Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I will be back, I promise

My hopes were to get back to regular postings here and more frequent updates on twitter. Alas my extra class that I took on at the last minute, coupled with the class schedule disruption Sandy caused, threw those plans into disarray. 

I have two finals to give and grade next week, then I'm done (with academia for good???). By the New year I plan to be back up and running....I promise....

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Quick Note on Sandy

We weathered the storm well here in the old school house, for once we didn't lose power.  Of course that was after storing a ton of water segregated for drinking/cooking, cleaning and toilet flushing.  Better safe than sorry. I'll have more thoughts on this latest extreme weather event and climate change later, but I have to agree with NY guv Andrew Cuomo:
"There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That is not a political statement, that is a factual statement," Cuomo said. "Anyone who says there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns is denying reality."
Meanwhile, NY Times dot green blogger Andrew Revkin contorted himself into some sort of pretzel creature in his efforts to deny any linkage between this unprecedented hybrid storm and climate change. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sep 9th, A Sunday, time for strange, surreal and stupid news.

I didn't reckon that we had some real-life rootin' tootin' cattle rustlers here in Pennsylvania. Sure dem cows were rustled up there in Massachusetts but they wound up here.

I hate it when the dog gets into something.

You don't want 'em to drive drunk in their own cars do ya? Think about how that would affect their insurance.

The pigs will be the end of us, at least those who go to state fairs. Was Leviticus right?

Pacino to play Paterno? Will he channel Micheal Corleone or Ricky Roma? At least they had the sense to put this story under the Penn State Scandal section.

Once upon a time CNN's Headline News proudly "all the news in 30 minutes" and they delivered. Now? Well there's this, real important stuff ( and yes this was a leading story on the cable version).

Beware grumpy old men, they hold grudges.

I've lived in Rhode Island, there is nothing shocking about a cursing bird, in fact it would be more shocking if it didn't.

No new chupacabra news - the coverup deepens!



Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Disturbing Arctic Sea Ice News

Before my concentration on Penn. Marcellus news and the summer blogging doldrums, I was frequently posting on climate change and suggesting is it should be a big issue in the election - "It's the climate stupid."  During my slowdown, weather and climate have become big news with the record heat and drought.  Jeff Master's Weather Underground blog has become a drumbeat of a destabilized climate. Here are just a few entries from July:
   Record warmth at the top of the Greenland Ice Sheet
   Historic 2012 U.S. drought continues to expand and intensify
   June 2012: Earth's 4th warmest June; heavy rains in Beijing kill 37
   Greenland experiences melting over 97% of its area in mid-July
   Oil industry-funded "BEST" study finds global warming is real, manmade
   July 2012: hottest month in U.S. history
You get the picture. Now one thing I used to post quite regularly were Arctic sea ice coverage images from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.  We've seen some high amounts of melting this year, but I found the data posted yesterday unsettling. First, look at the trend and see how the rate of melting had recently increased:
Then look at the ice coverage, notice the the big break-up near the Bering Sea along the Siberian coast:

The reason I find this image disturbing is because it reminds me of ice on a frozen puddle just before it completely melts, when it's soft, fragile, thin and full of holes.

The accelerated melting and break-up is due in part to an unusually strong summer storm in the Arctic. In and of itself this is not earth-shattering. Though uncommon, strong summer storms are not unknown, but this one comes as part of a package deal with more heat and moisture in the Arctic and more melting.  Recent data suggests that the sea ice is melting faster than expected, maybe as much as 50% more, and the volume is decreasing as well. The volume is a crucial element here.  The Arctic will continue to freeze over in the winter, but much of that will now melt in the summer. Thus the we will see more and more thin (low-volume) single-year ice instead of thicker multi-year ice. This ice is more susceptible to melting, which leads to more melting in the summer, less high-albedo ice to reflect sunlight, more exposed water to absorb and retain heat, delayed onset of winter freezing and thinner ice. Rinse and repeat.

The rapid decrease in Arctic sea ice is what caused me to change my thinking that climate change was a long-term problem that would incrementally affect us to a short-term unpredictable crisis. A change in the Arctic climate affects storm generation and jet-stream patterns, more convoluted jet stream paths means greater and more unpredictable shifts in weather at lower latitudes and we could see wide swings in winter from intense snow and rain storms to record warmth, maybe in a single season.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday Santorum: Penn State Edition!

It is the perfect confluence of assholery, Rick Santorum has come out as a Paterno/PSU apologist:
In an interview with Dallas-Ft. Worth’s KSKY 660 AM on Friday, Santorum, a Penn State alum, called the evidence “pretty darn thin” and said, “I’m sort of sitting back and waiting for the facts to come out as opposed to, at least as I’m being told, a version of the facts.”
He criticized the Freeh report, saying “a lot of the conclusions in the Freeh report aren’t matched by the evidence that they presented.” He said he read the 267-page report.
But Ed, you say, he's a bad example, most Penn Staters* aren't like him. That's true. They're worse:
Meet Tom and Sally Price. Tom is a Penn State graduate, and both are die-hard Penn State football fans. In an interview with News Watch 16 WNEP in Pennsylvania, Tom compared the sanctioned levied against his school to one of America’s greatest tragedies – the terrorist attacks of September 11.
“I just can’t put my arms around it. To me, it was our 9/11 today. I just saw planes crashing into towers,” said Tom Price.
Hey asshat, know what our 9-11 was? 9-11...dickweed.

We have Penn State bookstores selling "We are...pissed" T-shirts...these brain-dead yahoos weren't pissed when they heard the football showers were a pedophile rape chamber were they?  There's more, #teamoutlaw and PSU vs the world are trending on twitter. These are the types of morons who would charge artillery for slaveholders....hmmmm....similar psychology there....

Look, I have degrees from two land grant colleges (URI, Oregon State) and a Jesuit Ivy (Boston College).  Each had bad points, some much less than others.  I liked the departments in each one.  But I always understood that any attempt by the university to make the students feel like "they are" the school is really just marketing and  apology to make you forget that you are purchasing the opportunity for an education from them.  My short period of attendance is not who I am.  But I've never witnessed the cult-like devotion to the PSU football program (which in the mind of many vocal Penn Staters IS Penn State). I hate when people who attended Ivy League schools, SLACs and places like BC sneer at the land-grant and public schools, but I do acknowledge that the academics and student scholarship overall is higher at those places.  Yet I've heard engineers, accountants and others tell me with a glazed look in their eyes that Penn State is the best college education in America and that it owes that to Joe Paterno and the football program.

The sad part is that the scandal would not have hurt people who attended the school, but this vocal blind loyalty, victimization (over sanctions to an extracurricular activity) and insensitivity to child rape will.  Keep it up Penn Staters, you're are your own enemy.

*Penn Staters is a catch-all for those who attended the main campus (there's more than one, but they don't  rate, cuz you know, no Paterno) and Penn residents who rabidly follow the team, excuse me, the FOOTBALL team.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Penn. State Priorities

The Penn. State scandal grabs my attention not only because I am a PA taxpayer, but also because of my disgust at the widespread corruption and incompetence in American higher education.  As I've said before I am very much in favor of the mission of academia and against the attacks from the outside, but that does not excuse it's culture and behavior.

Anyway two unrelated items caught my eye yesterday that together bring into sharp focus that the priorities of PSU.  First, this comment from a student  the head of the university's alumni association chapter in London on CNN on the NCAA sanctions against the football program,
By essentially taking away the main pillar of the university, you are almost pulling the university down," former student Ujas Patel told CNN. What really hurts, he said, is taking wins away from Paterno, known affectionately by fans as "JoePa."
Really, football is the main pillar of a large research university?  Maybe it's true, because I had this in my inbox from the Mineralogical Society of America's listserv:

I am looking for an EPMA facility preferably near southwestern Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh), that is used to dealing with geologic materials.  In the past my company has used the facility at Penn State University, but that is no  longer possible as they no longer provide this service.
Yep, a large research institute apparently doesn't has the staff and or resources to provide availability to their analytical equipment.  Guess what, contract work like that can make such labs self-sufficient and able to afford scheduled maintenance, as well as pay for research on unfunded projects.  The latter is particularly important because NSF grants are very difficult to get.

Fight on Nittany Lions, fight on Ivory Tower. You've met your enemy...in the mirror.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Old School Project

Making progress on the house, but doing that at night, yard-work on weekends and trying to focus on the What the Frack blog has kept me away from here.

Our contractors finished their work. Moldy drywall on the walls was replaced by tounge and groove paneling. The drywall ceilings were removed and a rough-sawn pine was put between the joists in the new dining room (my old office). In my new office/pantry (old dining room) the joists and subfloor were left exposed for a rustic look. We also have new windows that open - although it has been too hot many days to do so.

But the contractors didn't do everything.  It's up to me to paint, install lamps and numerous other things. So that's what I've been up to.

This Old House is more fun to watch than experience!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

For the 4th: John Adams real thoughts on Government

This is the third year in a row I've posted this. It's now my July 4th tradition.

The Continental Congress passed a Resolution declaring the independence of the 13 colonies on July 2, 1776, 234 years ago today.This is why John Adams said, "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore"
However, the formal declaration was not approved until the 4th, which of course is the day we celebrate. So Johnny was two days off.

Anyway, in these times when a minority of reactionaries twist, color and outright lie about what the American Revolutionary leaders thought (as if they all agreed in lockstep) I want to quote the man from my home town again, John Adams, from his Thoughts on Government:

"We ought to consider what is the end of government, before we determine which is the best form. Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all divines and moral philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle it will follow, that the form of government which communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best."
emphasis added

"Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Strange Surreal and Stupid Sunday

Been a lost few days internet-wise, series of unrelated illness among all of us in the old school house, but I'll be able to use my down time to catch-up. It being Sunday and all, I return to an Old School House tradition...

I don't know why everyone is surprised by the Rockies' allowing an infield home-run, remember Game 1 of the '07 WS?

"So I was pulling a dead mouse of a stray cat's mouth and shockingly I got the plague."

Forced child bathing, ahh Texas ... well I guess they have time for this since they don't teach science or actual history there.

Now this may seem to be a worse reaction to bodily odor, but even been in an enclosed space with someone with smelly feet?

Then again, people will wait in line to meet a flower that reeks, but hey it's free.


Just because you're naked and 80,cops in SC won't take crap from ya.

Play Borat national anthem and  go to jail, I actually sympathize with Kazahkstan on this.

And finally a PACK OF CHUPACABRAS, with pictures!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Old School Project Progress.

The contractor work on the old school house is just about done.  It's nice not to look at open walls, ductwork and piping. We still have painting and flooring to do our selves before moving stuff back in, but the finished project is in sight.

And I'll have an office again and time for more work, paper writing and blogging.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The "Political Divide", what it is and what it's not.

Been busy with the other blog and contractors, hence the lack of posts lately.

In all the blather over the Wisconsin recall, which I will give my take in another post, once again the pundits lazily went to the "Americans are all deeply divided" theme.  Yeah, all Americans are unflinching partisan liberal/progressive Democrats or conservative/Tea Party Republicans, just like we're all either Baby Boomers or Millenials (another theme of the pundits, must be some cognitive defect that doesn't allow them to consider more than two things). Oversimplified as that idea is, it is true that political power is controlled by only two hostile camps. But IMHO the origins of the differences between the two have little to do with the usual suspects put forth.

In my mind, politics is increasingly driven by the threats to the modern lifestyle generated by the lifestyle itself.  In the United States today, the dominating culture is the extended suburbia and exurbia. This culture is totally dependent on the car for mobility, consumes vast amounts of open space and energy, generates tremendous amounts of CO2 in the process and is economically supported by conspicuous consumption, construction, finance and marketing.  The last two have gone from becoming a means to an end to an end itself.  For many people, this is a seductive, easy and gloriously self-indulgent lifestyle.  And it has political power, enough to have warped our politics to suit it's needs.But as many have noted in the past, it's not sustainable and has hit the limits. Hence, the housing crash, corruption of the state so as to serve the financial industry, energy crunch and climate change.

Because this lifestyle is so important to so many people, the very concept of adaption and change needed to address these problems is viewed by it's defenders as an existential threat. Hence the emergence of the new reactionary "conservatives", who also engage in paranoia and religious fundamentalism as populist glue to bind themselves to the have-nots.  That's you modern Republicans.

What is the opposition? Well the Democratic party and liberalism/progressivism is still molded by late-60's New Left.  As I wrote about earlier, this mindset is generally anti-populist while considering itself the advocate of the people. In other words, the stereotype of an Ivory Tower liberal.  As such it is overly analytical, deliberately indecisive, condescending and tainted by new-jerk anti-Americanism.  Not a very good model for getting the votes of, you know, other Americans.  It doesn't matter if your ideas are right if you act like a stuck-up prick.  Now the Democrats are not monolithic like the Republicans and you have Clintons, Obamas and others who challenge this mold in one way or another, but that mindset I just described dominates the liberal/progressive talking heads and blogosphere. These folks remind more of some strident faculty I know who constantly criticize and rail against department leadership, yet who cowardly balk when offered the opportunity to step up to the plate themselves. All this results in a Democratic party that is ineffectual and incompetent with a stunning inability or unwillingness to make a genuine 21st Century populist appeal for reform.

The real problem though is not that all Americans fall into one of these two camps, many if not most of us don't.  The problem is they are the only game allowed in town.  Democrats and Republicans get preferential ballot access, taxpayer-subsidized primaries, control of districting and massive financial and media support.  Until this paradigm is broken, we can never get meaningful reform, our politics will remain paralyzed, and the looming challenges will not be met.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Alternate Reality MLB Standings

Last December, for no good reason I came up with a baseball re-alignment not base on geography.  You know, when you use those "imaginative" groupings and current records the Red Sox are not as bad off as they are in the real world:




American League

National League
Ban Johnson Conference
J. McGraw Conference
Babe Ruth Div. W L

Jackie Robinson Div. W L
Yankees  23 21 0.523
Dodgers 30 14 0.682
BoSox    22 22 0.500
Braves 26 19 0.578
A's       22 23 0.489
Giants 23 21 0.523
Twins  15 28 0.349
Phillies 22 23 0.489









Nap  Lajoie Div. 


Honus Wagner Div.
O's 28 17 0.622
Cardinals 25 19 0.568
Indians 25 18 0.581
Reds 24 19 0.558
ChiSox 22 22 0.500
Pirates 20 24 0.455
Tigers 20 23 0.465
Cubs 15 29 0.341









Bart Giamatti Conference
K.M. Landis Conference
Nolan Ryan Div.


Tom Seaver Div.
Rangers 27 18 0.600
Nats 26 18 0.591
Angels 20 25 0.444
Mets 24 20 0.545
Royals 17 26 0.395
Astro's 21 23 0.477
Brewers 18 26 0.409
Padres 16 29 0.356









Roberto Alomar Div.

to-be-named later Div.
Rays 27 18 0.600
Marlins 24 20 0.545
Jays 24 21 0.533
D-Backs 20 25 0.444
Mariners 21 25 0.457
Rockies 16 27 0.372

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stupid, strange and surreal Sunday 5/6

The fundies want to warn ya about haunted....boxes of porn

AC vs. Limbaugh

10 grand for a stealth ship? Sounds like a cool opportunity but...

I guess the libertarians would say the federal government has ruined another person's business.

Gee, Nugent is so reasonable, must've been one of them gotcha interviews.

A chihuahua costume party, there just seems there's something wrong about this on so many levels.

Forget JFK, hasn't the death of Lenin been an obsession for you? No? Well someone thinks it needs to be solved.

"New spray makes you ‘instantly drunk,’ and only lasts a few seconds"...um, why?

Ahh, Philly...

Bet these kids are the popular ones...

Monday, April 30, 2012

Facing Challenges vs. THE APOCALYPSE

 I've spent some time here observing and ruminating on the challenges we face, particularly energy supplies (peak oil, fracking etc.) and climate change.  The flip side to denying these issues is the apocalyptic doomers who use these issues to declare the imminent end of civilization of human extinction.  I've always felt the doomeres are as much a problem in the denialists, so I was pleased to see this article by Matthew Gross and Mel Gilles in The Atlantic, How Apocalyptic Thinking Prevents Us from Taking Political Action:
How to make sense of it all? After all, not every scenario can be an apocalyptic threat to our way of life -- can it? For many, the tendency is to dismiss all the potential crises we are facing as overblown: perhaps cap and trade is just a smoke screen designed to earn Al Gore billions from his clean-energy investments; perhaps terrorism is just an excuse to increase the power and reach of the government. For others, the panoply of potential disasters becomes overwhelming, leading to a distorted and paranoid vision of reality and the threats facing our world -- as seen on shows like Doomsday Preppers. Will an epidemic wipe out humanity, or could a meteor destroy all life on earth? By the time you're done watching Armageddon Week on the History Channel, even a rapid reversal of the world's magnetic poles might seem terrifyingly likely and imminent.
Gross and Gilles continue:
The danger of the media's conflation of apocalyptic scenarios is that it leads us to believe that our existential threats come exclusively from events that are beyond our control and that await us in the future -- and that a moment of universal recognition of such threats will be obvious to everyone when they arrive. No one, after all, would ever confuse a meteor barreling toward Earth as anything other than apocalyptic. Yet tangled up in such Hollywood scenarios and sci-fi nightmares are actual threats like global warming that aren't arriving in an instant of universal recognition; instead, they are arriving amid much denial and continued partisan debate.
For example, annual climate-related disasters such as droughts, storms, and floods rose dramatically during the last decade, increasing an average 75 percent compared to the 1990s -- just as many climate models predicted they would if global warming were left unchecked. Yet this rise in natural disasters hasn't produced a moment of universal recognition of the dangers of climate change; instead, belief in climate change is actually on the decline as we adjust to the "new normal" of ever-weirder weather or convince ourselves that our perception of this increased frequency is a magnifying trick of more readily available cable and Internet coverage.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

New blog: What the Frack Pennsylvania?

I've started my long-threatened blog on Marcellus Shale news for Pennsylvania. Still on blogspot for now and it's where you'll find the twitter feed.

First news update around noon today, Joe permitting.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The story of the Old School House II: What was behind the walls.


Prior to any work being done, I had to perform demolition on the basement walls. Now again, this basement in the old school house is only partly below grade and is used for living space, specifically my office, the dining room, the kitchen, a bathroom and the laundry/utility room.  As I mentioned before, the dining contained an alcove directly below a tub in the master bathroom, this alcove was created by removing part of a double supporting wall.  When I removed the drywall I found extensive mold, in part due to water from a burst pipe the previous owner reported.  I also found that the floor for the master bath was new from an ’03 renovation.  Not only had the contractor not noted the missing support below, they ran pipes in a haphazard manner and needlessly cut into joists while not adding adding reinforcements.   

As I removed more wall and ceiling I found more mold, double layers of drywall and found further evidence of poor support.  This was due to the old joists have irregular thicknesses, some rested directly upon the supporting walls, while others had gaps that allowed movement and settling.  This included the kitchen, which was also recently renovated and the contractors should have noticed the problem.  I have had to install shims and other supports to ensure each joist distributes its load to the supporting wall.
Our main contractor and myself found many junction boxes and dead-ended wires when we removed the walls and ceilings.  Our electrician fixed these and other problems, including crossed circuits, extra wiring and a bad main breaker.  

Finally there are the bathroom walls. This is an old bathroom, with tile surrounding a tub/shower and half covering the wall behind the sink.  This tile is mounted on ferro-cement (cement or plaster on a wire mesh) making it impossible to remove. The problem here was that the plumber needed to access the pipes to the sink. I need to backtrack here and explain that we needed to replace all our copper plumbing while the walls were open.  The problem is that we have acidic well water, we plan to get a neutralizer but there had already been a burst pipe so we knew that some were weakened.  Anyway I resolved that I could at least remove the upper drywall portion of the wall. We couldn’t go in from the kitchen side since that would render it largely unusable.  I removed the drywall and saw studs and another layer of drywall, no pipes.  So I assumed that was not the kitchen wall itself and began cutting. I discovered that this layer actually consisted of two layers of drywall! The pipes were now revealed on front of another set of studs and the back of the kitchen wall. So this wall between the kitchen and bath consisted of four drywall layers!  There is also a built in cabinet in the bath, above two feet of wall. Since water had leaked from the bath into the utility room and cause mold there I assumed the same was occurring beneath the shelves. Sure enough it was all moldy, in fact there was an enclosed unventilated space of about 4 cubic feet, doing nothing but breeding mold.

In short, there had been multiple changes since the school house was converted in to a residence in the late 50s. Much was probably done by the homeowners, but some of the worst was done by a contractor in the last decade.  And in all cases instead of removing the old, they just tacked on another layer of walls, wires and pipes.  So in a way in was fortuitous that we had our sagging issue, because we would have no idea of these problems lurking down below.

Next: fixing and future plans. This installment will be late in the summer when the work is done.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Our energy toothpaste tube.

Mornings for me involve dealing with the domestic world (Joe, the dog and starting the day) and checking up on the world. Sometimes totally unrelated things from each world collide in my mind and I had one of those crashes this morning.  After checking the fracking issue I've been following (and will start a blog on I promise) and an ad I saw for heavy oil extraction experts I read this Oil Drum piece on the global oil supply. Shortly after I saw that the toothpaste was getting low right and voila, I realized the toothpaste tube was great metaphor for the oil and gas situation.

Let me backtrack a moment.  Petroleum and natural gas form from the remains of marine algae deposited along with marine muds to form what will become black shale source rocks.  These shales have to be cooked at the right temperature and pressure in the crust to form petroleum. Too much you get only natural gas, too little and you get a waxy precursor called kerogen (the oil is so-called oil shales).  Now shales are made from tiny silt particles and thus have very small pore spaces that are poorly connected to each other.  Any gas or liquid or gas in the shales must travel very slowly and in small quantities.  The petroleum and gas we traditionally extracted came not from the source rocks, but more permeable reservoir rocks that the fluids slowly migrated into over millions of years.  The oil and gas must also be trapped somehow in this reservoir otherwise they'll continue to the surface where the gas escapes to the surface and the oil turns to bitumen or tar.

Now the goal has always been to find the oil still trapped in the reservoirs because such crude oil is the easiest to refine.  More specifically the best crude is light (flows easily and has lighter fractions we can readily use) and is "sweet"or low in sulfur.  And of course it is cheaper to extract on dry land than offshore, particularly the deep continental shelf.

Now think about the sources that are currently being promoted: oil sands, heavy oils, deep offshore drilling and fracking. These sources were traditionally the "trash fish" of the fossil fuel industry.  The first two are not readily refined because they have lost the light fractions we need for diesel fuel, aviation fuel and gasoline and a heavily contaminated.  Thus they need a lot of processing to just get to the crude oil stage, using a lot of energy, water and money to do so.  Deepwater drilling is expensive and risky, remember Deepwater Horizon? Most people seem to have forgotten. Anyway the fact they're willing to go there shows the easy sources have been found and tapped.  Same with fracking, it's an expensive and complicated process to turn the tight source rock into a reservoir and its only viable because we've found all the easily extracted stuff.

This brings us back to the toothpaste tube. When we started extracting petroleum and natural gas we had a brand new full tube and it literally burst out of the ground. For years thereafter we could just squeeze the tube a little and still get all we wanted.  One day we started to have a little difficulty, the tube was squashed, misshapen and lumpy.  So we go to enhanced extraction and rolled up the tube from the bottom and our production stayed high.  But that only lasted a short while longer, so now we're in the process of squeezing the tube with vise grips and adding water to the dried paste in the cap and on the sink. Soon we'll be cutting the tube open and flushing out the inside. 

Of course I never go to such lengths with tootpaste, I just run to the store.  But old mother Earth has only one toothpaste tube, maybe we can squeeze all we need for another decade or so but inevitably our increasing efforts will only produce diminishing returns.

Well, I guess we can always get toothpaste from coal!

Monday, April 2, 2012

What is the Old School House?

(Part of my new morning writing regimen.)


Since the title of this blog implies (correctly) that I'm posting form an old school house, I thought that now is a good time to tell of the trials and tribulations of the former Franklin Township Schoolhouse. It's a tale of DIY and contractor work gone bad, and how we came to realize it.

The place is a former one-room schoolhouse built in 1875 and converted to a dwelling sometime in the late fifties.  The front door was removed and the entrance put on the side and a deck ran from the front porch along the side and wrapping around the back where it was over a small garage. Around 2003 a two floor addition was put on the back above this garage on the exact footprint of the old deck. The kitchen and dining room are in the old basement half below grade (house is on a gentle slope). Although we noticed some quirkiness and poor decisions, we noted no major problems and our fairly useless house inspector found none. We liked the large amount of space and the potential for us to do what we wanted and we liked the kitchen.

After we began painting prior to moving in is when I started to find things that were more than just quirks. Instead these were the result of poor workmanship and cost-cutting by former owners and hired contractors. First off, the addition was constrained to fit the footprint of the former back deck, instead going out two feet more. As a result the stairs cut into the space of the first-floor bedrooms.  The door between the old and new halves was the old back exterior door and still had the exterior metal threshold.  This door also still had the old exterior lock and it would have been possible for one to be locked into the addition with no way out.  Doors fit poorly, insulation was poorly installed and there were leaks around the chimney and the two exhaust/stack pipes that did not have pipe collars. Remember this is new construction.  In the old part, I discovered taht the first floor ceiling had been lowered and the old ceiling was still there!  The former wrap around deck had been reduced to a stub allowing access to the side (main) door. This isolated the front porch, which had been stripped of planking, exposing crumbling concrete. This attractive porch served no real purpose in this configuration. 

Then there was the front master bathroom.

The layout in the art deco style bathroom was terrible. There was a deep tub, but it was too short for tall folks like us. When you sat on the toilet your knee hit the tub.  Because there is an entirely new floor and plumbing no one can claim that reason for this shitty layout is that they had to fit the existing bathroom plumbing. Again, this was new work, done as part of the overall renovation in ’01-’03. Now for the fun stuff.  As it turns out this tub is just off the centerline, over an alcove in the dining room below.  We noted a dip in the ceiling of this alcove, but no one from the initial house inspector to an engineer though this was anything other than old sagging in a 130 year-old building. We would find out otherwise.  

Last winter Sara Beth was expecting and began to regularly use the deep tub for well-needed soaks.  The unusually heavy snows that winter also loaded the structure.  We suddenly noticed in late February ’11 that cracks had developed in newly painted areas in the living room and a crack opened up from the corner of a door-frame next to the tub. Turns out there were old cracks that had been spackled over. Our house inspector missed this.  The entire structure of the old brick school house has since sagged inwards at the peak, pulling away from the addition which has moved as well. The amounts are tiny, but in a house they matter.
An engineer we hired suspected that the center-line supporting wall in the basement needed to be re-done and wanted to temporarily support it while digging out the footing and putting in new wall.  A Maryland contractor from a firm that did restorations suggested putting in second wall alongside the existing one, but never gave us an estimate.  A second contractor came in, blathered about his plan, but never called back.  Finally we found someone my brother-in-law knows.  He suspected the problem lay in the alcove in the dining room under the tub. I opened the walls and discovered that the joists were not continuous and there were two supporting centerline walls, the alcove had been created by removing part of one, beneath the tub! 

Now we knew the problem, and the process of correcting decades of mistakes ranging from weird layouts to compromised structural integrity could begin.  

Next: what I found in the walls.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Incredibly Warm Weather in the Eastern U.S.

Yes, any place in the eastern continental U.S. will have an unseasonably warm day or two during the cold seasons, but not the entire eastern half at once and not more than a day or two.  What is happening now is unprecedented in over a century of record keeping:
First, consider the sheer number of daily record highs either tied or broken over the past 7-10 days. The counts below are courtesy of the National Climatic Data Center. This speaks to the widespread nature and longevity of this warm spell. The records from March 16 to March 19 have not been fully compiled at this time and will be added when they become available.



Day # of Records
Fri. Mar. 9 101
Sat. Mar. 10 105
Sun. Mar. 11 189
Mon. Mar. 12 138
Tue. Mar. 13 218
Wed. Mar. 14 457
Thu. Mar. 15 593


In a typical March, particularly in the nation's northern tier, you may see, perhaps, one or perhaps two days of record warmth before a sharp cold front bring that spring tease to a screeching halt. Not so in March 2012. 

Through March 19, International Falls, Minn., self-promoted as the "Icebox of the Nation", has set daily record highs 9 of the past 10 days! This includes Sunday's 79 degree high, which is the warmest day ever recorded during March in International Falls.
Jeff Masters at Weather Underground notes:
International Falls, Minnesota hit 78°F yesterday, 42° above average, and the 2nd hottest March temperature on record in the Nation's Icebox. The record of 79°F was set the previous day. Remarkably, the low temperature for International Falls bottomed out at 60°F yesterday, tying the previous record high for the date. I've never seen a station with a century-long data record have its low temperature for the date match the previous record high for the date. Yesterday was the seventh consecutive day that International Falls broke or tied a daily record. That is spectacularly hard to do for a station with a century-long weather record. The longest string of consecutive records being broken I'm aware of is nine days in a row, set June 2 - 10, 1911 in Tulsa, Oklahoma (with weather records going back to 1905.) International Falls has a good chance of surpassing nine consecutive records this week. (emphasis added)
Now this all is related to an extreme configuration of the jetstream brought on by an atypically strong La Nina and a strong positive phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (which immediately followed a strong negative NAO that gave us excessively snowy winters in SE PA in in 2010 and 2011). But those are simply the proximate causes. Any large amplitude swings in oscillators in a complex require additional energy to be added or kept in the system.

I've only been in the SE Penn Piedmont region since '05, but I've noted an instability in the weather patterns since '08.  True that is only a unrepresentative anecdotal sample, but it jibes with the wild swings in weather and departure from normals that is well documented. This year we have forsythias blooming on St. Patrick's day, two years ago  the fireflies were out weeks earlier than usual.

But no, all of the above can't have anything to do with the data presented below, can it?


 131 years of global warming  in 26 seconds, NASA/Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Return of Strange and Surreal Sunday

Dateline India: A former Mr. Universe turns 100. Must be due to his time in prison, nuthin' to do but work out.

Nothing adds oomph to your "God is Great" proclamation than doing it in the nude...in front of a school.

So Williams Jennings Bryant is now a rich Morgan-Stanley exec...and anti-cabbie crusader.

Good thing I live in Pennsylvania and not Delaware, I always thought of mowing DUI, and I have a push mower.

Of course those drunk mowers can get ornery when there's no cooked sausage.

550 foot monument on filled land + earthquake = sinking (?)

Sometimes irony is tragic, man was killed by tornado he was taping from his house.

At the St. Paddy's roast for pols in S. Boston, Scott Brown (yep him) zinged Santorum, I won't spoil it.  He knows where he's running.

More Santorum spillage into Sunday.

And finally,  a strange beast kills livestock in Namibia. Could it be Chupacabra?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday Santorum Returns

A while back I started doing the occasional reports on the Froth's doings as a Saturday piece because he was such a whacko fringe character and the material wrote itself. It still writes itself but amazingly this jackass is now a potential nominee. Tells how badly the party of Lincoln has sunk.

You have to hand it to Rickster though, his campaign may be incompetent (missing deadlines and such) but he gets out there on the stump and speaks his mind.  But despite his busy schedule of campaigning and telling English-speaking Puerto Ricans they need to speak English, he remains focused on the real threats to America, including that nasty porn:
"America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography," Santorum's official website reads. "Pornography is toxic to marriages and relationships. It contributes to misogyny and violence against women. It is a contributing factor to prostitution and sex trafficking."
Hmmm, you know what else contribute misogyny and violence against women, the GOP.
_______________________________________________________________

Don't let the sweater vest, the 50's haircut and ideas that would be considered uptight in 1512 fool you, Ricky is a rebel:
“The Illinois party doesn’t deal up a lot of conservatives for statewide office, so you have an opportunity now to sort of fight City Hall, if you will,”
_______________________________________________________________

Rick is also enlisting God in his campaign, no word if  the Almighty wants to get his hands dirtied with Santorum.  Rick should just convert to a fundy church and take a lot bishops with him, just sayin'.
_______________________________________________________________

The Rickster's campaign might just work if not for those meddling teenagers:
“You recently commented on how you don’t believe everyone should go to college,” Becky Pauwels, 17, told Santorum. “Yet countries such as Germany and Japan, whose governments offer college to any motivated student, experience high rates of socio-economic mobility, which, by your own admission and all academic studies, is lagging in the United States.”
Since President Barack Obama proposes expanded access to college and training programs, how do his proposals differ from Obama’s, she asked.
Pipe down missy, in a Santorum administration you wouldn't have to worry about college, you'd be home making bread and babies.

On a more serious note, check out this NYT article on what makes Santorum tick.  Probably will tick you off.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Joe is One!

On the evening of March 16, 2011 we welcomed a new addition to the old school house at the Wilmington Birth Center, Joseph Patrick.  We simply call him Joe.
He has really changed my life. When I received a PhD in Geology from Oregon State in 2004 and came to work at the University of Delaware for a visiting position, I never thought that my extended higher education in science would provide less job security than the technical positions I was able to get with just my Coast Guard training. But now I've found that taking care of lil'Joe puts the nonsense of academia in perspective and is infinitely more rewarding than being the cog in some university CEO's machine.

Newborn Joe, just arrived at his home, March 17, 2011.
Of course when he came home I was just a bystander, so dependent was he as a newborn on Sara Beth. I had only vaguely thought about being a dad before, so watching him 4 days a week was something I hadn't ever contemplated.  Yet it's the things you don't expect to do that can be the most important of your life.

Evening of March 15, 2012 in his exersaucer.
One reason for starting this blog was to document what I think are the converging challenges of this decade.  It's going to evolve into something more personal, with more everyday observations on the little things.  But it now also has a mission: to advocate in some small way for a better future for Joe and all the next generation and to call out all those whose ignorance, fear and cruelty are making it worse.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Schedule of Changes

I expect to be back to regular posting here after little Joe's 1st birthday, say Sunday the 18th or the day after.  More local and home observations as well as ones on the ongoing converging challenges.

And I still plan on launching the Marcellus News blog soon, aiming for April 1st.  To keep logistics simple I will start on blogspot and see how it goes.  Meanwhile check out my twitter feed for daily updates.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"It's the climate stupid" Continued

After two unusually snowy winters, the season has been AWOL this year in SE Penn.  My crocuses started to come up around Feb. 10 and we have daffodils blooming.  Meanwhile Europe has been freezing.  These extremes have been tied to excessive (to largest recorded) of the Arctic and North Atlantic Oscillations, which may be due to the ever decreasing Arctic Sea icepack.   The GISTEMP plots for December and January tell the tale (note how warm the Arctic is):


As I would expect and have predicted, the public is taking notice:
Americans' belief in global warming is on the rise, along with temperatures and surprising weather changes, according to a new university poll.
The survey by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College says 62 percent of those asked last December think the Earth is getting warmer. That's up from 55 percent in the spring of that year and 58 percent in December 2010. It is the highest proportion in two years.
Nearly half the people who say they believe in global warming base that on personal observations of the weather. Climate researchers say that's reaching the correct conclusion for reasons that aren't quite right.
 No, the basis is not quite right, but in a world of excessive politicized and unvetted information sometimes people with busy day-to-day lives will rely on the own immediate observations.  If this is bad (i.e. stormy and hot) summer I expect the denialists will take a big hot in public opinion.

Monday, February 20, 2012

There is no Catholic voting bloc.

It irks me to no end that non-Catholics people of all political stripes continue to comment on what Catholics believe and how they vote in behave based on old tired stereotypes that do not much anything I have ever experienced. Now I don't find much useful information on CNN.com these days, but this piece is a must read for non-Catholics of any political persuasion about the non-existence of any monolithic Catholic voting bloc or culture:
.... the idea of a Catholic bloc is patently ridiculous. As voters, American Catholics mirror the electorate as a whole, divided into Democrats, independents, and Republicans at about the same percentages as all Americans. And it’s hard to trace such political complexity to religious allegiance.
The article goes on to make a distinction between "Latino" "intentional" and "cultural" Catholics that I do find to have some basis in reality:
Unlike the Italians, Poles, Irish and similar white ethnics, Latino Catholics have retained their distinctive identity as Catholics. Their voting behavior reflects that.
This is particularly true when considered from the perspective of the famous social teachings of the church, which emphasize social and familial solidarity, the common good, preference for the poor, tradition, and welcoming of the immigrant.
Latino American Catholics (excluding Cubans) strongly associated with the Democratic Party in 2008, with 67% of Latino Catholic voters supporting Obama. But the bloc includes swing voters, and turnout can be volatile. This vote can be critical in swing states like Colorado, Florida and New Mexico, and perhaps soon in states like Arizona and Texas.
An important social phenomenon for understanding intentional Catholics is what’s sometimes referred to as distillation. A study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life last year found that one-third of those raised Catholic have left the church. Fully 10% of the American electorate is formerly Catholic....
But as a result of disaffiliation, many Catholics who remain with the church are “distilled.”  More and more of those who remain are those who actively choose to embrace the church and its teachings...
Largely white, with impressive education levels, mostly suburban and with moderate to high income levels, such Catholics are in evidence in weekly Mass attendance and parish activities. Politically active, intentional Catholic voters lean toward the Republican Party (with some youthful swing voters) and are motivated by economic issues and increasingly by opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and illegal immigration.
“Cultural Catholics” make up the third important group of Catholic voters. They are a complicated mix of mostly white Americans with lower levels of Mass attendance and higher levels of ambivalence toward Church authority.
These assimilated voters have varying education and income levels, often hail from urban and suburban communities, are more female than male  often with blue-collar roots and are not intentionally but culturally oriented toward the church.

Many culturally Catholic voters are at odds with both conservatives and liberals on many issues. They are more socially conservative than the majority of Americans, but many are put off by the more intense social conservatism of intentional Catholics and evangelicals.
They are more economically populist than most Americans but are uncomfortable with the libertarian zeal of the tea party.  They are alienated from the lifestyle liberalism of many progressives but remain supportive of unions and governmental programs for the middle class.
The bishops may have little role in these voters’ personal faith, but cultural Catholics look to the church for the sacraments that mark the turnings of their lives and for the traditions that connect generations. Their religious sensibility might almost be described as ethnic.
Even many supposedly culturally aware academics miss these characteristics of such a large portion of the American population and cling to 19th century stereotypes.  This is why any comments from conservative or liberal pundits on the contraception nontroversey and supposed monolithic Catholic reaction are nothing more than hot air.

The Rickster Riseth - updated

Who would thought the subject of the Saturday Santorum posts a while back has risen to the status of GOP frontrunner?  So much has been said about him, so let's just hear it from the asses...er horses mouth:

Reuters 2/15/12
"Let's mandate that every insurance policy covers toothpaste. Deodorant. That might be a good idea, right? Have everyone cover deodorant, right? Soap. I mean, where do you stop?"
Piers Morgan via Mediaite
Morgan then left the topic of contraception to ask Santorum about a subject no one else likely would have asked Rick Santorum: Whitney Houston. “Celebrities are the aristocracy of America,” Santorum replied, adding that he considered her death “disturbing,” especially since “you see, in a sense, the royalty of America setting such a poor example.”
Video interview from Oct. '11 via Newser
One of the things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, “Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.”
It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also [inaudible], but also procreative.
Ricky thinks health care reform is bad for marriage:
Do you realize that if you are married under Obamacare, you pay a lot more than if you are living together under Obamacare? A lot more," Santorum told 500 voters packed into Froehlich's Classic Corner restaurant. "Thousands of dollars more for the average American family you paid if you are married."
 "Coal miner" Frothy claims he's not the one who's anti-science:
"Ladies and gentlemen, we need someone who understands, who comes from the coal fields, who comes from the steel mills, who understands what average working people in America need to be able to provide for themselves and their families," Santorum said to a crowd of about 500 people in the Democratic-leaning eastern edge of the state.


Santorum's claim to have come "from the coal fields" is a stretch - by two generations. He has never worked in a coal mine. His parents' professions were psychologist and nurse, and Santorum is a lawyer who has spent all of his adult life in politics.
 His views are not "anti-science" as Democrats claim, Santorum said. "When it comes to the management of the Earth, they are the anti-science ones. We are the ones who stand for science, and technology, and using the resources we have to be able to make sure that we have a quality of life in this country and (that we) maintain a good and stable environment," he said
The Rickster blames the media for people not liking what he says, instead of because of, you know, what he says:
On Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, Santorum told a Tea Party crowd, "It's not about you. It's not about you. It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your job. It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology, but no less a theology. " But in front of a crowd of more than 500 people here on Monday, he said the comments were not meant to question the president's religious beliefs, rather a critique of what he called the "extreme" environmental regulations of the Obama administration.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Change in focus

If you look carefully you'll see that the sub header on this here blog has changed, reflecting the new focus.  I'll still be making comments on the converging challenges, but also life in general.  The Marcellus news and information will be in a new blog, which will start on blogspot for convenience.

Right now the Marcellus news will appear only on twitter until the new site is up and running. Once that happens the twitter updates to the right will disappear.