Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 28th, 2007

Fox on global warming

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Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2007 at 5:47 pm

Goodbye, southern Florida

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Florida 2107

Florida, before and after the ocean levels have risen. (Click the thumbnail, then click the resulting image.) From an article in New Scientist, which begins:

James Hansen heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. A physicist and astronomer by training, he began his career studying the clouds on Venus. Since the late 1970s he has been studying and modelling the human impact on Earth’s climate, and has published more than 100 papers. He entered the public spotlight in the 1980s with his outspoken testimony to congressional committees on climate change. Last year he made headlines when he spoke out against attempts by the US administration to gag climate scientists.

I find it almost inconceivable that “business as usual” climate change will not result in a rise in sea level measured in metres within a century. Am I the only scientist who thinks so?

Last year I testified in a case brought by car manufacturers to challenge California’s new laws on vehicle emissions. Under questioning from the lawyer, I conceded that I was not a glaciologist. The lawyer then asked me to identify glaciologists who agreed publicly with my assertion that sea level is likely to rise more than a metre this century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow: “Name one!”

I could not, at that moment. I was dismayed, because in conversations and email exchanges with relevant scientists I sensed a deep concern about the stability of ice sheets in the face of “business as usual” global warming scenarios, which assume that emissions of greenhouse gases will continue to increase. Why might scientists be reticent to express concerns about something so important?

I suspect it is because of what I call the “John Mercer effect”. In 1978, when global warming was beginning to get attention from government agencies, Mercer suggested that global warming could lead to disastrous disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet. Although it was not obvious who was right on the science, I noticed that researchers who suggested that his paper was alarmist were regarded as more authoritative.

It seems to me that scientists downplaying the dangers of climate change fare better when it comes to getting funding. Drawing attention to the dangers of global warming may or may not have helped increase funding for the relevant scientific areas, but it surely did not help individuals like Mercer who stuck their heads out.

I can vouch for that from my own experience. After I published a paper in 1981 that described the likely effects of fossil fuel use, the US Department of Energy reversed a decision to fund my group’s research, specifically criticising aspects of that paper.

I believe there is pressure on scientists to be conservative. Caveats are essential to science. They are born in scepticism, and scepticism is at the heart of the scientific method and discovery. However, in a case such as ice sheet instability and sea level rise, excessive caution also holds dangers. “Scientific reticence” can hinder communication with the public about the dangers of global warming. We may rue reticence if it means no action is taken until it is too late to prevent future disasters.

So why do I think a sea level rise of metres would be a near certainty if greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing? Because while the growth of great ice sheets takes millennia, the disintegration of ice sheets is a wet process that can proceed rapidly.

Sea level is already rising at a moderate rate. In the past decade, it increased by 3 centimetres, about double the average rate during the preceding century. The rate of sea level rise over the 20th century was itself probably greater than the rate in the prior millennium, and this is due at least in part to human activity. About half of the increase is accounted for by thermal expansion of ocean water as a result of global warming. Melting mountain glaciers worldwide are responsible for several centimetres of the increase.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2007 at 12:47 pm

Pumpkin (the food)

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I read that pumpkin is good for diabetics, and before I went back to reread (and thus discover that the research referred to the Asian pumpkin), I had bought three cans of pumpkin. In looking at the nutrition facts label (thankfully required by Federal law), it actually is a pretty good food in any case: low calorie, high fiber, etc. But, man, is it bland. If you eat it straight out of the can, as I tried, you pretty much have to force yourself to swallow it.

But then I had an inspiration: as I warmed up the soup today, I took some of the liquid, put into a bowl with the rest of a can of the pumpkin, whisked it together, and added it back to thicken the soup. (My soups tend to change character from day to day as I think of things to add. Soup arithmetic: addition is easy, subtraction difficult.)

And that made me realize that canned pumpkin could serve as the basis for some very nice soups. Off the top of my head:

Spicy pumpkin-butternut-corn soup

A good amount of chicken stock, whisk in a can of pumpkin, add chunks of butternut squash (peeled or not, it makes no difference), kernels of corn, cayenne pepper and/or minced habaneros, dash of Worcestershire, salt. Bring to boil, simmer until butternut squash is tender. Could also include bite-sized chunks of boneless, skinless chicken breast. Tomatoes? Or instead perhaps some heavy cream.

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2007 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Gonzles’s perjury

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Greenwald again:

I had expressed the view several times this week that I believed the perjury case against Alberto Gonzales was weak to the extent it was grounded in his answers about whether the Comey/Ashcroft dispute applied to the “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” as opposed to “other intelligence activities.” My view arose, in part, from e-mail discussions I had on this topic throughout the week with Anonymous Liberal, a very smart and insightful lawyer who has developed a real expertise in the NSA scandal. Throughout the week, he and I shared the same view on Gonazles’ defense to this particular perjury charge. But over the last couple of days, A.L. went back and reviewed all of the testimony given by Gonzales to the Senate Judiciary Committee back in February, 2006. He now conclusively believes the perjury charge against Gonzales would be very strong, and he has put together a compelling evidentiary case proving Gonzales’ perjurious intent. His post has certainly changed my view, and I hope someone on the Senate Judiciary Committee takes notice of the virtually irrefutable proof he has compiled.

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2007 at 12:26 pm

What the Beltway thinks America believes

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Or, perhaps that would be better punctuated and amplified as: “What the Beltway thinks, America believes (at least in the eyes of the Beltway).” You no doubt recall—or at least, I do—how Andrea Mitchell said about Scooter Libby that the American people want him pardoned at a time when (according to a contemporaneous poll) 69% did NOT want him pardoned, though 18% did. But she wanted him pardoned, so she just attributed her own view to the American people. (And no one on the panel challenged her, either.) Glenn Greenwald today:

As always, when wielded by Beltway media stars, the terms “centrist” and “moderate” and “mainstream” mean “whatever views I personally happen to hold on a topic, regardless of how many Americans actually share it.” Hence, the unanimous, wise Beltway wisdom was that Barack Obama “blew it” in the last Democratic debate by proclaiming his willingness to meet with leaders of hostile countries, while Hillary Clinton scored a big victory.

As but one example, from Thursday’s Chris Matthews Show, discussing the Clinton-Obama debate:

MATTHEWS: I share your sentiments. But as a journalist, I have to look at the politics of this thing. Your last words? [Weekly Standard‘s Stephen] HAYES: I think if [Obama] continues down this course I think he’s in serious trouble because it‘s unsustainable.

MATTHEWS: Too far left?

HAYES: Absolutely.

Matthews went on to pronounce, with regard to the exchange with Obama, that it shows why Hillary “will win this thing.” And what of polling data that shows exactly the opposite? Who cares? Beltway wisdom is more representative of what Americans believe than what Americans actually believe. From the latest Rasmussen Reports poll:

Forty-two percent (42%) of Americans say that the next President should meet with the heads of nations such as Iran, Syria, and North Korea without setting any preconditions. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 34% disagree while 24% are not sure. That question came up during last Monday’s Presidential Debate with Illinois Senator Barack Obama saying he would commit to such meetings and New York Senator Hillary Clinton offering a more cautious response. Democrats, by a 55% to 22% margin, agree with Obama.

This is precisely the same process that causes one to hear endlessly from Beltway pundits about how Democrats will be in big, big trouble if they keep up with these investigations because “Americans” sure don’t like that, even though polls continuously show that Americans overwhelmingly want Congress to investigate the Bush administration even further. The claim that Congress is “going too far” or “neglecting the people’s business” or “engaged in witch-hunts” are actually embraced only by minorities. But that is what the government-defending Beltway media believes; hence, they repeatedly assert as a mantra-like chant, based on nothing, that opposition to more investigations is the “centrist position,” that Americans do not like Congressional probes and see them as unjustifiably obstructionist.

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Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2007 at 12:25 pm

Posted in Media

Why are we in Iraq?

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Bush’s reasons for why we’re there keep changing, and in the light of this, one wonders.

Iraq’s national government is refusing to take possession of thousands of American-financed reconstruction projects, forcing the United States either to hand them over to local Iraqis, who often lack the proper training and resources to keep the projects running, or commit new money to an effort that has already consumed billions of taxpayer dollars.

The conclusions, detailed in a report released Friday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, a federal oversight agency, include the finding that of 2,797 completed projects costing $5.8 billion, Iraq’s national government had, by the spring of this year, accepted only 435 projects valued at $501 million. Few transfers to Iraqi national government control have taken place since the current Iraqi government, which is frequently criticized for inaction on matters relating to the American intervention, took office in 2006.

The United States often promotes the number of rebuilding projects, like power plants and hospitals, that have been completed in Iraq, citing them as signs of progress in a nation otherwise fraught with violence and political stalemate. But closer examination by the inspector general’s office, headed by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., has found that a number of individual projects are crumbling, abandoned or otherwise inoperative only months after the United States declared that they had been successfully completed. The United States always intended to hand over projects to the Iraqi government when they were completed.

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Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2007 at 12:10 pm

FBI admits violations of law

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Not the case where they framed the guys for murder and kept quiet about it for decades, but more recent violations. From the WaPo:

Two weeks before President Bush won reelection in 2004, the FBI sent a rare report to its overseers: One of its agents had engaged in a willful and intentional violation of a law by improperly collecting financial records during a national security investigation.

The FBI concluded that the actions of the rookie agent amounted to “intelligence activities that . . . may be unlawful or contrary to executive order or presidential directive,” according to a declassified memo from Oct. 21, 2004.

The incident was deemed serious enough for the bureau to notify both the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board and the Justice Department, and to consider punishing the agent.

The violation was the only one after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that the FBI has specifically flagged as intentional. But it has attracted fresh attention because Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales testified six months later that no “verified case of civil liberties abuse” had occurred since the USA Patriot Act was enacted.

Gonzales told senators this week that his use of the word “abuse” was meant to narrowly refer only to intentional violations. “My view and the views of other leadership in the department is, in fact, when we’re talking about abuses of the Patriot Act, we’re talking about intentional, deliberate misuse of the Patriot Act,” he testified Tuesday in explaining his 2005 remarks.

Gonzales was not the attorney general in October 2004, when Justice Department officials were informed about the FBI agent’s intentional violation. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said yesterday that the existence of the notification has added to concerns that Gonzales has not been fully candid in his testimony.

“Oversight by Congress to minimize abuse of government’s power relies on full and honest answers from government officials,” particularly with regard to Patriot Act matters, Leahy said in a statement. “Time and again this Attorney General has not met that obligation.”

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Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2007 at 12:01 pm

Autodidacts, listen up

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From Dumb Little Man, a useful post:

Some of the greatest people in history have educated themselves to a large degree using a process known as autodidacticism. This is something that’s more easily undertaken these days with the great wealth of online tools available to anyone.

Whether you’ve gone to college or not, you can learn just about anything these days on your own. Want to learn about the classics? Carpentry and home maintenance? Philosophy or cooking? Chess or computer programming? It’s all online, and with a little bit of excitement, you can motivate yourself to learn a subject in a growing number of ways.

Why self-education? Well, besides the obvious reasons of wanting to improve yourself, prepare yourself for success, and just learn as much as you can, self-education offers a few extra benefits: you can learn at your own pace, and in your own way. You can follow your passions, and learn about things that excite you. There’s no price for failure, but there’s every reward for success.

How do you go about becoming an autodidact? The answer is simple: any way you want. I would suggest you set aside just a little time each day to learn a specific subject, but that really depends on your learning style. Some people learn all in one great rush: they’ll stay up late hours for a few days in a row, consuming everything they possibly can about a subject. Others are overwhelmed by an approach like that, and would rather learn a little each day.

However you go about it, here are some of the best tools for the modern autodidact:

  1. Wikipedia. A vast repository of great and useful articles, Wikipedia is the autodidact’s dream. You could surf it for hours, days on end, or you could use one of many tools to make daily learning a breeze. One of the best is the Articles of the Day feature —sign up to get it in your email box. Another great option that I’ve tried is making Wikipedia’s random page your home page.
  2. Online Courses. Today you can learn from the best colleges and universities, from the comfort of your own home. Just a few of the online offerings: Berkeley, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame.
  3. Chapter a day. Don’t have time for books? Read them the easy way: a chapter a day is emailed to you or added to your RSS reader by, which has a growing selection of free books.
  4. Word a day. Improve your vocabulary by leaps and bounds through the FreeDictionary, which has some great features you can subscribe to,including these RSS feeds: Article of the Day, In the News, and This Day in History.
  5. Take quizzes. One of the most fun ways of learning is through games and quizzes. If you do a quick Google search, you can find quizzes on just about any topic, including math, grammar, the U.S. Constitution … you name it. Also try flashcards for effective learning.
  6. Art a day. If you’d like to learn about art, one of the best tools is Your Daily Art. Subscribe to the feed, and every day you’ll get a famous piece of art, along with some notes to help your contemplation.
  7. Podcasts. Not a fan of heavy reading? Get your knowledge through listening. You can listen to a course while driving, while relaxing in the bath, or while your boss thinks you’re working. Just kidding about that last one. Here are just a few of the
    available podcasts: UCLA podcasts, Berkeley on iTunes, Stanford on iTunes, Purdue University Podcasts, University
  8. Free ebooks. Of course, there are thousands of great books online, available for free. Read them during your spare time, print them out for bathroom reading … it doesn’t matter how you use them, they’re free! Here are some sites to start you out:
    Project Gutenberg, Wikibooks, Free Audio Books, Free Academic Textbooks.
  9. Learn languages. Tons of language courses are available online (BBC languages, FSI Language Courses to name a couple), and you can even learn them through iTunes: Chinese, Arabic, French, German, Italian, Greek and much more.
  10. Wikiversity. A growing number of courses are being offered through a great resource, Wikiversity. Also try BBC Learning.

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2007 at 11:41 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Ramen fans

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You ramen fans, particularly fans of ramen from scratch: read this post.

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2007 at 11:17 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Homemade sloppy joes

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Accidental Hedonist has a very good-looking recipe for sloppy joes:

The first version of this recipe was published in My Best Meat Recipes (National Live Stock and Meat Board, 1945) under the title “Barbecued Ground Beef”. The Saveur staff, after scanning the ingredients list, recognized the recipe as sloppy joes. And here it is for your viewing and hopefully cooking pleasure. I loved every bite of it and will undoubtedly beg KS to make more. My one piece of advice is this (actually, make that two):

1. If you can, get your butcher to grind the meat for you, for obvious reasons being hygiene, quality and freshness.

2. If you can get your hands on good buns (hamburger, that is), do that. Good bread significantly improves the dish, but I’m sure you already knew that! And I guarantee you, you’ll want to go back for those sloppy seconds!

2 tbsp butter
1 yellow onion chopped
1 green pepper, cored and chopped
1 lb ground beef
1 cup ketchup
2 tbsp mustard
1 tbsp. white vinegar
1 tbsp. sugar
1⁄2 tsp. ground cloves

Heat 2 tbsp. butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 small finely chopped yellow onion and 1 small cored, seeded, and finely chopped green bell pepper and cook until softened, about 15 minutes. Add 1 lb. ground beef and cook until browned, 6–8 minutes. Add 1 cup ketchup, 2 tbsp. mustard, 1 tbsp. white vinegar, 1 tbsp. sugar, and 1⁄2 tsp. ground cloves. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thick and dark, 25–30 minutes. (Degrease, if desired.) Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve on buttered, toasted hamburger buns. Makes 6 servings.

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2007 at 11:12 am

Obesity through social contagion

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Interesting article from Science News:

Although a variety of personal traits influence weight gain, obesity is socially contagious, moving from person to person through networks of friends and relatives, a new investigation finds.

The study, the first to examine how social ties influence the development of obesity over time, finds that if one person becomes obese, others who know that person well have an increased risk of also becoming obese within the next 4 years. This effect occurs especially strongly among people identifying each other as friends.

The proliferation of permissive attitudes about weight gain and large body sizes among social groups has contributed to soaring U.S. obesity rates, propose medical sociologist Nicholas A. Christakis of Harvard Medical School in Boston and political scientist James H. Fowler of the University of California, San Diego.

“Obesity is not just an individual problem, it’s a collective problem,” Christakis says.

The new findings appear in the July 26 New England Journal of Medicine.

Christakis and Fowler tapped into previously unexamined data on 12,067 adults who underwent health assessments every 2 to 4 years, from 1971 to 2003, as part of the Framingham Heart Study. The researchers traced social networks for study participants by consulting records of contact information for each volunteer’s close friends and relatives, many of whom also participated in the Framingham study and whose weights could also be tracked.

In this largely white, middle class sample, roughly one in three individuals displayed a body mass index that qualified him or her as obese by the end of the study.

The scientists found that when an individual becomes obese, the likelihood that a person who regards that individual as a friend will also become obese increases by 57 percent. This obesity risk increases far more, by 171 percent, when one of two people who regard each other as friends becomes obese.

Friends’ impact on obesity appears equally strong whether they live next door to each other or 500 miles apart. Smaller but significant influences on obesity risk extend to friends of friends of people who become obese as well as to people with even less-direct ties to obese individuals. If one sibling becomes obese, the likelihood of the other following suit increases by 40 percent. A comparable effect occurs between spouses.

The sex of social partners also sways obesity’s spread. In same-sex friendships, an individual’s obesity risk increases by 71 percent if a friend becomes obese. Same-sex siblings display a comparable pattern. Friends and siblings of opposite sexes showed no such liability.

Obesity doesn’t spread among neighbors, unless they’re also friends. Nor does the risk of obesity rise in an individual dubbed a friend by someone who becomes obese but who doesn’t consider that person a friend in return.

Obese people didn’t simply seek out similar-looking friends but actually influenced others, Christakis contends. He says that in many cases, people overweight to begin with were encouraged to eat even more, sending them over the line into obesity.

The new findings suggest that obesity treatment should target groups of people who belong to the same social networks, remarks Harvard Medical School psychologist Matthew Gillman, who heads an obesity-prevention program.

Genes and other biological factors influence individuals’ weights (SN: 3/22/03, p. 179), “but genes can’t explain the obesity epidemic of the past 30 years,” Gillman says.

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2007 at 10:33 am

Deming and process control

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W. Edwards Deming is one of the fathers of process management: the idea that a manager’s job is not so much to manage people as to manage the processes in which the people are engaged. Deming’s constant dictum was “reduce variation.” Until variation in the processes is minimized, the variation in the result of the processes is uncontrolled.

Once process variation is minimized—typically, by knowing (and documenting) exactly what the process is, and training those working on the process to follow it exactly—then the way is open to improving the process: finding ways to tweak the process to reduce variation further, to reduce costs, to improve quality.

Deming summed up his ideas in a fascinating (and highly readable) book, Out of the Crisis. At the link you’ll find hardbound copies in good condition selling for $1. If you work in something involving a process—and I would be you do—buy a copy. It’s eye-opening.

Deming is highly revered in Japan, and the quality of Japanese post-war manufacturing owes much to him. His influence continues to be felt—see, for example, Watts M. Humphrey’s book Managing the Software Process (hardbound copies at the link for $1). (Humphrey wrote the book while at Carnegie-Mellon University, where he founded the Software Engineering Institute, which continues research and teaching in software process improvement. (See also this article.)

Important and intriguing stuff. Some years back I wrote this for distribution within the company where I then worked:

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Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2007 at 10:17 am

Day 4: BBS shave from Black Beauty

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I’m astounded. I didn’t think a carbon-steel blade could hold its edge through this many shaves. And still no speck or sign of rust, thanks to the rinse in 91% rubbing alcohol. I was paying especially close attention to blade angle today, which no doubt helped, but the razor was cutting as smoothly and effortlessly as ever.

First the pre-shave wash with Mr. Glo, then used the Rooney Style 2 Finest with Edwin Jagger Almond shaving cream. Extremely thick, dense, aromatic, luxurious lather—and loads of it. Enough for a dozen passes, I would estimate. Then used the EJ Chatsworth ivory-handled razor with the Treet Blue Special. As noted: a smooth, easy shave, with no problems.

Finished with Royal Copenhagen aftershave, a very nice aftershave indeed. And I’m still feeling my face in amazement. I want to try more different blades, but I’m sticking with guy until he dulls—well, not quite. I’m determined to shave on Monday using Mama Bear’s Sandalwood Vanilla shave stick and a Derby Extra blade, which I’ve already loaded into the EJ Georgian.

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2007 at 9:23 am

Posted in Shaving

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