Sunday, August 31, 2008

August Photos (from Chile)

EULA campus: Universidad de Concepcion 
View of Concepcion from Hotel El Araucano
View from the judicial building 
Barros Arana street view 
Clothes drying in a museum in Lota 
Let sleeping dogs lie... Storm clouds gather over Lota 
Statue of Summer (I think) in Lota Botanical Gardens
"Hardwork triumphs over all" 
Very severe pruning of trees. 
Moss-covered stairs 
The Andes! 
Water intake chutes for a run-of-river dam 
A bird watches the river. 
Stone bench. 
A non-functioning clock tower near the Bio Bio River 
A modern-looking building of some sort.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Uploading prior posts

I'm uploading posts I had written down on my blotter while in Chile. Check them out if you want. I'll be uploading photos with them later.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Late nights at airports, and OMFG!

Late nights at airports are interesting. Here it is just coming up to midnight (local time) and the stores and restaurants are still going strong. In contrast, when leaving Atlanta at roughly the same time (if not a little earlier), all the stores were shutting down.

OMFG! Doug and Cynthia are at the airport, and are taking the same flight back to the US as me. It took me a little while to recognize them, but ... wow. Sometimes I forget how small the world is.

Lima airport

Flight is delayhed by thirty minutes. Not such a bad problem, except that there is no one from Delta at the gate and I'm not sure whether my bags made it here and were diverted to the Delta airplane. I'm sitting in a restaurant on the relatively less-crowded LAN portion of the terminal. I'll check in with the LAN counter about my bags (since they should have info on whether it got transferred on their computers) before heading back to the Delta gate.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Landing in Lima

We're 10 minutes outside Lima. I spent the flight awake and watching Iron Man. It was quite fun, but I felt it could have been done better. More....

No, never mind. I was good stuff for a superhero movie. I would have made the foreshadowing less blatantly obvious, but that would likely make it fly over people's heads.

Airplane to Lima #2

The man sitting next to me moved to a bank of empty seats across the aisle. Luckily the flight to Lima is not booked solid, because the seats on this airplane are definitely more narrow than on the flight from Concepcion.

Airplane to Lima

On the airplane to Lima. Hopefully (fingers crossed), all is well with my bags. Still, the chance that one will be lost is much higher than on the way down: two bags (instead of one) going through two transfers, one of which was not originally set when checking both of them in at Concepcion.

The man sitting next to me is reading a Chilean newspaper with the back-page story translating to something like, "Michelle Obama and Jackie Kennedy comparisons discussed," with several photos of the Obamas (or Michelle) juxtaposed with photos of the Kennedys (or Jackie) where they seem to be wearing very similar styles of clothes. Other than an interesting diversion, I doubt there is any real substance to the story. I mean, "Hey look, Michelle is wearing an orange dress with a string of pearls, and we have a photo of Jackie wearing an orange dress and a string of pearls!" One could likely find a similar photo comparison between Princess Grace and Michelle Obama. However, making that comparison would probably be in "poor taste" no doubt.

In Santiago

I made it to Santiago (only two more transfers to go). I initially had some trouble with my bags, since they were only checked through to Lima, but with plenty of time on my side here in Santiago, I was able to convince some very helpful LAN airlines staff to help me reroute my luggage through to Atlanta where I have to re-check them anyway. What's really amazing is not that they agreed to help me whilst so much other stuff was going on, but that they were obsensibly able to get it done without my bags actually in my hands. (I only hope this was a good decision.)

Anyway, my next flight leaves in roughly 2 hours. At least Santiago has free internets.

Holy crap!

Holy crap! I looked in at a store at the airport and there was a 20x markup on things I purchased in Chillan! Da~amn!

Learning Spanish

My Spanish competency has improved from absolutely nothing to being able to understand simple sentences, based on unconsciously deciphering what is being said based on my relatively wide-ranging understanding of Latin roots. (Not based on any formal learning of the language.) Some words, however, escape my understanding, even when written down (which normally helps me with understanding content better than hearing the word). I will have to work on this if I ever have any hope of learning Spanish. (It is, after all, like a whole other language!)

Why do I now want to learn Spanish? Well, I've decided to limit myself to an eventual job search in areas of the world where I can speak the language. Student loans aside (and that may well be another concern), I would like to try and find a place to teach somewhere other than Michigan - somewhere where national and international concerns are part of people's minds. Originally, I thought about learning Mandarin, since China is becoming quite the up-and-comer. However, only three countries speak Mandarin: PRC, ROC, and Singapore. This doesn't really widen my options viz countries in which to teach. Coming to Chile has made me realize that the world's second language may well be Spanish (and is - for all intents and purposes - the lingua franca of the Amwericas, no matter what the US and Canada - and Brazil, French Guyana, Suriname, Belize, and much of the Caribbean - think).

So I plan to learn Spanish. How am I going to do this as a PhD student? How am I going to keep interested in pursuing it when it doesn't impinge on my research or ability to live in Ann Arbor? Truth be told, I'm not really sure...

However, there is an opportunity to learn, and I will try and sign up for a class in Spanish with all the young Freshmen. That should be interesting (if I actually can get in). One wonders, though, about the teaching method used during a semester - do people learn via rote memorization and learn grammar rules form the point-of-view of a linguist, or is there an attempt to learn something more than this?

A silly realization

Sitting in the "A" seat allows me to write comfortably left-handed. It looks like I will have an A seat enroute to Lime and Detroit, too. I will try and sleep on my Lima-Atlanta leg, when I'm in seat "G". (Hopefully, though,, seat "G" doesn't mean an aisle seat...)

Leaving Concepcion

Here's my plane to Santiago!

Still in Concepcion

Just realized that the plane that landed wasn't mine. Of course, it did take me to go and try and get on it fro me to realize that flight 206 was mine, not flight 208, and although flight 205 was taking off at 14:10 (the time on my boarding pass), what is printed on my boarding pass is my estimated boarding time, which just happens to also be 14:10. WHO~OPS!

On the bright side, this saved me a potentially embarrassing encounter inside the plane when I would be confronted by the actual ticket-holder of the seat in which I was sitting.

In Concepcion Airport

Sitting at Concepcion airport is really not that bad. The airport is rather small, but modern, with a large sloping ceiling and support pillars all covered with some sort of light-colored wood. I got to the airport several hours before take-off and spent a good amount of time in the coffee shop outside security after checking in. Check-in was interesting, because the entire airport is much larger than necessary to handle the amount of people who use it. Therefore, when I arrived at the LAN counter, only one representative was sitting there - behind the ticket sales desk. After realizing that I did not need a ticket, and that I was trying to check in, she moved over to a check-in desk and proceeded. One small thing, though. LAN can only (apparently) check my bags through to Lima. From there, I have to get my bags and get to the Delta counter, check in there, and hope it all goes without a hitch. Luckily, I'm arriving in Lima at 11PM. Unfortunately, I only have 1.5 hours to get my bag, possibly go through immigration and customs, find my way to the Delta check-in, check my bags, go through security, find my gate, and board the aircraft. Otherwise I'll have to wait for the next flight, which I'm not hoping to do. "Frustrating" to say the least. I wonder if I can talk to a Delta representative in Santiago.

The airplane to Santiago isn't here yet... Oh, it apparently just landed. It's going to be a fast turn-around...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A blast from the past

Looking through my newsfeed does not usually get me thinking about the past. However, this did happen today with the following story from PhysOrg (yes, I used to live in St. Andrews):
As an eleven year old boy in 1985, Donald Wylie tossed a bottle into the Orkney sea, with a message asking its finder to track him down. Almost a quarter of a century later, Donald will be reunited with the bottle which eventually washed up hundreds of miles away on the West Sands in St Andrews

The message in a bottle was the star find among debris collected by a team of keen eco-volunteers taking part in a community beach clean over the summer. The group, which included students and staff from the University of St Andrews, were startled to find a message despatched to sea twenty-three years ago.

Organisers from the University and Fairmont St Andrews Hotel launched a search to find the sender and were delighted to track him down - still living in Orkney and a house builder. When Donald confirmed the story, the organisers invited him to St Andrews to collect the bottle and see for himself where it eventually surfaced.

Donald threw his message in a bottle into the sea at the Sandside beach in Deerness on Orkney. Written inside was a note asking the finder to pass it on to a boy of a similar age.

Today 33 year old Donald recalls regularly going down to the beach as a young boy with his mum, who encouraged him to throw hundreds of bottles into the sea over the years - even now, she continues the tradition at the same beach with her grandchildren. When contacted by the organisers, Donald said, "Over the years I've had a few replies, usually from Norway or Denmark, but never one from St Andrews and never one that's taken this long to wash up."

Almost sixty volunteers took part in the beach cleanup which filled 77 black bags of debris including nine pieces of wood, five litres of diesel in a plastic bottle, two fish crates, one barrel and a single Wellington boot. The bottle was found by Mary Stevens (pictured with Donal above), a mature student at the University and member of staff at ELT (English Language Teaching). It is hoped that the beach clean will become a bi-annual event, with another planned in October.

Roddy Yarr, Environment and Energy Manager for the University of St Andrews said, "The summer event was the first in a series that we hope will be part of a long-term effort to promote the importance of keeping the town's beaches clean. By involving local business, we hope that in the future local groups will be given their own slice of beach to look after.

"The message in a bottle was really quite a find and surprised us all, and we're delighted to be able to reunite the owner with this piece of history. It really is quite remarkable that the bottle should be found after all this time - who knows where it has travelled to in the last quarter of a decade."

This got me thinking again about St. Andrews, and my desires to return to visit friends there that I haven't seen for almost a decade. Here is a video of St. Andrews that makes me nostalgic just watching it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Laja trip

9:12am. Today we are going off to see a part of the Biobio River - the dams and upland areas... The temperature is quiteb low, and the river -as we head over the brigde is quite foggy. It is a very shallow river for how wide it is. I suppose that for much of the year it is quite low, but I also know there is a hydropeaking dam along its length, regulating the water flow daily from 10cms to 150cms, so knowing that it isn't surprising that it might not seem so full, even during what is normally a wetter part of the year.

10:44am. We just crossed the Biobio upstream and it still looks like a big river - for the area. Perhaps about as wide as the Grand River near Grand Rapids. Prior to that we crossed the Verigata River, which was being used as a water supply by the cmlp paper company's two factories - one for making presses paper (mainly for newspaper production) the other for making cellulose fiber for export (to make paper elsewhere). These two factories - and their biomass power plant - were much smaller than the paper mill we saw on our trip on Sunday to Chillan.

11:04am. We just entered the small city of Los Angeles. although I didn't get a cheesy photo of the city sign, I still managed to ge one of the power substation. The main road has a very nice park that runs between the two directions of traffic, and I would have taken pictures if the sun wasn't in my face (I did get one picture facing back along the road). Going along the road I saw something striking: a sign for Thames Water prominently displayed on a water tower. Since none of the local rivers are called 'Thames', I'm assuming that it's another example of globalization.

12:17pm. We are sitting in the conference/lecture room at the Rucue dam. The head engineer is describing the role of this run-of-river dam in the creation of energy in the Laja River (a tributary of the Biobio). They are able to control the river to a height of 140m head to produce about 180MW. There is a second loading chamber at Quilleco that can generate 70MW of power from the same water (if I understood it correctly). The energy is transmitted to the central substation in Charua (sp?) to the main grid. The energy production level is controlled at the dam. The energy is all generated by gravity, and is 140m and at Quilleco is 54m. There is a drop of 200m across 26000m, with a slope of 0.017 (check calc).

The head engineer is telling us how the entire system works. The water comes through the loading chamber and goes through the 'butterfly valve' - whic protects the Italian-made generator from the French-made turbine. (The plant chose this valve over the needle valve because the latter is better when there is a larger head. In addition, a larger head requires less flow, but since the head is not high, the butterfly valve is used. In Quilleco, the use a gate, not a valve.) It then passes through a 'snail' to generate a hydraulic force equal to that of the turbine. The water passing through the turbine turns the generator, producing energy. They take all the energy and transforms the 14,000V to 220,000V (50Hz) for transmission. As the water passes out of the turbine passes through a diffuser to minimize hdraulic disturbance in the river. The power house is divided into different levels - power generation, turbine, butterfly valve, and diffuser.

The head engineer is now going to give an overview of the company. Apparently, the colbun company was the first in Chile to offer carbon credits/offsets relating to the Kyoto Protocol. They are also involved with restoration projects in the upstream areas.

Even due to the diversion of the Laja River, a flow of 4.6cms is left in the river as a minimum ecological flow. If more than 120cms, it will be diverted to the spillway (not the river?). However, in the dry season, 4.6cms remains in the river. Immediately downstream from the diversion area, however, there is a lot of river recharge from groundwater.

Ari asked a question of the economics of distribution, and got a very interesting, and long, answer. The transmission of electricity in the central region is done by a third party company to whom distributors need to pay a tariff. Apparently the generation and distribution companies may be part of the same holding company (and there are many distributors and generators), but there is only one transmission company.

3:17pm. We just finished looking at both the diversion dam and the headworks of the dam itself. The first was in a large open area, and with all the rain we've been having these past few days, the reservoir was overflowing. The dam had nine passages, but only one was partially open. The rest of the water was either being diverted toward the dam or through a hand-constructed spill-way (a little was spilling over the reservoir dike). After returning to the dam area, the bus climbed a steep slope up just above the headworks. Needless to say, the view was great.

3:25pm. Inside thye power plant portion of the dam. It's quite loud from the turning of the generator. Standing on the metal plating, you can feel the thumming come up through the floor. It's so loujd that I can't hear the explanations without getting really close... But that's okay, because I'm not too interested in the specifics.

3:31pm. Going down to the generators. It is expected to be even louder.

3:41pm. Back on the top floor. Indeed, the generator room was very loud, and the pipes leading out of it were quite warm. Now we go into the control room. Lots of computers, and very quiet... The dam controllers also seem to have won a few soccer trophies. "Copa la Amistad" (2000, 2002 & 2006).

4:07pm. Outside, and the sun's warmed it up a bit. Out back of the dam were, of course, the 'siphons' making all the hydropower possible. After obligatory photos at the site, we're off to the Laja River falls.

5:41pm. On route 5, 'almost' at the falls. Actually, we just now got off the highway, and the sign for the falls is nearby. Getting odd the highway, we passed a dog running down the off-ramp. Don't want to know how that happened. The light nis turning that lovely shade of on-the-cusp-of-spring evening. Here we are now! Yay!

8:00pm. Back at the hotel. I'm going to bed now...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Workshop developments and questions

An interesting thing has come to light: the electricity company has submitted a single 1000+ page environmental assessment for the five-dam project, instead of five individual environmental assessments. This is a good thing because all the eggs are in one basket. The entire environmental assessment can be rejected for the whole five-dam project. This is a good thing because it creates the possibility of having an action on the dams project as a system of dams as opposed to a set of independently considered dam projects. One of the things that we have learned here is that Chile does not require environmental impact assessments to be done in series with other projects; each project can be done in independence of other projects. This this seems to my ecological/systems-thinking mind to be nonsensical. How, for example, can you determine the full costs and benefits to society without assessing the project in terms of its system; a new addition to a network? I would argue that you cannot do it; at least without a serious amount of serendipity.

The area around Patagonia is little-developed, and the addition of five major dams in the region (although these dams are not of the scale of Hoover Dam) will be a problem of future management and development of the region. Today, we talked about economic methods of examining environmental costs of projects. However, two questions came to mind that I don't think have been sufficiently been answered (at least to my rather limited knowledge).

The first question is whether or not contingent valuation (or other non-use measures) of a project are subject to a discount rate. If it is, then does it fit into the assumption that an environmental Kuznet's Curve will happen: people with a higher wealth level will have more environmental desires, and will take actions to minimize pollution or maximize environmental factor? Also, how can you set a discount rate on future society's behavior or choices? This feeds into a related problem: once massive infrastructure is on the landscape (complete with its supportive infrastructure), the cost-benefit analysis changes into one where the question shifts from, “Should we build the dam?” at the beginning of the project to, “Should we get rid of the dam?” at the end of the project.

The second question is how to assess costs of mitigating dam projects based on future changes in management unforeseen at the time of the initial benefit-cost analysis was done. For example, we know that the Grand Coulee Dam has gone through several iterations of water and environmental management goals. The addition of fish ladders and the barging downstream of salmon could not be conceived of when the dams were constructed in the 1930s. However, this is a current management strategy, costing millions of dollars. True, one could say that it is an analysis of cost (to provide fish transport) to the benefit (of having salmon runs) is valid by using current-day measures. However, I would contend that if these costs were to be assessed in the 1930s (and if current legal structures were in place, that The Great Depression wasn't happening, etc.) the Grand Coulee Dam would have been built in a different manner. However, these exact costs could not be foreseen. However, there should have been some sort of percentage cost that holds no discounting.

Finally, the Patagonia dams project is one of an international scale. The company proposing the project is a private Spanish company. Therefore, profits are taken outside the country, with no need to invest profits directly in the country. This bypasses the possible benefits that might be accrued under GDP growth than if the company was a Chilean one. In this case (and possibly with all cases of international private investment), GNP (gross national product) or NDP (net domestic product) should be the method of assessment, since these two measurements only look at product that are nation-bound (and therefore directly “invest-able” in the host country).

Reflection on the workshop so far...

The workshop is going... Much of the sessions have been review for me. Having been in courses of economics, policy, ecology, fish physiology, ecosystem modeling, and physical modeling, much of the discussion is review. Very boring... Still, the context of Chile makes it very interesting - however, much of the discussion is being led by American experts. However, the experts are on-the-whole much more interested in working in concert with others, which goes a long way in integrating the work detail of the thirty-odd people here, roughly half of whom (primarily in the US contingent) haven't ever met each other prior to coming to Concepcion.

I was worried about my lack of Spanish competency. However, there are many people here (the University) who speak English, and all but one of the presentations (which was translated) have been in English.

The food here is good, especially due to the availability of fresh seafood. Concepcion seems to have several universities, the best on being Universidad de Concepcion - which is our hosting institution. But the city is very utilitarian, except for a few places, compared with Ann Arbor, Flagstaff, or St Andrews (more similar to my memories of Ulaan Baatar than anywhere else).

I'm a little worried about week 2 of the workshop since five of the US experts are returning to the US before the documents are starting to be written. That there are some new people coming in for the writing portion is also professionally disturbing for me... I will wait and see before passing final judgment.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

President Bush proves again to not be friend of environment

This just makes my blood boil. It seems that as the end comes closer, El Presidente is showing his true colors more and more often. With his off-hand remark about saying farewell from the world's biggest polluter at the G8 Summit he really made this person completely realise that Bush is not being any friend of the environment. Now, our 'great president' is selling out another of the country's national natural resource: its animals and plants. I really wish that we had the ability to call a recall election. however, we have a really old style of government, one without such a check on an executive powergrab during a complicit legislature... Oh well, here's the story  via PhysOrg:

(AP) -- Just months before President Bush leaves office, his administration is antagonizing environmentalists by proposing changes that would allow federal agencies to decide for themselves whether subdivisions, dams, highways and other projects have the potential to harm endangered animals and plants.

The proposal, first reported by The Associated Press, would cut out the advice of government scientists who have been weighing in on such decisions for 35 years. Agencies also could not consider a project's contribution to global warming in their analysis.
Reaction was swift from Democrats and environmental groups.

The chairman of the House committee that oversees the Interior Department, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said he was "deeply troubled." Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., head of the Senate's environment committee, said Bush's plan was illegal. Environmentalists complained the proposals would gut protections for endangered animals and plants.

"This proposed rule ... gives federal agencies an unacceptable degree of discretion to decide whether or not to comply with the Endangered Species Act," Rahall said.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne defended the revisions, saying they were needed to ensure that the Endangered Species Act would not be used as a "back door" to regulate the gases blamed for global warming.

If approved, the changes would represent the biggest overhaul of endangered species regulations since 1986 and accomplish through rules what conservative Republicans have been unable to achieve in Congress: ending some environmental reviews that developers and other federal agencies blame for delays and cost increases on many projects.

In May, the polar bear became the first species declared as threatened because of climate change. Warming temperatures are expected to melt the sea ice the bear depends on for survival.

"We need to focus our efforts where they will do the most good," Kempthorne said in a news conference arranged hastily after the AP reported details of the proposal. "It is important to use our time and resources to protect the most vulnerable species. It is not possible to draw a link between greenhouse gas emissions and distant observations of impacts on species."

The rule changes unveiled Monday would apply to any project a federal agency would fund, build or authorize that the agency itself determines is unlikely to harm endangered wildlife and their habitat. Government wildlife experts currently participate in tens of thousands of such reviews each year.

The revisions also would limit which effects can be considered harmful and set a 60-day deadline for wildlife experts to evaluate a project when they are asked to become involved. If no decision is made within 60 days, the project can move ahead.

"If adopted, these changes would seriously weaken the safety net of habitat protections that we have relied upon to protect and recover endangered fish, wildlife and plants for the past 35 years," said John Kostyack, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Conservation and Global Warming initiative.

Under current law, federal agencies must consult with experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether a project is likely to jeopardize any endangered species or to damage habitat, even if no harm seems likely. This initial review usually results in accommodations that better protect the 1,353 animals and plants in the U.S. listed as threatened or endangered and determines whether a more formal analysis is warranted.

The new rules were expected to be formally proposed in the next couple of days, officials said. They would be subject to a 30-day public comment period before being finalized by the Interior and Commerce departments. That would give the administration enough time to impose the rules before November's presidential election. A new administration could freeze any pending regulations or reverse them, a process that could take months. Congress could also overturn the rules through legislation, but that could take even longer.

Between 1998 and 2002, the Fish and Wildlife Service conducted 300,000 consultations. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which evaluates projects affecting marine species, conducts about 1,300 reviews each year.

Some federal agencies and private developers say that process has killed or delayed some worthwhile projects.

"Over the years, the Endangered Species Act has become a regulatory nightmare that kills or stalls even the most well-crafted land-use projects," said Rob Rivett, president of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a group that supports property rights and limited government. "The economy suffers, people suffer, rational environmental planning suffers. Some careful streamlining is long overdue."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Picked up bag

The first day is running late... By two hours...

However, I got my bag and changed into a clean shirt. Luckily, the woman at the counter was the woman to whom I talked on the phone last night. I'll admit that I was being a pushy American, but she was very helpful, and said, "Oh, you're Mr. Lacy," when I told her who I was.

The topic is the role of engineers. Interesting. I didn't know that the ASCE has a statement about how their mission includes sustainable development (and defines what that means).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Atlanta dropped the ball

So apparently my massive bag-missing problem was not caused by LAN, but by Delta (presumably at Atlanta). What's really annoying about learning this is that the baggage handlers at Atlanta (Delta's hub airport) were unable to move bags from one airplane at one terminal to another airplane at another terminal - but belonging to the parent company - over the relatively not-short time of three hours. Not only were they unable to do this, they were unable to forward a message saying they had committed a SNAFU. I'm going to try and talk to them when I get back to Atlanta to get some discount on a future flight.

Anyway, I get to wear these dirty clothes tomorrow, when I get to meet some very important people in Chilean government. (At least I was able to find a 24 hour chemist near the hotel, so I could get toothpaste, soap,etc.)

Off to bed.


I arrived in Santiago where I had to go through customs and immigration. Got through immigration just fine. Went down to baggage claim, and wazited for my bag. Waited some more, and the went to the airline desk to confirm that I should be waiting for my bag. "Yes, your bag should come on the carousel, and then you take your bag up to the third floor and drop it ff again up there." Okay, so I go back to waiting for my bag. It doesn't arrive (along with four other people). While waiting for the LAN Airlines counter person, I noticed that my flight to Concepcion was becoming ever more imminent. Seeing that I was on the now soon-to-be-departing flight, the people told me to get on my connecter and inquire at Concepcion. That flight was a little cramped, and there was an English highschool soccer team onboard, but it was tolerable. I finished the piece of pulp I picked up in Atlanta, and went to baggage claim with the high hope of finding my bag there. However, as in Santiago, no luck.

After having a very limited conversation with the baggage handler - consisting of me showing him my luggage tag (really lucky I held on to it), him going to look or call it in, finding nothing, and coming back to tell me to go to the counter. So off to the counter I went with my baggage ticket, and talked to a nice woman who informed me - after checking on her computer - that my bag should have been on the flight from Santiago, but I could wait for it with the arrival of the next flight. She also gave me the numbers for Delta (in Santiago) and LAN (in Concepcion).

We'll see how it goes...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dan Gilbert: Global Warming is happening too slowly

Dan Gilbert feels that a major problem with global warming inaction is that global warming is not happening fast enough. (Much of the following are paraphrased or quoted from his talk.)

Four features global warming lacks:
  • A face: understanding what other people are doing is so crucial that our brain has developed an obsession about human agency. This is why we see faces in the clouds, but not clouds in peoples' faces. Global warming is not trying to kill us, and that's a shame.
  • A violation of moral suasion: Visceral emotions are aroused by things our brains have been concerned: food and sex. NOT atmospheric chemistry. Societies are built around who you can sleep with and what you can eat, and not about how much you can consume.
  • A threat to the present: The brain is an exquitely designed "get-out-of-the-way" machine. Only recently has our brain been able to think about the future and take actions againt a future event, which is why we use dental floss and invest in 401k plans. However, global warming is still in the "R&D" version.
  • Ability to see absolute changes: Because we are so bad at percieving changes gradually, we are more likely to tolerate it since it was a day-to-day gradual change, not an abrupt one.

Darwin = Road to Hell?

It is usually said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. We've also heard that Darwinism is evil. Well, apparently if you live in Michigan, Darwin is the road to Hell. (Well, it will get you part of the way.)

View Larger Map

Of course, what some people may fail to realize is that from another perspective, Darwin is the road out of Hell.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Another remembrance day

Not a comparably large number of people are able to claim to be survivors of this mass-hushing of lives in the flicker of time. Exactly three weeks after the testing of the first atomic bomb (Fat Man), the Enola Gay dropped what would - in 57 seconds - be only the second atomic-bomb explosion in history at 8:15 Hiroshima time: "Little Boy."

The immediate effect was the death of roughly 70,000 people, including soldiers, civilians, and prisoners-of-war. Some estimates say that by 1950, over 200,000 people had died from caused directly (explosion/burns) or indirectly (radiation) related to Little Boy.

For those of us who had no witness of these events, the concept of 70,000 instant deaths and an extra 130,000 slower deaths - and the tearing-out of the social fabric that went along with such an attack - exacerbated by the end of the war and hyper-inflation is like a story of our nightmares. However, it has been captured in the form of a Japanese series of graphic novels: Barefoot Gen.

I recently went to my local district library, and found that they had what seemed to be the full series. The greatest - most graphic - of them were the first two, showing the destruction of the city in intimate detail that almost (but succeeds in not doing so) seems to revel like some mad demon in the depiction of indiscriminate death and suffering. It was a difficult series of graphic novels to read to say the least.

With my own national heritage, my grandfathers were on the opposite sides of this conflict; one in northern Japan, the other in the central United States. Although neither of them were drafted - they were both involved in "key" civilian duties - issues of WW2 are difficult for me to rationalize, especially when it comes to the death of civilians.

Paris Hilton responds

Okay, I know that mine is hardly anywhere near one-of-a-few. Still I think it was quite a funny and apt response:

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Cool thing coming out from Nissan

Apparently automotive engineers are realizing that it helps to have immediate feedback during a behavior learning exercise, and what isn't more of a behavior learning exercise than driving. Personally, I feel that many people are driving poorly, and that people should have to re-up their driver's licenses after a period of five years. (That should also provide much-needed funds for state government - after all, driving is still a privilege.)  However, back to the point-at-hand.

Instead of assuming automatic control over a driver (like installing a speed regulator or ABS brakes), Nissan has come up with an interesting approach of actively having a person learn how to save fuel by accelerating smoothly through biofeedback. I think that this is an interesting approach: let the person accelerate as they choose, but let them know (via biofeedback mechanisms) that they are not doing so intelligently.

Check it out (hat tip to Treehugger):
If you can measure it, you can improve it
Feedback is very important. If you don't know how you are doing, it's very hard to improve. That's why the big screen in the Toyota Prius helps you drive more efficiently, and that's why we should make electricity meters easy to read and put them inside houses.
ECO Pedal by Nissan: Coming in 2009
With the ECO Pedal, Nissan has come up with a new way to get fuel economy feedback while driving. The way it works is simple. When the system is on, "each time the driver steps on the accelerator, a counter push-back control mechanism is activated if the system detects excess pressure, helping to inform the driver that they could be using more fuel than required." After a while of this pavlovian regime, you can't help but learn which behaviors the car "approves" of and which you should avoid.
How Well Does the ECO Pedal Work?
Studies by Nissan have found that the ECO Pedal system can provide fuel savings of 5-10%, depending on driving conditions. That's not quite as good as a stop-start anti-idling system (10-15%), but nothing's keeping car makers from using both systems in combination.
ECO Pedal Indicator
The ECO Pedal system can be turned on and off at the preference of the driver. When it is activated, an indicator lights up in the dash.
Technical Details
According to Nissan Global:
The ECO Pedal system is fed data on the rate of fuel consumption and transmission efficiency during acceleration and cruising, and then calculates the optimum acceleration rate. When the driver exerts excess pressure on the accelerator, the system counteracts with the pedal push-back control mechanism. At the same time, the eco-driving indicator incorporated on the instrument panel indicates the optimal level for fuel-efficient driving. Driving within the optimal fuel consumption range, the indicator is green. It begins to flash when it detects increased acceleration before reaching the fuel consumption threshold and finally turns amber to advise the driver of their driving behavior.

Voting abroad

I saw a YouTube video for all Americans living abroad to vote. As a person growing up abroad, knowing that I could vote from abroad is nothing new. However, knowing that there are millions of Americans living abroad that want to vote who don't know about their right to do so.

This clip (and 72 others) show up on a search for vote from abroad democrat. There are 26 videos that show up on a search for vote from abroad republican. It seems right now that the Dems are out there trying to get expats to vote. (And based on the expats I know, many of them aren't too happy with administrations that are too inward-focused.) I don't know how much traction the current Republican Party has with expats, other than with the minority that are connected in the party. To tell the truth, I don't know how much traction the Democratic Party has with expats, either, but there is only my perception of how Americans living abroad feel about this current administration. However, based on the types of videos that show up from the search, I don't see any vids that are PSAs or statements from government officials urging American Republicans to vote from abroad, whereas the whole first page of results of from vote from abroad democrat were all related to messages urging Democrats abroad to vote.

If you happen to be an American living abroad, then I urge you to vote, either for the Dems or the Reps (or "third party). Hey, it's your country, too (no matter what others might say of it).

Fossil fuels climate change

From Climate Progress:

Many of the countries of the world are using fossil fuels in excess from what we might imagine.

Taken from Hansen's report 
The surge in global CO2 emissions is mainly a surge in coal use. The surge is mainly in the East, especially China, but the West cannot make a peep about that, because the West is building coal plants itself, has many more on the books, and presents no effective alternatives. In addition, the West is responsible for most of the excess CO2 in the air today.

Figure 3 also shows that coal use in Russia is modest and not increasing. Thus the common assertion that Russia is a wild card that would prevent successful control of global warming is diminished by realization that the primary requirement is phase-out of coal emissions.

In summary, policy implications of the geophysical boundary conditions include:
(1) Annual CO2 emissions, and thus percent reduction of annual emissions, is not an appropriate metric for controlling climate change. Lifetime of CO2 is so long that slowing CO2 emissions has little effect on climate change. Instead, we must limit the total fossil fuel CO2 emission.

(2) Phase-out of coal emissions is the sine qua non for climate stabilization. Oil and gas, the most convenient portable fossil fuels, are sufficiently abundant to carry the world well into the dangerous CO2 zone, but not irretrievably so. If coal emissions (not necessarily coal use) were phased out promptly (within ~2 decades, which probably would require phase-out in the West within ~1 decade), it would be practical to get back to CO2 levels lower than the present day amount. Coal is by far the dirtiest of the conventional fossil fuels, providing additional reason to target it for phase-out. Conclusion that the largest pools of oil and gas will be used, and that oil and gas reserves are smaller than coal reserves, does not imply that it makes sense to extract every last drop of oil and gas. Given the need to move beyond fossil fuels in any case, and the need to get back to a safe level of atmospheric CO2, policy-makers should consider actions that move beyond fossil fuels as rapidly as possible, preferably leaving in the ground the oil and gas that is more difficult to extract or located in environmentally sensitive regions.

(3) Countries cannot be allowed to “buy out” of coal phase-out via supposed reforestation or reduction of non-CO2 forcings. Sequestration of CO2 via improved forestry and agricultural practices is needed to reduce atmospheric levels below current levels. If reforestation CO2 reductions are used up as a trade-off for coal emissions it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get CO2 levels back below current levels. Similarly, the limited potential for reduction of non-CO2 forcings is needed to balance the positive (warming) climate forcing due to other non-CO2 effects, especially expected reduction of reflective aerosols.

(4) Unconventional fossil fuels, including tar shale, tar sands, and methane hydrates, which contain more carbon than coal and other conventional reserves, must not be widely developed.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Political dog whistles

The other day, I posted how McCain's Britney-Paris-Barak political attack ad carried strong overtones of miscegination. Today I read a story by Melissa McEwan of the Guardian. She frames that ad on the concept of a political dog whistle.
If you're not familiar with the term "dog whistle," as it relates to politics, here's a quick primer: As a literal dog whistle emits a pitch that only dogs can hear, a political dog whistle sends a message that only a particular constituency will hear (or intuitively understand).

Often, dog whistles are merely a covert shout-out to a particular constituency – but sometimes, they're meant to be provocative, to quietly speak to subconscious (or conscious) biases and evoke a particular visceral reaction.

But loitering below the ostensibly substantive critique [of the ad] is something more nefarious. It's no coincidence that it wasn't the vacuous tabloid fixture Spencer Pratt or the "American Idol" punchline Sanjaya Malakar who appear in the advert – and it's not because they're not famous enough. For it was also not Scarlett Johansson chosen for the advert, who famously supports him, has campaigned with him, and whose twin brother works for him, despite her being arguably as recognizable as Hilton and Spears – and it's not because she's not young, blonde, or beautiful enough.
It recalls the despicable "bimbo ad" used against black senate candidate Harold Ford in Tennessee, in which a white actress was hired to claim she'd met Ford at a Playboy party and asked the candidate to "call me," playing on deeply-ingrained and ancient biases about interracial sex. But the difference between the "bimbo ad" (which was also a Republican production) and the McCain advert is that the former was explicit in its miscegenation message, whereas the latter is more, well, dog-whistly. And its deliberate obliqueness has set in motion a series of events that's all too familiar to feminists, LGBTQI activists, civil rights activists, and various other social justice advocates.

The dog whistle piques them with something the average person won't see as bigoted, but that the constituency for which they advocate (and/or of which they're a part) will expect them to call out, because they instantly spy it and recognize it for what it is; they've heard the tune of that particular string being plucked their whole lives. Then whoever calls it out is marginalized as a hysteric, over-reactionary, looking to get offended, etc.

And that's exactly how the game has played out here. McCain piques Obama and his constituency, Obama responds, McCain and the rightwing accuse Obama of playing the race card, his opponents unleash their new favorite battle cry: "You can't criticize Obama without being called a racist." Clockwork.

See how that works? Wheeeee!

And well-meaning people who miss the low-flying racial message (which will be intuited precisely as designed by old racists) will insist it's just about Obama being ninny-brained and uppity, making the complex deconstruction so easy to dismiss – or, rather, making the people who do the deconstruction easy to dismiss.

Meanwhile, since when did implying a black man is uppity and entitled stop being examined for racist undertones, anyway…?
I'll have to remember this argument the next time someone says Obama is the one playing the race card.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Getting ready for Chile

So I had originally played with the idea of changing out my laptop for my trip to Chile, or to put in a new internal drive for my four-year-old machine. However, I think that I'll try a different tactic.

Purchase an external drive, dump all my data onto that drive, format my computer, re-install Windows XP (downloading all the service packs and stuff), also install Ubuntu, and have the option to load as either. This way I can use Linux as my 'default' OS, and use XP when I need to use a program that doesn't work on Linux. (Of course, I'll download OpenOffice so I can do my wordprocessing stuff and Firefox to let me do interweb surfing.)

Another benefit of this option is that I can remove the partition on my drive - something that has driven me a little batty at times. Hopefully, the re-install will also fix some bugs that seem to have developed over time, like my wireless card becoming incompatible with the UMich wireless system, automatically showing me the blue screen of death when I try to connect.

I'll be getting the external drive on the fourth, so we'll soon see whether my idea was folly or not... (I plan on copying all my images onto DVD so I can have them in a more physically robust form. However, based on the timeline at Amazon, this might be after I transfer my files onto the external drive, meaning that I should probably pick up some blank DVDs.)

Mobile blogging

With my new mobile gizmo, it is easy to blog-on-the-go and merely upload them via e-mail once I get to an internet hotspot. As I get better with my typing, hopefully the errors will decrease, and my speed increase (although you are unlikely to notice any difference in this respect).

Trip to Men's Wearhouse

I just spent over $700 on more-formal wear at the Men's Wearhouse. Although I don't normally wear such at thos time, I know that bit is something that I will likely have to wear in the future. Therefore, in a fit of sensibleness (and thanks to some savings coupons I got for reserving a tux for Orcboy's wedding) I am (as soon as the alterations are made) the proud owner of a single-breasted two-piece gray suit, a black blazer, brown slacks, gray slacks (all wool), two long ties (silk), a black long-sleeve button-down shirt, and a 'butternut squash' long-sleeve button-down shirt. Oh, and a belt. Oof-da.

I have to admit, though, that I look pretty darn sharp in them all (and spent roughly two hours in the store than planned). Thank heavens for things  like paydays.

'neo-Babylonian' architecture

There is a type of architecture of which I am no terribly fond. I don't know if it has a definite name, but ever since I saw it in 2000, going up in the Phoenix, AZ region, I have termed it 'neo-Babylonian' architecture. I base my idea on having seen the gates of Babylon at the Pergamon museum in Berlin, as well as a lot of art inspired by that form of architecture done by Baxa and Brom for the Dark Sun series of AD&D 2nd ed rules sets and adventure modules.

What characterizes this form of architecture for me is the color - almost always sandy colors of beiges and ruddy brown - the form - large blocks of shape, usually only with flat roofs - and the decorative 'towers' - either flanking the usually overly-sized front doors or standing as slapped-on attachments to the corners of the building.

Why don't I like them? Well, their stylings have a lot in common with the recent trend in American 'light' trucks: big for the sake of bigness. All that added stucco-on-lumber is just cumbersome-looking; bronze-age mud-brick architecture in a post-Modern world. Maybe, too, it is because I find fascination with miniturization.

However, as much as I dislike it, I can mentally justify its existence (especially given its coloration and origin of its inspiration) in a desert landscape. It's browns and beiges work well with the desert palette, and the blockiness works well with the large boulders that dot the landscape. However, outside that setting, I find it presence a major annoyance. Maybe it's because I feel like it is merely an exporting of a style mass-produced in one part of the country and imposed (due to the familiarity of architects to that style) upon the rest of the country. Maybe it's because I feel that people who go to architectural school should learn how to design buildings with a local sensibility (or at least with a unique design-sense that adds a particular character to a location) instead of duplicating a style of architecture, thus increasing the level of conformity.

What got me going on this rant? A local Cottage Inn Pizza take-away store is getting its own neo-Babylonian make-over. It looks so out of place and ever so intra-nationally imperialistic, while also managing to make itself quite ugly and almost a personal attack on my sensibilities.

Friday, August 01, 2008

China allows some more internets

Yesterday, I was critical. Today I'm still critical, but happier. From PhysOrg:
China on Friday rolled back a few high-profile planks of its Internet censorship system in an apparent effort to defuse an embarrassing dispute over media freedom just days ahead of the Olympics.

Journalists arriving here to cover the Beijing Games have found that access to a wide array of Internet sites, including Western news organisations and human rights groups, were banned.
The previously barred websites of human rights group Amnesty International and press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders were easily accessible on the Chinese Internet system on Friday.

The BBC Chinese service and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, similarly blacklisted previously, were also accessible.

The lifting of Internet curbs appeared to go beyond Olympic venues, with AFP reporters able to consult those normally banned sites from an ordinary Chinese Internet portal.

Amnesty and Reporters Without Borders said their sites could also be viewed by ordinary Chinese elsewhere in Beijing and in other cities.

However many sites were still blocked, including those linked to Chinese dissidents, the outlawed Falungong spiritual movement, the Tibetan government-in-exile and sites with information on the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

The easing of some curbs follows a week of controversy after China backtracked on a pledge to allow the more than 20,000 foreign reporters covering the Games complete access to the Internet.

The IOC was embarrassed by China's decision, after its president, Jacques Rogge, promised last month that foreign reporters would have unfettered Internet access.

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies on Friday welcomed the lifting of restrictions on some of the sites deemed sensitive, such as that of leading human rights group Amnesty.

"It's a good thing," she said.

The IOC said it had pressed China to open up Internet access in talks on Thursday with the Beijing Olympic organising committee (BOCOG) and Chinese authorities.

"Following discussions the IOC held with BOCOG and Chinese authorities regarding difficulties experienced this week in accessing some web sites, the IOC is pleased to see that the issues are being quickly resolved," Davies said.

"The media should be seeing a noticeable difference in accessibility to websites that they need to report on the Olympic Games."

Amnesty and Reporters without Borders also cautiously welcomed the decision to unblock their sites.

"We welcome the news today that the authorities have lifted blocks on our website in the Olympics media venues and possibly elsewhere in Beijing," said Roseann Rife, deputy director for Amnesty's Asia-Pacific Programme.

"However, arbitrary blocking and unblocking of certain sites does not fulfil the duty to comply with international standards of freedom of information and expression."

BOCOG spokesman Sun Weide said some Internet sites remained blocked but insisted that China would guarantee "sufficient" Internet access to allow journalists to do their job.

"Some sites are blocked under Chinese law, but I do not have further information on which," he said.

Reporters Without Borders, which has described China as an "enemy of the Internet," said "this partial lifting of censorship shows that the Chinese government is not completely insensitive to pressure."

"If the whole world had mobilised as early as 2001, before the Games were attributed to Beijing, maybe the situation today would be different. Perhaps journalists would have been released before the opening ceremony," it said.

The watchdog says at least 50 people are being held in Chinese jails for online activities deemed inappropriate by authorities.

China's communist rulers are known to operate an extensive Internet censorship system that blocks information they view as improper, unhealthy or a threat to its rule.

Experts say more than 40,000 Internet police are employed to implement the so-called "Great Firewall of China."

(Spears + Hilton) + Obama = Miscegination?

An interesting point made by Thoughts from Kansas (which I was wracking my head trying to remember why this whole thing looked familiar):

Senator McCain is attacking Barack Obama with an ad claiming Obama is the world's biggest political celebrity, on a par with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Others have noted that McCain is a bit of a celebrity himself, and, more importantly, the two blond starlets are not exactly at the top of today's celebrity charts. Indeed, as Jonathan Chait points out, neither is in the Forbes list of the top 100 celebrities. Nor are either in the current celebrity hot-list at People magazine.

The only reason anyone can offer for putting them in the ad is to race-bait. It's just like what Republicans did in Tennessee two years ago, presenting African-American Senate candidate Harold Ford as a black man out to steal white women. This fear of miscegenation is a key part of racist imagery since at least The Birth of A Nation (and again). (Interestingly, historians of my acquaintance argue that the rise of creationism in the early 20th century has a great deal to do with anti-miscegenation sentiment, and they argue that its current resurgence may have a great deal to do with increasing acceptance and visibility of homosexuality.)

McCain surrogate Joe Lieberman responded to the race-baiting by telling MSNBC that "people … should just relax and enjoy it." This is oddly reminiscent of a joke which was in the news lately. A few weeks ago, John McCain postponed a fundraiser after reminders that the host, Clayton Williams, commented during his 1990 gubernatorial bid that rape was like the weather: "As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it."
Sadly, McCain share's Lieberman and Williams's approach to such assaults. McCain allegedly told a conference of the National League of Cities and Towns this off-color joke:

Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, “Where is that marvelous ape?”

If McCain thinks the American public will react similarly to his savage attacks on Barack Obama, I suspect he's very mistaken.
Yes, and I was watching the Verdict yesterday where they had a person from the McCain show saying that it was, "Just a joke, a bit of fun" (or something similar). Yes: miscegenation = just a joke. No, that wasn't a negative ad. Not at all! Nor was it playing the race card, either. Phaugh.

A total eclipse of the ...

sun (click on the picture to see it animated on the NASA page):

If you happen to live in the far-northern hemisphere in Russia, you'll really enjoy this one (apparently). That, along with the brief daylight-hours emergence of dusk insects that will inevitably accompany people's viewing of it.

(I wonder how many "people went blind staring at the eclipse" stories will come out tomorrow.)

Anyway, the graphic on the left is from NASA, and you can check there for future partial and total solar eclipses.