2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season

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Sept 9th: From the National Hurricane Center, pertaining to Larry:

“Larry is forecast to move near or over portions of southeastern
Newfoundland Friday night or early Saturday morning as it undergoes
transition to a hurricane-force post-tropical cyclone. Hurricane
conditions are storm surge are possible in portions of southeastern
Newfoundland where a hurricane watch is in effect. Interests there
should monitor updates to the forecast.

July 2

This has not been a particularly noteworthy hurricane season so far in that it is now July and we are only having our first actual hurricane. On the other hand, we are already up to the Es, with Elsa. https://gregladen.com/blog/wp-admin/post.php?post=33867&action=edit#

Elsa has just strengthened to a lower level hurricane, and will now head through the space between Haiti and Jamaica, aiming directly at Cuba where it will likely downgrade to a tropical storm because hitting Cuba head on tends to do that. This storm is currently projected to remain a storm while it scrapes the west coast of Florida or perhaps spreads across the mainland in that state. Way too early to say now.

There are projections that have Elsa go over the Gulf far enough west of the Florida peninsula that maybe it would gain strength and become a more sever storm, but most likely Elsa will do most of its damage in Cuba.

May 22
It starts. Ana has formed, is very far north, not going to be a hurricane, and will veer within about two days to the northeast and be engulfed by a front. Ana is considered a sub-tropical storm. Ana is, however, important because it is early. Normally they start watching for hurricanes on June 1st and then the first one takes a while.

In the past an unnamed 1938 hurricane of note appeared on January 3, and a subtropical storm appeared in January 18th in 1978. Technically the NHC counts these as early, but I personally think they might be late from the previous season.

Another 8 storms appeared early prior to the present. In reverse rank order:

10.Subtropical Storm Andrea (May 9 2007)
9. Tropical Storm Ana (May 8 2015)
8. Tropical Storm Arlene (May 6 1981)
7. Tropical Storm (Unnamed) (May 5 1932)
6. Subtropical Storm (Unnamed) (April 21 1992)
5. Tropical Storm Ana (April 20 2003)
4. Hurricane (Unnamed) March 6 1908)
3. Tropical Storm (Unnamed) (Feb 2 1952)

See that? This year’s Ana is the third one to do this! Make sense since “Ana” starts with an “A” so it would always be the first storm.

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be somewhat more active than average.


June 1st: Note that Blanca is currently forming as the second name storm in the Eastern Pacific. It will not be a hurricane and will wander out to sea and dissipate.

Nothing in the Atlantic today.


The storm name list for 2021 is:

Ana
Bill
Claudette
Danny
Elsa
Fred
Grace
Henri
Ida
Julian
Kate
Larry
Mindy
Nicholas
Odette
Peter
Rose
Sam
Teresa
Victor
Wanda

We’ll be watching the eastern Pacific storms as well, and th is is the list of names for that basin:

Andres
Blanca
Carlos
Dolores
Enrique
Felicia
Guillermo
Hilda
Ignacio
Jimena
Kevin
Linda
Marty
Nora
Olaf
Pamela
Rick
Sandra
Terry
Vivian
Waldo
Xina
York
Zelda


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Italian Ate

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The Italians are among the most amazing people anywhere in the world. Ask any Italian. But make sure the person you ask is not a Sicilian, or they will kill you.

OK, enough of the Italian jokes. Point it, where I grew up, there was a large and vibrant Italian community. Loud, even. When our state elected the first Italian ever elected to high office as governor, the Italian community rejoiced, and so did everyone else because he was a great governor (a trait that does not necessarily run in family lines, I quickly add).

In many parts of the US along the eastern seaboard, your basic diner was established, initially owned, and may still be run, by “Greeks.” I put “Greek” in quotes because the exact Greeks in question are typically Cypriots or Cretans, and by “Cretan” I mean people from the island of Crete. The simple version of the story (subject to correction if you can provide a better one): During the post World War II era, but I think concentrated in the 1050s, diners became incredibly popular in the US, and that was about the time that many people were leaving Greek speaking regions of the Mediterranean because of unrest pertaining to British-Greek-Turkish conflicts. Both of those phenomena, the rise of the diner and the exodus of Greeks, ran for decades before and after the 1950s, but it happens that the two historical streams flooded, intertwined, and ponded up in the 50s, resulting in a rough equivalence between “Diner” and “Small Eating Establishment owned by Greeks” in many parts of the US. These were not, I repeat, not, Greek restaurants. Yes, you could get a Greek Salad at one, but mostly you were there to have breakfast of eggs and bacon, or a club sandwich, or something along those lines.

This digression to Greek restaurants is to demonstrate the potential relationship between large scale immigration or migration and the rise of a novel category of business opportunity, which has been known to link an ethnicity with a kind of business, often for a generation or more. Where I grew up, I believe a similar phenomenon happened a few decades before the rise of the Greek-owned American style diner: The Italian Restaurant.

I now live in Minnesota. There are very few, if any, valid Italian restaurants here.

Shortly after moving here, a friend visited from California, and a few of us, all of having lived formerly in or near Cambridge/Sommerville, Massachusetts, decided to go out and eat.

“Hey, I think I saw an Italian restaurant down by that intersection by 610, that might be good,” someone said.

“OK let’s try it. What’s the name?”

“Not sure, ‘Olive something,’ I think.”

“OK whatever, lets go.”

I was pleased to see that this restaurant was crowded, that meant it would be good. We put our name in and waited, finally got seated. We ordered a variety of dishes, salad, etc. The restaurant was OK. Having grown up among Italian restaurants, where the lowest ranked ones were excellent, “OK” in normal English means “very disappointing.”

We had eaten, of course, at an Olive Garden, a chain run by General Mills corporation, now the largest Italian themed chain in the US. Olive Garden restaurants are at present located roughly in correlation with population density in the US. But at the time, we all (who went to dinner that night) had been living in an area of the country where chains were mostly forbidden by zoning laws, and that was 20 years ago. But here is the point: Other than the Olive Gardens that seem to be located at every major highway intersection in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, there are hardly any Italian restaurants, or for that matter, Italians.

And if you find one, it might suck, like one I went to several years ago where they did not know how to drain pasta.

Anyway, I have proof. I recently perused a survey run by my (very) local newspaper here in the Western Suburbs of Minneapolis. When I got to the section on Italian Restaurants, this is what they had:

A handful of pizza joints that mostly aren’t very good (and by the way, a pizza joint does not count as an “Italian Restaurant” on the east coast, though the Italian ethnic link is important and noted). A handful of pizza joints and and one Olive Garden.

I hereby call for Italians who know the restaurant business to move en masse to Minnesota and fix this problem. Anything you’ve got, we’ll take. We don’t deserve it, but we will enjoy it.

Buon appetito!


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Covid Poems: Odes to odious antivaxers

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I feel sorry for some of these people, esp the couple with the dogs. Some of the others? Might as well be Nikolas Cruz, since their choices result in the death of innocent children. But they are all doing one thing well: Serving as object lessons. Don’t be a dumbass.


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Hurricane Ida is the real thing

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Ida is currently menacing western Cuba. It will then pass the long way across the Gulf of Mexico, gaining strength every day. Ida will probably be a Category 3 hurricane by the time it has crossed the gulf. There is a chance Ida could rise in strength to Category 4. It is too early to say for sure, but every single model but one that I’ve seen puts landfall somewhere in Louisiana. The one outlyer model has landfall in Mississippi near the Louisiana border.

Gulf-denizens, start getting ready now. Ida is moving fast. The landfall of the eye, which is NOT when it hits the coast, will be late Sunday or very early Monday.

Update: Latest info from NWS indicates that the storm will strengthn to Category 4 prior to landfall. That would be at about 6AM on the 30th.

Key Messages at 500 PM EDT Fri Aug 27 2021:

  1. Life-threatening storm surge and hurricane conditions are
    expected to continue through tonight in portions of western Cuba,
    including the Isle of Youth, where a Hurricane Warning is in effect.
    Life-threatening heavy rains, flash flooding and mudslides are
    expected across Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and western Cuba,
    including the Isle of Youth.

  2. There is a danger of life-threatening storm surge inundation
    Sunday along the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi within the
    Storm Surge Warning area. Extremely life-threatening inundation of
    10 to 15 feet above ground level is possible within the area from
    Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Mouth of the Mississippi River.
    Interests throughout the warning area should follow any advice given
    by local officials.

  3. Ida is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when
    it reaches the coast of Louisiana. Hurricane-force winds are
    expected Sunday in portions of the Hurricane Warning area along the
    Louisiana coast, including metropolitan New Orleans, with
    potentially catastrophic wind damage possible where the core of Ida
    moves onshore. Actions to protect life and property should be rushed
    to completion in the warning area.

  4. Ida is likely to produce heavy rainfall later Sunday into Monday
    across the central Gulf Coast from southeast Louisiana to coastal
    Mississippi and Alabama, resulting in considerable flash, urban,
    small stream, and riverine flooding impacts. As Ida moves inland,
    flooding impacts are possible across portions of the Lower
    Mississippi and Tennessee Valleys.

FORECAST POSITIONS AND MAX WINDS

INIT 27/2100Z 22.1N 83.2W 70 KT 80 MPH
12H 28/0600Z 23.5N 84.8W 85 KT 100 MPH
24H 28/1800Z 25.3N 86.9W 105 KT 120 MPH
36H 29/0600Z 27.1N 89.0W 115 KT 130 MPH
48H 29/1800Z 28.6N 90.6W 120 KT 140 MPH
60H 30/0600Z 30.0N 91.3W 80 KT 90 MPH…INLAND
72H 30/1800Z 31.5N 91.1W 40 KT 45 MPH…INLAND
96H 31/1800Z 34.4N 89.3W 30 KT 35 MPH…INLAND
120H 01/1800Z 36.0N 86.0W 20 KT 25 MPH…POST-TROP/REMNT LOW


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Back to School Laptop: The Gaming Mistake

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I’m reminded by a piece in Digital Trends that this is back to school laptop buying season. So, I have some advice.

1) Don’t go back to school. There is a pandemic.

2) But you still need a laptop, but don’t get suckered into buying a “gaming laptop” so you can game and oh, also, do your school work on it. See the above linked commentary for a convincing argument, but here I’ll just point out three problems with a gaming laptop for school.

a) They are expensive, and even if you get a cheap one, the resources you are buying are mainly for super fancy graphics, which are not homework.

b) They run hot and burn through batteries like [insert metaphor here when I think of it later].

c) There are cheaper and easier ways to demonstrate to your new friends at college that you are a gamer geek.

3) I recently bought a laptop, and in so doing, narrowed the good ones down to two, one by Dell (Dell XPS 13 9310 Touchscreen or some version thereof) and one by HP (Envy x360 2-in-1 15.6″ Touch-Screen or some version thereof). Check out the different options and sizes. I got the HP a few months ago because at the time it was the only 17 inch available). A third option is the one by Lenovo mentioned in the above cited piece (Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano), but I don’t have research on that. At one time Lenovo was the only laptop I’d buy, but then IBM sold them off and the quality range shifted. I don’t know of the current status of that make.


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A Mammoth’s Journey: New isotopic science

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In 2017, John McKay elucidated the history of modern science through the lens of the mammoth, or really, the mammoth hunters, in his book* Discovering the Mammoth: A Tale of Giants, Unicorns, Ivory, and the Birth of a New Science. The difference between what (mainly) European thinkers thought about the meaning of mammoth and other megafauna bones in the early days of discovery and what we knew a decade ago is not merely reflective of the accretion of knowledge and understanding of an observed science. It is much more dramatic than that. For example, a theory thought viable in the 189th century (IIRC, it has been a little while since I read McKay’s book) is that mammoths were still extant, and lived underground as fossorial animals, and could not survive contact with open air. Frozen mammoth carcasses would then represent mammoths that got too close to the surface, accidentally breathed, died, and were frozen in place, partly sticking out. Other early thinking on mammoth and other megafauna remains invoked unicorns and other mythical creatures. We have come a long way.

From what we know about elephants in general (including mammoths), individual mammoths also come a long way from birth to death. I hesitate to use the highly misunderstood word nomadic, which for racist reasons tends to invoke randomness and the strange (and non often existent) practice of never returning to the same place more than once other than by accident. But elephants are potentially nomadic, in the sense that they their daily activity range on average is a tiny fraction of their yearly home range in size, or that every now and then they may move a great distance, depending on resources and other factors. In fact, many modern elephant herds are far from nomadic, either because of the availability of resources or because they are trapped in parks. The point is, understanding the way of the elephant, sensu lato, necessitates understanding their patterns of movement across the landscape, and how they access resources on that landscape, and the relationship between where they move or stay and their social behavior, which in turn links to the animal’s development from birth to old age and ultimate entry, for some, into the fossil record.

And that is informed by a study just out, which takes this journey of understanding a good distance from mid 20th century views of mammal ecology, using techniques initially applied in the 1980s and that have come to full maturity: stable isotopes.

There is a handful of elements that get used a lot in biology, and that occur in nature as a number of different stable isotopes. Atoms make up everything, and exist as distinct immutable elements (unstable elements can change, of course, not the topic of conversation here). But many elements have very slightly different versions, which remain stable, and for most purposes, substitute for each other in chemical reactions But not quite. As these items are moved around in biological systems, passed from one molecular surface to another, or hooked up to each other or other elements to make various molecules, or separated from other atoms, during the process of life itself at the finest level, whether or not a given atom is used or ignored is very slightly biased by which version of the element it is. The difference is so small and insignificant that you can create a biological system in which virtually all of the atoms of a given element are of one stable isotope only, and the system works just fine. But if you provide a biological system with two different isotopes of that atom, let it run for a while, you might find that the tiny molecular machines that make up the works of a cell have been biased for or against one or another element, so the biological mass left at the end — some tissue such as bone or muscle — is made out of a biased subset of those isotopes.

Hand an isotope expert a sample of carbon-containing material and they can tell you if it comes from a sea creature or a land creature based on the isotopes. Hand some stuff from sea mud to an isotope expert and they can tell you if the Oxygen in the skeletal remains of the included dead organisms were formed during a glacial period vs. an inter-glacial period. The utter coolness of isotopic research is unsurpassed. Isotopic research is to animal ecology what genetics is to many other aspects of biology.

So, a large number of researches led by (wait for it…) Matthew Wooller, have applied isotopic analysis to the tusk of an individual woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) to reconstruct where it went from the time it was born to the time it died, and it lived close to 30 years, in Alaska.

There are two parts to this study. One is to look at the values of the isotopes over time to see how the different life stages went, and the second is to use a fancy simulation to estimate where the animal actually went in Alaska. In my view, the first part is a very important and likely stable result that, when added to other similar results from other individuals, will eventually contribute in a major and long lasting way to an understanding of mammoth life history. The second part is very cool but is necessarily more speculative. For example, it requires faith in a particular reconstruction of ecology of the region at the time, which itself is necessarily speculative.

The following graphic shows the isotopic history of this mammoth.

High vs low values for each element reflect the bias between one or another isotope (not the amount of that element in the sample). The meaning of a shift in isotope can be very controversial or more straightforward. The overall squiggliness of the lines reflects a combination of strong seasonal variation and stochastic or multi-year variation in various aspects of ecology. The things to look at in each squiggle are overall amount of variation across time, and shifts that correspond to the major life history stages of the animal, which are indicated in background color of the graph.

Shifts in Nitrogen values can indicated starvation of lack of food (higher values). A decrease on Carbon value can indicate the same thing. Oxygen can indicated climate change, but the life of one mammoth is too short to spot that signal. It can indicate geographical variation. Strontium represents specific habitats and/or geological location, so as those values change, we assume movement across the landscape to different areas.

From the paper:

Data from the first ~10 cm from the tusk tip showed minimal Sr/ 86Sr variation, suggesting that the young mammoth mostly occupied a range in the lower Yukon River basin in interior Alaska. As a juvenile … the mammoth used a larger range spanning some of the lowlands of interior Alaska between the Alaska and Brooks ranges … The mammoth undertook regular north-south movements within this large core area as well as several long-distance movements, sometimes reaching the eastern end of the Brooks Range and the northern Seward Peninsula in the west … These juvenile-age movements probably represent the movements of a herd (16–18).

With increasing maturity, our study mammoth broadened his range. After ~16 years, a distinctive transition occurred involving higher variance in 87Sr/86Sr along with other isotopic changes. This implied change in the animal’s range probably reflects a transition to reproductive maturity accompanied by long-distance travel between interior Alaska and the North Slope of the Brooks Range. These movements were probably in response
to seasonal changes in resource availability.

One result of this paper is to confirm and underscore the importance of long distance travel in a mammoth’s life. This supports the idea that mammoth confined to small areas (including islands) are selected to become smaller over time (the island effect), which scales the animals to their environment. Isolation to smaller areas of suitable habitat may be linked to the eventual extinction of mammoths.

Lifetime mobility of an Arctic woolly mammoth by BY MATTHEW J. WOOLLER, CLEMENT BATAILLE, PATRICK DRUCKENMILLER, GREGORY M. ERICKSON, PAMELA GROVES, NORMA HAUBENSTOCK, TIMOTHY HOWE, JOHANNA IRRGEHER, DANIEL MANN, KATHERINE MOON, BEN A. POTTER, THOMAS PROHASKA, JEFFREY RASIC, JOSHUA REUTHER, BETH SHAPIRO, KAREN J. SPALETA, AMY D. WILLIS SCIENCE13 AUG 2021:806-808. Published on line here.


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Amazing science books

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You probably don’t get nature like I do.

And by that I don’t mean “get nature” but rather, “get Nature, the magazine.” I do get Nature, which is very expensive, so maybe you don’t have to. A recent newsletter from the Mother Mag includes a list of great new science books, and I was pretty impressed with the books, so I’m giving you the list*. Take the money you saved on not subscribing to Nature and get one!

Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism by Mariana Mazzucato.

Capitalism is in crisis. The rich have gotten richer—the 1 percent, those with more than $1 million, own 44 percent of the world’s wealth—while climate change is transforming—and in some cases wiping out—life on the planet. We are plagued by crises threatening our lives, and this situation is unsustainable. But how do we fix these problems decades in the making?

Mission Economy looks at the grand challenges facing us in a radically new way. Global warming, pollution, dementia, obesity, gun violence, mobility—these environmental, health, and social dilemmas are huge, complex, and have no simple solutions. Mariana Mazzucato argues we need to think bigger and mobilize our resources in a way that is as bold as inspirational as the moon landing—this time to the most ‘wicked’ social problems of our time.. We can only begin to find answers if we fundamentally restructure capitalism to make it inclusive, sustainable, and driven by innovation that tackles concrete problems from the digital divide, to health pandemics, to our polluted cities. That means changing government tools and culture, creating new markers of corporate governance, and ensuring that corporations, society, and the government coalesce to share a common goal.

We did it to go to the moon. We can do it again to fix our problems and improve the lives of every one of us. We simply can no longer afford not to.

Naomi Oreskes’ Science on a Mission: How Military Funding Shaped What We Do and Don’t Know about the Ocean.

What difference does it make who pays for science?

Some might say none. If scientists seek to discover fundamental truths about the world, and they do so in an objective manner using well-established methods, then how could it matter who’s footing the bill? History, however, suggests otherwise. In science, as elsewhere, money is power. Tracing the recent history of oceanography, Naomi Oreskes discloses dramatic changes in American ocean science since the Cold War, uncovering how and why it changed. Much of it has to do with who pays.

After World War II, the US military turned to a new, uncharted theater of warfare: the deep sea. The earth sciences—particularly physical oceanography and marine geophysics—became essential to the US Navy, who poured unprecedented money and logistical support into their study. Science on a Mission brings to light how this influx of military funding was both enabling and constricting: it resulted in the creation of important domains of knowledge but also significant, lasting, and consequential domains of ignorance.

As Oreskes delves into the role of patronage in the history of science, what emerges is a vivid portrait of how naval oversight transformed what we know about the sea. It is a detailed, sweeping history that illuminates the ways funding shapes the subject, scope, and tenor of scientific work, and it raises profound questions about the purpose and character of American science. What difference does it make who pays? The short answer is: a lot.

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard.

Suzanne Simard is a pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence; she’s been compared to Rachel Carson, hailed as a scientist who conveys complex, technical ideas in a way that is dazzling and profound. Her work has influenced filmmakers (the Tree of Souls of James Cameron’s Avatar) and her TED talks have been viewed by more than 10 million people worldwide.

Now, in her first book, Simard brings us into her world, the intimate world of the trees, in which she brilliantly illuminates the fascinating and vital truths–that trees are not simply the source of timber or pulp, but are a complicated, interdependent circle of life; that forests are social, cooperative creatures connected through underground networks by which trees communicate their vitality and vulnerabilities with communal lives not that different from our own.

Simard writes–in inspiring, illuminating, and accessible ways—how trees, living side by side for hundreds of years, have evolved, how they perceive one another, learn and adapt their behaviors, recognize neighbors, and remember the past; how they have agency about the future; elicit warnings and mount defenses, compete and cooperate with one another with sophistication, characteristics ascribed to human intelligence, traits that are the essence of civil societies–and at the center of it all, the Mother Trees: the mysterious, powerful forces that connect and sustain the others that surround them.

Simard writes of her own life, born and raised into a logging world in the rainforests of British Columbia, of her days as a child spent cataloging the trees from the forest and how she came to love and respect them—embarking on a journey of discovery, and struggle. And as she writes of her scientific quest, she writes of her own journey–of love and loss, of observation and change, of risk and reward, making us understand how deeply human scientific inquiry exists beyond data and technology, that it is about understanding who we are and our place in the world, and, in writing of her own life, we come to see the true connectedness of the Mother Tree that nurtures the forest in the profound ways that families and human societies do, and how these inseparable bonds enable all our survival.

My Remarkable Journey: A Memoir by Katherine Johnson.

In 2015, at the age of 97, Katherine Johnson became a global celebrity. President Barack Obama awarded her the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom—the nation’s highest civilian honor—for her pioneering work as a mathematician on NASA’s first flights into space. Her contributions to America’s space program were celebrated in a blockbuster and Academy-award nominated movie.

In this memoir, Katherine shares her personal journey from child prodigy in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia to NASA human computer. In her life after retirement, she served as a beacon of light for her family and community alike. Her story is centered around the basic tenets of her life—no one is better than you, education is paramount, and asking questions can break barriers. The memoir captures the many facets of this unique woman: the curious “daddy’s girl,” pioneering professional, and sage elder.

This multidimensional portrait is also the record of a century of racial history that reveals the influential role educators at segregated schools and Historically Black Colleges and Universities played in nurturing the dreams of trailblazers like Katherine. The author pays homage to her mentor—the African American professor who inspired her to become a research mathematician despite having his own dream crushed by racism.

Infused with the uplifting wisdom of a woman who handled great fame with genuine humility and great tragedy with enduring hope, My Remarkable Journey ultimately brings into focus a determined woman who navigated tough racial terrain with soft-spoken grace—and the unrelenting grit required to make history and inspire future generations.


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How a building or a bridge falls down.

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Every thing, be it a tall skyscraper, a lofty mountain, or a mere mole hill, has a single destiny: To become flat, to fall, wear or settle down into flatness. This is the way of the world because the world warps the spacetime in which those things stand in a way that pulls the atoms they are made of towards the center of the planet. That this is true is evidenced by the fact that the largest region of the Earth that is made of molecules that are not well attached to each other is basically flat. (The oceans and seas.) Even the harder stuff such as rock and dirt is mostly flat around the earth. Be impressed with the jagged and broad Front Range of the majestic Rocky Mountains, but after you are done looking at them turn around and behold the essential flatness of the Plains and Midwest. Most of Asia is pretty flat as is most of Africa. The biggest thing going in South America is the Amazon Basin. Again, flat. Obviously, “flat” is a somewhat subjective term, but we can truly and scientifically divide the surface of the land of the Earth into regions of mountain building and regions of continuous, relentless, enflattening. The only reason that everything isn’t more flat is because, even though the destiny of all the atoms is to be part of one great flatness is real, there are also other effects.

If two continents run into each other, you get mountains. If a big bank provides the financing and a corporation has the will, you get a sky scraper. If a department of transportation gets the funding, and there is a river, there will be a bridge somewhere. These short term effects upon the earth create the bumps and high spots. Temporarily.

So yes, a bridge or a building falls down because of gravity, and now you are annoyed at me because I just spent 389 words stating the obvious. But wait, there’s more.

I state the obvious here not because you need to be reminded of this great truth (though we can all use that reminder now and then), but because the reality of gravity generates a bureaucratic situation that is the more proximal reason for the collapse of a condo.

Everything is broken. Some things are only barely broken, possibly invisibly broken, so maybe not technically broken by some mundane human standard, but at the molecular level, there is an atom here or there out of place (a flaw) or a vulnerability that is more of a broken design element than an actual break. Things like buildings and bridges, and a wide range of important machines, are regularly inspected to find these broken elements, in order that failure does not happen unexpectedly. But since everything is broke at some level, the bridge or building or machine is not discarded or rebuilt every time a problem is found. Rather, there is a threshold of how many breaks, or how bad the breaks are, beyond which we try to not let the brokenness pass.

But the ideal threshold is not known, merely estimated. And, there is a more conservative and a less conservative approach. Then there are errors and flaws in the system of looking for and keeping tracks of the breaks. There are corporate, institutional, and political pressures to not acknowledge that there is a problem. Sometimes that gets to the point of an enigmatic fedora wearing dog having a cup of coffee in a flaming restaurant.

And then the condo collapses, or the bridge falls down, and there is a … well, reassessment.

It happens in stages. First you build all the bridges such as the numerous bridges built across rivers and streams as part of the US Federal Interstate projects of the 1950s. Inspections happen, but the threshold is not sufficiently conservative, or the methods of inspection are not as good as they could be, or maybe there are pressures to ignore the data or move the threshold. Then the Schoharie Bridge collapses. From Wikipedia:

The Schoharie Creek Bridge was a New York State Thruway bridge over the Schoharie Creek near Fort Hunter and the Mohawk River in New York State. On April 5, 1987 it collapsed due to bridge scour at the foundations after a record rainfall. The collapse killed ten people. The replacement bridge was completed and fully open to traffic on May 21, 1988. The failure of the Schoharie Creek Bridge motivated improvement in bridge design and inspection procedures within New York and beyond.

That entry is a little misleading, suggesting that an unusual flood did something unusual to the bridge. Yes, it was a record flood, but records for that stream post date the building of a major reservoir upstream. The previous record was only from 1955, and most years the highest floods were nearly this high. In other words, no one was that surprised about the water level coming off the dam of the big reservoir, and no one was surprised about the big rainfall that happened downstream from the dam and upstream from the bridge. It was the fact that they happened over the same few days that rose the level to a record high, but not an outlandish record high. The bridge was built broken, in the sense that it was vulnerable to scouring. Today, interstate bridges are built with better foundations so this happens less, and they are inspected more.

But here’s the thing: As noted, this led to better design and inspection. But it also led to a lot of bridges being repaired all of the sudden.

I have not found a study that links major news-worthy failure to policy changes. But I can tell you that in the decade after 1987, there was a huge push to rebuild and update bridges to the degree that for a few years, I made a living on it, since most bridges in New York and New England pass by historic homes, old mills, or threaten Native American sites, as a function of how rivers, streams, roads, paths, hydrology, and settlement patterns work. I’m pretty sure similar things happened after the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis a few years ago. And now, condos.

I think it works like this. At any moment in time there are identified problems with all the buildings or bridges of a certain class. By class I mean “Condos on barrier islands in Florida” or “Interstate bridges” and so on. The number of problems increases over time, but of course, many of those problems are dealt with as they are found, or at least, eventually. But the number of outstanding problems tends to increase because absent outside forces, the institutional, economic, and political forces that tend to lead to problems not being addressed tend to work a little at a time to enhance complacency, and sometimes, just plain corruption or stupidity.

While this is happening the public perception is essentially null. It isn’t on anyone’s radar screen. Even if you know about this or that problem, regular members of the public are not tuned in to a steadily ageing infrastructure that is associated with a steadily growing set of problems. Expensive problems. Annoying and time consuming problems. Problems that are easy to ignore, and really, not even know about to begin with. So, we are dogs with fedoras sipping coffee in a burning building. Everything is fine.

But then the condo collapses, or the bridge falls into the ravine. The public is astounded, shocked, made fearful, angry, and demands action, but generally, remains focused on that one event, that one structure, that one failure. Then, that is over and everyone forgets, and never really knew that there were a dozen condos or bridges at that level of broken, but only one failed because failures tend to come one at a time. The public is also mostly unaware (though certainly not everyone) of a response by the powers that be, the inspecting agencies and so on, that involves the sudden increase in inspection rate, the betterment of standards, and ultimately the application of jackhammers and pouring of concrete and leveling of footings and so on. The number of inspection issues suddenly drops to an acceptable level (but they are of course still there, again, unperceived by the public) and start to build again.

The improvements in engineering, materials, and inspection procedures hopefully lasts longer than public concern. The industry behind the infrastructure improves. But the social and political infrastructure seems to not improve much, or does so only temporarily. I put this pattern in a chart:

This is how a bridge or a condo falls down.


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UFO’s: The Fourth Hypothesis

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I am a little disappointed in Neil deGrasse Tyson. He has long pointed out the very correct truth that many astronomers, including professionals and avocational astronomers, have spent a lot of time looking at the sky, and have failed to find Aliens flying about. This suggests that there are not aliens flying about. Recently he added to this the observation that the UFOs recently discussed in the media and subjected to a certain amount of government scrutiny seem only to be seen by Navy pilots in remote areas, which leaves him with no interest in making them a subject of research. I agree with his observation, but in fact, his statement about UFOs can be easily reformulated as a hypothesis that fits nicely with his own area of expertise as an actual scientist (as opposed to the part of his professional activates that are more about science outreach and education).

I am a little disappointed with Ari Melber, though his transgression is forgivable since he is a law expert and not a UFO expert. He makes the same mistake as NdGT when he distills the range of possible explanations for UFOs to three possibilities, apparently presented as exhaustive: 1) they are natural phenomena (but not natural Aliens); 2) they are associated with secret non-Alien technology of some kind; and 3) Aliens.

Obviously there is another explanation that is not quite “natural phenomenon” because that usually means swamp gasses or lights formed by some geological process: they are an artifact of the mode of observation. A smudge on the windshield or lens, as it were, but presumably a somewhat enigmatic or at lest inobvious smudge.

(I’m leaving aside the explanation that they are a hoax perpetuated by a number of loosely connected Navy pilots, on the assumption that the recent Government Report would have ruled that out.)

Many of these things — some of the most important recent examples of these things — are seen with some sort of seeing technology, and the light energy that this technology collects is then processed by some more technology. I can not offer a detailed idea of how these technologies would produce a smudge on the lens of some sort, and this is not the appropriate time to do so. But I am suggesting that the technology produces an artifact that we mistake for a UFO. I would guess that the Government Report, which I admittedly have not read, has not addressed this issue, or some reporter or another would have mentioned it by now. Assuming they read the Government Report.

Here is what I would do. I’d catalog the optical or energy grabbing equipment (the “eyes,” which may be as simple as the window of a jet or the lens of a sighting device) of military vehicles (mainly jets?) into meaningful categories, and I’d catalog the processing machines (the technology that makes the HUDs of the aircraft work etc) into meaningful categories, and see if there is a subset of these devices, by specific technology, manufacturer, or whatever, that is producing the UFO signals, as opposed to others that do not.

That won’t provide an answer to what these UFOs are, but it would generate thought that might lead to this. I said this was a hypothesis, and I do not use that term lightly. My null hypothesis is that the observations are distributed randomly among the various visualization technologies used by all aircraft. If that is falsified because a biased subset of the technology produces UFOs, then the next step of research is warranted.

And this might interest Neil deGrasse Tyson, since his own early PhD (and other) research, which looked at solar flares and magnetics, required a deep and detailed understanding of machines that see things, other than the human eye. This should be something he would find interesting.

Unless, of course, he has made some deal with the Aliens to through us all off the scent…

The Ari Melber piece is here:


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Can you freakin’ believe this?

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I’m starting a collection of faces of elected officials, spokespeople, TV talking heads, reporters, etc. going “WTF????” or “did that person just say that thing” or similar, with their faces. Feel free to add your own. These are looks when an insane statement is being made by a colleague or by a guest on a show, or when some totally crazy ass thing like a Q-Anon conspiracy or something a member of the Party of Hypocrisy or their leader Criminal Trump is saying or doing. Sometimes it is about climate change, sometimes about voting, often there is a strong element of racism. These faces are the reactions to the beyond belief over the time crap that has invaded our public conversations and our news cycles.


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Tick Tock GOP

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I mention these things in answer to a recent question, “what if Trump runs again.” The actual question is, “Can you run for President if you are in prioson?” I’m not really sure what the answer to the question is. Every few days, or at least, every week or so, another penny drops, or perhaps, another straw is added to the back, of the camel, as we march steadily if overly metaphorically towards the day Trump is indicted. There is plenty of time for cases to be built, trials to be held, sentencing to be handed out. He will be in a prison cell before the Republican National Convention. That will either be the end of Trump as a politician, or if the Republican Party actually nominates him as their Presidential Candidate while he is serving a number of years in the stir, it will be the end of said party. Or, if he is nominated, and wins, it will be the end of the subject of that famous quip by Ben Franklin.

Joel Greenberg has plead (or, perhaps, pleaded) guilty of sex trafficking of a minor. Joel is Congressperson Matt Gaetz (Republican, as if you needed to be told that) who is said to be implicated in such sex trafficking as well.

A plea like this sometimes comes a part of a deal to turn on a bigger fish. Such as a member of Congress. Congressperson Gaetz is said to be under investiation as to whether he violated lays by having sex with the aforementioned sex trafficked minor. According to the New York Times,

Mr. Greenberg did not implicate Mr. Gaetz by name in court papers filed by prosecutors in Federal District Court in Orlando. But Mr. Greenberg admitted that he “introduced the minor to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts” with her, according to the documents, and that he was sometimes present. The others were not named.

Jut in on Twitter (hat tip Kyle Griffin): “A banner plane has been flying over the courthouse in Florida with a sign that reads, ‘Tick Tock Matt Gaetz’.”

Mr. Greenberg, who has been meeting with prosecutors for at least five months, has told investigators that Mr. Gaetz had sex with the girl and knew that she was being paid, according to a person briefed on the inquiry.

Mr. Gaetz has repeatedly denied any … [bla bla bla]

Federal officials raided the home and office of Trump’s lawyer, Rudolf Giuliani, a few weeks ago. Today, there is some court action on this case. We hear that Giuliani is begging for money and other help from Trump. If Trump helps Giuliani, it would be the first known instance of Trump helping someone. If Giuliani is in big trouble, which may well be the case, and Trump refuses to help him which may well be the case, the Giuliani, a man very experienced at the art of the deal where the deal is with a Federal prosecutor, may well be the case that Giuliani “flips.” Not talking about pancakes.

Meanwhile, the United States House of Representatives is about to consider (and vote on?) starting an investigation of the Big Lie Insurrection of 1/6.


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