Monday, March 31, 2014

This was March 30th ?!?!

I spent 20 minutes scraping the ice and chunks of snow off my car this morning (the 31st)!
I want some sun!  

BTW - I can understand the concept of global climate change and still complain about the weather :)

New IPCC Report

On Sunday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released Part 2 of their Assessment Report. (Or you can go directly to the technical summary.) I have not had a chance to read it all yet, but there are already some resources out there already that have overviews of the findings at Future Tense, Skeptical Science, Bad Astronomy and in the Guardian.

Part 1 of the report, which demonstrated that climate change is real and happening, and that human activities are the cause, was released in September, 2013.

Part 2 focuses on the impacts of climate change, and what might be done to minimize the effects. It complies and evaluates the results from articles published in scientific journals in the field, and synthesizing the consensus position of the scientific community on the issues. Basically - climate change is here, now and we are already seeing the affects - some key highlights ...

  • Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased
  • Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years (medium confidence).
Map of the observed surface temperature change from 1901 to 2012 derived from temperature trends determined by linear regression from one dataset. Trends have been calculated where data availability permits a robust estimate (i.e., only for grid boxes with greater than 70% complete records and more than 20% data availability in the first and last 10% of the time period). Other areas are white. Grid boxes where the trend is significant at the 10% level are indicated by a + sign
  • Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.
  • Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence)

Extent of Arctic July-August-September (summer) average sea ice
  • The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901 to 2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Post 4

The Sunday Post
The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer

We managed to make it out to Maple Weekend before the weather turned into a mess again. The kids had fun on the horse drawn wagon ride and everyone loves maple cotton candy (dangerous stuff!).

This past week I posted six reviews (wow!):
 I created four environmental news posts:
And I participated in three memes: 
Right now I am still working on Silent Spring by Rachael Carson and I started reading Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, which thematically follows from Where'd You Go, Bernadette surprisingly well (it also makes you lose a lot of faith in the space program! eek!) 

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette
by Maria Semple

Published: Back Bay Books
Format: paperback
Copyright: 2012
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary Epistolary Novel
Source: personal copy

From the back cover ...
"When fifteen-year-old Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, her fiercely intelligent by agoraphobic mother, Bernadette, throws herself into preparations for the trip. Worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Bernadette is on the brink of a meltdown. As disaster follows disaster, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces.  Which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together emails, invoices, and school memos to reveal the secret past that Bernadette has been hiding for decades. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is an ingeniously entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are, and the power of a daughter's love for her imperfect mother."

I started reading this book because I wanted something funny to read for a very stressful week. The reviews I have seen called the book funny, the front cover says "Divinely funny." -New York Times and the back cover says "An uproarious comedy of manners." -Mark Haddon, "Great Summer Reads," People. ... etc. etc.  Now that I have read the book I am very disturbed by what people consider humor.  I did enjoy the book - the characters were well developed, if bordering on caricatures, and the story unfolded in an ingenious way. But why is this funny? I guess it is supposed to play as slapstick but to me it was pathos.

Bernadette had become so isolated and introverted that she hired a personnel assistant from India over the internet to do things like make reservations at local restaurants (which, FYI you can already make yourself over the internet without human contact). You would think that her husband might have, at some point over the last 15 years, noticed that his wife was falling apart and in need of some real help long before he did. I came to loathe Elgin - two words for you "ungovernable" and "girl" - neither of these should come out of your mouth and be applied to a spouse. As you get a better understanding of what Bee and Bernadette's lives have been like - I just keep wondering why people thought this was funny. The 'gnats' were over the top awful people, and Bernadette wasn't exactly winning awards with her behaviors - she was only sympathetic at first because she was clearly so damaged and because of her relationship with her daughter. I can see the whole 'you think everything is fine but it's really, really not and you don't realize until it's all over how badly the situation you were living affected your mood' - the house thing for example - but letting this go on for 15 years ?!?.

Bernadette felt like a character from the 1970s who inexplicable got sucked into present day Seattle - no wonder she was messed up. The book, as far as I could tell, was a study into family dysfunction. The overall pattern is basically a TV movie - married-couple, midlife crisis but was written well-enough to rise above triteness. (Has Mark Haddon ever even seen a comedy of manners? what the heck was he talking about?). So once I realized what I was reading and gave up on the idea that this was a funny book, I enjoyed reading it.

Small rant - so Elgin is a genius designer/programmer whose TED talk was allowed to run long (rriiighhtt - everyone at TED talks thinks they are genius - no way they would give it up like this for Elgin's talk, especially based on what little his talk was - seriously have you watched some of the talks?) so it is totally 'normal' for him to be putting in long hours, ignoring co-workers, ignoring his daughter and the dramas that going on at her school, ignoring the fact that his wife is suffering severe depression - but that is all okay because we must respect his genius. Her genius is far game though ? Female geniuses must be knocked down if they are rude or quirky or obsessed with their work  (referring to stuff before her 'disappearance' as an architect). The whole sacrifice for genius verses sacrifice of genius thing - not my favorite setup in a story.  I will get off my soapbox and just toss this under the 'this story isn't meant to be realistic' pile and get on with things.

I just realized that this review isn't making much sense - basically as a get out of my problems and visit someone elses' for a while form of escapism - the book works well - a the mid- what the hell am I doing with my life -crisis pushed over the top with the poor misunderstood genius conceit. I didn't find it to be funny, and I certainly didn't laugh out loud while I read it, but as a redemption arc ride, I liked the book. The end was also good and avoided becoming too trite. I have to admit - it was kind of a 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' where you are deeply suspicious that the relationship is not going to work out nicely over time - still mad at Elgin. I guess it would be a three and a half claws. (The second half of the book started to drag.)

Apropos of nothing I have friends and colleagues who have worked at McMurdo Station - the visit to Antarctica, that part I was really jealous of - you can see the live cam of the station here and you can read updates from the American stations in Antarctica at

There is much more going on down there than people realize (including pollution - turns out that the conditions have accidentally bread superbacteria and contamination has gotten out).


Friday, March 28, 2014

Years of Living Dangerously - Showtime April 13th

From the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media ...

"In one of the most high-profile, big-budget, and ambitious climate change communications and mass media efforts to date, Showtime will broadcast a new eight-part documentary series, “Years of Living Dangerously,” beginning April 13. The eight-part series features some of the world’s biggest names in entertainment as field correspondents.
each episode following some of the multiple issues pursued by the 16 principal storytellers involved. The $20 million production was shot at locations around the United States and the world, giving its content appeal for local and regional audiences domestically and abroad. Showtime data shows the deluxe cable station reaches 23 million cable subscribers, or about one-fifth of U.S. households with television sets. About 90 days after the show airs, DVD sales and electronic sell-through viewings, along with on-demand options, are to begin. The program’s creators say they hope to produce a second season.

As part of a larger “The Years Project,” the new documentary is to be supported also by a broader online engagement and awareness campaign."

You can read more about the project at the Yale Forum on Climate Change site - the trailers sure are impressive.  I am not one of the 1/5 of the population with Showtime Deluxe so I will have to wait to see it.

WIPP has a new 'Recovery' website

I have been trying to follow up on activities at the WIPP site (there are too many things going on to keep up with everything!), and I just noticed that they have finally put together a nicer page as a resource. They still have not actually sent anyone inside the underground facility, but on March 26th, WIPP announced that they have finalized their inspections of the Air Intake and Salts Shafts, and found no safety or mechanical concerns. These inspections consisted of personnel slowly riding down in conveyances and visually (? - there was no mention of equipment) assessing the condition of the shaft and checking the mechanical systems. The satisfactory results bring WIPP one step closer to re‐entering the underground facility.

Information is now much easier to find on the new site and they have finally started posting some decent graphics as well - I had to work pretty hard to find the ones that I pulled together for my other posts. At least I now know that I had the location of the alarm correct.

WIPP officials have also posted the results of their investigation into the February 5th vehicle fire. The summary report can be accessed here

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A peak into Where'd You Go, Bernadette and Silent Spring

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader.

This week has been really stressful. I wanted something fun so I am reading Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.

It starts ...

The first annoying thing is when I ask Dad what he thinks happened to Mom, he always says, "What's most important is for you to understand it's not your fault." You'll notice that wasn't even the question. 

The other thing I started reading is Silent Spring by Rachael Carson, which isn't a terribly relaxing selection.

It starts with ...
A Fable for Tomorrow 

There was a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings. The town lay in the midst of a checkerboard of prosperous farms, with fields of grain and hillsides of orchards where, in spring, white clouds of bloom drifted above the green fields. 

For The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice here is something from page 56 of Where'd You Go, Bernadette...

I went to HR to get my new key card and office assignment. (In ten years, this is the first time I've had a window office!) I was unpacking my photos, mugs, and snow baby collection when I looked up and saw Elgin Branch across the atrium. He wasn't wearing any shoes, just socks, which I found odd. I caught his eye and waved. He vaguely smiled, then kept walking. 

From page 56 of Silent Spring we have .... 

This soil community, then, consists of a web of interwoven lives, each in some way related to the others – the living creatures depending on the soil, but the soil in turn a vital element of the earth only so long as this community within it flourishes.

The problem that concerns us here is one that has received little consideration: What happens to these incredibility numerous and vitally necessary inhabitants of the soil when poisonous chemicals are carried down into their world ... ?

So, the father/husbands name has been bugging me - I keep seeing the Elgin Marbles and Lord Elgin, aka Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine, who I am pretty sure wouldn't be caught dead wandering around without his shoes.

The Conundrum by David Owen

The Conundrum: How Scientific Innovation, Increased Efficiency, and Good Intentions Can Make Our Energy and Climate Problems Worse
by David Owen

Published: Riverhead Books
Format: paperback
Copyright: 2011
Pages: 261
Genre: Nonfiction/Environmental
Source: personal copy

From the back cover "Hybrid cars, fast trains, compact florescent light bulbs, solar panels, carbon offsets: everything you've been told about being green is wrong. The quest for a breakthrough battery or a 100 mpg car is a dangerous fantasy. We are consumers, and we like to consume greenly and efficiently. But David Owen argues that our best intentions are still at cross-purposes to our true goal: living sustainably and caring for our environment and the future of the planet. Efficiency, once considered the holy grail of our environmental problems, turns out to be part of the problem - we have little trouble turning increases in efficiency into increases in consumption. 

David Owen's elegant narrative, filled with fascinating information and anecdotes takes, you through the history of energy and the quest for efficiency. He introduces the reader to some of the smartest people working on solving our energy problems. He details the arguments of efficiency's proponents and its antagonists - and in the process overturns most traditional wisdom about being green.

This is a book about the environment that will change how you look at the world. Scientific geniuses will not invent our way out of the energy and economic crisis we're in. We already have the technology and knowledge we need to live sustainably. But will we do it? That is the conundrum."

This small (literally it is only 5" x 7 1/8" x 9/16") book isn't quite the miracle that the cover description makes it sound like. The theme of the book is acutally quite simple, efficiency without conservation is a bad idea and quick fixes won't solve the problem. Each of the chapters explores a particular problem and some of the 'solutions' that have been proposed. One huge downside of the small size of the book is that there are NO REFERENCES! Normally this is a huge issue for me, but what I did last year was have a case studies class do a fact check of the book - they took statements and investigated their veracity. Turns out that the book is pretty solid in terms of the information presented, though some of his anecdotes are more solid than others.

The biggest contribution of the book is that it really does make you re-think what constitutes 'green.' The idea that New York City is the greenist community in the nation takes some getting used to, for example.  We had some good class discussions teasing out this idea - NYC residents have some of the lowest energy footprints because most of them don't own cars and use mass transit or walk instead, thus their carbon dioxide footprints are quite small per capita. Their homes are much smaller and more efficient (in terms of sharing infrastructure), and they purchase less (mostly because there isn't anyplace to put it in the average NYC apartment) so they are not as veracious of consumers as the average American. On the other hand - we worried quite a bit about how to supply everyone in the city with food. Someone has to live out in rural areas to grow food, right ?

The eat local conversation was also quite heated - yes, shipping food around the world is carbon intensive but growing crops in places where the climate is wrong for them (so you need to invest more in terms of water and energy resources) is actually worse (in terms of carbon footprint per 'piece' of food). As usual, the answer here is ... it's complicated and bumper-sticker sized approaches won't work.

So - if you are looking for answers, this is not the book for you. But if you are looking for a book that asks uncomfortable questions and can inspire some spirited discussions, this is a great candidate.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library Mini review

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library 
by Chris Grabenstein

Published: Random House Children's
Format: hardback
Copyright: 2013
Pages: 291
Genre: Children's fiction
Source: personal copy  

From the frontispiece "Kyle Keeley has two older brothers; one is a total jock, and the other is a total brainiac. It's tough to come out on top when you're competing against that. But everyone has a fighting chance while playing boardgames...a good roll of the dice, a lucky draw of the cards, and some smarts, and Kyle could win the day.

When Kyle learns that the world's  most famous game maker has designed the town's new library and is having an invitation-only lock-in on the first night he is determined to be there. What he doesn't realize is that getting in is the easy part. Getting out is going to take more than a good roll of the dice, a lucky card, and some smarts. And the stakes have never been higher."

Well, the cover tries to make things sound more sinister than they really are in the book. If you are looking for an adventure fraught with danger, this isn't it.  If you are looking for a nice, light, fun book - now you're talking Lemoncello. It is quite nice to read a children's book where angst of some sort or another is not front and center. Kyle has older brothers but they seem to be quite supportive and Kyle comes from a happy home.  He starts off as a bit of a slacker - his response to feeling overshadowed by his brothers, which worried me, but you do see growth in his character (not lots, but enough).  The overshadowed thing was more told than shown - the shown part came out like normal rivalry amongst brothers. The more consistent thing was growing love of stories and interest in reading. The reason that Mr. Lemoncello funded construction of the library was that the town had torn down the old one and the 12 year-olds in the story had spent their entire lives without a public library.

In terms of plot, well things are a bit obvious and the characters are not terribly deep. On the other hand they do manage to steer clear of being complete stereotypes for the most part. Haley's character really needed some clearer development - there were lots of clues dropped but we never got to understand the overall picture, which made her behavior at the end a bit inexplicable.

Right - so nothing earth shaking, but instead a nice, sweet story that breaks from the dystopian pack and brings on a dose of Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm happiness, which is exactly what I need right now. More please.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Anya's Ghost Mini-Review

Anya's Ghost
by Vera Brosgol

Published: Square Fish First Second
Format: paperback
Copyright: 2011
Pages: 224
Genre: graphic novel
Source: personal copy   

From the back cover "What if your BFF is a ghost? 
Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century. Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya’s normal life might actually be worse. She’s embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she’s pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a dead one—is just what she needs. But Anya's new BFF isn't kidding about the "forever" part...."

Anya is a Russian immigrant who came to America as a small child (for some weird reason some reviewers keep talking about her being a first or second generation America - but unless there was a different version of this story, Anya says quite clearly on page 198 "Oh. I never went to school in Russia. We moved just before I was supposed to start"). This adds an extra layer to teenage years already fraught with body image issues, attempts to fit in and crushes. So, when she falls down a well and meets a ghost, she is understandably freaked out and standoffish at first. But as her new companion starts to prove helpful, a friendship develops. 

I really like this story -  it flowed well, the art is appealing, and the feel was very reminiscent of high school. It also managed to creep me out. I liked how the character of Elizabeth was not simply turned into a mean girl. For a text sparse graphic novel, there is surprising depth to it. It will be a little while before either of my children will be old enough to understand the story, so I will have to wait to see what they think of it.

Field Notes from A Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert

Field Notes from A Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change
by Elizabeth Kolbert

Published: Bloomsbury
Format: paperback
Copyright: 2006
Pages: 225
Genre: Nonfiction - Environmental
Source: personal copy  

From the back cover ...
"Long known for her insightful and thought-provoking political journalism, author Elizabeth Kolbert now tackles the controversial and increasingly urgent subject of global warming. In what began as a groundbreaking three-part series in the New Yorker, for which she won a National Magazine Award in 2006, Kolbert cuts through the competing rhetoric and political agendas to elucidate what is really going on with the global environment and asks what, if anything, can be done to save our planet. Now updated and with a new afterward Field Notes from A Catastrophe is the book to read on the greatest challenge facing the world today."

I had planned to read this book ages ago, as I was looking for a good laypersons introduction to global warming to use in one of my classes. Then other events captured the headlines, we ended up focusing on water issues (which are even more pressing and are being increasingly impacted by global warming) and the environmental damage associated with extraction and transportation of fossil fuels. So now that I have finally gotten back to this book I have found that a) it really is a very good introduction to the effects of climate change and b) it is already sadly dated as events have moved on at a rapid pace with no discernible improvements in policy.

For example, in the first chapter, the author visits Shishmaref, Alaska and talks about the melting of the Arctic ice. Well, Shishmaref is still looking for help. In January 2014, five residents from the eroding village traveled to Washington, D.C. addressed lawmakers. They reported that "Hunters have died falling through weak ice, a disappearing beach no longer supports subsistence digging for clams, and houses must be set on skids for periodic moves to higher ground. They told of warm weather that spoils food, of winter fishing that starts weeks behind schedule when the lagoon isn’t frozen for travel, and of storm-tossed waves that batter the village with increasing ferocity because the ice that once armored the coast forms late. The challenges have made it difficult to retain quality teachers and to receive support for things such as school improvements, because organizations are reluctant to spend money in a community with a short shelf life, residents said."

And the Arctic Ice ... this is where we are now ...

The pink line is located at 2006 - when the book was published. You can see how things have changed since then.

You can see how things have changed in this NOAA animation too.

I know that in the eastern side of North America, we have been having a really cold winter, but if you look at conditions globally, we are a small anomaly in a world that experienced the 8th warmest.

The point of this book was to address climate change at human scale - looking at things that people have been experiencing in their day to day lives around the world - like changes in blooming cycles and the first appearance of robins - then put them into the broader context of global changes. The good news is that the book does a good job of that, the bad news is that the changes have occurred much faster than was believed possible when the book was written.

On page 147, the author states "China, which is adding new coal-fired generating capacity at the rate of more than a gigawatt a month is expected to overtake the United States as the world's largest carbon emitter around 2025."  That actually happened roughly in 2006/7 (there is a time delay in compiling this information so it took a little while to figure out.)

The US still holds the record for total emissions over time and we are still No. 2 in yearly emissions. Things are also more complicated when you look at emissions per capita, since China has about a billion more people than the US. It is a bit hypocritical to tell the developing world - 'well, you can't do what we did to grow our economy.'

The book makes me want to update all of the facts and figures. It is scary how much things have altered since the book was published. This book is still an excellent starting point to a complex problem, but it would need to be paired with something more recent to show climate conditions now.

Wondrous Words Wednesday 8

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at the Bermuda Onion where you "can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. Feel free to get creative!"

How on Earth did it get to be Wednesday!  Good Grief!

 Well, I have a few words from Field Notes from A Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert...

talik - the technical term for thawed permafrost, from a Russian word meaning "not frozen"  та́лик

From Wikipedia "a layer of year-round unfrozen ground that lies in permafrost areas." Traditionally taliks occur in association with water bodies which have enough thermal inertia that they do not freeze, thus the soil underneath them doesn't freeze either (see the taliks under the lakes in the graphic below). Groundwater can also create localized zones of talik.

Due to climate changes, some permafrost regions have developed an unfrozen layer between the seasonal freeze/thaw active layer (the dark brown in the graphic) at the surface and the underlying permafrost (i.e. ground frozen for greater than a year). In this case, the ground that thawed in the summer doesn't completely re-freeze in the winter. This would be something like the closed talik in the picture (which was created by groundwater in the bog), but thinner and with a greater horizontal extent. 

This kind of stuff is a problem because when the ground thaws it becomes unstable and sink holes can form.

The author also introduced me to this concept ... ("Amplexus" is the term of art for an amphibian embrace.)

From Wikipedia "Amplexus (Latin "embrace") is a form of pseudocopulation found chiefly in amphibians and horseshoe crabs in which a male grasps a female with his front legs as part of the mating process." It looks more like a piggy back ride to me.
Well - now we know what the frogs have been doing all this time :)

Just as an interesting aside, since this is about words, the author mentions being at a meeting where she talked to an Inuit hunter who lived on Banks Island, five hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. He said "a few years ago, for the first time, people began to see robins, a bird for which the Inuit in his region have no word."

Whoops - I am not trying to turn this into a lecture so I will switch books to Bridge of Birds by Barry Hugheart ...

From the British Museum
"Girls carried straw baskets up the hill to the monastery, and the bonzes lined them with yellow paper upon which they had drawn pictures of Lady Horsehead, and the abbot blessed the baskets and burned incense to the patron of sericulture." 

One sentence and two words that I wanted to sort out ...

Bonze, obsolete term used in Western languages for Buddhist clergy.
Origin of BONZE: French, from Portuguese bonzo, from Japanese bonsō

First Known Use: 1653
Sericulture, or silk farming, is the rearing of silkworms for the production of silk. 
This webpage has some cool historical images

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Environmental News March 22 - 25th

I managed to ignore most of the world over the weekend because my daughter was sick. Monday was not a pleasant surprise.

1) On Saturday, a barge carrying 900,000 gallons of heavy tar-like oil collided with a ship in the busy Houston Ship Channel, near Texas City on the western coast of Galveston Bay. Coast Guard officials said that up to 168,000 gallons were dumped after one of the barge's tanks ruptured and that oil had been detected 12 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico as of Sunday afternoon. Winds and currents have pushed much of the oil south toward Pelican Island, where the oil is coating rocks along the shoreline. The channel in Texas City, about 45 miles southeast of Houston, has shorebird habitat on both sides, and tens of thousands of wintering birds are still in the area. The spill occurred about 8 miles (13 kilometers) west of the Bolivar Peninsula, which is home to the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, a preserved area of marshy mudflats that's home to a variety of geese, ducks, herons, and other waterbirds. At least 50 oiled birds have been discovered so far but the Bolivar Peninsula has not been directly impacted by the oil so far.  

This aerial photo taken Saturday, March 23, 2014.
The debris flow was up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) deep in some areas.
2) Also on Saturday, a landslide (technically a mudslide apparently) in Washington State pretty much took out the town of Oso, a tiny rural community of around 50 homes. The landslide covers approximately one-square mile area about 55 miles northeast of Seattle. As of Monday night there were 14 known fatalities and the list of missing is up to 176, though there may be duplicates on the list. The landslide was triggered by the heavy rainfall in the region. 

3) Monday was the Exxon Valdez 25th Anniversary which I already wrote a bit about on Friday. NPR had another good piece about the aftermath of the spill 

and some commentary worth listening to as well ...

Right - that's enough.  I am seriously bummed at this point. We need something beautiful now.

Kogel Bay (aka Koeel Baai in Afrikaans) South Africa (Source)

Top Ten Things On My Bookish Bucket List

Hosted by the Broke and Bookish the topic for March 25: Top Ten Things On My Bookish Bucket List (could be blogging related, book related etc. -- meeting authors, reading x many books per year, finishing a daunting book, etc.)

Oooooo!  I am going to make a totally unrealistic bucket list because I am having a weird day and need some fun.

1) One day I want to have enough bookshelves for my books - preferably in the form of a home library, but more likely in the form of a library home (i.e. books in every room in the house - which is what we have now, but it isn't nearly as pretty).

My daughter and I both like this one  ...
Library at Skywalker Ranch, a residence of director and producer George Lucas. Source (Bookriot)

Oops - my daughter just discovered this one ...  (I think she likes the window seat and the gilding).
This luxury home library is in the Morgan Estate, a house in Los Altos Hills, CA, which was built in in 1914 and is on the market for $27,000,000. The library boasts mahogany shelves, fabric-lined walls and a hidden wall-mounted television.
2) Alright, I guess I need to toss in a couple of realistic ones. Some day I hope to have my library cataloged and organized in some fashion. 

3) I want to be able to travel to places that I have only read about in books! Of course I want those places to be safe for me to travel too, sigh.  Egypt, Petra, Machu Picchu, Victoria Falls, McMurdo Station the list goes on and on and on ...
Petra (Arabic: البتراء, Al-Batrāʾ, Ancient Greek Πέτρα) is an ancient city in the southern Jordan famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. Petra is also called Rose City for the color of the stone from which it is carved.
4) I could also visit famous bookstores like Shakespeare & Company, Paris, France; Librería El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Hatchards, London, UK and, closer to home, the Strand Book Store, New York City, USA.

5) Publish a second book, maybe even a third or fourth. That would be good.  (Yes, this one is for real, but seems almost as extreme as traveling to Petra at the moment.)

6) Visit the Library of Congress - as well as other famous libraries. I have always wanted to visit the Bodleian Library, the Beinecke at Yale ... again this could get to be a very long list.

7) See a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theater -

8) I guess I will get a little more realistic now - I would like to read Chaucer - I was going to take a Chaucer course with a professor I very much liked but when his wife didn't get tenure (she mostly likely should have, the institution was notorious for not giving women tenure) he decided to pack up and go to a new place where she had a chance at tenure.  I still have my Riverside Chaucer in a box waiting for the day that I have the time and energy to tackling it on my own.

9) Finish reading the Vulgate Cycle - I made it through three and have the last two to go. Herm-net almost did me in - Lancelot could travel a day in any direction and find a hermit who a) already knew everything that Lancelot told to the other hermits and b) have some profound advice about what to do now. The 'hermits' had a better communication network then we do today.

10) I could get silly again and say that I want to finish every book on my TBR list - but that is functionally equivalent to asking for immortality.  Instead I want to make a list of 'important' books that I hope to get through during my lifetime.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline

Published:  Broadway Books
Format: paperback
Copyright: 2011
Pages: 374
Genre: Fiction - Science Fiction/Cyberpunk
Source: personal copy

From the back cover "In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines – puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.

    But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win – and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape."

So first off - squeeeeee - this book is totally geared to press the right buttons for a geek/nerd/child of the 80s (other than making me occasionally feel like an antique). The logical part of my says things like - if the world is in that bad of shape, Wade totally can't be the only kid stuck hanging around Ludus. There should have been packs of poor, disenfranchised kids wandering around Ludus unable to pay for travel (I should know, I was a poor, disenfranchised kid myself). There were also logical inconsistencies in the plot and the world building of both OASIS and the real world that could be a serious problem if you start thinking too much about them.

I actually found the idea that civilization's geek pop culture apparently hit its peak sometime in the mid-2000s and that it was a downhill ride from there rather depressing. Also - what happened to Dr. Who? One reference? Seriously - the 'classic series' ran from November 1963 – December 1989 and was shown in PBS in the States. Any true 80's geek familiar with Speed Racer and Voltron never mind anything rarer, would have been immersed in Dr. Who as well. The nostalgia stuff is really pretty hit or miss really, like hanging out with a mixed pack of high schoolers trying to be cool but mostly being slightly off. Over-explained and not really secret handshake grade. I could gloss over that by rationalizing that by 2044 things would have gotten mashed-up.  Oh dear - the more I think about it, the timeline for Halliday makes less and less sense. Halliday was born in 1974? (I am not going to try to find it now but I think that is right) but his parents bought him an Atari 2600 for Christmas 1979 - when he was five? Really? See - I told you not to think about this too much.

I can also say that I never expected to see references to Misfits of Science in any book making the best-sellers list. I saw that show when it aired and while I remember liking it at the time (I was a kid), I am also almost completely sure that it would be painful to watch now - I really don't think it would age well - though if you could get it other than on a German DVD I might be willing to try, just to see.

Infocom games are awesome too - I was obsessed with them. That is more late 80s than the Atari obsession.

Oh gosh - what about Myst!  That was totally a landmark in gaming! Where was Myst ? Seventh Guest ?

I better stop now.  However - for the text game obsessed the BBC has the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Infocom game, written by Douglas Addams, available online as a part of the 30th Anniversary Celebration !  Now you too can die multiple times while a computer smarts off at you and waits for correct grammar.

Right - but if you can turn that critical part of your brain off, and pretend that PBS didn't exist, so that pop culture was filtered through some kind of odd perception filter - this book was a lot of fun. Snow Crash for YA? Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed the book and will probably even re-read it at some point.  Four claws for a nice bit of brain popcorn.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

World Water Day

Today is UN World Water Day. My little leopard has been home sick today, so I haven't been able to put together much of a post, which is probably just as well, since this topic gets rather depressing pretty fast.

Just the bare facts are pretty overwhelming, from the Pacific Institute's 10 Shocking Facts about the World's Water

1.  3.4 million people—mainly children— die as a result of preventable water-related diseases every year.

2.  1.2 billion people—nearly 20% of the world’s population—live in areas of physical water scarcity.

3.  In developing countries, an estimated 90 percent of sewage and 70 percent of industrial waste is discharged into waterways without any treatment at all.

4.  Energy is a major user of water. In the US, thermoelectric power plants account for nearly 50% of all freshwater withdrawals.

5.  There have been 265 recorded incidences of water conflicts from 3000 BC to 2012. The past several years have seen an increase in the total number of reports of violent conflict over water.

You can see the other five on the Pacific Institutes website. 

The key messages for this years World Water Day involve the relationship between water and energy:

1. Water requires energy and energy requires water

Water is required to produce nearly all forms of energy. Energy is needed at all stages of water extraction, treatment and distribution. 

(In class on Friday several students kept asking why we didn't just move the water to the people who needed it - I had to keep point out that water is heavy 7 odd pounds per gallon.  Moving enough water to make any sort of difference takes a huge investment in energy.)

2. Supplies are limited and demand is increasing

Demand for freshwater and energy will continue to increase significantly over the coming decades. This increase will present big challenges and strain resources in nearly all regions, especially in developing and emerging economies. 

(Seven billion and growing - and most of that growth is occurring in areas that are already water stressed.)

3. Saving energy is saving water. Saving water is saving energy

Choices concerning the supply, distribution, price, and use of water and energy impact one another.

4. The “bottom billion” urgently needs access to both water and sanitation services, and electricity

Worldwide, 1.3 billion people cannot access electricity, 768 million people lack access to improved water sources and 2.5 billion people have no improved sanitation. Water and energy have crucial impacts on poverty alleviation.

5. Improving water and energy efficiency is imperative as are coordinated, coherent and concerted policies

Better understanding between the two sectors of the connections and effects on each other will improve coordination in energy and water planning, leading to reducing inefficiencies. Policy-makers, planners and practitioners can take steps to overcome the barriers that exist between their respective domains. Innovative and pragmatic national policies can lead to more efficient and cost effective provision of water and energy services. 

In the United States many people have tended to think that water is a 'third world' problem - hopefully the drought in the southwest will wake them up - at least when they look at food prices. 

Sunday Post 3

The Sunday Post
The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer

Goodness, I haven't done one of these in ages! Weekends are usually frantically busy but today ended up being rather mellow. The weather is rainy and gray (which is a nice chance from snowy and gray I suppose) so we have hung out at home all day and the kids actually gave me a chance to use my own computer for once.

This past week I posted two reviews:
Wrote four environmental news posts:

And I participated in four memes: 
I am currently working on ...
Field Notes from A Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert.  I am over halfway. The book is a bit dated at this point, but well written and I would love to do the traveling that the author did. She got to visit some amazing places and see things that are no longer there.

Then, today I made the mistake of picking up Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and I have totally devoured over half the book. Other than it making me feel perfectly antique, I am really enjoying the heck out of it.

Some Like it Hawk by Donna Andrews

Some Like it Hawk
by Donna Andrews

Published:  St. Martin's Press
Format: paperback
Copyright: 2012
Pages: 324
Genre: Mystery
Source: personal copy  

From the back cover ...

"Meg Langslow is plying her blacksmith's trade at Caerphilly Days, a festival inspired by her town's sudden notoriety as "The Town That Mortgaged Its Jail." The lender has foreclosed on all Caerphilly's public buildings, and all employees have evacuated except for Phineas Throckmorton, the town clerk who barricaded himself in the courthouse basement.

Phinny's year-long siege of protest has been possible because of a tunnel thorough which his local supporters deliver food and supplies. But when a woman is found dead on the premises, Phinny become a person of interest. Meg is certain that Phinny's been framed by the hawkish lender. Now it's up to Meg and the rest of Caerphilly to protect Phinny – and his beloved pet pigeons. Meanwhile, the killer has flown the coop ..."

Wow - who writes these things ?!? This is a rather ridiculous synopsis of the plot. Right, so in the last book, The Real Macaw, we found out that the mayor of Caerphilly had been up to some serious shenanigans with the town's money, putting the town at the mercy of the 'Evil Lender.' This book picks up with the main characters trying to save the town, both with lawsuits and a town festival, Caerphilly Days.

These are more madcap style cozy mysteries, so you don't go in expecting a deep and complicated mystery. Some of the books in the series are more clever than others when it comes to the who done it portion of the story (I loved Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon). On the other hand, the things I love about the series will keep me reading - I really like the main character Meg, she is a blacksmith, forthright and intelligent, she takes more on her shoulders than she should, including lots of  responsibility for her wacky extended family.  Her family and the cast of characters in the books is a huge plus - they grow on you and create a really 3-dimensional world. 

I also like that things move forward in the stories - we have not spend all of our time waiting for a main character to pick between to 'luv interests' or some such - Meg has gone from single, to married, to homeowner, to mother in this series.  With the 14th book, it is a bit of a struggle to keep things fresh, but the stories are not simple retreads of previous books.  This one wasn't as laugh out loud as earlier entries in the series, but it was still fun and relaxing to read. I still look forward to reading the next entries in the series and when I am under stress I will often pick up earlier books in the series for a re-read.

This particular entry in the series was not the strongest - in some ways it felt more like an intermediate story (13.5) meant to resolve the things that were leftover from the last book.  Each story usually has a very strong uniting theme - like attending an SF/F Con, Civil War reenactment, or a garden club contest - that also plays an important role in the story.  Caerphilly Days was more of a panoramic backdrop than a coherent venue. The cast of characters was smaller than usual as well, and no one got to be particularly odd - which is the source of most of the fun the books. I did laugh out loud a couple of times and I liked seeing Meg adapting to life with the twins.

I can't really rate this fairly because I read these totally for fun and have become somewhat invested in the series (this was the 14th book!) - my best stab at an impartial rating would be three and a half because the ending - you saw that coming and the resolution went a bit too quick. But, I will keep reading the series and enjoying them.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Exxon Valdez 25th Anniversary

Photo taken 3 days after Exxon Valdez ran aground

On March 24, 1989 at 12:04 a.m., the Exxon Valdez, a 987-foot tanker bound for Long Beach, California, ran aground on the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil (~257,000 - 750,000) into the water of the sound. The oil spread across 1,300 miles of coastline.  

This was the largest spill in U.S. waters until the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. Prince William Sound is habitat for salmon, sea otters, seals, birds and other wildlife. The sound is extremely remote, only accessible by helicopter, plane or boat, which hampered efforts to contain the spill and to deal with the aftermath.

Immediately following the spill over 100,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles and 22 orca died. Salmon and herring populations crashed.  Health effects lingered in the ecosystems, with high mortality rates in a variety of species.

One of the most stunning revelations of a Trustee Council-funded monitoring effort is that Exxon Valdez oil persists in the environment and in places, is nearly as toxic as it was the first few weeks after the spill. The oil still has most of the same chemical compounds as oil sampled 11 days after the initial spill.

Studies indicate that Exxon Valdez oil is breaking down at a rate of 0-4% per year, with only a 5% chance that the rate is as high as 4%. At this rate, the remaining oil will take decades and possibly centuries to disappear entirely. (source)

As stated in an NPR story, the fisheries today are not the same. "The shrimp are slowly, slowly coming back. The crab aren't back. The herring aren't back. The salmon are back in abundance," Bernie Culbertson said.

Oil on Ice  is an excellent documentary that chronicles some of the aftermath of the spill.  The whole thing is available on-line at

NPR has an illuminating StoryCorps piece up with animal rescuers reminiscing about conditions at the time - Animal Rescuers Create Joy Amid Chaos After Exxon Valdez Spill - though whomever came up with the title of the piece was being delusional - they were not creating joy - there was a brief moment of relief during a period of tragedy.

It is worth spending some time on this anniversary contemplating the death of a thousand cuts that we are imposing on the environment. Ultimately, we are part of the environment too. 

An oil skimmer works on a slick near Latouche Island in the southwest end of Prince William Sound
on April 1, 1989, in Valdez, Alaska, one week after the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground.
(Chris Wilkins / AFP - Getty Images) Source: NBC News

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A peak into Some Like it Hawk and The Pluto Files

 Happy Spring - I hope you are getting less snow than we are!

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader.

This week I am reading Some Like it Hawk by Donna Andrews (the 14th book in the Meg Langslow series). These books are cozy mysteries with more emphasis on characters and silly situations than deep, serious mysteries, but they are fun and relaxing to read. Here are the opening lines ...

"Welcome to the town that mortgaged its own jail!" 
The amplified voice blaring over the nearby tour bus loudspeaker startled me so much I almost smashed my own thumb. 

And from The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson we have ...

At about four in the afternoon on February 18, 1930, 24-year old Clyde W. Tombaugh , a farm boy from Illinois, discovered on [sic] the sky what would shortly be named for the Roman god of the underworld. Tombaugh had been hired by Arizona's Lowell Observatory to search for the mysterious and distant Planet X.

 (I have to confess that first sentence put me off rather badly, but I enjoyed what I was reading up to the point my son ran away with the book.) 

For The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice here is something from page 56 of Some Like it Hawk ...

"Meg, what's going on out there?" he asked. The connection was faint and fragmented. 
"Out there? Are you still in the cellar?" 
Randell glanced up.
"Is that Phinny?"
"No," I said. "It's my brother, Rob." 
"We heard something out there," Rob said. The signal was weak and I turned on the speaker to hear better. "Sounded like fireworks or gunshots. Phinny was worried that the guards were trying to storm the barrier." 

And from page 56 of The Pluto Files we have ... 

Clyde Tombaugh was still alive in the early 1990s. He saw the Kuiper belt omens, but fought them tooth and nail with cane in hand, using his cane not only as a walking aid but also as punctuation for the aggressive arguments he would make. Tombaugh had the most to lose if Pluto were classified as anything other than a full, red-blooded planet.