July 2012 Archives

Humidity, Rain, and Power Losses

Made it to India Sunday night around midnight. Skirted through customs and baggage claim with little incident. Was stopped on the way out by a well-heeled, well-dressed fellow asking what was in my bag (not much outside of clothing and some teflon and quartz filters). Managed to talk my way out of a bag search, and then emerged from the airport into the stifling, 88 degree heat. It was 11:30p. It was 88 degrees… at midnight.

My glasses fogged up, sweat beaded on my forehead, and it finally registered: I was back in the motherland.

A short drive later, I found myself at a family friend’s house in Noida (which has grown, emboldened by status, into a thriving metropolitan suburb of its own). The apartment building (Stellar Kings Court) was well outfitted. I collapsed into a fitful sleep, interrupted by what turned out to be one of the largest power outages India has ever faced.

From the BBC:

An estimated 370 million people — about 60 million more than live in the U.S. — were without power for at least part of today in northern India because of a massive failure in the country’s power grid.

It was “one of the worst blackouts to hit the country in more than a decade,” The Times of India reports. The outage turned the [Monday] commute in New Delhi and other major cities in the north into chaos as trains couldn’t run and traffic signals went dark, correspondent Elliot Hannon tells our Newscast Desk.

Traffic was indeed horrendous, though by the time I made it to the Metro service had resumed and things were progressing normally. India Ink, from the NYT has a nice description of the “chaos” resulting from the power outage:

Power failures are common in India, but officials said Monday’s blackout was the worst in a decade. The Ministry of Power was investigating the cause, but officials suggested that part of the problem was probably excessive demand during the torrid summer. “This is a one-off situation,” said Ajai Nirula, the chief operating officer of North Delhi Power Limited, which distributes power to nearly 1.2 million people in the region. “Everyone was surprised.”

Monday’s blackout could have proved more crippling if not for what might be called India’s unofficial power grid — the tens of thousands of diesel generators and inverters, most privately-owned, that serve as backup power sources during the frequent localized failures. Many hospitals across the region are equipped with backup generators, as are many office buildings and government offices. In New Delhi, many homeowners also have their own private backup.

“The electricity here goes every day, several times a day,” said Sushil Gupta, general manager of Ashok Mahajan Hospital in Amritsar, in Punjab State. “We have installed two large generators. We don’t even know when the power goes and comes. Today was like any other day.”

India’s power supply has been especially tested during this year’s hot, dry summer. Electricity use has skyrocketed, especially in large metropolises like New Delhi, home to more than 16 million people. In recent weeks, with a poor monsoon, New Delhi has set new records for energy demand.

The scale of Monday’s grid failure was enormous. Beginning at 2:30 a.m., the entire state of Rajasthan, with 67 million people, lost power. Power failures also affected the states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, as well as the Delhi metropolitan region, which includes the capital, New Delhi. The capital’s seven water treatment plants, which require hundreds of megawatts of power, also temporarily lost power. However, officials said water service was fully restored by early evening.

Update: Power has been lost throughout the North + East of India for a second time. At 1:45pm Tuesday, demand in Delhi peaked at slightly over 4000 MW. Supply was measured at 38 MW.

Speaking in India - Indian English

There was a recent thread at Quora titled, “What are some English phrases and terms commonly heard in India but rarely used elsewhere?” It is really, really priceless.

I find this kind of thing fascinating, and know many of the smarter out there know more about the academic and intellectual underpinnings of adaptation of a language to local culture, circumstance, region. Fascinating, though, how a foreign language, once adopted, grows to become something unique, evolving, unto itself. I can’t help but think that part of the unique change that occurs during this adoption process is just bootstrapping words and phrases — say in Hindi — to an approximate equivalent in English. Throw out some of the confusing conventions that English speakers take for granted, and it can feel you’re speaking two distinct languages.

The quora discussion explores unique vagrancies of the English language in India. A few of my favorite excerpts follow:

That reminds me, I should get my pre-paid converted to post-paid to make sure there is no hassle with roaming. The operator tells me that under the current scheme roaming is free but always the possibility for screwup is there. But the paperwork for updation is too great. Every time wanting same to same KYC. Limited timings, phones always engaged, very much difficult. They trouble you like anything but never answer any of your doubts. Tell me, what is one to do yaar? They are like that only.

I need to prepone some meetings to arrange for the trip so I need to rush due to the same, but not to worry, I will keep you initimated of my progress. Will give you a missed call when I deplane upon returning back.

Indian : Too much stuff in dicky

American : Too much junk in trunk

Gymming: In-house version of ‘Working out’. Have you been gymming lately?

Hope your head is not paining, I didn’t mean to eat your brains. I will offer a translation in a few days. Now it’s time to slow the volume, increase the AC, and off the light because sleep is coming. Kindly to stay in tune.

Paining always gets me. Eating brains evokes the zombie apocalypse.

Everything is lost — and found again — in translation.

Off to the Hinterlands

Updates will be intermittent over the next month. In an hour or so, I begin a day’s worth of travel to India. I’ll spend a few days in Delhi before heading to Leh, located in remote Ladakh, where I’ll go on (another) trip with Himalayan Health.

We’ll be providing basic public health and medical care to a segment of population that has rare access to clinics, hospitals, and doctors. I’ll also be trying to sample air pollution in rural Ladakhi homes — something I’ve hoped to do for many years and now have the capacity to try. It’ll be a hair more challenging than usual — we’re way out, off the grid, without reliable sources of electricity. We’ll see how battery charging goes and how the equipment holds up in what I presume will be very high concentrations.

And, soon, I’ll be awed again by this slayer:

Samsara

I first saw Baraka in college and was blown away by the imagery and the format — a beautiful 70mm film, silent, relying solely on the power of its images to carry narrative force. It succeeded. The follow-up - 20 years later - took five years to make and was filmed in 25 countries. From the creators’ website:

SAMSARA is a Sanskrit word that means “the ever turning wheel of life” and is the point of departure for the filmmakers as they search for the elusive current of interconnection that runs through our lives. Filmed over a period of almost five years and in twenty-five countries, SAMSARA transports us to sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial sites, and natural wonders. By dispensing with dialogue and descriptive text, SAMSARA subverts our expectations of a traditional documentary, instead encouraging our own inner interpretations inspired by images and music that infuses the ancient with the modern.

Expanding on the themes they developed in BARAKA (1992) and CHRONOS (1985), SAMSARA explores the wonders of our world from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the unfathomable reaches of man’s spirituality and the human experience. Neither a traditional documentary nor a travelogue, SAMSARA takes the form of a nonverbal, guided meditation. Through powerful images, the film illuminates the links between humanity and the rest of nature, showing how our life cycle mirrors the rhythm of the planet.

The filmmakers approach non verbal filmmaking with an understanding that it must live up to the standard of great still photography, revealing the essence of a subject, not just its physical presence. SAMSARA was photographed entirely in 70mm film utilizing both standard frame rates and with a motion control time-lapse camera designed specifically for this project. This camera system allows perspective shifts to reveal extraordinary views of ordinary scenes. The images were then transferred through the highest resolution scanning process available to the new 4K digital projection format that allows for mesmerizing images of unprecedented clarity. SAMSARA will be a showpiece for the new, high-resolution 4K digital projection, the HD format, as well as standard digital and film projection.

Air Quality in London During the Olympics

Earlier this week, a few British newspapers ran stories about the implications of poor air quality in London and the impact it may have on athlete’s performance. The articles were a bit scant on details, but hinted at dangers for vulnerable populations and an increased risk of exercise-induced asthma during certain times of the day, especially for athletes. They cited London Air, a site that is tracking a number of important pollutants at sites throughout London.

They’ve got a remarkable amount of relatively easily accessible data on their site, and a special subsection catered towards visitors to London for the 2012 games. They’ve also created (in collaboration with the Environmental Health group at King’s College) free location-aware smartphone apps for Android and iOS that are impressive, easy to use, and comprehensive.

Click here to see a map of PM10 concentrations around London and visit their site for more information.

The AP story has been picked up by the Washington Post.

Rains in China + Changes in Air Quality in Beijing

Not so long ago, I created a little javascript to pull data from the US Embassy’s Twitter air quality feed from China, parse it, and plot the data. It’s worth revisiting now, since Beijing air has literally been washed by the huge amount of rain (and subsequent road closures and power outages) the population experienced last week.

From the NYT

The heaviest rainfall in six decades caused widespread havoc in this capital over the weekend, killing at least 37 people and forcing the evacuation of 50,000 others from waterlogged neighborhoods and villages, according to the state news media.

And from BBC:

State news agency Xinhua said 460mm (18.1 in) fell in Beijing’s Fangshan district, with the capital as a whole averaging 170mm.

About 1.9m people had been affected by the downpour, and flood and economic losses had been estimated at 10bn yuan ($1.5bn, £960m), Pan Anjun, deputy chief of Beijing flood control headquarters, was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

By Sunday evening, more than 65,000 people had to be evacuated. Beijing officials said 37 people had died, 25 of them from drowning.

Outside the capital, 17 people were reportedly missing in northwestern Shaanxi province and eight people dead in southwestern Sichuan province due to heavy rains, said another Xinhua report.

Here’s the real-time data, again — only useful for a few more days. Note the sudden drop in PM2.5 and the slow creep back up. More rain expected this week. Hopefully all colleagues and friends in China are keeping safe, dry, and out of the streets.

Loading the Climate Dice & Global Warming's Terrifying New Math

Two stunning pieces of climate change work from pre-eminent scholar-journalists hit the internet in the past couple days. The first, from Paul Krugman in the NYT, focuses on the situation in the US:

How should we think about the relationship between climate change and day-to-day experience? Almost a quarter of a century ago James Hansen, the NASA scientist who did more than anyone to put climate change on the agenda, suggested the analogy of loaded dice. Imagine, he and his associates suggested, representing the probabilities of a hot, average or cold summer by historical standards as a die with two faces painted red, two white and two blue. By the early 21st century, they predicted, it would be as if four of the faces were red, one white and one blue. Hot summers would become much more frequent, but there would still be cold summers now and then.

And so it has proved. As documented in a new paper by Dr. Hansen and others, cold summers by historical standards still happen, but rarely, while hot summers have in fact become roughly twice as prevalent. And 9 of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000.

But that’s not all: really extreme high temperatures, the kind of thing that used to happen very rarely in the past, have now become fairly common. Think of it as rolling two sixes, which happens less than 3 percent of the time with fair dice, but more often when the dice are loaded. And this rising incidence of extreme events, reflecting the same variability of weather that can obscure the reality of climate change, means that the costs of climate change aren’t a distant prospect, decades in the future. On the contrary, they’re already here, even though so far global temperatures are only about 1 degree Fahrenheit above their historical norms, a small fraction of their eventual rise if we don’t act.

The second, from McKibben writing in Rolling Stone, is more far-reaching and expansive. He starts with some striking, scary numbers:

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere - the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.

Meteorologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded for our nation - in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the “largest temperature departure from average of any season on record.” The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet’s history.

Not to mention floods in China. 179 fires raging across Russia. Drought alerts across many states in India. He outlines three big numbers to focus on.

One: 2º Celsius

Despite such well-founded misgivings, political realism bested scientific data, and the world settled on the two-degree target - indeed, it’s fair to say that it’s the only thing about climate change the world has settled on. All told, 167 countries responsible for more than 87 percent of the world’s carbon emissions have signed on to the Copenhagen Accord, endorsing the two-degree target. Only a few dozen countries have rejected it, including Kuwait, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Even the United Arab Emirates, which makes most of its money exporting oil and gas, signed on. The official position of planet Earth at the moment is that we can’t raise the temperature more than two degrees Celsius - it’s become the bottomest of bottom lines. Two degrees.

Two: 565 Gigatons

Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. (“Reasonable,” in this case, means four chances in five, or somewhat worse odds than playing Russian roulette with a six-shooter.)

This idea of a global “carbon budget” emerged about a decade ago, as scientists began to calculate how much oil, coal and gas could still safely be burned. Since we’ve increased the Earth’s temperature by 0.8 degrees so far, we’re currently less than halfway to the target. But, in fact, computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees, as previously released carbon continues to overheat the atmosphere. That means we’re already three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target.

Three: 2,795 Gigatons

This number is the scariest of all - one that, for the first time, meshes the political and scientific dimensions of our dilemma. It was highlighted last summer by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts and environmentalists who published a report in an effort to educate investors about the possible risks that climate change poses to their stock portfolios. The number describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number - 2,795 - is higher than 565. Five times higher.

The top half is great and informative. The bottom half really gets going, though, with salient discussions of the politics and economics of change. Read it.

Oh Banksy, you darling rapscallion - Olympic Graffiti

Banksy’s at it again. And inspiring others. Great stuff before the London Olympics. Looking forward to seeing more.

apparently, this isn’t Banksy, but is the Criminal Chalkist. Thanks to those who pointed this out and referred me to the above link.

click above to view image sources

For more information about Banksy, check out Artsy’s Banksy page.

Amazing photos of Indonesia

Hengki Koentjoro was born in March 24, 1963 in Semarang, central java, Indonesia. He acquired his knowledge of multimedia production at brooks institute of photography, Santa Barbara, California, USA. Majoring in video production with minoring in fine art of photography, he graduated in 1991.

Photography is not just a way of expressing his most inner soul but also creating a window to the world where through his pictures the unseen and the unspoken can be grasped. Driven by the desire to explore the mystical beauty of nature, he develops his sense and sensibility through the elements of fine art photography. His freedom of expression is more reflected in the elaboration and exploration of black and white.

Photography can never be separated from the aspects of making the common things unusual, welcoming the unexpected, indulging and embracing ourselves with the joy of photography as well as believing that anything is possible.

Via colossal.

The Yellow River

Zhang Kechun is a 32 year old Chinese photographer born in Sichuan, China. He’s created a large-format collection of photographs called “The Yellow River Surging Northward Rumblingly.” The images — with their muted tones — showcase a stunning, vast landscape mottled with people. The large intrusions and scars on the scenery — smoke stacks, superhighways, cooling towers — appear unnatural, huge, imposing. Large compared to the scale of the people in his photos, but small in comparison to the enormity of the surroundings. Really impressive work.

It is a river, with its unity of bend and straight, fullness and imperfection, rapid and slow, active or tranquil, majestic and elegant, simple and wonderful, bright and dark, light and color, form and spirit, visionary and real… It embraces people’s reality and fate, joy and sorrow, firmness and leisure.

I determined to follow its pace, with all my courage and my… large format camera.

See the whole set here.

McCain: Decency in Defense of Huma Abedin

“Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we still aspire to be. What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal, and equal rights that are the foundation of our constitution, our laws, our citizenry, and our identity. When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.”

Lawrence Lessig: "A nation in which so few have the power to block change is not a nation that can thrive."

Brilliant, poignant, and terrifying piece by Lessig in the Atlantic. Excerpted below. Mandatory reading.

A tiny number of Americans — .26 percent — give more than $200 to a congressional campaign. .05 percent give the maximum amount to any congressional candidate. .01 percent give more than $10,000 in any election cycle. And .000063 percent — 196 Americans — have given more than 80 percent of the super-PAC money spent in the presidential elections so far.

These few don’t exercise their power directly. None can simply buy a congressman, or dictate the results they want. But because they are the source of the funds that fuel elections, their influence operates as a filter on which policies are likely to survive. It is as if America ran two elections every cycle, one a money election and one a voting election. To get to the second, you need to win the first. But to win the first, you must keep that tiniest fraction of the one percent happy. Just a couple thousand of them banding together is enough to assure that any reform gets stopped.

Some call this plutocracy. Some call it a corrupted aristocracy. I call it unstable. Just as America learned under the Articles of Confederation, where one state had the power to block the resolve of the rest, a nation in which so few have the power to block change is not a nation that can thrive.

The only way to cure this disease is to spread the power to fund elections more broadly. Just as democracy spreads the vote among the millions it calls citizens, representative democracy in America must spread the power to fund elections among a group larger than those named “Lester.” We need a world were at least 30 million must band together to block the reform of 300 million — not this world, where 30,000 can assure that no sensible reform can happen.

Yahoo Video: The Lego Wire

The Wire, reimagined by snarky Legos. Click above to watch (requires Flash).

From Yahoo, via kottke.org.

"Selfishness run amok"

Frank Bruni, in the NYT:

Selfishness run amok is a national disease (and, to judge by Greece, Italy and a few other European countries, an international epidemic). Too many people behave as if they live in a civic vacuum, no broader implications to their individual behavior.

I’ve known a few of them. I bet you have, too. Making a mockery of all the Americans who rightly depend on such aid, they exaggerate impairments, pressuring doctors to validate their conditions, on the theory that no harm is really done, not when they’re suckling at a teat as elastic and amorphous as the federal Treasury.

But that treasury is the sum of us — of our deposits and withdrawals — and to cheat it is to cheat your neighbor. It’s really that simple.

You wouldn’t know this from the way people approach taxes, which are what the federal Treasury must take in if it’s going to spit out anything at all — for the military, the highways and a whole lot else. Americans most frequently boast of how little they manage to pay, crowing about accounting gimmicks exploited, tricks successfully tried. I’m all for cunning, but we’ve gone beyond that.

A Jaunt to Twenty Lakes Basin + Yosemite

Beth and I took a brief weekend sojourn to the Twenty Lakes Basin, located between Yosemite and Mono Lake. It was outstanding. A few images below.

Designboom: House of Cedar by Suga Atelier

Via Designboom:

Japanese practice suga atelier has sent images of their recently completed project ‘house of cedar’, a residence in osaka, japan. oriented towards the north to overlook a sloping bank of earth and river, a glass facade secured with a rectilinear pattern of aluminum mullions reveals two interior stories. the squared exterior is interrupted with a fold which creates a reveal between the structure and ground plane. placed along the eastern elevation, the line runs through the main entry portal which continues the crease through metal door.

A different type of treehouse. See more pictures.

A Short History of Woodsmoke and Implications for Chile

Smith KR, Pillarisetti A. A Short History of Woodsmoke and Implications for Chile. Estudios Publicos. 2012 Jul. 13; 126:163 - 79.

"Old MacDonald had an organic urban rooftop farm, EEE-I-EEE-I-OOOOOOOOOOO!"

Another gem from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

“Old MacDonald had an organic urban rooftop farm, EEE-I-EEE-I-O! And on that farm he had a vegan girlfriend named September who he met at a sheep shearing class at 3rdWard in Brooklyn who was totally hot and was totally into the rooftop-farming thing until she realized that she liked going to the Hamptons a whole lot more so she dumped Old MacDonald for a documentary filmmaker/personal trainer/DJ/sushi chef/surfboard shaper/trust fund baby whose father owns half of East Hampton.”

“… And on that farm he had a tattoo of Tony Danza with the words WHO’S THE BOSS written underneath it on his right forearm but then he saw a guy on the L train with a tattoo of the whole cast of Saved By The Bell on his thigh, which got him thinking that maybe he should get another tattoo of Alyssa Milano and that woman who played her mom on his other forearm, you know, to up the irony-ante.”

Read more here.

52tiger.net: Brief history of the iPad: Prologue

Dave Caolo has decided to tackle the ‘history’ of the iPad, including its mechanical and intellectual forebearers (he goes all the way back to 1888, amazingly). Seems like an interesting and clever undertaking and one motivated by some startling facts:

Today the iPad is so popular that it’s easy to overlook that it’s only three years old. Apple has updated it just twice. Here’s a little perspective to reinforce the iPad’s tender age:

  • When J. K. Rowling published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, there was no iPad.

  • When President Barak Obama was inaugurated as America’s 44th president, there was no iPad.

  • In 2004 when the Boston Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino and won the World Series for the first time in 86 years, there was no iPad. Nor did it exist three years later, when they won the championship again.

Hard to imagine that the device is only three years old. At least in the US, it has become something of an iconic, cultural touchstone.

Read Dave’s piece and check back for updates as he moves us through the development of iPad.

We are nature

These are stunning, multiple exposure shots created on a modern Nikon camera by Christoffer Relander. See more.

From Twitter to Graph: Plotting the US Embassy's Air Quality Monitor in Beijing

There’s been a lot of dingus kerfuffle around the US Embassy monitoring air quality in Beijing and posting the results to Twitter at @BeijingAir. I personally like this kind of thing — its almost as though the government is acting as an environmental activist with infinite clout, stirring up problems by bringing known issues to light.

I thought, in passing, that it would be fun to pull the data stream from Twitter, parse it, and graph it. The embassy updates the data hourly; I figured I could make a call to Twitter’s API, without the need for any hacky AJAX refreshing. When people view the post, it’ll show the most recent two hundred tweets, representing 200 hours of data. Perhaps there’d be a need/interest to backup more to a database, but I was running out of steam - turns out that this undertaking wasn’t as easy as one would have hoped.

So, without further ado, here’s approximately the latest week of PM2.5 data from Beijing. The lower line — in red — is the PM2.5 concentration; the upper line — in green — is the air quality index (AQI). The dotted, light-grey line is the US EPA 24h PM2.5 standard. Note that Beijing is rarely, if ever, below that designation. I’ll do my best to explain what each of those lines represents below. But now, the graph:

PM2.5 is defined by the US EPA as follows:

Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter are called “fine” particles. These particles are so small they can be detected only with an electron microscope. Sources of fine particles include all types of combustion, including motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, and some industrial processes.

Exposure to particles of this size has been implicated in a wide range of health effects. Like other chemical exposures, at a first approximation the intensity of the health effect depends on the duration of exposure, the concentration of particles in the environment, and an individual’s proximity to the source. There’s increasing evidence that any exposure above very low levels — the types we rarely see anywhere on Earth these days — are bad for health and can exacerbate heart and lung disease, asthma, bronchitis, and the like.

The Air Quality Index (or AQI) is a summary measure that

tells you how clean or polluted your air is, and what associated health effects might be a concern for you. The AQI focuses on health effects you may experience within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air. EPA calculates the AQI for five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (also known as particulate matter), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. For each of these pollutants, EPA has established national air quality standards to protect public health. Ground-level ozone and airborne particles are the two pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health in this country.

Finally, the US EPA standard is pretty straightforward. For the US, there are not supposed to be 24-hour average PM levels above the 35µg/m3. Of course, as we can expect, not every locale in the country can meet this standard.

Back to China.

It’d be interesting to add some summary statistics and look at variation between weekdays and weekends — I’m working on that now. I’m also trying to find an accessible data source from China to plot along with the US data. Some comparison would be good, especially after China began posting its own data not too long ago.

The previous (and awesome) work that inspired this undertaking was done by China Air Daily. They’ve got some amazing visuals of the air pollution. One is attached below; I recommend checking out their site for more great stuff.

British Columbia's Carbon Footprint: An Interactive Map

British Columbia is a net carbon sink, owing largely to huge swaths of forest and eelgrass and partly to a relatively low population density and footprint.

Tyee Solutions Society recently published an interactive carbon map showing the impacts of a number of sources on the net carbon footprint of BC. They include forest, eel grass & salt marsh, communities, highways, and industrial facilities. Each contributor/sink can be toggled; a Google Map updates in realtime. Pretty neat.

Click here to see the map.

A rough approximation, of course — we’re not going to “turn off” communities, highways, or the forest — but an interesting one, nonetheless. To create their map, Tyee Society sought out

the most credible data available to quantify the most important currents in B.C.’s carbon “flux” — the scientific term for the net difference between carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from all sources, and carbon dioxide removed from the air and sequestered in stable carbon stocks (typically in plants or organic matter). The goal and, with some important qualifiers, the result is a rough carbon balance sheet revealing the interplay of emissions and ecosystems at scales from the provincial to the local.

They found a number of interesting, though unsurprising, facts while doing their research. First,

According to the latest 2010 provincial data, B.C. emitted 62 million tonnes of “CO2 equivalent” (a metric measure used to aggregate emissions from various greenhouse gases with different global warming potentials). But if [they] include emissions generated by the coal and natural gas we export, that number nearly quadruples, to as much as 240 million tonnes.

Second, as a result of warming, some of the net-sinks may be “switching” to net-emitters. Their explanation is a little unsatisfactory, but acknowledging this shift is important.

B.C.’s share of the northern boreal forest, considered in isolation, continues to soak up enormous quantities of CO2. But the broad swath of light gray that appears along the B.C. coast in the map, indicating ambiguity and uncertainty in the data, is a startling reminder that our historic forest carbon “sink” may be switching to a net emitter of greenhouse gases — a testament to wide-ranging changes in everything from forest decay rates to insect plagues unleashed by warmer winters.

Cheers to the Tyee society for citing their sources and explaining where their data came from. Good stuff, and rare.

The Awesome Insanity of Del Popolo

Image from gBlog.

Take a 5000 pound, imported wood-fired oven. Put it inside a shipping crate. Add glass, metal, and beautiful branding. What do you get?

Del Popolo (“of the people”), Jon Darsky’s new, mobile, super-food shipping-container. Read more at eater.com, gizmag.com, grubstreet.com, and Inside Scoop SF.

Follow Del Popolo on Twitter.

Pantone Skin Tones: humanæ

An ongoing project by artist Angelica Dass.

Humanae inventory is chromatic, a project that reflects on the colors beyond the borders of our codes by referencing the PANTONE ® color system.

The project conducts a series of portraits whose background is dyed the exact shade extracted from a sample of 11x11 pixels from the very face of the people portrayed. The ultimate aim is to record and catalog, through a scientific measurement, all possible human skin tones.

Pretty cool stuff. Definitely worth seeing the whole collection. In a similar vein to the work of Pierre David.

From Wal-Mart to Library

From PSFK, a great story about the decision in McAllen, Texas to turn an abandoned Wal-Mart into an award-winning library.

In the Monitor, a local newspaper, Dave Hendricks wrote:

A massive canopy, the kind often found at fancy hotels and Las Vegas casinos, shades the building’s main entrance. Towering above the canopy is a translucent tower of glazed glass, which will glow with color-changing lights at night. Stucco walls now soften the building’s boxy exterior, replacing the retail giant’s signature blue with shades of brown.

“The only comparison to Walmart is the size of the building,” said library Director Jose Gamez, who donned a hard hat and safety vest Wednesday to show off the library-to-be.

Inside, walls have divided the cavernous, 123,000-square-foot space into conference rooms, computer labs and room for more than 300,000 books. Both a coffee shop and copy center will operate inside the new library.

I like the idea of transforming familiar, well-known centers of commerce into vibrant, educational meeting grounds. It helps, I think, that they were extremely forward thinking both in the physical / UX design of the space and the selection of books, technology, and amenities within the building. Seems like a good template for future libraries — a confluence of traditional library services with the amenities of big-box bookstores that draw people in. The McAllen library seems to go one step farther, elevating both the interior and exterior to the level of art - a place that needs to be experienced.

The gamble (of around 25 million USD) seems to have paid off. According to a later story by Hendricks, 2000 people lined up for the grand opening of the 129,000 square feet library, which claims to be the largest single floor library in the US. 48,000 visitors roamed the space in December, with ~1600 new registrants and 8000 account updates.

The library has posted quite a few videos about the process and some amazing pictures of the transformation of the abandoned space into a library.

Higgs boson! HIGGS BOSON!! H-I-G-G-S B-O-S-O-N!!!

I’d be remiss to not mention this, though of course it’s everywhere today.The unobtainable has most likely been obtained and scientists everywhere are very, very excited. Press outlets are covering the story. It’s on the radio, on the news, and splattered about the web.

What does it mean, though? Perhaps the best bit of science communication on the topic comes in the form a brief animation (embedded below) from PhD Comics.

More useful information from World Science Festival, featuring Brian Greene:

Maggie Koerth-Baker, writing last year at Boing-Boing, describes the Higgs boson as follows:

You know that reality is like a Lego model, it’s made up of smaller parts. We are pieced together out of atoms. Atoms are made from protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons and neutrons are made of quarks. (Quarks and electrons, as far as we know, are elementary particles, with nothing smaller inside.) When you’re talking about the Higgs Boson, you’re talking about the mass of these particles. Here’s an imperfect analogy: A top quark, the most massive particle we know of, is like an elephant. An electron, on the other hand, is more like a mouse. And nobody knows for certain why those differences exist.

There is a theory, though. Back in the 1960s, a guy named Peter Higgs came up with the idea that all these particles exist in a field, and their mass is a reflection of how much they interact with that field. Heavy particles have a lot of interaction. Lighter particles are relatively standoffish. If this field exists, the Higgs Boson is the tiny thing it’s made of.

And, finally, some more useful reading:

Ten things you may not know about the Higgs boson

Q&A: The Higgs boson

The Best Analogies Scientists and Journalists Use To Explain the Higgs Boson

Scientists might have found the Higgs Boson (includes a long list of valuable links)

NPR: Oakland Turns A Corner As Calif. Faces Budget Woes

Speaking of cities, a nice story from NPR about our current home — and featuring Cafe Van Kleef!

When Van Kleef opened his bar 10 years ago, everyone said he was crazy. At the time, he says, “hookers, muggers, thieves and homeless were rampant” in the area.

“At 5 o’clock, the streets were absolutely empty. Everybody vacated Oakland. There was nobody here,” Van Kleef explains. “You could park anywhere you wanted. You could park a fleet of taxis if you wanted to!”

But Van Kleef, an artist and former rock impresario, had a different vision for Uptown Oakland, which he saw as “the last geographical possibility” for an arts and entertainment district in the city. So Van Kleef opened his bar just a block from City Hall.

“I suddenly felt like a paramedic pounding the chest of Oakland with some vision of breathing life into this dead thing,” Van Kleef recalls. “And it worked. The city revitalized. The heart started beating again.”

Dave Pell's NextDraft: Meet Me in the City

Dave Pell, in his excellent NextDraft newsletter, points to a couple of quick and entertaining links about cities.

First, from NPR, a fun way to figure out if you live in a city.

Second, from The Atlantic Cities, a short but entertaining look at cities that may or may not have been without air conditioning. Pretty scary stuff, when we think about the rapid increase in AC use in the developing world and the concomitant strain on power supplies and use of harmful, climate forcing chemicals.

Indolence as virtue

I’ve found myself falling into “The ‘Busy’ Trap” as described by Tim Krieder in the NYT far more often since I’ve moved out West. Part of it, I think, is the atmosphere in my department, which is more pressured by the urgency of the work at hand than other places I’ve been (and, as a result, has made more contributions to the field than many other places). Another part is crushing, self-induced pressure to keep on top of myriad obligations. Regardless, Krieder’s exposition rings true — and is entertainingly written, to boot. He makes a strong case for checking our tendency to default to busyness and embrace more leisurely, somewhat indolent behavior.

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth. Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking.

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.” This may sound like the pronouncement of some bong-smoking anarchist, but it was actually Arthur C. Clarke, who found time between scuba diving and pinball games to write “Childhood’s End” and think up communications satellites. My old colleague Ted Rall recently wrote a column proposing that we divorce income from work and give each citizen a guaranteed paycheck, which sounds like the kind of lunatic notion that’ll be considered a basic human right in about a century, like abolition, universal suffrage and eight-hour workdays. The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.

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