Arctic ice loss

Of course global warming (AGW) is a hoax; IDiot Inhofe proved it because he could find enough snow to make a snowall – case closed.

Meanwhile on the real science front an interesting article (news, not the full scientific report) about Arctic sea ice, raising the issue that it’s not just interesting to look at the amount of ice at its minimum (around September) but also at its maximum (around now). Simply put if less water freezes to ice it will be easier for it to melt as it warms up.

While the conclusions are not exactly startling (less ice, thinner ice now) it is interesting to see how science works to develop such a conclusion (unlike the insane ravings of deniers like Inhofe, just doing the bought-and-paid-for work for their masters, the carbon special interests.) One big issue with the science is it is based on real data, real measurements. But we’ve only developed such technologies and deployed them relatively recently. So scientists, who are real skeptics (very different than deniers, scientists ALWAYS question and test results as they should since they’re after truth, not propaganda), are concerned about what conclusions they can actually draw, sometimes on scanty data.

As I read the above-mentioned article I’m also reading Michael Mann’s The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. While this book covers a lot of ground it also goes into how datasets are obtained and reconciled, especially where modern instrumentation is missing, what “proxy” datasets (such as tree rings or ice cores) can be used. And then how do you combine these disparate types of data with statistical significance. Fairly dry reading unless you’re a numbers freak like me, but even the gloss shows how carefully scientists scrutinize, assemble, analyze, and then question and test their data (unlike stunt snowballs or crap websites like Watt (I won’t even mention his url or sitename to avoid giving him even one more visit in his logs).

So in the case of the ice article it’s the Navy to the rescue. It turns out, for purely military reasons, submarines have been chugging away under the Arctic ice even since the first Nautilus reached the North Pole and then the Skate actually surfaced there. These subs were outfitted with upward looking sonar so they could measure ice thickness and find thin enough ice to break through and surface. And they kept records. And while these are a different type of dataset with appropriate statistical techniques they can be combined with more modern records and supplement them further back in time. Not to mention merely asking the folks who live up there and can remember when they could get their boats out and/or walk on the ice.

And so they have this conclusion:

The broader dataset and longer time frame show that what had looked like a leveling off in the late 1990s was only temporary. Instead, adding another 12 years of data almost doubles the amount of ice loss.

And I’ll copy one of their plots just to show what fun it is to convert raw data into something meaningful:

The average annual sea ice thickness, in meters, for the central Arctic Ocean. Red dots are submarine records. The green line is the long-term trend.

Look at all that scatter (plenty of cherry picking deniers could do as they often do, pick false high and false low and draw a line, claiming it’s a regression line and statistically significant, i.e. the so-called pause in warming by picking the unusual year 1998 as a baseline (try 1997 or 1999 and see how different it looks).

So just for fun I thought I’d add a little graph of my own where I know what the underlying data is about:


Confusing, eh. I won’t bother you with the explanation (you can find it on my other blog) the data itself doesn’t show any pattern. It is the consolidation of thousands of individual datapoints that by definition fall along certain Y values (can’t be just any old values). Like electrons in quantum theory a new value can only rise (or fall) on one of those special Y values. Visually this doesn’t tell anything, but the regression lines, albeit with weak r^2 does indicate the overall gross effect – the data is rising. Now I’ve done lots of analysis on this data and know this is valid (although only weakly so) because I generated the data through an unnatural process. Nature is not so helpful as nature likes to throw tons of noise into data, plus instruments like to get spurious readings. The ONLY way one can make sense out of data is careful analysis with appropriate statistical techniques AND peer review to find real mistakes, not the stupid tricks deniers pull, which always turns out to be false.

Now as to the ice, for a while I was a bit worried hearing constant reports of less Arctic ice, wondering what that would do to low lying land. But, alas, duh, use some science here. Ice floats so whether it is melted into water or in ice the effect on sea level is the same (basic science Archimedes shouted Eureka about). So no big deal, huh – so Arctic else melts and the polar bears drown, who needed them anyway.

Well, let’s consider two different issues: 1) ice, you know, is kinda white and shiny and water, well, it’s kinda dark – so as a science quiz on a hot sunny day which would you rather be wearing? light clothing or dark. I think your experience and intuition tell you the answer. Well, the Earth is the same, open water absorbs more heat from the sun, ice reflects more heat into space. As ice melts we get hotter faster, otherwise known as a positive feedback loop. So it matters (not to mention all the methyl hydrates that might evaporate and release methane, an even worse greenhouse gas, or the nearby tundra tends to decay anaerobically and thus produce methane as well and there is a lot of biomass in the Arctic regions, and, 2) well, ice that is sitting on land, like the Greenland or most of Antarctic ice caps, when that melts, that does add water to the oceans and sea levels do rise, inducing yet more positive feedback loops. In other words, we’re screwed, possibly already by the heat we’ve already induced by burning carbon. Oh yeah, and more is just what we need (most deniers don’t try to claim CO2 levels aren’t rising and just broke through the threshold of 400).

So I hope Inhofe doofus owns so low-lying beach property he’ll get to watch get washed away (of course he’ll have government funded flood insurance for his loss, too bad for the rest of us). I actually find it amazing the deniers can sleep at night, knowing they’re condemning our children, certainly our grandchildren to a vastly changed (in a bad way) world just so the Kochs can make a few more bucks today. That deniers and esp. Willie (Wei-Hock Soon, who just overlooked disclosing all his junk science was paid for by secret grants from energy companies) can sleep at night, knowing they’re attempting to cover up the worst man-made disaster ever (makes the smoking coverup look like peewee league stuff). For a bought-and-paid-for Senator to lie, for PR shills of the Kochs and their various propaganda foundations to lie is one thing, but Smithsonian Institute you should be ashamed to be on the take too.

Anyway, just another day closer to doomsday, which of course the xtian right is loving as somehow they’re rationalize this as getting closer to the rapture (yeah, right, folks, when you’re hungry and thirsty and have heatstroke tell me how wonderful the end times are).

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Blogging as means to focus one’s thoughts

Some people can sit quietly in their sanctum pondering their ideas and compose, mentally, a clear exposition of their thoughts. I’m not wired that way. I have to verbalize ideas, either in speech or (now) in writing. The idea is there but embryonic and I have to develop it by composing my little speeches, or, ideally by interaction with others who sharpen my focus.

I used to do this mostly through verbal discussion with a partly willing audience as foils for my wandering thought process. Perhaps it’s coming from a family of teachers, with the old saw that to understand something teach it. But without that process of actually composing thoughts into discourse I rarely can really develop a nascent thought into something a bit more fleshed out.

In my work (and now avocation) of programming one I had interactive word processing I found writing stuff down, starting somewhere, weaving hither and yon, recording data, exploring ideas worked. I’d start with a simple idea of what I wanted to do and through the process of working the idea it would evolve and, usually, end up getting resolved.

Having a group who tolerate my process was helpful during my career but now without either that community or the requirement to do something it’s harder to now explore things. Reading (a lot) certainly triggers a ton of ideas, but exploring them requires more than the passive activity of reading. One thing I always hated about classes or lectures was their pacing – something interesting would be said and I’d want to kick it around in my head (or better through words), but the lecture moves on and the thoughts disappear, replaced by the pace of new information.

So I wonder how much blogging is a substitute. There are plenty of ways to write, just kicking around ideas (I do like doing this in Microsoft’s OneNote, thank you), but perhaps blogging is better. Even though any audience is completely remote and mostly non-interactive, the idea that someone might read this creates the pressure to be a bit more coherent, to occasionally fact-check, to work out some details before just writing them in a pure stream of consciousness.

I find that if I get some thought and then don’t do anything about it (at least try to write it down) it’s soon lost. Now, of course, that could easily imply it wasn’t worth anything anyway. And in fact, what difference does it make – does thinking about something serve any useful purpose. Perhaps it’s just entertainment, one can read, listen, watch, whatever, or one can create some prose to express the thought. But so what? Who cares? Do I even care once the process is over.

Most people I know like to have conversations about tangible things, mostly other people, sometimes events, but not very often ideas. What is it that this kind of talk is boring and irrelevant to me? I don’t care about the silly thing my young nephew did yesterday. I think most such conversation is just social bonding, but it’s also “entertainment” for those who enjoy it. What is the point of conversation anyway? Certainly, or at least not very much, to communicate information.

OTOH I think there are a lot of people who use conversation or discourse as a way to explore ideas. But, again, so what? My conjecture is that while it’s a small fraction of people human beings have being doing his for a long time. And for most of human history there wasn’t much they could do than just kick things around near a fire huddled together against the night and the cold. Then they discovered philosophy (or worse, religion) and now had something to actually think about, to consider, to discuss. And for a few thousand years (at least that records show) that’s what we did. Then we discovered science. The Greek philosophers believed truth (and who cares about that) could be deduced either through reason and/or logic. Actually going out and measuring things or doing experiments was crazy to them. Then the idea of measuring, analyzing, experimenting (which had probably always existed, despite philosophy) came more into its own, primarily because it actually had practical outcomes (win wars, make money, get fame). So science has largely taken the place of philosophy as a way to exercise one’s mind, assuming that’s what one cares about.

So is blogging the modern equivalent of the campfire, minus the social interaction. Or is it Facebook, the constant need to both tell and know of other people’s drivel? I think for the majority it is Facebook, but for some group it’s composing something, whether a dashed-off post or a paper after extensive research or a design of some artifact after a careful process of reasoning.

Why do some of us do it? And why do more not do it?

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Obama does Nixon-to-China; Natanyahu does Repug politics

If you think Bibi and President Obama are on different pages, you’re but there is a lot more below the surface than the apparent war of words. And this isn’t about nukes!

btw: Some sanity prevails about Bibi’s attempt to play U.S. politics, check out these two articles that go beyond the soundbite view on this; the New York Times shows some reason and even an Israeli paper, but they don’t quite see the even bigger picture I’ll reveal. And the worst the Iranian states news agency IRNA has to say is “boring and repetitive”, no death to Israel, no call for holy war, no anti-Semitic slurs – boy, what a scary place that is (maybe they understand U.S. politics better than Bibi does). And with too many to mention or cite there are tons of good comments on Bibi’s and the Repugs’ clumsy politicking, not to mention fact-checking that most of Bibi’s statements are false, which his own Mossad chief has already repudiated. Only Repug idiots in Congress that believe in creationism and snowball stunts were fooled by this speech.

Somebody at State (Hillary, maybe?) got very smart about changing the dynamics in the Middle East. It’s been stagnant impasse with Israeli constantly creating the conditions for expanding Islamic militancy. New terrorist are being born or recruited faster than the U.S. or Israel can kill them. Keep that up and something really bad does happen. Something had to change. Right now Israel is the bully in the region and the U.S., as their lapdog, provides the slogans and impetus for growing chaos. Look at it – what’s happened since Dumbya stupid destabilization in Iraq (which was supposed to bring a bastion of western democracy to the region, not a bad idea, wrong place) and Israel’s constant kneejerk attacks on Palestinians every time Bibi needs to crank up the rhetoric (and his political support) in Israel.

So someone saw the Nixon-to-China moment. Instead of usual harangues hurled at Iran, take a second look at them. The largest, most stable, most advanced nation over there. And not one that uses their oil money to support extremist Sunni Wahhabism that is fueling all the other messes. If there is going to be a cop in the region who is it going to be: a) the outsider and extremely Crusade oriented fundamentalist Christian U.S., b) broken states like Libya or Syria and their backers in the Gulf, or, c) a powerful nation that isn’t as stupidly oriented toward a return to the 7th century, a once proud empire, a modern country with a broader economy than oil, a country where women can drive and vote and aren’t purely property like the sheikhs’ camels. You got it – Iran, the one country with enough stability, economy, modernity, technology, and a different slice of religion.

It’s China, all over.

Now China didn’t exactly become our buddy when Nixon opened that door. They still said nasty things about us and were hardly the China of today. But what Nixon and Kissinger realized is that China had its own agenda and freeing it from the static us-and-them dynamic of simplistic (and classic Repug) anti-Communism broke the logjam. I doubt even those guys could have predicted today’s China, who again isn’t exactly our buddy and vigorously pursues its own self-interest, often in conflict with ours, but it’s not our enemy and we’re not lobbing bombs at them or getting theirs in return. And guess what – a whole bunch of stability exists in a region where a government with a lot to lose and a lot to win by much more modern policies. And a China exists that is so tied to the world they can hardly act that stupidly, even if they don’ always do what we want. So which is better, an independent, non-lackey, not-quite-ally, trading partner (and banker) who occasionally hurtles verbal bombs at us but does NOT GO TO WAR with us and an isolated and xenophobic nation where possibly WAR is their only answer.

I’ll take frenemy China any day over a hostile one and it’s a dream to think we can get any more.

So President Obama is taking that less conventional road that requires some vision. Engage Iran, get them hooked up with lots of trading partners and deals and debts and being part of the banking system and the Internet and everything else modernity tangled China up with. An Iran like that doesn’t make WAR on us. And an Iran like that doesn’t particularly like ISIS and Al Qaeda and the other peddlers of chaos and atavism.

Now that’s good for the U.S. and as a foreign policy based in reality rather than insane biblical ideology it’s one we can accomplish.

But that leaves bully Israel out it the cold. Let’s not forget they have nukes and a stable military force. So they get to look down their noses at all the “backward” countries in the region. But can Israel accomplish any peace and stability there, even if they didn’t have their bomb-everyone mentality? Sure, let some of the IDF show up in the frontlines against ISIS and see what happens, but when Iran sneaks some of its Muslim Quds force in to kill terrorists, partly to halt the spread of Saudi’s Wahhabi nonsense, who’s even aware, much less screaming. Israel can’t be the cop of the Middle East and we can’t be the cop of the Middle East – but Iran can. And Iran just might, for its own self-interest, not to do our bidding. That’s what Nixon saw in China, not a partner to the USSR but a rival.

And once relations are normalized with Iran and their oil gets developed, stupid Iraq doesn’t have the appeal Cheney once wanted with their oil and maybe Saudi Arabia doesn’t call the shots in OPEC any more. Who knows how the oil power balance and the money power balance shifts. Rather than build nukes Saudi Arabia might have to modernize itself, who knows even let its women drive.

That is the existential threat to Israel, not nukes, but a shift in the power balance and a shift in the dynamic. Iran exists the bronze age biblical mentality so Israel can hardly stay locked in it too.

And that’s what Bibi is trying to do. Being an MIT guy he’s about 100x smarter than the idiot fundamentalist xtian Congress who dreams of restored Greater Israel so we can have the second coming and then Ann Coulter can “perfect” all the Jews. Come on AIPAD, do you really believe a southern and fundamentalist xtian Repug party that can easily embrace white supremacists is your friend? Well, Bibi, you may be smart and think you can pull the wool over the Repug eyes who want nothing but a sharp stick-in-the-eye to Obama, but you need to learn something about religious extremism (other than ultra-orthodox Judaism). Listen to Ann Coulter, listen to the right here – are they your friends. After they get done using the N-word against Obama, what do you think they say about Jewish people, in the U.S. or Israel. You are the enemy of Christ, do you think suddenly strident preachers here will stop saying Christ-Killers any more than Palestinians will stop calling you names (or blowing you up as many of the leftover KKK (Tea Party) would do).

Bibi thinks he can manipulate the split here between our crazies and our sane party and stop normalization with Iran (again, nukes are a smokescreen, nothing to do with it, Iran as a China is a bigger threat than a few uranium bombs). But Bibi, you should try to understand how crazy the religinuts are here – given them half a chance and they’ll show ISIS how it’s done. They are not Israel’s friends. They are not the U.S.’s friends, at least most of us who don’t want to live under Wahhabist style xtian fundamentalism here.

No, Bibi you’re not a clever as you think you are. You were in the U.S. at a time when Repugs were still sane. Look at the most extreme Islamic voices in your part of the world and then see the U.S., at least the Repug part of it, in those extremist terms and you’ll understand the politics of today. And they are not your friends, no matter how many ovations you get.


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Blogging and views

Despite doing this blog for nearly three years I find the views I get fairly mysterious. Many years ago I did a blog and got nearly zero attention and thought, WTF, why bother with this. The world is filled with noise and one more person on a soapbox is just overload to the world.

So when I started this blog I just did it for myself, never anticipating even a tiny bit of viewing. More when I started than now I liked to blab on about current events (in a variety of areas), mostly launching polemics about how stupid many modern trends are. I wore out the patience of those in earshot with my “sermons” so I figured, fine, write it down and broadcast to the world, and who cares if anyone pays any attention.

So it’s a been a surprise I’ve gotten the response I’ve gotten (and I fully recognize as blogs go, it’s not much). So I enjoy trying to make sense out of the limited stats provides about visits – i.e. why did I get any visits at all, how are people finding this.

So now that I have a fair amount of experience I’ve formulated a few tentative conjectures and tried to tease out of the stats any proof for these. So, first, here’s the strongest correlation I’ve found:


This shows 35 months of my data with #posts on the horizontal axis and #views on the vertical. The regression line and more importantly the r^2 at least suggest there is a correlation, i.e. if I write posts I get hits. But the correlation is not that strong (including lots of strong outliers as you can see) and also doesn’t really agree with the more subjective analysis I do (detailed stats are not available at like you could extract from weblogs on a dedicated WordPress site).

When I instead look at my posts that have had the most views and then correlate (subjectively) with the critical search term results and also referrers I actually see most of my hits come from searches, not regular readers. And then those views are correlated to a very small subset of my posts that probably hit a nerve in people’s interests (it must be since only with very specific search terms do any of my posts appear in the first 10 results which is what most people use). So, IOW, views are more correlated (by chance, i.e. hitting a hot topic) with total quantity of posts, not the amount of posts in a given time period. And that’s probably what my graph is showing, some correlation with amount of posting, but not that much.

So while I can reach a few other subjective conclusions (not well supported with any detailed analysis) I would conclude there are a couple of models that relate to views in any blog.

  1. having a steady body of subscribers generates some activity due to recent postings. I’m not quite sure how subscribers find out about new posts (presumably the WordPress Reader, maybe some via email notification) but this is the primary mechanism that would explain the weak correlation I see between #posts and #views.
  2. sticking to a single subject, primarily non-controversial one and also one that interests other people drives views because one’s posts may be of interest to that community. In my case the weak correlation I see in this is my bread posts (about 10% of my total view; not as many as I’d like to do, but have to bake some bread to have something to talk about). In contrast posts in a single blog that are all over the map on subject (even from a single bias, i.e. my liberal, atheist, nutrition POVs) has little correlation with visits, of course, unless you’re a somebody that people really like to follow.
  3. content doesn’t seem to matter, i.e. my posts are definitely too long to trigger much interest and tend to ramble (fine, that’s what I wanted to do, not chase popularity), but the times I actually try (careful writing and proofreading, light tone, photos, etc.) don’t seem to make any difference, at least that I can dig out of stats. Now I believe, but without proof, that quality of posts matters and bloggers who write well and briefly and interesting with visually interesting posts (pure text is hard to attract people to) will benefit from that quality, but that probably is only true when you’re a “somebody” people will wish to follow.
  4. catchy titles do help, a little. This is often recommended in posts about creating popular blogs and I see a weak correlation this is probably true, but that only gets attention and doesn’t hold it.
  5. now I have three public blogs, this one and two others. One I started with a great deal of enthusiasm (also thinking it would be a useful source on the Net) and found: a) it was too much work, b) it attracted little attention, and, c) it wasn’t very satisfying for me, so why do it if I’m not liking the process and no one else does either. But strangely that blog, which has been inactive for months, has far more views that my other secondary blog where I work fairly hard on interesting posts. My other blog, on a single subject (and thus not as rambling as this one), is hardly notice, but in that case I don’t care since, again, I’m doing that one for my own interests and if anyone else cares, fine.
  6. publicity matters! In my second month I managed to create a timely post that was picked for Freshly Pressed (which reading many of those I’m convinced is more an atta-boy pat on the back to keep blogger posting for can get ad views). But, wow, does it work (although nowhere near as much as it seems for other bloggers) and there was a residue of interest left from that. And in a small number of other cases this blog has been linked from other sites and I definitely see views driven from that. IOW, blogging is in fact “social” and establishing yourself as a member of a community drives views. But I’ve never bothered, other than an experiment or two, with any other attempts at publicizing (which probably works, but I wouldn’t know). If you’re blogging to be popular then there are a lot of things you need to do and I don’t want to do most of those, even though they make sense, since popularity is not my goal.

So I still find this whole shouting at the world interesting. Before the Net and the various soapboxes were created one had little chance to get even the slightest bit of attention, esp. from complete strangers. Now it is possible (especially if you do a good job of it) and that’s interesting. Despite this being a low interest blog I’ve had more people, at least view (maybe read a bit) of what I’ve written than any other form of creating content in my life (my software products were narrowly focused, not mass market, so not much quantity of attention to my work there). So I’m glad I’ve done this (readers may not be that interesting, but I like re-reading some of my old posts and I’m glad there is an archive of them) but I still have to ask myself – why am I doing this? But I’ll keep going, at least until I hit 1000 posts.

btw, in case you’re interested:

Here are my most viewed posts:

and a few of my favorites of the least viewed:

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Want a healthy economy? Tax the rich!

How many times do we have to experiment to learn this lesson (or conversely how many times do we have to do the opposite and see that fail). It’s a seduction argument (but amazingly sold to us ordinary folks) – let the rich have more money and they’ll hire you, take their money away and they’ll go sulk and kill our jobs. IOW, they’re holding us for ransom so we have to be so very very very nice to them and beg them to give us crumbs.

Well Clinton did a beautiful job of proving the standard case – he raised taxes, only on the rich, and had the best economy of the 20th century (take that supply siders and your nonsense). Dumbya did the opposite and created the worse recession (2008 crash, due to excess speculation by the rich with too much money and no place (real) to invest it).

You’d think that would be enough evidence, but the rich are wily (plus buy both politicians and opinion makers and faux news networks to pitch their big lie).

But we have more. Good old laptop Brownback of Kansas lowers taxes for the Kochs and raises them for everyone else and cuts budgets. Kansas should be supply-side paradise. What happens – huge deficits, drops in bond rating, and, wait for it, a terrible economy (where are all those job creators that were going to move to Kansas and give us normal folk our crumbs? Guess that didn’t happen).

So here’s the flip side – Minnesota. A billionaire himself Mark Dayton raised taxes on the rich, increased spending, pushed up minimum wage – and, wait for it – Minnesota’s economy soared, especially in jobs (and it sucked when Dayton took over from another stupid Repug, the forgettable Tim Pawlenty). And guess what, Minnesota has the 5th lowest unemployment rate (maybe those rich people paying more taxes therefore has less leisure spending money and so are actually working harder and building business and really being job creators instead of building mansions and yachts).

But what about this – Minnesota is ranked 5th fastest growing economy (have you ever been to Minnesota in the winter, why would anyone want to move there – oh yeah, another gift of the Kochs, global warming, Minnesota is the new Kansas). And this is really big – wait for it, Minnesota is ranked 9th-best state for business! Glorious Repug paradise of nearby Wisconsin is ranked #32 (proves how wrong Scott Walker is). And unlike broke Kansas Minnesota now has a huge budget surplus. And Kochistan (aka Kansas) comes out merely #25 on list (Forbes btw, not exactly a “liberal” propaganda rag) and, of course, has a huge budget deficit.

Some Repugs like to claim states should be free to do whatever they want (like return to slavery as the southern ones want) because they are the “laboratories of democracy”.

Well, two laboratories of democracy have spoken. Deep red Kochistan actually doing the Repub fantasies (they’d like to take this national, Dumbya more or less did in 2000) and purplish Minnesota but not with definitely blue governor (amazing not all billionaires are greedy thieves like the Kochs and Adelson-scum) and guess what, their result way way way outshine Kochistan. So which paradise would you rather live in – the failed experiment of Brownback and the Kochs (and then of Jindal and the rest of the south as well, the armpit of the country on almost any economic measure, but of course true believers in supply side nonsense (or even worse libertarian fantasy)).

Why do we have to keep doing this experiment, proving Repugs are wrong, over and over, and yet they succeed in still peddling their bullshit to an ignorant crowd of rednecks and religinuts.

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Wave of the future?

While doing the previous post I saw more articles, in search at the New Yorker, and stumbled on this article that tweaked my interest – What a “vertical” farm and in Wyoming (Jackson, of course, where the rich are).

While I’m all for “local” food, even though it’s yet another fad, the real problem is that not everyone lives in a climate that cooperates with producing more “local” (with the implication of not being conventional agriculture). So it’s interesting that a not very cooperative climate in Jackson Wyoming would produce this artificial (must be bad, therefore, to the local food freaks) environment for growing fresh food for local consumption.

While this is a cool idea I wonder how practical it really is (with all those rich in Jackson, no problem at the cost for them). Sure the sunlight is free and gets effectively used with this high-tech approach, but this has to be resource and labor intensive (while obviously the food can be fresher, is it really cost/energy efficient compared to shipment from a long distance). But it’s worth a try and maybe like many things, more and more of this technology could lead to cost reductions and potentially this is a practical answer (assuming there is water as well) as we destroy the world with climate change.

Anyway, take a look at something new.


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Excellent article: bread and gluten

This is a really good article, Against the Grain, in The New Yorker, by Michael Specter, especially as his book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives is one of my favorites; big surprise he’d be one to, at minimum question, and mostly debunk most of the gluten fad and freaking out, plus come to the defense of bread, and more importantly good baking.

But hold on, this isn’t just a rant about nutrition scolds, bread enters in this too with a new project underway that promises to be REALLY cool.

This is a long article that mostly starts out about gluten and the gluten-free fad and fanaticism, but ends up mostly about bread, and actually some interesting ideas about whole grain breads. Specter claims to do a lot of his own baking and thus seems to have hands-on knowledge of some of the issues.

In terms of gluten he mostly just presents the evidence (very slim) and some of the claims. Rather than vigorously debunking them he mostly just raises inconsistencies (like has wheat really changed in the last hundred years (as anti-wheat crowd claims, without facts), esp. in terms of gluten (yes, it probably has changed to have less natural nutrients (easily solved with good whole grain flours)). And he points out some of the issues of how terrible nutrition trials are, how the anti-gluten trial is so limited (even its author warns against over-interpreting it) and how a fad can start much more quickly than the science can actually do serious trials and get real facts.

But enough of that. Later in the article (either be patient or scroll down past all the gluten dross), he also mentions Washington State University’s Bread Lab and goes on to relate many details of this lab and bread-making research:

Jones’s lab is unique; few bakeries have Brabender farinographs, which Jones and his team use in their search for the ideal ratio of gluten to water in dough, and to measure the strength of flour. Nor can there be many labs with a Matador deck baking oven, which can accommodate more than a dozen loaves at a time, and which circulates heat uniformly, at hot enough temperatures, to insure a voluminous loaf and the strongest possible crust.

Oh my, when can I book my flight to go work there, baking bread and doing science at the same time, a dream come-true. But interestingly,

For all the high-tech gadgets on display in the Bread Lab, the operation is decidedly old-fashioned, relying on stone mills of a type that have not been used for more than a century and on a philosophy that all it takes to make genuine and delicious whole-wheat bread is time, talent, flour, a little salt, and lots of water.

It just gets better, tradition, good old-fashioning bread making, high-tech and science all in the same place! How do I get to work there?

But as they say in informercials, WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Since then, Myhrvold and his team have been working on an equally ambitious follow-up project, tentatively called “The Art and Science of Bread.’’ The book won’t be ready for at least another year, but Myhrvold has said that it will be both a comprehensive history of bread and an exhaustive guide to baking it.

Oh my, be still my heart. Have you ever looked at Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine: the Art and Science of Cooking? – incredible! Now as the book is way to rich for my blood this is one of the few times I was willing to look at some pirated PDF’s (rather good reproductions of the book). I only want to look and never keep the PDF’s and never used then, which only slightly reduces my sin (I could claim “fair use” doctrine on copyright violations but I won’t).

Before I saw Nathan on some PBS show (Nova, I believe, but forget) I didn’t like him. Of course I also didn’t know him or really anything about him, but anyone with a fan club like his and outsized claims of brilliance is offputting to me since I’ve known more than my share of self-proclaimed geniuses who aren’t (obnoxious and arrogant, yes; but brilliant – they wouldn’t know it if they see it).

Well I can admit I’m wrong and probably what I didn’t like about Nathan Myhrvold is simply that I’m jealous. He is fabulously rich, is truly brilliant, and instead of wasting all his life at Microsoft (or buying sports teams like Paul Allen) he goes and does interesting and fun projects. The lab he set up, the people he hired, esp. photographers, the work they did, and the book they produced – oh YUM.

Now to think there is one like this in the words for bread! This one I may have to save the green and actually buy. If it’s anything like Modernist Cuisine it will be worth its likely outrageous price (less than Superbowl tickets and both more durable and entertaining).

So anyway, take my hint and wander over to this article and get some class information instead of hacked-together blog posts.

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