Monday, May 28, 2007

Is or isn't water vapor "the most important greenhouse gas"?

One of the most significant unresolved issues in the global warming/climate change debate is the role of water vapor as a greenhouse gas. The most recent IPCC reports neither raise nor address this issue.

I just ran across the name of a Stanford "climatologist", Stephen H. Schneider. I searched for his name and the phrase "water vapor" and ran across a web page entitled "Testimony of Stephen H. Schneider - Professor, Department of Biological Sciences - Stanford University - July 10, 1997 - CLIMATE CHANGE: CAUSES, IMPACTS AND UNCERTAINTIES" which appears to be his testimony as a witness before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. In it I find this reference to water vapor (my emphasis):

The atmosphere is more opaque to terrestrial infrared radiation than it is to incoming solar radiation, simply because the physical properties of atmospheric molecules, cloud and dust particles tend on average to be more transparent to solar radiation wavelengths than to terrestrial radiation. These properties create the large surface heating that characterizes the greenhouse effect, by means of which the atmosphere allows a considerable fraction of solar radiation to penetrate to the earth's surface and then traps (more precisely, intercepts and re-radiates) much of the upward terrestrial infrared radiation from the surface and lower atmosphere. The downward re- radiation further enhances surface warming and is the prime process causing the greenhouse effect.

This is not a speculative theory, but a well understood and validated phenomenon of nature. The most important greenhouse gas is water vapor, since it absorbs terrestrial radiation over most of the infrared spectrum. Even though humans are not altering the average amount of water vapor in the atmosphere very much by direct injections of this gas, increases in other greenhouse gases which warm the surface cause an increase in evaporation which increases atmospheric water vapor concentrations, leading to an amplifying or "positive" feedback process known as the "water vapor-surface temperature-greenhouse feedback." The latter is believed responsible for the bulk of the climate sensitivity (IPCC, 1996a). Carbon dioxide is another major greenhouse gas. Although it absorbs and re-emits considerably less infrared radiation than water vapor, CO2 is of intense interest because its concentration is increasing due to human activities. Ozone, nitrogen oxides, some hydrocarbons, and even some artificial compounds like chlorofluorocarbons are also greenhouse gases. The extent to which they are important to climate depends upon their atmospheric concentrations, the rates of change of those concentrations and their effects on depletion of stratospheric ozone --which in turn, can indirectly modify the radiative forcing of the lower atmosphere thus changing climate -- currently offsetting a considerable fraction of the otherwise expected greenhouse warming signal.

Note those words: "The most important greenhouse gas is water vapor..."

If this is the case, why no mention of water vapor as a greenhouse gas and its positive feedback effect in the latest IPCC reports or in the media coverage?

One statement by Professor Schneider which has no scientific citation, but which certainly merits one is his claim that "humans are not altering the average amount of water vapor in the atmosphere very much by direct injections of this gas", especially since the chemical process of "burning" fossil fuels produced water vapor as well as carbon dioxide.

We read here the standard claim that "CO2 is of intense interest because its concentration is increasing due to human activities", without any citation, and no discussion of the rationale or evidence for believing that carbon dioxide concentrations are increasing while it is believed that water vapor concentrations are not increasing due to human activities. It would be nice to see some real data, some real science on these important scientific issues.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, May 27, 2007

One-way trip to Mars

I had an idea a couple of years ago and neglected to blog about it and now I read that somebody else has proposed the same idea: one-way trips for human colonists to Mars. Writing in response to John Brockman's 2007 Edge question "What are you optimistic about?", physicist Paul Davies of Arizona State University and author of The Cosmic Jackpot, writes in his essay response entitled "A One-Way Ticket To Mars" about the significant logistical benefits of sending supplies and people to Mars withot the burden of returning them to Earth.

There are a zillion interesting issues that crop up, but I find the concept quite appealing and would consider it myself. It's an opportunity to be a true pioneer, a real colonist.

In truth, most of the early colonists and immigrants to America ame here knowing that going back was not an option.

It would be interesting to contemplate a Mars Colony simulator. It wouldn't be practical to directly simulate the lower gravity, but it should be quite practical to simulate the isolation, the atmosphere, the sights and views, the sounds, the terrain, the delayed communication with Earth.

As a starting point, do we have the necessary resolution to create a dome of hi-res display screens that would simulate the view from inside a dome on the surface of Mars as well as a "vehicle" (simulator) with displays for the windows viewing the landscape as the vehicle "moves". One issue is that current display technologies don't have the raw brightness to simulate the Sun. We do have the experience with Biosphere 2 for constructing a simulated environment to draw upon.

To be honest, merely being an astronaut isn't that exciting to me, but being a Mars Colonist is an entirely different matter.

-- Jack Krupansky

What Memorial Day means to me

Sad to say, Memorial Day is simply yet another holiday to me, not unlike Labor Day or the Fourth of July. While there was some original intention for these holidays, the meaning simply isn't there for me. I do sincerely wish that I could say that these holidays had more meaning for me, but they don't.

Frankly, I can never remember exactly who or what we are supposed to be memorializing on Memorial Day. I vaguely recall some military-oriented parades when I was young, but to me a parade is a parade and the meaning is usually irrelevant other than as an excuse to... parade.

I consulted the Wikipedia article for Memorial Day and it tells me the following:

It was formerly known as Decoration Day. This holiday commemorates U.S. men and women who have died in military service to their country. It began first to honor Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War. After World War I, it expanded to include those who died in any war or military action. One of the longest standing traditions is the running of the Indianapolis 500, which has been held in conjunction with Memorial Day since 1911.

Many people observe this holiday by visiting cemeteries and memorials. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 pm Washington time. Another tradition is to fly the U.S. Flag at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. Volunteers place a U.S. Flag upon each gravesite located in a National Cemetery.

In addition to remembrance, Memorial Day is also a time for picnics, family gatherings, and sporting events. Some Americans view Memorial Day as the unofficial beginning of summer and Labor Day as the unofficial end of the season. The national Click it or ticket campaign ramps up beginning Memorial Day weekend, noting the beginning of the most dangerous season for auto accidents and other safety related incidents. The USAF "101 Critical days of summer" also begin on this day as well. Some Americans use Memorial Day to also honor any family members who have died, not just servicemen.

One difficulty I have is that with all the insanity related to abusively deploying U.S. forces for misguided missions such as Vietnam and Iraq and the whole so-called "Global War On Terror", it is rather difficult for me to focus on simply memorializing lives that may have needlessly been thrown away due to incredibly bad policies of our own government. Yes, we do want to memorialize lives that were lost, but not at the expense of glorifying the flawed processes which caused those lives to be lost in the first place.

Maybe we need a Memorial Day dedicated to the loss of truth, sanity, and reason.

-- Jack Krupansky

Help me... When I'm trying to install Flash I get "Network error. Please check your Internet connection and try again."

Okay, okay, so sometimes PCs aren't the easiest thing to use.

Flash animation had been working fine on my machine, but some months ago it stopped working, displaying a a little red "X" inside two small boxes rather than showing me the Flash movie or the splash image for the Flash movie, but I don't care much for graphics and Flash, so it wasn't a big deal for me.

I also noticed that references to YouTube videos in blog posts had the same issue with the little red "X" and I was unable to watch the video. But, once again, not being able to watch YouTube videos was not a big deal for me and in fact improved my productivity.

But lately I have noticed that I can't even enter some web sites if they have Flash on the first page without any non-Flash "Skip Intro" button. For example, I just tried to visit the Sony web site and could not see anything.

So, finally, I decided to get to the root of the problem and fix it.

The obvious assumption was that I needed to re-install the Flash player. So, I tried that, but the installation would not complete successfully. I kept getting this error message:

Network error. Please check your Internet connection and try again

I checked, but there was no problem with my Internet connection. I could browse the Web and send and receive email fine.

That led me to continue that something was blocking Flash.

I did a Web search for that error message, but only found some suggestions about a firewall blocking Flash or a pop-up blocker. I don't have a firewall for my dial-up connection and could not find any settings that seemed to be designed to block Flash.

I was stumped.

I asked myself "What else do I know?"

One thing I knew was that months ago, maybe around the same time that Flash stopped working, I noticed that all Web graphics were very "muddy" looking and low quality. I quickly realized that this was an attempt by MSN to "accelerate" dial-up Web access and I also knew that you could right-mouse "View original image" to see the full-quality graphic. Alas, there was no such option for the red "X" Flash images.

It occurred to me that maybe this MSN "acceleration" was blocking Flash, so I set out to figure out how to disable the MSN Web "acceleration."

There is an icon for the MSN Connection Center in the System Tray in the lower right corner of the screen. It show you your connection speed, amount of data transferred, and your acceleration mode. If you right-mouse on the icon and then mouse over the "Acceleration" menu, you see a list of the acceleration options. If you have this Flash problem, your acceleration setting is probably "Fastest", which gives you the fastest Web page loading.

I changed the Acceleration setting from "Fastest" to "Faster" (actually, I tried "Normal", but I use "Faster" now), hit "Refresh" for the Sony web page, and Presto! I see the Flash image. Ditto for YouTube. Mystery solved. In fact, I already did have the Flash Player, but the "Fastest" MSN web acceleration setting was blocking the downloading of Flash content.

Actually, I'll just leave my acceleration on "Fastest" since I rarely wish to see any Flash content, but at least now I know how to get Flash content if for some reason I want to.

My hope is that by documenting my experience in a blog post, other MSN dial-up users can solve their own difficulties with Flash.

Of course, I'm not sure how many of us diehard Luddite dial-up users are left these days, maybe just me and a few dozen other people in the entire world?

-- Jack Krupansky

Randall Stross just doesn't get it: a computer is just a box

I was amused by an article in The New York Times by Randall Stross entitled "Apple's Lesson for Sony's Stores: Just Connect" which convinced me that poor Randall simple doesn't get it. Apple is in a completely separate market space, or alternative universe, if you will. Whatever Apple's "lessons" might be, they have no relevance to the distinctly separate market for Sony's products and those of a myriad of other "PC vendors."

To most of us (normal people), a computer is plain and simply just a box, a commodity, an appliance, actually an information applicance, that does some useful functions, but we have no more desire to form an "emotional bond" with this box than with a blender, stove, or refrigerator. Frankly, most of us reserve "emotional bonds" for more animate objects.

By all means give Apple credit for the cult it has created and the support environment that it offers its cult, but spare us the stupidity of suggesting that these cultish "lessons" should be inflicted on "the rest of us" who have no interest in annointing Steve Jobs as our PC (Personal Cult) leader.

I do fully understand that a minority subset of the American people do gravitate towards cults and cult-like "emotional bonds", and I really do feel that they are entitled to do so, but I don't see any merit to trying to suggest that Sony, et al should try to foist that dysfunctionality on the rest of America.

The article does remind me of a point that really does bug me, namely that if Apple computers are legendary for their "ease of use", why are all of these Geniuses and Genius Bars needed at all? Yeah, this is yet another instance of the legendary reality distortion field.

As far as Sony, they recognize that any damn fool can buy a PC "box" at the nearest mall or Wal*Mart or on the Web, so they are simply using their stores as another form of promotion, and even if somebody doesn't walk into the store, at least the "Sony" brand is implanted in their mind for the next time they are thinking about what brand of PC "box" to buy.

By all means, computers should deliver value to their users, but value should be measured by function and satisfaction with results relative to costs rather than by measuring the strength of "emotional bonds." Yeah, I am quite familiar with the desire of retailers to rise above the commodity and "value" aspects of their products and who see "emotional bonds" as a tool, but I'm an advocate for the interests of consumers, not for retailers who might seek to distort the interests of consumers.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hotel reservation for my trip to New York City in June

I had expected the process for getting a hotel reservation for my trip to New York City in June to more drawn out, but it is now done. I'll be arriving the evening of Tuesday, June 19, 2007 and departing the afternoon of Tuesday, June 26, 2007, for eight days and seven nights. I had hoped to get a sweet deal using Priceline, but I wasn't having much luck. My best bet with Priceline would have been to wait until the last minute and hope that some "extra" rooms would be available, but with Manhattan being very tight for hotel space, even that seemed rather risky. In the back of my mind I knew I had some Marriott Reward points, but I had always hoped to keep them for something special or when I was really low on cash or something or whatever, so I wasn't seriously considering them until now. I did make a number of bids with Priceline, but even my $100 bid was rejected. Even at $100 a night, for seven nights the taxes and fees came to $122 or an average rate of $117 a night. Faced with the prospect that my hotel bill might run $1,000 or higher, I bit the bullet and used some of my old Marriott Reward points.

Marriott ranks their hotels as if they were hurricanes, so unfortunately their hotels in Manhattan are mostly "Cat 7" with a couple of "Cat 6." Yeah, I know, hurricanes only go up to Cat 5, so that gives you some idea of how expensive Manhattan hotels are. In addition, besides the normal or "standard" reward rates, they also have "Stay Anytime" rates which are 50% above the standard rates (going up to 100% premium for reservations made after June 1, 2007.)

I could have stayed across the river in Jersey City near the PATH train stop for a mere 85,000 points, which is reasonably attractive, but I just didn't want the hassle of a "commute."

I also could have stayed at the Marriott Financial Center way downtown south of the World Trade Center site, which is a "Cat 6", for the standard rate of 130,000 points, but even that seemed like too much of a "commute" from midtown Manhattan.

I ended up selecting the Marriott Courtyard on 40th Street near Fifth Avenue ("Courtyard New York Manhattan/Fifth Avenue"), which is very convenient for midtown but not the circus-like neighborhood like the Marriotts in and near Times Square. This also has the advantage of being "only" a Cat 6 hotel. Even so, the demand and availability meant that I got stuck with having to use the "Stay Anytime" point level of 195,000. That is a lot, but the convenience will be worth it to me since my time does have some value to me. And, this fits nicely into my budget since it will cost me zero dollars.

Unfortunately, this reward could not be reserved online (although others can), so I had to call the Marriott reservations phone line. I didn't have to wait too long, although the recorded voice told me that I might have to wait longer than usual "due to inclement weather", wherever that was.

They give you the option of having a certificate mailed to you, or they can "order" the certificate to the hotel (electronically) so that you basically just show up and say "It's me, I'm here" and they give you your room. They do email you the confirmation so you can print that to show as proof. The reservation did require that I give them a credit card number, but I'm not sure if that was for incidentals or identification. Having the points handled by "e-certificate" also means that you can cancel the reservation and automatically have your points re-deposited to your account without having to mail the certificate back.

I checked the normal Marriott online reservation system and was quoted a rate of $479 per night plus tax for the first three weekday nights, $299 for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on the weekend, and $399 for the next Monday. This does include "free" high-speed Internet access, as if anyone who can afford those room rates would even notice. That totals to $2,733 or with 10% tax would be $3,006. Yikes. This is yet another tiny reminder that I need to reconsider where I really am on the economic totem pole. I did notice that the web page already shows that my points have been deducted.

The bottom line is that I'll have a nice comfortable room in a convenient location with no hit to my budget.

As far as budgeting for future trips, that will be another story.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Pielke research group and problems with the IPCC reports

I stumbled across an interesting blog entitled "Climate Science: Roger Pielke Sr. Research Group Weblog" that has a lot of interesting scientific information relating to global warming and climate change. The summary for The Pielke Research Group at CIRES tells us that:

The Pielke research group focuses on land-atmosphere interactions on the local, mesoscale, regional, and global scales. These interactions include biophysical, biogeochemical, and biogeographic effects. The RAMS model is a major tool used in this research. RAMS has been coupled to two different ecosystem-dynamics models (CENTURY and GEMTM) as part of these studies. Also applied is the CCM3 atmospheric global model from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. Our studies range from the tropics into the high Arctic regions. Our group has also applied RAMS to atmospheric-ocean interactions, including Arctic sea-ice feedbacks. We have investigated these nonlinear interactions within the Earth's climate system using the coupled RAMS model, as well as simplified nonlinear mathematical models.

Dr. Roger Pielke Sr. is a Senior Research Scientist at CIRES. CIRES is the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and is jointly sponsored by the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research at NOAA. In other words, somebody that can be considered a "heavy hitter" in the field of understanding weather and climate issues.

In the blog I read the following:

The Climate Science Weblog has clearly documented the following
conclusions since July 2005:
  1. The needed focus for the study of climate change and variability is on the regional and local scales. Global and zonally-averaged climate metrics would only be important to the extent that they provide useful information on these space scales.
  2. Global and zonally-averaged surface temperature trend assessments, besides having major difficulties in terms of how this metric is diagnosed and analyzed, do not provide significant information on climate change and variability on the regional and local scales.
  3. Global warming is not equivalent to climate change. Significant, societally important climate change, due to both natural- and human- climate forcings, can occur without any global warming or cooling.
  4. The spatial pattern of ocean heat content change is the appropriate metric to assess climate system heat changes including global warming.
  5. In terms of climate change and variability on the regional and local scale, the IPCC Reports, the CCSP Report on surface and tropospheric temperature trends, and the U.S. National Assessment have overstated the role of the radiative effect of the anthropogenic increase of CO2 relative to the role of the diversity of other human climate climate forcing on global warming, and more generally, on climate variability and change.
  6. Global and regional climate models have not demonstrated skill at predicting regional and local climate change and variability on multi-decadal time scales.
  7. Attempts to significantly influence regional and local-scale climate based on controlling CO2 emissions alone is an inadequate policy for this purpose.
  8. A vulnerability paradigm, focused on regional and local societal and environmental resources of importance, is a more inclusive, useful, and scientifically robust framework to interact with policymakers, than is the focus on global multi-decadal climate predictions which are downscaled to the regional and local scales. The vulnerability paradigm permits the evaluation of the entire spectrum of risks associated with different social and environmental threats, including climate variability and change.

Humans are significantly altering the global climate, but in a variety of diverse ways beyond the radiative effect of carbon dioxide. The IPCC assessments have been too conservative in recognizing the importance of these human climate forcings as they alter regional and global climate. These assessments have also not communicated the inability of the models to accurately forecast the spread of possibilities of future climate. The forecasts, therefore, do not provide any skill in quantifying the impact of different mitigation strategies on the actual climate response that would occur.

In other words, we shouldn't accept the IPCC summaries for policymakers at face value.

I also read the following:

As shown clearly in Figure 7 on the RSS website>, the following conclusions can be made:

1. Since about 2002 there has been NO statistically significant global average warming in the lower and middle troposphere,


2. Since about 1995 there has been NO statistically significant cooling in the stratosphere.

The IPCC SPM conclusion that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal" is wrong as it ignores the lack of such warming in recent years by these other metrics of climate system heat changes [there is also an informative comment #11 on this issue under the weblog].

Their focus on the global average near surface temperature trends neglects to report that there are major issues with the robustness of this climate metric of global warming as reported in the papers cited in

Pielke Sr., R.A., C. Davey, D. Niyogi, S. Fall, J. Steinweg-Woods, K. Hubbard, X. Lin, M. Cai, Y.-K. Lim, H. Li, J. Nielsen-Gammon, K. Gallo, R. Hale, R. Mahmood, R.T. McNider, and P. Blanken, 2007: Unresolved issues with the assessment of multi-decadal global land surface temperature trends. J. Geophys. Res. in press,

many of which were available to the writers of the IPCC SPM but conveniently ignored. At the very least, the lack of recent tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling in the RSS data and the warming claimed for the near surface air temperatures conflicts with the multi-decadal global climate models in terms of how these temperatures are predicted to change.

Perhaps global warming will begin again. However, the neglect to include the recent lack of tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling (both of which are predicted to continue quasi-linearly for the coming decades by the multi-decadal global climate models, except for major volcanic eruptions) results in a seriously biased report by the IPCC. It has been disappointing that the media so far has chosen to parrot the statements in the IPCC SPMs rather than do investigative reporting on these issues.

And this one statement really stands out:

... the neglect to include the recent lack of tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling ... results in a seriously biased report by the IPCC.

This leads me back to my current position, which is that I have not yet seen science that supports the wild claims and predictions made by the proponents of the global warming and climate change movement. The central claim that it is all about carbon dioxide is now about as credible as the original claims made about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But, since there is big money to be made and great power to be had, the anti-carbon dioxide movement will continue.

-- Jack Krupansky

Who are the Merchants of Fear?

This post is simply a bookmark to remind me to see if I can make any sense out of an article/post by Alexander Cockburn entitled "Who are the Merchants of Fear?" I haven't read it carefully yet, so I cannot say whether it makes any sense or not, yet, and cannot recommend that you read it, yet. Here are the opening paragraphs:

No response is more predictable than the reflexive squawk of the Greenhouse fearmongers that anyone questioning their claims is in the pay of the energy companies. A second, equally predictable retort contrasts the ever-diminishing number of agnostics to the growing legions of scientists now born again to the "truth" that anthropogenic CO2 is responsible for the earth's warming trend, the melting of the icecaps, the rising of the seas, the increase in hurricanes, the decline in penguin fertility and other horrors too numerous for individual citation.

Actually the energy companies have long since adapted to prevailing fantasies, dutifully reciting the whole catechism about carbon-neutrality, sniggering jovially over Tom Friedman's rapturous endorsement of "clean coal", repositioning themselves as eager pioneers in the search for virtuous alternative fuels, settling comfortably into new homes, such as British Petroleum's "Energy Biosciences Institute" on the UC Berkeley Campus, first fruit of a $500 million deal between the oil company and a campus whose founding family ­ the Hearsts ­ did after all make its pile in the mining business.

In fact, when it comes to corporate sponsorship of crackpot theories about why the world is getting warmer, the best documented conspiracy of interest is between the Greenhouser fearmongers and the nuclear industry, now largely owned by oil companies, whose prospects twenty years ago looked dark, amid headlines about the fall-out from Chernobyl, aging plants and nuclear waste dumps leaking from here to eternity. The apex Greenhouse fearmongers are well aware that the only exit from the imaginary crisis they have been sponsoring is through a door marked "nuclear power", with a servant's sidedoor labeled "clean coal". James Lovelock, the Rasputin of Gaia-dom, has said that "Nuclear power has an important contribution to make." (I refer those who rear back at the words "imaginary crisis" to my last column on this topic, where I emphasize that there is still zero empirical evidence that anthropogenic production of CO2 is making any measurable contribution to the world's present warming trend. The greenhouse fearmongers rely entirely on unverified, crudely oversimplified computer models to finger mankind's sinful contribution.)
The world's best known hysteric and self promoter on the topic of man's physical and moral responsibility for global warming is Al Gore, a shill for the nuclear industry and the coal barons from the first day he stepped into Congress entrusted with the sacred duty to protect the budgetary and regulatory interests of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Oakridge National Lab. White House "task forces" on climate change in the Clinton-Gore years were always well freighted by Gore and his adviser John Holdren with nukers like John Papay of Bechtel.

As a denizen of Washington since his diaper years Gore has always understood that threat inflation is the surest tool to plump up budgets and rabblerouse the voters. By the mid Nineties he positioned himself at the head of a strategic and tactical alliance formed around "the challenge of climate change", which had now stepped forward to take Communism's place in the threatosphere essential to all political life. Indeed, it was in the New Republic, a tireless publicist of the Soviet menace in the late 70s and Reagan 80s, that Gore announced in 1989 that the war on warming couldn't be won without a renewal in spiritual values.

The footsoldiers in this alliance have been the grant-guzzling climate modelers and their Internationale, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose collective scientific expertise is reverently invoked by all devotees of the Greenhouse fearmongers' catechism. Aside from the fact that the graveyard of intellectual error is stuffed with the myriad tombstones of "overwhelming scientific consensus", the IPCC has the usual army of functionaries and grant farmers, and the merest sprinkling of actual scientists with the prime qualification of being climatologists or atmospheric physicists.

-- Jack Krupansky

What are the kids up to?

I am in the middle of reading John Brockman's Edge question for 2007: What are you optimistic about?, and although it is all very interesting, it strikes me that almost all of these "visions" are rather dated and even somewhat stale, probably because these are the ideas that people of the "boomer" generation grew up with in the 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, and even most of the 1990's. Enough of the stuff already. What I really want to know is: What are the kids up to? Not in the sense of what toys do they play with and what tools do they work with, but what ground are they beginning to break and what visions of the future do they have that are their own creation and not something that was spoon-fed to them or rammed down their throats by a well-meaning but misguided elite.

By "kids", specifically I mean young people who:

  • Grew up with the Internet and the Web as their earliest significant computing experience, or at least since they were juniors in high school
  • Experienced 9/11 while in high school or freshmen in college, at a time when it had a chance to dramatically shape the way they started to view the geopolitical world
  • Just assume that global warming and climate change are "real" since the concepts were not "new" to them even when they were juniors or seniors in high school
  • Have been exposed to open source software in college
  • Have had a cell phone since high school and most of their classmates in high school had cell phones
  • Are no older than 25 (or maybe 26 or 27) and consider people who are 28 or 29 or 30 as already "too old" to "understand"
  • Are not deeply attracted to and attached to traditional politics and political parties such as the Republicans and the Democrats, and have their own politics and world view
  • Have been blogging since high school
  • Since high school have had teachers and professors who are challenging traditional views of economics, politics, and social structures

What I am interest in is:

  • What fields of intellectual study are they most attracted to?
  • What aspects of computing excite them the most?
  • Are they breaking any new ground, or simply "refashioning the wheel"?
  • What are examples of computing breakthroughs by the 20 to 25-year olds?
  • What are some hard-core examples of great leaps that kids have made compared to Ray Kurzweil, Dan Bricklin, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Larry Ellison, Bill Joy, et al when they were of this same age (20-25)?

Is it really true that "change is accelerating"? If so, we should see a much larger list of breakthroughs than for those "old-timers."

I'd also like to see two lists: one for applications, but primarily one for underlying technological fundamentals. Applications like YouTube, Digg, and Facebook go on that first list, but what I am primarily interested in is what fundamental technology ground is being broken by "the kids"?

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Flight to New York City in June

That was quick. I had just posted about deciding to make a trip to New York City in June, and already I have a flight reservation for the trip.

I started by going to Priceline to get a rough feel for what a flight might cost and schedules, but boy was I disappointed. First, I see a link for "New York Flight Deals", which suggests that I could get fares "From $289", but the bottom line was that "There are no non-stop flights available that match your search" and even connecting flights started at $389. And, it didn't "hint" that by changing my itinerary I could get a better deal. For example, flying a day earlier, I could get a 12h 45min 2-stop flight for $301 or an 8h 40min 1-stop flight for $327.

That was so depressing, but I thought I would see what Continental had to offer since my travel agent had booked my non-stop flight on them for my holiday trip back in December.

A quick search on Continental's web site gave me some interesting choices, and some schedules that didn't seem half bad. I played with the dates a little and it was offering me a $338 fare for decent schedules. Well, you have to add $20.80 for extra taxes and fees (U.S. Flight Segment Tax:  $6.80, U.S. Security Service Fee:  $5.00, U.S. Passenger Facility Charge:  $9.00 ), for a grand total of $358.80. That sounded quite reasonable and the schedule was quite decent, so I went ahead and took it. This is the first time I bought a ticket from Continental on their web site. It was reasonably painless.

I go out on Tuesday, June 19, 2007 and return on Tuesday, June 26, 2007. That give me six full days.

My outbound flight departs Seattle at 10:45 a.m. and arrives in Newark at 7:00 p.m., which is quite reasonable and should give me plenty of time for dinner in the city and I don't have to get up at some insane hour.

My return flight departs Newark at 5:25 p.m. and arrives in Seattle at 8:45 p.m., which basically gives me half a day in the city and plenty of time to catch the bus home at a reasonable hour.

I basically couldn't have asked for a better schedule.

I do have an extra two days of hotel to pay for, but I may in fact travel to see my mother via Atlantic City and spend a night or two there on the way.

That really was easy and painless, but I don't expect the hotel reservations will be so easy on my budget. I do have options and plenty of time to be flexible enough to find some workable plan.

-- Jack Krupansky

Definite trip to New York City in June

A week ago I wrote that I had been considering a trip to New York City later in May, but time was running out, my budget is tight (a modest deficit), I'm busy right now, and the weather might be more pleasant in June. I finally decided and committed on Friday that I will in fact make a short trip to New York City (with a side trip to South Jersey to visit my mother.) I haven't settled on any of the details, but I have commited to making the trip, sometime in the second half of the month.

Originally I had hoped to stay within a $900 budget for a four-night trip, but airfares and hotels rates are significantly worse than I expected. So, much for the claim that the economy is "slowing."

One thing that affects availability of hotel rooms in NYC is that they get a lot of international tourists, and the "weak" dollar and "strong" euro make NYC look relatively cheap to European tourists. So, the good news is that this is a bright spot for the economy, but this is bad news for my budget.

I haven't firmly decided whether to go for four or five (or six or even seven) days, but the hotel rates give me pause and bias me towards the shorter trip. On the other hand, if I end up taking a cheaper flight that has a horrible schedule, such as overnight with connections, I may need an extra day or two to recover. Given the expense of hotels in Manhattan and the premium value I place on my own time, I may opt to pay an extra $50 or even $75 for airfare if that gives me an extra half day of relative comfort in New York. The flip side is that an overnight flight can save a hotel night, which might have cost me $100 or $150 or more.

My next big decision is whether to make my reservations fairly soon to lock in the rates, but have to pay for the trip on my June credit card payment, or wait until the 10th of June (or so) and take a chance that maybe I can get some sort of last minute special and not have to pay until July as well. Alas, the last-minute gambit could well backfire due to the outrageously high demand for hotel rooms in Manhattan. I'm tempted to simply do it soon and get it out of the way and have piece of mind for the next month, but my budget is a big concern as well.

I think I'll come up with a tenative plan, get the current rates, and then watch them for a week or two to see how they evolve and whether deals seem to pop up, and decide either next weekend or the following week whether to "pull the trigger" sooner or later.

For now, I'm assuming that I'd really like to have four whole quality days and two travel days, making it a six-day, five-night trip. I'll start with a $1,000 budget and see how it goes. If airfare comes in at $400 and hotel rates at $150 a night, a five-night trip would be $1,150, so maybe $1,200 is a more realistic budget. We'll see how it goes. I'll try to arrange my finances so that I can swing the $1,200, but try to shoot for $1,000.

-- Jack Krupansky

Governor Bill Richardson: Energy, Security, Climate: The First Step is Efficiency

My preferred "think tank" in Washington, D.C. is the New America Foundation, which is decidedly centrist, leaning neither sharply to the left nor sharply to the right. On Friday morning they will have a conference keynoted by (Democratic presidential candidate) Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) entitled "Is Energy Efficiency the Answer?" Bill's keynote is entitled "Energy, Security, Climate: The First Step is Efficiency." The conference blurb tells us that:

In an era of increasingly high oil and gas prices, concerns about CO2 emissions, and uncertainty about the security of supply, energy policy has come to dominate political discourse around the world. To date, the energy debate has centered largely on how to secure future energy supply and how to finance research into alternative sources of fuel. While these concerns are important, no energy policy will succeed without first mining our immense energy efficiency opportunities. After all, what's the point of increasing supplies that are destined to be wasted?

Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) will kick-off the event with a major announcement and speech on energy, security and climate policy for the United States.

The good news is that there is a very large opportunity to moderate energy demand growth in economically attractive ways--and, in the process, cut CO2 emissions. At this important energy and climate policy event, the McKinsey Global Institute will unveil the findings of their ground-breaking report Curbing Global Energy Demand Growth: The Energy Productivity Opportunity, offering a new fact base and policy options to curb energy demand, followed by real-time responses and feedback from experts in both the policy and corporate sectors.

No matter what your position is on global warming and climate change, there is no question that efficiency is a key component of reducing energy consumption that benefits everybody. No dogma or ideology needed.

I really wish I could be in DC for this conference. This is the kind of good stuff that I really miss by not living in DC. And it is free as well.

-- Jack Krupansky

Yikes! Why can't I get my MSN email anymore in Outlook Express???!!!

I'm a hard-core Luddite in some ways. For example, I still use dial-up for Internet access. I use MSN as my Internet Service Provider (ISP) and have been using them for almost eight years now (in July). For the most part, the service is fine and only occasionally do I run into some kind of problem. Last night and today were one of those times, although to make a long story short, the customer service to fix the problem, via online chat, was great.

Okay, so here's the problem...

I use Outlook Express (OE) to compose, read, and send email. I don't really use my MSN account, and nobody even knows my MSN email account, but rather I use the POP3 email server for four web sites that I run. There is a low volume of administrative and marketing email directly from MSN to my MSN email account, but mostly the only reason I even have to have the MSN account in Outlook Express is due to the "joy" known as "Port 25 Blocking" which means that your friendly neighborhood ISP (MSN in my case) blocks attempts to send (email) to port 25 for anything other than their own SMTP server. So, all of my outbound email, even though it is "from" my four web sites is shuttled through port 25 of the MSN SMTP server. That was all working fine, until last night, when I started getting a timeout and this error message when attempting to fetch email for my MSN email account:

Your server has unexpectedly terminated the connection. Possible causes for this include server problems, network problems, or a long period of inactivity. Account: 'MSN Mail', Server: '', Protocol: POP3, Port: 110, Secure(SSL): No, Error Number: 0x800CCC0F

I do occasionally see this type of message, which usually means that there is some sort of transient network or server "outage". Usually, if you try again or wait a few minutes or a few hours, it goes away without any action required on your part. But this time, I got the same error even this morning.

Luckily, there was no problem with outbound email, so I was able to send and receive all of my usual non-MSN email. Still, it bothered me that something was amiss. Finally, this afternoon I had a spare moment to bite the bullet and dig into the problem.

My initial suspicion proved correct: The folks at MSN had shuffled their email servers and a change in email configuration settings would be required. I tried to poke around the MSN web site, but didn't find any email help within a couple of minutes, so I bit another bullet and decided to contact MSN "support." Among the support options offered by the MSN web site is "chat" based support, and I have used this type of support before successfully, so I gave it a try. It all worked out. The biggest problem I had was that they asked for a phone number for verification and I rarely update the phone number for my MSN account and have moved so many times in the past eight years so that I had no clue what number to give her. Luckily, they were willing to take the last four digits of my credit card, and off we went.

I gave her a brief synopsis of the problem and she said they were having a lot of that and some new Outlook email settings were needed. Specifically, she said:

John, we have received numerous calls regarding this same issue. You see, the MSN POP3 servers have finally updated their servers and we will need to reset your Outlook Express settings.

Here in fact are the instructions she (Cecille) gave me, plus one key instruction that she left out:

1.) Open Outlook Express
2.) Choose Tools and then Accounts
3.) Highlight your MSN mail account
4.) Choose Properties.
5.) Choose the Servers tab.
6.) Change the Incoming mail server to ''
7.) Change the Outgoing mail server to ''
7a.) UN-check the box for 'Log on using Secure Password Authentication' in the 'Incoming Mail Server' section in the middle of the dialog box.

8.) Check the box for 'My server requires authentication' in the 'Outgoing Mail Server' section at the bottom of the dialog box.
9.) Choose the Advanced tab
10.) Change the POP3 port to 995 while SMTP remains at port 25.
11.) Check the 2 check boxes next to 'This server requires a secure connection (SSL)' under both the Outgoing & Incoming server sections.

The original instructions did not include step 7a, and resulted in this error message when I tried to retrieve or send email:

Unable to logon to the server using Secure Password Authentication. Account: 'MSN Mail', Server: '', Protocol: POP3, Server Response: '-ERR command not implemented', Port: 995, Secure(SSL): Yes, Server Error: 0x800CCC90, Error Number: 0x800CCC18

Performing step 7a, by itself, without redoing the rest of the changes, caused that error to go away and both sending and receiving email via MSN were once again working.

All told, that was about 30 minutes in the chat session. Granted, I myself had to deduce the missing step, but the rest of the instructions gave me enough context so that there weren't many choices to choose from. If I hadn't found the missing step myself, here's what would have happened:

I will need to transfer you now to an E-mail Resolution Specialist. You might need to remove and then reconfigure the account all over again in OE.

That wouldn't have been the end of the world, and I have been there in the past, but luckily we didn't need to "go there", this time.

In truth, I think the forced change in email server names is ridiculous. They really could have maintained a redirection so that the change would have been transparent, and they could have had a grace period and "spammed" us with notices telling us to change our settings. In truth, maybe they did "spam" us, but the change was buried somewhere in some of the monthly newsletters, but it should have been a more prominent notice.

Note: This change in configuration does not change your email address. MSN email addresses continue to end in ""

For future reference, my main email address is is one of my web sites. Incoming email is stored by the POP3 server run by my web site hosting service (Fatcow.) OE directly fetches my email from that POP3 server, not the MSN (or Live) POP3 server. But my outbound email is routed by OE through the MSN (Live) SMTP server. OE and SMTP allow you to specify an email address for the account so that my email looks like it came from even though it was actually sent using MSN. Replies to my email get routed to the POP3 server for rather than to the MSN (Live) POP3 server.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Storm guru: Oceans, not CO2, cause warming

I ran across this interesting Associated Press article entitled "Storm guru: Oceans, not CO2, cause warming" which tells us that the top hurricane forecaster in the world believes that global warming has resulted from multi-decade cyclical changes in ocean currents and not man-made carbon dioxide.

Dr. William Gray, is Professor of Atmospheric Science and  Head of the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. Everybody who cares about hurricanes in the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard of the U.S. waits patiently every year for his hurricane forecast, including insurance companies, Wall Street, and commodities traders. The guy really knows his stuff.

Still, even though this is the guy who has the best expertise at modeling the oceans and atmosphere with regard to tropical storms, somehow the proponents of global warming and climate change think they know better.

Check out his Tropical Metrology Project for background. And see his 2007 Hurricane Forecast, which also includes a section entitled "Is Global Warming Responsible for the Large Upswing in 2004-2005 U.S. Hurricane Landfalls?" which essentially answers "No." Some specifics:

The Atlantic has seen a very large increase in major hurricanes during the 12-year period of 1995-2006 (average 3.9 per year) in comparison to the prior 25-year period of 1970-1994 (average 1.5 per year).  This large increase in Atlantic major hurricanes is primarily a result of the multi-decadal increase in the Atlantic Ocean thermohaline circulation (THC) that is not directly related to global temperature increase or to human-induced greenhouse gas increases.   Changes in ocean salinity are believed to be the driving mechanism.  These multi-decadal changes have also been termed the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). 

There have been similar past periods (1940s-1950s) when the Atlantic was just as active as in recent years.  For instance, when we compare Atlantic basin hurricane numbers over the 15-year period (1990-2004) with an earlier 15-year period (1950-1964), we see no difference in hurricane frequency or intensity even though the global surface temperatures were cooler and there was a general global cooling during 1950-1964 as compared with global warming during 1990-2004.

Although global surface temperatures have increased over the last century and over the last 30 years, there is no reliable data available to indicate increased hurricane frequency or intensity in any of the globe's seven tropical cyclone basins, except for the Atlantic over the past twelve years.  Meteorologists who study tropical cyclones have no valid physical theory as to why hurricane frequency or intensity would necessarily be altered significantly by small amounts (< ±0.5oC) of global mean temperature change.

In a global warming or global cooling world, the atmosphere's upper air temperatures will warm or cool in unison with the sea surface temperatures.  Vertical lapse-rates will not be significantly altered.  We have no plausible physical reasons for believing that Atlantic hurricane frequency or intensity will change significantly if global ocean temperatures continue to rise.  For instance, in the quarter-century period from 1945-1969 when the globe was undergoing a weak cooling trend, the Atlantic basin experienced 80 major (Cat 3-4-5) hurricanes and 201 major hurricane days.  By contrast, in a similar 25-year period of 1970-1994 when the globe was undergoing a general warming trend, there were only 38 major hurricanes (48% as many) and 63 major hurricane days (31% as many) in the Atlantic basin.  Atlantic sea-surface temperatures and hurricane activity do not necessarily follow global mean temperature trends.

The most reliable long-period hurricane records we have are the measurements of US landfalling tropical cyclones since 1900 (Table 7).  Although global mean ocean and Atlantic surface temperatures have increased by about 0.4oC between these two 50-year periods (1900-1949 compared with 1956-2005), the frequency of US landfall numbers actually shows a slight downward trend for the later period.  If we chose to make a similar comparison between US landfall from the earlier 30-year period of 1900-1929 when global mean surface temperatures were estimated to be about 0.5oC colder than they were during the 30-year period from 1976-2005, we find exactly the same US hurricane landfall numbers (54 to 54) and major hurricane landfall numbers (21 to 21).

We should not read too much into the two hurricane seasons of 2004-2005.  The activity of these two years was unusual but well within natural bounds of hurricane variation.  In addition, following the two very active seasons of 2004 and 2005, 2006 had slightly below-average activity, and no hurricanes made landfall in the United States.

Between 1966 and 2003, US major hurricane landfall numbers were below the long-term average.  Of the 79 major hurricanes which formed in the Atlantic basin from 1966-2003, only 19 (24 percent) of them made US landfall.  During the two seasons of 2004-2005, seven of 13 (54 percent) came ashore.  None of the two major hurricanes that formed in 2006 made US landfall.  This is how nature sometimes works.

What made the 2004-2005 seasons so unusually destructive was not the high frequency of major hurricanes but the high percentage of major hurricanes which were steered over the US coastline.  The major US hurricane landfall events of 2004-2005 were primarily a result of the favorable, upper-air steering currents present during these two years.

The article reports that:

Gray complained that politics and research into global warming have created "almost an industry" that has unfairly frightened the public and overwhelmed dissenting voices.

He said research arguing that humans are causing global warming is "mush" based on unreliable computer models that cannot possibly take into account the hundreds of factors that influence the weather.

Gray said ocean circulation patterns are behind a decades-long warming cycle. He has argued previously that the strength of these patterns can affect how much cold water rises to the surface, which in turn affects how warm or cold the atmosphere is.

He also disputed assertions that greenhouse gases could raise global temperatures as much as some scientists predict.

"There's no way that doubling CO2 is going to cause that amount of warming," he said.

In response to Gray's carefully reasoned arguments and expertise, global warming and climate change proponent Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado replied that:

... natural changes in the environment cannot account for the magnitude of global warming in the past four decades.

"Since about 1970, the global temperature change is outside of the range of natural variability," he said in an interview.

He also challenged Gray's assertion that ocean currents have more effect on temperatures than carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

"Global warming is pervasive. It has an influence on everything," Trenberth said. "It has an influence on ocean currents, it has an influence on hurricanes, it has an influence on rainfall."

Trenberth said computer climate models are the best quantitative tools available for predicting climate change. "They have been getting better over time," he said.

Trenberth's response doesn't seem very persuasive. I have no doubt that "computer climate models ... have been getting better over time", but it does appear that they simply aren't "there" yet. If they are unable to beat Gray's annual forecasts, why do so many people believe they can model global climate many decades into the future?

-- Jack Krupansky

Why I don't believe in The Wisdom of Crowds

In the Web 2.0 community The Wisdom of Crowds is held as an article of faith, but I personally do not subscribe to it, at least as practiced by the blogosphere. My rationale is primarily that too often these so-called "crowds" are in fact mobs, reacting in an irrational, knee-jerk manner, unwilling to let the dust settle before weighing in and more enamored of passion than of reason.

In fact, the Wikipedia article tells us about wise crowds and gives us the requirements for a "crowd" to show wisdom:

Not all crowds (groups) are wise. Consider, for example, mobs or crazed investors in a stock market bubble. Refer to Failures of crowd intelligence (below) for more examples of unwise crowds. According to Surowiecki, these key criteria separate wise crowds from irrational ones:

Diversity of opinion
Each person should have private information even if it's just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.
People's opinions aren't determined by the opinions of those around them.
People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.
Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.

If a crowd does exhibit these four key elements, then I would acknowledge the wisdom of the crowd, but so often (such as with the recent Digg Meltdown), multiple elements are missing. In fact, all too commonly, all we really see is a perversion of aggregation where a single opinion is amplified to the nth degree in the form of the infamous blogosphere echo chamber.

So, just because we have aggregated the voices of the crowd, does not automatically mean that the result will be wisdom. The Wikipedia article goes on to talk about "Failures of crowd intelligence":

Surowiecki studies situations (such as rational bubbles) in which the crowd produces very bad judgment, and argues that in these types of situations their cognition or cooperation failed because (in one way or another) the members of the crowd were too conscious of the opinions of others and began to emulate each other and conform rather than think differently. Although he gives experimental details of crowds collectively swayed by a persuasive speaker, he says that the main reason that groups of people intellectually conform is that the system for making decisions has a systematic flaw.

Surowiecki asserts that what happens when the decision making environment is not set up to accept the crowd, is that the benefits of individual judgments and private information are lost, and that the crowd can only do as well as its smartest member, rather than perform better (as he shows is otherwise possible). Detailed case histories of such failures include:

Too homogenous
Surowiecki stresses the need for diversity within a crowd to ensure enough variance in approach, thought process, and private information.
Too centralized
The Columbia shuttle disaster, which he blames on a hierarchical NASA management bureaucracy that was totally closed to the wisdom of low-level engineers.
Too divided
The U.S. Intelligence community failed to prevent the September 11, 2001 attacks partly because information held by one subdivision was not accessible by another. Surowiecki's argument is that crowds (of intelligence analysts in this case) work best when they choose for themselves what to work on and what information they need. (He cites the SARS-virus isolation as an example in which the free flow of data enabled laboratories around the world to coordinate research without a central point of control.)
Recent reports indicate that the CIA is now planning a Wikipedia style information sharing network that will help the free flow of information to prevent such failures again.
Too imitative
Where choices are visible and made in sequence, an "information cascade" can form in which only the first few decision makers gain anything by contemplating the choices available: once this has happened it is more efficient for everyone else to simply copy those around them.
Too emotional
Emotional factors, such as a feeling of belonging, can lead to peer pressure, herd instinct, and in extreme cases collective hysteria.

Wow, this puts the whole Digg Meltdown in a different light.

My own personal has been what I call "the sum of all curves." Each of us has our own views which we express and it is by expressing all of these views independently and looking at the net views (such as by taking polls or observing behavior in markets), we can get our collective views as the sum of all of the curves for each topic of interest. Whether talking about the stock market, political issues, or general social issues, "markets" work best when we each develop our own views independently (even if we all look at the same, shared information, but hopefully including information that we each discover on our own) and then use a "market" (or poll) to calculate the sum of all curves to produce the net curve (or set of curves).

I also believe that we need to forcefully challenge the notion that measuring raw popularity somehow implicitly gives us a measure of authority or even relevance.

In summary, I do in fact believe in The Wisdom of Crowds in its theoretical form as put forward by James Surowiecki, but I do not subscribe to it as currently practiced by the Web 2.0 community.

-- Jack Krupansky

The Digg Meltdown

I refrained from initially reacting the big Digg Meltdown last Tuesday, but I did finally succumb to the temptation to comment on it on a BusinessWeek Tech Beat blog post by Rob Hof entitled "Digg Users Revolt. Web 2.0's Moment of Truth?" Here's my comment from Thursday:

Although I myself am "too old to understand", I have mixed feelings about this latest "episode" in "Internet/information freedom." Superficially, I would agree that Digg users really jumped the shark this time and that Digg is now doomed to a Napsteresque fate, but on the other hand we old fogies do have to recognize that the next generation will have its own values that will ultimately prevail regardless of what we believe and know to be "right."

That said, one has to wonder whether the crowd/mob/gang of "hooligans" and "information anarchists" that has gotten attention here is truly representative of all of the Millennial Generation, or just a niche "community" that we should simply ignore.

Finally, although we (I) assume that these Digg agitators are "young", is that really completely true? Or are some significant fraction of them actually "aging hippy types" who simply fashion themselves as "young" or simply relish the opportunity to once again play the role of "radical activist"? I do not know, but I simply do not want to blindly blame "young people" for the Digg meltdown. I do imagine that there are probably quite a number of "old people" who also "steal music."

-- Jack Krupansky

Although the initial emotional "flap" has died off, there are both lingering legal ramifications as well as challenges to the validity of the concept of The Wisdom of Crowds.

My overall reaction is that if the Digg episode is the best of Web 2.0, then we should distance ourselves from Web 2.0 as quickly as humanly possible. The Digg Meltdown does not reflect in a very positive manner on humanity.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saving the world and making money at the same time

There is an interesting article in The New York Times by Stephanie Strom entitled "Businesses Try to Make Money and Save the World" concerning the blurring of the boundaries between profit-oriented businesses and organizations focused on social benefits, the environment, change, socially responsible corporate governance, sustainable development, and other aspects of improving the lives of real people. This is still a nascent effort to "harness capitalism" and has risks of significant downside, but also has great potential for dramatic upside on both the financial and social fronts.

From where I sit, the issue is not about some "aging hippie types" attempting seizing control, but young, fresh MBAs and clean-slate entrepreneurs who have a passion for the social side of life without being blinded by outdated political dogma that was so common among The Left in the 1960's. The act of making money was never the source of evil, but rather the lack of passion for improving lives while pursuing money was the root of so many evils.

The key here is not a bunch of left-wing nuts, but a shift of the hard-core mainstream form being by-the-book bureaucrats to focusing on making money from social change, which social change being a core passion.

For now, businesses with such a "focus" are considered a distinct "fourth sector", but I suspect this is simply because we are not quite "there" in terms of a transition for the mainstream. Give it another five years, and then we may see some significant socially-minded businesses doing things like manufacturing cars, running communications networks, and generating and distributing electricity.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, May 05, 2007

IPCC releases the summary of the Climate Change Mitigation report

As with the previous IPCC climate change working group reports, I was once again eagerly awaiting the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Working Group III Report "Mitigation of Climate Change", Summary for Policymakers, but was sorely disappointed that only a "Summary for Policymakers" was issued, not the actual report. The outline for the actual report is also available, but there is no sign of the actual, detailed report. I presume that the full, detailed report will be issued after the final section is completed in November, but it disturbs me greatly that a "summary for policymakers" would be negotiated and issued long before the full report is finalized.

I haven't yet read the report line by line, but a lot of the language, including the footnotes, leads me to conclude that all of this a really a work in progress and all the talk about how "the science is settled" and "there is no debate" is so much nonsense. Anyone, especially any "policymakers", or presidential candidates (or former presidential candidates), who believes that we now have even a rough roadmap for "fixing" global warming and climate change is seriously mistaken.

I am relieved to note that the idea of dumping large amounts of powdered iron into the ocean and otherwise trying to grow vast amounts of algae in the ocean as a way to absorb carbon dioxide is discounted as a viable mitigation technique:

17. Geo-engineering options, such as ocean fertilization to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere, or blocking sunlight by bringing material into the upper atmosphere, remain largely speculative and unproven, and with the risk of unknown side-effects. Reliable cost estimates for these options have not been published (medium agreement, limited evidence) [11.2].

Unknown risks indeed. The real risk with such techniques is that they actually work better than expected and we overshoot and cause global cooling.

I was curious to see how nuclear energy would fare as a mitigation measure, especially given the diehard opposition of environmentalists:

Given costs relative to other supply options, nuclear power, which accounted for 16% of the electricity supply in 2005, can have an 18% share of the total electricity supply in 2030 at carbon prices up to 50 US$/tCO2-eq, but safety, weapons proliferation and waste remain as constraints [4.2, 4.3, 4.4]27.


For lower stabilization levels, scenarios put more emphasis on the use of low-carbon energy sources, such as renewable energy and nuclear power, and the use of CO2 capture and storage (CCS). In these scenarios improvements of carbon intensity of energy supply and the whole economy need to be much faster than in the past.

So, nukes survived the cut and environmentalists were unable to make them go away. About all the environmentalists were able to do way insert the modest caveat "but safety, weapons proliferation and waste remain as constraints" and downplay any significant expansion of market share by nukes. One way that the environmentalists seem to have lost is that the more aggressive we want to be about tackling global warming, the report suggests that we need to be more aggressive with both renewable and nuclear energy.

-- Jack Krupansky

Possible trip to New York City in June

I had been considering a trip to New York City later in May, but time is running out, my budget is tight (a modest deficit), I'm busy right now, and the weather might be more pleasant in June. I'm think of the middle of June, probably after the June statement date for my credit cards so that I wouldn't actually have to pay until August. Maybe a five-day trip, staying four nights. If I budget $350 for airfare and $90 per night for hotel and $25 for airport transportation and $25 for the bus to visit my mother, that would come to $760. Or I may make it a five night trip, bringing the budget to $850.

Unfortunately, if I want to buy a plane ticket with two weeks advance notice and still beat my June statement date of about 6/6, I wouldn't be able to travel until 6/20, but that's still workable.

Looking at right now, I see a non-stop flight on Delta for $383 with a reasonable schedule and a $375 flight on ATA with an unreasonable schedule (requires that I leave in the morning before the earliest bus.) Since I actually do have a surplus of vacation days, I'm seriously considering using Priceline's Name Your Own Price feature to get a much cheaper fare even if the schedule is terrible, since presumably a cheap motel room near the airport will be less expensive that paying a published fare. At least that is the theory, but that theory predates the current phenomenon of most flights being absolutely packed, giving carriers (and Priceline) little reason to offer a really sweet deal. Hotels are still reasonably available.

I queried Priceline for a plane and hotel package deal and I got a price of $2,121 for the Grand Hyatt, which is a nice hotel, but that is a little outside my budget. Literally the best offer Priceline gave me in Manhattan was $1,174 at the Roosevelt Hotel and an overnight connecting flight. That's not a very good deal. I was never impressed with the package deals offered with Priceline, my preference being to pay the listed airfare and then use Name Your Own Price for the hotel. About the cheapest hotel Priceline offers in Manhatten was $207 for the Days Hotel. Even at 50% off, that would still be $104, making the Roosevelt deal look fairly reasonable.

Maybe I'll have to rethink my budget or length of stay. I'll check again in a week and see how the price is trending, and if it is still a bit too outrageous, I'll consider two options: immediately do a low-ball bid or consider skipping this trip entirely. Maybe I'll try the low-ball bid each week until the secnd week of June and then give up if I can't do this trip for less than $900.

My only real hesitation is that NYC is a very popular destination even for international travelers, so booking a flight or hotel at the last minute can be problematic since sellout conditions are fairly common for NYC for "cheap" accommodations.

I also need to contemplate whether an overnight flight (especially one requiring a connection in the middle of the night) is acceptable.

I haven't finalized this "plan", but this is now my best guess.

And I have to go through all of this hassle simply because I don't have a high enough income to midlessly afford "full fare" and "rack rate." Sigh.

-- Jack Krupansky