Finally!?

la_clouds_02_02_2014Some rather exciting looking rainclouds, and a strong wind! Will we get some decent rain? Something like a biblical downpour, as promised by these clouds?

[Later:] A few spits of rain, but really nothing. Then back to sunshine again, disappointingly. We need some rain here in Los Angeles! Desperately.

To make the point more clearly, have a look at the site Climatestations.com for data on how we’re doing for rain as compared to the seasonal average. It is very disturbing.

If you look at the graph [...] Click to continue reading this post

Morning Flames

sunrise_26_01_2014

I’ve a few things to tell you about from events over the last couple of days, and I want to mention some exciting events to come, but right now I must get on my bike again and head off up the hill in the park to the Griffith Observatory for an early morning meeting. As I was up again before the sun, I got to look out the window and see a wonderful – and rapidly changing – unfolding of the day. Thought I’d share it again*. Quite spectacular!

-cvj

(*See recent posts for other sunrises from recent days). Click to continue reading this post

Early Fire Season?

glendora_fire_plumeWe’ve been having a virtual Summer here, almost consistently through the Winter. Very odd. One of the consequences is pictured. There’s a huge brush fire burning in Glendora right now, over in the foothills of the San Gabriels. I woke up to a lovely sky, and then noticed the strangest looking cloud in one part of it. Then I realised it was not a cloud. So I went on to the roof to capture a bit of the scene for you. I thought it would serve as a contrast to the photo from a few days ago.

-cvj

Update: The fire was contained. Click to continue reading this post

Before Sunrise

before_sunrise_7th_Jan_2014_clifford_v_johnson_1Staying on the weather/climate theme a little bit, I should mention that we’ve been having some rather splendid sunrises these last few days. Spectacular colour combinations are run through in a matter of minutes as the sun emerges. I captured this image two days ago, stopping down a bit to get the cloud colours right, silhouetting a palm tree in the foreground to give a bit of context (also cropping some of the bottom off for better balance). Within a few minutes of taking this all the red had gone, pushing rapidly through yellow to white as the bright sun emerged.

By contrast, this morning was all billowing fog. The resulting visual range was [...] Click to continue reading this post

Frozen – Not the Movie

beth_gilmore_bubblesI liked the piece on Morning Edition this morning about the experiments people were doing with the extreme cold in parts of the country, including making clouds, and seeing what happens to soap bubbles when they freeze!

The piece is here, and the “storify” box with some photos and videos is here. (The photo to the right -of frozen soap bubbles!- is by Beth Gilmore and I found it there.)

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

A Perfect CicLAVia?

CicLAVia_June_20133Today’s CicLAVia was, in my opinion, almost perfect. It was always my dream for it (long before it actually got off the ground) to be an event that closed all of Wilshire from Downtown to the beach, to allow the city to celebrate car-free-ness on a regular basis. For me, having Wilshire be the route would make it a core location that meant the city was serious about the event, would mean a lot of participation linking East and West, and perhaps most importantly, would give a lot of room, since Wilshire is a really wide street. Perhaps that it is a long way off to have the whole of Wilshire be used, but they came close to the dream by having a Wilshire one today. The route ran from where Wilshire starts (at Grand) all the way out to LACMA at museum square at Wilshire and Fairfax. I rode it with a friend in the middle of the day and it was a lot of fun. See below for some of the things we did. Also, watch the timelapse video I made (embedded later) which has some fun stills embedded in it as well.

CicLAVia_June_20130You might recall some of the things that I felt the need to mention concerned me after the last CicLAVia. In that post I was most concerned about the narrowness of the route (they only used half of Venice for much of the way) and the fact that the resulting compressed group of people got even more compressed with the numerous traffic stops that there were. It was unpleasant and possibly dangerous. Well, there was not a hint of that here. They had both sides of Wilshire open, and relatively few traffic stops. This meant a lovely free flow of traffic for people of all speeds, ages, and mode of transport. The other main concern I had was that the event did not leave enough time for people to explore the route, leaving a number of people stranded, which is not good for a lot of people who are infrequent riders – they’ve got to get home cycling in traffic that they might not be ready to do yet. Well, today they extended the time by two hours, making it run from 9:00am to 4:00pm. Brilliant. I suspect that helped also with the potential congestion since people participating get spread out over a longer time.

Overall, I must congratulate the organizers for a nearly perfect event. Now if only we can have Wilshire open all the way to the beach for a CicLAVia, I’d be in heaven.

(Actually, just a few weeks ago I did my own all-Wilshire CicLAVia when I was heading to a couple of events at Westwood and Santa Monica. I started out planning to take my bike on the 720 bus but ended up giving up on the whole thing – there was a dreadful 45 minute hole in the schedule that made me horribly late for the first event and too many pushy people fighting to get on when the bus did show up – so I just cycled the whole way. It was a lot of fun, and helped me let off steam…but I’d love to participate in a whole group of LA residents doing it one day…)

So it was great. Having started Downtown and enjoyed the ride West, my companion and I [...] Click to continue reading this post

CicLAVia Time Lapse

Here’s a timelapse video of the CicLAVia ride from Sunday 21st April. (I’ve done one for each of the past rides as well, so search on “ciclavia” for them if you wish.) My thoughts about the ride were posted back on the day, and there’s lots of discussion at that post on some of the issues I raised, so go and have a look if you like, and feel free to join in. I did the ride on the Brompton, as usual, and this time I was accompanied by my colleague Krzysztof Pilch, who was riding one as well. We even saw a few others on the way, which was nice.

ciclavia_April_2013_mapThe video is a bit flawed, not the least because at some point the top of my bag started puffing up a bit and blocking part of the view. Also, I’ve not laid on some funky music like the fancy folk do, so it is quite silent. But there it is as a record of most of the 13-15 mile route from Downtown to Venice beach: [...] Click to continue reading this post

CicLAvia and Festival of Books

Well, I’m exhausted, and so am certainly not going to give you a full report on everything right now. I hope to do another post with my usual time-lapse video of the ride some time later (but soon). They are uploading from my camera right now. All I will give you right now is a shot of the crowds at a typical stop along the route. Also, I will say a few words that will probably get me into trouble.

cicLAvia_April_2013_crowd_a

The bottom line is that I remain a huge supporter of cicLAvia, and the idea that it is planting in everyone’s minds – getting out of your cars and cycling. This is especially important for a city like LA. And it is not just for all the environmental reasons, to do with energy use, air quality, and so forth. I can go on about those but I won’t. See earlier posts for that sort of thing. It is also because many people get to properly see their city in these events, which is really important. You can’t see it from a car – and I don’t just mean all the buildings and wonderful hidden gems I sometimes talk about, but I mean the other people who live in the city with you. That’s a big deal, and an important one for when it comes to how we all work and live together. I’m also very excited that the organizers tried this cross-city route, linking East and West, getting West side based people involved in the fun. And overall I enjoyed today a lot… I love the event and will keep coming and keep supporting it.

But.

But. Yeah, I’m going to say something negative, but only in the spirit of support for [...] Click to continue reading this post

CicLAVia October 2012

Well, it was a lot of fun, once again. There was a huge turn out, and pretty much perfect weather for it (not the extreme heat of a week or two ago, for example). I was not part of a group this time, and so I was able to explore with a fair amount of random abandon this time, starting at MacArthur Park metro stop, heading downtown and then all the way to Exposition Park, where I stopped at USC to print something out at my office (a long report I need to read), then head back up to downtown, through the City Hall (and new Grand Park) area into Chinatown. That got me thinking about baked buns, and so having returned back past City Hall, stopping briefly at Grand Park to look at one of the many places where there were concerts, I made my way to Little Tokyo to this place I like to find red bean buns and had one during a short stop in a square.

It was nice to sit and listen to all the conversations, and look at all the people (in family groups, friend groups, solo, etc) enjoying the city. Just as I was leaving to head to the East LA leg a fellow came over with his two sons (on a bike with a tralier for one of them, if I recall) and asked if I was a scientist. I wondered for a moment what [...] Click to continue reading this post

Now Arriving…!


The new line rocks! I went down there with my Brompton on the earlier side of things, this morning. I took the Red Line and changed seamlessly to the Expo Line at Metro/7th, and it was an excellent ride. I really do think (as I said in the previous post) that this is part of a major transformation for the city. This is a transformation with regards things like energy usage, congestion, community, air quality and all those wonderful things public transport helps with.

Of course, at the outset there is something truly right, to my mind, about being able to easily connect from downtown to Exposition Park and the Science and Natural History Museums, the African American Museum, and of course USC – All major Los Angeles institutions clustered together and now connected back to the newly beating heart of it all. From USC, I can now easily connect to the music center, LA Live, MOCA, any number of my favourite restaurants, bars, cafes, and other places I love downtown, and then float on home on the Red Line, or off to Pasadena or Boyle Heights on the Gold Line. This is so exciting to see come to pass. I’ve been dreaming of trains running along Exposition Boulevard between USC and the Museums and the Rose Garden for many years now, and it is now a reality. Stepping off the train today at the Expo Park/USC stop was just magical.

I recorded some footage of my travels on it today for you and edited it all together into a ten minute film. You can see it in the embed below. Consider it an invitation to [...] Click to continue reading this post

Only Ten Hours…

expo line trainOnly ten hours until the Big Transformation! The Expo line will open to the public at 5:00am tomorrow (Saturday). I think that this first major thrust to the West, connecting downtown to USC, Exposition Park and the Museums, and points West to Culver City, should be truly transformational for not just the locations involved, but the city at large.

I hope it will change minds about what is possible for public transport in Los Angeles in a huge way (the old “it doesn’t go anywhere” complaint will be heard a bit less maybe?), and connect and enrich all the neighborhoods involved. (And yes, on the personal side of things I hope it ends up, in combination with the Red Line, being better than just sitting on the bus all the way. We shall see.)

There’ll be a special schedule for this opening weekend, with the line (free to travel on for the two days) stopping at 7:00pm. I was a bit scared by this for a moment, [...] Click to continue reading this post

CicLAVia April 2012

It was a perfect day for cycling, back on April 15th when the 4th CicLAVia took place. (Sorry it took me a while to report on it.) A lot of people turned out, and it was as good as it has ever been! We set of from the HelMel area again and went to Bolye Heights and back, breaking for an excellent lunch at Guisados again. Just like last time. The photo below featuring the 4th Street bridge over the LA River is my favourite single photo of the event this time:

Of course, there’s not just the one photo for you. I took hundreds of other great ones [...] Click to continue reading this post

Opening!

Finally!

The Expo line will be opening (after an incredibly long testing phase) on April 28th. I’ll be there, Brompton in hand, to test it out, I think. A couple of articles on it appeared in the LA Weekly and the LA Times.

I’ve been excited about this for a while, not just because there’ll be a station across the street from my office, essentially (and the fact that when phase two is completed in 2015, or thereabouts, I’ll be able to step out of my office and board a train for the beach), but because I [...] Click to continue reading this post

Looking Again at Los Angeles

My friend and colleague the author Aimee Bender wrote a piece for AFAR magazine recently about the process of her rediscovering Los Angeles over the years. Seeing it from outside the car, on foot, on a bike, and on the bus. You know, the way you see it a lot here through your Asymptotia-tinged spectacles. It appears in the March/April issue, and you can see it here. (I must say, that British guy she runs into seems like hard work… geez…!)

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Carmageddon Reaction

Atlantic Station on Gold Line East LA Branch(Scroll to the end of this post for the funny thing I actually intended to post without my own musings getting in the way…) It has certainly been a huge story, with national and maybe even international attention been given to it. Carmageddon is the name given to the event of the 405 highway being closed for a 10 mile stretch for most of this weekend, for maintenance purposes. People are warning of disaster, complaining, predicting calamities for business, stocking up on food supplies, and so on and so forth. Some people are angry, some are amused, some are confused. For the most part however, people are quietly making sensible plans to adjust their routines or plans to take account of the event. (Er, I’m not sure I’d include flying from Burbank to Long Beach among the sensible plans!*)

I’m sort of struck by the huge impact this is having in people’s minds, and it has raised all sorts of discussions, reflections, and arguments about the reliance on cars that people have, public transport, and so on and so forth. All subjects you’ve maybe read being discussed here over the years. (Search the archives and/or use the search bar to the right.) The clichés about there being “no public transport” in LA is a convenient one for all to use at times (or all the time) when we want to stay in our nice cosy cars and ignore the alternatives and the possibility of making adjustments to include even occasional use of them, but I readily admit that the West side is a lot closer to the standard image of Los Angeles in this regard than points further East (still staying decidedly North-leaning in the discussion of course – the South LA conversation is an interesting one for another time). The density of shops, cafes, and long, desirably walkable stretches with other pedestrians (yes, they do exist in LA) does indeed seem lower over there, and while there is some bus coverage, the lower density makes the flaws of that part of the transport system hurt more, and of course the subway/metro [...] Click to continue reading this post

Lightning in a Bottle

Did you hear yesterday’s Fresh Air? It was very interesting indeed, being, as it was, about a subject that you probably know interests me a lot – electric cars. The guest was Seth Fletcher, and he was talking about electric cars, hybrids, and so forth. Not focusing on far futuristic matters so much as what is possible now (with all the exciting things going on in the market), and where we might go next in terms of the development of the science and technology needed to continue to change our world by moving away from gasoline as our primary energy source for transport. A lot of his focus in on the development of batteries, and he does a good job of explaining [...] Click to continue reading this post

Glimpses of CicLAVia

ciclavia_april_11_cvj_1
CicLAvia this weekend was wonderful! Again, just like the inaugural one last year (see my post ciclavia_april_11_cvj_5with lots of pictures) it felt like it was as perfect an event as can be expected. There were droves of people out again enjoying themselves and connecting, plenty of great food, great weather, and lashings of good will.

I focused on hanging out with some friends, and so took fewer pictures this time, but there are a few. To the left is one of my favourites. It has City Hall nicely fragmented in a reflection in the new LAPD headquarters, with cyclists passing by on the route running along 1st street downtown.
[...] Click to continue reading this post

Good News, Everyone!

expo_line_test_train_1Breaking news! On Monday evening, while heading for the bus stop I saw a lovely and welcome glimpse of the future. A train on the new Expo line tracks!!!! They are just testing, but it was exciting nonetheless. It is going to be so exciting and transformative when this line is done, and phase one opens later this year! (November, perhaps?) I’ll be able to use the subway/metro system to get all the way from my neighbourhood (on the red line) to the stop 5 minutes from my building, after one change downtown. I’ll feel a bit of a deserter if I stop using the bus to do the journey (assuming that the schedule is such that it it quicker than the bus!), but I’ve got to support this line too! After all, by 2015 or so, after phase two opens, I’ll be able to take this train from my office all the way to the beach…! [...] Click to continue reading this post

CicLAvia Report

ciclavia2010_4Well, it is not often I get to say this, but Sunday’s CicLAvia event was, for me, completely perfect. It was simply about community, family, and enjoying the streets. It did not have an overtly political or activist vibe to it (as is often the case when you try to do some things a little differently from others in this town, like ride the bus or walk to the grocery store), and I saw a lot more people simply enjoying (and remarking on it out loud) the fact that they were out on the streets of the city than I saw people proclaiming rabid anti-car sentiments, as I’ve seen at bike-centric events before. I think the former feeling will go a lot further in making lasting change than the latter in the long run. There was some political content around, but it was largely confined to the steps of City Hall, where (when I passed) there were endearingly naive chants being led by a bloke with a microphone about “LA saying no to oil!’ and “no to coal!”. Don’t get me wrong – naive is not necessarily used as a derogatory term here. Noble dreams begin with a heavy dose of naivete, I believe. Hope, against the odds, for significant change, and so forth. (I could use the fully decorated version, naïveté, but it looks a bit pretentious to me today…)

So the event was mostly about people getting out there and enjoying the city streets, and sharing their enjoyment by doing it together. I was impressed with the turnout [...] Click to continue reading this post

Off to CicLAvia…

Getting ready to disappear off to explore. the route. Should be fun, although it is a tad too hot a day for it to be perfect for cycling and wandering long in the sun. On the other hand, that will bring a lot of people out to enjoy their Sunday outdoors, I hope, walking, cycling, rollerblading, skateboarding, running, etc. [...] Click to continue reading this post

Don’t Forget CicLAvia!

ciclavia_logoThe first CicLAvia is this Sunday! Don’t forget! The sudden Winter weather we’ve been having will have vanished by then, and it will be a lovely day. There’s a seven-mile route of city streets for you to walk, bike, run, etc. Should be fun!

See my description of one I saw in Morelia, Mexico, here. More information on this first LA one here. [...] Click to continue reading this post

So Fast…!

It all happened so fast, I did not even get to take a picture for you. Yesterday morning, I woke up with the thought that I should clear some space in the, er, batcave/lab/hideout in order to make room for a lot of stuff that is currently in my campus office that is taking up vital room. I’ve a tiny office, so from time to time I have a space crisis. (I need to bring myself to discard tons of the old preprints (pre-publication papers) from the 80s and 90s that I keep mostly out of sentimental value, and then I’d be on top of things more easily, I expect. Lots of them are tied up with old notes on various projects, and so I sort of want to make time to archive those notes, separate them out from the preprints, and then discard the latter.)

I found that I could generate a huge amount of space down there by getting rid of a ton of old electronic devices. (Let’s just say I dismantled one of my doomsday devices and had lots of spare parts left over.) I looked up the one recycling centre I knew about for sure (remember me filming there last year, illustrating supernovae? See here, and here, for example) and found that one could only deliver things there if one was a Burbank resident, which I am not. So I did a wider search and found that there are various electronics recycling collection events arranged periodically in the region, and one of them was happening that very morning over in Sierra Madre! Inspired, I spent the next half an hour loading up the car, and after a quick breakfast was on the road at about 9:00am, carving a nice slice of road up the 2 toward the spectacular view of the mountains one gets, especially that time of day (it is something about the morning sun, I think, along with the rush of zipping up the pleasant slope of the traffic-less 2).

I anticipated an interesting scene, with lots of stations of different sorts for various types of items (computers there, VCRs there, doomsday device components there, [...] Click to continue reading this post

Come On LA!

p-2048-1536-5f4d380e-a365-44ad-9eb7-fc7a9f2c2bf3.jpegPerhaps ironically, since I tune into BBC Radio 4 every day when in Los Angeles, I’ve not been listening to it or any other UK radio or news source while here in London at all. So imagine my pleasant surprise on Thursday when I came across what clearly looked like a docking station for bikes (as opposed to super-fancy bike racks, which I thought it was at first)! Sure enough, once I got closer I confirmed it – a bike sharing scheme was starting in London. By the next day I saw some more stations on my walks, and a truck driving along full of the bikes, presumably going to load up the stations. As it turned out, I learned later that the scheme started that very next day, and today I saw several people out riding on them!

I am a little disappointed about one thing. I wanted to try them out and be out there seeing the streets of the city from one of these bikes instead of on foot (as I have been doing a lot in the last several days), but guess what? [...] Click to continue reading this post

Street Invasion!

cyclovia_morelia_3On Sunday in Morelia, Mexico, I was walking along the main street near my hotel and it seemed that something unusual was going on. The street was empty of cars, and some sort of event was going on. I saw a few cyclists here and there in the distance, but not the sort that look all hardcore and determined to go fast and determinedly on their way, but instead the more leisurely stop-and-smell-the-flowers sort. I wondered almost immediately if I had run into a local ciclovía, and a few minutes later, a sign confirmed this. Wonderful!

I’ve been waiting for such a thing to come to LA for a while now, since I heard of it last year when I part (and presented) in a public discussion downtown at the Artwalk about bike issues in the city, and had heard that it was becoming more widespread (it started in South America – Colombia) but it was an unexpected treat to find one right outside my hotel room! Here are three more picture. Click for larger view.

cyclovia_morelia_1 cyclovia_morelia_2 cyclovia_morelia_4

It was great to see lots of people out and about just using the streets with no cars [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Runaway Black Hole

In recent years there was all the nonsense about how scientists were going to accidentally make a black hole with the Large Hadron Collider that would runaway out of control…. we would not be able to stop it. We scientists would have tampered with the murky depths of Nature and awoken a monster we could not control. Naughty scientists that we are. The LHC has been colliding away at unprecedented energies, and last time I checked (you can too – click here) we’re ok.

gusher_oilI just realized something. Now we do have a runaway black hole! But it was created by naughty engineers, tampering with the murky depths of Nature and awakening a monster they cannot control. That gushing well 5000 feet below in the gulf of Mexico is a black hole [...] Click to continue reading this post

Aloe Earth

aloe_flowers_2It is Earth day today, the 40th anniversary, in fact. Have you had it in mind at all? I was pleased, in following the leadership debate that took place today over in the UK, to hear very interesting and serious content in the answers about what the various party leaders were doing on environmental both personally and in terms of policy. Over the years we’ve rapidly come to a point where it’s no longer a trendy or fringy issue in front line politics, but a mainstream one with impact in all aspects of policy.

On the left (click for larger view) is the rather elegant flower (two of them) of one of my several aloe vera plants. They’re quite unexpected and rather lovely I’d say. Several different types of bird have been attracted to them and it is a pleasure to look over at them (and others) and see what birds are settling on [...] Click to continue reading this post

Not Entirely Alone, II

It has been a pleasure to see the large number of bikes in use in London, and particularly pleasing that it is a wide range of types of people using them as well. bikes_londonThere are many things about London that make it feel even more comfortable to me than ever (high prices of everything not being one of them) and the heavy bike use has to be one of them. Things in that department continue to improve over in my home city of Los Angeles, although I think it’ll still be a bit of time before you get bunches of cyclists routinely clustered at the lights waiting for the green, as in the photo on the right.

brompton_londonAlso great to see, sending a shiver of pleasure down my spine each time I’ll admit, has been the huge number of Bromptons in use in London. (See photo left.) I know it is true statistically that they are among the most popular single type of bike here (of any type, folding or non-folding) but it is still great that there are so very many sightings of them as you walk along the street especially at peak times. That’s something that really still has not taken off in LA. I’ve seen fewer than a handful of Bromptons in almost seven years on the streets here, relatively few folding bikes in total, and maybe only twice have I seen someone else using them in combination with the subway (and I remain the only person I’ve ever seen bringing them on to the bus). It [...] Click to continue reading this post

You Don’t Need Magic To Use Energy Wisely

energy_posterThis is a fun poster I saw at the Grove the other day. (Click for a larger view.)

The good fairy (Tinkerbell, apparently) speaks the truth!

It’s nice to see such a campaign, and aimed at the younger set (who in turn might bug their parents into thinking about it too). It is sponsored by the Department of Energy (the same people who sponsor most of my research), and you can look at the website here. Maybe you’ll direct some others to it too! There’s an energy action checklist, and lots of useful tips and guidelines for everyone (young and old) to follow in order [...] Click to continue reading this post

Gone East, Looking West

This is exciting! Today I decided to explore the new extension of the Gold line for a little while. atlantic_stationThere’s something deeply satisfying about seeing a prominent public works project of such obvious value to the community finish the construction phase and begin regular service. I was away in Europe at the opening of it in mid-November and so today was my personal little inauguration ceremony. It runs South and then East from downtown’s Union Station to Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. Yes, you can take it all the way from Pasadena to East LA without changing trains (and similarly in the other direction) and so there’s an incentive to explore. (I’m hoping this will motivate some of the people I know in Pasadena who rarely leave it to actually get out and explore Los Angeles for real…)

I wandered the streets a little bit at one or two of the stops and of course I also sat on the trains looking out of the window and at the people around me. As with many [...] Click to continue reading this post

Cameron and Avatar

Somehow I forgot to point this out last Fall. There was an interesting article by Dana Goodyear in the New Yorker on James Cameron, creator of so many giant films you may know of, and of course, of the recent juggernaut Avatar. It is definitely worth a read, as is Goodyear’s related chat online with readers here.

I went to see Avatar in its proper setting (late night showing in the Dome at the Arclight of course) a fortnight ago and can report a few things of interest:

* The cheeky alternate name Smurfohantas (I heard this name on Kermode and Mayo’s BBC Radio 5 show) is not far off the mark if you are in a cynical mood. It’s a very standard story, rather straightforwardly told, but using striking tall blue people. (There is nothing wrong with re-telling stories, by the way, so don’t get me wrong. Arguably, most stories are in large part old stories). I just don’t see this version as particularly well told, just merely functional. There’s a slightly more interesting angle buried under there somewhere about the whole idea of avatars, and maybe even something about disability, and so forth, but only if you really really dig for it.

* It is not a great film, but it is an interesting and entertaining film to watch. I have a soft spot for Cameron’s work since I do like his use of strong female characters in the genre as well as his anti-war, suspicion-of-corporation, and environmental [...] Click to continue reading this post

Smarter than the Average Panda?

yun-zi-01 Yes, I know: (1) Large head doesn’t make one smarter, but it was just so I could use the post title. (Maybe one or two of you see where it comes from…) (2) The final resort of a busy blogger: – cute animal pictures. Well, I already regularly share pictures with you concerning what I had for dinner, so no change there.

This is Yun Zi, (“Son of Cloud” I hear) who arrived in the public eye (at five months [...] Click to continue reading this post

Amazing Asimov

Happy New Year, dear Reader!

my_robotForgive me for starting the year with an article on environmental problems, but it was Isaac Asimov’s birthday (at least the official one) on Saturday (I learned that here), and I found an excellent video of him talking wonderfully about global warming, united world action on such matters, and other issues back in 1988. It is below. I read a ton of Asimov back when I was a teenager. While not the greatest writing in a literary sense, it was full of wonderful ideas and compelling stories, and was quite inspiring for me at the time.

It is a pity that it was yesterday I switched on the little robot I use weekly to help me fight the good fight against dusty floors (see above right; the company that makes them is called iRobot, by the way – hardly any doubt that an Asimov reader was [...] Click to continue reading this post

On Science and Politics

No doubt you’ve been aware of the recent debate that has been raging about whether or not the scientific case for climate change has been exaggerated by various scientists, in the light of the content of a long series of emails. It’s all over the news, and so I am sure I don’t need to point to all the news stories, commentaries, and – sad to say – convenient distractions that have been constructed on the basis of them by the climate change deniers, especially those with vested interest in the status quo. (Follow the climategate tag at The Intersection for some of the links, and a sampling of the discussions, and do look at the Nature editorial for example.) This matter, and the debates it has reignited, is of course a major issue in view of the upcoming work to be done by the leaders of the world’s major economies in Copenhagen later this month.

A key point here is to realize that when science intersects with politics – especially the kind of rabid, personal, dirty politics that surrounds the climate change issue – the grey areas that are already present in honest science can get further muddied by the fact that scientists are human beings who don’t always act perfectly in all situations, and whose actions (well emails suggesting certain actions) can also be subject to question (especially when we don’t have all the facts concerning context, etc, on several of the emails which seem very ambiguous to me).

There are two things to keep in mind. The first is that there is a global community of scientists at work here, with so many different approaches, motivations, contexts, data sets, and so forth that have been brought to bear on the matter of climate science. To think that a series of emails from some small subset of them (that may or may not suggest that data have been presented unevenly, for whatever reasons) can undermine a huge body of work and conclusions from an entire worldwide scientific community is to seriously misunderstand what science is about, and how it works. jenga_gameIt is not a tall, tottering late-stage game of jenga, where there’s a danger that at any moment one of the little wooden sticks will wobble and bring the whole game crashing to the ground. Instead, it is a highly interwoven collection of findings, ideas, analysis, and conclusions that are supported by a wide variety of pieces of evidence, all arriving at the same striking picture – Our world is changing fast and our actions are highly relevant to these changes both past, present and future. Instead of a jenga construction, think more of a woven tapestry. Pulling out a few threads changes it a little bit, but it does not make the whole thing unravel and destroy the picture. Or, if you like, think of a pyramid structure, like the lovely Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán in Mexico (image borrowed from here). [...] Click to continue reading this post