Monday, April 20, 2009

To all things, there is a season!


Panic and run away, originally uploaded by cole007.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Old Married Couple

Sarah and I have had a pair of mallards visiting our yard for the last week. They like the birdseed. We've had finches, squirrels, rabbits and turkeys before, but this is the first year we've had ducks.

Aren't they beautiful? I plan to create a little pool for them, so they'll feel welcome. Halle doesn't like the ducks, but she's mainly a house dog, so I don't think she'll be much of a concern to the ducks.

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Sarah took this action shot, they noticed her through the window and started to waddle away.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Black Swans & the Carrington Event

I recently read a post at Global Guerillas on Black Swans and the fragility of complex systems, one of the comments that linked to this New Scientist article on the global electrical grid's vulnerability to bad solar storms, like the Carrington Event.

The most serious space weather event in history happened in 1859. It is known as the Carrington event, after the British amateur astronomer Richard Carrington, who was the first to note its cause: "two patches of intensely bright and white light" emanating from a large group of sunspots. The Carrington event comprised eight days of severe space weather....

However, the prognosis from the NAS analysis is that [the US and developed world are unlikely to survive another Carrington Event].

There are two problems to face. The first is the modern electricity grid, which is designed to operate at ever higher voltages over ever larger areas. Though this provides a more efficient way to run the electricity networks, minimising power losses and wastage through overproduction, it has made them much more vulnerable to space weather. The high-power grids act as particularly efficient antennas, channelling enormous direct currents into the power transformers.

The second problem is the grid's interdependence with the systems that support our lives: water and sewage treatment, supermarket delivery infrastructures, power station controls, financial markets and many others all rely on electricity. Put the two together, and it is clear that a repeat of the Carrington event could produce a catastrophe the likes of which the world has never seen. "It's just the opposite of how we usually think of natural disasters," says John Kappenman, a power industry analyst with the Metatech Corporation of Goleta, California, and an advisor to the NAS committee that produced the report. "Usually the less developed regions of the world are most vulnerable, not the highly sophisticated technological regions."

According to the NAS report, a severe space weather event in the US could induce ground currents that would knock out 300 key transformers within about 90 seconds, cutting off the power for more than 130 million people (see map). From that moment, the clock is ticking for America.

First to go - immediately for some people - is drinkable water. Anyone living in a high-rise apartment, where water has to be pumped to reach them, would be cut off straight away. For the rest, drinking water will still come through the taps for maybe half a day. With no electricity to pump water from reservoirs, there is no more after that.

There is simply no electrically powered transport: no trains, underground or overground. Our just-in-time culture for delivery networks may represent the pinnacle of efficiency, but it means that supermarket shelves would empty very quickly - delivery trucks could only keep running until their tanks ran out of fuel, and there is no electricity to pump any more from the underground tanks at filling stations.|NS|


So many risks, so little time...

Tick Tock. Tick Tock.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Dancing into oblivion


dancing, originally uploaded by *Nicoli.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Pirates acquire Air Defense

I thought this item in Nightwatch raises interesting questions about the connection of the Somali pirates to the global black market and their connections with organized crime.

The Press Trust of India reported an Indian Navy statement of concern that the Somali pirates now have acquired shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles [or man-portable air-defense](MANPADs). If confirmed, the connections and resources that would enable Somalis to acquire MANPADs from the international gray arms market would signify they are a much more organized and serious threat than simple Somali clansmen trying to provide for their families.

Of greater tactical significance, the use of rapid response teams flown in helicopters has been key tactic responsible for putting the pirates on the defensive. MANPADs would increase the risks and tend to neutralize that modern advantage. |Nightwatch, March 23, 2009|
This may also make interdiction more difficult as the author points out.

It reminds me of how the US crippled the USSR in Afghanistan through the provision of
Stinger missiles to the Taliban.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Spring!

A rabbit showed up at the bird feeder today, Spring really has arrived... despite last night's snowfall.

I wish I was outside gardening, but instead I'm doing my taxes, if only the duties of citizenship were as much fun as the 4th of July...

Friday, April 03, 2009

Windswept

The Ambivalent Pakistan

Nightwatch is a free information service on political developmens and their recent analysis of Pakistan's ambivalence towards the Taliban reinforces my own biases on the subject, so I thought I'd share their analysis with you, my disloyal readers. ;-)

Pakistan: The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, General Petraeus, said today that Taliban and al-Qaida-linked groups based near the Afghan border threaten Pakistan's existence...The US view is that Pakistani Islamists pose a grave threat to Pakistan.

Pakistani media and personal anecdotes indicate Pakistanis generally do not agree with the US view and even sympathize with the Islamist argument that the government has strayed too far from Islamic values.

Many news outlets denounce the violent tactics of the Islamists but equate them with the US drone attacks in the tribal agencies. They also do not reject the religious sentiments that ostensibly motivate the Islamists... and especially dispute the notion that the US knows what is best for Pakistan better than Pakistanis...

[T]he more visceral Pakistani and Pakistan Army thesis that the Indians are the gravest threat to Pakistan, not Muslims. A significant and influential segment of Pakistani media argues that the Afghanistan instability problem is instigated by India for Indian strategic purposes to destabilize Pakistan.

Multiple outlets reported the allegation by retired officials this week that the Indians were behind the Lahore attack yesterday. They argue Baitullah Mehsud is an unwitting agent of Indian intelligence. Thus Chinese conventional arms aid is welcome for building conventional capabilities to deter India.

Of these two views, the anti-India view is by far the more widely held and the more popular, based on press coverage, especially in the retired Army officer associations.

As long as that view dominates, Pakistani cooperation in rooting out Pakistani Islamists will be begrudging and half-hearted.

Pakistanis are deliberating now – in inchoate fashion -- whether Pakistan should be a moderate Muslim state or an Islamist state. The US insists on cooperation in a fight that Pakistanis doubt is righteous and fear might be sinful.

The conversion of a secular Pakistan into an Islamic Republic was decided by the General Zia Ul Haq administration in the mid 1980s. Secular government is not in Pakistan’s future: it is part of a discarded past. |Nightwatch - April 1, 2009|(emphasis added)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Good Times

I've had a great week, even if it's been a bit intense. Several projects seemed to wrap up this weekend and I'm feeling very productive.

Even though the whole world seems to be melting down economically, but I've never felt better.

The G20 meetings sounded fruitful, let's hope the reality is half as good as the spin.

[German Chancellor Angela] Merkel told reporters: "I think I can say that we have found a very good, almost historic compromise in a unique crisis. This time the world does not react as in the 30s. This is a victory for global cooperation ... it is a victory for reason that the things that got us into this crisis are not allowed to be repeated. That is what I wanted." |G20 summit: Nicolas Sarkozy claims key role in ending 'financial madness' - Guardian|


I think Obama and Geithner have been unfairly treated by the media thus far. They inherited a plan passed by the Congress and botched by the previous administration... how are they going to turn that around? The best they can do is mitigate the harm of Bush's blunders and call that a moral victory.