Category: /etc/


In case you haven’t heard, the North Carolina General Assembly has run amok.

It’s hard to believe that things could get worse: the last NCGA approved Ammendment One, which declared that straight marriage was the only recognized family. And they tried to outlaw accelerating sea level rise by declaring that straight lines were the only recognized graph.

And yet after the 2012 election, things turned upside down.

  • Senator Tom Tucker displayed amazing arrogance and unfamiliarity with his job description when he told a reporter: “I am the senator, you are the citizen. You need to be quiet” (Huffington Post)
  • A House resolution was proposed which would allow the establishment of a state religion, as well as incorporating prayer as a public institution (WRAL)
  • Another bill was proposed to criminalize womens’ nipples. (DTH)
  • The budget committee has considered making ends meet by closing NC’s public universities (a tactic known as, ‘eating your seed corn’) (N&O)
  • The Senate has passed a bill rolling back 40 years of environmental protections in order to make way for fracking, in defiance of the state Department of Environment’s recommendations. (McClatchyDC)

That’s just some of the more bizarre social experimentation going on; there’s been plenty of garden-variety attacks on voting rights, public education and social services for the poor.

The point of all this is, a lot of people are justifiably annoyed. So much so, that weekly protests at the state capitol have broken out, headed by the state NAACP and dubbed ‘Moral Mondays’. Peaceful protesters have been arrested by the score, then the hundred, for voicing their disgust with a runaway legislature.

Conservatives have fought back, and some have fought dirty. In one especially skeezy move, the right-wing Civitas Institute has published a public database of information on the protesters, including their photograph, and city of residence. It’s creepy, but now that it exists, it’s a window into what is happening on Moral Mondays.

The Civitas data record a total of 457 arrests. Of these, all but 8 gave their residence as in North Carolina. That is to say, 98% of the arrested are clearly locals. This data reinforces an earlier survey which found the same proportion in the protesters as a whole. This matters because some, including governor Pat McCrory have tried to dismiss the protests as the work of outside agitators.

Something disappointing about the Civitas effort is that the infographics provided are drab and at times completely inappropriate. (I mean, really?)

To show them how it’s done, let’s map out some information. Here are the absolute number of arrests, categorized by county and by city. Unfortunately, the city data which were available from the NC DOT did not have all of the cities in the arrest data, leading to 65 of 85 cities being represented in the map, explaining why some counties (eg, Cherokee) report arrests but contain no cities reporting arrest. This may introduce a bias in which smaller cities and towns are not represented when city-based data are used.

Words

Fig 1a. Moral Monday arrests, binned by county.

Words

Fig 1b. Moral Monday arrests, binned by city

Composite

Fig 1c. Composite map of 1a and 1b.

A few things seem to pop out: Arrests are geographically centered around the Triangle (Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh), with other major centers around cities (eg, Charlotte, Wilmington, and Asheville). Comparing to other political maps (such as Amendment One or the 2012 presidential election), this pattern is not surprising, however, why it is happening is less clear.

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How did TopOc do on last year’s to-do list?

Not bad! As consistent readers might have noticed, the big news behind the scenes is that I have gotten involved in another production space, LumShop. Not only is it providing facilities for DIY Spectro development, it is also kindly hosting my chemistry lab! This will end well, I’m sure.

So what’s next?

  • Even more hard-hitting commentary and sass
  • More fractals and fungaloids!
  • Augmenting and measuring the concentration of hydrogen peroxide!
  • Third generation DIY Spectro!

Between this lineup and my lab, I’m sure the site will stay busy, but if you have any requests or suggestions, leave a comment!

I had thought that once I graduated college, annoying student publications would quit being so… annoying. Alas, this isn’t the case. A previous article examined the quality of analysis at the Carolina Review, UNC’s ‘journal of conservative thought and opinion'; let’s see if things have approved any in the handful of years that I’ve been away.

Okay, checking their blog… mhmm… skim the headlines, clickety clicky….

… oh sweet cthulu, rise from your watery slumber and please make it stop.

The linked article describes environmentalism as factually challenged and lacking a vision of “the overall big picture”; let us categorically examine the main evidence presented in support of this thesis:

  1. “global warming, or climate change, or whatever they feel like calling it now” has been grossly exaggerated.
  2. Lighter cars are inherently more dangerous than gas-guzzlers.
  3. Recycling is bad.
  4. Fossil fuels can be greenwashed.

Ready? Let’s go.

Why is [head of NASA's GISS program and accomplished geophysicist Dr. James] Hanson [sic] so important?” – Carolina Review columnist Alex Thomas

I was disappointed by the coverage of climate change. I expected it to be lousy, and it was, but I didn’t expect it to be so… unsatisfying. The only evidence presented is the claim that Dr. Hansen’s 1988 congressional testimony was critically flawed, greatly overestimating the amount of temperature change to come. This is a PRATT, a Point Refuted A Thousand Times, so my treatment will be a bit superficial.  (For more detail, read this)

Some of Hansen’s scenarios gave realistic predictions, and some didn’t. The real question is why.

A climate simulation isn’t a magickal box that spits out numbers. In order to run it, you have to input certain parameters, like how bright the sun is, the greenhouse gas concentrations, and so on. For the past you might have direct measurements or proxy records; the future is not only unwritten, but contingent upon human agency. So you have to come up with plausible scenarios for what’s coming. Maybe we cut down on fossil fuel usage; maybe we ramp it up; maybe we relax clean air standards; maybe we have a nuclear war. You run the scenarios you’re interested in on climate models, and you compare, contrast, and interpret the output. One of the scenarios that Dr. Hansen used (“Scenario A”) overestimated greenhouse gas emissions – but not carbon dioxide. Scenario A assumed that we continued to emit CFCs, which are potent greenhouse gasses. Because they threatened the ozone layer, CFCs were phased out under the Montreal Protocols, which went into effect in 1989 – the year after Hansen’s testimony. Nowhere in the Carolina Review article do we hear about such confounding factors, nor the general success of government regulation in cutting down on ozone depletors. Nor is there mention that Scenarios B and C match observations well (see above), nor that Hansen’s 1981 predictions were freakinshly accurate. * Also, why is Dr. Hansen important? Because he was an adviser to Al Gore, of course!

Usually investigators only present and discuss the risk to occupants of the car or truck in question—as if society at large has no stake in the mayhem caused by some vehicles as long as those riding in them aren’t themselves killed.” – Wenzel and Ross 2008

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I sit at the Carrboro Really Free Market, on the first caturday in July. I sit in the shade and the banners are blowing lazily in the breeze; still it’s nearly 100 degrees; the humidity jacks it up to 103, and the breeze is welcome but ineffectual. Air quality is ‘Orange’: ozone levels ‘may approach or exceed unhealthy standards.’ A parade is planned but only a handful want to move; I’m definitely not going back out. I keep a cold pack in my bag to refridgerate my computer, but I worry that the condensation from the humid air will offset the benefits of a cool processor. Whatever; I need chill tunes if I’m going to bike around in this weather.

A constant source of frustration for me is communicating the local importance of global problems. Climate change is real, and it’s serious – but at the same time it can be intangible and diffuse. I live in the North Carolina piedmont, hours away from the beach. I can explain to my neighbors that ocean acidification is a serious problem, that the demise of coral reefs would mean the loss of food and resources for the third world. But even if they believe me, even if they agree that it’s bad news, it can still be hard to see how global warming effects them personally, as a homeowner, a farmer, a pet owner or the parent of a young child, a worker with a daily commute. How does carbon dioxide pollution impact North Carolina and beyond?

rock me momma like the wind and the rain//rock me momma like a hurricane

Let’s start at the beach. An obvious problem here is rising sea levels. As the ocean heats up, it expands; as ice heats up, it melts and drains into the sea (or, it calves, falls into the sea, and then melts). This causes a slow but steady rise in sea level. Sea level is predicted to rise by a meter (maybe more) over the 21st century, and 4-6 m over the next few centuries. This is bad news bears – in many coastal counties, more than 10% of the population lives within a meter of high tide. The threat to homes and businesses is worsened by storm surges, which will also be higher as the seas rise [Strauss 2012]. North Carolina has a unique relationship with sea level rise. The coastal salt marshes have recorded 2,100 years of sea level history in their smelly mucky sediments; the ocean stayed relatively stable up until about 1880, when it began to creep upwards. The average rate of sea level rise for the NC coast over the 20th century was ‘greater than any other persistent, century-scale trend’ in the marsh’s memory. During this time period, the seas rose 3.5 times faster than they did even during the Medieval Warm Period, and regional sea level rose faster than model predictions over the 20th century (though the uncertainties involved overlap.) [Kemp et al. 2011]

Sea level rise at the North Carolina coast over the past two millenia. Things are pretty stable, even during climatic episodes like the MWP – until we get to the late 19th century. Then the hockey stick gets hockey stuck. GIA is glacial isostatic adustment, an additional factor which must be considered. It deals with the fact that the North American landmass is still rebounding from the weight of Ice Age glaciers. Image from Figure 2 of Kemp et al. 2011

But what’s really special is the state legislature’s reaction to the rising tide. This June, the NC Senate infamously outlawed the use of accelerating sea level scenarios in planning urban development. The usual astroturfing seems to be at play: the money trail for this legislation leads back to the Locke Foundation; spokespeople and nonprofits proliferate to establish a consent factory. These hijinks are as cynical as they are asinine: not only is global sea level rise accelerating [Church & White 2006], but North Carolina is at the southern end of a ‘hotspot’ where the sea is rising 3-4 times as fast as the global average, [Sallenger et al. 2012] putting its coastline at exceptional risk. The legislation is also a lovely inversion on a popular skuptik trope, that of an authoritarian scientific Orthodoxy dictating Truth and squelching dissidents. In this case, it’s the state government which has declared which climatic scenarios are kosher and which are thought crimes, favoring the least alarming. The proposed law would not merely declare what course sea level rise will take in the years to come, but also prohibit state planning agencies from considering alternatives. Not content to legislate straight marriage as the only valid relationship, the Old North State is considering straight lines as the only acceptable graph.

“You need to move indoors right now.”

Meteorologist Dr. Forbes, on Philadelphian extreme weather.

It’s Friday night, 29 June, and forecasts of a sweltering weekend have already started to come true. I am sifting through hardware at work when the power goes out. Continue reading

“this kitteh it are mine”

 

 

Koko the gorilla and All Ball the cat

 

 

dry ice in occupied durham

And what,

you might be asking yourselves,

have they been doing all these recent months instead of writing high-octane science friction and science fact here on the intarwubs?

Frozen carbon dioxide turns directly into a gas. How sublime! The dry ice is so cold that it causes water vapor in the air to condense, forming a fog.

Answer: All sorts of zany things! During a recent Really Free Market hosted by Occupy Durham, I had the opportunity to do another chemistry show.  Like the demonstration in my CO2 Problems video, I used soapy water and phenol red pH indicator to help illustrate the properties of frozen carbon dioxide. The color change is particularly dramatic, and is a good tie-in to the environmental effects of CO2. The greenhouse effect seems harder to demonstrate effectively – if anyone has a good way of demonstrating the idea, let me know!

“]

dry ice and phenol red, bubblin' away... { pix courtesy of Specious }

One thing I showed in this demo which wasn’t in CO2 Problems is the strange noises that dry ice makes in response to metal. If you try to cut a piece of dry ice with a knife, or press a paperclip into it, the ice will make a horrible screeching shriek. It’s most dramatic if you put a larger chunk of dry ice into a metal pot – it will scream and skitter around! My explanation? The warm, thermally conductive metal speeds up the sublimation of CO2 near its edge; the expanding gas pushes the metal away briefly and then the pressure buildup dissipates, bringing the metal back in contact with the ice. This oscillation makes the screeching noise. Try it out yourself and see if you think I’m right!

NO SOPA! NO PIPA!

In solidarity with countless other sites (most of them with higher traffic  and cultural relevance  >_< ) TopOc is temporarily going offline for the 18th of January 2012 in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

True Stories. Click for a non blackedout site.

If you are unfamiliar with these lovely bits of legislation, they would effectively mean the end of the internet as we know it. If someone posts a link on my site which supposedly violates copyright law, TopOc can disappear – for good. Given the notoriously itchy trigger finger on certain copyright holders, that should scare the pants off you.

Tor, an piece of anonymity software developed by the US Navy for use in repressive countries, would effectively be outlawed. Indeed, the proponents of SOPA and PIPA believe that it would be effective because it is based on censorship techniques which have been used effectively in Syria, China, and Uzbekistan.

Additionally, this legislation would seriously compromise internet security.

Perhaps most disturbingly, members of the US Congress have rejected expert testimony critical of SOPA and PIPA, deriding the critics as ‘nerds’. Considering the poor quality of testimony that they are willing to entertain, this is a real slap in the face.

What can you do? Call your Senators and Representatives! Tell them to keep the IntarTubes free!

Regularly scheduled programming will resume shortly, I swear. The next post will be about the concept of a temperature anomaly – stay tuned! Additionally, I apologize for the relative lack of citations; it is not in my nature to make unsupported assertions. But I got a late start and, well, most of my sources are also participating in the blackout so it would sort of be a moot point. 

UPDATE: …aaaaand we’re back. Thanks to everyone who participated; we’re making a difference!

Some people think that the existence of workarounds for the blackout is somehow a problem for it. On the contrary, that people are finding and using them is a further success of the action. When people use these hacks, it puts them in direct contact with the inner workings of the technology they depend on, and this understanding is as critical for maintaining internet freedom (and freedom in general) as our legal system. Every n00b who is introduced to caches or proxies by the blackout is a success for the world’s first cyber-strike, a success in addition to its influence on policymakers.

Back to writing…

i still exist!

Its true! Here I am!

So what is on the TopOc horizon for 2012?

  • More hard-hitting commentary!
  • More sassing of people who don’t understand graphs!
  • Updates on previous projects!
  • Audiovisual delights!
  • More sweet hax!
  • Fractals and fungaloids!
  • Pentagons and pentagrams!
  • More dry ice! (The shark puppet will also return.)

Here is a mushroom to tide you over while you wait…

It's like a fungal satellite dish!

sadness

My friend Liam died on May 30. A drunk driver hit his motorcycle, throwing him into oncoming traffic. The whole story is here.

It was a weekend in may, 2007, and my friend Michael appeared at my back door,

‘Do you want to go build a radio station?’

‘Of course!’

‘Get in the car!’

The last anyone saw of me for days was Michael’s car squealing out of the driveway as we catapulted from Carrboro, NC to Greenville, SC. The night I arrived I soldered audio cables, painted walls, and met Liam. He was an easily excited, highly stimulated fellow, enthusiastic about everything. We had sleeping quarters in a high school gym, but we barely slept that night for talking and scheming. He was an incurable shutterbug, snapping pictures of the weedridden playground, an eerie Stephen King landscape in the hot afternoon light.

Over the next few years, I saw him occasionally, this collage of hikinks, soldering LFO circuits, watching TED talks and dreaming about viruses, looking for him at 5am in Chapel Hill. Last October I showed up in Atlanta to work on our projects with him.

He had a lot of friends and he was on the edge of amazing, unbelievable things. We will all miss him. His memorial site is here.

… but there is cool stuff on the way, as soon as I get a chance to sit down and write it. Stay tuned.

 

yesssssss

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