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January 1, 2011
The bestest year in science everBy Greyhawk
I'm hoping that title will apply to this coming year - but it will be hard to top 2010. Here's one reason why.
In Iceland a volcano erupts - embedded in a massive smoke cloud, ash and other particulate matter are flung skyward. An impressive sight if you can get close enough to view it...
Maybe not - it's been over eight months since the most powerful volcano in world history erupted, and lots of other things have happened since. So if you forgot that story don't feel too bad. Besides, thanks to the hard work of government officials armed with science we were all kept safe. Although they can't stop volcanoes from erupting they can - and did - ensure we were all kept safe from the danger. If they hadn't acted fast thousands of people might have died, and then you would have recognized that picture - taken from an aircraft flying nearby - for sure.
I wrote a little bit about it when it was happening, but because it was science - and had big words like "particulate" in it - it might have been too complicated for a lot of people to understand. ("Complicated" is a big word for "hard" or "difficult" or "very tricky." Lots of stuff that governments do is complicated, which is why most people can't really understand it.) When I was in the Air Force I did meteorology stuff. That's a big word for "weather science" which is very complicated. I am not a real scientist myself, I did "operations" which is only applied science. And I sure wasn't perfect - sometimes it didn't rain when I said it would, and vice-versa! But even though I am not a scientist myself I think I can explain things in such a way that it will be obvious to everyone what sorts of wonderful things governments can do for us with science.
I will start my story with a brief look back at the bad old days before we had science. Back in those olden times people thought the earth was flat, and that if they went too far away from land in their boats they would fall off the edge, which would be a horrible fate. Also they thought there were dragons and sea monsters who would get them. Crazy, right? But as people started to understand science more they realized that wasn't really true. So they went farther out in their boats, and found other lands and cultures. And some of those people they found didn't have good science yet, but they had volcanoes, and they would sacrifice virgins to the volcano gods.
Well, that's enough talk about the bad old days. I just wanted to point out that now we have science and don't have to live in fear anymore. Not only can we travel all over the globe via air, land and sea, we have launched rockets into outer space thanks to science. It is amazing when you think about it, isn't it? Here is a picture that shows what the earth looks like from a satellite in outer space orbit.
US Air Force infrared satellite imagery, 18 April 2010
You don't have to pay attention to that writing. And if you don't have maps such as many people who are U.S. Americans, don't worry. This is a map that shows a far away land called Europe. That is where they have castles. But it is not make-believe, it is a real place, I got to live there once, and I have seen it. The volcano is exploding on the island in the upper left part of the map. It is called Iceland.
"They should call it Volcano Island instead," you might say. Maybe so.
This picture is from a time when all flying was stopped in Europe because of all the smoke and ash from that volcano. "I don't see all the smoke and ash from the volcano," you might say. "Just a little bit maybe around Iceland. Or is that just a regular cloud?"
That is where science is very useful. Here is another picture. It is from a few days earlier. It is a very pretty picture except for the volcano death cloud in it. It is in the top part of the picture, headed straight for Europe!
This looks like a regular picture like you could take with the camera you got for Christmas, but it is really a very complicated image that you might not understand unless you are a scientist. Scientists create this image using science to "allow extraction of additional information that the human eye fails to capture with its receptors for red, green and blue." Here are some other examples you can look at.
"Some of those are just crazy colored!" You might say. Yes, but you can make them any color you want. In the picture above they made the water look a pretty blue, the land look a lush green (except for the rocky brown edges) the clouds look fluffy white like bunny tails, and the deadly streak of death from the volcano is brown. That helped people understand it better.
Not only could they "see" it, the scientists were also able to use their weather forecasting computer models to predict what the ash cloud would do next. Here is what they discovered. (You can ignore the complicated writing under the video. The pictures are what matters.)
It was when the scientists showed this to the government officials that the government officials acted swiftly to save us all. They leaped into action and shut down all the airplane flying in Europe before the deadly cloud of death descended. Some people were upset by that, but newspapers and television were very helpful explaining to people why they were in danger from an ash cloud that was invisible to the human eyes.
Also (as if that wasn't bad enough!):
Such dangerous and costly encounters between aircraft and volcanic ash can happen because ash clouds are difficult to distinguish from ordinary clouds, both visually and on radar.
But guess what? In spite of the horrific danger of airplanes crashing like a ball of fire into your house and killing everyone the airlines all wanted to ignore the scientists and television reporters and government officials and just send people to their deaths - because they were losing money! They claimed they were losing 200 million dollars every day, and lots of other industries were suffering, too. But those are just estimates, not science. They couldn't even agree on how much money they were supposedly losing! But they were still getting angry about the ash cloud that had spread over all of Europe that they couldn't see with their red/green/blue-only eyes! They couldn't even imagine it being there because money, money and money was all they could think about.
"Why didn't the authorities show them another multi-spectral image showing the death cloud over all of Europe?" You might ask. That is an excellent question that shows you are a good critical thinker. The answer is that while I'm sure they could have, by then they were very, very busy trying to solve this problem before the money-grubbing airline idiots sacrificed someone to the volcano gods. And by then the volcano ash cloud of death had spread even farther and was threatening Asia and North America, too! Look at it!
"Met Office" is where the weather forecasters work... "Now wait a minute," you might say, "I've got some more questions..."
"Be quiet! I would be forced to respond. "No one ever got to be a great scientist by asking questions! You learn by listening!"
"I was just going to ask where Europe was on that map," you might reply. "That's just it!" I would say. "It is gone! It is under the part of the cloud so black it would block out the sun!"
And you will be amazed at what these anti-science airlines did next.
"OMG!" You might say. I know, right? Things were getting out of control! Fortunately other governments found some courageous military pilots who were willing to risk everything for the truth.
That is incredible science, and incredible courage. As the evidence from the fibroscope camera revealed, those pilots were lucky to be alive. "Where were they flying?" you might ask. But it doesn't matter - as the story points out the huge cloud was was over large parts of Europe. And here's more:
Wait," you might ask, "is this the first volcano eruption in the history of the world?" But that question is so ridiculously anti-science I won't even answer it.
You would think that would make the Germans and Dutch shut up and quit trying to get people killed, but by this point in time flying had been shut down for days, no one had seen a speck of ash in Europe - on the ground or in the air, and the airlines were claiming to have lost billions of dollars, and other industries all over the world claimed they were suffering, too. But it was obvious to anyone who understood science that they were just trying to use fear and ignorance to get their way (meaning get their money!), and that flying would mean a horrific fiery death in flames and twisted wreckage to anyone foolish enough to attempt it, and perhaps innocent people on the ground, too.
Then people in England were subjected to a horrifying sight - 'German planes are flying over London again': Lufthansa aircraft spotted in UK airspace... as British jets remain grounded - it was like 1940 all over again!
It's like the Germans decided "to hell with this - we just don't care!" and recklessly went off without even waiting as long as they said they would after their so-called "test flights"! Most of us can only imagine what horror the people in England experienced if they saw those planes screaming through the blue skies and the invisible death cloud, knowing science had proven that any minute they might come crashing right down on their heads. (It had to have been as terrifying as the Aztecs seeing men in armor riding horses getting off boats!) Then, to make matters worse, the volcano erupted some more!
The Met Office itself said strong high-altitude winds were blowing the new cloud towards the UK more quickly than the one which followed the first eruption.
But then, just when things were looking their worst - a miracle happened!
Haha - I'm just kidding. There's no such thing as a "miracle." What happened was science. The governments announced that scientists had gotten much better at figuring out where the invisible ash cloud was and wasn't, and that they could now identify "corridors" where it would be safe for flying.
Ash that had drifted over the North Sea from the volcano in southern Iceland was being pushed back over Britain today by shifty north winds, Icelandic scientists told the Associated Press, but Eurocontrol said it coordinated with meteorologists from across the continent to establish safe flying zones...
There was still danger though. In fact, at almost the same time the RAF would ground some aircraft again to check for ash.
"These are very high-performance jets so they are just being extra-cautious," a spokesman said, adding operational flying would continue.
"Now hold on a minute," you might shout, "that's a load of bullshit. What kind of moron do you think I am? If military plane engines aren't at all like civilian planes, why didn't they say so in the earlier story? And there's no way "scientists" could identify "corridors" through "invisible ash clouds" when winds are constantly blowing! And this wasn't the first volcano in the history of the world, it's just the first one that shut down all flying on an entire continent 1,000 miles away. This isn't science at all, it's just another example of what happens when a bunch of incompetent, dipsy-doodle dipshits are put in charge of..."
But I would stop you. "Read this," I would say calmly with just a hint of triumph.
"No, you can't, heretic!" I would say once that puzzled look came over your face. "It is written in the language of science, which you don't even understand. That might as well be Latin to you."
Fortunately you have government officials who can interpret these sorts of things for you, and will always do what's best to keep you heathy and happy, safe and sound. (I know you wouldn't really say such silly things though. In fact, you can print out that equation - that's the big word for it - to keep handy to use yourself when you meet a global warming denialist or some other anti-science wacko and need to put them in their place.)
It's good form to close an essay as you began it. So, back in those olden times people thought the earth was flat, and that if they went too far away from land in their boats they would fall off the edge, which would be a horrible fate. Also they thought there were dragons and sea monsters who would get them. Crazy, right?
Now we have science.
Postscript: back during the global volcano crisis there were many anti-science bloggers writing about it. One of them was Seablogger, who wrote very well but denied the scientific evidence and used something we used to call "common sense" to dismiss the efforts of our government authorities who only acted in our best interest based on the latest scientific evidence. Sadly, not long after that he died of cancer.
That is very sad. In the year ahead government science will be very hard-focused on stopping industrialists from destroying the world with global warming, about which the science is settled. But I hope that after that's taken care of the governments will have the scientists cure cancer. That would be excellent, too.
Posted by Greyhawk / January 1, 2011 3:27 PM | Permalink
"A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction."- President Dwight EisenhowerFarewell Address, Jan 1961 ... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com