Monthly Archives: August 2014

Scrivener on Linux: Oh Well…

UPDATE (January 2, 2016): The makers of Scrivener have decided to abandon their Linux project. Kudos for them for giving it a try. The Scrivener on Linux users were not many, and almost nobody donated to the project, and as far as I can tell, the project was not OpenSource and thus could not have attracted much of an interest among a community of mostly OpenSourceHeads.

So, I’m no longer recommending that you mess around with Scrivener on Linux, as it is no longer maintained. Back to emacs, everybody!

Scrivener is a program used by authors to write and manage complex documents, with numerous parts, chapters, and scenes. It allows the text to be easily reorganized, and it has numerous ways in which the smallest portion of the text, the “scene,” and larger collections of text can be associated with notes and various kinds of meta-data. It is mainly a Mac program but a somewhat stripped down beta version is available for Linux.

In some ways, Scrivener is the very embodiment of anti-Linux, philosophically. In Linux, one strings together well developed and intensely tested tools on data streams to produce a result. So, to author a complex project, create files and edit them in a simple text editor, using some markdown. Keep the files organized in the file system and use file names carefully chosen to keep them in order in their respective directories. when it comes time to make project-wide modifications, use grep and sed to process all of the files at once or selected files. Eventually, run the files through LaTeX to produce beautiful output. Then, put the final product in a directory where people can find it on Gopher.

Gopher? Anyway …

On the other hand, emacs is the ultimate linux program. Emacs is a text editor that is so powerful and has so many community-contributed “modes” (like add-ins) that it can be used as a word processor, an email client, a calendar, a PIM, a web browser, an operating system, to make coffee, or to stop that table with the short leg from rocking back and forth. So, in this sense, a piece of software that does everything is also linux, philosophically.

And so, Scrivener, despite what I said above, is in a way the very embodiment of Linux, philosophically.

I’ve been using Scrivener on a Mac for some time now, and a while back I tried it on Linux. Scrivener for the Mac is a commercial product you must pay money for, though it is not expensive, but the Linux version, being highly experimental and probably unsafe, is free. But then again, this is Linux. We eat unsafe experimental free software for breakfast. So much that we usually skip lunch. Because we’re still fixing breakfast. As it were.

When you create a Scrivener project, you can chose among a number of templates.  The Scrivener community has created a modest number of alternatives, and you can create your own. The templates produce binders with specific helpful layouts.
When you create a Scrivener project, you can chose among a number of templates. The Scrivener community has created a modest number of alternatives, and you can create your own. The templates produce binders with specific helpful layouts.

Anyway, here’s what Scrivener does. It does everything. The full blown Mac version has more features than the Linux version, but both are feature rich. To me, the most important things are:

A document is organised in “scenes” which can be willy nilly moved around in relation to each other in a linear or hierarchical system. The documents are recursive, so a document can hold other documents, and the default is to have only the text in the lower level document as part of the final product (though this is entirely optional). A document can be defined as a “folder” which is really just a document that has a file folder icon representing it to make you feel like it is a folder.

The main scrivener work area with text editor (center), binder and inspector.
The main scrivener work area with text editor (center), binder and inspector.
Associated with the project, and with each separate document, is a note taking area. So, you can jot notes project-wide as you work, like “Don’t forget to write the chapter where everyone dies at the end,” or you can write notes on a given document like “Is this where I should use the joke about the slushy in the bathroom at Target?”

Each scene also has a number of attributes such as a “label” and a “status” and keywords. I think keywords may not be implemented in the Linux version yet.

Typically a project has one major folder that has all the actual writing distributed among scenes in it, and one or more additional folders in which you put stuff that is not in the product you are working on, but could be, or was but you pulled it out, or that includes research material.

You can work on one scene at a time.  Scenes have meta-data and document notes.
You can work on one scene at a time. Scenes have meta-data and document notes.
The scenes, folders, and everything are all held together with a binder typically displayed on the left side of the Scrivener application window, showing the hierarchy. A number of templates come with the program to create pre-organized binder paradigms, or you can just create one from scratch. You can change the icons on the folders/scenes to remind you of what they are. When a scene is active in the central editing window, you can display an “inspector” on the right side, showing the card (I’ll get to that later) on top the meta data, and the document or project notes. In the Mac version you can create additional meta-data categories.

Scrivenings Mode
Scrivenings Mode
An individual scene can be displayed in the editing window. Or, scenes can be shown as a collection of scenes in what is known as “Scrivenings mode.” Scrivenings mode is more or less standard word processing mode where all the text is simply there to scroll through, though scene titles may or may not be shown (optional).

A lot of people love the corkboard option. I remember when PZ Myers discovered Scrivener he raved about it. The corkboard is a corkboard (as you may have guessed) with 3 x 5 inch virtual index cards, one per scene, that you can move around and organize as though that was going to help you get your thoughts together. The corkboard has the scene title and some notes on what the scene is, which is yet another form of meta-data. I like the corkboard mode, but really, I don’t think it is the most useful features. Come for the corkboard, stay for the binder and the document and project notes!

Corkboard Mode
Corkboard Mode
When you are ready to do something outside of scrivener with your project, you compile it. You can compile it into an ebook, a file compatible with most word processors, a PDF file, a number of different predefined manuscript or script formats, etc. Scrivener does all sorts of magic for writing scripts, though I know nothing about that. There is also an outline mode which, in the Mac version, is very complex and powerful. In the Linux Version it is not. So I won’t mention it.

The compile process is cumbersome, esoteric, complicated, and requires training, so it is PERFECT for the average Linux user! But seriously, yes, you can compile your document into a pre-defined format in one or two clicks, but why would you ever do something so simple? Instead, change every possible option affecting formatting and layout to get it just the way you want it, then save that particular layout for later use as “My layout in February” or “This one worked mostly.”

The Powerful Compile Dialog Box.
The Powerful Compile Dialog Box.
One might say that one writes in Scrivener but then eventually uses a word processor for putting the final touches on a document. But it is also possible that you can compile directly to a final format with adequate or even excellent results and, while you may end up with a .docx file or a .pdf file, you are keeping all the work flow in Scrivener.

This fantastic and amazing book was compiled in Scrivener directly into ebook format.

You have to go HERE to find the unsupported and dangerous Linux version of Scrivener. Then, after you’ve installed it, install libaspell-dev so the in-line spell checking works.

A scrivener project file is a folder with a lot of files inside it. On the mac, this is a special kind of folder that is treated as a file, so that is what you see there, but in Linux you see a folder, inside of which is a file with the .scriv extension; that’s the file you run to open the software directly from a directory.

Do not mess with the contents of this folder. But if you want to mess with it you can find that inside a folder inside the folder are files that are the scenes you were working on. If you mess with these when Scrivener is using the project folder you may ruin the project, but if Scrivener is not looking you can probably mess around with the contents of the scene files. In fact, the Mac version gives you the option of “syncing” projects in such a way that you work on these scenes with an external editor of some kind while you are away from your Scrivener base station, i.e., on your hand held device.

Since this data storage system is complicated and delicate, it is potentially vulnerable to alteration while being used by the software, with potentially bad results. This puts your data at risk with cloud syncing services. Dropbox apparently place nice with Scrivener. I’ve been trying to figure out if Copy does, and I’ve been in touch with both Scrivener developers and Copy developers but I’m not sure yet. I use Copy for the masses of data on my computer because it is cheaper, and I use a free version of Dropbox for Scrivener files, just in case.

I would love to see more people who use Linux try out Scrivener, and maybe some day there will be a full Linux version of it. As I understand it, the Linux version is a compiled subset of the Windows version code base (yes, there is a Windows version) and the Windows version is a derivative of the Mac version.

I should also add that there are numerous books and web sites on how to use Scrivener, and Literature and Latte, the company that produces it, has developed an excellent and useful manual and a number of useful tutorials. Literature and Latte also has an excellent user community forum which is remarkably helpful and respectful. So be nice if you go over there.

How to write a computer book

I’ve designed an outline, which can be used as a table of contents, for a computer book about anything. In this case, about foo bar.

What is foo bar?
Before you start
A brief history of foo bar
A longer history of foo bar
Why you want to use foo bar
Why you might not want to use foo bar
Alternatives to foo bar
Obtaining foo bar
Installing foo bar
Getting help on foo bar
Getting help on reading this book about foo bar
Alliterative methods of installing foo bar
Installing foo bar from source code
Installing foo bar from alternate binaries
Installing foo bar on dead badger
Why we wrote this book about foo bar
About the authors
About the reviewers
About the publishers
About the concept of “about”
How to download the code for foo bar
Typographical conventions used in this book
How to read this book in black and white
The plan of the book
What each chapter will tell you
How the chapters in this book are organized
A history of prior revisions and printings of this book
A word about this book’s font
foo bar basics
Advanced foo bar
Futher Reading about foo bar

DR Congo #Ebola Outbreak

We can now be pretty sure that the Ebola outbreak in the DR Congo is not an extension of the West African outbreak. The index case seems to have gotten the disease from a mammal she butchered, and the numerous other cases seem to stem from contact with her primary as health care workers and family members. I don’t think we have enough information yet to assess this outbreak vis-a-vis the genetics of the Ebola itself.

From WHO:

On 26 August 2014, the Ministry of Health, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of an outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Equateur Province.

The index case was a pregnant woman from Ikanamongo Village who butchered a bush animal that had been killed and given to her by her husband. She became ill with symptoms of EVD and reported to a private clinic in Isaka Village. On 11 August 2014, she died of a then-unidentified haemorrhagic fever. Local customs and rituals associated with death meant that several health-care workers were exposed and presented with similar symptoms in the following week.

Between 28 July and 18 August 2014, a total of 24 suspected cases of haemorrhagic fever, including 13 deaths, have been identified. Human-to-human transmission has been established and includes the health-care personnel who were exposed to the deceased pregnant woman during surgery (one doctor and two nurses) in addition to the hygienist and a ward boy, all of whom developed symptoms and died. Other deaths have been recorded among the relatives who attended the index case, individuals who were in contact with the clinic staff, and those who handled the bodies of the deceased during funerals. The other 11 cases are currently being treated in isolation centres.

The Keeling Curve

The Keeling Curve is the measurement of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere. As we burn fossil fuel or damage “Carbon sinks” we increase that number. The Keeling curve is at the root of much of the science of global warming. It goes up over time because of the release of fossil Carbon, and it wiggles up and down at shorter time scales for other reasons. For example, the curve drops during the Northern Hemisphere summer because the plants on the north side of the globe take in some of the CO2 and make it temporarily into plant tissue. During the northern winter the reverse happens. (There is a lot more land in the Northern Hemisphere).

Anyway, the Keeling Curve is now a movie! And you can watch it for free here:


#Ebola: Second, possibly third outbreak, West African outbreak growing

The number of people known or suspected to be infected with Ebola in the West African outbreak is increasing, and the rate at which it is increasing is increasing. About 40 new cases are being reported per day on average, but the number of new cases has been going up by a few a day.

However, it is still unclear that these numbers represent what is actually happening on the ground. There is little confidence that the WHO has a good idea of who is currently stricken with the disease, and efforts to contain those who are have had mixed results.

A second outbreak is now occurring in the DR Congo (formerly Zaire). This is a second separate outbreak. So, it is NOT correct to say that Ebola has spread into the Congo. It didn’t. It emerged there independently.

What are the chances of that happening? I have long maintained that the conditions for Ebola spreading into human populations include factors that make the overall chance of that happening, for a large region, go up enough for multiple simultaneous epidemics to be more likely than chance might suggest. Perhaps I’ll discuss my reasoning for that another time. In any event, the DR Congo outbreak, about which we know very little so far, appears to be a different strain of Ebola, so this is not the Wester African Ebola spreading to Central Africa.

There are reports of a third outbreak of an unknown disease that might be Ebola also in the DR Congo. But that could be a lot of things. Including Ebola… so we shall see.

Also, there is one new case in Nigeria, after a period of several days with no new cases.

Should it be "math" or "maths"?

Do the math:

There are actually two answers to this question.

First, “maths” looks plural and is preferred by some because “mathematics” is plural. The problem with that is “mathematics” is no more plural than “physics” or any other compound noun. It is a rational sounding utterly incorrect argument. If we said “mathematics are cool” then there might be a case. But we say “mathematics is cool.”

Second, some people say maths and some people say math, and that’s how language works. That is a valid argument, but if you are walking around in the US saying “maths” instead of “math” be aware that you are demonstrating an anglophile affection, which is fine, as long as you know you are doing it. Please remember to demonstrate other anglophile affections such as referring to “English Muffins” and “Crumpets” and telling your friend “I’ll knock you up in the morning” when you merely intend to come by to walk to work together. Most importantly, if you have switched to “maths” from “math” because of some rational argument you once heard, just know there isn’t a rational argument. It is just a matter of usage. It is arbitrary. There is no readon. And if you are in the US you are using the non-standard usage. If you are in England or somewhere fine, talk funny all you want!


The conversation about “knocking up” has developed here, on Facebook and on Twitter. Interestingly a lot of Brits claim this is simply not a thing Brits say, yet it is. It may simply be patchy in its use, but it really is a British saying. More so than an English Muffin being a Crumpet (I know it is not, but I do love the reaction to the comparison among the Crumpet Sympathizers). Anyway, “I’ll Knock You Up” is defined in many places, and used by many Brits, to mean to rouse, wake up, call on, etc. another person. In American English, it means to make pregnant. In at least some forms of British, when does not “get pregnant” but one “fall’s pregnant” and if one chooses one might have the baby in the hospital, in America, or in hospital, in British-English areas.

Anyway, here’s the Google Ngram for various uses of “knocked”:

Honey, I Shrunk The Dinosaurs …

There is a fantastic paper just out in Science: “Sustained miniaturization and anatomoical innovation in the dinosaurian anceestors of birds” by Michael Lee, Andrea Cau, Darren Naishe and Gareth Dyke.

I want to talk about this research but if you really want to know more about it, don’t rely on me; one of the co-authors of this important paper is Darren Naish, who happens to be a stupendous blogger, and he has written the research up here. So go read that for sure, and revel in the excellent graphics. Meanwhile I have a few random thoughts….


Climate Change Documentary "Years of Living Dangerously" Wins Emmy

The climate change documentary, “Years of Living Dangerously” was nominated for two Emmy Awards. That was well deserved and fantastic news. But, frankly, with Cosmos also nominated for the same categories, no one really expected more than the nomination.

But, while Cosmos dis win in the “Outstanding Writing For Nonfiction Programming” category, and good on them for doing that, “Years of Living Dangerouslytook the award for “Outstanding Documentary or NonFiction Series.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 11.45.36 AM

This is of course because it is a great, well done documentary. But I like to think part of this outcome has to do with people realizing the importance of climate change as an existential issue.

You can watch the first episode here:

You have to have Showtime to watch the rest of it, but it will be available on iTunes and as a DVD next month.

Tanganyika v. Tanzania

Tanzania is the name of a country in Africa. Tanganyika is, among other things, the older name of that country, more or less. It is a formerly used term that should no longer be used to refer to that country.

Wikipedia has this wrong on the indicated page on August 16th, 2014. Any wiki authors out there, please feel free to fix. I recommend changing the term “Tanganyika” to “Tanzania” and deleting the rest of the sentence.

Why not change this myself? Here’s why.

Electronic Frontier Foundation Messes Up

I just realized that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed a brief with the court in relation to Mann vs. the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Review, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg (variously). This is disappointing and will probably color my opinion of EFF going forward on whatever else they do. Their brief isn’t just ethically wrong, or something I disagree with. It is unintelligent and poorly considered. They simply got it wrong, as though they did not know anything about the law suit. It is embarrassing.

I wonder how they got talked/roped into this? I would really like to know that.

Anyway, I wrote them a letter and here it is:

To whom it may concern,

I’m generally a supporter of the things Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) stands for, but I object strenuously to your amicus brief and it’s meaning in relation to the suit brought by Michael Mann against the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Review, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg.

Your brief makes the argument that open discussion of important public issues should not be fettered by law suits of this type. You are correct in principle but you have erred in this case. Mann’s suit is not about open public debate, and he has as a scientist been involved in open public debate in far more ways than most individuals have ever been. I’ll add that Mann’s research is all open source or open access with respect to data, methods, software, and results.

The suit is not about debate. It is about defamation. This is not a matter of interpretation. While one might (incorrectly) feel defamed when someone disagrees, Mann’s suit is not about that sort of reaction. It is about actual defamation.

Perhaps Mann is wrong. Perhaps the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Review, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg have not engaged in defamation with specific statements they have made. But that can be determined in court. Mann has the right to sue for this. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Review, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg have engaged in plenty of other forms of debate and public discourse regarding climate change and Mann’s research, but that is not at issue in this suit. You have failed to make that important distinction.

And please don’t make the mistake, or should I say, perpetuate the mistake you have already made (collectively with others), that opposition to Mann’s science is part of that defamation. It is not. Nor is science denialism or the seemingly nefarious distribution of false information about climate change by science skeptics or supporters of the fossil fuel industry part of this defamation. The National Review and other parties in this suit have lied, misrepresented, and also, simply gotten the science wrong. That is not what this is about, that is not the subject of Mann’s suit. This suit is about specific defamatory statements made as a much smaller subset of the communication and rhetoric among these parties.

It is a little embarrassing that EFF, usually much more thoughtful and intelligent about its decisions and activism, has somehow been roped into signing on to essentially support this defamatory practice. Shame on you.

I urge you do withdraw your support of the appeal as soon as possible.


Greg Laden

More information here.

This is also relevant, from here:

“The Court finds that there is sufficient evidence in the record to demonstrate that Plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits,” said a DC Superior Court judge in her latest procedural ruling in the defamation case of Michael Mann v. National Review, et al. “The evidence before the Court indicates the likelihood that ‘actual malice’ is present in the [National Review’s] conduct.”

The Court clearly recognizes that some members involved in the climate-change discussions and debates employ harsh words. The NR Defendants are reputed to use this manner of speech; however there is a line between rhetorical hyperbole and defamation. In this case, the evidence before the Court demonstrates that something more than mere rhetorical hyperbole is, at least at this stage present. Accusations of fraud, especially where such accusations are made frequently through the continuous usage of words such as “whitewashed,” “intellectually bogus,” “ringmaster of the tree-ring circus” and “cover-up” amount to more than rhetorical hyperbole. …

The evidence before the Court indicates the likelihood that “actual malice” is present in the NR Defendants’ conduct. …

The court clearly understands the difference between people whinging about science details, science denialism, etc. on one hand and what may be categorized as defamation.

Larry Clifton on Michael Mann's Suit: Nope, wrong, sorry.

Larry Clifton has suggested that Michael Mann’s law suit against the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Review, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg is ruining it for everyone, and a lot of his right wing conservative friends agree. But they are all wrong, so wrong that one wonders how they could be so wrong. It smells to me like willful ignorance.

This is Michael Moore. For a while, Clifton had a picture of Michael Moore instead of Michael Mann on his Digital Journal post.  Made me laugh.
This is Michael Moore. For a while, Clifton had a picture of Michael Moore instead of Michael Mann on his Digital Journal post. Made me laugh.
For people who spend most of their time whinging about how other people are ruining the Constitution, they don’t know much about the Constitution. A document filed as a “friend of the court” brief by a gaggle of Defenders of Liberty and Stuff states, “While Mann essentially claims that he can silence critics because he is ‘right,’ the judicial system should not be the arbiter of either scientific truth or correct public policy,” the brief states, adding that “a participant in the ‘rough-and-tumble’ of public debate should not be able to use a lawsuit like this to silence his critics, regardless of whether one agrees with Mann or defendants.”

The title of Clifton’s piece is “Climate change advocate sues over rejection of his work” which very clearly indicates that the suit is about Mann’s scientific work and over objections to that work. It isn’t. Perhaps the title of that post was added by an Intern in the editorial office, and if so, somebody should fix that, but if the title o the post is meant to imply the meaning of the post, then Clifton clearly misunderstand, deeply and completely, what is going on with the suit.

The judicial system is not being asked to arbitrate about the science or to address “rejection” of any scientific work by anyone. It is easy to prove that Michael Mann is engaged in a number of scientific debates. This one and this one come to mind. This is not about defining or interpreting the science, never was, can not possibly be interpreted that way by an honest observer.

This is not about public policy. Again, Mann is engaged in debates about that too. But the law suit is not about that. Never was.

A law suit about science interpretation or public policy would have been tossed out first thing.

The law suit is about a very specific and actionable libelous accusation of professional misconduct, not about the validity of Mann’s research, or the reality of global warming. Clifton and his friends make an utterly absurd claim that this is about criticism of Mann’s research, that Mann is suing someone who disagreed with him. No, it is not, that is not what happened, this is not what the suit is about, and any assertion along these lines comes from ignorance of one kind or another, either simple ignorance of the narrative or willful ignorance designed to produce a particular effect.

So, no, Larry, you’ve got this totally wrong.

(Sort of off topic, but Larry, you also have the bits about global warming in your post totally wrong as well. Sort of “bigfoot is real” level wrong, actually.)

More Research Linking Global Warming To Bad Weather Events

A new paper advances our understanding of the link between anthropogenic global warming and the apparent uptick in severe weather events we’ve been experiencing. Let’s have a look at the phenomenon and the new research.

Climate Change: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

It is mostly bad. Sometimes it is ugly. I was looking at crop reports from the USDA and noticed an interesting phenomenon in Minnesota, that is repeated across much of the US this year: Fewer acres are in crops but among those acres that are planted there is a high expected per-acre yield. The higher yield will make up for the lost acreage this year. Unfortunately, that is about as good as it gets.

The lost acreage, at least in Minnesota as I understand it, comes from a late spring followed by a wet early summer. And holy crap was it wet, and fairly cool. My own tomatoes were utterly confused. One plant produced a single tomato that ripened a month and a half early, then waited for weeks to make its next move. I think organisms do that sometimes; when they think they are about to die they reproduce desperately, which for a tomato plant, is producing one premature tomato and then trying to not be noticed for a while. In any event, many Minnesota farmers live with an interesting conflict. There are parts of their farms they can’t plant in a given year because it stays too wet too long, and that varies from year to year. The rest of the farm is irrigated much of the summer. This year, it seems that there has been enough extra rain to increase productivity of the irrigation season, but acreage was lost between the encore of a sort of Polar Vortex mimic and a lot of rain.

The extra productivity was a lucky break, and is limited in its effects. The same weather phenomenon that made June nearly the wettest month ever in the upper plains has contributed significantly to a longer term drought in California, which is on the verge of ruining agriculture there. Severe flooding or extreme dry can do much more damage to agriculture than is accounted for by minor increases in productivity because of the extra water vapor provided by Anthropogenic Global Warming.

And the floods can be downright dangerous. I was talking to my friend and former student Rusty several months ago about the flooding in Colorado. I asked her about how her husband was doing (they both happen to be climate scientists by the way).

“Oh he’s probably fine but I’ve not heard from him in three days. His cell phone battery is probably out. I imagine he’s clinging to some high ground up on the Front Range about now.”

He is a volunteer first responder and had headed up into the canyons year boulder during the big floods there. Which were like the big floods in Calgary. And Central Europe. And the UK. And that rainy June here. And the flooding that just happened in several parts of the US.

All of it, all of those floods, and some significant drought, and the Polar Vortex that hit the middle of North America last winter, all caused, almost certainly, by the same phenomenon.

Wildfires are probably enhanced by recent weather phenomenon as well, with extreme rains causing the build up of fuel, followed by extreme dry providing the conditions for larger and more frequent fires.

On the more extreme end of effects for severe weather is the Arab Spring phenomenon. It is one thing to have a bad year for corn because of a wet spring. It is worse to have a multi year drought that could seriously affect our ability to buy almonds, avocados and romaine from California. But what happens when an agricultural system fails for several years in a row, the farmer abandon the land and move to the cities where they become indigent, a civil war breaks out, and next think you know a Caliphate is formed, in part on the wreckage of one or two failed regimes, failed in large part because of severe weather conditions caused by human induced climate change?

I’ve discussed this at length before. (See: Linking Weather Extremes to Global Warming and Global Warming and Extreme Weather) The relationship is pretty simple, to know how it works all you have to do is remember one word:

AGWAAQRaRWaWW. Rhymes with “It’s stuck in my craw, paw!”

Let me parse that out for you.

AGW -> AA -> QR-RW -> WW

AGW – Anthropogenic Global Warming

Anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is caused mainly by added CO2 in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuel. By definition, the burning of fossil fuels is the release of energy by separation of carbon previously attached to other atoms by biological processes typically a long time ago, and over a long period of time. We humans are spending a century or two releasing tens and tens of millions of slow storage of Carbon, all at once in geological time, causing the chemistry of our atmosphere to resemble something we’ve not seen in tens of millions of years.

AA – Arctic Amplification

The CO2 by itself would warm the Earth to a certain degree, but it also produces what are called positive feedbacks. Which are not positive in a good way. For example, added CO2 means there is more water vapor in the atmosphere (because of more evaporation and ability for the atmosphere to hold water). Water vapor is, like CO2, a greenhouse gas. So we get even more warming. In the Arctic, there are a number of additional positive feedbacks that have to do with ice. The Arctic, with its additional positive feedbacks, warms more than other parts of the planet. This is called Arctic Amplification.

QR-RW – Quasi-resonant Rossby waves

Jet Stream Cross Section
Cross section of the atmosphere of the Northern Hemisphere. The Jet Streams form at the highly energetic boundary between major circulating cells which contain the trade winds near the top of the Troposphere.
Normally, heat from the equator makes its way towards the poles via air and sea. Giant currents of air are set up by a combination of extra equatorial heat and the rotation of the earth. Part of this system is the so-called “trade winds” (winds that typically blow in a typical direction) and the jet streams.

What the jet stream is supposed to look like.
What the jet stream is supposed to look like.
The jet streams occur at high altitude between major bands of trade winds that encircle the earth. The trade-wind/jet stream systems are typically straight rings that encircle the earth (a bit like the bands on the major gas planets) and the jet streams move, normally, pretty straight and pretty fast. But, with the warming of the Arctic, the differential between the equator and the poles is reduced, so all sorts of strange things happen, and one of those things is the formation of quasi-resonant Rossby waves.

A Rossby wave is simply a big giant meander in the jet stream. Quasi-resonant means “almost resonant” and resonant means that instead of the meanders meandering around, they sit in one place (almost).

What the jet stream looks like when it is all messed up.
What the jet stream looks like when it is all messed up.
It appears that Quasi-resonant Rossby waves set up when there is a certain number (roughly a half dozen) of these big meanders. When this happens, the jet stream slows down. The big bends in the jet streams block or stall weather patterns, and the slow moving nature of the jet stream contributes to the formation of either flash droughts (as Paul Douglas calls them) where several weeks of nearly zero rain menace a region, or extensive and intensive rainfall, like all the events mentioned above.

WW – Weather Whiplash

That’s the term that refers to dramatic shifts between the extreme weather events created by Quasi-resonant Rossby Waves, the result of Arctic Amplification, caused by Anthropogenic Global Warming.

And that’s how you get yer AGWAAQRaRWaWW. Rhymes with “It’s stuck in my craw, paw!”

Quasi-resonant circulation regimes and hemispheric synchronization of extreme weather in boreal summer

Which brings us to Quasi-resonant circulation regimes and hemispheric synchronization of extreme weather in boreal summer. This is the title of a paper by Dim Coumou, Vladimir Petoukhov, Stefan Rahmstorf, Stefan Petri, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. Here is the “for the people” abstract of the paper:

The recent decade has seen an exceptional number of boreal summer weather extremes, some causing massive damage to society. There is a strong scientific debate about the underlying causes of these events. We show that high-amplitude quasi- stationary Rossby waves, associated with resonance circulation regimes, lead to persistent surface weather conditions and therefore to midlatitude synchronization of extreme heat and rainfall events. Since the onset of rapid Arctic amplification around 2000, a cluster of resonance circulation regimes is ob- served involving wave numbers 7 and 8. This has resulted in a statistically significant increase in the frequency of high- amplitude quasi-stationary waves with these wave numbers. Our findings provide important new insights regarding the link between Arctic changes and midlatitude extremes.

The effects of climate change have occurred (and will occur) on a number of time scales. Over a century we’ve had a foot of sea level rise, which is showing its effects now. Storminess, in the form of changes in tornado regimes and tropical storms, has probably been with us for a few decades. But Agwaaqrarwaww has probably only been with us since about the beginning of the present century.

I blogged about this before. In “Global Warming And Extreme Weather” I described an earlier paper produced by the same research team, in which they presented this graphic:


Followed by this graphic, which I made, with the intention of more clearly showing the trend in QR events:

I sent that to one of the authors, which may have inspired the production of a different graphic but showing the same trend, for the current paper:


Look how recent this phenomenon is. It is now, current, happening at sub-climate time scales. We don’t know enough about it, and we need to address it.

I asked Stefan Rahmstorf, one of the paper’s author and the scientists I was exchanging graphics with, to elaborate on the signficance of this recent study and to explain why it is important. He told me, “Previous studies have failed to find trends linked to global warming which could explain the recent spate of unusual extreme events. For example they have looked at trends in the occurrence of blocking or in the speed of the jet stream. But you need to know what you are looking for in order to find it. The planetary wave equation reveals what the resonance conditions are which make the waves grow really big, causing extreme weather. So we knew what trends to look for.”

I also asked him if severe weather events post dating the end of his study period conform to expectations as Rossby Wave events. “I can’t say for sure because we have not done the analysis for the very latest data yet – studies like this take time,” he told me. “But I suspect there have been more resonance events. They are not necessarily constrained to July and August either. The record flooding in May/June 2013 in Germany of the Danube and Elbe rivers, for example, was associated with large planetary wave amplitudes. Dim Coumou has assembled a young research team now that will work on further data analysis.”

Damian Carrington has written up this research at the Guardian, and notes:

Prof Ted Shepherd, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, UK, but not involved in the work, said the link between blocking patterns and extreme weather was very well established. He added that the increasing frequency shown in the new work indicated climate change could bring rapid and dramatic changes to weather, on top of a gradual heating of the planet. “Circulation changes can have much more non-linear effects. They may do nothing for a while, then there might be some kind of regime change.”

Shepherd said linking the rise in blocking events to Arctic warming remained “a bit speculative” at this stage, in particular because the difference between temperatures at the poles and equator is most pronounced in winter, not summer. But he noted that the succession of storms that caused England’s wettest winter in 250 years was a “very good example” of blocking patterns causing extreme weather during the coldest season. “The jet stream was stuck in one position for a long period, so a whole series of storms passed over England,” he said.

I’m not convinced that the seasonality of Arctic Amplification matter much here, and I note that we’ve not looked closely at the Antarctic. Also, “blocking patterns” and QR waves are not really the same exact thing. They may be different features of the same overall phenomenon, but QR Rossby Waves are a more general phenomenon, and a “blocking” is something that happens, probably, when that phenomenon interacts with certain kinds of storms.

It occurs to me that there is a huge difference between Agwaaqrarwaww happening randomly in space vs. blocking and steering waves setting up for long periods of time over the same place, and appearing in those places typically. Like Godzilla. We know that over time Godzilla will usually destroy Tokyo and not London, because Godzialla, while sometimes random, is usually geographically consistant. Can we expect Rossby Waves to usually causae drought in California, flooding on the Front Range or Rockies, and drenching rains in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Region, for example? I asked Stefan about that as well.

“We have not looked at this aspect yet, but the recent paper by Screen and Simmonds has indeed found such a preference of the wave troughs and crests to sit in certain locations.

Ruh Roh.

#Ferguson Police Are At Your Door

Above: Ferguson police spent the evening dropping tear gas containers on reporters to keep news of police repression from getting out. They are unaware of the deadly truthful combination of cell phones, citizens, and twitter.

My fellow American: You live in Ferguson, you just don’t know it yet.


Some petitions about #Furgeson

“Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son!”
Stop the police abuse. Send the National Guard to Ferguson.
Create a Michael Brown Law requiring police officers to wear cameras and record any interaction with the public at all times.
Please Enact New Federal Laws to Protect Citizens from Police Violence and Misconduct

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