Friday, August 31, 2007

A difficult little haiku.

Sometimes the Sun-Times
Runs a story on some tines,
At times, on the Tyne.

Apparently, the word "sometimes" is difficult for Mandarin speakers to say clearly. This little haiku turns into a diabolical tongue twister for them.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Today in history: Steamships

Two hundred years ago today (it was on a Monday back then), the first commercially successful steamship was launched from New York City, traveling the Hudson River from NYC to Albany. The boat belonged to Robert Fulton. According to, Fulton's trip suffered mechanical problems shortly after leaving dock. The first trip from NYC to Albany took two days: 24 hours to Robert Livingstone's house, and another 8 hours to Albany.

This was possibly also the first viable means of changing the rivers of the country from one-way roads into viable shipping lanes, thus leading (eventually) to the introduction of Asian carp into the Mississippi River.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I found a link to From there, I was bombarded by several stories ranging from news, science, design, fashion, travel, etc. all of which bring a pro-environment view of an issue. I've decided to add it to the list of pages that I "leaf" (ha-ha) through each morning.

The story that took me to was about (what seemed to me when I read the title) a hair-brained idea of protecting the globe against further warming. Since recent climate studies have shown a very strong correlation between global cooling and large volcanic eruptions, the solution using a new "geo-engineering" idea to cool the planet by simulating a large volcanic eruption was (apparently) suggested in some engineering circles. At this point you might be thinking the same thing as I was: "WTF?" Luckily, engineers decided to model the possible impacts of doing something like this before finding a large volcano and blowing it up (or recreating a similar situation). What they found was not terribly surprising (to me, at least): the benefits of a couple years of cooling (caused by all that soot being thrown into the atmosphere, thus blocking sunlight) are far outweighed by issues of drought and decreased river flows (both of which were seen in the aftermath of recent large volcanic eruptions). Treehugger and Grist both fail to mention the major negative social impacts that such changes in global weather patterns will have on the "third world" (nor the massive harm such a globe-wide action will have on US foreign relations once this was attempted).

This "volcanic solution" is an interesting example of a disjointed world view taken by some people in engineering circles. The engineers that I know are very proud of their ability to see a problem and find a solution. However, a problem of understanding what constitutes a "solution" is predicated on the knowledge of the system that is currently under failure. If your solution is based on a subset of the total system, then it runs the risk of being an analgesic (for the particular subsystem in question) rather than a cure for the entire system. On the face of it, this seems to be what happened with the thinking behind this (and many other geo-engineering) solutions:
  1. The Earth is undergoing global temperature increases.
  2. What can decrease global temperatures?
  3. (after going through the list of previous geo-engineering hypotheses) Volcanic activity is correlated strongly with global cooling.
  4. How large of a volcanic explosion is needed to cause similar global cooling?
... and so the avenue of thought for that possible solution is then paved [with good intentions].

Did the people thinking about this consider socioeconomic outfalls of their global solution? Did they consider the foreign policy aspects of implementing such an idea? Admittedly, these two considerations fall outside the physical environmental system the person/people were originally considering. (Or do they...? I'll have to make this the subject of another post.) So if this is the case, what about considering the potential global/regional/local impacts on those parameters of the physical environment other than temperature? Oh, whoops. Still, I suppose there was some good science that was done before the whole thought experiment came to a screeching halt when the National Center for Atmospheric Research put the kibosh on it by pointing out some of the side effects of a volcanic eruption. In closing, I wonder if the geo-engineers in question ever heard about Krakatoa or the uninspiringly-named "Proto-Krakatoa"?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Online Identities

Umlud has been a long-time online identity of mine, going way back to 1996. What is an online identity?

Well... not to let the cat out of the bag or anything, my name ain't really "Umlud", donchaknow. Rather, "Umlud" is the moniker/pseudonym/pen name I use as a social identity in networks to which I belong. It also happens to be my most used online identity, but I have five or six more of them.

With "Umlud" as my online identity, it is impossible (or difficult) for another person to actually "know" who I am in real life, and I'm free to re-define my personal identity in a manner that I see fit. Of course, if I wish for my "Umlud" ID to become established, I will slowly have to adjust to certain "Umludian" characteristics which may closely mimic my own real-life characteristics (and for me, this is an easier thing to do, rather than building up a different personality for my most-used online identity).

Why don't I use my own name as my online ID? Well, for many reasons. However, the main reason is that, like some people who prefer to write under a pseudonym, I (the "real me") feel that the use of a different online ID makes it easier to write some posts, since it isn't the "real me" that is writing it. A little part of me thinks that if I had a "John Smith"-like name, then I would possibly be less likely to use a pseudonym, since a commonly held name is similar to having innate anonymity.

So who cares about this whole thing about online identities, anyway? Well, about a year ago, I was thinking about researching some issues surrounding the use (misuse, and security issues) of using online identities as a graduate student instructor or faculty member at a university. At the University of Michigan, everyone is assigned (with some personal input) a choice of an online identity - called a uniqname - that will be used minimally for logging on to university systems.

Of course, with some people, these uniqnames do become a second identity. This merely adds layers to the use of your online ID, security of your online ID, and possible repercussions (in academia) of the [perceived] mis-use of your university-bestowed online ID (or at least repercussions due to things you might do/say whilst using your university-bestowed online ID). The thing that I did, though, was to divorce what is written here from what I do with my UM-bestowed uniqname.

Next I will cogitate upon some issues of online ID security that university people (specifically graduate student instructors and faculty) will need to be cognizant. Any suggestions by you, the readers, will be helpful. (Cheers!)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Poison Ivy is GONE.

So... for the two people out there who read this, my apologies for not writing more often this month. I've been down with a somewhat worrisome case of poison ivy. At the worst point, my right arm was swollen to such an extent that it was very difficult to bend my elbow, twist my wrist, or even clench my hand. My left arm was swollen less than my right, but it, too, looked more like a pulverized piece of meat (animated through some fell magicks) than my arm. In addition, the upper right-hand side of my face was swollen so much that I could barely open my eye.

Luckily, it didn't really itch. Luckily, too, my girlfriend is very patient and caring, and helped me slather Cortizone on the swelling. In the end, 2+ weeks after my initial contact with that vile plant (which, with poison sumac and poison oak, should be eradicated from the face of the earth), I'm now at a point where my arms merely appear that I have a minor sun burn, and my face is back to its normal mug-like self.

In other news, the temperature has finally cooled off, and sleeping with the windows open, listening to cicadas, crickets, and other insect sounds at night is a welcome relief to the secluded quiet (broken up by intermittent blasts of cold air) that is forced upon you when you choose to use central A/C.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Do you have Asberger's Syndrome?

Apparently I don't have to worry about having A.S. (I scored a whoppingly low value of 14). But you can take the online A.S. test to see what you score. (Make sure you allow scripts to run on the page before taking the test.)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

USGS River Discharge Maps

Now, the USGS river discharge maps are available state-by-state via a Google Maps interface. For those of you who don't know what the graphs mean, investigate what "discharge" and "gage height" are. If you don't want to do the investigation, then - in brief - "discharge" is how much water is flowing past a certain point measured as volume/time (e.g., cubic feet per second), and "gage height" is how high the water is in the river measured as length (e.g., feet). Due to hydraulic geometries of rivers, the shape of these two graphs is usually similar.

The cool thing about this post is not that there is a lot of river data out there (of course, that is cool), but that the data are now connected with a Google Maps interface, making it much easier to figure out where the sites are on the ground. (Which - if you are working with these sorts of things - is a really nice thing, let me tell you.)

There is also the ability to get a GIS shapefile of all the sampling locations, as well as looking at the data on Google Earth KML.