Wednesday, August 31, 2005

follow-up on weather decoder

In an earlier post, I wrote:
If you want the latest forecast, go here, type in KNBG, select "translated," and click "get TAFs." Be aware, though, that there's a bug in the translation code: +FC means severe funnel clouds, not no significant weather.
I've been informed that the reason the decoder doesn't handle "FC" in a forecast is that forecasters aren't supposed to use that particular code in a forecast, or at least in the "TEMPO" sections of the forecast.

I'm still not sure why the author chose to print "no significant weather" on an unrecognized code, but I let the e-mail exchange drop at that point.

the national oil reserve?

On the news this morning: the President is to open the national oil reserve to ease prices at the gas pump because Hurricane Katrina wiped out refineries in New Orleans.

Something here isn't adding up. If the problem is a lack of refineries, how will increasing the amount of crude oil help? I mean, aside from marginal effects on the price of crude.

From the article, it looks like I'm not the only one puzzling over this question:
The government's oil ``is not going to be of much help unless we get refineries running again,'' said Adam Sieminski, global oil strategist at Deutsche Bank AG in New York, before the announcement. ``Releasing oil from the SPR right now would be actually inappropriate because there would be no place to put it.''

Sunday, August 28, 2005

melting permafrost may release greenhouse gasses

From the Telegraph:
A melting permafrost peat bog stretching across an area the size of France and Germany could unleash billions of tons of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, Russian scientists have warned.
So, the basic idea is that this thing's got a whole lot of methane in it, stored away for the last 11,000 years. Only now, Siberia's warmed enough for the permafrost to melt. Potentially releasing 70 billion tons of methane, according to the article.

Methane looks like it's around 70x as effective a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide, according to this article.

According to this D.O.E. article, total CO2 emissions for 2003 were around 6 billion tons. Hmm. 70 billion tons of methane, and each ton is 70 times as effective as CO2... (give or take -- methane breaks down faster than CO2).

It's kind of surprising how little coverage this story got in the U.S. news, at least if you look at the Google News hits.

improvement in solar still

I tried adding a simple reflector to the solar still and got some success. In this case, the reflector is aluminum foil taped over three sides of a box. I started the experiment running at 11:00 and ended at sundown. Every hour I re-aligned the reflector with the sun (something you don't have to do with the basic, reflector-less still.) Here's a shot of the system in operation next to the reflectorless system for comparison.

The reflector showed a dramatic improvement. The version without a reflector produced two teaspoons of water. The version with reflector produced 4-1/2 teaspoons, so about twice the production rate. Weather conditions were clear and sunny.

I need to re-run the test to be sure, but it looks like the reflector gives a dramatic improvement in the still's output. It's not enough to make the still useful, but with a few other 2x improvements we might get there.

forecast for New Orleans

Here's the aviation weather forecast for New Orleans Naval Air Station, a.k.a. KNBG or Alvin Callendar Field. With translations.
NBG 282121 06015G25KT 9000 BR SCT030 BKN050 OVC080 QHN2960INS
TEMPO 2202 VRB30G45KT 1600 SHRA BR SCT005 OVC010CB/
Temporary condition from 2200 GMT to 0200 GMT: winds from variable directions at 30 knots, gusts to 45, with rain showers and overcast skies.
BECMG 0204 06040G55 SCT005 OVC010 QNH2900INS
From 0200 to 0400 GMT, becoming winds from 060 degrees at 40 knots, gusts to 55.
TEMPO 0206 VRB50G70KT 1600 TSRA BR SCT005 OVC010C
Then thundershowers, variable direction winds at 50kt, gusts to 70.
BECMG 0507 VRB115G130KT 0400 +TSRAGR BR SCT005 OVC010CB QNH2860INS
Then all hell breaks loose from 0500 to 0700 GMT: winds variable directions at 115kt, gusts to 130, heavy thunderstorms and hail.
TEMPO 0509 +FC
With severe tornadoes and waterspouts... (FC is funnel cloud. The "+" means more severe than your ordinary, garden variety funnel cloud.)
TEMPO 0915 +FC
More severe tornadoes from 0900 GMT to 1500.
BECMG 1516 120145G175KT 0100 +SHRA BR SCT005 OVC010 QNH2663INS
Leading to winds from 120 degrees at 145kt, with gusts to 175kt and heavy rain showers. 145kt is about 165 mph. 175kt is about 200mph.
FM1630 VRB06KT 9999 SCT300 QNH2668INS
The eye will pass around 16:30 GMT. Winds variable at 6kt. Scattered high-altitude clouds.
FM1830 270140G160KT 0100 +TSRA BR SCT005 OVC010CB
QNH2672INS T24/11Z T34/20Z
Then at 18:30GMT they'll get smacked by the other wall. Winds from 270 degrees at 140kt, gusts to 160kt, with heavy thunderstorms, a broken layer of clouds at 500 feet, and a solid layer of thunderheads starting at 1000 feet.

Let's hope the weather man got this one wrong.

If you want the latest forecast, go here, type in KNBG, select "translated," and click "get TAFs." Be aware, though, that there's a bug in the translation code: +FC means severe funnel clouds, not no significant weather.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

vaguely sinister notice

I just came home to find a bright orange notice on my mailbox.


(Yes, the double quotes are as they appeared on the notice.) Is it just me, or is there something vaguely sinister about "tell us everything we need to know about your neighbors," in a sort of Cold War, East German kind of way? I'm sure it wasn't intended that way, and that the double quotes really are just misued and not saying "It's one of those 'social' events. No, really." It's nothing more than a completely innocent, but unfortunate, choice of phrasing.


Saturday, August 20, 2005

WorldCom from the inside

Lemme tell you a story. A long, long time ago, before the Internet even existed, before there were even personal computers, there was this insurance company. And this insurance company had a problem: they had all these expensive mainframe computers that were really busy during the day, but the computers were idle at night. But the insurance company had a clever idea. "Why don't we sell some of this idle time to subscribers?" they asked. "We could call it a Computer Service, or CompuServ for short."

And thus CompuServe was born. They added the "e" later.

This baby service grew. In time, they added a bulletin board to it, with places that people could post messages and talk to each other. And they added e-mail. And the users were happy.

But CompuServe had a problem: the information service was really popular. It was a good problem, to be sure, but it meant a lot of people had to make long distance phone calls to connect. Remember, the Internet wasn't around yet, so modems were it.

CompuServe had another clever idea. "Let's build our own network! We'll put put modems close to people, so it's a local phone call, and then we'll collect their data and feed it over our network to our servers, which are now so busy with the information service that they're not doing health insurance anyway." So they built their own private network. Think of it as a private Internet. When I joined CompuServe, I joined the group that was responsible for writing the software that ran that network.

But where to put the modems? In those days, if you wanted a local phone call, you had to physically put a real, honest-to-goodness modem somewhere close to the person making the local call. Sometimes they'd put modems, and network nodes, in people's basements. There was even one on someone's front porch, which worked great as long as it didn't rain.

And then an interesting thing happened. H&R Block, the tax people, bought CompuServe. You see, H&R Block has, or had, these little tax offices pretty much everywhere. And pretty much every tax office had a closet or something similar. So CompuServe could put their modems and network nodes in those closets and sternly instruct the people in the office that it was OK to look at the blinkinlights, but don't touch the buttons or CompuServe would know. (And they would, too -- our software made sure of that.) For many years, CompuServe made a lot of money for H&R Block.

But the marriage didn't last. There was this young upstart called America Online. And there was this Internet thing. And a tax company and computer company just don't have much in common. Eventually, H&R Block put CompuServe up for sale. Then, after the board of directors hired a finance guy, the finance guy came back with bad news: the company was losing cash. There were reorganizations, recriminations, the fancy all-company parties stopped, and many other things changed.

Then the president of CompuServe made an announcement. This long distance company that had made its money in Europe was going to buy us. The long distance company was called WorldCom. Their stock was strong and always went up. They bought UUNET. They bought MCI. They bought the network half of CompuServe -- America Online bought the other half and got the CompuServe brand as part of the deal. There were stock options with 3 year vesting in abundance.

There were more reorganizations. There were name changes: CompuServe Network Services, WorldCom Advanced Networks, UUNET, others that I forget. The org charts moved online, and then vanished, making it hard to know who you needed to talk to in order to get things done. The H.R. manual moved online too: rumor was that it let them change it without notice. H.R. itself moved to Jackson, Mississippi. The bureaucracy intensified. And the stock, well, the stock leveled off, but WorldCom encouraged people to put their 401K money there anyway.

Later, of course, the stock went down. Those of us who exercised our options lost some money. Those poor souls who put their 401Ks into WorldCom stock lost a lot more. Fortunately, I wasn't one of those folks, but friends weren't as lucky.

I left WorldCom in January of 2000. It was with great interest that I watched the recent trial of Bernie Ebbers. And next week, I start Corporations, Criminal Procedure, and Cyberlaw. Perhaps that will give me a new understanding of just what happened.

long time no post

Wow. Long time no post. Look at the dust around here...

Writing for me is a function of two things: available time and stress. If there's not enough time, I won't write, but if the stress levels get too high, then I'll make time. So, about mid-way through the summer, law review started up. They don't tell you that if you're in the summer group you lose half your summer. That's about the time the posting stopped. Now classes are about to start in earnest, so stress levels are up. Hence the posting again.

The last few days were orientation for the new incoming students. Aaron's got some pics up here. I had a blast helping out -- leading groups from one place to another, answering questions, being on a student panel or two, consoling them after the debt management seminar. Honestly, it was more fun than being oriented. (And not having to actually sit through debt management? Major bonus. I wasn't one of the clever first-years who blew it off.)

It looks like we have a great incoming crew. Congrats to the 1L's for making it here, and to the O.L.'s for a great orientation session.