Sunday, July 20, 2014

BlueSkiesResearch: Le Tour du Sud

Posted: 19 Jul 2014 11:33 AM PDT
While the main event was going on oop north, we had an appointment in the south – seminars at Reading University’s new Paleoclimate Centre. Like most centres in the UK, this one mostly isn’t centralised, but more a collection of parts of people from different departments. This does not always work very well – people sign up and then do nothing – but it is potentially a good idea for a topic that supposed to span existing interests. We have found that the wider the interests of the audience, the more interesting and thought provoking their questions, so were glad to have experts from meteorology, climate modelling, paleo-data and archaeology attend our seminars.

We are really enjoying the change from Japan, where we had the guilt-ridden stress of having more money than we could possibly spend, to now, having to budget and think of ways to be more efficient. With the seminar booked for Wednesday afternoon, we thought we should arrange a few other entertainments to make it worthwhile.

We headed down south on Friday, to stay with my uncle-in-law, who lives near Reading. After catching a startlingly good concert in a local church that evening, and cutting up some logs on Saturday, on Sunday we headed to Bristol to meet with Lan Smith, an old friend and colleague from Japan, who was visiting the UK to attend the ecosystem modelling conference in Plymouth. Paul Valdes, who visited us last year in Japan, was kind enough to put us up for the night and with a tandem secreted in our van we were able to cycle into Bristol university with him and spend most of the day with him and other collaborators in the Geography department. We were back at Uncle-in-Law’s that evening.

Tuesday was spent at Reading University where we discussed a plethora of interesting topics with Sandy Harrison, the captain of the new paleo centre. The next day we decided to cycle the 12 miles from Uncle-in-Law to the university. We got lost many times in both directions and I was a bit disappointed that the roads for cycling on mostly were not roads at all, but actually dirt tracks, and so very slow. There is an awful lot of car traffic down south, so the main roads were also not at all appealing. We made it, but have subsequently been disappointed to discover that Reading University do not have an expenses rate for bicycle travel! Not very green! On Wednesday morning we met with people in the Meterology department. Everyone was interesting, but the best discussion was actually a surprise meeting with my school A-level (i.e. when we were age 16-18) physics buddy , Maya Balasubramanyam, who is just polishing off a MSc. I hope she carries on to great things – when we were young we had plans to solve all the outstanding physics problems, and as I have made so little progress, the responsibility must, I fear, fall to her.

On Thursday we got the train to Londinium, to visit Steve Jewson at a company called RMS. Acronyms remain epidemic in the UK, but this company does also have a real name – Risk Management Solutions. Their job is to write software to predict the probability, geospatially of bad things happening due to natural causes, in the next 12 months. They then sell the software to insurance companies. In their California offices they study earthquakes, and in London they do storms, both tropical and extra-tropical. I’ve been worried for a while about how many phd students and postdocs that British universities create – many times too many to replace retiring lecturers. Now I realise that some of them go on to have more useful lives. RMS is full of them. Having said that, the management structure also seems pretty flat at RMS, and not too enticing. Steve seemed to have about 30 people working for him in cubicles, but his “office” was really only a cubicle with walls a door – but no window! And the Brits have the cheek to pretend that they couldn’t abide Japanese working conditions! Nic Lewis visited RMS the same day, and after our seminars at lunchtime, James had an excellent fight with him and Steve about something called “objective probability”. … clearly, to anyone even half-Bayesian there is no such thing, but they seemed to want to cling to the idea nevertheless – apparently because they can sell it!  

The weeks’s work over, that evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner at a Malaysian restaurant near Paddington station in Londinium, that we used to visit in the olden days, on the way to Heathrow. We later visited another school friend of mine, and explored the exotic Thames Valley – it’s a whole other world – before heading back oop north on Sunday.

The Thames Valley

Friday, July 04, 2014

[jules' pics] Feeding the birds #2

The question of exactly what is being fed by our garden bird feeders remains as much a live topic as ever.
The squirrel school is going very well. They have trained James to make gradually more difficult puzzles. Each new one can be completed after about a day of hard thought. Then James has to think up a new, more difficult challenge for them. This step by step progression is ideal for honing the problem solving abilities of both James and the squirrels.
And here's WOL, sat waiting by the possibly squirrel proof suet ball feeder. Do WOLs eat blue tits? Alternatively he or she might have been hoping to catch the mousey thing that we have seen burrowing under the house.
Either way, I was astonished to see a wild owl only about 2 metres away (through the window).

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 6/11/2014 07:56:00 PM

Thursday, July 03, 2014

[jules' pics] The Holy Church of St Bicycles

A new religion has taken hold of the town of Skipton. It is the yellow faith of St Bicycles.
St Bicycles-1
But - could it be that one or two remain skeptical - both to the power of St Kickball and St Bicycles?!
St Bicycles-2
Despite being quite religious ourselves - we sit upon 2 unicycles, 4 single bicycles and 3 tandems - we have somehow managed to be away for the big event and tomorrow we will be heading down to the grim south, to give seminars in Reading and London!

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 7/03/2014 08:38:00 PM

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Chris Johnson and the case of the amazing disappearing post

As if this blog wasn't quiet enough, someone has been trying to reduce the post count even further. Reader may recall a brief blogstorm concerning a so-called journalist Christopher Johnson, who was unceremoniously refused entry to Japan when he did not have a valid working visa. Unfortunately, many of the original articles written by Johnson have been deleted, but you can get the gist of it (including the evidence of him covering his tracks) from the various links in the two posts I made previously.

Anyway, time passed....and then without any warning or explanation, the second blog post vanished. However, this only happened on the .ca domain which I just linked to there (ca means Canada, where Johnson appears to be a citizen and resident). Amusingly, I wouldn't have even noticed this had it not been for Johnson emailing me a few weeks ago to crow about it, as the post is still visible on the jp, uk and com domains which I tend to use.

The link from the deleted page to chillingeffects was not informative when I first looked at it - saying merely that the document was not available yet - so I wrote to them to ask about it. As if by magic, a letter from one Chris Johnson came on-line a few days later. I've got no idea when the page deletion happened, but the letter itself is dated Sept 2012, so it might have been almost 2 years ago. His letter refers to a number of pages, some of which (youtube videos) have vanished and others ( which have not. Canada is reputed to be one of the most obliging jurisdictions for defamation cases (along with the UK), but according to wikipedia, it is established in Canadian law that publishing links even to defamatory material is not itself defamatory, so I think he'll have a tough time arguing for this post to be deleted.

I'm not sure whether or how this is related to the "right to be forgotten" in which Google has agreed to requests to wipe results from its search engine (e.g. see this Guardian article today). Johnson's letter as printed does not actually ask for any specific action, but it does refer to google search results. However, rather than merely censoring search results, Blogger (which is of course part of Google) has just deleted my page without warning or explanation. But in both cases, it seems that the Streisand effect may well come into play...

[jules' pics] ocean


Went to the seaside for the wedding anniversary. It would have been very nice had not the sellers of the house we are trying to buy pulled out of the sale the day before. The sale is, apparently, now back on again, although actually no progress at all has been made for the last month or so. Buying houses is rubbish, at least it is the way it is done in England. At the PMIP meeting I asked a few of my friends how it is done in foreign. Somehow they all seemed better than the English system where no commitment is made for months after the price is agreed. In France you have to sign a contract to agree to the sale (subject to caveats like not getting a mortgage) when the price is agreed; in Japan there are no teams of solicitors on each side - the estate agent does the whole thing; in Sydney you usually buy instantly at auction. Not sure the last one is very sensible (buy in haste repent at leisure comes to mind), but at least it is over quickly!

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 7/02/2014 02:46:00 PM

Friday, June 06, 2014

[jules' pics] Forest

The forests in the UK are not quite as densely packed with trees as those in Japan. This is the Forest of Bowland.
As you can see, it is almost as densely forested as Iceland. Because it is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty it also does not have windmills growing in it, despite being a very very windy place. The rocks are interesting. They look like they were cut into blocks by people, but I am virtually certain that they were not. However, I am not sure one should feel very certain about anything in a treeless forest.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 6/06/2014 08:47:00 PM

Thursday, June 05, 2014 PMIP3 #2 – Past to Future

Posted: 04 Jun 2014 09:08 AM PDT
From the point of view of my own interest, which is using information from paleoclimates to learn about future climate change, the PMIP meeting was very successful. We got the opportunity to refine the focus of the working group “Past to Future”, which I am coordinating, and several new people joined the group. Some people even promoted the idea that without the Past to Future element, paleoclimate research will have trouble getting any funding ever again. I am sure this is not true… but it’s nice to have support.
One problem with the idea of using the multi-model ensemble to improve our predictions of the future may be summarised by a recent visit to Chester zoo.
The problems arise if this is the multi-model ensemble,
while this is reality:
Our work to date indicates that reality is much more like another meerkat than it is like a rhinoceros, but it is possible that the rhino may yet rear its ugly head and cause difficulties. Another problem is the difficulty of getting good enough paleoclimate data that we can distinguish between the good models and the less good models. At some points last week I was wondering if we should halt the model development and instead pour all resources into improving the data, but of course, that is a politically incorrect thought. Instead we will have to see how far we can get with using information from as much of the paleorecord as we can, not just the single “snapshot” of the Last Glacial Maximum.
And then there is the PMIP zoo!
The meeting was held in Namur, Belgium, at the top of the hill, site of a “citadel”.
View from the top:
The conference hotel:

Friday, May 30, 2014

Can we trust climate models?

Our latest paper, Can we trust climate models? has just appeared on the Wiley website (open access thanks to our Japanese friends who paid for this). To save a click, here's the abstract:
What are the predictions of climate models, should we believe them, and are they falsifiable? Probably the most iconic and influential result arising from climate models is the prediction that, dependent on the rate of increase of CO2 emissions, global and annual mean temperature will rise by around 2–4°C over the 21st century. We argue that this result is indeed credible, as are the supplementary predictions that the land will on average warm by around 50% more than the oceans, high latitudes more than the tropics, and that the hydrological cycle will generally intensify. Beyond these and similar broad statements, however, we presently find little evidence of trustworthy predictions at fine spatial scale and annual to decadal timescale from climate models.
The paper was invited by the editors some time ago, under a slightly different title but they didn't object to us changing this to something that we felt matched the content a little better. The original plan was for two papers to appear together, with the other one written by a prominent sceptic. However, this seems to have fallen by the wayside. Although we could probably have guessed what they were likely to write, we didn't really want to take part in a direct debate, so rather than aguing against straw man criticisms we just tried to set out our own ideas. Given how it turned out I'm glad we did this! Writing this paper also fitted in well to our personal plans, as we had already pretty much decided at that time to leave Japan, and this gave us a good opportunity to summarise and review some work (including our own) when we weren't really minded to embark on a big new ambitious plan of research. I don't think our argument is likely to be considered controversial - perhaps some might think we are a little pessimistic about the regional performance of models (by which we basically mean anything less than hemispheric) but our recent work with paleoclimate really has brought home to us that they don't get much right about patterns on this sort of scale, even for temperature still less precipitation.

The reviewers made some helpful comments, perhaps the only real criticism was that we sounded like a bland consensus and weren't really making an opinionated statement as might be hoped for in an "opinion" article. But we wanted to say what we thought was correct and justified (ie, a true summary of our opinions), rather than being artificially controversial. I'll be very happy if the paper is seen as a useful summary of how much we can trust climate models, and why.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

[jules' pics] Fermentation

It's most important thing in Belgium.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 5/29/2014 06:15:00 AM PMIP3

Posted: 28 May 2014 03:43 PM PDT
PMIP, the paleoclimate modelling inter-comparison project used to be an organisation that set up the protocols for a handful of climate models to run two time intervals from the past – 21ka BP and 6ka BP. Now there are many time intervals, transient experiments, a whole host of cross cutting “working groups”, but unfortunately still only a handful of models involved. It isn’t clear to me where it should go next, but It is certainly all quite exhausting, especially when coupled with the ridiculously high alcohol tolerance of the Belgians. The afternoon of official fun was today, from 2-11pm, and those of us of slighter build were pretty much defeated by 3pm. Germans and Dutch drink beer, French wine, but the Belgians can’t decide and drink twice as much of both, with the nuance that their beer is the strength of wine, amd their wine also the strength of wine.