Friday, November 30, 2012

The email came last night at 9 pm:
"SpotTheStation!" Time: Fri Nov 30 6:21 AM, Visible: 4 min, Max Height: 79 degrees, Appears: NW, Disappears: SE"

Set the alarm clock, walked out to a clearing by 6:15, used the compass app on my iPhone to get oriented, and at 6:21, looking towards the northwest, about 45 degrees above the horizon (horizon would be zero degrees, straight up 90 degrees) the International Space Station appeared, brighter than any star in the sky by far, easily visible despite some light fog and a very scattered layer of very thin cirrus clouds and a bright full moon in the same direction! It moved rather quickly up and across the sky, never blinking. Wished I'd brought my binoculars with me, bet I could have seen the giant solar panels! It took 6 minutes to traverse the sky before it faded out of sight to the southeast about 20 degrees above the horizon. Then it was time to go get Chestnut and take him for a walk!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Let’s focus on our shared values

Flag flying over Liberty Island, 2009

The following op-ed, "Let's focus on our shared values", appeared in Raleigh's News and Observer on November 27, 2012. 
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My daughter, Michaela, recently encouraged our family to keep things positive and be careful not to offend those with whom we share this great country, even if we may not share their political preferences.  I thank her for a timely reminder, and for the hope that it represents, coming from a twentysomething with strong political preferences of her own.
This great United States of America came into existence thanks in no small part to the willingness of our forefathers to compromise.  They found ways to latch on to values they shared as they struggled to reconcile their tremendous differences.  Our very form of government depends on compromise and reconciliation.
In that spirit, I suggest that each one of us takes as much time as it takes, and exerts as much effort as it requires, to find common ground with our fellow Americans.  Yes we have differences, sharp and serious.  But we may share much more than we think.
Maybe reminding ourselves of all the things we together love about the USA will help us and our leaders figure out how to work out compromises to solve our current and future problems.  It worked in 1776 (Declaration of Independence), 1787 (Constitution), and 1791 (Bill of Rights), and they were at least as passionate as we are, and I hope we are as smart as they were.
I offer below a list of items upon which to begin a search for common ground.  Consider them, change them, add to them.  Discuss them with your fellow Americans.  Talk about them with your neighbors next door and across the street, at the gym, at the game, at work, in letters to the editor.  Search long and hard for the things that both of you like and value, and focus your attention, laserlike, on those things.  Let those shared values form the basis for a civil conversation that celebrates the things we all love about our country.
  • I want my children and grandchildren (may we be so blessed), to lead happy, healthy, and safe lives enjoying the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
  • I value a strong economy where everyone is enabled and encouraged to find or even create a good job that gives them the chance to exercise their talents and abilities, provide for their well-being, and contribute productively to our common good.
  • I want our country to continue to be a model and a shining light for freedom and liberty and tolerance and diversity.
  • I hope that the USA can continue to be a force for good around the world, both by our example and by sharing our time, talent, and treasure.
  • I want America to continue to protect its neediest citizens even as it provides the foundation upon which its most talented citizens build successful lives.
  • I value a natural environment surrounding me that reflects the diversity, productivity, and resilience found in healthy ecological systems, and that provides at the least cost possible, breathable clean air, drinkable pure water, and delicious healthy food.
  • I hope that all of our communities can continue to provide the structures that support our comfortable and productive lives: fire and police protection; good roads; abundant greenways, parks and playing fields; power utilities; water and waste utilities; engineering and safety standards; objective journalism outlets; and communications networks.
  • I value an educational system that provides a common, excellent learning experience for all of us, that teaches about the things that make the USA a beacon around the world, and that shares the best understanding we have of history, language, science, society, and mathematics with all of our students.
  • I want our elected and appointed leaders to respect our history, understand this world in which we live, value our diversity, appeal to the best in each of us, and bring us together as they improve our union.
  • I hope my children and grandchildren will, as I do, feel a lump in their throat or a tear in their eye whenever they hear or sing The Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and God Bless America.

Lady Liberty on a visit in June, 2009

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Climate Change Science

 Figure 2
Bottom Left Image Source: TAO Project Office, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Lab.
Right Image Source: University Corporation for Atmospheric Lab.
Top Left Image Source: NASA

From time to time it is helpful to refer someone to a readily available online source of reliable and objective information about climate change science.  There are many sources from which to choose, but there is one that appears to clearly take the honors when it comes to objectivity and integrity.  That source is the National Research Council (NRC).  The National Research Council was formed by the National Academies of Sciences, and regarding the National Academies, here's a brief statement from the "About Us" portion of their website.

"The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was signed into being by President Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1863. As mandated in its Act of Incorporation, the Academy has, since 1863, served to "investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art" whenever called upon to do so by any department of the government"

 The National Academies formed the National Research Council in 1916 " associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government."

So without further elaboration, here is the link to a concise summary of the best available understanding of climate change science as of the current  year, 2012.  Enjoy!

CLIMATE CHANGE: Evidence, Impacts, and Choices
Answers to common questions about the science of climate change

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A little lesson about the positive feedback effect

Sent the following to the News and Observer of Raleigh, they printed it on 11/9/12 (link to online version complete with reader comments below):
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In his letter of 11/7, William Everett reports that scientists found a case where temperatures increased before atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.  Everett claims this finding invalidates the climate change concept that increasing carbon dioxide concentrations cause temperature increases, since one would expect the carbon dioxide to increase first if it caused a temperature increase.

I believe the report Everett cites refers to climate 20 thousand years ago, and there are times in Earth's history where temperature does increase first, and a carbon dioxide increase follows.  What Everett failed to add is that oftentimes when this happens, the increase in carbon dioxide causes a further and much larger increase in temperature.  And the initial smaller temperature rise was caused by changes in Earth's orbit and orientation (Milankovitch cycles) that simply do not cause today's warming.

A study by Jeremy Shakun, published in the science journal, Nature (volume 484, April 2012), presents convincing evidence that rising carbon dioxide concentrations caused global temperatures to increase from 18 to 11 thousand years ago.  This is but one of many lines of evidence indicating that rising carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere do cause an increase in temperature and consequent climate changes.
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