Only a vanishingly small fraction of us can ever hope to learn & teach so much before we subside back into the quantum foam. / Well done, Professor: and may infinities of angels, dancing on the singular pinpoints of Many Worlds, sing thee to thy rest. (Emphases added :) ~
John A. Wheeler, a visionary physicist and teacher who helped invent the theory of nuclear fission, gave black holes their name and argued about the nature of reality with Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, died Sunday morning at his home in Hightstown, N.J. He was 96.
…As a professor at Princeton and then at the University of Texas in Austin, Dr. Wheeler set the agenda for generations of theoretical physicists, using metaphor as effectively as calculus to capture the imaginations of his students and colleagues and to pose questions that would send them, minds blazing, to the barricades to confront nature.
Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of Dr. Wheeler, Ã¢â‚¬Å“For me, he was the last Titan, the only physics superhero still standing.Ã¢â‚¬Â
… Ã¢â‚¬Å“He rejuvenated general relativity; he made it an experimental subject and took it away from the mathematicians,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Freeman Dyson, a theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study across town in Princeton.
Among Dr. WheelerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s students was Richard Feynman of the California Institute of Technology, who parlayed a crazy-sounding suggestion by Dr. Wheeler into work that led to a Nobel Prize. Another was Hugh Everett, whose Ph.D. thesis under Dr. Wheeler on quantum mechanics envisioned parallel alternate universes endlessly branching and splitting apart Ã¢â‚¬â€ a notion that Dr. Wheeler called Ã¢â‚¬Å“Many WorldsÃ¢â‚¬Â and which has become a favorite of many cosmologists as well as science fiction writers.
Recalling his student days, Dr. Feynman once said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Some people think WheelerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s gotten crazy in his later years, but heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s always been crazy.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Yes and Feynman (who, assuredly, should Know :) would agree: we should All be so crazy :}. More after the
leap jump :}.
Kerry Emanuel, the influential M.I.T. climate scientist who has been at the forefront of making the argument that global warming will lead to more intense hurricanes, has released a new study that backtracks on his earlier findings, revealing more uncertainty on the question of whether such a link exists. (Hat tip: InstaPundit.)
I’ve pointed out repeatedly that the question of what global warming would do vis a vis hurricanes is an entirely separate issue — about which there is much less consensus and much more uncertainty, even among the most ardent AGW true believers — from the question of whether global warming is happening (and the subsidiary question of whether, and to what extent, human activity is causing or contributing to it). This new Emanuel study basically reinforces that point. Entirely aside from the broader global warming debate, everyone ought to recognize that we really just don’t know for sure yet what the impact on hurricanes will be, if any. (cc: Al Gore)
Personally, notwithstanding my entirely tongue-in-cheek headline, I think the most important point is the one made by Eric Berger, the Houston Chronicle’s “SciGuy”:
This should put to rest a lot of the nonsense about a global warming conspiracy among scientists. Emanuel, faced with new evidence, has moderated his viewpoint. That’s what responsible scientists do, and most are responsible. The amount of scientist-bashing when it comes to global warming is generally quite deplorable.
Indeed. (I would have loved to see Glenn Reynolds quote that point, instead of rehashing the silly, trivial and misleading point about a “relative paucity of hurricanes over the last couple of years.” See my Pajamas Media article for a full rebuttal to that.) [UPDATE: Glenn has updated his post, adding a link to this post and quoting the very passage I wished he had quoted initially. Thanks, Glenn.]
Berger also points out that “if you’re a skeptic, and you welcome these results, please remember that [the climate models used in this new study] are the same climate models you bash when they show global temperatures steadily rising during the next century.”
Meanwhile, Becky tells me she saw the National Hurricane Center’s new director, Bill Read, talking on The Weather Channel last week about how we need to stop obsessing over the global warming issue when talking about hurricanes, and focus more on promoting greater preparedness. I agree 100% with that, and I would add that we also need to focus on figuring out what to do about runaway coastal development. As I wrote in my PJM article:
[T]he whole argument over global warming really misses the point, in a certain sense. The biggest downside of the politicization of weather is that it has largely blinded us to more pressing issues related to disaster preparedness.
Regardless of whether global warming is real and manmade Ã¢â‚¬â€ and regardless of whether warming ocean temperatures will lead to more active hurricane seasons, which is actually a separate question Ã¢â‚¬â€ it is an undeniable reality that hurricanes are going to become more damaging and deadly in the coming decades because of increased coastal development. It is also undeniable that certain cities (e.g., Houston/Galveston, Tampa, Miami, New York, and, still, New Orleans) are incredibly vulnerable to absolute devastation from a major hurricane, and more steps need to be taken to protect them, regardless of global warming. Disaster preparedness should not be a political issue, but because of intellectual dishonesty and laziness on both extremes in this feud, it has become one.
Whatever our positions on global warming and related political issues, we should all be happy that the 2006 and 2007 hurricane seasons have turned out to be relatively less devastating than some other recent seasons Ã¢â‚¬â€ and we should use that relative inactivity not as an excuse to grow complacent, but as an opportunity to get ready for the next big storm. Because there will be another big storm. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one inconvenient truth that nobody can deny.
As the Atlantic hurricane season gets underway, the possible influence of climate change on hurricane activity is receiving renewed attention. While the debate on this issue is of considerable scientific and societal interest and concern, it should in no event detract from the main hurricane problem facing the United States: the ever-growing concentration of population and wealth in vulnerable coastal regions. These demographic trends are setting us up for rapidly increasing human and economic losses from hurricane disasters, especially in this era of heightened activity. Scores of scientists and engineers had warned of the threat to New Orleans long before climate change was seriously considered, and a Katrina-like storm or worse was (and is) inevitable even in a stable climate.
Rapidly escalating hurricane damage in recent decades owes much to government policies that serve to subsidize risk. State regulation of insurance is captive to political pressures that hold down premiums in risky coastal areas at the expense of higher premiums in less risky places. Federal flood insurance programs likewise undercharge property owners in vulnerable areas. Federal disaster policies, while providing obvious humanitarian benefits, also serve to promote risky behavior in the long run.
We are optimistic that continued research will eventually resolve much of the current controversy over the effect of climate change on hurricanes. But the more urgent problem of our lemming-like march to the sea requires immediate and sustained attention. We call upon leaders of government and industry to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of building practices, and insurance, land use, and disaster relief policies that currently serve to promote an ever-increasing vulnerability to hurricanes.
Amen. (Emphasis mine.)
P.S. Since I now have a mini-Instalanche headed my way, which inevitably means a global warming flame-war is imminent, I wanted to quote one other key passage from my PJM article. I’ve added a few bracketed points for the sake of clarity.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“All scientists agree,Ã¢â‚¬Â Berger writes, Ã¢â‚¬Å“that a single hurricane season cannot make or break an argument for global warming having a measurable impact of hurricanes.Ã¢â‚¬Â Alas, this message is often lost on non-scientists in the pro- and anti- crowds.
Just as it was both unsound and unwise for some global-warming advocates to hold up the 2005 hurricane season as proof of their position, it would be equally unsound and unwise for global-warming skeptics to hold up 2006 and 2007 as somehow disproving the existence of global warming [or of a link between global warming and hurricanes]. Such arguments are unsound because they confuse climate, which is comprised of long-term trends, with weather, which chronicles individual events. They are also unwise strategically because they are so vulnerable to attack when things Ã¢â‚¬â€ predictably Ã¢â‚¬â€ turn out differently in future years.
The heavy reliance on 2005 in certain quarters, which gave some lay observers the false impression that all hurricane seasons would henceforth be similar to the freakish Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ05 season, left global-warming advocates open to cynicism, criticism and rebuttal when 2006 and 2007 failed to live up to expectations. Similarly, a global-warming skeptic who claims today that 2007 disproves global warming [and/or an AGW link to hurricanes] is leaving himself open to the argument, if 2008 is an active season, that Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ08 proves global warming is real [and linked to hurricanes] after all. The more honest (and strategically sound) course, for both sides, is to discuss global warming on its actual merits, and not obsess over minor year-to-year variations that tell us very little, if anything, about long-term trends.
Something for everyone, on both sides, to keep in mind as the 2008 hurricane season approaches.
In the last half hour, a spooky sort of here-come-the-storms feeling has definitely settled over Knoxville. Tornado warnings off to the west. I'm heading home, and should beat the storms.
UPDATE: I’m home, in case anyone was worried. :) No major storms yet here, though I think Jay’s hometown of Loudon got pounded. [UPDATE: Apparently not.]
LATER UPDATE: The line of storms kind of fell apart as it neared Knoxville proper, so we were largely spared. But one isolated storm cell did move over a while later, bringing some heavy rain for a few minutes and briefly turning the sky a weird shade of yellow — I’m not sure what that was all about. Here are the “before & after” shots, at 8:02 PM and 8:07 PM:
Hmm… upon further review, sunset was at 8:07, so maybe the sunlight at 8:02 was somehow shining through the clouds and rain at some weird angle, producing the yellowness.
It was a bit spooky, though, regardless.
Becky e-mails that The Weather Channel "is telling people in western Nashville suburbs to take cover." That would be because of the tornado warning for central Cheatham County. And that line of storms is headed our way. "Methinks it’ll be one helluva night," Becky writes. Indeed.
UPDATE: The big Dogwood Arts Parade in downtown Knoxville, scheduled for 7pm tonight, has been postponed to
next Friday April 25 due to the approaching line of storms.
Digging through some old computer files, looking for job-related stuff, I stumbled upon a text file titled “message to drudge - katrina,” dated Friday, August 26, 2005, at 10:23 PM. That would be about 8 1/2 hours after my oft-quoted “New Orleans in peril” post (i.e., the one I read aloud in Spike Lee’s movie), less than a half-hour after my post titled “Models ‘cluster’ on near-worst-case track” — which accompanied the final westward shift of the National Hurricane Center’s official forecast track, which ended up being almost exactly accurate even though it was ~60 hours out — and an hour before my frequently referenced “get the hell out” post.
Even as all that was going on, the Drudge Report was still focused on the possibility of another Florida landfall (recall that the Sunshine State had been hit by six hurricanes in the preceding 14 months or so, including Katrina’s first landfall on the peninsula), and much of the media was following suit, focusing on the Florida panhandle instead of the looming New Orleans doomsday scenario, despite the clear change in the forecast over the preceding 12 hours. Exasperated, I wrote to Drudge using his anonymous tips form thingy. I don’t think I’ve ever published my message before, and I thought it might be of some mild interest, so I’ve posted it after the jump.
Remember back in 2006, when Wonkette made fun of President Bush for randomly condemning "human-animal hybrids" in his State of the Union address? ("OMG HUMAN-ANIMAL HYBRIDS! BUSH SAYS NO TO WEREWOLVES. HEAR THAT CONGRESS? The man is taking a stand. To repeat: Hybrid cars: Good. Hybrid human-animals: Bad.")
Well, maybe ol’ Dubya was on to something. If you missed the headline earlier this evening Drudge…
Here’s the story:
A team has grown hybrid embryos after injecting human DNA into eggs taken from cows’ ovaries, which had most of their genetic material removed.
The embryos survived for three days and are intended to provide a limitless supply of stem cells to develop therapies for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and spinal cord injuries, overcoming a worldwide shortfall in human embryos.
Opponents decry the hybrid embryos as "monstrous." Hmm. Half man, half cow, half monster? It’s ManCowHilldog!
The Space Shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center at 8:39 PM EDT. Complete coverage here.
UPDATE: The Shuttle landed safely.
I drove a few miles to Carl Cowan Park this evening, where I figured I’d have a clear-ish horizon and a dark-ish sky to watch the Shuttle & ISS flyover. And, sure enough, I saw both spaceships — preceded a few minutes earlier by the ATV Jules Verne — race across the sky. The view of the Shuttle & ISS wasn’t as spectacular as when I saw them from Nashville (they were much brighter and more directly overhead in that particular instance), but it was still neat. And I got a video!
Pay no attention to my blithering at the end of the video about how the Shuttle “stayed light longer than I thought it would.” I was just a bit confused in real-time. On the video, it’s perfectly obvious that the Shuttle faded into shadow when and where you’d expect it to, based on the ISS’s behavior moments before.
The more interesting question — which I don’t mention in the video — is why the Shuttle flared up so bright, brighter even than the ISS, in the final moments before it disappeared into the Earth’s shadow. I’m sure there’s a good answer to that question, but I don’t know what it is.
P.S. The apparent jerky motion of the ATV, Shuttle and ISS is a result of my camcorder’s “Super Night Shot” feature. In actuality, orbiting satellites move rather smoothly. :)
P.P.S. The title of this post is technically wrong. The Shuttle and ISS were not directly over Knoxville when I saw them, but rather, over the Memphis area.
If you’re in the South, the lower Great Plains or Midwest, or Texas, and your sky is clear, you may be able to see the Space Shuttle and International Space Station fly across the sky tonight as two distinct, bright dots, the Shuttle trailing about 20 seconds behind the ISS. (That’s "seconds" as a unit of time, not as a unit of angular distance.)
The Shuttle Endeavour undocked yesterday, and is scheduled to land tomorrow, so tonight is the only side-by-side Shuttle & ISS viewing opportunity for this mission, barring delays. As I’ve said before, this is a very cool thing to see, well worth a few minutes standing outside and looking up at the sky.
The flyover will occur between 9:34 and 9:39 PM Eastern time. To find out exactly where in the sky to look, and when, go to Heavens-Above, select your location from the database or the map, and then click on "ISS" or "STS-123" under the heading "Satellites." The closer you are to the solid black line in the graphic below, the better your viewing opportunity will be:
Don’t pay too much attention to the red circle, as it "moves" along with the Shuttle and ISS. Just look at the solid black line. The closer you are to it, the better. But don’t believe me — go to Heavens-Above and found out the local details. And then go outside tonight and look up.
Here in Knoxville, I’ll be looking up to the western sky — just barely south of due west, actually — about one-third of the way from the horizon to the zenith. The sky’s clear now; hopefully it’ll stay that way. Now I just need to pick a viewing location. If I’m able to get any good pictures, I’ll (obviously) post ‘em!
Karl Rove on his iPhone: “I love it. My life has changed. I have a shred of coolness.”
Heh. He goes on. (”I mean it is just shocking how much better, how much more productive I am.”) He also sings the praises of his aforeblogged MacBook Air.
The big question is, which effect is more pronounced: hip Mac products making Karl Rove cool, or evil Karl Rove making hip Mac products less cool? :)
That’s a healthy-looking line of thunderstorms that’s headed our way.
Here’s the live TV broadcast from last night’s Alabama-Mississippi State game as a possible tornado struck the Georgia Dome:
It just goes to show that the SEC is a war. ;)
The Space Shuttle Endeavour’s wee-hours launch was a success. Endeavour is scheduled for the longest Shuttle mission ever, 16 days. I hope the crew members aren’t hoops fans! They’re going to miss Selection Sunday and the always-exciting opening weekend of the tourney! :)
Anyway, the Shuttle is scheduled to dock with the ISS late tomorrow night, and undock on Monday the 24th at 7:55 PM EDT. There will be an excellent viewing opportunity here in Knoxville about 24 hours after the time of scheduled undocking, so hopefully everything stays on schedule this time.
The Space Shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to blast off in less than six hours, at 2:28 AM EDT.