Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Science is Hard

The raging debates on evolution and climate may have root cause that is unavoidable. The fact is, science is hard. You have to actually work and think clearly to understand what is going on. As you study an issue and delve deeper and deeper, your opinion can flip flop back and forth.

My experience with climate issues has the following history:
1970 - As a kid I was fascinated by the ice ages, and lived in Upstate New Your that is all glaciated terrain. The belief then was that over the next several thousand years we would head back down into an ice age. Cool!

1990 - I was convinced that global warming was just hysteria.

2005 - Even the cynic in Scientific American flips over to believing in global warming. I'm fairly convinced it is happening.

2006 - Saw the Al Gore Flick. This was the turning point. His data was so clearly flawed it was ridiculous. Scientific data is never that clear. Also his conclusion was completely wrong. The issue is not how to halt global warming. The issue is how to deal with climate changes, both up and down.

2007 - Searched really hard for real data and unpublished (mainstream press) theories. The revelation was this chart which clearly shows the little ice age. More study showed that Dr. Mann's data used by Al Gore was seriously compromised.

But here's the thing: Finding scientific data in the press is impossible. I like to play a little game while reading articles on anything scientific. The game is, find the hard facts in the article. The vast majority of mainstream news articles have exactly zero facts. They are all opinion and he-said, she-said. Once in a while an article will have a single actual fact.

So the only way were are left with is to dig for the data on the internet. You can find the data but it is difficult. You then have to back away from the data and take a good hard look at it and suspend preconceived notions and really look at the data. What does it really say?

Most of the people on the planet are not able to seek scientific truth by them selves. First of all, they lack the education and training. Second, the average IQ in the world is 100. They just don't have the ability to figure things out. That was ok when all we had to deal with was spears and saber tooth tigers, but falls flat on questions like global warming.

So what would you estimate is the percentage of people on the planet that are able and willing to actually dig for real answers?

Sunspots, Global Warming, Wobble of the Sun

This is a must read for all citizens of the world concerned about global warming.

As the IMB sign used to say Think!

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Web Browser as Scapegoat

The arguments for Light weight client vs. heavy weight client come and go in cycles. In management there is the adage: 'If things are going badly, reorganize!' The parallel in software projects is 'If things are going badly, redesign!'

One of the key technology issues in the last 30 years has been light weight vs. heavy weight clients. Back in the mainframe days, the only client was a green text only terminal. The mainframe was the 'server'. Then the workstation was invented and you could begin to move more processing to the client. Engineers tried Sun Workstations or PCs as heavy clients and ran into exactly the same client management problems. So you got the idea of a dumb client. The dumb client ran X Windows and nothing else. But that killed the bandwidth, so it was back to heavy clients. We had 2 tier, 3 tier, N tier, and lots of tears.

Then along came the web server. The browser was the new and fancier dumb client. But that was slow so things swung back over to the JavaScript enabled web browser.

What is hidden in all these cycles is the fact that neither the thick client, nor the thin client was ever the problem. What actually happened was that a fad for one style would rise up as the silver bullet to fix all the current problems, and a new wave of naive engineers and managers would hop on the bandwagon. After a few years the project would get in trouble, after all, 80% of software projects fail, and the thick/thin client model was a convenient scapegoat.

Management, trying to buy success, would hire in a new wave of engineers, who recommended the opposite of whatever client server model the old project had, and start all over.

The actual solution was to manage the project better by applying more attention from management, and 'Get It Right (tm)'.

With current computer systems, the difference between light weight clients, and heavy weight clients does not exist. Yes that's a bold statement, but who could argue the IE or Firefox or Flash are light weight clients? They are suitable for ALL applications short of first person shooters like Halo 3.

The difference between IE, Firefox free clients and .NET/C# and Flex paid for clients is exactly that, you pay for the more bloated clients both in licensing and in development time and salaries. Microsoft and others have a vested interest, with matching sales force, in convincing you that they have a better solution. They also pander to managers who are under the delusion that you can buy success.

What has remained constant is the pain associated with updating heavy client programs.

On a recent project they went with a C# heavy client to 'fix all the problems' because they wanted to be able to display real time plotted data. Ajax could have easily done it. The slowness in the system was due to database contention, poorly written HTML/JavaScript, and algorithms, not the web model. On another project management forced a switch from Ruby/Rails to Flex because they were the quintessential 'lets buy success' management team. (Also the Flex group had investment money which has all gone up in smoke now.)

At this point for any business project the only sane choice is web based Ajax/HTML/XML. If someone is pushing a heavy weight client, you can bet that they are either a sales person for Microsoft (.NET) or Flex, or has some other agenda related to 'fixing' the project.


Footnote: The one place where heavy weight client still is viable is computer games or scientific visualization. Go XBox!

Solar Cycle Delay and Global Warming

My list of links that I view every morning includes SOHO, The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, which has a set of images of the Sun updated frequently. The Sun right now has zero sunspots.

Sunspots are dark places on the Sun where the magnetic lines have broken and loop above the Sun's surface. There is an 11 year cycle of sunspots. Over the cycle the number of sunspots increases and decreases. Sunspots start appearing near the poles of the Sun and gradually migrate south to the equator, then disappear. There are fairly accurate records of daily sunspot counts going back to the 1700s.

There is a hypothesis that when the sunspot cycle is reduced in amplitude, the Earth's climate cools. The exact mechanism is not known, but might be due to the solar wind intensity. When there are lots of sunspot you get much more particles being blasted off the Sun into deep space. This wind may act as a shield against cosmic rays, which in turn effects high altitude clouds, which in tern makes the climate warmer or cooler.

Back in the 1700s to 1840 the earth's climate was very cool and was called The Little Ice Age. At that time the sunspot cycle was also markedly reduced. Europe had very cold long winters. This is when Marie Antoinette said 'let them eat cake'. (Ok, she didn't actually say that.) The peasants were starving due to crop failures.

Right now the current sunspot cycle is delayed and may be a year late.

There is also a theory based on the wobble of the Sun caused by Saturn and Jupiter. This makes the Sun wobble around it's center and influences the sunspot cycle. The theory predicts lower sunspot cycles starting in 2030 for a hundred years. There are also several other competing and complementary theories of sunspot cycle drivers.

We are right now on the cusp of getting real data as to whether sunspots influence climate much more heavily that CO2 levels. If we have a drastic cooling in the next 20 years, then CO2 is not a factor. If the sunspot cycle is greatly reduced, and the climate does not get cooler, then CO2 is the driving factor. My bet is with a cooling.

Current climate theories are very shaky both for and against Global Warming. On the warming side the data is so heavily manipulated for political reasons that is is very difficult to trust any conclusions, especially from 'reputable global climate scientists'.

The sunspot/global cooling theories the data seems to fit climate changes very well going back a very long time. The number of sunspots yearly before 1700 can be estimated by isotope differences in ice cores and several other corroborating methods.

The political climate is quite hot right now and make rational scientific discussion difficult and charged with name calling and governmental edicts.

Luck for us, if we just wait about 20 years the answers will be much more clear. If the next cycle amplitude is low then we may get some very chilling data in just the next 5 years.


Update: Still no sunspots Sept 18, 2008. Just a few very tiny 'pores' that show the field has reversed as it should, but no spots appearing. Weird.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

MYT Rotary Engine

This is one of those Wow, Must See designs. Very nifty.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Landmine Adds

We've put up with adds that grow bigger, adds that sucked up all our modem bandwidth, and adds that are just annoying, like the one from with the cheesy crazy woman. Give-me-a-break!

Now we have landmine adds. These are adds that appear as a link (underlined) word on a page. If you mouse passes over the link the add pops up (not a real popup, a CSS trick). It only goes away if you click on the very tiny x button in the upper right corner.

Here is an example on tgdaily.

Are these sites and advertisers so clueless that they think their content is so great that such annoyances will not drive viewers away?

We can thank Vibrant Media for this blight on the internet.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Fish Oil

At the risk of sounding like some fanatical evangelist, I'll do a book review and give some advice today.

Several years ago I read a book called The Omega-3 Connection: The Groundbreaking Antidepression Diet and Brain Program by Andrew Stoll. This book discusses the use of Omega 3 fatty acids to increase vascular health and relieve depression. The book was a miracle for me.

For most of the first 3/4 of my life I suffered from anxiety attacks and panic attacks. As a kid I did not recognize the attacks as such. I just thought the things I was worried about were actualy normal things to panic about. Much later I recognized the attacks as such. Still there seemed to be no solution. I chalked it up to genetics.

A few years ago, while at the library, I felt inspired to pick out this book. It discusses how hunter-gatherers eat lots of fish. They got plenty of Omega-3 fats in their diet. In the modern world we are very deficient in Omega-3s. Cell walls are made of fats. Whatever fats you have in your diet will get incorporated over time in your cell walls. This effects two factors. First is the flexibility of cell walls. If you eat a preponderance of hard fats, your cell walls and thus arteries will be harder. The second effect is that neuron cell walls follow the same rule, so the balance of fats will effect neuron activity.

The result of having a sufficient quantity of Omega-3s is that your susceptibility to heart attack is decreased, and depression, anxiety, and such is decreased. This change is related to cell wall composition, so there is a delay while the fats get replaced in cell walls.

The two big sources of Omega-3 is fish oil, and flax oil. I've tried both and now take 4 fish oil capsules a day.

So the results. After taking fish oil for about a week, I suddenly 'woke up'. It was very strange. Something happened that usually would have sent me off on a panic attack, and instead I was simply rational and calm. No panic. It was so obvious and clear that I was quite startled by the change. After several weeks of fish oil I became accustomed to the new me.

Several weeks later I forgot to take fish oil for a few days. After a 3 day delay I suddenly had a panic attack right out of the blue. It was the strangest thing because it was so blatantly obvious that is was almost funny. Since I had not had a panic attack of any kind in weeks, I could clearly see it as such.

It could be the Placebo Effect, but if it is, it's the best effect I've ever seen. Also, there have been times since when I forgot to take the fish oil pills, and forgot that I forgot, and got hit by a panic attack.

In Europe, if you have a heart attack, the hospital will prescribe fish oil when you leave. It has been shown to reduce the chance of recurrences.

So, where to get Omega-3s? I buy the big bottle from Costco or WalMart. You may need to try different brands to find one that is not 'fishy'.

Human genetic variability is so broad that dietary advice for one person might not be applicable to another. The whole Omega-3 thing has so much evidence that it should be worth a try. I hope this article helps even one person to have a better life.


Friday, June 1, 2007

A Rare Gem

I bought my wife a diamond ring 20 years ago for our engagement. This was before the 'blood diamond' days.

It cost $750. A month after we were married, while working on the concrete foundation for a back porch, the ring disappeared. The next 'diamond' ring she picked out was a cubic zirconia, and also cost seven fifty ($7.50).

New diamond ring, $750, replacement fake ring, $7.50, my wife, Priceless.


Compact Fluorescent Bukbs - Advice

Recently I have switched many bulbs to compact fluorescent (CFL) in my house. Some advice from experience:

  • Always by just one of a bulb type to test it. There is a huge variance in color, turn-on time, and such. Try the new bulb and then if you like it, get more.
  • WalMart is convenient and has good color CFLs. is even cheaper but you have to order big batches of lights. I got a bit burned because I ordered lots of lights, and a bunch were poor color. So I'm not sure just which is a better way to go. WalMart is better instant gratification. Home Depot has very good prices and a very wide selection. I have not bought from them yet, but they appear to be the good kind of bulbs. WalMart now has a box of 12 for about $19.
  • Dimmable CFL's are awful. When you dim a light you want a warm romantic glow. Dimmable CFLs dim to a cold moonlight silver glow. Uuuuuuuugly.
  • In bathroom lighting over sinks, use a mix of CFLs and the old Incandescent. This keeps the color balance correct for applying makeup.
  • Replace the high use lights first. Or lights that the kids tend to leave on allot. We have a basement closet where the little kids like to make tents out of blankets in, and the light sometimes gets left on for days.
  • Replace outdoor lights. In very cold winter weather they take a few minutes to get fully lit, but are a huge energy user.
  • Color temperature is very important. A normal light bulb is 2800 K degrees. That is a nice warm light. Try to get CFLs in the 2700K range. They are called Warm White or Soft White. The Cool White CFLs are harsher and more blue-white. There supposed to be better for reading, but I don't buy them.
  • Today I bought a round vanity CFL at WalMart. It is a good color and I mix it with old incandescent. Sure is easier on the eyes than those clear glass with filament kinds that are so annoying. Unfortunately if the whole vanity light bar was the round CFLs the color would not be acceptable.
  • Ignore the crap about Mercury in the bulbs. One CFL is equal to about 100 cans of Tuna for Mercury content. Besides, coal has Mercury in it and the lower energy use easily makes for less Mercury in the environment. And you can recycle the Mercury in 10 years. If you break a bulb, just sweep it up and open a window to let any residual mercury vapor out.
Another thing I though of. The CFLs I have installed will never get replaced with more CFLs. They will get replaced with LED lights that are even more efficient, and will have perfect color, and dim correctly. They may also end up being slightly less expensive.