Thursday, January 31, 2013

I was right in less than a day

At midnight, I predicted what local gas prices would do.
Once again, this set up an unstable situation that I expected to be resolved by the corner station dropping its prices.  Sure enough, that's already happening, as I paid $3.53 for regular this morning at the corner.  Watch for all four stations to match at $3.49 very soon, if they haven't already.
This morning, it had already happened, as the corner station was selling regular for $3.49.  But that wasn't all of the previous posts predictions.
I expect prices to resume their rise once the lastest skirmish in the local gas war is over.
The corner station didn't even wait a full day to take the offensive in the next battle of the gas war, raising the price of regular to $3.75.  That's nearly fifty cents in less than a week!  So far, the stations down the street aren't taking the bait, as they're keeping their prices at $3.49.  I filled up at one of them, as I expect everyone's prices to stabilize at $3.59 or so when this round is over.

As for what this means, the Bonddad Blog asks the right question: Oil Creeping Higher -- At What Price Does It Start to Choke Growth?  Unfortunately, neither Bonddad nor any of his commenters have an answer yet.

The gas price rollercoaster shoots up like a rocket

In the previous installment, I chronicled how the local station lost a gas war.
That was an unstable situation, which I expected to be resolved in favor of the lower price because most outlets in the area were selling for $3.29.  Sure enough, the corner station lost the gas war and dropped regular to $3.27, matching its neighbors.  That was yesterday.  When I walked to the station just a few minutes ago, its sign was still displaying its relatively low price.
The prices remained at that low level for a week, lulling me into a false sense of security.  The day before yesterday, they shot up.  The corner station jumped $0.30 to $3.59, while the three stations a few blocks down the street only rose to $3.49.  Once again, this set up an unstable situation that I expected to be resolved by the corner station dropping its prices.  Sure enough, that's already happening, as I paid $3.53 for regular this morning at the corner.  Watch for all four stations to match at $3.49 very soon, if they haven't already.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Temperatures on rollercoaster ride

The last time I mentioned the weather, it was getting warmer.
Fortunately, today looks like the end of the coldest weather. Yes, it snowed two or three inches last night, but this afternoon it was above freezing, the sun was out, and the snow was already melting. There's even warmer temperatures on the way as yesterday's weather reports shows.
The warm spell turned out to be evern warmer than expected, as the Detroit Free Press headline says it all: Wacky weather: Region could see record highs today, then plunge back into teens.
As tens of thousands of Michiganders traded parkas for rain gear, Tuesday's temperatures set a new record high of 56 in Flint -- but just missed matching Detroit's record of 58 degrees, set in 1914.

"Almost there -- we got to 57" -- as measured at Detroit Metro Airport, said Sara Schultz, staff meteorologist at the National Weather Service in White Lake Township. The mild temperatures came amid prolonged showers, including periods of heavy rainfall, she said.
That was yesterday. What's today's forecast?
Today, look for more of the same in southeast Michigan, with potential record highs in the upper 50s and rain, Schultz said.
So, are we in store for another short, mild winter like last years? Nope.
Then, it's "back to winter," Schultz said, as thermometers in the Detroit area are expected to plummet to as low as 14 degrees Thursday night and to around 12 degrees on Friday night and early Saturday.
Welcome to Michigan. If you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes. It will change. Worse yet, even if you do like the weather, it will still change.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Discovery News on "Electric Rides of the Future"

I'm a little low on energy right now, so I'll be a good environmentalist and recycle the following video, which I first used in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (2012 one of ten warmest years) at Daily Kos. Enjoy!

Discovery News on YouTube: Electric Rides of the Future

Electric cars aren't the only green way to get around. There have been electric planes and now there's plans for an electric ferry! Trace counts down the three coolest all-electric transporters.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Will the lens flares on Tatooine be doubled?

The speculation over who will direct the next Star Wars movie now that Disney has taken over the franchise is over, as CNet reports.

Disney confirms J.J. Abrams to direct next 'Star Wars'
After speculation leaked out of Hollywood yesterday, it's official: One man will be in charge of both 'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars' at the same time.
by Daniel Terdiman
January 25, 2013 9:06 PM PST
Disney and Lucasfilm confirmed this evening that 'Star Trek' director J.J. Abrams will direct the next 'Star Wars' film, expected to be released in 2015.

The news is not unexpected. Yesterday, word leaked out that Abrams was the likely choice, setting off a flurry of discussion online about the same director being in charge of both the "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" franchises at the same time. But tonight, the news was officially announced.
As one can read over at another copy of this announcement over at fandom_lounge on JournalFen, the reaction has been all over the map, although the tough crowd there has been mostly cautiously positive.  However, a common theme has been snarking about the lens flares in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movie making their way into the new Star Wars.  Discovery News even got into the act with J.J. Abrams Lens Flares: How They're Made.

The King of the Lens Flare (aka JJ Abrams) is set to direct Star Wars Episode VII. But what are lens flares they exactly and how are they made? And how do filmmakers like Abrams use them to their advantage? Anthony goes behind the lens for answers.
I already asked the question.  Here's to hoping either there will be no lens flares, or that they will be doubled.  After all, Tatooine circles a binary star, complete with binary sunsets.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

South Korea is betting on nuclear fusion

I opened with a lament in Where's my retro future?
Flying cars aren't alone among examples of things Americans thought we'd have by now; Popular Science has an entire slideshow of technologies people expected would exist by now, including personal jetpacks, nuclear fusion, and robot armies, along with reasons why they haven't appeared. Too bad, as nuclear fusion would come in very handy right now.
I repeated that lament in Nuclear fusion; better news than flying cars, elaborating on it with a quote from the Popular Science slideshow.
Don't hold your breath for this one. “It's been 35 years away for half a century, and it's still 35 years away. And I suspect 35 years from now it will still be 35 years away,” said Seife, “If you look at civilizations in 2500, then I wouldn't be surprised if they used fusion.
I tempered that estimate with some cautious optimism after taking into consideration a scientific breakthrough I quoted in the post.
This discovery may solve a scientific problem with fusion that will cut off five years from the 35 mentioned above. As for the engineering, financial, and political problems, I those are still worth ten years each. Still, thirty years is better than thirty-five, so it's reason to hope.
It looks like South Korea has decided that thirty years is doable, as Nature Magazine reprinted in Scientific American reports.

South Korea Makes Billion-Dollar Bet on Fusion Power
A fusion power demonstration reactor to be built in the 2030s in collaboration with the DoE's Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, represents a step toward commercial use
By Soo Bin Park and Nature magazine
South Korea has embarked on the development of a preliminary concept design for a fusion power demonstration reactor in collaboration with the US Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) in New Jersey.

The project is provisionally named K-DEMO (Korean Demonstration Fusion Power Plant), and its goal is to develop the design for a facility that could be completed in the 2030s in Daejeon, under the leadership of the country’s National Fusion Research Institute (NFRI).

South Korea is already developing the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (K-STAR) project and contributing to ITER, the €15-billion (US$20-billion) experimental reactor being built in Cadarache, France, under the auspices of an international collaboration. K-DEMO is intended to be the next step toward commercial reactors and would be the first plant to actually contribute power to an electric grid.
That's more optimistic than I expected, as even 2039 would be less than 30 years away.  Of course, South Korea managed to hurtle the obstacles in reverse order from how I listed them--political first and then financial, letting the engineering and scientific ones take care of themselves later.  Maybe that's the problem.  Everyone else is waiting for the science before committing the money and mustering the political will.

Crazy Eddie at the Movies 2--"Searching for Sugar Man"

In Crazy Eddie at the Movies 1--"Skyfall" vs. "The Hunger Games", I promised more in the series, including blogging about a particular movie with a local focus.
I haven't blogged about this past year's award nominated movies yet, but I will. One of them is about a Detroiter, "Searching for Sugar Man."
I haven't seen it yet.  Neither has WXYZ, but they watched "Sugar Man" in concert and interviewed him in Searching for Sugar Man star performs in Ann Arbor.

The film is playing right down the street from me.  Maybe I should catch it in the theater, instead of waiting for it to come out on video.  Maybe?  I just happen to have an image for that!


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cold weather bad for car energy efficiency

It's time to combine this month's theme of energy with one of my favorite subjects, the weather.  WXYZ does the work for me in Electric vehicle and hybrid drivers find extreme cold takes its toll.

Today's extreme cold temperatures may mean drivers of electric vehicles and hybrids use a bit more gasoline or get less mileage out of their battery's charge.
I've been lucky that my car managed to get through this week's cold snap with no complaints, no mean feat for a vehicle with 215,000 miles.  Fortunately, today looks like the end of the coldest weather.  Yes, it snowed two or three inches last night, but this afternoon it was above freezing, the sun was out, and the snow was already melting.  There's even warmer temperatures on the way as yesterday's weather reports shows.

Yes, the cold returns, but not as intense.  Besides, it's Michigan in January.  What do you expect, another unseasonably mild winter?  That's not what was forecast last October.
My students have already started asking me what I think of the upcoming winter's snowfall. I've been telling them it will be colder and snowier than last year, but snowfall will be no more than average and probably less. Looks like I got lucky, as the local experts are calling for 35-39 inches of snow, which is less than the average of 42 inches. Just the same, after last winter, even a slightly below average snowfall will seem like a lot of snow.
So far, that's exactly what we're getting.

Friday, January 25, 2013 article on Mark Brewer and MDP convention

I was orginally going to next month's convention of the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) to see who was interested in running against Tim Walberg, but it looks like I have another reason to attend.

Mark Brewer supported a UAW protest of a Romney campaign event in 2011. The UAW has withdrawn its support of Brewer.
Credit: Dwight Burdette, Wikipedia
Brewer to address Washtenaw County Democrats in fight for chairmanship
Normally, tomorrow's meeting of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party Executive Committee at Morris Hall in Pittsfield Township would be fairly routine.  Precinct delegates, elected officials, and nominees on last November's ballot for partisan office will show up, have their credentials checked, select members of the Executive Committee, and elect officers for this year.

Even the appearance of Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer at the meeting, as reported by Chris Savage at Eclectablog today, would be an expected event.  Brewer will give a report on how the election went, decry the actions of the Republicans in Lansing, and give a pep talk to the delegates about 2014.

All of that will still happen, but Brewer's visit will take on added significance, as he is facing the most serious challenge to his chairmanship in the eighteen years he has held it.  He is expected to face a fight for his office at next month's State Convention of the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP), and he will need every delegate he can convince to re-elect him.
Brewer's fate will be decided by delegates to the MDP State Convention at Cobo Hall in Detroit on Saturday, February 23rd.  Potential delegates have until close of business today to renew their membership in the party in time to participate in the historic vote to keep or replace Brewer.
More at the link in the headline.

Brewer is in this fix because he pissed off the UAW and Teamsters over what they saw as insuffient support for Proposal 2, which failed and led to Right-to-Work (for less).  This has split the coalition of labor unions at the core of the MDP, with the MEA and MFT supporting Brewer.  I'm a member of the MEA, but I'm open to someone better.  The problem is that the UAW hasn't found anyone yet, better or not.

In any event, I'm going.  I already renewed my membership and bought my wife one as well.  I think the convention will be worth every penny I spend on it.

Last week's news about mercury

The element, that is, not the planet.

I made a passing reference to how climate change would increase circulation of mercury in If you thought this year's flu season was bad, wait until climate change gets through with it by linking to an Environmental Health News article republiahed in Scientific American.  It's time to link to it again and quote the relevant passage.

Mercury Emissions Threaten Aquatic Environments
New mercury emissions seem to be more of a threat than the mercury already out there from previous emissions, according to some scientists
By Brian Bienkowski and Environmental Health News
January 18, 2013
As United Nations delegates end their mercury treaty talks today, scientists warn that ongoing emissions are more of a threat to food webs than the mercury already in the environment.

At the same time, climate change is likely to alter food webs and patterns of mercury transport in places such as the Arctic, which will further complicate efforts to keep the contaminant out of people and their food.

University of Wisconsin researchers recently found that mercury added to a lake reached top predators faster than the mercury that already existed in their environment.

“It was amazing how fast the mercury got into the fish,” said James Hurley, project researcher and director of the university’s Water Resources Institute in Madison.
That's bad news.  However, the delegates to the U.N. conference were able to do something more useful than they've done with greenhouse gases, as Reuters republished in Scientific American reported.

U.N. clinches global deal on cutting mercury emissions
By Tom Miles and Emma Farge
January 19, 2013
GENEVA (Reuters) - More than 140 countries have agreed on the first global treaty to cut mercury pollution through a blacklist of household items and new controls on power plants and small-scale mines, the United Nations said on Saturday.

The legally-binding agreement aims to phase out many products that use the toxic liquid metal such as batteries, thermometers and some fluorescent lamps, through banning global import and exports by 2020.

The treaty will require countries with coal-fired power plants such as India and China to install filters and scrubbers on new plants and to commit to reducing emissions from existing operations to prevent mercury from coal reaching the atmosphere.
This is all good news.  Time to break out Professor Farnsworth.

Driving update for January and bonus cold weather

Just last night, I linked to last November's driving update.  Doing so came in handy, as my car's odometer just turned over 215,000 miles on my way home this morning.  That means I drove 1,000 miles in 83 days for an average of 12.05 miles/day and 367.5 miles/month since November 2, 2012, an increase of 0.55 miles/day and 16.9 miles/month over the 11.5 miles/day and 350.6 miles/ month I drove between August and November.  Not bad, right?  Actually, I found that surprising, as I drove as little as possible between December 18th and January 2nd.  I normally would have driven fewer miles per day and taken several weeks more to pass this particular milestone.  In fact, I predicted in the December update on my wife's car's mileage that it would take me until February or March to drive another 1,000 miles.  Obviously, I was wrong.

So, what happened?  First, the regular meetings I go to moved farther away since the previous update, adding more miles.  Second, I joined another committee about improving transportation between campuses of the college where I teach, which means more miles driven to more meetings.  Finally, the weather returned to normal for Michigan in the winter, which means it's just a bit too cold right now to walk to the store.  In fact, two nights ago, when I checked up on the local price for gasoline, I walked three very short blocks to the corner station, made my purchase, and immediately returned home.  The additional long block I was planning on going was just too long for the bitterly cold weather.  Even a brisk 1.5 mile round trip on foot would be completely out of the question.

Just to make the point, WXYZ showed in Frigid temperatures across metro Detroit that it was so cold yesterday that fire hoses froze, warming centers opened up, and schools closed.


Speaking of handy coincidences, Calculated Risk just posted the miles driven for November 2012 a few hours ago.
Travel on all roads and streets changed by +0.8% (1.9 billion vehicle miles) for November 2012 as compared with November 2011. Travel for the month is estimated to be 238.8 billion vehicle miles.

Cumulative Travel for 2012 changed by +0.6% (16.7 billion vehicle miles). The Cumulative estimate for the year is 2,702.9 billion vehicle miles of travel.
Here's the graph.

It looks like I'm in good company by increasing the miles driven by Americans over the past month, however slightly.  As for whether I continue contributing to that trend, check back in April, when I expect one or both cars will have turned over the next 1,000 miles.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Education Day and eco-diesels at NAIAS

I've been accepting reports on visits to NAIAS as extra credit for years now.  It looks like I'm not the only one who thinks of the auto show as an educational opportunity.  Others do, too.  WXYZ has a report on "Education Day" at the North American International Auto Show.

I'm not trying to encourage my students to be designers or engineers. Instead, my interests are in getting students to examine the cars for innovation and efficiency in using energy.  In particular, I want them to look at the electric, hybrid, and high-mileage cars, whether they burn gasoline or another fuel.

I'm not alone in emphasizing that aspect of the show.  Researchers at the University of Michigan do, too.  Here's a video from the University of Michigan pointing out that diesels are picking up speed at the auto show in Detroit.

Bruce Belzowski of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute explains the appeal of diesel engines at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
My wife has owned a number of German cars over the years and wants to buy another when I inherit her current vehicle.  I wonder if she'll consider a diesel based on this information.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

If you thought this year's flu season was bad, wait until climate change gets through with it

Time to combine two threats, a short-term one and a long-term one.  I'll start with the short-term danger, this year's flu epidemic.  I've already said I'm glad I got my flu shot this year.  Now it's time for Discovery News to explain why and how flu shots are made in Don't Fear the Flu Shot.

If the influenza virus changes each year, does the flu shot even work? And what is the flu vaccine anyway? Trace explains.
Next, the long-term problem, climate change.

I've already posted about how 2012 was the warmest year on record for contiguous U.S.  In case you missed that post, here's what the Los Angeles Times wrote about the event in 2012 was hottest year on record for Lower 48 states by Neela Banerjee.
The average temperature was 3.3 degrees higher than in the 20th century, NOAA says, bolstering indications that global warming is linked to extreme weather events.

Last year was the hottest year on record for the contiguous 48 states, marked by near-record numbers of extreme weather events such as drought, wildfire, tornadoes and storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In its annual report, State of the Climate, NOAA reported that the average annual temperature was 55.3 degrees — 3.3 degrees greater than the average temperature for the 20th century. It was also a full degree higher than the previous record-high temperature, set in 1998 — the biggest margin between two record-high temperatures to date.

The report confirmed what many Americans may have suspected over the last year: that extreme weather events are becoming more common. The only year when there were more extreme weather events was 1998, largely because a greater number of tropical cyclones made landfall, NOAA researchers said.
It doesn't stop there.  From Reuters via Scientific American comes the news that 2012 was among 10 warmest years in global record: NASA/NOAA by Environment Correspondent Deborah Zabarenko.
January 16, 2013
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Last year was among the top 10 warmest in the modern global record, two U.S. climate-watching agencies reported on Tuesday, less than a week after 2012 was declared the hottest ever in the contiguous United States.

The U.S. space agency NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration jointly issued two reports on 2012 world temperatures. NASA ranked last year the ninth-warmest since record-keeping began in 1880, while NOAA found last year was the tenth-warmest.

The difference in the two rankings may be due to NASA's extrapolation of temperatures in areas with no weather stations, particularly near the poles, according to James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

The 2012 global surface temperature, including land and water, was 1 degree F (.56 degree C) warmer than the 1951-1980 average. That was enough to increase extreme high temperatures last year, Hansen reported.
That's the present.  Follow over the jump for what Neela Banerjee of the L.A. Times describes what may be in store for us in the future, along with how Accuweather's explanation of the connection between climate change and the flu.

The gas price rollercoaster bounces off this year's bottom

I ended the previous segment of the ride on the gas price rollercoaster by noticing it was headed down.
Since the final update of 2012, prices have been bouncing around, but have remained above last year's low.  The prices rose from $3.18 up to $3.35, down to $3.29, then inched lower to $3.28, all during the final week of 2013.  The corner station then raised its price to $3.39 over New Years, while the stations down the block remained at $3.25.  Of course, that didn't last, as the corner station matched their price while the rest held steady.  That happened a week ago.  Today, the corner station dropped to $3.23, the low for the year so far.  That's not the lowest price I've seen in 2013.  Last Tuesday, the stations in Novi were selling regular at $3.19.  No wonder the price here is falling.
The prices continued to drop.  The corner station hit a low for the year so far of $3.21, while the three stations a couple of blocks away matched those in Novi at $3.19, their low for 2013 so far.  Instead of continuing the glide to match, the corner station raised its price to $3.39, dropped it to $3.29, then hiked the price over the holiday weekend to $3.49.  The stations blocks away only went up modestly, first to $3.21 then to $3.27, and stayed there while the corner station was more than 20 cents higher.  That was an unstable situation, which I expected to be resolved in favor of the lower price because most outlets in the area were selling for $3.29.  Sure enough, the corner station lost the gas war and dropped regular to $3.27, matching its neighbors.  That was yesterday.  When I walked to the station earlier this evening, its sign was still displaying its relatively low price.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Spacecraft on parade and Obama praising science and technology

I really enjoy it when someone else does my work for me, especially when the "someone else" consists of the competent people at NASA.  They managed to tie together my two previous posts about the Inauguration.  In the video NASA's Floats in Presidential Inaugural Parade, NASA not only showed Curiosity, Orion, "Mohawk Guy," and some astronauts strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue, just as the article and NASA video I included in NASA and the Inauguration described, they also included most of the passages of President Obama's Second Inaugural Address I quoted in Science, climate, and energy in the Inaugural Address, along with an additional paragraph that I missed.  Here it is.

Video of full-size models of the Curiosity Mars rover and Orion, the multi-purpose capsule that will take our astronauts farther into space than ever, as they appeared in the Washington, D.C. parade on Jan. 21. Accompanying the vehicles were members of the Curiosity team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and current and former astronauts Alvin Drew, Serena Aunon, Kate Rubins, Mike Massimino, Lee Morin and Kjell Lindgren, as well as Leland Melvin, NASA's associate administrator for Education, and John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for Science.
Thank you and good work, NASA.  It's exactly what I wanted to watch, then show to my readers.

No Death Star means more signatures needed for future petitions

On December 14th of last year, Kotaku reported Petition to Build the Death Star Gathers Enough Signatures to Rate a Response from the White House.  A month later, The Guardian was among many to relay the White House's response.*

White House Death Star petition is a no-go
Petition urging building of Star Wars-style weapon system rejected as 'administration does not support blowing up planets'
Conal Urquhart and agencies, Saturday 12 January 2013 07.16 EST
Paul Shawcross, the head of the science and space branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, outlined the reasons why the White House was not planning to build a Death Star, an artificial planet used with devastating consequences in the Star Wars films.

He said the estimated cost of $850 quadrillion would not help deficit reduction plans and asked: "Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?"
The original has a clever title, This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For, which I thought was one of the best things about the reply, along with a listing of all the science and space accomplishments of the Administration and a burnishing of Obama's nerd credentials.

As for the cost the official response cited, it came from Centives, a blog written at the time by a couple of economics undergraduates at Lehigh University.  It turns out to be a severe underestimate, as the figure is for just the steel.  One reader noted in comments that the total cost of modern warships is ten times that of the steel alone.  Add cost overruns, and the price would be about one sextillion dollars.  That's one followed by eighteen zeros.  No wonder the people at The Monkey Cage blog wrote Death Star? No thank you.

The story didn't end there.  Fast Company as republished in Scientific American reported the next reaction by the Obama Administration.

Tired Of Star Wars Fans, The White House Is Raising The Bar On Online Petitions
By Anya Kamenetz
January 18, 2013
Want an official response from the government? You'll need to collect at least 100,000 signatures.
Under its We the People initiative, anyone is able to submit a petition on any topic, and if it receives enough signatures, the White House staff pledges an official response. At first, that number was 5,000. Then it rose to 25,000. But after a recent petition asking the administration to build a Death Star from Star Wars forced a (hilarious) official response, the bar now's been raised to 100,000 signatures.
Mother Jones elaborates on this news in the aptly titled "My God, What Have We Done?": White House Staffers React to Insane Online Petitions.  That makes me glad I didn't sign the petition.  That way, this was not my fault!

*I found two other articles worth reading about the release.  PoliticusUSA added visuals to the response in the good-natured No Death Star, ‘The Administration does not support blowing up planets’.  So did Wonkette, who added their trademark snark in Obama Administration Crushes Nerds’ Dreams, Will Not Build Death Star.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Science, climate, and energy in the Inaugural Address

It looks like President Obama returned the science love that NASA has been giving him, although not directly to NASA.  Instead, it went to science education, climate change, and energy research.  Here are the relevant excerpts from his speech as transcribed at the Washington Post.
For we have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges, that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.

For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.

We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
As I've written before, President Obama really likes the idea of sustainable development packaged as making America competitive.  I like it even better now that he's tied in fighting climate change to this theme.  This is good news, not only for us and the planet, but for the nation's Democratic mayors, who had a message for the President on the subject, as Reuters, republished in Scientific American, reported.

Mayors focus on "local warming," urge Obama to act
By Valerie Volcovici and Patrick Rucker
January 18, 2013
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Reeling from an historic drought, the hottest year on record and more frequent wild weather, mayors from a number of U.S. cities urged the White House this week to take the lead on setting an agenda to address climate change.

City leaders said that only the federal government has the tools and clout to address greenhouse gases often blamed for warming the planet, while mayors focus on issues of "local warming" such as providing a reliable water supply or protecting citizens during dangerous weather events such as the 1995 Chicago heat wave that was blamed for over 700 deaths.

"We are fixing pot holes, dealing with transit issues," Seattle mayor Michael McGinn said while attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors' winter meeting. "But this can be a top tier issue for the president."
Climate change rated three paragraphs in the Inaugural Address, two more than science education, a known priority for the Administration.  I'll take that as a sign that it is now a top tier issue for President Obama.

NASA and the Inauguration

Today is the public ceremony marking the second inauguration of President Obama.  True, he was officially sworn in yesterday, but that was a private event.  Today, he is taking advantage of a public holiday, Martin Luther King's Birthday, which gives the occasion added significance, for the public swearing in and all the festivities that surround it.  One of the governmental agencies involved is NASA, as this video from NASA Television on YouTube highlights.

Inauguration Weekend on This Week @NASA

Two Open Houses at Headquarters in Washington kicked off NASA's participation in the city's Presidential Inaugural activities. Public visitors to the James Webb Auditorium could hear from Administrator Charles Bolden, Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and other agency officials about NASA's current and future plans, programs and missions. Also, Bigelow's BEAM; ESA and Orion; Curiosity Update; Robotic Refueling; Next ISS Mission; Monitoring Air Quality; Draper Medal Winner; and more! lists more events related to the inauguration in NASA's Presidential Inaugural Weekend Event Schedule, along with a link to a live UStream window, and has a slideshow of President Obama at NASA. also has more details on NASA's participation in the Inaugural Parade in NASA's 'Mohawk Guy' to March in Obama's Inaugural Parade by Miriam Kramer.
When President Barack Obama takes his oath of office to begin his second term Monday, NASA will be there.

NASA's famed "Mohawk Guy" Bobak Ferdowsi will march in the Presidential Inaugural Parade on Monday (Jan. 21) along with life-size replicas of the space agency's Mars rover Curiosity and Orion space capsule.

Ferdowsi is a flight director at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory whose unique hairdo catapulted him to Internet fame after the spectacular Mars rover Curiosity landing last year.
NASA Television has more in NASA Preps for Inaugural Parade.

Video of preparations at the Joint Base Anacostia Bolling in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 19 for the two NASA floats scheduled to appear in Monday's Presidential Inaugural Parade. The floats will feature full-scale models of NASA's Orion, the multi-purpose capsule that will take our astronauts farther into space than ever, and the Curiosity rover now on Mars.
Follow over the jump for two more videos from NASA Television showing the other Inauguration-related events that have already happened.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Who's hiding under the bridge of an online science article?

Trolls, that's who.  Discovery News gets first crack at discussing them in Scientists VS Internet Trolls!

Scientists on the cutting edge vs pessimistic web trolls! All across the Internet, scientists are forced to continually defend their work against a group of people discounting their research. What's so controversial about their work, and why the attention? Trace puts a spotlight on all the haters and gets some answers!
Trace at DNews at least can put a positive spin on the critics in the comments. At least some of them are genuine skeptics who are open to persuasion and reason, while others are just, well, trolls.

On the other hand, Chris Mooney at Mother Jones describes a more malignant type inhabiting the comments section of climate blogs in The Science of Why Comment Trolls Suck.
The online peanut gallery can get you so riled up that your ability to reason goes out the window, a new study finds.
Thu Jan. 10, 2013 3:06 AM PST
Everybody who's written or blogged about climate change on a prominent website (or, even worse, spoken about it on YouTube) knows the drill. Shortly after you post, the menagerie of trolls arrives. They're predominantly climate deniers, and they start in immediately arguing over the content and attacking the science-sometimes by slinging insults and even occasional obscenities. To cite a recent example:
What part of "we haven't warmed any in 16 years" don't you understand? Heh. "Cherry-picking" as defined by you alarmists: any time period selected containing data that refutes your hysterical hypothesis. Can be any length of time from 4 billion years to one hour. Fuck off, little man!?
It was reasonably obvious already that these folks were doing nothing good for the public's understanding of the science of climate change (to say nothing of their own comprehension). But now there's actual evidence to back this idea up.
As someone who has been recognized for excellence in trolling three times, these people aren't really trolls.  These people are mission posters.  If they're paid, and some of them are, they're Agents.
Agent is a sinister and elusive opponent who usually works in concert with other Agents. Agent generally uses standard combat techniques, but differs from other Warriors in that he is in the employ of some organization. The organization may be political, commercial, or even criminal, and it’s Agent’s job to post messages that advance his employer’s interests.

I get my share of Agents here, but they're just spammers.  A denialist would actually be a step up.

This past week's energy news from Scientific American

This entry is autoposting while I'm playing Rift with my wife.  While I'm doing so, enjoy these energy-related articles from this past week's online edition of Scientific American.

Scientific American: Novel Solar Photovoltaic Cells Achieve Record Efficiency Using Nanoscale Structures
The devices could lead to better, cheaper solar power
By David Biello
January 17, 2013
Here's how to make a powerful solar cell from indium and phosphorus: First, arrange microscopic flecks of gold on a semiconductor background. Using the gold as seeds, grow precisely arranged wires roughly 1.5 micrometers tall out of chemically tweaked compounds of indium and phosphorus. Keep the nanowires in line by etching them clean with hydrochloric acid and confining their diameter to 180 nanometers. (A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.) Exposed to the sun, a solar cell employing such nanowires can turn nearly 14 percent of the incoming light into electricity—a new record that opens up more possibilities for cheap and effective solar power.

According to research published online in Science—and validated at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems—this novel nanowire configuration delivered nearly as much electricity as more traditional indium phosphide thin-film solar cells even though the nanowires themselves covered only 12 percent of the device's surface. That suggests such nanowire solar cells could prove cheaper—and more powerful—if the process could be industrialized, argues physicist Magnus Borgström of Lund University in Sweden, who led the effort.
Scientific American: Food versus Fuel: Native Plants Make Better Ethanol
New research reveals that native grasses and flowers grown on land not currently used for crops could make for a sustainable biofuel
By David Biello
January 16, 2013
A mix of perennial grasses and herbs might offer the best chance for the U.S. to produce a sustainable biofuel, according to the results of a new study. But making that dream a reality could harm local environments and would require developing new technology to harvest, process and convert such plant material into biofuels such as ethanol.

Biofuels have become controversial for their impact on food production. The ethanol used in the U.S. is currently brewed from the starch in corn kernels, which has brought ethanol producers (and government ethanol mandates) into conflict with other uses for corn, such as food or animal feed. Already, corn ethanol in the U.S. has contributed to a hike in food costs of 15 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization blames corn diverted to biofuels for a global increase in food prices.

To see if nonfood plants could be a source of a biofuel the way corn is, researchers followed six alternative crops and farming systems in so-called marginal lands over 20 years, including poplar trees and alfalfa. Such marginal lands face challenges such as soil fertility and susceptibility to erosion.
Scientific American: Lithium-Ion Battery Fires Could Turn Boeing 787 Dreamliner into a Nightmare
By Larry Greenemeier
January 17, 2013
Boeing’s Dreamliner has likely become a nightmare for the company, its airline customers and regulators worldwide. An inflight lithium-ion battery fire broke out Wednesday on an All Nippon Airways 787 over Japan, forcing an emergency landing. And another battery fire occurred last week aboard a Japan Airlines 787 at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Both battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage and smoke on the aircraft, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA on Wednesday ordered U.S. operators to temporarily ground the aircraft to avoid the risk of additional battery fires. Before any Dreamliners resume flight, operators of U.S.-registered 787s will have to demonstrate to the FAA that the batteries are safe. “These battery problems, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment,” according to a statement issued by the FAA, which says it is investigating. The statement makes no mention of GS Yuasa Corp., the company that makes the 787’s batteries, nor does it call upon Boeing specifically to demonstrate battery safety.

In addition to reviewing the aircraft’s design, manufacture and assembly, the FAA says it also will validate that batteries and the battery system on the aircraft comply with the “special condition” the agency issued as part of the 787’s certification. This condition was that Boeing take a series of protective measures to ensure the batteries wouldn’t fail, causing the exact same problems the company now faces. The 787’s short history has been filled with battery and mechanical problems, as outlined in Patrick Smith’s “Ask the Pilot” January 16 blog post.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hurricane Sandy from Accuweather

Time to finish the series.

2012 in Review: Hurricane Sandy

As we look back over 2012, we remember some of the top memorable weather moments. One of those historic times in weather was Sandy. Valerie Smock recaps.
Hurricane Sandy was such a major story on this blog last year that I gave it its own tag, Frankenstorm.

Last week's energy news from Overnight News Digest on Daily Kos

It's time to return to this month's theme with the energy news from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (2012 hottest year in U.S.) on Daily Kos.  First, here's a story related to the wind energy stories I've already covered.

Treehugger: Apple's New Wind Tech Design Generates and Stores Heat
Derek Markham
Technology / Wind Technology
December 31, 2012
A patent application from the computing giant Apple claims to be able to store wind power as heat, and then release it on demand to generate electricity.

Apple doesn't just confine itself to innovation in computer and mobile technology, but also pursues ideas in other areas, such as renewable energy. A patent for a design for "On-Demand Generation of Electricity from Stored Wind Energy" was filed by the company in June 2011, and if it pans out, the new technology could help to even out the supply and demand disparities in wind power.
The idea is that the power generated when there isn't enough demand to use it is to store it as heat, which could then be used to generate steam to generate electricity during peak demand.  If it works, then it will eliminate one of the major issues with wind energy.

Next, the major utility in the city where I grew up has decided to allow its customers to sell power to it.  That will be a big step forward for sustainability.

L.A. Times: DWP will allow customers to sell back excess solar energy
The so-called feed-in-tariff program would pay customers 17 cents per kilowatt hour for energy produced on their own equipment.
By Catherine Saillant, Los Angeles Times
January 11, 2013, 6:53 p.m.
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers for the first time will be able to sell back excess solar energy created on rooftops and parking lots under a new program approved Friday by the city utility's board of commissioners.

Described as the largest urban rooftop solar program of its kind in the nation, the so-called feed-in-tariff program would pay customers 17 cents per kilowatt hour for energy produced on their own equipment. The DWP has already accepted more than a dozen applicants and will be taking dozens more as it accepts contracts for up to 100 megawatts of solar power through 2016.

Environmentalists, business supporters and solar vendors were thrilled by the vote. Feed-in-tariff programs help generate jobs and economic activity while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, they say.

"Today's vote is a major step forward for the economic and environmental sustainability of Los Angeles," said Mary Leslie, President of the Los Angeles Business Council, a group advocating the Clean LA Solar program since 2009.
I agree; it's a win-win situation for the utility, its customer, and solar power vendors.  Time to break out Professor Farnsworth.

Friday, January 18, 2013

As expected, Feds give $25 million to M-1 light rail

Transportation Secretary LaHood's announcent today lived up to expectations.  WXYZ has the video from today.

A $25 million grant has been award to bring the M-1 Rail system to life.

That early report passes along the elite opinion about the announcement. In a follow-up, WXYZ reports the reaction of the people along Woodward, who are quite positive about the light rail line.

M-1 Rail funding announced

I'm with all the people interviewed in the segment.  The M-1 light rail line will be good for business, it needs to be extended north of Midtown, and Detroit's public transportation pales next to Boston's.*

The Detroit Free Press article on this doesn't add much more to the story except the importance of the creation of the transit authority.
The federal support came after the state Legislature approved a regional transportation authority late last year that will be charged with reforming bus service in southeast Michigan, building a city-suburban network of rapid-transit buses and, perhaps later, wrapping in M-1 Rail and a wider network of rail. The region’s leaders fought for decades over how to create a regional transportation system, and LaHood said no federal money for rail transit would come without a transit authority being established.
As I wrote, some good came out of the Inflamed Duck session, along with all the bad.

* In fact, Detroit is way behind metropolitan Boston, so far that even when the light rail is completed, it will still be more than 35 years behind.  I can attest to this personally.  In 1979, I took a bus from downtown Waltham, which at the time was a far fringe suburb, to Cambridge, then got on the subway to Boston proper, where I walked around Boston Common and the Combat Zone, then returned to Waltham.  The equivalent journey in Detroit today is just plain impossible and still would be in 2015 so long as the bus system doesn't expand.

Transportation Secretary LaHood to deliver good news (and money) for light rail

The last time I wrote about the prospects for light rail, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was making encouraging noises at the 2012 NAIAS.  This year, he's coming back with more than encouragement.  Here's what crossed my feed last week.

WXYZ on YouTube: Transportation Secretary LaHood to visit Detroit

The Detroit Free Press had more speculation in Woodward light-rail project will receive $25 million in federal funding.

Here is what showed up tonight.

WXYZ on YouTube: Funding expecting for M-1 rail system

That's a pretty complete report, but if you want something you can read, the Free Press has a three paragraph blurb with the headline U.S. transit chief Ray LaHood in Detroit Friday to make light rail announcement.

The announcement is probably the most anticipated transit news of the year so far.  I hope it lives up to the hype.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Crazy Eddie at the Movies 1--"Skyfall" vs. "The Hunger Games"

I mentioned music and movies overlapping in James Bond's car at NAIAS, which I concluded with a programming note.
I have more on James Bond, or at least his latest cinema chanteuse Adele, along with other songs from films on topic for this blog, in a future entry.  Stay tuned.
So what am I following that programming note with?  Another programming note, this time from the comments of Kunstler's blog, which I actually posted before I posted yesterday's entry.
I haven't blogged about this past year's award nominated movies yet, but I will. One of them is about a Detroiter, "Searching for Sugar Man." Other than that, most of the films don't have either a local or a sustainbility focus. The best bet would be "Chasing Ice," which was nominated for its song. Good luck winning that against Adele's "Skyfall."
Here's a bit of a preview of how that matchup might go from the Golden Globes, courtesy of NBC.

Best Original Song - Motion Picture: "Skyfall" - Golden Globe Awards

Adele accepts the award for Best Original Song for "Skyfall."

I hope she's this fun when she accepts the best original song at the Oscars.  Also, I had no idea until I saw Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz together in the audience that they were together, let alone married.

As you can see, the song from "Chasing Ice" didn't make the nomination list for the Golden Globes, but a song from another movie I've written about here, "The Hunger Games," did.  I have to say that when I watched that film, "Safe & Sound" didn't make an impression on me, even though I'd read about it.  On the other hand, "Skyfall" gave me the chills, and that was even before I saw it accompanying the opening sequence.  On that basis alone, it deserved the award.

On that note, here's Adele's official music video.

I'll be back later with a listing of the songs nominated for best original song for the Oscars, which shares only "Skyfall" and "Suddenly" from Les Miserables with those nominated for the Golden Globes.  Right now, I don't have any more energy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

James Bond's car at NAIAS

I called the previous post When fandoms collide at the auto show.  There, it was cars, comic books, and acrobatics, although only two at a time.  Now I've found more examples where my fandoms overlap--James Bond, first with cars and then with music.  In tonight's installment, here's James Bond, or at least his most iconic car, at the auto show.

This video illustrates what I meant when I described James Bond as science fiction.  In this case, the Aston Martin from Goldfinger celebrated the latest technology (or what could be imagined as possible with technology at the time).  As the spokesman from Covisint explains, it was the first example of a "connected vehicle", a car using radar and radio to track position and "stay in contact with the home office"--all back in the mid 1960s.  Thanks, Covisint and WXYZ, for making my point for me.

I have more on James Bond, or at least his latest cinema chanteuse Adele, along with other songs from films on topic for this blog, in a future entry.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

When fandoms collide at the auto show

I concluded Finally, the last night of 2012 Dream Cruise by looking forward to the next major automotive event here in Detroit.
That takes care of last year's Dream Cruise, just in time for the 2013 North American International Auto Show to start.  Watch for coverage of that event to start next week.
NAIAS began yesterday, so there is already a lot of news and video clips, which means I'm behind on covering it.  I should post clips and items in chronological order.  Instead, I'm starting with three clips from WXYZ that caught my eye today on my YouTube feed.  All of them illustrate the idea of "when fandoms collide."

First, WXYZ interviewed Duo de Luna, a pair of trapeze artists who are at NAIAS to promote VIA Motors, which makes electric cars.

Then, as promised, WXYZ showed their performance.

And yes, he actually said "electify the crowd"--appropriate for entertainers there to attract attention to electric vehicles.

What car company's name rhymes with Via?  Kia!  The manufacturers of my car found another way to attract attention.  The Korean car company licensed DC Comics' characters to brand some of its concept cars.

Batman and Green Lantern might consider themselves a step up from a bunch of hip-hop hamsters.

Then again, the superheroes might be wrong about that.

Apophis Day postponed until 2068

Remember what I wrote about April 13, which I christened Apophis Day?
[T]here is an event in the more distant future that fits one of the themes of this blog, disasters with a science fiction flavor, perfectly--the first of two close approaches of the asteroid Apophis, which is predicted to happen on Friday, April 13, 2029. The second pass of the asteroid will also happen on April 13th of 2036. So, today's date, April 13th, will be day of the year when both approaches of Apophis happen. I christen it Apophis Day!
It looks like that possible date with doom will be postponed at least three decades.

L.A. Times: Doomsday chances dim: Asteroid won't hit Earth in 2036, NASA says
By Amina Khan
January 11, 2013, 6:08 p.m.
Sad day for the four horsemen of the Apocalypse: NASA scientists say a giant asteroid won’t be hitting Earth in 2036, as earlier feared.

The asteroid Apophis has less than a 1-in-a-million chance of smacking into the planet, according to Don Yeomans, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program manager.

The hefty space rock was estimated to have a 2.7% chance of hitting Earth in 2029 after it was discovered in 2004, according to a NASA statement released Thursday. Although scientists later ruled out the 2029 scenario, there was still a chance Apophis would hit Earth some seven years later.
The Space Reporter elaborates on this story in Asteroid Apophis may be on course for 2068 collision with Earth
“I’m hoping that we don’t follow the bad precedent of stating that the risk from Apophis has been eliminated,” said Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart, a leader in raising awareness about the threats and opportunities presented by near-Earth objects, in an interview with NBC News. “Please look on the JPL risk page and especially the more detailed info and note that 1) The 2036 impact possibility is, while significantly reduced, still possible, and 2) that the 2068 impact possibility is now elevated … to a level that exceeds what the 2036 impact was prior to this apparition.”

“Until JPL and the other guys get more data, enough to really define the Yarkovsky effect,” Schweickart continued, “we really won’t be able to get definitive data for longer time scales that we can rely on.”

The good news is that our species now has the observational technology to spot asteroids that pose a risk to the Earth several decades in advance. The bad news is that we are still completely unprepared to deflect a large rock if it is in fact on a collision course with our planet.
It's time to add Rusty Schweikert to the list of Crazy Eddies--and that's a good thing.

As for April 13th, I'll still be celebrating it on this blog as an instance of doomsday averted.  Good news, everyone!

I'm glad I got my flu shot this year

After watching and reading the following video and article I included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (2012 hottest year in U.S.) at Daily Kos, I think it's a good thing my wife and I were vaccinated last fall.

CNN: 47 States hit by flu "Epidemic"

CNN's Athena Jones reports from a flu clinic in Virginia, where the flu virus has become widespread.
The Los Angeles Times has more.

California avoids worst of flu, but probably not for long
A U.S. flu epidemic has not hit hard in California, but officials say it's coming and urge people to get flu shots.
By Eryn Brown and Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times
January 11, 2013, 5:30 p.m.
California public health officials are bracing for an increase in new flu patients in the coming weeks as the influenza outbreak that has engulfed 47 other states gears up here.
So far this flu season, 28,747 confirmed cases have been reported to the CDC. The true number is certainly far higher, but many people who get the flu don't go to their doctors, and others who do are not tested to confirm infection.

The CDC also tracks flu-related deaths in children; there have been 20 since the flu season began.
io9 has an even blunter assessment in Holy crap, this year’s flu season is shaping up to be downright terrifying.  Regardless of how severe this season is, all three sources agree that it's still worth getting vaccinated.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Hurricane Issac from Accuweather plus bonus gas price rollercoaster

2012 in Review: Hurricane Isaac

As we look back over 2012, we remember some of the top memorable weather moments. One of those historic times in weather was Isaac. Valerie Smock recaps.
I wrote about Hurricane Issac twice last year, although the first time was a cop-out.
I know that there are two major news stories breaking, the Republican National Convention and Hurricane Issac, which become intertwined last week when Republicans cancelled the first day of their convention because of the passing storm, but I'm not up to examining either in any detail right now.
Considering that the GOP convention didn't go as well as the Democrats' with the highlight being an old man yelling at a chair, it's probably just as well the convention was a day shorter.

The second time was more direct as I discussed the storm's effect on gas prices.
Then, last Wednesday, all the stations in the area displayed prices of $3.99. You can thank a combination of Hurricane Issac closing refineries in the Gulf, a refinery fire elsewhere, and the Labor Day weekend.
That reminds me; I haven't updated the situation with gas prices yet this year.  Time to correct that.

Since the final update of 2012, prices have been bouncing around, but have remained above last year's low.  The prices rose from $3.18 up to $3.35, down to $3.29, then inched lower to $3.28, all during the final week of 2013.  The corner station then raised its price to $3.39 over New Years, while the stations down the block remained at $3.25.  Of course, that didn't last, as the corner station matched their price while the rest held steady.  That happened a week ago.  Today, the corner station dropped to $3.23, the low for the year so far.  That's not the lowest price I've seen in 2013.  Last Tuesday, the stations in Novi were selling regular at $3.19.  No wonder the price here is falling.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Derecho of 2012 from Accuweather

As I concluded Wild fires of 2012 from Accuweather:
Stay tuned for videos about last summer's derecho and two hurricanes.
2012 in Review: Super Derecho

A wall of wind produced widespread damage from Indiana to North Carolina on June 29, 2012.
Fortunately, the storm missed metro Detroit, passing just south of the Michigan state line.  That didn't keep me from blogging about it in Heat wave and other weather and climate stories from Discovery News, where I excerpted a Discovery News article: DC Derecho Disaster Explained
Analysis by Christina Reed
Mon Jul 2, 2012 08:50 AM ET
As the millions of people still without power today will attest, that was no ordinary wind storm on Friday.

An event that reportedly happens about once every four years, a fast and furious thunderstorm formed west of Chicago at about 11 a.m. and then raced at speeds upwards of 60 mph in a straight line across Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. and out over the Atlantic Ocean by midnight, according to news reports.

Meteorologists call this kind of straight-lined fast moving thunderstorm a derecho. And this Friday's derecho already has its own wiki page.
That linkspam entry contains all kinds of material about last year's drought in addition to the heat wave and derecho.  I concluded it with this observation.
[A]re more of your readers convinced about global warming after the past two weeks' heat wave? They should be. This is what global warming looks like.
I'll have more about what cliimate change looks like along with posts about hurricanes Issac and Sandy later this week.  Right now, it's time to play Rift with my wife.

Wild fires of 2012 from Accuweather

What subject would most logically follow droughtWildfires

Thousands of acres were burned in 2012 due to wildfires. While they are not uncommon, it was an impressive year of blazes. Valerie Smock has more.
I mentioned last year's drought-caused blazes at least twice.  None of those stories were local.  Instead, last year's local fire story happened in an abandoned bakery.  Good thing it was vacant.
Fortunately, ... the operations moved elsewhere, so all the people who wanted bumpy cakes could still get one.
And they still can, unlike Twinkies, for the time being, as I saw some Bumpy Cakes on sale yesterday.

Stay tuned for videos about last summer's derecho and two hurricanes.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Drought of 2012 from Accuweather

Early yesterday, I wrote that I'd "continue with more videos about 2012's extreme weather tomorrow."  Tomorrow is running out here in metro Detroit and by the time I post this, it will be over in the Eastern Hemisphere, so I'd better get cracking.  Fortunately, there are plenty of videos over at Accuweather on YouTube, so I won't run out of material.  I'll continue with the next big climate and weather story I covered after the warm winter that led into early and mid-March tornadoes in the Midwest, drought.  Click through on the link to the search term and you can see how much I covered the topic, including its effects in Detroit.

Without any further ado, here is Accuweather's 2012 in Review: Drought.

Parched, unbearable and lack of rain. No matter what you want to call it, the country had a very hot and dry year. Valerie Smock looks back at the drought of 2012.
There are four more videos, all of which are on weather topics I covered here last year.  Stay tuned for them.

Finally, the last night of 2012 Dream Cruise

In the previous installment of my coverage of the 2012 Dream Cruise, I made a promise in a programming note.
The next post about Dream Cruise, if not the next post period, will be Saturday evening's coverage by WXYZ. Stay tuned.
It only took me five months, but here it is, thanks to WXYZ posting a series of videos on their YouTube channel that highlighted what they considered to be the big stories of 2012.  Enjoy the cars, the music, the dancing girls, and the nostalgia for a bygone era, along with saying farewell to two of my favorite WXYZ personalities, Mary Conway and Diana Lewis, and some serious auto reporting scattered amidst the fluff.

2012 Woodward Dream Cruise

That takes care of last year's Dream Cruise, just in time for the 2013 North American International Auto Show to start.  Watch for coverage of that event to start next week.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Kresge pledges $150 million to Detroit Future City plan

The Detroit Free Press put this story above the fold on its front page Thursday morning, so it's big news as well as good news.  Before I quote the Free Press article, I'll give WXYZ first crack at explaining this philanthropic effort.

The Free Press has some details about the proposals, in particularly for a "blue-green infrastructure" which combines sustainably managing the region's abundant water resources with renewable energy and other sustainable landscape practices.
Those recommendations range across multiple fields, from increasing job-training programs to bolstering transit options for Detroiters to creating “blue” and “green” infrastructure in the form of farms on vacant lands and artificial ponds and lakes to capture rainwater before it runs off into sewers.
Many of the recommendations, like those to turn vacant land in Detroit into retention ponds to capture rainwater so it doesn’t flow into the overburdened sewer system, require not only a change in thinking but a change in legal requirements for how cities handle its water supply.

But Toni Griffin, the New York-based urban planner who served as project director of the team that produced Detroit Future City, said Detroit can overcome the challenges to become a role model for other cities.

"Landscape is the new 21st-Century infrastructure," she told the audience. And, on an optimistic note that mirrored the celebratory mood of the day, she said, “It was easy for us to see Detroit’s future is closer than we imagined."
As I've written before, the solutions to the problems of North America's cities will be developed here first and then exported to the rest of the continent.  These proposals look like exactly the kind of solutions I'd like to succeed and promote.

I'm sure I'll have much more to say about this plan and Kresge's support of it in the months and years to come, but right now, I'll be playing Rift with my wife.  Game on!

What, you were expecting Professor Farnsworth?

March 2012 tornadoes from Accuweather and WXYZ

As I wrote in 2012 warmest year on record for contiguous U.S., Accuweather has a series of videos about the year's extreme weather on its YouTube Channel.  I promised to post more when I had more energy.  Well, I think I have enough to follow through on the videos summarizing the weather events I blogged about last year.  Tonight, I'm continuing with the March Tornado outbreak.

A rare early season tornado outbreak ripped across the Ohio Valley, Tennessee Valley and Gulf Coast March 2 and 3, 2012. AccuWeather Meteorologist Justin Povick has the details.
Stictly speaking, I didn't write about this particular outbreak but I did describe two days of tornadoes in March in Tornadoes overnight in Michigan and Michigan Tornadoes on the Ides of March, which happened less than two weeks later.  WXYZ has posted a compilation video of their coverage of the event.

March 16th Tornado Coverage

I'll continue with more videos about 2012's extreme weather tomorrow.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Green resolutions for 2013 from Accuweather

I mentioned one of my resolutions in an entry about dieting--losing weight.  Here are some more that are good for the planet from Accuweather.

It's a brand new year, and many of you have brand new goals! However, where does the Mother Nature fit in?
Note how many of these sustainable actions result in saving energy--the first two explicitly and the third implicitly.  I know I am already recycling almost as much as I put in the trash and I regularly take to re-usable bags to the grocery store.  As for online shopping instead of a catalog, that's what my wife does for me. :-)

Here's to hoping we all do a better job with these resolutions than many of us do with the rest of them as this video from Discovery News on YouTube shows.

Why We FAIL at New Year's Resolutions

Laci Green breaks down why we have such a hard time sticking to New Years resolutions and the best way to make this year's resolutions count.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2012 warmest year on record for contiguous U.S.

NOAA announced Tuesday that 2012 was warmest and second most extreme year on record for the contiguous U.S.
2012 was a historic year for extreme weather that included drought, wildfires, hurricanes and storms; however, tornado activity was below average

2012 marked the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States with the year consisting of a record warm spring, second warmest summer, fourth warmest winter and a warmer-than-average autumn. The average temperature for 2012 was 55.3°F, 3.2°F above the 20th century average, and 1.0°F above 1998, the previous warmest year.

The average precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. for 2012 was 26.57 inches, 2.57 inches below average, making it the 15th driest year on record for the nation. At its peak in July, the drought of 2012 engulfed 61 percent of the nation with the Mountain West, Great Plains, and Midwest experiencing the most intense drought conditions. The dry conditions proved ideal for wildfires in the West, charring 9.2 million acres — the third highest on record.

The U.S. Climate Extremes Index indicated that 2012 was the second most extreme year on record for the nation. The index, which evaluates extremes in temperature and precipitation, as well as landfalling tropical cyclones, was nearly twice the average value and second only to 1998. To date, 2012 has seen 11 disasters that have reached the $1 billion threshold in losses, to include Sandy, Isaac, and tornado outbreaks experienced in the Great Plains, Texas and Southeast/Ohio Valley.
Accuweather has a series of videos about the extreme weather on its YouTube Channel.  Right now, I'll content myself with the one describing the event that started off the year, the mild winter.

The Winter of 2011/2012 was not normal for many people. Valerie Smock has more.
Here in Detroit, it was the warmest winter in ten years and the sixth warmest ever.

I'll get around to posting some of the rest when I have more energy.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Science in the Fiscal Bluff Bungee Jump

I'm not done yet with the Fiscal Bluff Bungee Jump.  In addition to what it means for energy, there's what it means for science research in the U.S. as a whole as well as the science of how it happened and what could have been done to defuse the situation.

I'll let Wynne Parry of LiveScience go first with What Does the Fiscal Deal Mean for Science?
The deal that lawmakers and the White House finalized late Tuesday (Jan. 1) to avert going over the fiscal cliff leaves science agencies in limbo, delaying a decision on budget cuts for two more months.

The agreement does, however, reduce the potential impact of these cuts.

"I am hopeful they will find a deal that spares the worst of these cuts, that takes a much more balanced approach," said Matt Hourihan of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Tuesday's tax deal, he said, "is a step in that direction."

 The mandatory cuts would affect the current year's budget as well as future ones, leaving agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, NASA and the National Science Foundation in limbo.

"This deal doesn't change that at all, it just extends that condition of uncertainty into the next couple of months," said Hourihan, director of the AAAS research and development budget and policy program.
In other words, the best part of the deal was that it kicked the can down the road on sequestration so that Congress and the President could figure out a less harmful way to reduce spending.  Yeah, I'd like to think they would, but I'm not hopeful, not after listening to all the talk about cutting spending now that "revenues have been taken care of."  Even worse is who is talking about reducing spending, a bunch of anti-science people who helped drive me out of their party into the party that does support science.  Instead, I think science will get another serving of Satan Sandwich.

I have more to say about the science of the Fiscal Bluff when I have more energy.