December 31, 2006

Goodbye 2006

Happy New Year everyone, and thanks for reading. I started LB to keep in touch with friends and that has worked out just fine. A few old friends have even shown up unexpectedly, which is great, and then there are new friends. Dandy.

Last project of 2006. When we bought our house it had about 4 inches of insulation in the attic. The house is heated by electricity which was common in Sweden in 1969-- lots of cheap hydroelectric power. The heating bill after a cold snap the first winter gave me a push to start adding insulation. The project was interrupted when A showed up a couple of years ago. Yesterday and today I finally got a chance to go back in and finish the job.

Resolutions for 2007.

1. Stop writing using the passive voice.
The hunter killed the bear.
The bear was killed by the hunter.
I have a hard time with this one.

2. Read the lectionary. I'm having it sent to me by email each day-- there are lots of services, here's one.

December 28, 2006

Waste not want not

When I was little my Dad saved bent nails and he taught me to pound them straight with a hammer and use them again. It was fun. I still save bent nails. I am sure Dad has a dozen good handfulls of bent nails in the basement at home waiting for me.

The husband of my wife's dear aunt passed away a few years ago and I was asked to help clean out his workshop in the basement. I am kind of a pack rat when it comes to tools and such, and so was this guy. Today I put up a new system of shelves in my workroom-- based on those fine little crates that hold two bottles of wine apiece, received as gifts, and I was putting my containers of screws and nails in order before putting them onto the new shelves. Of course I had saved all of the crazy fasteners I got from the aunt's basement (take it! she said, take it all!), like nine inch square nails and aluminum ringed nails with rubber gaskets under the heads and tiny copper nails. And I ran across a little box of upholstery tacks. They look like thumbtacks except with larger, patterned heads, and every single one of them was bent. This guy had saved them, (imagine the swearing that must have gone into bending two dozen upholstery tacks!), and then I took over responsibility for them until they can be put to use. Today I decided I had had enough and in a rash moment threw out that box of bent upholstery tacks from 1953, and I know someday I'm going to regret it. But for one thing they would be just about impossible to straighten and for another, if I ever do need upholstery tacks, well then for goodness sakes I will simply save up my pennies and buy a box.

December 27, 2006

The People's Mess

My sister sent me this letter to the editor from the Owatonna People's Press:

Facts on 'global warming'

1. It is a theory, not a fact.

2. If the earth is warming, it may be a normal, cyclical event (as has been occurring for thousands of years).

3. If the estimates by the global warming advocates are correct, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the change in temperature will amount to 0.14 to 0.58 degrees per decade (10 years). That would be less than 1/20 of a degree per year.

4. If global warming occurs along the lines of their hypothesis, the effects would include: (a) Longer growing seasons (increased food production) (b) Warmer winters that would cut heating bills and energy use (c) Less disease and fewer cold-related deaths (d) More rain which would decrease famines.

I think your readers deserve to know this side of the "argument," don't you? Thank you.

M. S., Owatonna.

I decided to write a letter to the editor too-- see 'comments'.

December 26, 2006

Springtime for Santa

Went on a fine bike ride yesterday. Temperature in the low 50s, no wind, plenty of sun low on the horizon. Saw some deer, swans, ducks, thrushes. It's a great year for winter wheat.
I've written how we have just had the warmest September, October and November ever since the invention of the thermometer, and December is way above average-- the only part of Sweden with snow on the ground is Lapland. I have started to think of this winter of a preview of the coming climate. We have had a lot of mist and fog lately, caused by an elevated ocean surface temperature.

December 25, 2006


The Primate Brow reports that The Common Ground Meditation Center is moving into a hamburger joint.

Another Brick in the Wall

A friend gave my son a copy of the Christmas Story with the various scenes illustrated with pictures of Legos. The book is part of a project called The Brick Testament, an illustrated Bible presented by Rev. B. P. Smith. Each story is rated according to Nudity, Sexual Content, Violence and Cursing. Here for example is the illustration of Mark 13:12 which describes the end of the world, Children will rise against parents and have them put to death.

December 22, 2006

More little notes.

A. It continues to be warm and the buds are leaving. Leafing?
B. Our family started Christmas vacation by watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last night. Great movie and so much better than the version from the 70s with Richard Pryor.
C. I was reading some biking blogs (Oil is for Sissies, Three Speed Blog), and it inspired me to calculate that I commute about 2200 miles per year on my bike-- plus about 19000 miles per year on the train. Actually our unusually warm weather has made it easier to bike to work, so that's something, plus we're spending less to heat the house.

December 21, 2006

Update Blog

1. I was able to get the fourth summer tire off the car. The yard-long pipe wrench was no help because its jaws were to big to fit into the recess where the bolt heads were. All I did was give each of the bolts a few good raps with a small sledgehammer (not for the first time), and then turn pretty damn hard on the tire iron. Crack! Each bolt said as it gave way. In the meantime I had driven the car and maybe that helped loosen them up?
2. The Department's East German Christmas Octoberfest was yesterday. Good beer served by real live 'Heidi's balanced by an equal number of their male equivalents: 'Rudi's. Will have to post picture.
3. Ran across this interesting piece of internet detritus.

December 20, 2006

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is a 700 page report on the effect of climate change on the world economy written by Sir Nicholas Stern for the government of the UK. Sir Nicholas is an economist.
The main conclusion is that an investment of one percent of global GDP is required to prevent a recession, caused by climate change, that could be worth up to 20% of global GDP. The report says that climate change could cause the greatest market failure ever seen, including major disruption to the economy and social activity later in this century, on a scale similar to that associated with great wars and the great depression. British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that the review demonstrated that scientific evidence of global warming was "overwhelming" and its consequences "disastrous" if the world failed to act.
Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, was optimistic about the opportunities for industry to meet demands created by investment in technology to combat climate change. The Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change shared this hope and James Smith the Chairman of Shell UK would like to obtain 'first mover advantage' in 'massive new global markets'. Economist William Nordhaus criticised the report's assumption of a near-zero discount rate, wheras Professor Bill McGuire says that Stern may have underestimated the effects of global warming. Ruth Lea of the Centre for Policy Studies writes that the Review was designed to cloak the motives of a government that wanted some moral justification for increasing taxation on fuels. Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute writes, “Stern’s investment advice makes sense only if you think that warming will hammer GDP by 10% a year. You don’t gain much at all from emission cuts, however, if you think GDP will only drop by 5% a year if we do nothing. And if you think warming will only cost the global economy 2% of GDP every year, [...] then Stern’s investment advice is lunacy.”
Economists seem to believe that there is a big box called the economy with a couple of little arrows representing exchanges with the environment. For example the environment provides inputs of fish and timber that can be obtained at a certain price. As I see it the economy is a tiny subset of the environment. Global environmental catastrophe, which is in the cards, implies economic disaster. If you think the phrase 'global environmental catastrophe' is alarmist or knee jerk, consider what life will be like when the Arctic ice cap melts. Sure the Northwest Passage will be open but perhaps the least of the problems will be the loss of polar bears, the traditional Inuit lifestyle and snow crabs. If there is no ice there will be profound impacts on the environment. Right now the ice cap reflects sunlight which open ocean would absorb, accelerating climate change. The circulation of the world's oceans, driven by deep water formation in the Arctic, would change, as would global weather patterns. Consider what life will be like if the oceans rise by 20 feet. I have a hard enough time giving up a white Christmas, and that is only the start.
We receive an enormous quantity of services from the environment for free. What is the worth of clean air and wilderness? I like the idea of the white snows of Kilimanjaro and Mt. Fuji, and Glacier National Park, but all of these will be lost in the coming decades. I like the idea of canoeing through the wilderness, but the wilderness we know will be destroyed by climate change.
A frequent critique of doing something is the cost-benefit analysis given by Bj?rn Lomborg, found his book The Skeptical Environmentalist and also in a recent op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal. He does not dispute anthropogenic climate change, but says that the economic costs of avoiding CO2 emissions are so high and the benefits to the climate so small that it is not worth the effort. One lesson from the CFC/ozone depletion issue is that technological alternatives can sometimes be cheaper than the status quo technology they replace. There is significant industrial inertia, but once people are convinced change is inevitable it is relatively easy to achieve. When was the last time you missed using CFCs? We still have aerosol cans (many use alternative hydrocarbon propellents) and refrigerators and plastic foam, no problem. In my own life, commuting by train uses 1/100th of the carbon that driving would, plus it gives me time to work and write my blog. The key to reducing CO2 emissions is to be smart. Denmark gets 20% of its electricity from wind power, and Sweden gets a similar amount from hydroelectric power. Second, we have Lomborg's argument that limiting CO2 emissions is not worth the effort. The lifetime of CO2 in the environment is about 100 years which means that will have elevated CO2 concentrations and climate change throughout the 21st century even if all CO2 emissions were stopped tomorrow, simply because of the CO2 released by our parents, grandparents and great grand folks. The argument is, 'Its too late!' But you could also say that each additional ton of CO2 is going to be affecting the climate for another 100 years. Seen from this point of view, our choice today is between disasterous climate change if we do nothing and bad climate change if we act. Disasterous means large scale ecological problems whereas bad means climate change on a scale and at a rate not previously seen. There is a big difference between climate change anno 2100 under the IPCC's worst-case scenario (temperature increase on average of 5 C = 9 F, much more at the poles) vs. the best case scenario (2 C = 3.6 F). What makes the difference is how we decide to act.

December 17, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me

Hey everyone, just turned 40. I celebrated by staying at home for 4 days fixing things. Finished the trim around the stairs. Did a lot of work re-renovating the recently flooded bathroom. Got out the winter tires (required by law in Sweden). As is often the case things didn't go as well as I had hoped. For one thing, can you believe it, I spent parts of two days trying to get the bolts out in order to remove the right rear wheel of the car. This morning a committee of neighbors and one pet dog assembled to give me advice. We tried tying first a hockey stick, then a steel pipe and finally a 2 by 4 onto the tire iron in order to get more leverage. The hockey stick flexed too much and the steel pipe buckled. I ended up bending the tire iron itself using a long crowbar. The bolts did not budge. I tapped on the bolts with a smallish sledgehammer a few times but that didn't loosen them up either. WD-40 did not help. Finally one neighbor loaned me his 1600 W heat gun and I blasted each bolt for 5 minutes, and tried removing them with the 2 x 4 wrench, hot andthen cold, without success. Finally I had to call off the enterprise in the interests of preventing a hernia, but not until I had put some serious strain on my back. There was a funny incident yesterday when I had both hands on the tire iron and was pulling with all my might and the iron slipped off the bolt. I launched myself head first into the fence and then fell onto my shoulder--poetry in motion-- my wife thinks I should be made an honorary Stooge. So here I am, 4 decades of walking the earth, 5 cuts on my hands, two band-aids, sore back, bruised shoulder.
I started the first day of my fifth decade (ouch) with High Mass served by the Bishop herself in Lund Cathedral, built in 1103. The first step was to let go of my church anxiety, a psychological state attained by watching your father and sometimes also your mother prepare for services for many years. And I tell you it is a whole 'nother thing to receive the service instead of somehow feeling involved with the presentation of it. These church family issues are my own business but I did enjoy a description on Real Live Preacher ('Advent Comedy of Errors') of what the preachers daughters were up to during the service.
Thanks to friends and family for remembering me on my birthday. Happy holidays everyone.

December 08, 2006

The rider of the storm

The evening came, the rider of the storm sent down the rain. I looked out at the weather and it was terrible....With the first light of dawn a black cloud came from the horizon; it thundered within where Adad, lord of the storm, was riding....Then the Gods of the Abyss rose up; Nergal pulled out the dams of the nether waters, Ninurta the warlord threw down the dykes, and...the God of the storm turned daylight into darkness.

--The story of the flood from the Epic of Gilgamesh

So, I renovated the small 'guest bathroom' downstairs a few months ago. Put in a new floor and toilet, sink and cupboard, cabinet and lamp, painted the walls and ceiling. The whole thing turned out nicely. Our in-laws were just visiting and my mother-in-law left the water running in the sink for about an hour. It ran over and when I opened the door there was 3/4" of water standing on the floor. There is no drain in the floor of the room. I had installed laminated flooring and the area under it was flooded, as was the foam insulation, as was the original linoleum floor under that, and the felt pad under that floor. Everything soaked, down to the foundation. So I spent this past Sunday ripping out the baseboards and the nice terra cotta pattern floor and the subfloor. The sill boards got wet but I think they will be alright. I am trying not to imagine that the water ran out and under the floor in the hallway, or under the stairs. This weekend I will be putting in a new floor, this time tile, hope to have the room ready again by Christmas.

Juletide Hay Fever

They just had a warning on the news for people with pollen allergies. If the present warm weather continues, as is expected, hazel and birch will be blooming by Christmas.

December 07, 2006

Memo of the day

Here is a loose translation of the day's most interesting office memo. It is accompanied by a picture of a Polka band wearing dirndl and laederhosen and two women carrying an incredible quantity of beer.

The Great Christmas Oktoberfest from East Germany, welcome to Oktoberfest in December.
Exciting beer with grilled swine and lamb.
The grill will be ignited at 1 PM.
Beer will be served from the very start by real live German Heidis.
As last year, there will be beer, wine and water as long as supplies last-- the taps will be closed at midnight. This year the focus will only be put on the exciting beer.
The German hit-music DJs will start playing at 1 PM and later there will be dance music.
German lottery with Christmas Oktoberfest prizes, beer tasting and surprises, welcome to this year's Oktoberfest in December. Registration is binding and no money will be returned. Christmas greetings from the party committee.

Orwell's Rules

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

December 06, 2006

High school students

I just gave a talk about climate change for a group of high school students. At one point I asked them to write down their questions, here are some of the replies:

I have been hearing rumors about that the future cars will use pig fat instead of gas. Is that true and will it become the future fuel for motors?

Are there any plans the next 100 years?

If the water in the oceans rise, which contries would be destroyed?

Can you go skiing in the alps in 50 years?

December 05, 2006

Heinlein's Rules

You Must Write
Finish What You Start
You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order
You Must Put Your Story on the Market
You Must Keep it on the Market until it has Sold
Start Working on Something Else

December 02, 2006

Spot check

I went on a little walk this morning to look for signs of the extremely mild weather I described in the previous post. Winter has definitely not arrived, although there was a light frost one night about a month ago. I saw a lot of green buds and some new leaves, and several plants were blooming. This is really strange since it is December 2 and we are on a latitude with Churchill Manitoba, the 'Polar Bear Capitol of the World.' (From top left, lilac, honeysuckle, forsythe and a plant they call wintergreen, but its not for eating like the kind we have in MN.)

December 01, 2006

The heat is on

This past July was the warmest July ever recorded in Denmark. September was the warmest September ever, since records started. So was October, as was November.

Space Face

So I was opening my mail this morning and I was happy to see a copy of The Planetary Report, the newsletter from The Planetary Society, which I joined recently. Turns out they are going to be etching my name (and the names of the other members of the society) on a silicon disk that will be sent to Mars as part of a mission to explore the Martian Arctic. Strange. They say the disk will last for many centuries on the Martian surface. They have also included several books on the mini-DVD, by Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke and so on, in order to create 'the first Martian library'. Who will be the first Martian librarian?

Here is a Rock Opera about the colonization of Mars written by a friend of mine.


The Christmas Lunch in Denmark is the high point of the social year. Ours will begin at 4 this afternoon and continue into the wee hours. There are games-- I wrote a quiz, here's one of the questions:

Who of the following has not sung for Black Sabbath?
Ozzy Osbourne
Tony Iommi
Terence 'Geezer' Butler
Ronnie James Dio (of Rainbow)
Bill Ward
Dave Walker (of Fleetwood Mac)
Ian Gillan (of Deep Purple)
Bev Bevan (of Electric Light Orchestra)
Iggy Pop (of The Stooges)
Jeff Fenholt
Glenn Hughes (of Deep Purple and Trapeze)
Ray Gillen
Tony The Cat Martin (of The Alliance)
Rob Halford (of Judas Priest)
Rudolf Schenker (of The Scorpions)
Ravi Shankar
Rick Wakeman (of Yes)

See comments for the answer.

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