Sunday, December 04, 2016

A Sticking Point About the Movie "Alliance"

I saw the movie Alliance a couple of weeks ago. It's pretty good, especially if you like good, mostly hard science fiction. But somethings still bothers me about it.

This isn't giving anything away that's not in the trailers, until I warn you. In the picture to the right is symbol containing a sentence (or some complicated thought) of the alien's language. The plot evolves around a linguist's (Amy Adams) ability to translate such symbols and so try to communicate with the aliens. Before this she approached them with a whiteboard on which she'd write her name or a word from English, but that didn't work.

Instead she works on translating their language. The way they show her doing this is good stuff -- she tries to break down parts of the loop (and they're always loops) into individual "words" or "thoughts" or "feelings" or the equivalent. Eventually she succeeds somewhat, but it's too late and the politicans of the world take to aggressively dealing with what they see as a massive threat to the and to Earth. (There are about 12 of these ships at various points around the globe.) Of course that ruins everything.

Now you should stop here if you don't want to risk any spoilers.

Slate had a interesting interview with a real linquist who gave some insight into how different language structure words or thoughts. And a summary of what the plot means.

Apparently the aliens experience "nonlinear time." (I didn't get this this until I read about the movie afterward.) Their loops contains subsymbols that aren't necessary in a linear time order -- the aliens think about time cyclically instead of in a straight line. Slate: "As Louise [the lingust] learns the language, she also begins gradually experiencing visions of her future, a sign that she too is beginning to experience time differently."

I don't know what nonlinear time is. I don't see how it wouldn't violate causality. I don't see how the speed of light could be a constant in all reference frames, as we know it is. (Einstein assumed that as a postulate of special relativity, and by the accuracy of its predictions we take it now as a fundamental property of the universe.) If time is cyclic, couldn't you, in particular, travel from where you are today and when and come back to the same place and time? Or at least the same time? What then if you didn't do the same thing you did the first time? How can these aliens be just a few feet from humans and experience time so radically different?

That's just one thing that bothered me. The other is that, here are these aliens who managed to come here, en masse, from who knows where in the universe. They also know something about antigravity, or altering the direction of gravity, as the early parts of the show make clear; also their spaceships hang silently several meters above the ground.

So these beings know how to do all this, and we have to translate their language?? They can't translate ours? Nonlinear time presumably has linear time as its zeroth-order leading term, and but they don't understan that? They are clearly very intelligent compare to us, but they can't translate a simple linear language?

I didn't find that convincing. Of course, the plot hangs on the struggle to understand their language before Earth's countries try to bomb them to hell out of them (trivial for them to handle). Without that struggle, the plot would collapse into much less than it is, and probably not enough.

So in these senses the movie isn't exactly hard scifi -- it alters reality for the sake of its plot. Just when they started getting to the good stuff, they pull a deus ex machina. The fact that a lot of people needed the plot explained to them afterward shows this didn't really work.

Still, it's a movie well worth seeing.

"You're sitting in a CHAIR in the SKY"

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Monday, November 14, 2016

Krugman Does It Again

From today's New York Times:


And he has an almost school-boyish, smartest-kid-in-the-class aversion to ever being called wrong:


Trump was elected on 11/8. That night the Dow futures tanked, as did the Nikkei Index. But on 11/9 the S&P 500 went up 1.1% from its previous close. The next day it was up another 0.2%. At that point Krugman cried "uncle." Not very impressive.

But he's sure in the long run Trump will be a disaster. I'd like to think so too, but it's not clear to me at this point. Already he is showing signs of compromising his campaign promises -- on the wall, on the Affordable Care Act, on a Muslim ban, and on same-sex marriage.

Anyway, Krugman says Trump will bring "runaway climate change." If he means "runaway" in the scientific sense, a la Venus, he's wrong -- the Earth isn't close enough to the Sun to undergo such a runaway (but only by a few million km). Even if we burn all the fossil fuels available -- about 12,500 Pg carbon, according to Swart and Weaver 2012 -- we'd get 9 to 33 C of warming. Serious shit, but not runaway.

Maybe Krugman thinks Trump will keep us on RCP 8.5. Probably, but the world is on that anyway. Nothing the US can do individually to stop it, and I don't see the US killing the Paris agreement alone. If anything there might be some retaliation. I hope there is -- that's the best way to enforce a global carbon tax.

Passing the Torch

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Eiseley

"We fear," remarked an Eskimo shaman responding to a religious question from the explorer Knud Rasmussen some fifty years ago. "We fear the cold and the things we do not understand. But most of all we fear the doings of the heedless ones among ourselves."

-- Loren Eiseley, "The Winter of Man" from A Star Thrower (1969)

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Krugman's Climate Hyperbole

Amidst all the other nutbaggery about this election, it's also made me lose some respect for Paul Krugman.

Sure, he's a Nobel Laureaute in economics, so he doesn't need my opinion. But I used to respect him for, especially, backing up his claims with data -- often from the FRED database. He had a great way of supplying a tidy graph that clearly supported his claims and easily refuted others, and of using toy models to make his points. 

That actually had a real influence on me, several years ago. I started trying to keep close track of the data -- not so much economic, but climate -- in order to know what I though I understood, and being able to back it up. 

But I can't say the same about Krugman anymore. For one thing, he has all but abandoned writing about economics in the last year, instead writing as a clear shill for Hillary. He dismissed Bernie, the clear progressive choice, from the very get-go.
 
My suspicion, with no supporting evidence, is that Krugman has been promised a place in Hillary's administration, either formally or (more likely) informally, as a deep consultant. He won't admit that, it seems, either way, which to me raises concerns about his objectivity. Even the NY Times doesn't seem to care about his relationships. 'Course, they have been heavily biased for Hillary all along. 

The other day, Krugman said on Bloomberg TV:
“If the Democrats take the Senate, we probably save the planet,” said Krugman, who recently bemoaned the absence of climate-related questions during the president debates. “Climate change has turned out to be an easier issue economically, and an easier issue politically than we thought.”
This is such hyperbolic crap. The U.S. could disappear tomorrow and the world would still have a very serious climate problem from its 35 gigatons of carbon emitted. (The US takes this up to about 40 GtC.)


Obama's Clean Power Plan 


US 2005 CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels were 5.99 Gt CO2. 32% off that leaves emissions of 4.07 Gt CO2 in 2030 -- still huge. 

That reduction of 1.9 Gt CO2 by 2030 is hardly -- hardly -- enough to "save the planet," as Krugman thinks. It's nowhere close. Saving the planet still relies on immense cuts in the future, and ideally before 2030. Maybe it leads to Kumbaya reductions. I doubt it. Actually it's probably too late now anyhow.

Everyone in this presidential campaign is lying, has lied, will lie a again. At this point I just wish to avoid the destruction of America, and even of the world. But I don't see the big picture changing. I am sorry to see Krugman become part of the hyperbole and giving up on being part of the solution. 

Who cares at this point? 

 

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Ocean Heat Content Continues to Drop, But the Drop is Slowing

Third quarter numbers for ocean heat content (OHC) were just published (0-700 m; 0-2000 m), and they show it continuing to drop, though the rate is slowing considerably.


Quarterly changes were:

0-700 m: -0.06 W/m2
0-2000 m: -0.16 W/m2

both less than 10% of last quarter's changes. Year-over-year changes are

0-700 m: -0.92 W/m2
0-2000 m: -1.10 W/m2

May be why lower tropospheric temperatures are still (UAH) at record highs.

N.b. Since 1955, the 0-700 m region of the ocean has absorbed 11.0 W/m2 of heat. That's like a permanent 100 Watt light bulb distributed over an area only 10 ft x 10 ft.