L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

07 October 2008 Blog Home : All October 2008 Posts : Permalink

Slow Train to Arcturus

In these times of uncertainty a bit of escapism seems in order and so the sensible person turns off the idiot box, stops reading all those blog posts about %politician% or %black hole formerly blieved to be a solid bank% etc. and instead goes looking for some fiction. This month the sensible person should turn to Baen (actually they should do that every month) and in particular to a book by Dave Freer and Eric Flint - Slow Train to Arcturus.

Slow Train is good hard SF, low in unobtanium and handwavium but high in (romantic) comedy and otherwise perfect for a healthy reading diet. It is also low in cliches and contains original scientific thoughts, sympathetic characters and ends in a suitable fashion for sequels to be possible but not required. All in all it's good stuff that works on multiple levels from your basic escapism comfort reading to thought-provoking ideas about space colonization.

OK so enough with the generalities, what's it about? and how can you build a railway that's light years long?

The answer is simple. In some future time, after mankind has figured out how to do the living in space thing and maybe the colonize Mars thing, they have a problem. The problem is that there are lots of square, triangular and other shaped pegs that don't fit in the nice round holes that are provided for them by a caring government. They also have another problem which is that they want to find out about other star systems but realize that since FTL isn't happening the only way to get there is slowly and they have a third problem, which is that they want to build some massive 'gauss-rings' to move stuff around the solar system.

Put all this together and you have funding for a project which caapults a series of large space habitats on an interstellar voyage fo discovery with each habitat populated by a separate group of misfits. The misfits aren't for the most part trusted with the knowledge about how to run the system, they are just passengers and as the train nears each star one habitat is dropped off to live there on its own with the tools etc. to build additional space habitats out of any suitable asteroids that may happen to be lying around. Meanwhile the main computer in the front habitat sends back observations to the solar system on the activities of the passengers and of the systems they are passing through. That's the background. Now add an alien race that detects this thing coming towards them and a bunch of habitats where the original purposae has been forgotten after a few centuries of travel and you've got plenty of options for plots.

There are two bits of handwavium that I note here (and I may have misunderstood the science so perhaps they don't actually require handwavium). The first is that the slow train never seems to change direction. It seems to me that no matter what initial vector is chosen a craft will hit star systems very infrequently unless it chnages course a bit to go from one star system to the next. The second is that I find it hard to believe that a system could be built that would actually last for centuries while travelling at a significant fraction of the speed of light. However in order for our protagonists to have a story we need the train to travel from system to system and to remain in working order so we'll ignore these points,

Beyond these two points the hard SF in the book is good, indeed aside from these niggles, this novel meets most of Charlie Stross's requirements for realistic space colonization. The other problem with all space colonization books is that they have to skip over the first 100 km problem - that is to say how we get the human race out of the terrestrial gravity well - and this book does the same as many others and puts that challenge safely in the past from the point of view of the book. However to counter that problem we see a number of rules about how to build interstellar colonization trips in the absence of FTL.
  1. Don't slow down - acceleration implies force implies energy expenditure, so don't do it unless you have to
  2. When you do use solar sails and gravity wells
  3. Build your habitat like a ball of (hollow) string so that you get maximum surface area in a volume.
Item 3 above is I think brand spanking new and deserves to be known as the Free/Flint law of space habitat design.

Beyond the science we have, as noted above, some interestingly different aliens one of whom becomes the primary point of view character. His observation of the various mixed nuts of humanity as he seeks his McGuffin allow us to see humans from the outside in a very sympathetic fashion. It also allows us the reader to be infodumped in a perfectly reasonable way since an alien visitor is going to have to figure things out too.

As for the plot, it starts as all good stories do in media res with the aliens approaching the "train" and manages to avoid tedious flashbacks while still filling us in on critical details about the alien physiology, the slowtrain design and so on. The plot starts fast and for the most part continues fast and furious. I'd have to go back and count but I think elapsed time for all save the Epologue is no more than a week or two. In that time the hero gets to see six habitats from low tech primitive to very high tech. I have no intention of leaving spoilers so I'm not going to explain why our hero goes on his quest. However I'll note that while this is in many ways a classic McGuffin plot the folks involved in the quest don't see it that way because they're too involved in trying to survive (and get laid), which is exactly as it should be.

All in all the verdict is go forth and purchase, You won't regret it.

10 October 2008 Blog Home : All October 2008 Posts : Permalink

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

Something different this week. An olive tree and a Borie. Bories are the ancient drystone structures that peasants in Provence lived in until they decided that windows, chimneys and the like were good ideas20081010 - Friday Olive Tree Blogging always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit of the olive tree blogging archives for further reminders of how nice olive trees are. As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit of the olive tree blogging archives for further reminders of how nice olive trees are.

13 October 2008 Blog Home : All October 2008 Posts : Permalink

Deferred Criminality

The Criminal Choice
You could perhaps call the bying of DRMed stuff the "deferred ciminality" option. At some point you will end up in conflict with the DRM. At that point you can either decide to just lose the stuff of you're going to be forced to pirate it one way or another.

It should be noted that DRM seems to be the one thing where the sellers don't maintain much backward compatibility.

14 October 2008 Blog Home : All October 2008 Posts : Permalink

Welcome to the Federation Of Light

Allegedly the aliens from the "Federation of Light" will be showing up in the skies today:

Australian 'channeler' Blossom Goodchild says a huge intergalactic spaceship from the alien Federation Of Light will appear on Tuesday, 14 October.


UFO websites are buzzing with predictions that the vessel from the alien Federation Of Light will be visible in our skies for three days.

And I'd like to this opportunity to weasel get into their good graces by saying that I, for one, would welcome their overlordship. Perhaps they'll zap all the politicians and merchent wbankers who have caused the current global credit crisis (and hopefully they do that without zapping the rest of us).

Well I can dream can't I.

15 October 2008 Blog Home : All October 2008 Posts : Permalink

The Financial Crisis Explained

Firstly some basic accounting explained:
On the left there is nothing right, and on the right the is nothing left
Secondly a slideshow (with rude words). I took this from a power point presentation someone sent me. I seriously doubt that person was the originator and there is no mention who was in the .ppt. If the author contacts me I'll be happy to provide attribution.

Thirdly (and slightly more seriously) there is this slideshow which looks at the Financial crisis, its origins and its likely effects on startups and the Venture Capital market.
Sequoia Capital on startups and the economic downturn
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: depression recession)

20 October 2008 Blog Home : All October 2008 Posts : Permalink

What is Nigerian for Chutzpah?

I'm sure my readers are only too well aware of the Nigerian 419 email scams where you are offered the chance to gain zillions if you'll just help this poor widow/orphan/accountant stash some of her husband's/father's/client's loot since the poor man has recently died.

Most of these emails to me go directly into the great bit-bucket in the sky without my reading even the subject line, but I do on occasion check my spam folder to see if something has been misclassified as spam and needs rescuing. Hence now and again I click on an email just to see what exactly the sender is trying to sell/how he is trying to scam me. This one, I thought, was a very ironic email.


Our Ref.EBN/UN/FRN/O6654


Two Hundred Thousand Great British Pounds Sterling (₤200,000,00) Beneficiary.
REF/PAYMENTS CODE:06654:(₤200,000,00)

This is to bring to your notice that I am
 delegated from the United Nations to
Eco bank Nigeria to pay 100 Nigerian 419 scam victims the sum of Two Hundred
Thousand Great British Pounds Sterling (₤200,000,00) each, you are listed and
approved for this payments as one of the scammed victims,get back to us as
soon as possible for the immediate payment of your Two Hundred Thousand Great
British Pounds Sterling(₤200,000,00) compensations funds.

On this faithful recommendations,I want you to know that during the last UN
meeting held at Abuja,Nigeria with the president, MR. PRESIDENT, ALHAJI UMARU
the rest of the world in the meeting on the lose of funds by various
foreigners to the scams artists operating in syndicates all over the world
today,in other to retain the good image of the country,the New president of
the country is now compensating 100 victims of this operators Two
Thousand Great British Pounds Sterling (₤200,000,00) each,Due to the corrupt
and  inefficient banking systems in Nigeria,the payments are to be paid by Eco
bank Nigeria as corresponding paying bank under funding assistance by the
World Bank and National Westminster bank London/Bank of Scotland.

According to the number of applicants at hand,23 beneficiaries has been paid
,half of the victims are from the United States,we still have more left to be
paid the compensations of Two Hundred Thousand Great British Pounds Sterling

Your particulars was mentioned by one of the syndicates who was arrested in
Lagos Nigeria as one of their victims of the operations,you are hereby warned
not to communicate or duplicate this message to him for any reason what so
ever,the US secret service is already on trace of the criminal.

You can receive your compensations payments via any of the both
 options you


I shall feed you with further modalities as soon as I hear from you.

Send a copy of your response to our official email at:
[email protected]


Mr.Ban Ki-moon.

His Excellency,
Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'adua (GCFR)
President Of The Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Yours faithfully,
Mr.Alabi Samson Adebowale
Director,Eco Bank Compensation
Payment Unit.

Oddly enough I do not think I shall try and avail myself of this generous compensation offer.

21 October 2008 Blog Home : All October 2008 Posts : Permalink

Richard Warman is a Delicate Sensitive Flower

So are Dean Steacy and Sandy Kozak. All three of these poor defenceless creatures are (or were) "employed" by the Canadian Human Rights Commission as investigators. Now you might think that an investigator of human rights would be some sort of principled campaigner for justice who would put other people's human rights before the dangers of seeing their own reputations sullied. Similar perhaps to the kind of thick-skinned hard-boiled detectives we see on TV who work tirelessly to bring the guilty to justice no matter the effect on their own career or family life. But if you did think that you'd apparently be wrong.

Little Dickie Defenseperoffspring* and his fellow instigators vestigators of human rights violations are believed by their colleague (and boss?) Ms Natalie Dagenais to be quite sensitive to being thought of as anything other than veritable paragons of virtue. Thus in her passing on of evidence to the noble and wise commisioners, she decided to censor certain sections of one of the documents in question lest the commissioners be forced to read a number of smears on their no doubt otherwise pristine reputations. The BNattie one excuses this because the "personal information [...] is not relevant to this complaint".

Of course perhaps I'm doing the BNattie one, little Dickie and his partners in crime human rights violation instigating investigating a disservice. Maybe it is not that the instigators vestigators are so senstive but that the commissioners suffer from short attention spans and Ms Dagenerateais is purposely ensuring that the commissioners remain focussed on the investigation in question. Of course in that case it is to be hoped that she has also forbidden the commsioners to access the internet unsupervised because if they do they might discover not only what text has been blacked out - the original is here - but also learn that the accusations are based on verified fact.

Just to make it easy for the commissioners, if they manage to google Ezra Levant, Natalie Dagenais and Rob Wells, then  they should either find this post or the one linked above. If they find the one above then the original submission with all the censored bits is readily available, but I hope they come here because I have helpfully highlighted in yellow below the bits that were highlighted in black by the censor.

That’s hypocrisy, but it’s not surprising coming from an organization so sick that its staff perpetrate racist slurs through their own vile posts on the Internet. It is now public knowledge that staff at the CHRC, like Dean Steacy and Richard Warman, joined neo-Nazi groups and surfed the net in full racist drag. The fact that everyone from the Chief Commissioner on down hasn’t been fired for this scandal is amazing to me.


One of the tenets of Canadian law – a real human right, not one of your counterfeit human rights such as the “right not to be offended” – is equal justice under law. That means that rich or poor, powerful or powerless, everybody is treated the same way before the law. It’s a legal tradition that dates all the way back to the Magna Carta signed by King John. I know he’s a dead white man, and Christian to boot, so the CHRC would regard him as the enemy. But Canada still follows those rules.

But not over at the CHRC. Your own staff commits heinous acts of online bigotry, publishing the worst filth imaginable. Richard Warman – your former staffer, currently your most active complainant, and the CHRC’s star witness whose expenses are paid for with tax dollars to this day – went online to write that gays are “sexual deviants” who are a “cancer” in society. He called for the creation of an Apartheid city in Canada to be called “Whiteville”. He called federal cabinet ministers, such as former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, “scum” because they’re Jewish. He made literally hundreds of similar posts. Yet every complaint to the CHRC about Warman’s own hatemongering has been rejected.

The Commission is rotten to the core. And you and your commissioners don’t give a damn about it. The CHRC even hired a crooked cop, Sandy Kozak, who was drummed out of a police force for corruption. She was too dirty for them, but just right for you. That’s the standard of ethics at the CHRC.

Incorrect law

My contempt for the CHRC and its political masters is deep. The thought that your crooked ex-cop colleague, Sandy Kozak, was the investigator examining the saintly Fr. de Valk, is a grotesque moral inversion.

Some other thoughts. The basic problem here, as Mr Levant makes very clear, is that the Canadian Human Rights Commission seems to be a bully. Moreover it combines the usual combination of bullying with cowardice and adds the bureaucrats dislike for negative publicity to the mix. When it, or its provincial counterparts, are challenged by someone who has money and an ability to get attention from the news media it scuttles away as fast as it can like a cockroach being disturbed while foraging in the kitchen. On the other hand when it has someone with little or no resources and no way to make news it goes ahead and forces the individual to submit to its authority.

What is also odd is that the CHRC complaints (or at least the ones that are investigated) only concern the rights of non-white heterosexual non-christians. It occurs to me that this apparent bias is in itself a human rights violation so I wonder if someone will file a human rights complaint against the CHRC itself?

Finally it is unclear to me when the "right not to be offended" came into being and why it only applies to non-white heterosexual non-christians. One wonders whether the CHRC would like to investigate, say, gay anti-catholic protestors such as a certain Rob Wells for offending catholics.

*Note that Warman is a highly troublesome name that could cause offense to certain classes of readers. War refers to a hateful activity that is only waged by fascist tyrants these days. Liberal democratic societies have defense forces hence I have taken the liberty of replacing "war" with "defense". Likewise "man" is clearly sexist and hence should be replaced by "person". Unfortunately "person" is itself discriminatory against daughters and must therefore be rendered peroffspring. The author is surprised that Mr Defenseperoffspring has not done the decent thing and had his name changed to something less likely to cause offense to feminists, peace-campaigners and other like-minded groups.

23 October 2008 Blog Home : All October 2008 Posts : Permalink

Fun With Recent Climate Trends

At various climate skeptical blogs such as Climate Audit, Watts Up With That, Rank Exploits, No Consensus and of course at the more orthdox Real Climate and Tamino much has been made of the recent trends in climate and their agreement or not with model predictions and so on. All of these get stuck into statistics with various parties claiming that other parties are incorrectly handling errors, significance, consistency and so on and even sometimes the definitions of these words.

I admit to being but a studious amateur in the field and while I can just about follow what's going on the chances of me making a worthwhile contribution is limited. What I can do though is use the very excellent "Wood For The Trees" interactive plot pages to create my own graphs. I can also use perl to automate the more tedious bits of the graph creation and thus put lots and lots of lines on a single graph.

So what I've done is create a few graphs showing recent trends in the record. Here, for example, are the recent trends for the WoodForTrees Temperature Index which is the WFT average of the four most commonly quoted global temperatures. What I've done is overlay the temperature from 1979 to present day (and note this graphs WILL auto-update so potentially things may change from when I first created them - 23 Oct 2008) along with the OLS trend from start of each year to current date for the years 1990 to 2005.

In this case we can see that up until 1997 the trend has been positive (i.e. things are heating up) although the trend flattens over time, 1998 is negative, 1999 is positive and as is 2000 and from 2001 the trends are increasingly negative. To make it clearer at the cusp here are the 4 years 1997 to 2000 inclusive) only with temps from 1995.
If we look at the same sort of timeframes from the Hadley CRU we get to break the world down in to Northern and Southern Hemispheres and we see very clearly that the more oceanic South has had a cooling trend in every year from 1997 whereas the North took until 2002 to start cooling

HADCRUT3 unadjusted NH mean

HADCRUT3 unadjusted SH mean

When you put this together it turns out that the Southern cooling just fails to balance the Northern warming for 2000 but thereafter the trends become increasingly negative.

Finally it may be worth putting some of these things into a longer term historical perspective. Here is the HADCRUT global from 1930 with 10 year trends every 5 years beginning in 1933 and ending in 2008.

It is worth noting that the 2007/2008 winter minimum temperature is clearly one of the cyclic colder snaps, just as 1998 was one of the warming peaks, and that average temperatures can drop fast. Also when we look at the Southern Hemisphere we see that the climate has not increased nearly as much as it has in the north.

HADCRUT3 unadjusted SH mean

In the south 1998 is barely hotter than previous peaks in the 1940s and the 1970s. If it turns out that the adjustments made to compensate for urban heat islands and other effects (most of which occur in the North) are wrong then this global warming thing definitely looks rather less of a problem.

On the other hand when you look at the whacking great drop in the late 1940s which then reversed itself in the 1970s it could be that the current negative trend is just a blip...

For those that may care the perl code for the graph generation is based on this:
use CGI ':standard'; #code for html bits
my %data = (

'wti'=>'WoodForTrees Temperature Index',
'hadcrut3vgl'=>'HADCRUT3 variance-adjusted global mean',
'hadcrut3vnh'=>'HADCRUT3 variance-adjusted NH mean',
'hadcrut3vsh'=>'HADCRUT3 variance-adjusted SH mean',
'hadcrut3gl'=>'HADCRUT3 unadjusted global mean',
'hadcrut3nh'=>'HADCRUT3 unadjusted NH mean',
'hadcrut3sh'=>'HADCRUT3 unadjusted SH mean',
'gistemp'=>'GISTEMP land-ocean global mean',
'uah'=>'UAH NSSTC lower trop. global mean',
'rss'=>'RSS MSU lower trop. global mean');

for $d (sort keys %data) {
   my $img = "http://www.woodfortrees.org/graph/$d/from:1995";
  $img .= "/plot/$d/from:$_/trend" for (1997..2005);
  print p("$data{$d}".br.img({-src=>$img}));

24 October 2008 Blog Home : All October 2008 Posts : Permalink

Friday Olive Tree Blogging

The olives are ripening too quickly.
20081024 Friday Olive Tree Blogging
A lot of them look like the picture above and they ought to be more like the picture below.
20081024 Friday Olive Tree Blogging
This means that despite my hopes of a few weeks back the blasted olive fly did show up. However assuming the mill does what it is supposed to then I can pick them all next week / on the first weekend in November and take them to the mill on the following Monday to be turned into olive oli (with extra protein).

As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit of the olive tree blogging archives for further reminders of how nice olive trees are.

28 October 2008 Blog Home : All October 2008 Posts : Permalink

Lockwood and Malone

The title sounds like a firm of undertakers doesn't it? Or maybe the solicitors who have been appointed as executors of the will. Actually it isn't either, although it is not impossible that both will be cited in future obituries of the "Main Stream Media".

Lockwood refers to Alex Lockwood, lecturer in Journalism at the University of Sunderland, and Malone is referring to Michael Malone, a columnist at ABC News. To take the latter first. Mr Malone, journalist, son and grandson of journalists and father to another, has a problem with the bias on offer in the MSM regarding Obama vs McCain.

The traditional media are playing a very, very dangerous game — with their readers, with the Constitution and with their own fates.

The sheer bias in the print and television coverage of this election campaign is not just bewildering, but appalling. And over the last few months I’ve found myself slowly moving from shaking my head at the obvious one-sided reporting, to actually shouting at the screen of my television and my laptop computer.

But worst of all, for the last couple weeks, I’ve begun — for the first time in my adult life — to be embarrassed to admit what I do for a living. A few days ago, when asked by a new acquaintance what I did for a living, I replied that I was “a writer,” because I couldn’t bring myself to admit to a stranger that I’m a journalist.

I am very far from happy with McCain but I think it is fair to say that if I were entitled to vote in US elections he'd get my vote because Obama scares the daylights out of me. Not Obama personally but the apparent personality cult that has grown up around him which means that, as Malone says:

[i]f the current polls are correct, we are about to elect as president of the United States a man who is essentially a cipher, who has left almost no paper trail, seems to have few friends (that at least will talk) and has entire years missing out of his biography.

That isn't Sen. Obama's fault: His job is to put his best face forward. No, it is the traditional media's fault, for it alone (unlike the alternative media) has had the resources to cover this story properly, and has systematically refused to do so.

To put it simply Malone's long, read it all, column states that the MSM (and he fingers in particular the editors, something I'm not so sure is correct) has deliberately engaged in what we call propaganda when we see it on offer from the Glorious Leaders of Tyrannical Dictatorships. The problem here is that if Obama wins and he ends up not being quite the wonderful messiah he is predicted to be then there's going to be buyers remorse on behalf of the US electorate in a big way and it seems pretty clear that a major casualty in any blowback will be the MSM who covered for Obama during the campaign.

One way that the MSM might decide to try and avert, or at least delay, that judgement day would be to get even more biased, blaming Bush, Republicans and other enemies of state for the country's woes, not reporting unsuccessful initiatives by Obama and so on. If you think this sounds remarkably like the relationship estemed journals such as Pravda had with the Soviet Union's Politburo then you aren't alone.

The problem with this is that just as the Samizdat press was able to circulate alternate versions of events so too now can the Internet. If the MSM does continue to be perceived as outrageously biased with respect to US politics it will be ignored by an ever larger portion of the population, over time this will then lead to a (further) collapse in advertising income and the final demise of the MSM unless the US government decides to nationalize them. Even if the latter does occur the lack of audience and corresponding lack of influence will do them in as a trusted source of information.

This leads us to Lockwood. Alex Lockwood has a paper out about the effect of the Internet and blogosphere on the climate change debate which he approaches from the viewpoint of someone convinced that AGW is happening, and that we need to stop it now. Firstly Mr Lockwood celebrates that fact that the MSM is convinced that AGW is a problem:

On  3rd  August  this  year,  IPCC  Chairman  Rajendra  Pachauri  told  the  Chicago  Tribune:  “The science  about  climate  change  is  very  clear.  There  really  is  no  room  for  doubt  at  this  point.” Since  publication  of  the  4th  IPCC  report  in  2007,  the  mainstream  media  has,  in  general, accepted  this  position.  As  Andreadis  and  Smith  (2007)  note,  UK  journalists  are  no  longer required  to  balance  each  warning  voice.  Writing  in  the  Columbia  Journalism  Review,  Cristine Russell  concurred,  suggesting  that  for  US  journalists  “the  era  of  ‘equal  time’  for  sceptics...  is largely over.”

And then he notes that, um, unfortunately the  blogosphere is rather full of dissent.

It  is  my  contention  that  new  media  is  providing  the  spatial  and  temporal  freedoms that,  when  combined  with  the  ability  to  publish  free  from  peer‐review  and  from  journalistic codes, provides the ‘room for doubt’ for which Pachauri says there is no longer any time.

He follows this up with the sort of proposal to bring joy to the heart of any greenshirted extremist:

Do  we  have  time  for  ill‐informed  scepticism  and  disinformation?  As  Oreskes  and  Renouf revealed just this Sunday on BB[C]2, we’ve had 30 years of it now. The IPCC warn that we have only  10  years  to  act  to  avoid  runaway  climate  change.  The  question  could  also  be:  does  our democracy  even  have  time  for  new  media?

The question is asked because Mr Lockwood is convinced (by weight of credentials as opposed to evidence I think) that climate change must be stopped now. Then he shows why the free speech in this area is so dangerous:

First,  in  what  ways  is  new  media  used  to  spread  sceptical  discourse?  Three  examples.  In December 2007, the New Statesman published an article by David Whitehouse claiming “global warming  has,  temporarily  or  permanently,  ceased.”x  Three  weeks  later,  New  Statesman columnist  and  climate  author  Mark  Lynas  wrote:  “Whitehouse  got  it  wrong  –  completely wrong.” Web  editor  Ben  Davies  let  the  forum  debate  run  five  months,  attracting  3,004 comments: this could not happen in a letters page. This delivers the promise of what Howard Rheingold  saw  as  “a  way  of  revitalising  the  open  and  widespread  discussions  among  citizens that feeds the roots of democratic society” (Rheingold 1993). The important thing here is that the comments were in support of the sceptic Whitehouse, by a ratio of about six‐to‐one.  

Do we believe this ratio is representative, or just mimics the internecine morass afflicting news sites  such  as  the  Guardian’s  Comment  is  Free?  The  same  ratio  was  quoted  by  Downing  and Ballantyne in their 2007 report ‘Turning Point or Tipping Point?’ for comments received after the  airing  of  Channel  4’s  Great  Global  Warming  Swindle.  According  to  them  “Channel  4 anecdotally reported  that  among  the  700  comments  it  received  [including  phone,  but  mainly online], supporters outnumbered critics six to one.” Channel 4 Head of Documentaries Hamish Mykura,  writing  in  the Guardian,  used  this  ‘anecdotal’ evidence  to  shore  up  its  broadcast  (to 2.7m  viewers).  That  comment‐board  rants  are  used  to  justify  such  flawed  programming is indicative of the force of new media in promulgating sceptical positions. 

But it gets worse. Not only so the unwashed persist in holding and shouting out positions that Mr Lockwood finds unacceptable they read and make posts on really popular blog sites instead of reading proper news magazines:

[A]nother starting point is to look at blog aggregation sites. While this omits traditional media,  it  is  a  good  measure  for  extra‐institutional  influence.  On  Wikio,  four  of  the  top  20 science  blogs  are  sceptics.  The  most  successful,  WattsUpWiththat.com,  the  US‐based  blog  of sceptic  and  former  weatherman  Anthony  Watts,  in  July  this  year  posted  646,024  page  views (2.8m since launch). It is in the top four of 3.4m blogs using the free online blog authoring tool, Wordpress.  Using  the  latest  Nielsen  Net  Ratings  data,  even  the  most  conservative  estimate would  give  it  over  300,000  monthly  visits  and  a  readership  of  over  31,000  users. Compare that to the New Statesman’s 12.7% year‐on‐year decline, to headline sales of just over 26,000.

That right there is the writing on the wall. A blog run by some guy with little or no qualifications gets more readers than a magazine produced by a staff of dozens. And the blog holds the wrong opinion!

At this point Lockwood has shown quite nicely that the internet and blogosphere has done a great job of substituing for the discreditied MSM in one area. There seems to be no reason why the same will not apply elsewhere. Given the undoubted fact that there is a lot of really bad "pseudoscience" on the Internet this ought to be worrying, It isn't as worrying to me as it might be because journalists in the MSM clearly don't grasp science either. Take Mr Lockwood as an example and look at his description of Steve McIntyre:

Perhaps  the  best  known  example  of  political  impact  has  been  the  work  of  sceptical  blogger Steve McIntyre, whose criticisms of the hockey stick graph used in the IPCC reports led to a US Congressional  Committee  to  examine  its  validity.

Steve's work is important because of its political impact. Really? How about its scientific attitude where it helped spotlight the incredily shabby basic data gathering and dodgy statistics used in climate science? While I don't think the high priests like Hansen and Mann would agree I suspect that a lot of scientists are extremely greatful for Mr McIntyre's work exposing the flawed statistical reasoning that resulted in the hockey stick. Likewise, Mr Lockwood writes about Anthony Watts concerning his general purpose site "WattsUpWithThat" and ignores the related site that has allowed the world to see just how poorly sited many surface stations are and how this is likely to skew global warming data.

In fact with this sentence Mr Lockwood demosntrates why the curious seeker after knowledge looks for sources other than the MSM, Journalists are not mathematicians or scientists and they simply don't do maths, It should come as no surprise that they can't properly explain global warming theory or that they end up accepting whatever an eminent scientist tells them because they lack the ability to evaluate the data themselves.

The last few years have shown that the MSM have abused the trust placed in them. They are failing and they may not be missed.

29 October 2008 Blog Home : All October 2008 Posts : Permalink

Urban Heat Islands in Reno

Over at WattsUPWithThat there have been two recent posts (with lots of comments) concerning the effect of Urban Heat Islands (UHIs). The reason for this is an amazingly dismissive statement about UHIs in this piece of global warming alarmism. The statement is the following sidebar:

Is Urbanization Causing the Rise in Temperatures?

The few remaining global warming contrarians, many of whom have directs links to the fossil fuel industry, have argued that urban “heat islands”—where the air temperature is several degrees warmer than surrounding rural areas—may be responsible for a substantial portion of the average temperature increase linked to global warming. Compared with rural areas, urban areas have more dark surfaces (such as pavement) that absorb heat from the sun and less vegetation to provide shade and cool the air. Because these urban heat islands raise nighttime temperatures more than daytime temperatures compared with non-urban areas, some have argued that urbanization is to blame for data indicating rising global temperatures.

Several studies have shown,however, that the urban heat island effect has minimal impact on rising global temperatures. In a 1997 study, David Easterling of the National Climatic Data Center examined data from 5,400 weather stations, of which 1,300 were located in urban areas. He found that urban effects on globally averaged temperature data were “negligible” and did not exceed about 0.05°C over the period 1900-1990.58 These results confirm the conclusions of a similar 1990 study. David Parker of the UK’s Hadley Centre also found that global temperatures have risen as much on windy nights (when the urban heat island effect is diminished) as on calm nights (when the effect is at its strongest). He concluded that “overall warming is not a consequence of urban development.”

The tract then goes to list Reno Nevada as the station (in the ones sampled) with the second highest increase in temperature when comparing the period 2000-2007 with the period 1971-2000. The station in question is located at Reno airport which is (now) in the middle of the urban area but was not so located half a century ago.

There is quite a lot of possible arguing that can go on (and has done so) however the second post seems to provide pretty clear evidence that Reno now exhibits UHI effects. The question is whether or not it also exhibited these effects in the 1970s. One way we might be able to guess this is to look at population growth,

If we go to this site we have a nice graph showing Reno's growth from under 100,000 people in 1960 to about 350,000 in 2000
The image “http://www.censusscope.org/us/m6720/chart_popl_graph_1.gif” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
It seems pretty clear that Reno's population more than doubled during the perion 1970-2000 providing plenty of opportunity for UHI effects to grow in influence during the period.

So what do the temperatures look like? A commenter at the later WattsUpWithThat posts the following graph of temperature record from the GISS record for Reno compared with some other nearby but more rural locations

Reno, Tahoe City and other local stations
The reader is invited to note that the blue line increases considerably more than the others and that when compared to Tahoe City and Fallon Experimental Station the temperatures seem to show very much the same variations from year to year except that Reno increases.

I don't know whether the Reno increase is due to UHI or not but the facts are
  1. Currently Reno appears to show a UHI effect
  2. Reno's population has doubled over the last 40 years
  3. Reno's temperature compared to its neighbours has increased by c. 2°c
Occam's razor suggests that these facts are not unrelated