this in conventional, standard, and recognisable ways.

The purpose of this short article is to outline a few approaches. I do not try here to give a step by step explanation--that can be obtained elsewhere if needed. See the reference list below for some books that are already written and can provide extensive instructions. I see no need to replicate all that at great expense and labour. However, some pointers are often useful. These are listed here in order of simplicity (High to Low) and sophistication and power (Low to High).

Print Using the Browser's Capability

SharePoint is a web-based application. You use a web browser, probably and most usefully Microsoft Internet Explorer, to display the information returned from the SharePoint server. Accordingly, the first option is to simply print the page using the browser. This is quick, fast, and easy. Sometimes people are repelled from making such print-outs for managers and executives--but most managers and executives surely will appreciate how inexpensive in time such a technique is.
  • Setup the view you wish to display. You can use a view provided by your server, or you can construct your own. Remember that a SharePoint View defines what fields are displayed, in what order, how the rows are grouped, and applies any filtering.
  • Once you get the information on the screen as you want, in the browser use Menu: File/Page Setup ... to define the paper size and orientation. Often it is most useful to use landscape orientation.
  • Current versions of IE have an option to "Enable Shrink-to-Fit" to get all the information displayed on the screen onto the paper.
  • Sometimes you get pleasing results if you print to A3 paper (real or virtual as a PDF) adn then shrink the page down to A4 for presentation
  • Sometimes you can simply do a partial screen shot of the portion of the screen you wish to show and paste that into your PowerPoint. Hint: avoid the temptation to show the entire screen shote page in PowerPoint. Take only portions of the page. To do this, use the standard Windows techniques of Alt-PrtScn or specialty software like SnagIt! or others.

Copy Data into the Document, Excel, or Other

Sometimes SharePoint's simple standard views (or views you make yourself) are not good enough. After all, one of the grand features of SharePoint is that it only does so much and does it well. So, don't fight SharePoint--use it.
  • Display the View that shows the information you want.
  • Press the Actions button to display the View in a Datasheet (this won't work with antique version of IE and Excel, nor will work with browsers other than IE).
  • If you don't have all the fields you want, then you have to get them on the SharePoint View. If you have too many fields, simply "hide" them. To hide columns (and do other things with columns), as in Excel, right mouse click on the column header and tell SharePoint to "hide" the column.
  • In the header rows, take note of the little black downward-pointing arrows. Click on that with your mouse pointer and notice that you can sort and filter the rows. Again, this is just like in Excel.
  • Once you have the information you want displayed, then select all (or some) of the rows and columns. The easiest way to select all is to click the far left column in the header row (again, just like in Excel). Then copy this data into the Windows Clipboard (Menu: Edit/Copy, or press CTRL-C).
  • Move to where you want to put the data--which could be Excel, Word, PowerPoint, or even email. Click the cursor into the location where the data should go and Paste (via the application's menu or CTRL-V). Depending on how the target application can respond to pasting structured information, the information will go in.
  • From within the target application, do what you want with the information. With something like Excel or Access, you can do further analysis (summing, statistics, etc.), or in PowerPoint just format to make it as "pretty" as you want.

Get Scalable and Automated Data Reporting

SharePoint does not do "report writing". Some people expect it. I think that one of the grand features of SharePoint is that it does not have built-in reporting writing because most people have (and have had for many years) that capability on their desktop computers in the form of other Microsoft tools: Word, Excel, and Access. There are scores of other commonly-available tools and applications available to do this--some free or low-cost and others not so low-cost.

To do this requires, of course, knowledge and perhaps experience of how these tools work. Surprisingly there are many people who really do not know how to use Word, Excel, and Access in ways other than they have become accustomed to over the years. However, these tools are provided at great expense by the same management and executives who are seeking information/reporting so I see few reasons why not to use these tools.
  • Under the "Actions" button in Spreadsheet, execute the "Export to Spreadsheet" button. Follow the instructions presented by SharePoint and Excel. In Excel, it is probably best to "unlink" the spreadsheet to SharePoint--else changes you make in Excel will ripple back to SharePoint. Do this vial Menu: Data/List/Unlink List.
  • Or, under the "Actions" button, executive the "Open with Access" button. Follow the instructions presented by SharePoint and Excel.
More guidance about how Excel and Access work with SharePoint work together is found in the documentation for these products (Help, books, etc.). This guidance is teachable and learnable. Seek out training and/or coaching if you wish to pursue this important topic.

Really Cool and Powerful SharePoint Functionality

Once you do that described above, take a look at the following:
  • Display the list in a Datasheet (under the Actions button)
  • When in Datasheet view, see the Actions button again to see a new option to "open the task pane". When you do this it will appear at the right.
  • From the SharePoint Task Pane, you can find powerful (and easy to use) features to use Excel (querying, printing, charting, and pivot-table reports) and reporting via Access.

Excel or Access

I close this article to briefly comment on the always-debated question of is it better to use Excel or Access for this sort of thing.

SharePoint, after all, is really a database. Access is a tool for handling databases. Excel is a tool for number-crunching. Yes there are many overlaps and cross functionality (hence causing the debates).

My bottom line is that Access should be the target tool for report writing, analysis, querying, etc. I accept that many people have not yet had the opportunity to learn anything about Access. It is easier to deal with data in Access than with Excel because with Access, if built with that goal in mind, has all the fit-for-purpose tools and capability. Excel is a very complex tool--despite the fact that it is in ubiquitous use.

Using Access properly (which can be taught and learned), you can create automated and repeatable reporting and analysis of data held in SharePoint. The outputs can be as sophisticated algorithmically and artistically as you have ability and budget to create. When you automate this capability it will be (if done properly) supportable, maintainable, and scalable. These last features are where companies make their money by keeping capability high and cost low.

Managers and Executives like that.

For More Reading and Learning

Here are a few:

The SharePoint Shepherd's Guide for End Users. Shows you want you can do with SharePoint and exactly how to do it in step-by-step approach. Great book for those who need to be told exactly how to do it.

Seamless Teamwork. This book is for leaders, managers, and executives who have been told by their IT department to "Here is SharePoint. Use it. It's Great." However, the IT department (rarely) explains how to use SharePoint as a business tool to help the business. This books provides that guidance. The book outlines a way of making the best of SharePoint for individuals, teams, and the organisation.

SharePoint for Project Management. Most companies do not understand SharePoint and use it simply to share documents and spreadsheets. This hands-on book demonstrates how SharePoint can also help you organise and manage complex projects. It's the book I wish I had written. It completely matches my experience and understanding of the possibilities.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Learning with Real Data

Pajamas Media has posted a short article looking at real data about accidents reported to the US National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) that involved Toyotas. Links to data compiled by the Los Angeles time and the Atlantic magazine are provided.

Looking at the real data, instead of statistics about the data, let's us perhaps draw a completely different conclusion that that reached by the media a few weeks ago (my emphasis)
But given the enormous number of claims made to the NHTSA, the media’s propensity to swarm and exaggerate, and the nature of these 41 accidents — many more plausibly attributable to driver error than to mechanical failure — it is likely that Toyota is receiving a bum deal.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Another Busted Project in Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Tram Project is apparently going to be significantly late, reported in yesterday's Scotsman newspaper. It was originally to be complete in Feb 2011, but now appears they really think (but have not told Edinburgh residents who have to put up with the chaos of construction) that it won't be done until late 2013 or even 2014.

I'm still not sure who approved this and who is managing it. I wonder if they have a good cost/schedule model to help in their forecasts?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

UK Advertising Board Decides It is Not Legal to Scare Kids with Myths

The UK government published advertisements which used nursery rhymes as the backdrop to scare children into believing the worst of the climate change impacts that that same government forecasts and predicts. The ads were awful. Advertising Standards Authority has banned these ads because they exaggerate the harm.

Now if the could just get those scary television adverts off the air.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Ah, is that how imaginary numbers work!

Steven Strogatz, a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell, has a terrific column in the New York Times (linked above) which explains imaginary numbers, square roots of negative numbers, with some touching on fractals. All things that I had to struggle through in various stages of my education and career. I find it amazing that the NY Times would publish such a thing. Well done.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Follow the Money?

Interestingly, this was the question I asked last spring at a presentation by the Carbon Trust on Carbon Trading. The speaker could not answer the question. Here the question is answered.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Green Police

Hilarious. Companies pull out all the stops for television advertisements for the Super Bowl. This is terrific.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Where's the Risk in "The 10 Ways Hackers Will Bring Wall Street to Its Knees"

Interesting and insightful slide show on Business Insider (linked above). They discuss how hackers can impact the financial system.
Those are just some of the ways someone could disrupt financial markets and undermine consumer confidence, separate from more traditional hacking attacks on personal information, like credit card numbers.
Interestingly, they talk of these threats as if they are risks. They just present them as threats--things that are "out there" and surely not something anything can do much about. They don't define a the risk which would something like

"Because of [Threat], [something] might happen, leading to [Impact]". There are suggestions about impact, but not much about what could happen other than broad generalities. There is little about how current controls mitigate these risks. Not much here to help figure out what needs to happen and what are problems, and what are not.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Yorker on the Financial Crisis

Insightful short piece by James Surowieki commenting on discussions at the US Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. Bottom line:
"In a way, the moral-hazard argument ascribes far too much foresight, intelligence, and rationality to the banks. It assumes they were coldly calculating the chances and consequences of failure and forging ahead nonetheless, when the reality seems to be that for the most part they were blissfully ignorant and arrogant about the flaws in their lending and investment strategies. The crisis, in that sense, was caused less by the fact that the banks were too big to fail than it was by the fact that they never seriously considered the possibility that they might fail."
Feels right to me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Oil Crunch and its Intersection with the Climate and Financial Crises

I've just announced to the members of The Scottish Oil Club our event for Feb 25 where Jeremy Leggett is our guest speaker.
"Growing numbers in industry believe the global oil industry has probably got its collective asset assessment systemically and ruinously wrong, in the manner we now know the banking industry had in the run up to the financial crisis. Leggett examines these fears, the chances of proactive mobilisation to soften the peak-oil landing, prospects for retroactive mobilisation, and what the oil crunch means in the context of the ongoing climate and financial crises."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thought Provoking Photo

Here is an interesting photograph which shows the downstream effect of windfarm on the atmosphere. Saw this from Sustainable Energy blog. What immediately comes to mind are the following:
  • What is the climate cooling affect of these artificially created white clouds (because more sun energy presumably will be reflected back into space). Is this modelled by the climate change models?
  • Extrapolating to the limit for when the planet is carpeted with these devices, what will be the actual efficiency we are left with?

(Linked from

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Found in the Economist's "The World in 2010" magazine:
It’s all very well to recycle, pester your parents about fuel efficiency and aspire to holidays that need no flights. But the best thing a bright young person can do to help rid civilisation of fossil fuels is get an education in engineering.
(Emphasis by me).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

You Could be Sued if You Remove Snow from Your Sidewalk

We've had a lot of snow in the UK recently. Well, a lot of snow compared to recent memory in the UK. Normally we get no snow in a winter season.

The problem is made worse because many streets and sidewalks (pavements) are not shovelled clear of snow. This makes the the snow turn to ice and chaos prevails. Yes, I know that the TV and newspapers are full of stories about how the government has failed yet again due to shortages of "grit and salt". But, I've often wondered why we don't just remove the snow instead of relying on "grit an salt".

Now I know. Apparently, if you remove snow and someone then falls on the cleared patch of sidewalk (pavement), you could be sued. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Modelling of Lake Erie Water Levels (1870-1970)

During my university days in Civil Engineering, I was interested in hydrology and modelling. I guess this explains my current interest in the debate and science of climate change. I dug out a paper I wrote in 1973 to analyse the the "extraordinary" high-water levels of Lake Erie. My home was near Lake Erie and it was abundantly clear, because of the severe flooding along the lakeshore, that the "environment" around the late was changing. We did not blame anthropogenic global warming (AGW), of course, but as I was required to a project for my Hydrology course (CE 499P) I decided to attempt to model the historical record with the idea being it would be a basis for predictions about the future.

I'm not sure that the idea was sound; but what in retrospect seems to be sound upon re-reading the paper 37 years later:
  • We gathered actual environmental data and reviewed the data for relevance
  • We published the raw data
  • We modeled the time series using current technology (auto correlation, frequency analysis, statistics, etc.)
  • It is clear that the environment changes. That's what Nature does.
  • We worked very hard to validate the model parameters by confirming that we could model "history". Our view was that unless the model "predicted" historical data, then we had no basis to accept that the model was valid.
We confirmed that we could build a model which accurately "predicts" historical data. I'm not sure now, with the passage of time, that I would feel comfortable using this model for future prediction, however. If I get time and energy I may attack the data with tools now available, e.g. Monte Carlo simulation, more hydrologic/climatic science in the model, etc.

However, I offer the original paper to anyone (especially climate change modellers) who wishes to learn from the approach or use the data.

Yemen's Economy

Yemen is in the news again. Slate's running a short article "Why is Yemen So Poor?".

Bottom line: corruption, no significant agriculture, declining oil revenues (forecast to end in 10 years) being spent on unproductive and destructive activities.

Apple Magic Mouse

I won't normally write here about computer hardware as it's not something I am normally particularly interested in. However, I will make an exception to take note of how terrific the new Apple "Magic Mouse" is. It's wireless and touch sensitive. It's the the best innovation in computer mouse ergometrics since the mouse was invented.

CIA Classified Photos of Environmental Change

The NY Times reports today that the CIA is making available to selected scientists information from spy satellites and other classified sensors.
"... the monitoring effort offered an opportunity to gather environmental data that would otherwise be impossible to obtain, and to do so with the kind of regularity that can reveal the dynamics of environmental change."
Wow. This could prove valuable, especially for measurements of change of Arctic ice.

Monday, January 04, 2010

De Vere Cameron House gouges customers

Every year my wife and two sons take time out just after New Year to treat ourselves at the close of the holiday season, and to celebrate our wedding anniversary. This year we went to the De Vere Cameron House Hotel in Scotland. It's a beautiful hotel on the shores of Loch Lomand and with this year's snow on the ground and surrounding mountains it's gorgeous.

However the Hotel is over-priced and they gouge customers. Beware.

Our rate included Dinner, Bed, and Breakfast. The inclusive dinner rate was that it included £35 for each person and anything above that was for our own account. The dinner items were not priced. Many (most?) of the entrees for dinner for "extra" (between £4 and £20) and desert cost an additional £6.95 each. With a bottle of Sancerre (expensive at £35/bottle, but it was our anniversary) and all the "extras", we ended up spending more than £120 extra for dinner for four. There was also an obligatory 10% Service Charge added on to the dinner--yet the service was extremely slow. They didn't even set the table properly (we had a pepper shaker, but had to ask for salt). More than once we had to ask them to "can we please order?", "can we please move on to the next course?", etc. The people serving the food even had to ask us who ordered what! Why didn't they just know who ordered what!

To top it all off -- at checkout when I presented my MasterCard for payment, they informed that there was a £2.50 surcharge for credit cards. Gosh. That really annoyed me. I reluctantly agreed that they use the credit card as I did not have sufficient cash nor did my debit card account have enough money to cover the bill). I also asked to speak to the manger.

The manager informed me that it was a recent corporate policy by De Vere to charge for credit cards. This policy was recently put in place because "the banks charge us [De Vere] for credit card transactions." I pointed out that the hotel didn't charge me a line item for electricity, property tax, salaries, heating, etc. and I was more than disappointed that the hotel has audacity to feel it is appropriate to pass on costs like this.

They told me they were going to refund the the £2.50 fee. I told them I would write about this experience on my blog. So here it is.

Scratch De Vere hotels from my future business travel plans.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Y2K Bug a Decade Late?

It's taken a decade, but I finally experienced the affect of a bug related to date changes on a computer. I recall with fond memories working in a global coordination role on the so-called Y2K bug which after a few months of work in 1998 we concluded it was pretty much a non-isssue. This forecast was proved right that without doing much nothing really happened in our world-wide corporation that was highly dependant on automated control and information systems.

Well, today my home-based spam detection system failed. Starting yesterday (unknown to me) SpamAssassin, running on our home server, started tagging all incoming mail as "spam". Apparently there is a test in SpamAssassin to check for dates "grossly in the future" and the year 2010 is one of those dates.

As most things are, information on this bug is now available on the internet. My family now happy since the were missing a lot of "happy new year" emails!