Interstellar – Others agree with me

November 20, 2014

I never considered myself very informed about popular culture. I haven’t watched TV in years and my interests lean to the geeky. But I am pleased that my observations about the movie Interstellar are shared by others.

How Ken Burns’ surprise role in ‘Interstellar’ explains the movie

‘Interstellar’s’ Rejection of Climate Change Hysteria

It seems the the thought police and editors are getting a little sloppy.  The re-education camps may get a little crowded


Interstellar – spoiler alert

November 16, 2014

InterstellarAll in all, a pretty good movie. Very creative in many respects. If you like science fiction, I recommend it.

Spoiler alert – The following observation about the movie “Interstellar” will give away part of the plot.

In the movie Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) flies through a wormhole to find several previous expeditions that have been exploring planets in another galaxy for colonization by humans trying to escape a dying Earth.  Each one of these planets has been visited by a single astronaut to collect data to determine its suitability.  The situation is desperate.  A series of mishaps reduces Cooper’s  resources and forces him and his crew to choose a single one of the planets to visit and to abandon the others. 

They make their decision based on the data they have already received from the competing planets.  The astronaut on one of the planets is a famous scientist named “Dr. Mann” (Matt Damon).  His data is compelling enough to cause Cooper to choose his planet.  Cooper uses his remaining resources to find Dr. Mann and his planet, only to find that Mann had fudged his data and that his planet is a wasteland.  Mann insists he fudged his data for the benefit of mankind – right up to the moment the liar gets sucked into the vacuum of space.

I wonder if the producers of this movie picked the nameMannfor some political reason.  I can dream can’t I?

Update 11/16/14 10:30pm:

Noah Gittell at The Atlantic is upset because global warming is surely the culprit for the Earth’s demise in Interstellar, it is never explicitly named.  He says…

Climate change is never mentioned by name in the film, but writer/director Christopher Nolan uses its imagery to define the terms of his story. Interstellar is set in a near-future Earth on the verge of total ecological collapse, with drastic changes in weather patterns and devastating food shortages driving human beings to the brink of extinction.

This upsets Gittell, so he says the movie is a “good space film, bad climate-change parable.”

Really?  Maybe that is because it is not a “climate-change parable” at all.

The movie explains the planet is being ravaged by crop blights. The drastic weather changes the The Atlantic refers to are depicted in large part by real interviews with elderly people who lived through the dust bowl (lifted from Ken Burns Dust Bowl documentary).  But in the movie these interviews are supposed to be from elderly people in the future looking back at their experiences during the demise of the planet.

Global warming, climate change, and CO2 are never mentioned.  However, the character Professor Brand (Michael Caine), vaguely explains something to the effect of decreasing Oxygen levels in the atmosphere due to the crop blights.

So, according to Gittell, Interstellar is describing global warming by using references to the dust bowl, which occurred in the 1930s before significant increases in CO2 and by referring to crop blights, which have been occurring since humans have cultivated crops.

Not too bright Gittell.


Physics Envy

October 22, 2014

Heisenberg uncertainty principleI have marveled through the years as quacks and charlatans justify their nonsense with vague references to quantum mechanics.  But today I saw something that takes the cake.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Where could you find more quacks and charlatans than in the present administration of the United States.

Today the embarrassing White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, was confronted by CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller about the The Most Transparent Administration In History’s  lack of transparency when it comes to President Obama’s fundraisers.  First, it is noteworthy that anybody from CBS would confront the White House about anything.

Knoller asked “Why doesn’t that transparency extend to the Q&A sessions with the donors which would be a great interest to all of us?”

Earnest babbled..

“…The goal of those Q&A sessions is to foster a more candid and open dialog where you have donors who are expressing their views, and, uh, the nature of…The Heisenberg principle. That’s the fact of someone observing something necessarily changes what is actually being observed. And I think that’s at play in a dynamic like this when you have a relatively small group of individuals who are seeking to have a conversation with the president of the United States.”

Josh, you are a smooth talking political hack, not a physicist.  I know you think bringing up Heisenberg in this context makes you sound smart.  And it probably does – to the empty-headed dolts that are still hypnotized by the administration’s claptrap.  But to anybody who knows what they are talking about, you just sound pretentious.

This is a classic case of Physics Envy.

See the entire exchange here.


Plain Speaking from John Coleman

October 22, 2014

John Coleman, co-founder of the Weather Channel, knows a thing or two about the climate.  He recently had plenty to say about global warming hysteria.  In an open letter to the UCLA Hammer Forum he said…

The ocean is not rising significantly. The polar ice is increasing, not melting away. Polar Bears are increasing in number. Heat waves have actually diminished, not increased. There is not an uptick in the number or strength of storms (in fact storms are diminishing). I have studied this topic seriously for years. It has become a political and environment agenda item, but the science is not valid.

Here’s John explaining the basics…



In Defense of Solar Thermal

October 15, 2014

Is the sacrifice of 28,000 birds in order to offset the energy needs of 57,000 Californians for a year really asking all that much?

“Solar thermal” energy is the concentration of light to heat which can be used to generate electricity or for other purposes.  This is different, of course, from solar photovoltaics (my field).

I like to be realistic about energy sources, staying clear of the abundant quasi-religious nonsense.  Because of this I am not a great enthusiast for massive solar thermal projects.  They may have their place, but they are still expensive.  For example, the $2.2 billion Brightsource Ivanpah site in California, which covers 16 square kilometers, could offset the energy needs of people occupying about 22,000 California homes.  That works out to about $100,000 per home!

Ivanpah image


One of the criticisms that is being aimed at the Ivanpah site, and by implication any subsequent solar thermal site, is that they kill a lot of birds.  This  idea is easy to understand.  Concentrating sunlight from a large area to a single central target makes the irradiance blisteringly high near the center.  Birds flying close enough get toasted pretty quick. They even have a name for those birds that fly through this hot spot: streamers.  Get it? Rather descriptive I’d say.

Widely reported estimates range as high as 28,000 birds per year killed at Ivanpah.  But this high number is controversial and widely disputed.  Here is a good discussion about the derivation of that number.  Let’s accept that number for the moment, just for the fun of it.


Scorched bird at Ivanpah solar thermal facility. Click image to see Canadian CBC article.

Is the sacrifice of 28,000 birds in order to offset the energy needs for the occupants of 22,000 California homes really all that much?  That is about 1.3 birds per home.   There are 2.6 people per household in California, so 22,000 households works out to about 57,000 people.  That works out to about half a bird per person per year.

There are about 8 billion chickens per year eaten in the United States.  That is about 25 per person.  All of the sudden trading half a bird for a year’s energy supply doesn’t sound like very much, does it?  Pet cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds per year (about 4 to 11 birds per person) in the US each year.

While every streamer is a tragedy (for the bird), it is important to put things into perspective.

The anti-solar thermal partisans jumped on the 28,000 bird estimate because it puts the solar thermal proponents on the spot.  Those proponents tend to be the type of people who use accusations of wildlife harm as a weapon against everything they don’t like. This makes them look like hypocrites – always a good rhetorical weapon.


Editorial Leakage at NPR

September 17, 2014

jungleWhen I was in college I worked for Phytofarms of America, which produced the highest quality leafy vegetables in a hydroponic environment.  The environment was completely artificial, high-powered lamps, nutrient controlled water and CO2 at three times the atmospheric level.

Years later when I was working at NREL I received incredulous guffaws from some co-workers when I mentioned the growing advantages of high CO2.  They were certain, of course, that any deviation from the “normal” CO2 level was bad.

We’ve now had two decades of dire predictions of disastrous effects from CO2.  People who have suggested possible advantages of elevated CO2 have been treated like kooks.  This adherence to quasi-religious dogma is usually flawlessly practiced a the Church of NPR.  But something slipped by the editors.

A recent episode of Science Friday covered the discovery of the dinosaur Dreadnoughtus Schrani.  This dinosaur, they tell us, was as massive as a Boeing 737.  It had to eat a lot to get that big.  How could it find enough food to sustain itself?

Ira Flatow (host): It would seem like it would take a lot of food to feed a body that size.  Is it constantly eating all day long just to stay in shape? …  Would this mean that you couldn’t have a lot of them living together because they would just eat so much and, you know, compete for food?

The guest, Kenneth Lacovara says…

 Well, you know, it depends on what the baseload productivity is in the eco-system, the phyto productivity…

Then Locovara said this (click link to pay mp3)…


…the temperatures in the Mesozoic, especially in the Cretaceous, are high, CO2 levels are high. Plants love this, so you would imagine that plant productivity is high.

I guess its time for the re-education camp for an NPR sound editor


10 to 1 odds for Prof. David Barber

August 27, 2014


Back in 2008 University of Manitoba Professor David Barber made two rediculous statements.  First, National Geographic reported on June 20th, 2008, that Barber said

“We’re actually projecting this year that the North Pole may be free of ice for the first time [in history].”

Of course, that did not happen.  At the low point for the year there were still 3 million square kilometers of ice in the Arctic and 2.25 million square kilometers in the Arctic Basin.   But Barber wasn’t done sharing his insight.   That year the Star Pheonix (Saskatoon) reported

The ice that has covered the Arctic basin for a million years will be gone in little more than six years because of global warming, a University of Manitoba geoscientist said. And David Barber said … he estimates the Arctic sea should see its first ice-free summer around 2015.

At the time I challenged Barber to…

…a friendly wager based on this prediction. I will bet David Barber $1000(US) that the ice covering the Arctic Basin will not be gone anytime before December 31st, 2015. The bet would involve no transfer of cash between myself or Barber, but rather, the loser will pay the sum to a charitable organization designated by the winner.

Definition of terms. The Arctic Basin is defined by the regional map at Cryosphere Today. “Gone” means the Arctic Basin sea ice area is less that 100,000 square kilometers, according to National Center for Environmental Prediction/NOAA as presented at Cryosphere Today . Charitable organizations will be agreed upon at the time the bet is initiated.

David Barber is a smart guy and evidently an expert in his field. Taking on a wager with an amateur like me should be like shooting fish in a barrel. I look forward to reaching an agreement soon.

I got no response from Barber.

On August 15th, 2009, I upped the ante, sending Barber email offering 2 to 1 odds.

Still no response. 

Instead, in November of 2009 The Univeristy of Manitoba published this video of Barber…

Current Ice Status

Anybody who is paying attention knows that Barber has been wildly off the mark for the Arctic, and that the sea ice extent in the Antarctic is pushing record highs.  Globally, the sea ice area has been above its historical average during most of the last year.

10 to 1 odds

Today I am offering Barber 10 to 1 odds.  That’s right, I will put up $10,000 to his $1000 that the ice covering the Arctic Basin will not be gone anytime before December 31st, 2015, all the rest of the terms being the same.  Today I sent Prof. Barber this email, to the address found here.   I am looking forward to hearing from him soon.


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