October 31, 2011 | Graham

BEST data show 2010 as unusually cool

While there is no doubt that global temperature has been rising for more than a hundred years there have been issues with the accuracy of the temperature measurements. In particular the siting of weather stations in areas subject to urban heat, choice of sites represented in the data, and the way individual temperature databases have been adjusted.

The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project was designed to check these issues, using a database of 30,000 land-based thermometers.

Last week Richard Muller, the head of the project, released the results, prior to their peer review and publication. In releasing them he said that they proved that global warming was real and substantially manmade [see discussion with Jennifer Marohasy in comment thread]. He also said that there is no evidence of a plateauing of temperature over the last decade or so.

The second claim seemed to me to be over-reach in that a dataset can only tell you what has happened, not why, and I was curious to see how the last claim was justified by his data.

Now we know that the last claim is not justified by the data. Following links from Jennifer Marohasy’s blog I came to the graphs below on the Mail Online. While the top graph, which uses 10 year rolling averages, clearly shows that temperature has been increasing since 1800, the bottom shows not only that there has been no trend from the beginning of the decade, but that last year was in fact unusually cold.

While the last 10 years is not unusual and doesn’t necessarily mean that global warming has stopped, last year certainly demands explanation as we have been told that it was either the “warmest year ever” or “equal warmest year ever”. On this dataset that does not look even remotely possible.

The BEST project is commendably transparent, unlike the shonky work carried out by some other scientific teams in the area of paleaoclimate reconstruction, for example, and you can download the data from here as well as the code from here.  It’s bound to be a treasure trove of statistical argument.

Posted by Graham at 8:37 am | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

October 28, 2011 | Graham

Is the NBN the Internet P76?

If the NBN is going to make money then it needs a lot of customers taking the high speed packages, but how likely is that to happen?

I was canvassed earlier this week by TPG who offering me a 10 mbs broadband upload and download package for $199 per month. I said “No”.

If it had cost no more than my current package I might have said “Yes”, but then, who wouldn’t? The real question is how much extra I might pay for it. I suspect the answer to that is  “Nothing”, although in the absence of a real offer I can’t be completely sure.

While Internet Thinking, our webdesign business, is obviously a technology business and therefore in the segment of the economy supposed to benefit from much higher broadband speeds, there is no reason we need any speeds better than what we have at the moment, unless we decide to run a server from our own office, but why would we do that?

With budgets tight and tightening there is zero appeal in increasing an existing overhead by even a small fraction.

But something I might do is take-up Telstra’s offer of 4G when my Optus mobile contract runs out. It might not be as technically good as ADSL, but I can see myself using it and getting a benefit. And once I’ve blown the non-existent budget on that I’ll be even less likely to want higher landline speeds.

It seems to me that Telstra has done a very good deal with the government with the sale of their copper network. They’ve sold a major risk of technological obsolescence to taxpayers in return for $11 bn of net present value over 30 years and they get to take the money and plough it into growth areas like mobile, while still being able to retail using the legacy technology.

At one stage I was describing the NBN as a plan to put a Ferrari in everyone’s garage to drive the information superhighway, when all most needed was a scooter. Now I am beginning to think it is like giving everyone a Leyland P76.



Posted by Graham at 5:23 pm | Comments (13) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

October 28, 2011 | Ronda Jambe

A Copernican Moment

I’ve recently returned from an Asia Pacific Climate Change Congress in Melbourne. This was a gathering of climate change presenters trained by the Australian Conservation Foundation and Al Gore, where people told their stories and their experiences of climate change around the Pacific nations. Brave and innovative people from Fiji, Pakistan, India, and many more, including Australia.

Al Gore (still my hero) was on the phone, answering our questions. He now refers to it as the ‘climate crisis’, but he has not lost hope. He is cheered by our passing of the carbon tax, and I can only hope that The Spoiler doesn’t send us round about and in circles on that one great act of true Labor leadership.

This experience, combined with reading two books back to back and watching both the Libyan and Eurozone events shape my views.

A book about Copernicus reveals the gradual process of evidence and reasoning that took science from slavish devotion to the ‘common sense’ observations of Aristotle to a mathematically based appreciation of a cosmos that runs on something other than religious mythology.

The other book is a blueprint for a safer planet by UK economist Nicholas Stern. He carefully goes through the arguments for action on different levels to address climate change. The science, he notes, is clear and accepted, or should be.

He castigates economists who try to wiggle out of ethical questions, or rationalise deferring action for a discounted future. The assumptions aren’t tenable, and action later will be far more expensive and uncertain.

And risk assessment lies at the core of any decisions about climate change.

It is now clear (to me at least) that flooding is the first cab off the rank for impacts. The flip side, drought, is equally deadly and dangerous, but tends to encrouch more slowly, and thus the effects are revealed less dramatically. Floods, however, as Brisbanians and Toowoombans are well aware, give little time for preparation or departure.

Stern describes the risks and finds them much too serious to warrant delay. He goes into some detail about why thinking that there is a choice between economic development and greenhouse abatement is a red herring. We must see them together, because we must deliver both. This is also the take-away lesson for me from the Arab spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The group Beyond Zero Emissions has released a report on how Australia could achieve 100% renewable energy by 2020, using proven and commercially available technologies. 60% solar thermal with molten salt storage and 40% wind. See http://beyondzeroemissions.org/

We can embrace the future or get washed away by the laws of physics – take your pick.


Posted by Ronda Jambe at 3:01 pm | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Environment

October 25, 2011 | Graham

Occupy – a vacant lot

If a field full of Irishmen is called a Paddy field, what do you call a field full of Australians? A vacant lot. Boom boom. It’s an old joke and it’s what comes to mind when I see reporting of Occupy Melbourne, or Occupy Sydney, or Occupy Wherever.

They’ve had over a week to work out what they want and they’re completely vacant – bereft of a viable idea between the lot of them.

In fact, I suspect there is no development potential there at all.

If you want to understand how important Occupy really is, then check out the crowds gathering to see this old Dame, er Queen, versus the hundreds who’ve been gathering in Martin Place. I bet Sunrise gets more people gathering outside the windows of their Martin Place set hoping to get on camera day in and day out, than turn-out for Occupy.

Not that Occupy doesn’t perform a useful function. They are helping to bolster the popularity of the recently elected Victorian and New South Wales governments. Law and order plays pretty well in the outer suburbs, particularly when played out as our uniformed best beating up on our uninformed worst, or better yet members of Socialist Alliance.

And it gave the panellists on Q&A something to talk about last night, although why they should choose to discuss this crowd when the aforementioned Octagenarian constitutional superstar was pulling infinitely more is a mystery best explained by their producers, and possibly a yearning for the Vietnam protest movement when protesters did know what they wanted, and there was more of a life and death matter involved.

Not that there aren’t problems with capitalism at the moment.

I’m not sure how bad they are because the historical record is a bit short for meaningful comparisons, but there has developed a sort of crony capitalism where paid professional managers arrogate to themselves the rewards and privileges of ownership without any of the risks via unsupportably high salaries coupled with a share of the profits.

The US bailout of their banks and the subsequent recapitalisation of the bank executives is the most stunning example of this.

Should this matter to society if the returns are there? Possibly not. A recent survey by Credit Suisse International shows Australia to be the second richest country in the world after Switzerland judged on average wealth, and the richest judged on median wealth (which must mean our Gini co-efficient is better than the Swiss one).

Australia is a leader in the world in following the advice of “neoliberal” economics, so perhaps we are the dataset that says that Occupy is fretting about nothing. It’s certainly a long way from the days of the 70s protests when Australia was increasingly looking like the white trash of Asia, and with a report card to match.

Perhaps it’s time for the vacant lot to vacate and go and do some hard research. What seems obvious isn’t always right, and what is right isn’t always obvious, which is a hard lesson to learn when you’re sleeping out rough for no good reason.

Posted by Graham at 6:37 am | Comments (28) |

October 24, 2011 | Graham

Candidates waiving good name

Does anyone else feel the way that I do about candidates standing at the side of the road waving at traffic? To me it looks to be about the dopiest thing you could do in a day.

I know politicians are expected to do some things to get elected that most professionals in other occupations would find unacceptable – for example walking around the neighbourhood knocking on doors and accosting people like a JW – but I understand why and have been prepared to do it myself in the past.

However I would draw the line at standing by the side of the road in the early morning waving at traffic on its way to work.

It seems to me to be a poor use  of a candidate’s time. At a time of the day when they could be talking to people at bus stops and train stations why stand by the side of the road merely waving at them.

I’ve asked a couple of candidates and they’ve told me it’s about name recognition. My response is to ask what sort of name recognition they’re getting and why they couldn’t get just as much by buying a billboard on the roadside.

Better still they could do what I used to do. We used to deck a big flat tray light truck out with signs, and one of my friends would drop me off at bus stops where I’d spend ten minutes talking to commuters, and then hop back on-board and we’d head off for the next stop. When you weren’t using the truck for anything else you’d park the truck somewhere high visibility for the rest of the day.

It’s hard to front-up to a bus stop and talk to total strangers, but after a week or so, you start striking-up friendships and relationships, which is exactly what a budding politician should be trying to do. At the same time your truck is not only visible on the main road, but gives commuters the message that you’re actually out and working engaging with people, and it’s engagement that people want from politicians more than anything else (apart from perhaps empathy).

Standing by the side of the road and waving suggests to me that not only are you unimaginative, but it’s like using a megaphone with a flat battery to try and connect.

Perhaps I’m just biased because the first candidate I ever saw employ this technique was Michael Johnson, the disgraced former MHR for Ryan. It looked pretty dopey when I first saw it, but maybe I was just channelling my uneasiness with Johnson who distinguished himself by perpetrating the first ethnic branch stack in the Queensland Liberal Party, in the process doing the party a lot of damage in the blue ribbon seat of Ryan.

And perhaps not. What do you think? Are you more likely to vote for someone because they waved at you from the side of the road?

Posted by Graham at 7:12 am | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

October 13, 2011 | Graham

LNP should have set up an in-house oppositional research wiki

The most surprising thing about the LNP’s so-called dirt file is that they had to pay an outsider $3,075 to compile it. If their parliamentarians weren’t aware of just about all that was in the files then they aren’t doing their jobs properly.

They could have set-up an inhouse wiki and pooled their resources for a better and cheaper result and up-dated it in real time right up to and through the campaign.

The second most surprising thing is that anyone should be apologising for the files.

While the Courier Mail excised some parts of the files, if the files were not in fact largely relevant, why did the paper publish them today?

The issue isn’t whether the party researched the sexual habits of some of their opponents, but what they did with the information. It’s not as though sexual pecaddilloes are irrelevant.

Let’s not forget that two former Queensland Labor frontbenchers – Keith de Lacy Wright (my unreserved apologies to Mr de Lacy it was a slip of the fingers) and Bill d’Arcy – have done time for sex crimes committed in the 90s and before, and only last year a NSW Labor cabinet minister stood down after being sprung in a gay brothel. In the last case it was a newspaper that did the research.

Even if this is not information that you intend to use, it’s information you need to know how to react to if, or when, it comes out. In the case of the two Queenslanders, it would have been better if their own colleagues had paid more attention to the gossip – perhaps less harm would have been done.

If the Opposition wants to rule Queensland they need to toughen up. The episode demonstrates strongly that they are prepared to let the government and The Courier Mail  dictate the agenda rather than trying to run it themselves.

Posted by Graham at 5:34 pm | Comments (5) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

October 11, 2011 | Graham

Perrett non-story tightens case for Rudd

The Graham Perrett threat to quit parliament if Julia Gillard is rolled probably makes only a miniscule difference to whether we will get an early election, but it does strengthen the hand of Kevin Rudd in the tussle for the ALP leadership.

It’s really a non-story. and is only a story because it is a story. That last sentence doesn’t make any sense to you?

Put it like this. I wouldn’t be writing about it if the mainstream media hadn’t decided to report it. You get plenty of mad backbenchers who say ridiculous things. In a mature polity what they say would be ignored. They hardly speak for anyone, sometimes not even themselves.

Mr Perrett appears, at least for today, to be in that category, so I would have normally tended to ignore him.

On a day when there are important things, like the carbon tax and the Malaysian solution to be talking about, the ill-considered remarks of an obscure backbencher, which given a chance he would probably retract, only rate because the government hangs on a slender thread which could be cut by any number of barely-balanced MPs.

Even then his comments are barely substantial because they rest not on a matter of real principal, but on an imagined one – that at the last election each party was bound to stick with the leader that they took to the election – and on a hypothetical proposition – that Julia Gillard will be rolled.

But because of the media attention Mr Perrett’s outburst probably makes the latter proposition less hypothetical as it steals momentum from the government and contributes to the impression that Gillard can’t control anything, which all things being equal, will help to keep her poll rating down.

It also advances the cause of Kevin Rudd.

If Rudd were to succeed in his campaign to undermine the PM, he is likely to call an  election immediately. There would be no incentive to hang around because last time he was prime minister, the more people got to see him, the less they liked him. Why should this time be any different?

A successfully resurrected Rudd would need to go to the polls immediately before voters remembered why they turned-off last time, so Perrett’s threat, even if taken seriously, has no effect on Rudd’s prospects, and rather than causing a by-election Perrett will depart at a general one.

It does affect every other potential challengers prospects, however, because all of the other potential contenders, including Simon Crean, would need time to build up their profile as PM, and a Perrett resignation would deny them that opportunity.

So, whether he intended it or not, Perrett makes a Rudd rebirth just a little more likely, but only because he was reported and given significance that he didn’t deserve.


Posted by Graham at 2:48 pm | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

October 07, 2011 | Graham

Hubbert’s peak receding

Australian motorists have had a charmed ride compared to those overseas because of the bouyancy of the Australian dollar. That ride seems to have come to an end with news reports that the price of fuel is set to hit a 3 year high.

PETROL prices are on the rise again with the cost of unleaded expected to hit a three-year high at Brisbane bowsers on Thursday.

Already 40 per cent of service stations have upped their prices to 154.9 cents a litre – a jump of 17 to 18 cents.

RACQ spokesman Brodie Bott said the sudden price hike cut short the 12-day price cycle by four days catching many motorists out.

“We expect the rest of the fuel stations to put their prices up throughout the day, and ULP prices could be the highest since the onset of the global financial crisis three years ago,” Mr Bott said.

The falling value of the Australian dollar was behind the latest price hike, he said. At 7am on Thursday, the Aussie was trading at 96.54 US cents – up on yesterday’s close of 95.50 US but down on a fortnight ago.

It’s about to happen in the US, whose currency has declined much more rapidly than most, where South African company SASOL, is exporting technology developed because of apartheid era trade sanctions.

Sasol has selected the southwestern region of the state of Louisiana as the site for a planned gas-to-liquids, or GTL, facility.

The project is slated to be the first plant in the US to produce GTL transportation fuels and other products.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Sasol Managing Director: New Business Development Ernst Oberholster said, “We believe Sasol’s proprietary GTL technology can help unlock the potential of Louisiana’s clean and abundant natural gas resources and contribute to an affordable, reliable and high quality fuel supply for the US.”

So it looks like technology and new finds have pushed Hubbert’s Peak (Oil) back substantially, and it is not something I will have to worry about in my lifetime.

Posted by Graham at 6:56 am | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Uncategorized