Happy New Year! I’m back from Laos. Here are seven items, mostly from the Azimuth Circle on Google Plus:
1) Phil Libin is the boss of a Silicon Valley startup. When he’s off travelling, he uses a telepresence robot to keep an eye on things. It looks like a stick figure on wheels. Its bulbous head has two eyes, which are actually a camera and a laser. On its forehead is a screen, where you can see Libin’s face. It’s made by a company called Anybots, and it costs just $15,000.
I predict that within my life we’ll be using things like this to radically cut travel costs and carbon emissions for business and for conferences. It seems weird now, but so did telephones. Future models will be better to look at. But let’s try it soon!
• Laura Sydell No excuses: robots put you in two places at once, Weekend Edition Saturday, 31 December 2011.
Bruce Bartlett and I are already planning for me to use telepresence to give a lecture on mathematics and the environment at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. But we’d been planning to use old-fashioned videoconferencing technology.
Anybots is located in Mountain View, California. That’s near Google’s main campus. Can anyone help me set up a talk on energy and the environment at Google, where I use an Anybot?
(Or, for that matter, anywhere else around there?)
2) A study claims to have found a correlation between weather and the day of the week! The claim is that there are more tornados and hailstorms in the eastern USA during weekdays. One possible mechanism could be that aerosols from car exhaust help seed clouds.
I make no claims that this study is correct. But at the very least, it would be interesting to examine their use of statistics and see if it’s convincing or flawed:
• Thomas Bell and Daniel Rosenfeld, Why do tornados and hailstorms rest on weekends?, Journal of Geophysical Research 116 (2011), D20211.
Abstract. This study shows for the first time statistical evidence that when anthropogenic aerosols over the eastern United States during summertime are at their weekly mid-week peak, tornado and hailstorm activity there is also near its weekly maximum. The weekly cycle in summertime storm activity for 1995–2009 was found to be statistically significant and unlikely to be due to natural variability. It correlates well with previously observed weekly cycles of other measures of storm activity. The pattern of variability supports the hypothesis that air pollution aerosols invigorate deep convective clouds in a moist, unstable atmosphere, to the extent of inducing production of large hailstones and tornados. This is caused by the effect of aerosols on cloud drop nucleation, making cloud drops smaller and hydrometeors larger. According to simulations, the larger ice hydrometeors contribute to more hail. The reduced evaporation from the larger hydrometeors produces weaker cold pools. Simulations have shown that too cold and fast-expanding pools inhibit the formation of tornados. The statistical observations suggest that this might be the mechanism by which the weekly modulation in pollution aerosols is causing the weekly cycle in severe convective storms during summer over the eastern United States. Although we focus here on the role of aerosols, they are not a primary atmospheric driver of tornados and hailstorms but rather modulate them in certain conditions.
Here’s a discussion of it:
• Bob Yirka, New research may explain why serious thunderstorms and tornados are less prevalent on the weekends, PhysOrg, 22 December 2011.
3) And if you like to check how people use statistics, here’s a paper that would be incredibly important if its findings were correct:
• Joseph J. Mangano and Janette D. Sherman, An unexpected mortality increase in the United States follows arrival of the radioactive plume from Fukushima: is there a correlation?, International Journal of Health Services 42 (2012), 47–64.
The title has a question mark in it, but it’s been cited in very dramatic terms in many places, for example this video entitled “Peer reviewed study shows 14,000 U.S. deaths from Fukushima”:
Starting at 1:31 you’ll see an interview with one of the paper’s authors, Janette Sherman.
14,000 deaths in the US due to Fukushima? Wow! How did they get that figure? This quote from the paper explains how:
During weeks 12 to 25 [after the Fukushima disaster began], total deaths in 119 U.S. cities increased from 148,395 (2010) to 155,015 (2011), or 4.46 percent. This was nearly double the 2.34 percent rise in total deaths (142,006 to 145,324) in 104 cities for the prior 14 weeks, significant at p < 0.000001 (Table 2). This difference between actual and expected changes of +2.12 percentage points (+4.46% – 2.34%) translates to 3,286 “excess” deaths (155,015 × 0.0212) nationwide. Assuming a total of 2,450,000 U.S. deaths will occur in 2011 (47,115 per week), then 23.5 percent of deaths are reported (155,015/14 = 11,073, or 23.5% of 47,115). Dividing 3,286 by 23.5 percent yields a projected 13,983 excess U.S. deaths in weeks 12 to 25 of 2011.
Hmm. Can you think of some potential problems with this analysis?
In the interview, Janette Sherman also mentions increased death rates of children in British Columbia. Here’s the evidence the paper presents for that:
Shortly after the report [another paper by the authors] was issued, officials from British Columbia, Canada, proximate to the northwestern United States, announced that 21 residents had died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the first half of 2011, compared with 16 SIDS deaths in all of the prior year. Moreover, the number of deaths from SIDS rose from 1 to 10 in the months of March, April, May, and June 2011, after Fukushima fallout arrived, compared with the same period in 2010. While officials could not offer any explanation for the abrupt increase, it coincides with our findings in the Pacific Northwest.
4) For the first time in 87 years, a wild gray wolf was spotted in California:
• Stephen Messenger, First gray wolf in 80 years enters California, Treehugger, 29 December 2011.
Researchers have been tracking this juvenile male using a GPS-enabled collar since it departed northern Oregon. In just a few weeks, it walked some 730 miles to California. It was last seen surfing off Malibu. Here is a photograph:
5) George Musser left the Centre for Quantum Technologies and returned to New Jersey, but not before writing a nice blog article explaining how the GRACE satellite uses the Earth’s gravitational field to measure the melting of glaciers:
• George Musser, Melting glaciers muck up Earth’s gravitational field, Scientific American, 22 December 2011.
6) The American Physical Society has started a new group: a Topical Group on the Physics of Climate! If you’re a member of the APS, and care about climate issues, you should join this.
7) Finally, here’s a cool picture taken in the Gulf of Alaska by Kent Smith:
He believes this was caused by fresher water meeting more salty water, but it doesn’t sounds like he’s sure. Can anyone figure out what’s going on? The foam where the waters meet is especially intriguing.