Monday, February 27, 2012

Unitarian Universalist - What People Think Meme

My first attempt at a meme:

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Convenient Truth - Another Perspective on Global Warming

One of the ways that the global warming prevention advocates lose some credibility among skeptics and conservative young Earth creationists is that they exaggerate, slant, spin or fear monger.  A little balance about alternative views and information, in my opinion, builds credibility.  Yes, putting 10 gigatonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere every year is going to affect our climate, but that isn't the full story.  Things might not be so awful after all.
  • Yes, we're warming up, but historically we are on a warming trend.  Ice ages are cyclical and have happened every 40-100 thousand years for the last few million years.  We're just coming out of one of the worst about 20k years ago and we should expect that things would continue to warm for a while.
  • Fossil fuels may be putting an unusual amount of CO2 into the atmosphere within a geological blink of an eye, but we aren't the only contributing factor.  Of all the CO2 that entered our atmosphere last year, how much do you think was man made from mostly fossil fuels?  About 2%.  The other 98% comes from natural processes such as the decomposition of organic material.  (source:  Super Freakonomics)
  • The worst predictions of our future, if we burn every last drop of oil, gas and coal is a global average temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius.  This would cause our sea level to rise about 2 feet.  Historically that's not so bad.  During the Cretaceous period temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius and deep water temperatures were as much as 20 degrees warmer with sea levels 550 ft higher.
  • Prior to industrialization CO2 occupied 280 parts per million and now, largely due to our actions have increased that to 380 parts per million.  That seems like a lot, and it is, but 80 million years ago the CO2 levels were at a 1,000 parts per million.
  • Carbon dioxide is not all bad.  Plants love the stuff.  Wood is made mostly of carbon and that carbon comes from our atmosphere.  Studies have shown that if you double the amount of CO2 in a greenhouse you can increase the growth of plant by 70%.
  • What's the strongest greenhouse gas?  Before you say methane, which is 20 times more potent than CO2 as a green house gas, the real winner is water vapor.  There is an enormous amount of water in our atmosphere and it does a marvelous job of both trapping infrared radiation (the cause of much of the greenhouse warming), but also as a very white, fluffy reflector of solar radiation.  How, in the end, an increase in temperature and possibly increased water vapor and cloud cover could affect our future climate remains to be seen.
  • Trees are darker and therefore absorb more solar radiation than do desert and grasslands (but not necessarily city scapes).  Less trees, oddly enough, might make a very minuscule global cooling.
  • There are ways of defanging the worst case scenarios:
    • We might be able to bust hurricanes by using wave motion to pump hot surface water down and cold water up. 
    • Agricultural advancements are making famine less and less of a concern (though still important in certain areas).
    • CO2 scrubbers exist that can absorb the gas from the atmosphere.  No, there not cheap, but nevertheless what we're doing is reverse-able.  Or, we could just plant a bunch of trees...
    • The largest fixer of CO2 is algae, not trees.  Some have considered putting iron fertilizer (a limiting reagent for algae) into the ocean to create blooms that would capture CO2 from our atmosphere and, eventually, sequester it to the bottom of the ocean once they die.
    • As for ocean levels inundating coastal cities, don't forget that places like the Netherlands are as much as 23 ft below sea level.  We just may have to construct more levees.  They're not a perfect solution, but flooding isn't the end of the world, that's all.
    • Sulfur dioxide:  It's long been known that there are global cooling events after large volcanic eruptions.  One  such eruption, Mt. Toba, very likely played a pivotal role in our human evolution.  Some 70k years ago this super eruption significantly cooled the Earth changing weather patterns so as to cause severe famine and drought in our home, Africa.  Based on genetic data it's been hypothesized that the diversity of humanity all came from perhaps as few as 10,000 individuals during this period.  Around the same time there was a veritable explosion of human culture.  Put the two together and it'd make sense that maybe only the smartest survived this cooling drought--hence us.   Anyway, the reason the Earth cooled so much was because of all the ash that soared into the stratosphere, particularly sulfur dioxide.  It's kind of like dimming the lights basically since it reflects back into space a considerable amount of solar radiation.  And fortunately, other than cooling the atmosphere it doesn't do a whole lot of other negative things.  That being the case, there's nothing stopping  us from replicating the same event--pump sulfur dioxide into the air and cool the  Earth back to a manageable temperature (the book Super Freakonomics says this could be down with helium floating tubes with as little cost as 10 million dollar a year with a 20 million dollar initial infrastructure cost).
However, as it's been said, this isn't our world, we're borrowing it from our children.  That being the case, take care of her.  We just have one.  Reasons to take heed of the global warming warnings:
  • What we do might be irreversible.
  • It might cause a cascade effect--for just one examples: heat up the northern permafrost and we may release a frightening amount of methane.  The scales may tip in a huge way.
  • We just don't know the effects.  We're essentially running a massive experiment with the one and only planet we have.
  • Yes, global temperatures fluctuate cyclically, but never this fast.  If we change weather patterns and temperatures, ecological catastrophes are quite likely.
Be wise, be cautious, act long-sightedly, but also be informed.  Things might not be so awful after all.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Human Scrapbook

I wanted to put into pictures the idea birthed here.    When we look in the mirror a myriad of generations and strange ancestral creatures peer back, if only we have the eyes to see it.  It's fun to think this way!  Examples abound and I post it now quite incomplete in hopes that I'll come back to it here and there and continue to amass great examples.

Teeth -  Possibly from small dermal plates

Jaw - You chew with a rib.

Hair - Well, hair had to come from somewhere.  Reckon it was modified scales.

Fingernails - More modified scales.
Arms and Legs - It's a different way to look at gymnastics as dancing on fins...
This dude's 73.  

Tail - I sit where my ancestors swam.

Ears - It should be a little weird to think that my ancestors breathed through the equivalent of my Eustachian tubes coming from my ears.

Nose - Fish have noses; they just don't go anywhere.  Amphibian evolution involved those pits deepening and finally opening to the palate.

Pix picked:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Humility and the Tao Te Ching

Having just finished the Bhagavad-Gita and the Tao Te Ching I wanted to for each be able to condense my biggest thematic take-aways from those pieces.  The themes I've chosen aren't necessarily the most prevalent or the most important, but are, however, those that stuck out to me the most.  The Tao Te Ching took me aback by its repetitious admonitions toward humility, meekness and strength through weakness.   I've included a compendium below of such verses.
"My mind is that of a fool -- how blank!  Vulgar people are clear.  I alone am drowsy.  Vulgar people are alert.  I alone am muddled.  Calm like the sea; like a high wind that never ceases.  The multitude all have a purpose.  I alone am foolish and uncouth."  XX
I think the above verses are an interesting contrast with that of Proverbs in the Bible.  There the 'fool' is someone else who is always messing up and receiving life's/God's punishment for it: "Fools proclaim folly...fools will suffer harm...a fool is arrogant and careless...the mouth of fools spout folly..." etc.  Not humility a huge theme within the Tao Te Ching, but it's even written humbly--the author makes fun of himself!!

"Therefore the sage embraces the One and is a model the empire.  He does not show himself, and so is conspicuous; he does not consider himself right and so is illustrious; he does not brag, and so has merit; he does not boast, and so endures."  XXII

"Know honour but keep to the role of the disgraced." XXVII

Humility in war/victory: 
"There is no glory in victory, and to glorify it despite this is to exult in the killing of men.  One who exults in the killing of men will never have his way in the empire...When great numbers of people are killed, one should weep over them with sorrow.  When victorious in war, one should observe the rites of mourning."  XXXI

"It [the tao, the way] is because it never attempts itself to be great that it succeeds in becoming great."  XXXIV

"The submissive and weak will overcome the hard and strong."  XXXVI

"Weakness is the means the way employ." XL

"Therefore it is because the sage never attempts to be great that he succeeds in becoming great."  LXIII

"The reason why the River and the Sea are able to be king of the hundred valleys is that they exxcell in taking the lower position.  Hence they are able to be king of the hundred valleys.  Therefore, desiring to rule over the people, one must in one's words humble oneself before them; and, desiring to lead the people one must, in one's person, follow behind them."  LXVI 
"One who excels in employing others bumbles himself before them...This is known as matching the sublimity of heaven."  LXVIII
To know yet to think that one does not know is best. LXXI 
Hence the sage knows himself but does not display himself, loves himself but does not exalt himself. LXXII 
Therefore a weapon that is strong will not vanquish; a tree that is strong will suffer the axe.  The strong and big takes the lower position, the supple and weak takes the higher position, the supple and weak takes the higher position. LXXVI 
"In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water.  Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong nothing can surpass it.  This is because there is nothing can take its palce.  That the weak overcomes the strong and the submissive overcomes the hard, everyone in the world knows yet no one can put this knowledge into practice." LXXVII 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

How Police Radar Works

The Doppler effect.
That little dude is about to get nailed.
Radio waves are sent from a antennae, be it a stationary one on the front and back of a police vehicle or from a gun, at certain frequency in one of 13 channels from 33.4 to 36.0 GHz  range.  (Aside: Many garage door openers are in the 300-400 MHz range. 18–24 GHz is strongly absorbed by water vapor because of the natural resonance of that molecule.  It is, therefore, used in meteorology.  This used to be the frequency often used by the police, but it was abandoned because of the interference during high humidity days.)  The beam strikes the vehicle and the reflection speed of the vehicle causes the wave length to increase (or decrease if it's driving away).  Measure the slight difference in wavelength and you can calculate the speed of the vehicle.  Now, an indirect bounce off the vehicle might skew the reading, but that would only cause it to appear slower.

This same Doppler effect is how we know the universe is expanding--everything is shifted to a slower, redder frequency.  Meaning, it's pretty much all moving away from us.  If you project the speed of the expansion based on that red shift and then project backwards how long the universe has been expanding you get a rough estimate of the age of the universe since the Big Bang (requiring adjustment for dark energy).

This all sounds simple enough...but don't forget that light isn't like sound.  In sound the compression and rarefaction waves are just sent further or closer together.  No big deal.  That makes sense.  Molecules just get closer or further apart.  What about light is 'compressed' or 'stretched'???  It ought not sit so easily with you if you think about it.  Light is a particle.  No it's not.  It's a wave.  Well, what exactly is 'waving'?...