July 2014 Archives

The Archdruid Report & Climate Clarity

John Michael Greer, communicating articulately about perturbations to complex systems (read: climate) at The Archdruid Report:

The next time you fill a bathtub, once you’ve turned off the tap, wait until the water is still. Slip your hand into the water, slowly and gently, so that you make as little disturbance in the water as possible. Then move your hand through the water about as fast as a snail moves, and watch and feel how the water adapts to the movement, flowing gently around your hand. .

Once you’ve gotten a clear sense of that, gradually increase the speed with which your hand is moving. After you pass a certain threshold of speed, the movements of the water will take the form of visible waves—a bow wave in front of your hand, a wake behind it in which water rises and falls rhythmically, and wave patterns extending out to the edges of the tub. The faster you move your hand, the larger the waves become, and the more visible the interference patterns as they collide with one another.

Keep on increasing the speed of your hand. You’ll pass a second threshold, and the rhythm of the waves will disintegrate into turbulence: the water will churn, splash, and spray around your hand, and chaotic surges of water will lurch up and down the sides of the tub. If you keep it up, you can get a fair fraction of the bathwater on your bathroom floor, but this isn’t required for the experiment! Once you’ve got a good sense of the difference between the turbulence above the second threshold and the oscillations below it, take your hand out of the water, and watch what happens: the turbulence subsides into wave patterns, the waves shrink, and finally—after some minutes—you have still water again.

This same sequence of responses can be traced in every complex system, governing its response to every kind of disturbance in its surroundings…

… Once things begin to oscillate, veering outside usual conditions in both directions, that’s a sign that the limits to resilience are coming into sight, with the possibility of chaotic variability in the planetary climate as a whole waiting not far beyond that. We can fine-tune the warning signals a good deal by remembering that every system is made up of subsystems, and those of sub-subsystems, and as a general rule of thumb, the smaller the system, the more readily it moves from local adjustment to oscillation to turbulence in response to rising levels of disturbance.

Haida's Story: A folktale from Haruki Murakami's new novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

Read an excerpt from Murakami’s new story. Slate’s also got an interactive site that presumably offers some insights into the novel. Looking forward to it.

Midorikawa hesitantly began playing “‘Round Midnight.” At first he played each chord carefully, cautiously, like a person sticking his toes into a stream, testing the swiftness of the water and searching for a foothold. After playing the main theme, he started a long improvisation. As time went by, his fingers became more agile, more generous, in their movements, like fish swimming in clear water. The left hand inspired the right, the right hand spurred on the left. Haida’s father didn’t know much about jazz, but he did happen to be familiar with this Thelonious Monk composition, and Midorikawa’s performance went straight to the heart of the piece. His playing was so soulful it made Haida forget about the piano’s erratic tuning. As he listened to the music in this junior-high music room deep in the mountains, as the sole audience for the performance, Haida felt all that was unclean inside him washed away. The straightforward beauty of the music overlapped with the fresh, oxygen-rich air and the cool, clear water of the stream, all of them acting in concert. Midorikawa, too, was lost in his playing, as if all the minutiae of reality had disappeared. Haida had never seen someone so thoroughly absorbed in what he was doing. He couldn’t take his eyes off Midorikawa’s ten fingers, which moved like independent, living creatures.

Small site changes

I’m making a small (but fundamental) change to the way the site works to reflect the traffic coming to the site (which has mainly been directed towards environmental health and other work/science related posts).

For the foreseeable future, snarglr.com will only display posts from the environmental health and science categories; all other posts (including the more fun ones) will be accessible from snarglr.com/all/.

For those who appreciate the more whimsical and fun posts, you can visit snarglr.com/all moving forward or click the “View All Posts” link in the sidebar.

Characterizing PATS+ sensor responses to air pollutants and integrating stove usage data for household energy assessments.

Pillarisetti A, Johnson MA, Allen T, Garland CR, Charron DH, Pennise DM, Smith KR. Characterizing PATS+ sensor responses to air pollutants and integrating stove usage data for household energy assessments. Indoor Air 2014, Session D1: Smart and mobile Technologies, Hong Kong: July 8, 2014.

Gates Notes: Two Videos That Illuminate Energy Poverty

Bill Gates, at his blog:

Many developing countries are turning to coal and other low-cost fossil fuels to generate the electricity they need for powering homes, industry, and agriculture. Some people in rich countries are telling them to cut back on fossil fuels. I understand the concern: After all, human beings are causing our climate to change, and our use of fossil fuels is a huge reason.

But even as we push to get serious about confronting climate change, we should not try to solve the problem on the backs of the poor. For one thing, poor countries represent a small part of the carbon-emissions problem. And they desperately need cheap sources of energy now to fuel the economic growth that lifts families out of poverty. They can’t afford today’s expensive clean energy solutions, and we can’t expect them wait for the technology to get cheaper.

Gates links to two videos from political scientist Bjorn Lomborg. They’re interesting and decent encapsulations of issues we grapple with regularly. We know what works, and indeed most of us in the developed world use either gas or electricity — or both — to cook everyday. Offering solutions that only partially protect health seems morally dubious, a point Lomborg and Gates make. Lomborg’s videos are embedded below. Grist for the mill.

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