Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It's a carbon economy, stupid!

As G20 week unfolds in faraway London and the politicians and leaders gather to discuss the world economy, it might be appropriate of me to remind them that our economy is essentially based on carbon (coal) and hydrocarbons (oil, gas). Without our dependence on carbon-based fuel then civilization as we know it is not going to survive.

Idealists may not like a dependence on carbon-based fuels but they would soon understand my (and many others like me) concerns that the politics of the day are moving ever closer to calamity. Under the disguise of a "new religion" called global warming, those who would control the rest of us believe they have found a solution in environmentalism.

Don't be fooled. This is a red herring.

Stay tuned.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Rising Sea Levels?

Experts, i.e. those who study sea level changes, not those who think they do like Al Gore, are likely to know what they are talking about when it comes to predicting the future of our coastal cities.

As a geologist I have my own take on the subject. Since the last ice age began to recede there has been a significant global rise in sea levels. This has tailed off in recent centuries as there is simply very little ice left to melt compared with the huge thicknesses of ice that accumulated on the continents during each phase of the four ice ages. The only significant ice sheets left are Greenland and Antarctica and these are tiny compared to the huge sheets that covered the northern hemisphere during the peaks of the ice ages. (To illustrate, the Matterhorn in Switzerland was completed covered by the Alpine Ice Sheet, while the peak of Everest was likewise shaped under moving ice sheets in the Himalayas).

The Greenland ice sheet is but a remnant of its former area and thickness, so it is reasonable to state that there is relatively little left to melt.

Much of the Polar ice that can melt is resting on water. It is, to put it another way, already a part of the oceans.

So consider this simple experiment. Take a full glass of iced water. The ice cubes float on the water and just like icebergs, stick out above the rim of the glass. Let the glass warm up and watch the ice melt. No water flows over the side of the glass! When all the ice has melted there remains a full glass of water. Go back to the reason why icebergs float - ice is less dense than water.

Apply this to the oceans and it becomes obvious that whatever happens to the polar ice regions there will be no effect on sea level change.

But this, of course, is too simple.

Why? Because some parts of the Earth's surface are rising, some are falling, mostly due to tectonic forces within the Earth's crust. Relative sea level changes can therefore be measured and found to be different all over the globe. An unscientific quick look at the problem can easily focus on those areas that are drowning and draw the wrong conclusions.

Another factor that influences many coastal cities is subsidence due to additional loading (buildings in London, for example) or to extraction of water from deep wells (a problem in the Texas Gulf Coast). Such subsidence has nothing to do with global sea level changes.

Which is why I trust a real expert like Nils-Axel Mörner.

Earth Hour - the point?

I will freely admit to switching ON all the lights at home during Earth Hour. I was protesting a protest that I believe to be false and pointless.

False because the basic premise that humankind would be better off in a carbon-reduced society is unproven. Pointless because the exercise was introduced as a "fun" thing to do, having a candlelit dinner or, in warmer climes, a beach barbeque.

The organizers should have considered the idea of Earth Week or even Earth Month. But it would have been a complete failure for their purpose in that Mr and Mrs Joe Public would have soon begun to realize (possibly in the second hour) that this was not going to work.

No emergency room at the hospital. No street lights to ward off burglars. No office or factory come Monday morning. No telephone system. Etc.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Atlas Shrugged gains popularity

This just in from the pages of the Daily Telegraph. It is interesting that Ayn Rand's book is enjoying better sales at the present time. Ironic perhaps in that I was recommending the book just a few weeks ago to several people who had never heard of it!

It would appear that the book has quite different effects on different people. Personally I enjoyed the book and its outcome. I can only imagine that many of the today's world leaders find it all quite difficult to swallow. The article states that Reagan was an admirer. It doesn't mention that Thatcher has also been a strong supporter of the Rand philosophy.

Ayn Rand lives on within the portals of the Rand Institute.

Safari 4 and Updated Websites

One of the new features of Safari 4 is a curved panel of recently visited or bookmarked pages:



The star in the top right corner means that Safari has noticed that the page has changed since it was last viewed. Which means that those pages that update, or simply change, frequently are going to get the star whereas those that don't will probably be ignored. I think that's a good move and I hope it means that more website designers will embrace the "converse with your audience" concept of site design.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Vintage Amtrak Commercials



A whole 6 minutes of Amtrak commercials dating back to the 1970s. Those prices were very reasonable!

Inter City 125 Ad - the Speed trap!



A hilarious TV commercial from another age. The Inter City 125 continues to provide excellent service on the "modernized" British Rail.

The Authoritarian State

A new book has been reviewed in the Daily Telegraph which claims some interesting statistics about daily life in the UK. For example, twenty five percent of the World's CCTV cameras are located in the UK.

I have noticed something else about many British CCTVs, particularly those owned by "Big Brother". They can photograph you but you cannot photograph them. The cameras, that is! So I may have unwittingly broken the law when I took this photo last year:

The ubiquitous CCTV

Friday, March 06, 2009

Estacio de Franca - Improving the image

The previous post shows the end result of some photo manipulation so I thought: why not show the steps I took from rather poor, dull image to a better end result? Here is the original:

The first step was to modify the color temperature to warm things up a bit:

Next, the exposure was increased by about 70%:

And finally the shadows and highlights were adjusted quite dramatically. This brought out the details of the roof and made an almost pseudo-HDR image effect.

These small images don't do the details any justice and in fact the final version looks a bit washed out. The full sized image can be viewed here.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Estacio de Franca, Barcelona

Barcelona, Estacio de Franca
When in Barcelona in January we stumbled upon the French Station, an impressive but under-used terminus which is in remarkably clean condition. Compared to the sprawl of commercialism that surrounds a typical London station, the original architecture has been nicely preserved and cleaned. The train shed is a beautiful structure.

The photo was rather dull due to the weather being cloudy. So I have tweaked it a bit in Aperture and the result is almost a pseudo HDR effect. I basically adjusted the shadows and highlights to bring out details that would otherwise be invisible.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Train Orders

I've just joined Trainorders.com, a US railfan site with lots of useful railroad resources. One posting pointed me to this site which contains realtime movements of Amtrak's western railroad services. These are the really long distance routes that take days to complete and can be hours behind schedule. However, a quick look suggests that Amtrak is doing quite well today, no doubt because there are fewer freight trains running during the recession. (An estimate 200,000 freight cars are currently idle).

I wonder if there are similar sites catering to UK railfans (anoraks)?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Safari 4

Some interesting developments in the "browser war". I rather like the changes between Safari 3 and 4 though I gather not everyone does and it may not the fastest browser after all.

On Panhandling

Street people hurt when the temperature is below -20ºC and it really is not too difficult to reach into your pocket when their request is for your "spare change". But recently in Calgary I was faced with a lesser demand. "Could you spare a penny, Sir? I need to get together the bus fare to ---------."

A penny, I thought, why only a penny. Then I looked at the man, possibly in his twenties but cold and down-shouldered, hunched against the cold wind, his face unshaven, his clothes ill-fitting. Why would anyone ask for just a penny? I have to suppose it was a complete lack of self-esteem.

I gave him more than he asked for and as I walked away I suggested that in future he might set his sights a little higher. I wonder if he will.