Saturday, May 30, 2015

Fiction Friday: May 29, 2015: San Andreas

(Yeah, so it's Saturday when this is being published. Sorry. That's life.)

Funniest review ever in the Willamette Week. I haven't seen this movie yet and may not even see it when it comes out on DVD or whatever.  And the reviewer for the W.W. newspaper hadn't seen it either when he wrote his review. So he did the next best thing: He asked a geophysicist about it.

Here are the first few lines from the review:

San Andreas didn’t screen by our press deadline, despite my repeated letters to the president of Hollywood insisting that an alternative Portland newsweekly is the true center of the cinematic universe, so I made a geophysicist watch the trailer and tell me what he thought. Robert F. Butler is a professor of geophysics at the University of Portland, and he definitely had better things to do.

WW: What did you think?
Robert F. Butler: It’s the typical Hollywood fabrication with only a kernel of truth.
What’s the kernel of truth?
There is a San Andreas fault.
Read on. I promise you'll love it. Then let me know if you decide to see the movie and, if so, what you think of it. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Fiction Friday: May 22, 2015: Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers

I absolutely loved this book, the ninth---NINTH---9th---charmer in Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series. Mr. McCall Smith is a prolific writer with an easy-going style that draws me in and settles me down for a long, satisfying read, and leaves me wanting more when I've finished.

Poor Bertie, encumbered with a dominating and clueless mother, Irene, can hardly wait to turn 18, when he can go out on his own (but not if schoolmate and would-be girlfriend Olive has her way). When Irene wins a trip to Dubai, Bertie and his father go out for pizza, Bertie goes on a campout with his friends, and Irene has her own exciting adventure.

Domenica and Angus continue their friendship and marriage; Domenica's old frenemy Antonia comes back from Italy with a friend who is a nun; Matthew and Elspeth and their triplet sons find a new home and a nanny for their nanny; the new nanny seems to be the one who will eventually tame the narcissistic Bruce; Cyril spends time with some friends, old and new; and Big Lou finds someone to love. That's not all, but that's all I'm going to say about it for now because I hope you'll read the book. 

I also recommend the books in Mr. McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series, including "The Forgotten Affairs of Youth" and "The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds"; and in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective series, including "The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon"  and "The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection" (which I haven't reviewed yet, but will, soon).

Monday, May 18, 2015

Weird Word of the Week: Mahoosive

"Mahoosive" is just one of many new words added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014.

I'll bet you can guess what "mahoosive" means, but in case you can't, the Urban Dictionary explains it's something "beyond being massive" or "astronomically immense in its magnitude."

Some of the other new words and expressions are:


Five-second rule

Keyboard warrior

Digital footprint

Duck face

Man crush

Food diary

(If none of these seems "new" to you, that's because it takes the OED a little while to catch up with current culture.)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Weird Word of the Week: Al Desko

According to CNN, the expression "al desko" was added to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) in 2014.

Ouch! When you're stuck at your messy desk in your stuff office when you're rather be outside in the fresh air, or "al fresco," remember you're just al desko.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Three Things You Have to Give Up...

Now here's a post on Oprah's website which you can actually read and which actually makes sense:

"3 Things You Have to Give Up to Lose Weight Forever."

The three things are obvious but not easy, which of course is why we have to be reminded of them:

1. The Cheat Day (and also what "The Shift" author Tory Johnson calls "the moderation trap." Hah! I totally get it. She writes, "For me, rewarding healthy eating with unhealthy foods was akin to an alcoholic celebrating a month of sobriety with a beer. It didn't work. When it comes to eating, I was not blessed with the moderation gene. Once I stopped struggling with moderation, my life got a whole lot easier." Amen, Sister. 

2. The 7-Day Fix. As Johnson writes, "I realized that I could no longer try to lose 10 lbs. in time for that wedding, which, oh-by-the-way is this Saturday. By giving myself the luxury of time—and not putting an end date on my efforts—I was able to make big progress." Amen, again.

3. The Blame Game. Again, quoting Johnson, "The idea that someone (not me) was to blame for my mess was front and center in my mind. But I came to understand that assigning blame serves no purpose. No one decides what I eat except me. I now own my choices." And a great big Hallelujah moment of recognition.

Anyway, the reason I'm writing about all these things is not just because I'm obsessing over my weight and body shape (hello, I'm a typical American woman), but also because I'm thinking of how science (i.e., actual well-designed scientific and medical studies) can help and how, in contrast, the way science is politicized and monetized and marketized (new word, Hello, OED, when ya gonna add this one?) ... often to our detriment and not so often to our benefit.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

This Exercise Will Make Your Butt Look Amazing!

And, since I really, really want my Butt to Look Amazing! I followed the link to a page that was so full of ads and links to ads that I never saw the so-called butt-amazing-looking-making exercise.

I saw four tiny thumbnails showing four different exercises with four types of equipment, only one of which (a yoga mat) I actually have. But nothing like what was advertised.

Sorry, Oprah, I love so much of what you do, but whoever is designing those Web pages is doing you and your readers a big disfavor.

Meanwhile, at the very moment this post appears, I will be warming up to "run" (actually, jog and/or walk, at best) a half-marathon in a nearby town. Or maybe a quarter-marathon, to save my legs for the long hike I'm planning for next week.

Either way, whatever distance I run/jog/walk/stumble/crawl, I'm pretty sure it will do more to make my Butt Look Amazing than any one or four invisible exercises...

(Wish me luck!)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Self-Diagnosis Vs. Actual Medical Training

I do this (self-diagnose) all the time, so it's a good thing I know better than to self-prescribe antibiotics (and don't have access to them in this country, anyway). I usually think I know what's wrong when I'm sick or feeling pain, so I decide for myself that I don't need to go to the doctor.

How do I make this decision, and why do I make this decision so often?

Here's HOW: Based on past experience, such as pain and symptoms that I have actually seen a real doctor about, and how the doctor treated the symptoms, I draw a conclusion about whether this is the same or a different ailment, and go from there. If it's the same, and it needs a prescription, I call the doctor. If it's different, I Google my symptoms and then decide whether I think I need to see a doctor.

Here's why this doesn't always work to my advantage: My memories aren't all that accurate. Heck, nobody's memories are all that accurate! I thought of writing about this because of reading a very interesting and well-written article on teething symptoms and what they might really mean:

It turns out that when a mom sees the drooling and snottiness of a baby who's at the age where he/she might be teething, she says, "Ah, the baby's teething." But it often turns out that the baby is not teething right then.  In fact, it sometimes turns out that the baby is really sick. Sometimes moms even think a fever is a sign of teething (it isn't, generally). So whatever illness the baby has goes undiagnosed and untreated. Or the mom tries some home remedy that doesn't help and may even make the baby feel worse or get sicker. Meanwhile the symptoms continue, or get less worrisome and then come back, and the mom is still not helping the baby.

Here's WHY I do it the way I do, in spite of the fact that I'm sometimes wrong:

First: I think my chances of being right are as good as the chances of being right are of whichever so-called "health care provider" available that day in my so-called "health maintenance organization."

Second: "First" is a purely chance function: which "advice nurse" I have the good or bad luck of talking to that day and which doctor, physician's assistant, or nurse practitioner is available.

Third: "First" and "Second" are partly functions of the time of day and the hours of the various clinics and after-hours care facilities operated by my HMO.

Fourth: Even the most highly trained among the various health care providers available in my HMO can make, and have made, mistakes.

Fifth: When I go for months through my HMO's gate-keeping system and the most ridiculous so-called "physical therapy" you can imagine before getting treated for a real and painful ailment, because they don't believe me in the first place so they refuse to have diagnostic X-rays and MRI's done, they have lost all credibility with me. (See "First.")

So, while I applaud the attempts of concerned public health officials and health care providers everywhere to ensure that people get good medical advice and treatment, I still generally do everything I can on my own before calling my HMO.

Don't worry: If I'm ever around a teething child, or any child or adult besides myself who is having a medical problem, I'll get some good medical advice. But as long as I'm not endangering anyone else by my self-diagnosis, I'm fine with it, generally, until I absolutely have to get outside help.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Sky IS Falling (Climate Change Online Class)

I'm taking a free online class about climate change denial. It's fascinating, and I've only barely half finished the first week's readings.

One of the references at the end of the first half of the week's readings is this one, showing that increasing greenhouse gas is causing changes in the upper atmosphere:

In the "upper atmosphere," from 10 to 300 kilometers high, increasing greenhouse gas (CO2) is causing an increase in density which is in turn causing layers of the sky to "fall." Is this bad? Well, ask Chicken Little. Or take the class (See below).

Here's the graph that accompanies the short article.

It's not too late to sign up for the class. It's in the second week, and I just signed up for it; you can do the first week's work and then continue. If you're interested: "Making Sense of Climate Change Denial." I'm taking it not to learn more about climate science but to learn how to deal with false information I read and hear all the time about the topic. However, I'm learning a lot about climate change, too.

From the "About This Course" info:
In public discussions, climate change is a highly controversial topic. However, in the scientific community, there is little controversy with 97% of climate scientists concluding humans are causing global warming.
  • Why the gap between the public and scientists?
  • What are the psychological and social drivers of the rejection of the scientific consensus?
  • How has climate denial influenced public perceptions and attitudes towards climate change?
This course examines the science of climate science denial.

We will look at the most common climate myths from “global warming stopped in 1998” to “global warming is caused by the sun” to “climate impacts are nothing to worry about.”

We’ll find out what lessons are to be learnt from past climate change as well as better understand how climate models predict future climate impacts. You’ll learn both the science of climate change and the techniques used to distort the science.

With every myth we debunk, you’ll learn the critical thinking needed to identify the fallacies associated with the myth. Finally, armed with all this knowledge, you’ll learn the psychology of misinformation. This will equip you to effectively respond to climate misinformation and debunk myths.

A timely perspective article in Science this week addresses the issues of upper atmosphere change. ‘Upper’ atmosphere here is the stratosphere up to the ionosphere (~20 to 300 km). Laštovička et al point out that cooling trends are exactly as predicted by increasing greenhouse gas trends, and that the increase in density that this implies is causing various ionspheric layers to ‘fall’. This was highlighted a few years back by Jarvis et al (1998) and in New Scientist in 1999 (and I apologise for stealing their headline!).
The changes in the figure are related to the cooling seen in the lower stratospheric MSU-4 records (UAH or RSS), but the changes there (~ 15-20 km) are predominantly due to ozone depletion. The higher up one goes, the more important the CO2 related cooling is. It’s interesting to note that significant solar forcing would have exactly the opposite effect (it would cause a warming) – yet another reason to doubt that solar forcing is a significant factor in recent decades.
Update: The best explanation for the cooling trends can be found on ESPERE (alternative site), in particular, figure 3 (alt. version).
- See more at:


EPA Vs. Coal

You know we've gotten to a sad state of politicization of science when a headline about new EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) guidelines on coal has to be written like this:

"Peer-reviewed, non-partisan academic study finds that the EPA emissions rule will save thousands of lives."

Because without that kind of headline, who would take such an article seriously?

It's also sad that Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator, had to say, when talking about the guidelines:

"This is not just about disappearing polar bears and melting ice caps...this is about protecting our health and protecting our homes.”

Because, as she knows, many of the people affected by coal emissions don't really care about disappearing polar bears and melting ice caps and don't see the connection between coal-fired electrical plants in Ohio and what's going on in the Arctic. 

The peer-reviewed, non-partisan study was published online yesterday (May 4, 2015) in the journal Nature Climate Change. 

As usual, all I can see of this article without paying for a subscription ($199) or ponying up $32 for this one single article, is the abstract and some incredibly tiny (i.e., unreadable) thumbnails of some very interesting-looking figures.

So I'm pasting the entire abstract here:
Carbon dioxide emissions standards for US power plants will influence the fuels and technologies used to generate electricity, alter emissions of pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, and influence ambient air quality and public health. We present an analysis of how three alternative scenarios for US power plant carbon standards could change fine particulate matter and ozone concentrations in ambient air, and the resulting public health co-benefits. The results underscore that carbon standards to curb global climate change can also provide immediate local and regional health co-benefits, but the magnitude depends on the design of the standards. A stringent but flexible policy that counts demand-side energy efficiency towards compliance yields the greatest health benefits of the three scenarios analysed.

Because I can't read the article itself, so I can't properly summarize it in my own words. Just one more of the many things about the way "science" is conducted in this country, in this century, and in this political atmosphere, that annoys me.

You CAN read the actual proposed guidelines in the Federal Register. 

So you can read such gems as this, showing why the study and report were done in the first place and why the government is interested in coal emissions: 
Through President Obama's Climate Action Plan, the Administration is working to identify new approaches to protect and restore our forests, as well as other critical landscapes including grasslands and wetlands, in the face of a changing climate. Sustainable forestry and agriculture can improve resiliency to climate change, be part of a national strategy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and contribute to climate change mitigation by acting as a “sink” for carbon. The plant growth associated with producing many of the biomass-derived fuels can, to varying degrees for different biomass feedstocks, sequester carbon from the atmosphere. For example, America's forests currently play a critical role in addressing carbon pollution, removing nearly 12 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions each year. As a result, broadly speaking, burning biomass-derived fuels for energy recovery can yield climate benefits as compared to burning conventional fossil fuels. (Emphasis--bold type--added by me)

But if you've ever read the whole of one of these EPA documents, which I have, on several snooze-worthy occasions, you'll know what a chore they are to wade through.  On the other hand, it's enlightening to see the kinds of issues the EPA has to consider every time it comes up with a plan to protect some part of our environment , including "... striving to find a balance between providing state implementation flexibility and ensuring that the emission performance required by CAA section 111(d) is properly defined in state plans and that plan performance projections have technical integrity." (Aren't you glad you're not the one writing that kind of stuff? I've done that kind of writing before, too, and it ain't easy to write anything worth writing while following those rules they have to follow.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My Theory of Everything, Part I

This theory of everything has to be in several parts, obviously, because "everything" is so big. And each part will be divided into sub-parts, because each part of "everything" is also big.

Part I, Section 1: Why physicists still haven't come up with a theory of everything (and here I'll quote my cousin Maurice, who has said it already, and much better than I can):
Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design is a fascinating book, and I somewhat enjoyed the movie, The Theory of Everything.  It was fun to see Hawking, Thorne, and Penrose in the same room at the same time.  I would have appreciated having a little more cosmology in the movie.

But as brilliant as Hawking is, I was disappointed to see his failed reasoning toward the end in The Grand Design discounting the existence of a God:

“It is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe, but if the answer is God, then the question has merely been deflected to that of who created God.” Yes, of course.  But then Hawking says, “How can a whole universe be created from nothing?  That is why there must be a law like gravity.  . . . Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing . . . .”

Which, of course, raises the obvious observation:  “It is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe, but if the answer is God the law of gravity, then the question has merely been deflected to that of who created God the law of gravity.”

As for the question, “How can a whole universe be created from nothing?”, Mormons don’t believe in creation ex nihilo.  We fall into neither the creationist nor the atheist camp.  Their fight is not ours.

Sadly, if there is a “theory of everything,” all the mathematics and cosmology in this world will never produce that equation.

Which brings me to what is one of my most favorite passages in all of scripture:  “[M]an doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” (italics mine)  In other words, not even a Stephen Hawking can write the table of contents of the things God knows.
Reiterating, for emphasis: "Not even a Stephen Hawking can write the table of contents of the things God knows."