A Few Fun Links & Disaster Movie Idea

Fun if you like science and weather.

Here’s a New York Times feature on the snow in California. Cool science, great pictures. Here’s another one, with more information on Dr. Painter and his team who do all this great science geek stuff from an airplane, measuring snowpack and water content.

(Aside: Whenever I read about California in the NYT, I get this sort of Dr. Livingston vibe, as if they’ve sent civilized people out into the dangerous wild to gather intelligence on primitive but remarkably sophisticated (meaning: like New Yorkers) tribes. Not as much as I get when reading about the South – there, the vibe is more like: Surprisingly human-like Southerners may be our closest living relatives, after dolphins and Californians. But I digress…)

Observation: in these articles, it is acknowledged that only with the advent of the super high tech NASA/CalTech level gizmos Dr. Painter employs do we have any realistic idea of how much water is in them thar hills. This has only been going on for a few years. Useful records only go back to about the 1980s.Before that, we have guys with poles spot checking here and there, and then guessing about snowpack and water content over an area of thousands of square miles with variations in elevation of 10,000 feet or more – problematic, to say the least.

In the accompanying graphs, 1983 shows up as the record year, with this year close behind. (A couple more storms set to roll in this weekend, a couple more feet of snow expected, so 2017 may end up a record year after all. However, these are of the typical cold and relatively dry Gulf of Alaska variety, and not the warm and wet Pineapple Express flavor we’ve mostly gotten this year.) Yet, as that article from yesterday that Mike Flynn alerted us to, 1861 is the record year – I’ve seen 252% of ‘normal’ snowpack thrown around for that year, which must be a ‘reconstructed’ number, unless there were some pretty dedicated (and widespread) prospectors and Miwok doing science as a hobby.

Good Data is Hard to Find. I might need to get that put on a T-shirt.

Snow
Yea, there’s snow.

Believe it or not, I often edit these posts down, as – and I know you won’t believe this – I tend to ramble. A little. Yesterday, I cut a section wherein was speculated how the California water system would have to fail if we were to have another year with 1861-1862 level storms. Turns out, all we need are 2017-level storms: Melting record snowpack could flood LA Aqueduct and Owens Valley. Owens Valley, of Chinatown fame, is on the eastern slopes of the southern Sierra. Mulholland & Co pretty much drained it dry to supply water to L.A. Now, with all that beautiful snow perched in the mountains set to melt over the next six months (ski areas are planning to stay open into the summer this year), that valley – and the L.A. aqueduct that runs through it and on to L.A. – looks to get flooded.

If a 160% or so snowpack can take out much of L.A.’s water supply, imagine what a 250% snowpack and the associated rains might do. Oroville Dam, which has been dramatically in the news lately, is one of dozens of dams on dozens of reservoirs around the state. All the major ones rely on run-off from the Sierra. This year, they all filled just with rain, and are now frantically dumping water so that they have capacity for the snow melt. In a 1861-level event, all those reservoirs would be wiped out by the first few weeks of rain alone – leaving the snow melt to keep the flooding goings for a few more months.

And sewage treatment for 38 million people? Gone. No drinking water, sewage everywhere. Dead bodies will start piling up – hey! Sounds like the Enlightenment view of the Middle Ages!

There’s a pretty good disaster flick script in there – well, better than Sharknado, at least… Lonely hydrologist tries to warn everybody.  Lovely young mom in a troubled marriage lives on a small lake in the Sierra. Stupid politicians. Greedy developers. Cop and his best buddy fireman in some small farming town. 5th generation fisherman on the Bay. North Beach stripper with a heart of gold. The rains and snow start. People get trapped, dramatic rescues, tragic deaths. Rising waters push a tangled flotilla of boats and ships down to the Golden Gate, where they get stuck, restricting water flow and flooding – Berkeley! Yes!

Image result for sharknado
Hmmm. Sharks would kick it up a notch…

(Unfortunately, the parts you really want flooded are up in the hills. And nobody wants to flood the library. Fiction! We can do anything!) Silicon Valley under 10′ of water. Day of reckoning: Hydrologist surveys the damage, casts accusing eye on politicians and developers. Lessons Are Learned.

We are so, so doomed. Even without the movie.

Time to Leave California!

Mike Flynn links here to a nice write-up in SciAm about the epic California Winter of ’61 – 1861, that is. I’d noticed that, for the few places with records that go back that far, rainfall and snowpack records in California were set in the 1861-1862 rainy season. I didn’t know, until I read the article linked above, that that storm was an epic of even greater than Biblical proportions: it rained for *43* straight days and nights.

(above: typical California weather. Don’t let them tell you otherwise!)

To sum up: every 100 to 200 years or so, over the course of a few weeks, epic ‘atmospheric rivers’ flow into the West Coast, hit all those lovely mountains, and dump feet upon feet of rain, turning all those lovely rivers into raging torrents and the Central Valley into a lake, washing people, animals, farms, etc. into the Bay, flooding Sacramento (there’s alway a bright side) under 10′ of water – and so on, all up and down the coast.

OK, I give! Uncle! Public service announcement:

Do Not Move to California! We Are So, So Doomed! 

On the bright side: Sacramento gets flooded out! Uninhabitable for months! Well, OK, there are the 1.4 million people who are not politicians and courtesans who live there, so maybe not so bright. Man’s gotta dream. On a similar let-God-sort-them-out despicable fantasy don’t-really-wish-this-on-anyone vein: only part of Hollywood is in the hills – the rest is getting washed out into the Pacific! My hometown of Whittier is nicely nestled in the hills above the San Gabriel River, so it’s probably safe. But then again, so is Beverly Hills – well, you can’t have everything.

So sorry, that was mean of me. Really, I don’t wish harm on anyone – that’s why I’m warning you all to Stay Away! Don’t Do It! California is a Death Trap!!! I will be softly weeping at our fate as I try to console myself sipping fresh lemonade out in the hammock on the back lawn under the shady walnut trees in perfect 75F weather  all the rest of the spring. I promise!! It’s the least I can do. No, really.

A curious thing: all this doom and gloom only came together in the last couple decades – since 1998. Before then, the existence and nature of ‘atmospheric rivers’ and the periodic nature of the intense rain and flooding had not been known, nor had it been recognized as a basic feature of the planet’s climate – the same thing happens along the west coasts of Europe, Africa and South America, and even in the Southeast – the flooding in Tennessee a few years back was caused by atmospheric rivers arising in the Gulf of Mexico.

But wait – that means that no climate models had these mechanisms incorporated in them. Seems a rather serious omission, like omitting ocean temperatures and cycles. Hard to see how meaningful and useful predictions can be made, lacking as the models did such a dramatic and important mechanism.

At about the same time, satellites carrying the new Special Sensor Microwave Imager were for the first time providing clear and complete observations of water-vapor distributions globally. The imagery showed that water vapor tended to concentrate in long, narrow, moving corridors that extend most often from the warm, moist air of the tropics into the drier, cooler regions outside the tropics. The tentacles appeared and then fell apart on timescales from days to a couple of weeks.

The above quote tells us that the technology needed to start to understand atmospheric rivers wasn’t in place until 1998 or so. But the article elsewhere also says (as required by law, it seems) that the epic storms they sometimes cause will become worse because of global warming. Um, didn’t we just say we’d not noted their existence until less than 20 years ago, and have not even had one cycle through to study them, and that we’re not exactly sure what makes them go? An inquiring mind might want to know how, in such a sparsely populated factual environment, we could even have a hint which way changes in global temperatures would affect atmospheric river formation and intensity. Ya know?

I’m expecting 2018 or 2019, tops, as The Year California Washes Out To Sea. Why, one might ask? Well, intense weather tends to travel in packs – having one really wet year increases, it seems, the likelihood of another. And we’re due. And if we’ve learned anything from this last election cycle, one should start panicking as soon as possible and not let the lack of any real evidence slow you down.

I’m getting more lemonade.

 

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.

 

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.

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 west to east. (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.

Make Your Own Doomsday Clock

The completely real and totally scientifilicious Doomsday Clock, which is not at all named in order to incite panic and doesn’t at all try to use numbers to express unmeasurable things like the proper level of fear and desperation we should feel at any given moment, has just been moved 30 – not 27 or 31.3215, but 30 – seconds closer to DOOM. I, myself, have started a project to determine scientifically just exactly how much 30 seconds of more doom is, so that I might start feeling it – Calories of stress eating? Loss of appetite? (it’s hardly a modern scientific theory if it can’t explain how a single cause can cause both an action and its opposite at the same time, after all)

Wow! This is practically the Periodic Table of Panic and Doom! Totally scientific!

A bunch of smart guys, so smart that their expertise extends beyond what they’ve been trained in all the way to recognizing exactly who are, as the website of the project of the Chair of Board of Sponsors  proclaims, “scholars and public intellectuals” whose opinions we lesser mortals need to hear more of, set up this Doomsday Clock thing in order to beat people who are not panicky enough to be easily herded inform the unwashed masses about exactly how much, to the second, they should feel DOOMED.

Exactly 30 seconds more panic is needed due to “The rise of ‘strident nationalism’ worldwide, United States President Donald Trump’s comments over nuclear weapons, and the disbelief in the scientific consensus over climate change by the Trump Administration.” The dispassionate scientific rigor is just dripping off that statement!  I’m sure it’s totally an accident that they used the word ‘disbelief’, because in no way are their efforts a reflection of dogmatic religious fervor. Who would be so gimlet-eyed to suggest that?

This fine, fine effort is the product of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin is chaired by the director of the Origins Project at Arizona State. The text description makes it sound like really smart people – much smarter than you or me! – are Deeply Concerned. About Everything.

The pictures on the site tell a different story: if one were to suppose the Origins Project is a clever attempt by really smart people (never forget that!) who never got to hang with the cool kids at school to get a chance to hobnob with famous actors and media ‘personalities’ – you know, important and cool people – then one would see nothing to contradict it.

Unless of course Johnny Depp, Cameron Diaz and Hugh Downs really are the Public Intellectuals we need to hear more from. Because, um, I got nothin’. They also give the stage to gender theorist, because wild, unmoored speculation that denies science any role in determining reality based on physically observable and measureable features is JUST LIKE physics and math. Or something. Certainly not political propaganda! Don’t ever suppose that! Other guests include totally not political tool Noam Chomsky, self-appointed moral philosopher and everybody’s favorite poster boy for incoherent Pragmatism let’s-drown-people-like-unwanted-puppies advocate Peter Singer, and fake TV doctor Alan Alda.

There’s even pictures of Dr. Krauss signing autographs! In a completely scientific manner, not at all like his world famous (for nothing that has to do with science) guests. Because it’s completely normal and not at all pandering to narcissistic egotism to stand for autographs after a science lecture – right?  This is the guy in charge of this whole thing, the go to guy for interviews, based on the news reports.

Back to DOOM! As a publicity stunt, it’s genius. As a useful shibboleth to separate the clueless from people with a couple a neurons dedicated to actual thought, it might be useful. As science, it’s partisan propaganda in a lab coat.(1)

You know what? Based on the example given by the people at the Origins Project, it seems anyone can play! It’s not like they’re uniquely qualified in matters moral and political – physics doesn’t help one understand politics any better than, say, bricklaying – probably less, as a bricklayer gets out in the real world regularly. How about:

Death by Red Giant: A real, albeit remote, concern is that the sun is, after all, a main sequence star, which means it burns up it hydrogen and will eventually run out. Long before then, it will swell to red giant size, and burn the earth to a cinder or even maybe burn it away entirely. Current guestimates are that the end is nigh – in about a billion years. There’s your Doomsday Scenario!

Given that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, that means the earth’s life expectancy is about 5.5 BY. There are 86400 seconds in a day. A little math shows that, therefore, a billion years is about 4.36 hours, if representing the lifetime of the earth as a day:

doomsday-clock-red-giant

 

The advantage here is that any updates to this Doomsday Clock are purely arbitrary – that I could change some assumptions, or decide to measure things a little differently, and thus end up showing more or less time to panic in.

Oh wait – that’s a feature of the original as well. Never mind.

I can think up a million of these, both fanciful and real – death by asteroid, plague, Soviet-style gulags or mass murder (the people lining up to play Lysenko in the reboot are Legion), shark attack (do the numbers: just as it’s *inevitable* that there’s inhabited worlds Out There, it’s also inevitable that you – yes, you! – will die of a shark attack. If you just live long enough.)  Salmonella, tectonic destabilization (that sounds impressive!), starvation due to honey bee extinction, Maybe it will turn out that the antidote for zombie-ism can only be extracted from snail darters! If you want to panic, there’s just no limit!

Gotta stop and post this, or I’ll be off mocking up other clocks until the figurative cows come home.

  1. The chair of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin. He’s deeply concerned about population growth. There is exactly the right amount of him, after all. He wants to “empower young women by educating them” and thus stop the runaway population growth that, well, produced him. Speculating about population is, of course, right in the wheelhouse of a dude with a physics and math background. Like another well-know species of tunnel-visioned experts – code monkeys – physics and math guys know EVERYTHING. Amazon.com: Lawrence M. Krauss: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks ...

Weather Update

Well, this looks scary:

blizzardwarning
I personally will be avoiding wind prone

The thing is, as often mentioned here, we Californians keep our snow up on the mountains, where it can be admired from the much warmer afar. My little piece of ‘afar’ is 54F and sunny at the moment. So, except for truckers and people who absolutely have to cross the mountains, this warning means little. I’m assuming people who live in the mountains are set up to deal with this – hot coco, Netflix, backup generator, that sort of thing.

But there will be some people who try, Donner-party style, to cross anyway, so we will see pictures of overturned trucks in blizzard conditions, etc. You’ve been warned.

Meanwhile, down here in afar, we’ve been averaging about an inch of rain per day for the last week. We get some sun today, a little more rain tonight into tomorrow, then a whole 4-5 days of 60F and sunshine before it may start raining again. One or two more decent storms over the next 3 months will put us over season average rainfall almost everywhere. Anything over that is gravy (well, not literally – that would be gross).  Similar for the mountains – 2-3 more good-sized storms should push the snowpack up to season average.

Since we are/were in a drought because of Climate Change, I await with eager ears to hear how we are now not in a drought due to Climate Change.

NASA satellite image of CA snowpack today.
Snow up in the mountains where it belongs. As you can see, we also keep some in adjoining states, and go visit it there as well, if we must.