Sunday, 20 December 2009

Climate change.

It should be obvious that I am in that much-pilloried camp of 'climate change sceptic'. If you believe some people, then I am a flat-earthist conspiracy-theorist traitor who should be put on trial for high crimes against humanity. Yes, those are all quotes from influential people or organisations (Gordon Brown, the New Statesman, Robert Kennedy Jr, and NASA's James Hansen). Climate depot has many more of these lovely, though-provoking claims.

Strangely enough, I do not agree with this characterisation. Firstly, what is my position:
  1. Climate change happens.
  2. Man is having an effect on the climate.
  3. That effect is caused by many things - greenhouse gasses (CO2, Methane, Ozone etc), black soot, water vapour and others.
  4. Splitting man's effect on the climate from the natural variations is extremely difficult and is based on vague assumptions. Although we are having an effect (see 2), we have no way of knowing with any accuracy what that is.
  5. Concentrating on CO2 ignores the other causes (see 3).
  6. We have little idea beyond vague estimations of the sizes of the land and sea carbon sinks.
  7. Scientists have proved extremely bad at predicting the future in complex systems - see the spread of bird flu, CJD, Swine flu, long-term weather forecasting and the financial systems.
  8. Best, middle and worst cases should always be being presented, with details on the confidence levels. The media only ever reports the worst case ("Oh my God! We're all going to drown"). Experts routinely outline the worst case when interviewed.
  9. I want a better climate. Simple laws like the various Clean-Air Acts have massively improved the lifestyle of people living in the relevant countries. Lower exhaust emissions from vehicles would likewise be a boon.
  10. They have got it wrong before. (Actually, Hansen's paper is good in that it does show three different scenarios. One of the the things under dispute is which one he meant).
  11. A great deal of the future effect of climate change will depend on the past variability of both temperature and CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere - and the CRU emails show that such past data is hard to obtain (and, perhaps, easy to fiddle).
  12. Even the current temperature is hard to measure to the required accuracy.
  13. And finally, just to show I am an evil baby-killing real right-winger, I want energy security.
In the next post, I shall outline the way we *should* be tackling these problems.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Two well-deserved congratulations

I have written on a couple of occasions about Airbus's and Boeing's inability to get a couple of major projects into the air - Airbus's military freightlifter the A400M and Boeing's next-generation passenger airliner the 787.

Well, on the morning of the 1th the A400M made its first flight. Then, five days later, I set up my laptop to watch the first flight of the 787 unfold in front of me live.

So Airbus beat Boeing by a few days in this particular battle. Both projects are in trouble - the 787 is reportedly overweight, and the long delays in the A400M project is causing countries to pull out - but I send heartfelt congratulations to all the teams involved.

There is a long way to go before they can go into full production, and as the A380 projects showed, first flight is not a guarantee that the project will not hit other hurdles. Yet it is an important milestone. Well done to Boeing and Airbus.

Friday, 18 December 2009

My wife

I had an official sort of phone call today, during which I realised how much I love saying, 'my wife'. Not for the 'my' part, for I have about as much chance of possessing ┼×encan as I do the Statue of Liberty; no, I love the idea of having a wife as beautiful and as intelligent as her. I love being able to tell the world that this woman chose to marry me. And I am honoured by the fact that, in some moment of insanity, she chose to ask me to be her husband.

I love her utterly.

Looking at that photo, who can blame me?

P.s: And yes, the photo was taken at a dockyard. I know how to treat women well...

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Drink driving

There is a very moving, poignant story on the BBC News website. I do not think I need to add anything more to the article.

I shall go and dry my eyes now.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The black screen of death and media reporting

There is a brilliant article on zdnet that goes into the alleged Microsoft 'black screen of death' fears with Windows 7 that plagued Microsoft last week.

The article is a fascinating dissection of the way that an ill-judged and inaccurate article by a security firm spread like wildfire over the Internet, media and newspapers. Over a couple of days Microsoft suffered a great deal of bad publicity, only for the firm that released the statement to admit that the problem was not Microsoft's fault, but was caused by malware on the affected systems.

It smells like a well-planned, deliberate attack on Microsoft. The original article was released on the Friday, and IDG picked it up and released it on their tech websites just in time for the Monday morning after-holiday rush in the US. What was worded in the original article as 'Black Screen woes could affect millions on Windows 7, Vista and XP' became, on many websites: 'does affect'.

As the article says, IDG (who published the article on Monday morning) was not following the story, but leading it. This happens all the time in the media, and it is simply not good enough.

Microsoft had scorn poured over it throughout the media, for something that was fundamentally not its fault, whilst IDG got many hits to its website (many articles referred to it as the originating website, not the security firm). The security firm has increased its public visibility, but has suffered a major embarrassment. IDG wins, and Microsoft loses.

This reactive, inaccurate reporting is happening all the time at the moment. Any reputable media organisation should be morally obliged to check on original sources and weigh them up when writing articles. Instead, they repeat rumour and (in this case) ill-founded 'research' as fact. Worse, instead of copy and pasting the story, words get altered in the process (e.g. 'could' to 'does'), and the original source lost.

At a time when science is being wounded by the 'Climategate' scandal, the media needs to take a step back and take a firm look at the way it reports the news.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The first frost of the winter this morning.

I'm quite excited. The first day of December dawned sunny and cold, with a light covering of frost in sheltered places. The last month has been very wet, including torrential rain, so the sunshine was welcome.

I quite like walking in winter; true, it is cold, but you can easily wrap up against that. The worst problem is that the short days means that I cannot walk as far, or otherwise not take a lunch break. Yet there is something magical about walking in the cold, with teh blue sky overhead and a thing white covering over the grass. I love it.

Another advantage of frosty days is watching ┼×encan scrape the ice off the car when she decides to drive herself in ;-)