April 30, 2008


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April 27, 2008


We went fishing last weekend. Didn't catch anything but the place was covered in frogs laying eggs.

Next weekend we will be out after needlefish which will be migrating up the coast any day now.

Spring photos

It was an unusually tough winter this year where we ended up catching a chain of big storms from the North Atlantic. Thank God spring is here.

My wife is really happy about all the blossoms on the magnolia.

She found a whole tray of mini-daffodils on sale for $4. Now they are all over the yard. The house is surrounded.

These red tulips come up every year. They came with the house.

April 21, 2008

The Cheap Energy Mind

Our neighbors! There are always 4 spotless Euro sedans outside their house (2 Mercs, 2 Audis), and now they have bought a big old American conversion van. The van has a powerful engine. I know this because they spent quite some time Sunday afternoon revving the engine-- that tin box is ready for the drag strip. In one day these guys throw out more CO2 than I can save in a month. What does it matter the small things I do? Sure I know that riding my bike is fun and good exercise, and when I insulated the house it was just as much about saving money as conserving energy, but the enormous size of the problem of doing something about climate change is a challenge.

And so I thank the NYT article for this article, 'Why Bother'.

Back in the 70s (Think of the scale of the environmental problems back then, and the attention they received. Those were the days!) Wendell Berry, Kentucky farmer and writer, was impatient with people who gave money to environmental causes but wasted energy in their everyday lives. He said that nothing would change until we heal the split between what we think and what we do. 'Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.'

Here’s the point: Cheap energy, which gives us climate change, fosters precisely the mentality that makes dealing with climate change in our own lives seem impossibly difficult. Specialists ourselves, we can no longer imagine anyone but an expert, or anything but a new technology or law, solving our problems. Al Gore asks us to change the light bulbs because he probably can’t imagine us doing anything much more challenging, like, say, growing some portion of our own food. We can’t imagine it, either, which is probably why we prefer to cross our fingers and talk about the promise of ethanol and nuclear power — new liquids and electrons to power the same old cars and houses and lives.

The “cheap-energy mind,” as Wendell Berry called it, is the mind that asks, “Why bother?” because it is helpless to imagine — much less attempt — a different sort of life, one less divided, less reliant. Since the cheap-energy mind translates everything into money, its proxy, it prefers to put its faith in market-based solutions — carbon taxes and pollution-trading schemes. If we could just get the incentives right, it believes, the economy will properly value everything that matters and nudge our self-interest down the proper channels. The best we can hope for is a greener version of the old invisible hand. Visible hands it has no use for.

Tacoma Narrows Newsreel

This newsreel footage of the Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse is classic. Much better than I had remembered from High School physics because the version we saw was missing the breathless orchestration and newsreel announcer: 'No structure of steel and concrete can stand such a strain. Steel girders buckle and giant cables snap like puny threads. There it goes!'

April 19, 2008

The Scientist's Dress Code

Dick asks, 'What is the scientist's dress code?' Here's a line from the Science pages of the New York Times: 'He preferred the scientist's anarchic dress code of well-worn slacks and a faintly wrinkled shirt over the administrator's buttoned-up Brooks Brothers.'

'Anarchy' is a good word but just as much 'utility'. If you can't go for a hike, eat Weinerschnitzel and solve partial differential equations in a given piece of clothing, it's got to go. I saw a young scientist at the meeting in Vienna with an air of forensic pathology and rasta locks in a short skirt, nylons and hiking boots. Outdoor clothing always fits in, like just about anything you could buy at REI. There were a handful of professors in crumpled suits and running shoes. Plaid is OK, so are Converse All-Stars. And there were a few conferees wearing hats indoors, like they had just gotten in from the big dinosaur nesting site outside of Bozeman. I was wearing REI travel pants and a shirt from The North Face one day, and crumpled Dockers and blue dress shirt another day.

April 18, 2008


I went to Vienna earlier this week to give a talk at a conference. The meeting was like a scientific High School reunion-- there's a certain set of old friends who I just meet at meetings every few years. There's a nice feeling to entering a building filled with 10,000 scientists, all carrying laptops, all obeying the scientist's dress code, all talking science. Vienna is a nice town but I didn't have that much time to look around. Here is the street outside my hotel, including a classic Viennese cafe with dark wood interior and smoky booths. Seeing roadsigns pointing to Budapest and Graz gives me a thrill.

Everyone at the meeting got a free pass for public transportation which was good because it took three subway lines to get from the hotel to the conference center. My stop was 'Burggasse-Stadthalle'.

While in Vienna one must eat a Wiener schnitzel the size of an elephant ear.

April 12, 2008


One thing I like about biking is that it puts you right in the middle of energy efficiency. I just put a speedometer on my bike and you can see it right there on the display. On a little hill I might reach 20 mph, and on a good hill, 25 or more. Against the wind on my way home uphill I am fighting to keep my speed at 8 mph. Sometimes when the light turns green I will sprint out ahead of a car and see how long I can hold it. If things go well, maybe about half a block, but the cars always win. Me, on a featherweight cycle held up on 1/16" spokes, gets beat by a superheavyweight automobile belching yards and sections of exhaust. There's a lot of talk about environmentally friendly cars, and about how you can change your driving style to save fuel, but the basic fact is that the fuel economy of vehicles is dirt-poor. Today's Ford F150 pickup truck gets the same mileage as a Model T, and if you drive green (avoid jackrabbit starts!), it doesn't change the fact that it takes a lot of fuel to roll around in that huge metal box.

Just ran across this graph showing the price of coal.

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April 08, 2008

The biking news

Milk carton joke. Why does the cow have a bell? The horns don't work.

As you may know my New Year's resolution was to bike farther than I drive a car this year. Over the weekend I twirled my pencil and figured out that up to now I have biked slightly farther than I have driven, 1254 km for the bike and 1240 km for the car. Then I had to drive to work yesterday to move some equipment and go to a meeting, and ended up with an additional 200 km on the odometer. Its going to take a few weeks of pushing pedals to make up for this one day. Cars just go so far you know, and so easily. As usual my wife and kids are way ahead of me-- they take their bikes everywhere. I think I should get a mileage discount for the times I am driving them.

Copenhagen Cycle Chic notes that women in Copenhagen with a certain brand of Italian shoe always ride old Rayleigh 3-speeds. I can report seeing many of these bikes on the road being ridden by fashionable women on their way to work.


April 06, 2008


Noun dissipation (plural dissipations)
1. The act of dissipating or dispersing; a state of dispersion or separation; dispersion; waste.
2. A dissolute course of life, in which health, money, etc., are squandered in pursuit of pleasure; profuseness in vicious indulgence, as late hours, riotous living, etc.; dissoluteness.
3. A trifle which wastes time or distracts attention.
4. (physics) A loss of energy as heat from a dynamic system


April 05, 2008

Back to the land

I keep daydreaming about how I would build the farm if I was a pioneer like my great grandad Peter Johanson. I'd be way ahead of my time:

-I'd put a well in the basement. The water from the well would be 38 degrees, year-round. A windmill would pump this water over a galvanized steel box we'd use as a refrigerator.
-We'd be the only farm in the county with an indoor flush toilet, septic tank and drainage field.
-We'd need good insulation just about a row of straw-bales wide. The siding could be lifted off the house to replace the straw every few years.
-I'd plant windbreaks (OK, Peter did this too) around the farmyard and barn, and around the garden plot. Open to the south to admit sunlight. The windbreaks would be multilevel-- high cottonwoods, medium ash, low level cedars. Also an orchard with apple, pear, plum and cherry trees.
-Sheep would keep the lawn cut and we'd have fresh eggs from the chickens.
-I would make heavy duty leather boots with felt linings and turn them into frontier Sorels by dipping them in molten beeswax.

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April 04, 2008


Somebody asked what I thought of Kim Stanley Robinson's Forty Signs of Rain. My reply:

The funny story about that book is that I thought it would be cool to get an Emerson quote every day, and so I typed my email address into a website that promised this. What happened next is that that address started to receive enormous quantities of spam, like 100 per day. So much that I was forced to give it up. Somebody thought they would have fun sticking it to the left wingers.

I can tell you that the series doesn't get better than that first book. In the second two he rewrites the scenes and characters from the first and nothing much happens. I had hoped for much more. I didn't learn anything about the climate and it was a long slog. But anyway better than Chrichton's State of Fear.

I am home with the flu today, chills, lethargy, constant urge to cough. Made a great soup for lunch-- diced onion, green beans, diced carrot, chicken bullion, olive oil, ginger sliced thin, crushed garlic, some pepper and cumin. It cleaned out my bronchii & also passages above the windpipe. It was refreshing to not go to work today and find that the world did not end-- students and colleagues can actually manage without me. This thought has helped relieve the congestion in my chest.

Seen this?
81% in Poll Say Nation Is Headed on the Wrong Track


April 02, 2008

I am Superman and I know what's happening

More quiz fun: Find out which superhero you are.
Me? I am Superman and I can do anything. Thanks to bother yam for the link.

A Barrel


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