Monday, December 31, 2007

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By Benevolent Powers
Faithfully and quietly surrounded by benevolent powers,
wonderfully guarded and consoled,
- thus will I live this day with you
and go forth with you into another year.

Still will the past torment our hearts
Still, heavy burdens of bad times depress us,
Ah, Lord give our startled souls
the grace for which we were created.

And if you pass to us the heavy, the bitter
cup of pain, filled to the brim,
we will accept it, without trembling
from your good and beloved hand.

But if you wish us to rejoice once more
in this world and the brilliance of its sun
then the past too we will remember
and so our entire life will belong to you.

With warmth and light let flame today the candles
that you have brought into our darkness.
If it can be, bring us together once again!
We know your light is shining in the night.

When the silence spreads around us deeply,
let us hear that full sound of the world
stretching out invisibly around us;
let us hear the children's praising song.

Warmly protected by benevolent powers,
with confidence we wait for what may come.
God is with us at evening and at morning
and most certainly at each new day.


(When words like this are written from a Nazi prison camp at Christmas 1944, we should all pause and pay attention. Blessings on your reflections upon the passing of another year, and on your hopes for the year to come. //Halfwise)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

More than just Mucus (TM)


Wow. And also Eeewww.

It takes a bold company to trademark a slogan like "More than just Mucus".* But Robitussin has taken this bold step, and I for one feel better knowing that there are creative departments out there who are willing to do this.

I wonder what they left back in the focus group? I am betting that the also-rans included
  • Far more than Phlegm
  • Going beyond Greenies
  • Helping with Hocksnot
  • Lots more than Loogies
  • Beyond basic Boogers
*The slogan was in the sidebar but I could not capture the graphic containing said slogan to post it here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas traditions

Merry Christmas to all
(or perhaps more accurately to "both" because I suspect that is the readership count of this little blog)

Yesterday was the Christmas celebration at the Halfwise house, as the complications and obligations of extended families had my daughters scheduled to be elsewhere today, the 25th.

I have two Christmas traditions that are becoming more and more valuable to me each year. I write a card to each daughter, and lately to my soon to be son-in-law, with a few words of what I have appreciated most about them this past year. These make each of us puddle up, and I am hoping that the cards find themselves put away as keepsakes. I draft each message on my computer, so I have a record of what I have said.

My second tradition is just before the meal. Rather than say grace, I read the King James Version of Luke's account of the birth of Christ, the one that starts "And it came to pass in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed." I can not get through it to the "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men" without puddling up, which apparently is widely understood and even anticipated by the assembled throngs.

These are traditions I can grow old with.

Blessings of wisdom, grace and strength to all. (or to both, as the case may be)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Isaiah Knew

Merry Christmas to all

Here is something I wrote in 1990. It goes to the tune of "O Little Town of Bethlehem"

Isaiah Knew

“God with us, Emanuel” the prophecy proclaimed.
“The Prince of Peace, the Mighty One,” before His birth was named.
Sent by God but born of flesh, man’s sins to bear away,
Jesus Christ of Nazareth was born on Christmas Day.

Our Christmas is so different now, our world so darkly changed:
We buy our gifts and mail our cards and act like folks deranged
By greed and guilt, false charity, ability to pay…
Though Christ the King erased all that by being born today.

In spite of God’s fantastic gift of everlasting life
We complicate our time on Earth with self-inflicted strife.
As fallen man has always done we balk like mules, and bray
“God has no relevance for me on this, or any, day.”

A steadfast group of faithful souls sees a different, hope-filled truth:
A loving, caring, serving life; a God who’s not aloof;
Salvation born of faith, not deeds, yet deeds which clearly say
“Our Christ, Our King, Our Pow’rful Lord was born this Christmas Day!”

Ignore for now your catalogues, your turkeys and your plans.
Set aside that festive trim, make way for the Son of Man!
The Holy Spirit works through you; let neighbors hear you say
“For me, the greatest gift of all was born on Christmas Day.”

So stand up now, stand up and claim new life in Jesus Christ!
Then take your faith and give it feet! Go out into the night
Of other people’s worldly cares, and share with them, and pray
That Jesus Christ of Nazareth might fill their hearts this day.

“God with us, Emanuel,” the prophecy proclaimed,
“The Prince of Peace, the Mighty One,” before His birth was named.
Sent by God but born of flesh, our sins he bears away; Jesus Christ of Nazareth was born on Christmas Day.

Investment wisdom

It is better to lose an opportunity than to lose money.
Wow, this is far from intuitive for me.

I was raised on "Opportunity knocks but once" and phrases of that ilk. Lately I have been studying new approaches to investment management, based mostly on being honest about the results I have achieved with the results I manage myself.

I have bought thousands of dollars worth of stock based on a couple of comments and some cheerleading by people I do not know, and then I have not had the sense to sell when the price drained painfully downwards.

There is much I do not know about investment management, but I am dedicated to learning. The first thing I have learned is that there are always, always more opportunities. The fact that I have heard about some gold stock or tech development is just a fluke; for every opportunity that I hear about, there are thousands of others, whether in the stock market or real estate or eBay or wherever, that I have not heard about.

Performance problems usually have their roots in one of two areas: Willingness or Ability.

The challenge for me is to learn to evaluate the opportunities, not just bite like a hungry fish at some bait that happens to float past. And beneath the ability to learn, is the foundation of willingness to wait.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The poetry of fluvial geomorphology

Rivers have a life cycle, from small freshet to vigorous stream to powerful torrent to meandering river. There is a metaphor in there somewhere. A riffle in a mature river hints at past energy while signifying the relentless levelling of the landscape.

Herewith, some thoughts on said riffle:

Riffle
murmurs,
a hint of turbulence.
A river's whole life,
condensed.

I have a past,
leaping
falling,
eroding to today.

Let me not turn placid,
smooth
worn,
weedy.

I do not mourn the waterfall years,
times of deadly rapids
but Lord save me
from becoming a fly-buzzing
stagnant
backwater.

Between past and maybe,
a riffle
not yet silenced.


[Halfwise] 2006

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Spiritual Garage Sale

As I approach a much needed break at Christmas, and the calendar turns to the New Year, it's always a time to reflect, to consider my purpose, my goals, my joys and regrets, the nonsense and chaos of my daily life, and the stories that I tell myself and others about what it all means.

This year it is time to do this, with more freedom and possibilities on the table than ever before. And why not? In Mary Oliver's incomparable words,
"Doesn't everything die at last and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
In the realm of my being that is loosely referred to as the spiritual, it is time for a garage sale.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Some of the encumbrances include previous versions of my mission statement, focusing on priorities that are ultimately unrewarding, ignoring sources of energy that in the past have fed my soul (hello again CS Lewis! Long time no see!) and succumbing to blinding greed and acquisitiveness.

Any of you done this? A comment from a fellow runner would be a delight.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Travelling light


I have long been a fan of Japanese technology. There is a small matter of a language barrier, which I worked on pretty hard for several years, and there is a long plane ride between here and there, so it is hard to go over and check things out. They sure have neat stuff.

But www.dynamism.com has the coolest Japanese stuff available right here in North America. This posting is being put together on a Panasonic W5 subnotebook, weighing 2 1/2 pounds, with a battery life of 8 real life hours, and a built in DVD recorder and player. I have had this little gem for about a year, it is first class. It has been replaced with the W7 series, as far as I can tell. But what a treat to be able to go anywhere with a real computer. Way cool.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Living the dream

My wife and I just took a week's vacation to clear our heads and do some thinking about what we might do with the next step in our lives. Rather than sit around and stare at the ceiling, we took a course together (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) that gave us structure, time and space to think through questions about our purpose and about what we do to support that purpose (or not).

It was time and money very well spent. And instead of spending that time and money up here in the Land of the Frozen Chosen, we hopped a flight to San Jose and took the 3 days of training there, then jumped into a rented Sebring convertible and headed south to San Diego, then back up the coast through Santa Barbara and the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur and Monterey. A dream drive come true, for me. And the sunset dinner in Santa Barbara while the locals held a boat parade and fireworks show was lovely.

Living a life of integrity requires actions that are consistent with principles and purposes. For the recent past I have been living in a world of good intentions and rational excuses. But if I want to achieve something new and different, it seems I actually have to DO something about it. Bummer...

In the next few weeks I will post a few of the quotations that were posted during the course. Here is a starter:
Each of us makes his own weather, determines the color of the skies in the emotional universe which he inhabits.
Fulton Sheen

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Banish the darkness


I live in a place that gets plenty of winter darkness. The effect on many people is predictable: less energy, craving for carbohydrates and increased depression.

Litebook is an Alberta firm (www.litebook.com) that makes a product that I think is terrific: a portable and efficient light source that gives our brains the impression that we are outside in the sun.

This is a product that has been well thought through. I find mine to be very helpful. It has applications in lower latitudes as well, for shift workers, jet lag, and -- wouldn't THIS be a miracle -- teenagers whose sleep patterns are out of sync with the real world.

Check it out. At $200, this is not cheap. But overcoming the effects of darkness is worth spending money on.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

It's not whether you win or lose...

...it's how you lay the blame.


Fran Liebowitz

(Who among us hasn't worked with someone who lives by this sorry creed?)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The opposite of a great idea

...is another great idea.

(attributed to Niels Bohr, but unlikely to be something he actually said).

He DID say

How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.
  • As quoted in Niels Bohr : The Man, His Science, & the World They Changed 1966) by Ruth Moore, p. 196

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Entering an Age of Unreason

Long-time British chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, addressing the New Zealand Business Round Table:

The temperature projections (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) does come up with in its fourth and latest report range from a rise in the global average temperature by the year 2100 of 1.8C for its lowest emissions scenario to one of 4C for its highest emissions scenario, with a mean increase of slightly under 3C. The average annual temperature in Helsinki is less than 5C. That in Singapore is in excess of 27C, a difference of more than 22C. If man can cope with that, it is not immediately apparent why he should not be able to adapt to a change of 3C when he is given 100 years in which to do so.

Let us look at the gloomiest of the IPCC's economic development scenarios, according to which living standards ... would rise, in the absence of global warming, by 1 per cent a year in the developed world and by 2.3 per cent a year in the developing world. It can readily be calculated - using, to repeat, a cost of global warming (based on the gloomiest IPCC warning) of 3 per cent of GDP in the developed world and as much as 10 per cent in the developing world - that the disaster facing the planet is that our great-grandchildren in the developed world would, in 100 years, be only 2.6 times as well off as we are today, instead of 2.7 times; and that their contemporaries in the developing world would be only 8.5 times as well off as people in the developing world are today, instead of 9.5 times as well off. And this, remember, is the IPCC's very worst case.

The major cause of ill-health, and the deaths it brings, in the developing world is poverty. Faster economic growth means less poverty but - according to the man-made CO2 warming theory, incorporated in the IPCC's scenarios - a warmer world. Warmer but richer is in fact healthier than colder but poorer.

The more one examines the current global warming orthodoxy, the more it resembles a Da Vinci code of environmentalism. It is a great story and a phenomenal bestseller. It contains a grain of truth and a mountain of nonsense. And that nonsense could be very damaging indeed.

We appear to have entered a new age of unreason, which threatens to be as economically harmful as it is profoundly disquieting.

Revealed: How to market to Vegetarians

Actual wording from a package of shower cream (bottled soap) found in England:
Ingredients: Aqua, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Chloride, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Cocamide DEA, Parfum, Glycerine, Glycol Distearate, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Cocamide MEA, Citric Acid, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Laureth-10, Benzyl Alcohol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Hydroxide, Magnesium Nitrate, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Hexylene Glycol, Hexyl Cinnamal.
SUITABLE FOR VEGETARIANS.
I can not make this stuff up.

Friday, November 16, 2007

More signs that climate change is more confusing than we thought

Marmot Basin is open this weekend for skiing in Jasper. Earliest ever. And the towns in the Canadian Arctic that rely on barges to deliver supplies have to get their winter provisions flown in, because it is an early freeze-up.

Man, this climate change thing is harsh. I was hoping for something warmer...

Hmm, something WE might think about

Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.

GK Chesterton

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Leave a comment, wouldja?

Welcome, you rare recent visitors. Feel free to let me know what you like and don't like.

Lest we forget

It is Remembrance Day, also known as Armistice Day when I was a kid, and known as Veteran's Day in the US, if I am not mistaken.

Any military funeral makes me weep with gratitude. The playing of the Last Post, or even Taps, is enough to puddle me up. I am an army brat and perhaps this sort of reaction is bred into me.

The debt we owe to the generation of our parents and grandparents is unfathomable. We are so precious and self-absorbed these days. Back then, they dropped their pens and shovels and went to war when that was the right thing to do. Nowadays, we pick up our pens and write about how concerned we are about the treatment of minorities in Canada, then object when our forces go to Afghanistan to make a real difference in the lives of a nation of people who were being treated very badly indeed.

If violence never solves anything, as some would claim, then I guess policemen should only be allowed to arrest the willing perpetrators. No one should fight back on his own behalf, never mind on behalf of someone unable to defend themselves. And even if we know someone is going to try to hurt us, we should wait till they start, then try to reason them out of it.

Thank you, every member of our armed forces, past and present. Thank you, their families, who worry and suffer and are around to help put the pieces back together when damaged human beings come back from their missions. God bless you and strengthen you in your daily lives.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Great! Britain Photos (6)


What kind of a name for a town is Wetwang? Travel to East Yorkshire to find out.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Great! Britain Photos (5)


In our quest for unusual town names, we encountered Mousehole (pronounced Mowzel) in Cornwall.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Small Medium at Large

Imagine trying to learn English, and seeing this headline describing a vertically challenged escaped psychic.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Great! Britain Photos (4)


Well, this one made us laugh. I am sure some locals are less amused than others.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

245 year old eulogy


Here is a plaque from a Norman church in East Yorkshire, at a town called Burton Agnes. The subject of the plaque was the local lord, I believe, who died in 1761 in his 51st year. What a lovely eulogy. Here it is, with modern spelling.
In a vault near this place are deposited the remains of Sir Clifford Boynton, who modestly chose to fill a private station with Virtues which would have adorned a public one; who in the several stations of Life in which he acted supported in a becoming manner every Character of a tender Husband, an affectionate Parent, a generous Brother, a kind Master, a sincere Friend; was upright in his intentions, humane in his temper, gentle in his behaviour and candid in his Judgment; charitable without Show, devout without affectation, who closed a devout Christian and exemplary life with that calm resignation which Religion alone is capable of inspiring, when it opens to a good man's view the certain and joyful prospect of Immortality.
I especially like the idea of doing privately what would have "adorned" a public image, as well as the idea of someone who is both gentle and candid. All in all, a man to be admired for his humility.

By the way the photo was taken with my little Nokia phone, in available indoor light. I am impressed.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Great! Britain Photos (3)


This is an interesting business in Cornwall, near Land's End. Wish I had taken a less blurry photo. In case you can't make out the details, the business is a "Builder, Decorator and Funeral Directors".

Friday, October 19, 2007

Great! Britain Photos (2)


There are some lovely places in Britain. There are even lovely places with weird names. We made a point of going past "the Wallops" (Over Wallop, Middle Wallop and Nether Wallop) and I took a picture of the sign to Nether Wallop.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Great! Britain Photos (1)


Just returned from our annual visit to England, where things are different. Over the next few days we shall publish some examples.

This one seems oddly prophetic. If you are a fan of square dancing, you can also pay attention the the white sign at the top of the picture.

Friday, October 05, 2007

How DOES this work?

http://www.milaadesign.com/wizardy.html

Creepy, in a way

Happiness

I finally admitted to myself that I am flirting with burnout. When wise friends and even casual acquaintances recognize the symptoms and actually comment, I guess I have to stop fooling myself. So I will take a couple of weeks off and disengage fully. No e-mail, no internet, no voice mail, no meetings.

How timely to have found the following on a hockey blog last night:
The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.
Allan K. Chalmers

As I deal with this potential burnout, and do the instinctive manly thing of withdrawing into a cave, I am going to remind myself to remain connected to: things to do; people, ideas and things to love, and things to hope for.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Buffalo vs lion vs crocodile

Here is 8 1/2 minutes well spent watching YouTube.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Zero Tolerance

Relax. You may have thought the title portends some sort of rant. Maybe another time.

It's actually the brand name for a line of golf club components. My local clubsmith, Ian, built me a driver with a Zero Tolerance 460 cc head and a skookum green Harrison Titanium shaft that hits 30 yards farther, and straighter, with less effort, than anything I have ever owned. The head has a slight offset so that the slice that occasionally enters my swing is attenuated. In reality I now miss the fairway to the left more often than to the right, because I just can't get used to the ball going so straight and far, so I still line up assuming there will be a slice. It rarely happens, and most of my drives are long and straight. How long? 250 - 260 yards. My old Adams Spin Control driver was 235 at best, 220-230 usually, and not so easy to hit straight.

I think this is a knock-off of a Cobra driver head design. Strongly recommended, especially if you have the chance to have the whole club properly fitted. Ian could have sold me something pricier, with the little adjustable weights for instance, but I am delighted with this Zero Tolerance product. And it doesn't make the horrible rock-in-a-trash can sound that the Cobra makes. Whoo hoo!!

A seven letter word with three U's in it

...is unusual

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Everything I know about golf

...

(Insert blank lines here)

...

Now that we have THAT out of the way, here are some things that I THINK about golf.

A) Equipment
There are four components to the golf clubs that we buy:
  1. Head
  2. Shaft
  3. Grip
  4. Hype
If you want a golf club that performs well at a reasonable price, buy one with good quality in the first three and none of component 4. The local guys that make clubs for a living or for a hobby can do this well. I tested a Cobra driver, found that it worked better than my existing equipment, and had a generic version fitted exactly to my specifications for half the price, by a local clubmaker with a swing analysis machine.

B) Instruction
More instruction has been written about how to execute a golf swing than perhaps any other human activity. Magazines make their living selling the same basic golf tips month after month, explained in different ways.

I am the owner of a couple of DVD sets of competing instructions. What one says you should do, the other says you should not do. For my money, Swing Machine Golf makes more sense than anyone else selling golf instruction. Does it make me a scratch golfer? No, not yet, and frankly, not even close. But if you are going to fill your head with instructions, you might as well have something that is consistent and sensible for every shot from driving to chipping and putting.

Never mind my specific recommendation, just think that if you have been doing something for a decade or two and you aren't getting better, there is probably something wrong about what you are doing that you don't know. Hint: get some professional instruction.

C) Why bother?
Here is the most important thing about golf. You have to know why you bother playing. Surely there are better things to do with 5 hours of your life than hit a golf ball and swear about what just happened. Read the book called Extraordinary Golf and reflect on what the author is saying, and then consider going deeper into the moment.

Golf is a beautiful game and a chance for an extraordinary experience. It is a shame to ruin the beauty by the way we typically approach it, and it is an even greater shame to think that this is normal.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Reason #83 that I'm glad I don't have to learn English

How is it that "second to none" means the opposite of "next to nothing"?

As in:
Q: "How would you rate her knowledge?"

A1: Second to none
A2: Next to nothing

And did you know that "in" means "out of"?

"He works in the San Diego office" = "He works out of the San Diego office"

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Irony (bumped by request from Kobayashi Maru-san)

The anthropogenic global warming movement:
It's the religion that appeals to atheists, the organized rule that appeals to anarchists, the big business that appeals to greenies. Everything that these people scorn the rest of the world for is embodied in one movement that has their support.

The irony would be delicious if the stakes weren't so high.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

One more rant on Global Warming

Here's the conclusion I have come to re the whole global warming debate. The earth is warming, indisputably. CO2 concentrations probably make the warming somewhat warmer still. And then warmth begets higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations as it comes out of ocean-water solution.

At this point the science takes a back seat to the other agendas. Who is to say that warmth is worse than cooling? More people die because of cold weather than warm weather. Who is to say that warming is more important than any other widespread problem that we face? The answer to the 'who' questions keeps bringing me back to people who are against economic development on principle, who believe that the earth would be a better place if all these filthy people were not on it, and those who believe that their rules for how people should live trump any individual's preferences. The kind of people who would scratch a large SUV with a key to show their disapproval.

There are legitimate environmental / public health issues which get little debate, and no publicity. Malaria would be the best example; water and air quality in developing countries ought to be next. But it is reminiscent of why AIDS gets more funding than breast cancer, or prostate cancer -- the public is influenced by a vocal campaign that makes us take action to prove that we care, even if we don't know why we care about this issue compared to the others that we might care about. We get 'guilted'.

The heat balance in the earth's atmosphere, and the relative impacts of CO2 vs water vapour vs solar radiation vs ocean temperatures vs whatever else we might consider, are still poorly understood. The satellite and radiosonde temperature trends still agree with each other better than they agree with the surface records, and it is only the surface records that show much heating. I question even the basic surface records, as many surface temperatures are now being taken in the proximity of air conditioning units. Here is a link that shows an extreme example, but one that is far from unique. http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=1850#more-1850. Or this one: http://www.climateaudit.org/index.php?paged=3. Check out more at climateaudit.org.

So when we hear of record temperatures being set, recognize the source of the temperature data. Then ask why someone isn't removing these second rate measurements before telling us that the trends are unmistakable and we have to take drastic action.

My own opinion? GW has become a religion. There are believers and non-believers, and the debate that we experience is a religious debate between fanatics and heretics.

As a society, we have limited resources, and unlike Shiites taking on Sunnis, it matters to me personally when industrial policies and tax systems are changed as a result of this religious debate. The precautionary principle, so often invoked at this point in the discussion, works on the assumption that the matter in question in unmistakably the most important one to be addressed. When we are being asked to lower our standard of living, the consequences will be real at the individual family level. And for me, the evidence both about the extent of the warming AND about the implications for our planet does not justify any extreme action. I don't believe that warming is even a bad thing, taken on balance.

I always ask the Greenpeace people the same question: is it morally right, or morally wrong, to give people the opportunity to live longer lives? Then I ask what has led to our increased lifespan in the past three generations, and how they would decide which people on the planet should be denied the same opportunity. In the end, the debate comes down to whether mankind should look out for himself on the planet, or look out for the planet at the expense of himself.

End of rant.

Wow, has a month passed already?


And THIS is all I have to show for it?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The trip begins

Off we went to the Edmonton International Airport an hour early, fully expecting security delays because of the attempts in Britain, and the fact that I am travelling on a one way ticket. But there I was, the only guy in line at the check in counter, the only person at the US Customs & Immigration desk, and sitting with my own seat on the plane, no one beside me.

I travel a lot on business, flying mostly, and as regular readers of this blog may know, have all the 21st century toys, the tiny 1Gb MP3 player that runs on a single AAA battery, the noise cancelling Sennheiser headphones with amazing sound, my 2 1/2 lb laptop with the 8 hour battery life. So what the heck am I doing flying most of the length of North America chasing after a piece of technology whose best years might charitably be called 25 years out of date?

It's probably more about me than the technology, and as much about the look of the car as the performance. When the Mercedes W123 cars came out in the mid 1970s, I had just entered the workforce. I was driving the kind of car that would always appeal to me, a 1974 German built Ford Capri V6, a willing engine, competent chassis, fair price and utter lack of either pretension or commonality. I have had a few vehicles that do not match these criteria over the years, but my heart always comes back to that handful of merits. Oh yes, the #%&@ thing better start when I turn the key, too...

Remember Mercedes ads extolling the virtues of the ribbed taillights of the 123s? They were designed to move air across the face of the light, keeping areas clear so that the lights could be seen even if the car was muddy or snowy. Details like this have always kept Benz on my mind, but I had never owned one until I lost my mind and bought a tired old coupe last summer. Frankly the Benzes of the later 80s and onward lacked neither pretension nor commonality.

Anyway, tomorrow Brian and I hook up, I expect to do my hound-in-a-headwind grin, and then drive off in some dated but robust engineering, wrapped in a body style that my eyes and heart consider to be a high form of functional art. And somehow it will all make sense.

Some 4th of July notes
I have seen a reasonable number of fireworks displays in my life, from apartment buildings, from my house, from beside the river, and from a baseball stadium. But never until tonight have I seen fireworks from above.

As we flew from Denver to Houston in the gathering darkness, passing over the sequined lights of the suburbs of Dallas Fort Worth, our timing was perfect. Fireworks were rising from what I can imagine were parks and backyards 35000 feet below us.

This sight reminded me that the US is as much an idea as it is a location. People come to the US for a reason, for freedom and to escape oppression, for opportunity, for a chance to be more than they could be at home. In my own experience, living in a town where everyone is from somewhere else creates a dynamic that is tangibly different from living in a town where a grandparent grew up in a house just a few blocks away. People who transplant themselves have to expend some energy growing new roots, and it changes them and the place they move to.

So happy birthday, United States. At your best, you are a unique blessing in the world. And at your worst, you are still the land of the free and the home of the brave, in a world sadly unaware of its need for both freedom and bravery.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

(Sign starts with "This Is")

Wish I hadn't cut the top off this when I took it this morning...

New golf course, and the owner of the sign and his driveway are just before the turnoff to the course.

Big road trip coming up


Starting in Houston and heading north, including Abilene, Amarillo, Denver, Great Falls and thence to the Big Pyrogy, driving the car pictured here. I buy it on Thursday morning, if all goes well.

Looking forward to a couple of solitary days to clear my head, followed by some quality time with my wife who is joining me at the halfway point.

Life is all about the journey...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Dangerous obsession?


Oh oh. The Mercedes W123 bug has bitten me quite unexpectedly, just when I thought I had it under some sort of control.

Last week I was on the Benzworld forum and noticed one of the members had a rare car for sale. There are plenty of gas 280e sedans around. A small minority of these have a 5 speed transmission. And of this small minority, an even smaller minority became AMG versions, tuned up in Germany with some performance parts like a hotter cam and limited slip differentials. And very few of these AMG versions came to North America.

One is for sale. I have put a deposit on it and hope to close the deal early in July.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Closer every day


...to having the famous Silber Schnabel on the road. Well, notorious maybe. If it were in a German showroom, and IF I had the almost-never-seen-in-North-America headlight wipers, it would look like this photo.

The engine rebuild is done - a full upgrade to European specs. The body work is done; rust repairs, Euro bumpers and headlights, and (soon?) a right side mirror. Not much left, should be on the road by next week.
I am somewhat besotted by the W123 Mercedes line of cars. If I could only find a 280te...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The most serious threat?

Our intrepid leaders are meeting in Germany to discuss Climate Change and what to do about it. We should take this very seriously.

Intervening strongly in the industrialized western economy to prevent climate change is the most serious threat to the general welfare of the planet today.

I plan to practise saying that last sentence to AGW ecochondriacs, to see whether they are really listening. The careless ones will think I am agreeing with them.

Those who are paying attention will hear what I just said. If you want to threaten the general welfare of the planet, merely intervene strongly in the industrialized western economy in a way that furthers the objectives of the backers of the Kyoto Protocol.

A warmer planet is, on balance, a good thing, although no one will admit it. We have been there before, as recently as 70 years ago. We shouldn't be so quick to assert that we are causing this warming, nor can we expect the temperature to respond to whatever action we take. Nor should we take it for granted that individual weather station temperature data is actually reliable, nor that the published summary of these stations' data is in any way meaningful. This blog has spoken to each of these points.

So, a devastating solution is proposed that will do nothing to affect the problem it is aimed at, which isn't a problem at all even if it is really happening. Politicians and activists urge us to sacrifice our healthy economy, the engine of improving life for the entire population of the earth, and receive not one morsel of value in return.

Please, let us hear one politician, just one, stand up and remind everyone that CO2 is not pollution. Then let him (or her) say that regardless of how much money is spent, and how many jobs are lost, to reduce CO2 emissions, it won't make the slightest difference to the climate. Not a shred of difference, even if we ceased emitting CO2 altogether. Then let him challenge the IPCC, or Al Gore or David Suzuki, whomever, to prove him wrong.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Which of these weather stations would you trust?




One of my favorite websites is Steve McIntyre's climate audit.



This week he shows us two weather stations in California and the associated temperature readings that each has delivered over time. The stations are 60 miles apart.

Measuring temperatures on the sunny side of a building beside an asphalt parking lot where cars can pull up right beside the thermometer is not the same as measuring in an open grassy area, is it? Guess which station shows the warming trend? Anyone care to ponder whether rural data is more reliable? Yet the urban stations are numerically more and more prevalent in the calculation of the mythical 'global temperature'.

Enough said. I think the pictures speak for themselves.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Stocks, the economy and carbon credits

I have been somewhat distracted lately by a number of investment related things, and thought I might share some insights that have bubbled up from looking at economic trends.

Firstly, the state of the world's economies today seems to be puffed up by debt and unlimited money supplies. The US dollar is near the bottom of its trading band in terms of other global currencies because the growth of the money supply in the US (unsupported by any real asset such as gold) has been faster than that of its major counterparts in Europe or Asia. Household debt (rolled into mortgages) is at the top of its historic range. The pessimist would argue that a painful day of reckoning is coming for both households and the US economy in general as circumstances conspire to bring these two measures back towards their historic medians.

Secondly, the market for carbon credits has opened and has undergone some speculative ebbing and flowing. It is too early to tell yet whether there is a lasting demand for an instrument which has no intrinsic value other than what a collection of governments declare necessary due to their current beliefs about global temperature trends and their causes.

Thirdly, there seems to be a resurgence in the demand for Uranium, whose spot price has risen 20-fold in the past 8 years. Electricity generated by nuclear power plants is likely to provide an increasing share of world supply for all sorts of reasons including the above-mentioned carbon credit issue.

If the IPCC can portray scenarios as predictions, then why can't we? So here are a few:
1) Economic crisis defeats Carbon Credits
Household debt and a currency crisis spurs the US government to set aside restrictions on industrial development. Carbon credits are recognized as adding cost without adding value to the US economy and plunge in value to zero.

2) Carbon Credits spur Nuclear Power Development
The cost of carbon credits gets so high that society demands cheaper alternatives to super-critical coal fired power plants, and nuclear power plants become a common feature across the developed world. (Traditional environmentalists wonder where they went wrong!)

3) Economic crisis defeats global warming theorists
Some sort of economic crash drops the production of carbon dioxide worldwide, and temperatures continue to do whatever it was they were previously doing, ie fluctuating within broad trend bands. People notice that this is not what the AGW folks promised, and wonder whether there really was a link between atmospheric CO2 and temperatures. However people are too busy worrying about surviving the cold winter to put much thought into what might have gone wrong.

There are plenty of alarmists out there in the world of environmental issues, but I promise you that there is a similar concentration of alarmists out there in the financial world. However the institutions of the financial world are somewhat more interested in their own long-term survival than many environmentalists seem to be, so it is hard to imagine a truly catastrophic extended financial debacle. It is much easier to imagine a financial debacle with governments reacting in ways that are not sustainable in the long run but which keep the mobs from the gates of the palace, as it were.

My conclusion out of this analysis has been to buy shares in good companies that deal with energy conservation, because every scenario includes consumers preferring to spend less to heat, cool and light their lives. I am not alone in this - check out the performance of Color Kinetics (CLRK) on the NASDAQ this week.

I am also into good quality uranium explorers here in western Canada, with TXM, JNN and PXP at the top of my list. The producers (eg Cameco, Denison/IUC and SXR) have had their run-ups, thank you very much.

Gold belongs in every portfolio and the price is inversely proportional to the strength of the US dollar. Hard to make a call on this one, but the ratio between the price of gold stocks and the price of bullion favors buying gold stocks these days. Harder to imagine a plunge in the price of gold than a plunge in the price of the US dollar.

Those are your Halfwise Stock Tips of the Month, or Year. Let me know if this stuff is interesting. Thanks

Friday, May 11, 2007

If polar bears were threatened by warm temperatures


...they should already be dead.

Dr. Syun-Ichi Akasofu of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks published this chart along with his analysis of Arctic temperatures of the past several centuries.

Two things leap off the page:
  • the cycles of temperature are more extreme among the weather stations that ring the Arctic Ocean than among the more urban stations that support the IPCC's conclusions
  • the jump from 1920 to 1940, during a time when industrial CO2 emissions were falling (there was a depression on, remember?) took temperatures to a point higher than they are today.
How inconvenient. We have been here before, CO2 didn't cause it, and the polar bears survived. Over to you, Dr. Suzuki.

Read Dr. Akasofu's paper here.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Making travel easier


I am on the road a lot these days, too much, if truth be told. Half the travel is in jet aircraft, and the other half in noisy little turboprops that threaten to loosen my fillings.

These good headphones make the experience better. Useful noise reduction, somewhere in the 20 - 25 dB range. Excellent, excellent sound quality, which we would expect from Sennheiser.

And if the batteries die in the part that takes the soundwaves and inverts them, the on-the-ear headphones still work. Clear advantage over Bose in this area.

A bit pricy at retail, but available on eBay at good discounts.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Product names you'll probably never see (part 1)

"Pit Stop" antiperspirant

"For the Mean Time" PMS medicine

"Remains to be Seen" embalming make-up

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Doing the math

Water vapour % of Greenhouse Gases: 97%
CO2 % of Greenhouse Gases: 1.9%
CO2 from natural sources: 1.84%
Man-made CO2 (balance) .06%

Let's see now. The change in CO2 concentrations that is caused by man-made emissions is the main factor that is driving temperatures upwards. For a while in the 1940-1975 period CO2 changes couldn't drive anything because temperatures fell while CO2 was rising. But whatever atmospheric anomaly occurred back then won't repeat itself. For sure. Even though we aren't quite sure what that anomaly actually was. Maybe the atmosphere hadn't read the script.

Yep, I'm satisfied. Stop the economy; we have identified the threat to our planet beyond a shadow of a doubt, and we know what we have to do.

I will gladly freeze in the dark, knowing I am saving the planet for my grandchildren.

We'll call this one "adios"


From a collection called 'the last picture I ever took' that friend Rusty sent around.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Adelson Illusion, proven


Our eyes interpret characteristics of three-dimensional representations in subjective ways, that make the illusion of three dimensions "work". Check this link and click on the question buttons for a really cool demo.

A newly-described contributor to global temperature cycles

One of the recurring themes of the IPCC and its supporters is "the science is settled". So what are we to do with an entirely logical, little-known, mathematically-demonstrable link between the roughness of the ocean and its exchange of heat with the atmosphere above it?

This study shows a link among conditions which lead to stronger winds, rougher seas and cooling temperatures, and, alternately, calmer winds, smoother seas and warming temperatures. The bottom line?
  • "Sea water emissivity amplified the solar influence on climate during the Medieval Warm Period"
  • "Wind dependant sea water thermal emissivity is a dominating climate parameter, also in comparison with anthropogenic atmospheric greenhouse gas and aerosol concentrations."
Imagine finding a dominating parameter, entirely unaccounted for in the climate models, that amplifies the effect of fluctuations in solar radiation. Now think of being a climate modeller, using fudge factors to cover all the things that you don't understand.

If the models were attributing changes in temperature to changes in CO2 levels, then suddenly there is less room left for CO2 to be an influence. Dr. Volz has found a significant new contributor to temperature regimes. Fear and loathing of CO2 emissions is suddenly sillier than ever.

An inconvenient truth indeed...

Only gangstas may call a black woman "ho"

There is justifiable outrage that some white sportscaster in the US has called the women of the Rutgers basketball team "hos".

There is no outrage from the same people, when virtually every gangsta rapper calls black women hos and bitches, and the accompanying videos reinforce the notion that women are simply there to shake their attractively rounded parts in the direction of the "artist".

No double standards here. Move on...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Adelson Illusion



The squares marked A and B are actually identical in tone. I will post the proof of this on the weekend. For now, just shake your head skeptically...

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Arrogance and humility

"Save the planet!"

I am SO tired of hearing this admonition. It bespeaks the worst kind of arrogance, the kind that is wrapped up in false servitude and earnestness, while implying that the speaker knows what is best for all of creation.

My own view can be summarized as "Do what is right for those you care about - the planet can take care of itself."

Those who wish to roll back CO2 emission levels to their 1990 values are the noisiest these days. What was special about 1990? What is magic about CO2? What difference will it make? Nothing, nothing and nothing. But we will show our commitment to "saving the planet", and that's the most important thing, isn't it?

Just ask the families of malaria victims, a million deaths a year, about how they feel about "saving the planet" by forbidding the use of DDT.

We are merely foolish when we presume to know that which is beyond our understanding. We become arrogant when we seek to impose our foolishness on others. And when arrogance turns into bullying ("Silence them! The science is settled!") and theft (carbon taxes and imposing a market for carbon offsets), this so-called moral issue of Global Warming becomes cancerously immoral. If and when the solution imposes unemployment, personal danger and economic hardship on the world, it is not a stretch to call that solution "evil".

Jesus Christ models humility for us. Not the weak kind of humility where whatever you say or want is exalted over whatever I say or want, but the kind of humility that recognizes our human place in the world, and our relationship to its Creator and our fellow humans.

I don't believe that my own brand of faith must be imposed on anyone; it just makes more sense to me than anything else that I have looked into. Christ suffered, that we would have life. The relationship that God wants to have with us is based on free will, a great gift, and (in all likelihood) a great disappointment to God in the way we exercise it.

These days we could use more washing of feet, i.e. service to our brothers and sisters. We could use more humility, that not one of us has all the answers. We could definitely use more worshiping God in awe and gratitude.

These are the ways in which we will save the planet. Enjoy your Easter weekend.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Now THIS is cool

I hate jogging. The only times I have ever sustained any sort of exercise program have been the times that I was competing for something, and I needed to get into shape. The older I get, the fewer competitive athletic situations I find myself in, so the less exercising I do.

When a recent medical suggested that I had strength and flexibility but not enough cardio fitness, I figured I should do something. I also figured that if I didn't leverage my own temperament in some way, whatever the 'something' was, it was likely to be a flash in the pan.

Clearly, this calls for Technology, and plenty of it. Nothing like a good gadget to capture the Halfwise heart and mind.

Enter the Garmin ForeRunner 301. GPS. Heart Monitor. Training Log. Built-in rival to run against me. Cool device, available on eBay. The one I bought had been gently used, and arrived from Winnipeg at a very fair price. So far I have jogged twice with it, and am proud to report that the second time around the route my time was 45 seconds faster, and my average heart rate one beat per minute lower. This is the sort of artificial rivalry that can keep me going for months.

I can even track my running online at motionbased.com as well as on my own system. Compare times, pace, pulse rate, calories burned, lap times, elevation changes, etc etc.

Now Garmin has an even cooler one, called the ForeRunner Edge 305. Whatever gets your motor running...

It's time

Dear readers,
I imagine that the typical return visitor to this little blog can relate to the issues that are found here. So I have no hesitation in asking for your support of this effort, the National Resources Stewardship Project.

The NRSP offers an antidote to the mainstream 'the science is settled' bullying that passes for journalism these days. They need your money. I am pledging my support to them, for the first time.

As the scientific results come in with more plausible explanations of climate change than the oh-so-convenient CO2 hypothesis, the rhetoric ramps up. Today we were treated to the NY Times concluding that the third world would suffer disproportionately from Global Warming. Fear! Guilt! We are doomed and we caused it! There is more of this stuff coming; the public needs to hear a dissenting opinion. Then maybe gullible reporters will ask a few basic questions, and check some facts, before shilling for the doomsayers.

The NRSP is one voice that is making a difference already. Check them out. Then help them out. Please.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

There is no such thing as a global temperature

...so how can there be an increase or a decrease in its average?

You might as well say that there is a global average telephone number.

The thesis is argued convincingly at this link by two very persistent and insightful Canadian authors and their Scandinavian colleague.

Key points:
(Those who glaze over easily when confronted by mathematics can skip to numbers 5, 6 and 7)
  1. Sums or averages over the individual temperatures in the field are not temperatures. Neither are they proxies for internal energy.
  2. Temperatures from a field (individually or averaged) neither drive dynamics nor thermodynamics. Instead dynamics are driven by gradients and differences, in temperatures and other variables.
  3. A global spatial average cannot be an index for local conditions, otherwise nonlocal dependence (i.e ”thermodynamics at a distance”) for local conditions would be required.
  4. The utility of any global spatial average of the temperature field as an index for global conditions has been presumed but not demonstrated.
  5. It is easily demonstrated that different spatial averaging rules over temperatures can have contrary trends in time (i.e. some increase while others decrease in time) when the two fields being compared have range-overlap, as they do in this context. This is demonstrated here in a basic example and subsequently with actual atmospheric temperature-field observations.
  6. No ground has been provided for choosing any one such statistic over the rest as the one proper index for global climate.
  7. If there are no physical or pragmatic grounds for choosing one over another, and one increases while the other decreases, there is no basis for concluding that the atmosphere as a whole is either warming or cooling.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Mass delusion

I am at an industry conference in Australia and can not believe the wholesale acceptance of AGW theory as fact.

Australia is suffering from drought and heat, and so people are eager to find something that will change their bad fortunes. Farmers are suicidal over their current situation, cities are on water rationing and there is no relief in sight.

At the same time, it is recognized that China is opening a coal fired power plant every week for the next three years or so, and the Australian response is that they need to cut back so that the undeveloped countries have more headroom to emit increasing CO2. No one appears to be doing the math, that basically every developed country in the world will have to stop emitting CO2 in order that the net amounts remain unchanged.

Hopelessly uninformed. Today's sessions included the obligatory polar bear photo (they are endangered, doncha know, even though their numbers are rising) and comments that the next Nobel Prize might well go to an Inuit environmentalist who is hoping to preserve his way of life.

If policy is set by people to whom the facts are available, but who choose to follow their ideology, than we need to find more sensible people to set policy.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

IPCC: Climate policy or Energy Policy?

If the IPCC were truly focused on the Climate, why would they ignore the rest of human forcings of climate and concentrate purely on CO2? Land use has a tremendous impact on both weather patterns and measurements of weather data, which are then extrapolated into today's climate models. And human emissions of substances other than CO2 (eg aerosols) affect the atmosphere on a global scale.

One answer is that the IPCC is really a policy group focused on energy usage, specifically hydrocarbons (although curious observers would also investigate the preferred status of the International Atomic Energy Agency in the Kyoto Accord). And if your real focus is on eliminating the use of fossil fuels, all those other forcings are merely distractions.

Here is an interesting commentary.

Muslims need to identify their real enemies, says Aussie Archbishop

THE Muslim community is overly sensitive and is the only migrant group to have plotted violence against Australia, Catholic Archbishop Cardinal George Pell has claimed.

Dr Pell said Muslim leaders needed to develop more appropriate responses to criticism.

"In a democratic society, every group is criticised - Prime Minister (John) Howard said quite rightly last year that if Catholics rioted in Australia every time they were criticised, there would be regular riots," Dr Pell said.

"It's not appropriate that Muslims regularly reply to criticism with insults, denigration and evasions while avoiding the point of issue, and unfortunately we've seen too much of this from some Muslim public personalities."

The comments came during Dr Pell's appearance on a panel about Muslims and non-Muslims in Australia as part of the national deliberative poll.

Dr Pell, who began studying Islam after the attacks of September 11, 2001 on the US, said he had met "many wonderful Muslims".

"But there are Islamists who are at war with the Western world - most of the victims of these extreme Muslims are fellow Muslims," he said. "So its important to distinguish accurately your real friends from your enemies and from those who only seem to be friends."

Dr Pell said integration was a "key tool" for a harmonious and secular democratic society.

"Equal rights however, carry with them equal responsibilities - problems arise when minorities demand special consideration that places them outside the law as it applies to other citizens," he said.

"Flexibility and adaptability are called for when refugees and immigrants arrive in our country but there is a limit in (adopting) minority demands beyond which a democratic host society cannot go without losing its identity."

Dr Pell said there was a small minority of Muslims "who really don't identify with Australia at all and are hostile to it". "There seems to be some significant evidence that some of them are planning violence against us here and elsewhere - that doesn't seem to happen in any other migrant group," he said.

Sydney Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali sparked controversy last year when he compared immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat and suggested that rape victims who did not wear Islamic dress were as much to blame as their attackers.

He later appeared on Egyptian television to say Westerners were "liars and oppressors" who had less right to live in Australia than Muslims.

Dr Pell said a fear of Muslims had been "created" by the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 and the attacks on London transport in 2005. He said Muslims in Australia were offered the same rights as other citizens but he doubted non-Muslim minorities in the Muslim world were afforded the same equality.

"I don't think that's the case. I don't think we could be having a meeting like this in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia," he said.

"Christians are being harassed, they're being persecuted and even sometimes in the Sudan being sold into slavery. I would like to know where my Muslim friends stand on this issue."

Sheik Mohammed Omran, from Melbourne's Islamic Information and Support Centre, said it was important to consider why Muslims were fighting against the West. "Why has the youth of England betrayed England even though they are fifth or sixth generation?" Sheik Omran said. "We have to learn from the mistakes of others and not repeat it here."

Sheik Omran said Australia had a responsibility to make Muslims feel welcome.

"You are the host. When I come to your house as a guest and you welcome me with an open heart, I see your generosity as a human - it doesn't matter what I believe in, I will love you and care for you as much as you care for me," he said.

Muslim countries had been great allies of the West during the fight against "our first enemy", communism, and Australia still had a close alliance with Indonesia, which has the world's biggest Muslim population, Sheik Omran said.

Carbon Footprints in your food

[I'm just going to reprint this verbatim, and roll my eyes. Halfwise]


The greenhouse gas emissions caused by baked beans have amused schoolboys for decades. Now they are proving a headache for experts at Oxford University.

Recently the United Kingdom supermarket chain Tesco announced it would introduce labels on its products, detailing their carbon footprint. The information, it said, would go beyond the mere question of food miles -- how far the produce has been transported -- to include indirect greenhouse emissions given off during its production and processing. Tesco freely admitted that it doesn’t know how to measure this yet, and has effectively outsourced the problem to scientists at Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute in southern England, along with the promise of £5-million funding to help them along.

The problem for Tesco’s grand announcement is that Brenda Boardman, who leads the institute, is in the dark too. “I don’t know how we’ll do this either yet. We haven’t started and it’s not going to be an easy project,” she says. “Some ways of doing it are contested and there are accuracy issues. The first stage of the Tesco project is to get people together to talk about whether there is a standard way we can do it.”

In principle, the concept is easy. A so-called “life-cycle analysis” tots up the energy used to extract raw materials and turn them into products. The greater the energy use, the greater the carbon footprint, and the worse for the environment a product is. Tesco says such information would allow consumers to shop according to their environmental conscience. As demand for more damaging products falls, the thinking goes, so will the stocking of that product. The supermarket is not alone in coveting carbon labels: another UK food company, Duchy Originals, set up by Prince Charles, is among those investigating similar schemes.

The problems start in deciding exactly what emissions should be counted.

Direct carbon use is easy to measure, but indirect emissions are far more difficult. Should supermarkets include the electricity used to refrigerate products in their stores? What about the fuel in the tractors on a farm thousands of kilometres away? And if you think the answer is obvious, what about the fuel in the cars the farmworkers drive to get to work? “Boundaries are hugely difficult and, of course, the boundaries may not be in this country,” says Boardman. Some experts even argue the audited supply chain should extend as far as the ultimate source of energy -- the sun.

There are other problems too. Most experts argue that renewable sources of electricity should be treated differently from energy drawn from fossil fuels, which could give some French products a much lower carbon footprint because of that country’s heavy reliance on nuclear power, which produces almost carbon-free electricity. But will shoppers share the view that such products are truly green? And some vegetables transported from abroad could still have lower carbon footprints than those home-grown inside heated polytunnels with bags of fertiliser. “There are offsetting reasons why one may not be better than the other,” says Boardman.

Such difficulties have not stopped some industries trying to work out the “embodied energy” of their products. “Embodied energy is becoming a much more important aspect to take into account,” says Ken Double, head of evaluation at the Energy Saving Trust. “And when we talk about embodied energy we often mean embodied carbon.”

The building trade is ahead of the rest in calculating such embodied emissions, partly because improvements in energy efficiency have steadily eaten into the reductions that can be achieved in energy use, so attention has switched to reducing the embodied impact of the materials used. Geoff Hammond and Craig Jones, mechanical engineers at Bath University, have compiled an inventory of the embodied energy of common building materials including bricks, carpets, toilets, glass and paint. Measured in megajoules/kg of material, the highest embodied energies come from materials that require high-temperature processing, such as aluminium (154MJ/kg), rubber (102MJ/kg) and plastics (81MJ/kg). Natural materials such as clay and plaster have values less than 3MJ/kg. The Bath scientists have also allocated an embodied carbon value: manufacturing each kilo of the ceramic lavatory in your house, for example, sent 1,4kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The results neatly demonstrate the problem of developing advanced technology to tackle climate change. Photovoltaic cells, which turn sunlight into electricity and are increasingly common on buildings, have an embodied energy of 1 305 to 4 752 MJ/m2, depending on design. Even a PVC framed double-glazed window has an embodied energy of about 2 300MJ/m2 -- with about 110kg of embodied carbon dioxide.

Boardman says such life-cycle calculations are often used to decide whether it would be more energy efficient to carry on using older products such as cars and buildings, or to replace them with cleaner versions. “You put together the carbon that has gone into making something with the lower levels of carbon that come from making it more efficient, and at some point there’s a crossover with your existing product.”

Such calculations are complicated, and without a standardised method, open to abuse. A report last year that claimed life-cycle analysis of new cars showed that hybrid cars consume more energy over their lifetime than gas-guzzling 4x4 vehicles. But Bob Saynor, a transport specialist with the Energy Saving Trust, says it was badly flawed. “There is a kernel of truth, in that it takes more energy to make a hybrid vehicle. But this adds only 2,5% to the total energy used in its lifetime, a figure dwarfed by savings of about 20% of total energy that come from hybrids’ better fuel consumption.”

The report’s authors, Saynor says, blundered in dividing the energy used to create a new model by the numbers of vehicles sold. “This explains their ludicrous conclusion that a Jeep is greener than a Honda Accord hybrid, since the Honda has so far only sold tens of thousands whereas old designs like the Jeep have sold millions.”

Dodgy embodied energy calculations can clearly produce emissions as bad as baked beans. Tesco has been warned. -- © Guardian News & Media Ltd 2007

Politician declares Africa corrupt, gets sacked

"Corruption is everywhere -- in the villages, wherever", Zambia's Lands Minister Gladys Nyirango acknowledged at a major conference on graft in Africa last week. Hours later she was sacked.

Africa has long had a reputation as the most corrupt continent, with only two countries, Botswana and Mauritius, making it into the top 50 of the latest annual Transparency International index on clean governance.

But the crippling impact of graft on what is also the world's poorest continent is being increasingly recognised and some leaders are doing more than paying lip service to the problem.

Nyirango was axed by Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa while ironically attending an anti-corruption conference in Johannesburg. The conference was sponsored by the African Union and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

Full Article

Monday, February 26, 2007

Inconvenient Truths

Adapted from an article by Patrick J. Michaels, National Review Online

Al Gore just won an Academy Award for his global-warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth, a riveting work of science fiction.

The main point of the movie is that, unless we do something very serious, very soon about carbon dioxide emissions, much of Greenland’s 630,000 cubic miles of ice is going to fall into the ocean, raising sea levels over twenty feet by the year 2100.

Where’s the scientific support for this claim? Certainly not in the recent Policymaker’s Summary from the United Nations’ much anticipated compendium on climate change. Under the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s medium-range emission scenario for greenhouse gases, a rise in sea level of between 8 and 17 inches is predicted by 2100. Gore’s film exaggerates the rise by about 2,000 percent.

Even 17 inches is likely to be high, because it assumes that the concentration of methane, an important greenhouse gas, is growing rapidly. Atmospheric methane concentration hasn’t changed appreciably for seven years, and Nobel Laureate Sherwood Rowland recently pronounced the IPCC’s methane emissions scenarios as “quite unlikely.”

Nonetheless, the top end of the U.N.’s new projection is about 30-percent lower than it was in its last report in 2001. “The projections include a contribution due to increased ice flow from Greenland and Antarctica for the rates observed since 1993,” according to the IPCC, “but these flow rates could increase or decrease in the future.”

According to satellite data published in Science in November 2005, Greenland was losing about 25 cubic miles of ice per year. Dividing that by 630,000 yields the annual percentage of ice loss, which, when multiplied by 100, shows that Greenland was shedding ice at 0.4 percent per century.

“Was” is the operative word. In early February, Science published another paper showing that the recent acceleration of Greenland’s ice loss from its huge glaciers has suddenly reversed.

Nowhere in the traditionally refereed scientific literature do we find any support for Gore’s hypothesis. Instead, there’s an unrefereed editorial by NASA climate firebrand James E. Hansen, in the journal Climate Change — edited by Steven Schneider, of Stanford University, who said in 1989 that scientists had to choose “the right balance between being effective and honest” about global warming — and a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that was only reviewed by one person, chosen by the author, again Dr. Hansen.

These are the sources for the notion that we have only ten years to “do” something immediately to prevent an institutionalized tsunami. And given that Gore only conceived of his movie about two years ago, the real clock must be down to eight years!

It would be nice if my colleagues would actually level with politicians about various “solutions” for climate change. The Kyoto Protocol, if fulfilled by every signatory, would reduce global warming by 0.07 degrees Celsius per half-century. That’s too small to measure, because the earth’s temperature varies by more than that from year to year.

The Bingaman-Domenici bill in the Senate does less than Kyoto — i.e., less than nothing — for decades, before mandating larger cuts, which themselves will have only a minor effect out past somewhere around 2075. (Imagine, as a thought experiment, if the Senate of 1925 were to dictate our energy policy for today).

Mendacity on global warming is bipartisan. President Bush proposes that we replace 20 percent of our current gasoline consumption with ethanol over the next decade. But it’s well-known that even if we turned every kernel of American corn into ethanol, it would displace only 12 percent of our annual gasoline consumption. The effect on global warming, like Kyoto, would be too small to measure, though the U.S. would become the first nation in history to burn up its food supply to please a political mob.

And even if we figured out how to process cellulose into ethanol efficiently, only one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. Even the Pollyannish 20-percent displacement of gasoline would only reduce our total emissions by 7-percent below present levels — resulting in emissions about 20-percent higher than Kyoto allows.

And there’s other legislation out there, mandating, variously, emissions reductions of 50, 66, and 80 percent by 2050. How do we get there if we can’t even do Kyoto?

When it comes to global warming, apparently the truth is inconvenient. And it’s not just Gore’s movie that’s fiction. It’s the rhetoric of the Congress and the chief executive, too.

— Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media.