Little Planets Found Around Little Star

Man, I am just a killjoy. So, let’s get the positive out of the way: it is way cool that 7 little – as in, not gas giant – planets were found around a ‘nearby’ in the sense of unimaginably and unreachably distant, star.

Almost got through a paragraph without getting snarky. Oh, well. Seriously, exoplanets are fun. If they ever actually find any sign of extraterrestrial life, that will be fun, too! But finding cool little planets isn’t the same as finding signs of extraterrestrial life. Oops, there I go again.

Let’s go with the NASA press release, to see Our Tax Dollars at Work: NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star. Wow, the artist’s rendition, which seems to be required by law to accompany any NASA press release no matter how scanty the information, makes it look like what we have here are 7 very attractive and detailed – friendly, even –  little earth-sized planets!

An Artist’s representation. Of something or other.

That looks like fun. Here, let me play:

artists-rendention-1
Some other artist’s rendition. Every bit as accurate! Except maybe for the fish.

But enough with the attempts at humor, at least until some other funny thought strikes me. The opening paragraphs state:

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.

The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.

What NASA thinks the tax-paying public is most likely to be wowed by is: Alien Life! Therefore, it deploys the terms “habitable zone” (three time), “liquid water” (twice) and  “life as we know it” in the first two paragraphs. The opening ends with a suggestion that there’s a chance – a pretty good chance, right? – that such conditions as would make a planet ‘habitable’ are right here on all 7 planets, but: “…the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.” So, one might suppose there’s a better than decent chance of life on those 3 planets in the habitable zone. Pretty exciting, eh?

One has to read all the way to paragraph 11 to discover that the star is an “ultra-cool dwarf”, which, while it sounds kind of cool, ultra cool, even, has some drawbacks: such stars are so cool for stars that their habitable zone is very, very close to them as opposed to stars like the sun. Planets must be very close, in other words, to potentially have the right temperature range for liquid water to exist on them.

Such close orbits present a problem: “The planets may also be tidally locked to their star.” At the very least (and some celestial mechanic out there please straighten me out on this if I’ve misunderstood) this means these planets orbiting close to such a star would be subject to tidal forces that strongly tend to slow down their rotation, sometimes, as is the case with our own moon, ‘tidally locking’ the smaller body so that it rotates exactly once per orbit. Sometimes, as with the roughly similar-sized Charon and Pluto, *both* bodies get tidally locked. Sometimes – and I don’t think this is very well understood (1) – the smaller body will fall into some sort of resonance period – 3 revolutions for every 2 orbits, as is the case with Mercury.

Full tidal locking would result in a planet with one relatively scorching side and one freezing side. If there were an atmosphere, it would tend to heat up and expand on the sunward side, and flow to the night side, where it would cool and maybe even freeze. If liquid water evaporated, it would suffer the same fate. I would imagine that, over time, like a few million years, the atmosphere would get thinner and thinner on the sunlit side until the ice on the dark side could evaporate into space – atmosphere and ice would be lost.

Be that as it may, a tidally locked planet seems very unlikely to be ‘habitable’ if we mean ‘life as we know it could live and develop there.’ (2)  Like the economist with one foot on fire and one foot in a block of ice, on average things might be OK, but in practice they are not. The situation would be more complicated but not much better on any planets with resonance periods like Mercury – really slow rotational periods allow the sunward side to get hotter and the night side to get colder than a quicker rotation, which could result in the same situation as fully locker planets – it might just take longer. (3)

Enough of my pessimism. I can only think of one tidally locked planet in SciFi, a throw-away world in the third (I think) Foundation book, with stations on the thin twilight zone. I’m sure other have done it, too. It would much fun to make up a way, somehow, that an advanced civilization could develop on such a world….

But don’t hold your breath over TRAPPIST-1, even if that’s a pretty cool name.

  1. Meaning: I’ve given it a shot, but don’t understand it as well as I’d like. In a bit of astronomy/egomaniacal irony, the entire Universe revolves around ME! The Omphalos Wikipedia: “Mercury is tidally or gravitationally locked with the Sun in a 3:2 resonance,[15] and rotates in a way that is unique in the Solar System. As seen relative to the fixed stars, it rotates on its axis exactly three times for every two revolutions it makes around the Sun.[a][16] As seen from the Sun, in a frame of reference that rotates with the orbital motion, it appears to rotate only once every two Mercurian years. An observer on Mercury would therefore see only one day every two years.”
  2. This is granting the as yet unevidenced principle that life will just ‘arise’ whenever conditions are ‘right’, given enough time. Let’s see example #2 of life – you know, extraterrestrial life – before we start generalizing principles, shall we?
  3. Some of the other articles I perused called ultra cool dwarf stars ‘overlooked’. I kind of doubt that – you’d focus on stars around the size of the sun, because that’s where planets can end up in the Goldilocks Zone without getting tidally locked – as we know from our own planet.  Planets around much smaller stars will have that problem; much bigger stars tend to blow up well within the several billion years it is assumed to take for life to develop. So, if you’re looking for another earth, you’d look around stars that look like another sun.

 

How to Fix Education: Step One

There are 3 basic things wrong with modern k-12 education:

  1. Age-graded classrooms
  2. Age-graded classrooms
  3. Age-graded classrooms

Taking 5 and 6 year-old children, each of whom is a distinct individual, member of a particular family and community, and a child of God, and grouping them by age with no regard for those differences, tells that child in a way more direct and powerful than any mere words, exactly how important his own life, family and community is, and how he is to view his God.

In all approaches to education(1) up until the invention of the graded classroom model, who the child was and what he already knew and what he needed and wanted to learn were the basis of all teaching – and schools were structured accordingly. The model least unfamiliar to Americans is probably the one-room school. In its heyday, the typical one room school, built and run by the local families, employed a young unmarried woman to teach all the children up until the age of about 14. She would assess what each child knew and didn’t know, and pair up the kids so that a particular child might be learning to read from a child younger than himself while teaching math to a kid older than himself.  Each day, each child would be called up to ‘recite’ to the teacher, so that she knew how it was going. Such education, which by all objective measures produced better educated students than the current model in a fraction of the time (2), was held around the work the kids needed to do on the farm.

One room schools reinforced the relationships that brought those kids together in the first place: family, work, neighbor, community. The teacher managed a process by which all students learned how to learn and how to teach – by doing it.

The graded classroom model was designed specifically to destroy those relationships, and replace them with obedience, conformity, and ignorance. The graded classroom places children into arbitrary groups run by someone hired by bureaucrats and protected by a union, who follows lesson plans concocted by utterly inaccessible ‘educators’ and whose major task each day is to put a stop to natural social interactions (“Stop talking! Pay attention!”). Instead of building upon the natural relationships of siblings, families, neighbors and coreligionists,  modern school seeks to destroy those relationships and replace them with loyalty to the state (3).

As John Taylor Gatto points out, the greatest triumph of modern schooling is that few people can even imagine doing it any other way. Thus, even most home schoolers, who have taken heroic steps to separate themselves and their kids from public model schools, are just looking for a better graded classroom – we know this, because they still (mostly) concern themselves with year-by-year curricula and worry if their kid is ‘performing to grade level’. It doesn’t occur to them, at least not to the depth required to do something about it, that ‘grade-level’ is no more real than the tooth fairy, no more based on science than phrenology, and is in fact nothing more than the instrument by which they are controlled. It is how teacher in the schools are controlled as well – no matter how well-meaning, teachers keep their jobs by focusing on getting their kids to test at or above grade-level. There is no more perfect control than that which issues arbitrary and objectively meaningless orders – and gets them obeyed anyway.

All arguments for graded classrooms are lies. They are not more efficient for any value of ‘education’ that is not an Orwellian euphemism. We do not need them. We do not need to put our children under the care of professional educators. We are not incompetent. There is no evidence the graded classroom model ‘works’ better than anything else, and lots that it is an abject, appalling failure (4). Lies, lies and more lies.

Once we get rid of the graded classroom, we can begin to have a rational discussion about how we should educate our children.

  1. Education differs from training in this respect: education is for the sake of the person being educated, and only indirectly for the benefit of society; training is what you do to soldiers and horses, to serve their master’s goals. Someone may want to be a soldier or a tailor or a bricklayer and seek the training of his own free will – but the purpose of such training is primarily to enable him to do what others want him to do. All education is in this sense ‘liberal education’ – anything less is mere training, which tends toward the enslavement of those not otherwise liberally educated.
  2. Not surprising, since ‘education’ is not the goal of modern schools, and never was.
  3. As discussed at great length on this blog under Schooling 
  4. e.g., “If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.”

    Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983, via Chaos Manor

Well, Well, Well – Record Perciptation

Outside, up here in beautiful South Lake Tahoe, a glance out the window shows snow, coming down with a firm level of commitment. Visibility is at least a couple hundred yards, so not white out or anything. Yet.

But the ALL IN CAPS weather advisory is saying things like:

HEAVY SNOW WILL CREATE DANGEROUS CONDITIONS, WITH TRAVEL BEING SEVERELY IMPACTED OVER THE SIERRA PASSES. SNOWFALL RATES WILL EXCEED 2 INCHES PER HOUR AT TIMES, PRODUCING WHITEOUT CONDITIONS OVER THE PASSES AND IN THE BACKCOUNTRY. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… AVOID TRAVEL TODAY THROUGH TUESDAY, YOU COULD BE STUCK IN YOUR VEHICLE FOR MANY HOURS. IF YOU MUST TRAVEL, PREPARE FOR LONG DELAYS AND CARRY AN EMERGENCY KIT WITH EXTRA FOOD, WATER AND CLOTHING. IF YOU STAY HOME, HAVE A BACKUP PLAN IN CASE OF POWER OUTAGES. &&

We were planning on going home tomorrow, but the only way to get there from here is over one of those Sierra passes they mention above. If we were in some sort of Polanski movie, deep, horrible psychological problems would force us to go north to the Donner pass on I-80, get stuck – and eat each other in a grim recapitulation of the inescapable past.

But let’s not go there. The pass on US 50, Echo Summit, is expecting up to 5′ of snow – right now, with chains, you can get the 20 miles or so from here to past there in a mere hour and a half.

**Mid-update Update**: Nope, they’ve stopped traffic while they take avalanche mitigation steps – doesn’t that sound charming? – up that stretch I mentioned yesterday that hugs the terrifying cliff. Good idea! The notion one could be swept over that cliff by tons of snow does not pleasant napping make.

I forgot I was with a bunch of people who are, at best, no more inured to these conditions than I am. Thus, the overall low level of concern lulled me – left to my own instincts, I’d have left yesterday given the information at hand. Now, the adults here are making contingency plans, as the landlady does expect us to leave tomorrow a.m. – which will be still in the major part of the storm, which means CalTrans may not be letting people through. The storm is scheduled to end – and we know how reliable these natural disasters tend to be – around 4 p.m. Tuesday, not at 4 a.m. as it was when we left to come up here. How was one to know forecasts could be so temperamental?

Anyway: Weather.com and other news sources have finally begun to use terms like ‘record setting’ and ‘all-time’ in regards to this winter’s precipitation. Certainly, the rain and snow in the Feather River drainage, which includes a huge chunk of the northern Sierra, is way ahead of the highest level for this point in the season, and pushing the all-time high for the season – which ends in September! Saw an ad today where one of the ski areas here was touting how they had ‘officially’ 500 inches – 41+ feet! -of snow,  and it’s snowing there now.

If things were to continue according to an ‘average’ year from here on out, the Sierra would have 200%+ of its average season snowpack, Contra Costa County would (according to the Flood Control District’s gauges as discussed here) nearly 200% of its average rainfall. Southern California got epic rainfall in the last set of storms, and is getting more from this, and is way wetter than average. Even Death Valley got .65 inches this last round. Lake Manly, here we come!

Some shots from yesterday:

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Weekend Update: Milestones, Tahoe, Woodworking Abomination, etc.

1. So: sometime today, given normal traffic, this blog will get its 100,000th view. About 35,000 visitors. Don’t know what makes up views and visitors, except there are enough caveats, provisos, quid pro quos to make the common sense understanding (whatever that might be) unlikely to align with these numbers. Whatever. W00, and, I might add, Hoo.

“There are a few provisos, a couple of quid-pro-quos. Rule number one: I can’t kill anybody. Bleurk! So don’t ask. Rule number two: I can’t make anybody fall in love with anybody else. You little punim there! Rule number three: I can’t bring people back from the dead. It’s not a pretty picture, I DON’T LIKE DOING IT! Other than that, you got it.”

2. Up in Tahoe for the long weekend, with a couple of families from school – one mom very graciously gets her sister to rent us a cabin (in the Tahoe sense of a two-story building on snow-plowed roads that sleeps 16 or so in suburban comfort) so that the cost is very low per person. Unlike previous years, we gocher snow Right Here:

img_3655
View from the kitchen table. More snow on the way through Tuesday. Lots more snow as you head further up the mountains. 

Over the Echo Summit (7,382′), snow was piled a dozen or more feet high on either side of the road. Right after the summit, the road bears left and descend along a cliff over the course of a couple miles to about lake level (6,225′). Usually, this section is a bit bracing, what with very scenic and life-threatening drops a suddenly flimsy-looking guardrail away. This time, there was a view-obstructing yet somehow comforting pile of cleared snow along most of the route. Good thing, too, since there was a light snow that was *just* starting to stick.

I lived in New Mexico (Santa Fe, Albuquerque) long enough to learn that snow sucks. Those people with their ice fishing and tobogganing and what not are in denial. Go ahead and kid yourselves however you need to to survive until spring, where you’ll have a couple weeks of nice weather before it turns hot, nasty and mosquito-infested. No, snow is not fun, at least, past the age of 12 and after about 5 minutes. It’s just cold, wet and occasionally dangerous.

3. The truly dedicated and obsessive reader might recall that, last year, when we also went to Tahoe, we attended Mass with very nice people in a lovely (after the manner of its kind) church that had certain carpentry features that triggered my OCD I found really distracting.

We attended yet another lovely Mass with the kind people of South Lake Tahoe today. We sat in another section, so I got a different view of what Frankenstein’s Monster would have looked like if Dr. Frankenstein had been a church carpenter:

Ah! My Eyes!

4. Lots of drafts.  A couple of which might even be interesting, that I hope to get out while I should be out playing in the snow. Right.

Friday Sci Fi Questions:

Asking for a friend. Not at all tipping my hand about things that may or may not be in The Novel That Shall Not Be Named, for which I’m doing detailing/clean up on the science aspects of the major plot points. (I suppose if I were better read in Sci Fi, I’d know the answer to these.  But I’m not.)

Image result for ion cannon
Yes, deploying a Star Wars ion cannon picture in a blog post asking science questions. It’s like, ironic or something. But – well? Does that blast keep going forever if it misses the Star Destroyer? Until it hits something else? 
  1. Ion trails: (this one really is just idle curiosity) Would not using an ion drive of any sort leave a trail through space that is sorta like long-lived invisible razor wire? A strong ion beam could saw somebody in half – could it saw somebody in half a light year away? So: is there some natural process – other than running into something – that mitigates this? I start to wonder if multiple ships headed for the same destination using some sort of ion drive would not eventually create a hazard. Sure, space is, as the Hitchhiker’s Guide tells us, very, very big – but if ships are leaving from the same place and going to the same destination, would not this be an issue, eventually, even allowing for proper motion?
  2. One thing that’s always bothered me about nanobots and even larger self-directed, self-replicating bots: how are they not susceptible or less susceptible to exactly the sort of damage/decay as living cells? Why would they not be subject to ‘nanocancers’ just as much as living cells are subject to regular cancers? I’d expect the problem to be even worse: the mechanisms that govern living things have gone through trillions of trials over billions of year, which has strongly tended to weed out stuff that doesn’t work, for most values of work. Yet cancers and other malfunctions seem to be ubiquitous among living things. This seems to be a classic unkowns we don’t know situation: if we knew how it worked, we’d have cured cancer by now. So, we think our bots will be any better? That data won’t get miscopied or damaged by radiation? Sure, there are a few animals with very low cancer rates – but we as of yet don’t really understand how that works.
  3. I often wondered about the whole ‘spinning hollow asteroid’ trick – wouldn’t that sucker have to be very carefully balanced? Get a little mass off-center, create a wobble – and? Does it correct itself once the mass imbalance is removed? Doesn’t this preclude moving around inside it much? Maybe a single person isn’t much, but how about a crowd? A piece of machinery?  I’m imagining a computer-controlled system of counterbalances might be required, which detects and corrects any wobbles before they get bad.

Like I said, asking for a friend.

Can’t Get Enough Weather-talk!

Update: Here is the map of the current drought situation in California:

drought-map
from the United States Drought Monitor web page.

Here is the rain situation in California forecast for 5:00 p.m. today:

rian-map-2107-02-17

I believe this is a problem meeting its solution (1). That band of heavy rain is dumping a forecasted 3″-6″ in the flats, a foot or more in the hills, all the way from Santa Barbara to San Diego and Baja California (2).  More rain over this weekend. The press is calling it ‘epic’  and ‘torrential’ and probably dragging out their thesauruses for even better words. I’d suggest ‘apocalyptic’ or even ‘the Ragnarök of rains’. I suspect there are legitimate reasons they don’t let me write for the papers.

Texted my kids who live down there, and, yes, they are wet.

I recall as a child reading Raymond Chandler stories, which seemed to involve rain in LA when not talking about Santa Ana winds, and wondering: huh? In my first 18 years, there was *1* year of memorable rain. Setting a story in rainy LA as if it were completely normal struck me as odd.

Also as a child – probably a teenager – found a large book in the Whittier Public Library that was a hydrology study from, I think, the 1920s, making the argument (with lots of cool maps and charts (3)) that Something Must Be Done about all these floods. So, on an intellectual level, I understood that it sometimes rains A Lot in LA, but lacked the personal experience to confirm it.

My sample, it seems, may have been skewed.

Updating the Update: Here’s what’s going on at the moment, per Weather.com: 

rain-map2-2107-02-17
Actual rain at 3:50 p.m. LA is getting hammered. 
  1. even if the problem is calling “we planned our water system based on an insufficiently large sample size of ‘normal’ weather”  a “drought” – because Nature was done with the drought last year, when we got an average amount of rainfall – but all the (unnatural by definition) reservoirs and pumped out groundwater reserves had not yet been refilled.
  2. It’s a little too bad about Baja – it’s mostly a dusty desert and the infrastructure isn’t very good, and lots of people live in less than tight housing (and, sadly, a lot live under tarps and pallets and cardboard). It will turn a dusty mess into a muddy mess, at best, for a whole lot of people. They need the water, but it’s better if they don’t get it all at once.
  3. My hopeless geekiness is showing. Yes, I spent enough time looking at an hydrology study in the public library 45 years ago that I remember it to this day.

Talkin’ Bout the Weather Some More

One of my current web addictions (1) is the Contra Costa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District  rain gauges page:

rain-gage
First 3 gauges of 29 total.

The Flood Control district maintains 29 automated rain gauges scattered around the 804 square miles of Contra Costa County. This table is automatically updated at the top of the hour, and a quarter after and a quarter til.

I’ve put together a little Google sheet that does a little math, where I can grab the data off this page and paste it in to get some percentages, totals and averages:

rain-totals-ss
Bottom left corner of my rain totals spreadsheet. I’m tracking gauges that meet or exceed their average total rain year inches (24 out of 29 so far), calculating some percentages, and, defying all that is holy, doing some totals and averages across gauges.

Now, if you’re a math guy, and especially a science guy, this little snippet should make your head explode – so, so wrong! Doing totals, percentages and averages by gauge makes complete sense (however limited its use), but doing so *across* gauges?!? Huh?

(Here’s where I expose – to perhaps well-deserved ridicule – how a science-loving non-scientist goes about analysing some data. The key step for me is, as always, philosophical: what am I looking at? What can it tell me in theory? What does it tell me in practice? These are questions that must be answered before you even bother to look at the numbers. Failure to do so is by far the most common technical failure in the Science! news I read: the writer doesn’t know what he’s looking at, doesn’t know the limits of what it can tell him, and then doesn’t understand what it is actually telling him. Stupidity and/or dishonesty is the dominant non-technical problem.)

The sneaky-bad part is that, until you think about it, it sort of makes sense: aren’t I getting an average for rainfall across Contra Costa County? No, I am not – the best I’m getting is the average of a bunch of point samples that are related in a manner that is not clearly understood.

First off, to think that an average of the gauges tells you something about rainfall in general over the area throughout which the gauges are deployed is making some assumptions. These 29 rain gauges represent, at best, a few square feet of the 804 square miles of CCC. Well? Are we supposing that these gauges are representative (whatever that might mean) of the other 803.9999 square miles? Why would we think that? What would we mean by it?

Why are there 29 gauges?  Why not just use one? More obviously, why are the totals at each gauge so different? Season total averages run from 11 inches up to 33 inches, and this year the differences in actual rainfall are at least as pronounced.

Contra Costa County is made up of at least 3 pretty distinct areas: The west-facing slopes of the Richmond/El Cerrito hills and the flats between them and the Bay, extensive hilly areas with a couple of hilly interior valleys punctuated by a big mountain (about 2/3 of the total area), and some flats on the delta to the far east.

rain-gage-map
Found here. The blue dotted lines do not represent partition based on geographical features. If one wanted to do that, the left hand line would be rotated about 60 degrees clockwise and moved west a bit,  and the right hand one pivoted about 60 degrees counterclockwise from the top point. Then you’d have something like rough climate zones. Very rough, as the south to north differences – farther from water differences – are not captured, and they can make a big difference.

Close to the center of this map is Mount Diablo (DBL 22). This year, Mount Diablo has gotten over 51 inches of rain, which is, according to my fun little spread sheet, 186%  of season average – and we’ve got a couple months more to go.

Immediately to the north of Mount Diablo are two gauges – the Concord Pavilion (CCP 43) and Kregor Peak (KGR 38). These two gauges are among the 5 remaining gauges that have not yet reached their season average total so far. In fact, while Mount Diablo is almost 2 feet of rain over for the season so far, these two are about 3 and a half and 5 and a half inches under. The other three gauges that have not hit their seasonal average total yet are much closer, and might hit them with the storms coming this weekend.

How could this happen? Two gauges within a couple of miles of Mount Diablo are not even getting average rainfall, while the mountain stands to get twice its average.

Consider this current predicted rain map:

weather-map
Wish I’d have thought to capture yesterday’s, as it was much clearer.

Note Hawaii at the bottom center. That long line of rain from Hawaii to California is pretty much what the weather people call an atmospheric river – a Pinapple Express. This one, which blew through our neighborhood early this morning, was nothing like the size of the last couple. That stuff out to the east looks a bit more exciting. Zoomed in a little:

weather-map-2

That thing that looks like a swirl? It is. When it reaches California in the wee hours of Friday, the rain will be pushed from south to north along the stronger, leading edge.

Speculating here: This puts (CCP 43) and (KGR 38) in Mount Diablo’s rain shadow. Gauges just south of Mount Diablo are all above average; the two directly north of it are below.

In a more typical Northern California rain year (2) the storms come down from the Gulf of Alaska, maybe or maybe not picking up some tropical moisture, and hit pretty much directly east to west. (CCP 43) and (KGR 38) would, in such cases, not be in the rain shadow of Mount Diablo, and might therefore get more rain, comparatively, to years like the one we’re having now (3). Thus, the season averages don’t really tell us what to expect. They are useless, really for predictions, as what they tell you is more like what a blended picture of two or more (you can have both Gulf of Alaska storms and some tropical stuff in the same year, for example) mechanisms by which California gets rain and snow.

So, what am I getting if I average Mount Diablo with Concord Pavilion and Kregor Peak? Should I take the average of only 2 out of 3? Add some more gauges? It will make a difference. Fundamentally, there’s nothing magic about these 29 gauges or about the number 29 – we could add or subtract gauges to the mix, or even double count some we think particularly important or ‘representative’. There’s nothing to stop us, it might even make sense, under certain assumptions.

Nope, what my averages across gauges tells me is not that we’re 130% of season average rainfall so far in Contra Costa County. What it tells me is that the average across the gauges is 130% of the average of the total season rainfall for each gauge – and that is all. Which is not all that helpful, and is only interesting in a vaguely cabalistic sort of way.

The point, if any, is that sometimes what may look like reasonable numbers to look at do not, in fact, tell you much. And that I’m a LITTLE bit obsessive on occasion. In a fun way! Really!

  1. Other web addictions include: boat building (the 1337 woodworking skillz and empirical engineering fascinate me. Lapstrake for the win!), Sci Fi short films (there are a million of these, some quite good)  and primitive iron smelting (there’s a band out there named Bog Iron Bloom – wish I’da thought of that!). In my fantasy world, I’d dig my own bog iron, smelt it in a clay brick furnace, hammer it into an axe and iron nails, chop down some oak and build a Viking long ship – and make a Sci Fi short film about it! I’d need to find some people who don’t get sea sick to sail it for me, but I’m imagining that’s the least of the problems with this plan.
  2. This is when the discussion gets weird: our entire sample size upon which we base our assumption of ‘typical’ is only about 150 years long, and only a fraction of that has anything like the widespread measure-taking we use now. The oldest CCC Water District gauge dates back to only 1937; most are either from the 1970s  – or since 2000. What would be an appropriate timeframe? 10,000 years? 100,000? Why or why not? Certainly, based on physical evidence, (and there are more recent updates that show even more variation I can’t seem to lay my hands on at the moment)  over 10,000 years, the averages would be different – and over 100,000 years, the median prediction would be: much colder, with a chance of more snow.
  3. If in fact we have more than one year like this – so far, I’ve only heard things like a 1 in 25 year, but the year isn’t over yet. This seems to me to be a very unusual year, one not captured well by rain gauges such as those discussed above. How many rain and snow gauges are there in the 6,000+ square mile drainage of the Feather River? Because the Oroville Dam is almost 50 years old – and this is the first time the emergency spillway has been used. And there’s more rain on the way, and a massive snowpack to melt. In other words, are we really capturing the full extent of this precipitation year? The physical evidence – reservoirs around the state at or near capacity with a couple months of rain still to go – suggests we’re not.