Global leadership from the Russians on asteroids

 
The Russians have more recent experience with bad asteroids, as the Siberian event in 1908 hit with about 15 megatons of explosive force.   Maybe that is why they take the problem more seriously.
 
American scientists are too caught up in pandering to the public with news releases and so their estimate of the chance of the asteriod based on five years of observations are not particularly convincing. 
 
The initial hazard estimate was about a 1 in 37 chance of hitting in 2029.  Now it has been reduced to about 4 chances in a million of hitting.  Considering that the study of these bodies is in its’ relative infancy it isn’t very responsible to make such a prediction.  Remember way back when all of the rocket scientists were telling us that there was nil chance that there were any planets in the universe outside the solar system?   Making grandiose predictions at this point isn’t called for.
 
The prediction presently calls for the asteroid to miss by about 18,000 kilometers, which at its’ average speed of 31 km/s is about a ten minute journey.  18,000 sounds like a lot but in the context that an extremely small deviation for any reason could put it on a collision course I don’t find the analysis comforting.  Such a trivial deviation could come from round off errors. 
 
A critical issue is that we don’t know what it is made of.  See http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/a99942.html.  A mass has been assumed but the density isn’t known nor is the presence of magnetic materials. 
 
There have been anomalies found in the orbits of some satellites around the earth and I have to wonder if magnetism may play a role in these. 
 
A very trivial magnetic pull, steady over time, may have an accummulated effect over a long period and it doesn’t have to be a lot to create a disaster.  An asteroid that passes near earth may have a more increased effect from the magnetic field at that time. 
 
If you think that we know everything about the solar system, here is another article to read: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/8/26/772767/-Suns-Magnetic-Field-Fading,-No-One-Knows-Why
 
In any case, we need to get some practice dealing with asteroids because there will be a time when if we don’t there will be a major disaster.  Leaving the issue until the last minute without any beta trials isn’t the best idea.   Because of basic physics early intervention is better and can be smaller.  A change of a millionth of a degree in trajectory now with accummulated change in position from that over many years can be more effective than a one percent change in tragectory late in the game. 
 
One idea worth looking at might be a billiards approach.   For a machine to land on an asteroid and push it out of the way is likely to take a lot of power.   Redirect a smaller, easier to move asteroid that is also going 31 km/s into the larger asteroid and that might be a lot more efficient, although there would be hazards if it breaks into unpredictable bits. 
 
I like that idea though.  If the net effect is that the vast majority of the mass is headed away then there is a lot smaller problem to deal with.
 
Pushing a dangerous asteroid subtly off course though may be the better answer if it is feasible.
 
We also have to live to the issue of comets, which can be very unpredictable.  They can be 40km across and often travel much faster than asteroids.  Most of them have orbital periods longer than 100 years, meaning that we have little data on their historical behaviour.  The ones that come close to the sun can break into bits.
 
We also have to remember that the solar system is 365 degrees.  If a comet like object is on the other side of the sun when closing and gets redirected at Earth we could have a very short period of time to decide what to do. 
 
It has been calculated by some that the fastest a comet could go, if a solar system body, is 72 km/s.  That is over 6 million kilometers per day and over 186 million kilometers in a month. 
 
The distance from the sun to the earth is an average 149.6 million kilometers.
 
Of course the comets speed up when passing close to the sun and can be as fast as 437 km/s at that point.  It may slow down to 72 km/s or lower by the time it reaches earth but could approach much faster along the way. 
 
Lots of debris in space hasn’t been spotted yet.
 
Comets are generally more visible because of their tails.  Some of them burn out though and comet interiors are notoriously dark.  If they pass close by the sun their materials can vaporize leaving little or no trail and a dark chunk of rock.  I also have to wonder how many hunks of rock are out there that are just like comets but haven’t had the decency to cover themselves in ice so they can leave tails and be readily spotted. 
 
If an object comes from the other side of the Sun, where far fewer telescopes will pointed and for a period it can be hidden completely, we could potentially have only a few weeks to figure out what to do about it.
 
In which case it would be better to have something already in place. 
 
More food for thought: a medium asteroid just missed us earlier this year and we only saw it three days in advance: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,503164,00.html

Climate negotiations

There has been a lot of criticism of Obama over not getting enough done at the recent climate conference and only coming away with a minor agreement in principle.
 
It would be unexpected for such a conference to produce anything useful.  Too many cooks in the kitchen, too short a timeframe, not enough leg work done up front. 
 
The issues and parties are highly complicated.  The idea that the world’s problems for the next 80 years would be solved in this kind of off the cuff manner isn’t realistic. It’s like expecting to win the Superbowl with only one throw.   Following up the football analogy, you aim for a first down and if you get more that’s great. 
 
In negotiation it is important to get the other party to begin to say "yes".  Because of cognitive dissonance the more often you get them to say "no" the harder it will be to move forward.   Get a "yes" on something, anything, makes it easier for the next "yes" to come. 
 
Tony Robbins has said that we all overestimate how much we can get done in a year and underestimate how much we can get done in ten years.   I think that’s true. 
 
The biggest hurdle though is credibility.   If the US starts doing what it would like everybody else to do, without waiting, that may bring some reciprocation and it will bring much needed credibility.  The US ignored the Kyoto treaty and didn’t sign it and must avoid the (reasonable) perception that the US only wants other countries to make concessions and has no serious intention to follow through.  There will be bugs to work out in enforcement and one country’s beta-testing of a system for reducing emissions can help everybody else and a working system may sell other countries on adopting it. 

Colts make dumbest decision in history of football

Everybody gets a shot at the Superbowl every year.  There is skill involved in that but there is a lot of luck involved in that too and other issues like the health of your players can play a big role in the stretch.  In any case, however it works out everybody starts back at zero the next year and you get another shot.  You carry that culture of winning with you if you win or go far and that will help but you start next season at zero the same as everybody else.
 
Other things don’t come along every year.   Certain records represent once in a lifetime opportunities.  Multiply about 40 years since merger with 32 teams and you get 1280 team years.   Out of all of those chances only one team has gotten a perfect record for season and playoffs.  The Dolphins team that did it had a schedule loaded with cream-puff opponents and any team that gets that record will likely have only a few serious challenges during the season, so there is a luck element there- but for everything to come together and have the chance to do it, including the skill to do it, that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. 
 
The most wins in a decade stat, while a little more forced (the more artificial the boundaries of a stat the more suspect the relevance), was already a Colts record and they had one more chance to improve it.   The longest winning streak in the regular season stat was live and could have kept going into the next regular season. 
 
The Colts though have a certain notariety for sandbagging the end of seasons to rest and protect their starters, with the reasoning that this will increase the chance of a Superbowl win.  Actually that decreases the chance of winning because the team and the starters lose focus and the team ends the season on a depressing note with late losses but they don’t seem to have got that yet. 
 
When you come off a major downer you are vulnerable.  Both teams that lost to Tampa this season were coming off major downers, the Packers after losing to Favre for the second time and the Saints after losing their own perfect record.   The Colts’ let down is far worse than that. 
 
Pulling Payton Manning in the second half while ahead and then losing the game is like pulling Payton Manning at half time in the Superbowl.  The players will never be able to forgive their managment for that.  Never.  Not this season, not in 30 years, not on their deathbeds.   They had a once in a lifetime shot at history and it got torpedoed by bureaucrats in managment based on an idiotic theory that nobody else in the league or serious commentator believes has any merit. 
 
Can they recover psychologically from that kind of betrayal to make a serious bowl run?  I don’t think so. 

NFL needs some changes, Vikings should take superbowl if they quit tinkering

I don’t know whether it is coach Childress or Brett Favre or both that are starting to mess with the system in Minnesota, but whoever is needs to stop it. 
 
There’s a reason that the teams with bye weeks usually lose in the playoffs and the Colts usually lose in the playoffs and that is because momentum and inspiration are huge.   You always, always, always keep doing what is working and don’t change that for a quarter even if you are ahead.   Repetition is important in training so that you will automatically execute the way that you are supposed to without thinking about it when in action.  When you have people execute wrong, deliberately, you are programming confusion into their heads.  There should never be any inconsistent programming.    It isn’t a switch that you turn on and off at will.  Every single thing you do changes your internal wiring a little bit. 
 
Childress has probably done some good things with his conservatism.  He’s got Favre’s interception rate way down from where it used to be.  All the same excessive conservatism is an almost sure loser in pro football.  Most Superbowls are won by great clutch quarterbacks that thrive under pressure. 
 
On the other hand Childress has no killer instinct.  I saw the first Green Bay v. Vikings game this year and Childress almost threw it away.  His strategy- with a three score lead, run for five yards every time you get the ball and kick it so that the other team has the maximum opportunity to score.   He almost gift wrapped a won game for Green Bay. 
 
The only way the Vikings will get that title is if Favre gets his coach under control, not the other way around.  The coach can help make him more disciplined but there has to be more than that.   If you take a great offence and try to turn it passive you are going to get rebellion and make the players think you are an idiot.   You also have to keep with the temperament of your players and try to get players that are instinctively on the same page.  Chicago this year tried to go flamboyant and got more of a passing QB for a grinding team and the result was a mess.  Try to turn a flamboyant team into a grinding team and it doesn’t work either.   A coach has to deal with the problem areas and make sure that the flamboyant types don’t give too many turnovers and the grinders don’t get too predictable but turning an eagle into a bull or vice versa just doesn’t work. 
 
For the Superbowl the wild card is the Bengals.  They haven’t played well without Chris Henry but an athlete or a team that dedicate themselves to the memory of someone recently lost can be extremely dangerous.   It can lead a Buster Douglas to knock out a Mike Tyson.   Without that I wouldn’t have given them much chance fully manned.   Winning is half mindset and team culture. 
 
The Packers are a quetion mark because of their new problems at cornerback.  They lost one starter and the other one had some unspecified personal problems recently and they need to plug that hole quickly because without solid cornerbacks no team goes anywhere- except maybe the Packers. 
 
People don’t appreciate that the Favre deal was a win-win situation.  Favre got a better shot at a Superbowl and the Packers needed to develop Rodgers.  You can’t keep a top 5 quarterback warming the bench.  Of course part of the credit for that has to be given to Favre- who could ask for a better mentor?
 
If the Packers get it together the only team that I would give the advantage over them is the Vikings.   I rank them #2 in the AFC. 
 
The Giants are going nowhere without Plexico Burgess.  They have been alternately overrated and underrated this season.  Ranking teams by their win-loss rates without looking at their opponents is a weak indicator of ability.  If they make it to the postseason they won’t go far.
 
If Dallas makes it to the post season they won’t go far either, with good odds of being bounced after one game and long odds to win two.  I see the odds of Dallas getting a Superbowl in the next five years as nil.  That isn’t the fault of Tony Romo, who is actually pretty good. 
 
The Eagles are hard to guage.  They are consistently pretty good but have lacked that one step to go to greatness.  I’d probably rank them #5 for post season potential. 
 
Arizona I’d rank at #3 due to consistency issues.  If they fire on all cylinders they are better than Green Bay and they’ve already shown they can beat the Vikings.  They outplayed the Steelers at the Superbowl last year and only lost because of the last play of the first half, instead of getting a touchdown or field goal they get intercepted and if it had been the other way around they would have won easily.   Even with that blunder Pittsburgh had to come up with last second heroics to get the victory.   With Warner and at least two star wide receivers Arizona can take on anybody if they go at full throttle.
 
The Saints are hard to guage.  Having opponents during the season that were largely cannonfodder is poor preparation for playoffs and they’ve had to eke out some wins over weak teams.  They beat the Eagles while the Eagles were slumping, the Patriots while the Patriots were slumping, a Giants team that has trouble beating good teams other than the Cowboys and a slew of weak and middle of the pack opponents.  They lost to the Cowboys who were in a desparate fight for survival, which everybody will be in during the playoffs.   They have never faced the Vikings or the Packers or the Cardinals.  They don’t yet have that contagious culture of playoff success or core of playoff veterans.  
 
In deference to the strength of their offence and defence and the sheer number of wins though, I have to rank them fourth in the AFC.  Unlike Dallas they have a real shot at making it to the conference final.  If they can get there or to the Superbowl this year I like their odds of a Superbowl in the next five years.  They just need a little playoff seasoning but to go from so-so and no playoff legacy to serious contender in one year is too much to ask.
 
In the NFC I’d have to rank the Chargers as the number 1 pick.  They are the biggest nemesis of the main competition, the Colts.  Their three losses were early and to quality teams.  They’ve beated a lot of quality teams too- their schedule was far tougher than that of the Saints. 
 
The Chargers are the best in the NFC right now and that is while resting Thomlinson for most of the season, using him 2/3 as much as they used to.  They’ve had this problem year after year of having him burned out and injured come playoff time.   Rivers has had a career year.  If LT goes through the playoffs at full speed they may win every game by 20 points or more.  If the Chargers going 100% meet the Vikings going 100% in the Superbowl, the game is going to be legendary.  The main weakness is the lack of past playoff success and experience in going deep in the playoffs.  
 
The Colts I’d rank #2 for obvious reasons.  Their schedule hasn’t been as tough but they have beaten the Cardinals, Ravens, Patriots and Broncos.  They will probably lose to the Chargers by 7-10 points notwithstanding fourth quarter heroics, which will be enough to make the outcome respectable but won’t be enough.
 
The Patriots I would have to rank #3 for prospects because of their past success.   They are in, and the ability of people with past playoff success to get more playoff success if they can squeak in, is notorious in most sports.   Stars that are drifting and listless can snap into shape when everything is on the line if they’ve done it before.  I think they’re too damaged to go far but you can’t write off past success. 
 
Then there are the Ravens.  They are lacking success in the playoffs with their present crew but the quality of their opponents has been ridiculous.  They lost to the Patriots when the Patriots were clicking, the Bengals twice, Minnesota, Indianapolis and Green Bay.  They beat the Chargers, Broncos and Steelers.  With the resurrection of the Bengals, the Ravens’ schedule was almost comically awful, and they ran into most of the top teams when they were streaking.   With an average schedule this team probably would have won 12-13 games.  That said, their quarterback still has to show that he has playoff stuff in him.   You can’t run the table right through the Superbowl on defence alone. 
 
That brings us to the next issue, which is structural problems in the NFL preventing it from being anywhere near as good as it could be. 
 
The old AFC-NFC distinction based on putting the leagues together 40 years ago isn’t really serving the sport, and neither are the four team divisions. 
 
We can see one aspect of the problem with the NFC North.  Put three powerhouses in the same division with a rebuilding team and the result isn’t really fair to at least three of the teams.   The struggling team gets guaranteed 6 games against powerhouses in the division and that doesn’t make it easy to make progress or know if they are making progress.  The powerhouses beat each other up and only one of them is guaranteed a seed in the playoffs. 
 
Then there are geographic problems created by keeping the conferences separate such as the eastern teams Kansas and St. Louis being tacked on to "west" divisions.  All the extra flight time and changing time zones puts them at a disadvantage.  They are already struggling. 
 
Dallas is classified as "East" for what are probably historical reasons long forgotten.  Their divisional rivals are all a short hop from each other.  Dallas players have a much longer haul.
 
Miami is in a similar position. 
 
Part of the problem is that there are really only 6 western teams and that doesn’t divide well into 32.   Ignoring the map it would make a lot more sense to have 4 divisions of 8 teams each and have each play the others in the division only once.  That would help reduce the problem of clumping of strength and weakness where some teams more or less get a bye into the playoffs and others get a brutal grind. 
 
It would also provide some variety- I don’t understand why in a 32 team league any team plays any other twice in a 16 game regular season.   Lots of head to head matchups that would be extremely interesting never happen because of that problem.   Am I the only one that is annoyed that Minnesota, New Orleans and Minneapolis may never play each other at all this year? 
 
Another problem is with the playoff bye weeks.  They don’t seem to help the teams that get a week off that much.  It does give a small percentile improvement of chances because there is no risk of knockout in the first week but the teams with the byes don’t have a great track record in Superbowls either. The loss of momentum of a week off seems to be lethal.  That final regular season standings often have a lot to do with lopsided schedules may be another reason. Other than foregoing additional revenue I’m not sure what the point is.  Have two additional teams per conference and it should add to interest and it could make the league easier to rebalance. 
 
Because of the distance between the six teams out west and the other teams it probably would make sense to have a six team division with each playing the others twice to reduce the number of long commutes and time zone changes.  It would also facilitate local rivalries that can get fans going.  Look how excited Green Bay and Minnesota get about their rivalry. 
 
Then if the formula is that the top half of teams from a division make the playoffs it doesn’t matter as much how large the divisions are.  The top three in the west would get in for instance. 
 
If there were 4 divisions of 8 teams, that would be hard on the two added to the West that don’t belong there.  One thing that would be good for balance though and more classic games would be to have each team play the other teams with the same ranking in the other divisions in the following year.   That would help ensure some classic match-ups and would allow the bottom teams to get more shots at wins.  It wouldn’t work with 8 divisions but it would with 4.  Having a lot of teams with nearly perfect scores while others have almost perfectly bad scores doesn’t look good. 
 
Whether any changes like that or any other alternatives, who knows.  This year has been good at bringing out the deficiencies in the current configuration. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Climate deals

Lost in all of the pomp of the world climate meetings is the simple fact that nobody requires any other nation’s permission to curb their own emissions. 
 
Nothing shows leadership and faith in one’s own position, and leads by example, than doing the right thing unilaterally. 
 
A major defect with agreements is that the limits will be difficult to enforce in any practical way.  The emissions for most factories will likely be estimates and these will be fudged. 
 
The only practical way of doing things is to have a target of zero emissions and work towards that. Targets should be ideals.  The targets for things like road safety, drunk drivers, homicides, illnesses, corruption and the like are all to have zero problems.  That doesn’t mean that perfection will ever be attained but if you can’t get the ideal you don’t throw up your hands and quit either.  You keep chipping away.  Any target set by a public agency is likely to be missed by a wide margin even when people are acting in good faith. 
 
Focussing on research and development is important too.   That does not necessarily have to lead to new technologies to be useful.   Look at the "shaker" flashlight.  The underlying principles for it are something like 100 years old.  The application once you see it is obvious.  I wonder what other relatively simple and straightforward solutions to problems could be solved just by using existing technology properly. 

The importance of climate change skeptics

Climate change is about many things beyond greenhouse gases.  The earth’s internal heat, the output of the sun, ocean currents and other things will affect it.   The global emphasis also detracts from reviews of local problems where the same processes that may make the globe as a whole warmer may make some places colder. 
 
The emails that have been outed by the skeptics cause me concern in that they suggest that climate science is becoming trapped in orthodoxy.  That may obstruct understanding of other climate issues.  When there are problems with some of the data that means that something is not fully understood and if that is whitewashed we lose information and understanding and progress is stalled.
 
Even though the skeptics are wrong on the main issue (and probably funded by certain industrial interests),  they may serve a useful purpose if they force theory and analysis to develop. 
 
Regional effects are important and the effect of global warming on the air and water currents needs to be looked at closely.  I would expect convection caused by the heating of air to speed up.  That could result in cold air being sucked down from polar areas faster with less time to be warmed along the way.   I think about that when I read about cold arctic fronts reaching down into the United States through Canada and causing some harsh winters recently.  There has been talk about global warming potentially disrupting certain ocean currents but little that I’ve seen  about alterations in air currents. 
 
Text books show each hemisphere divided into three nice, tidy convection cells, the polar cell, the Ferrell cell and the Hadley cell.  The actual weather patterns are messier than that.   The cells can be misleading as well because the polar front for instance usually extends further than the polar cell. 

Suggestion for pandemic control- higher humidity

Something that got lost in the shuffle with the H1N1 nonsense was a recent study showing that there is a high correlation between low humidity, especially low absolute humidity, and the transmission of viruses.  For instance: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20090209/flu_moist_090209?s_name=; http://www.weather.com/activities/health/coldandflu/cfcoldfacts.html
 
There are a variety of reasons why that could be, for instance dry membranes in the nose and mouth may provide easier entry points.
 
In any event, high humidity seems to have a protective effect which is why colds and flus are more likely to happen in the cooler months when the absolute humidity is lower.    Relative humidity does not seem to be as important and even when it is raining or snowing that does not necessarily mean that the air has a lot of water vapour in it as the amount of water that the air can hold drops dramatically with temperature. 
 
That suggests a public health interest in keeping up humidity in places where people congregate to prevent spread of disease. 
 
That is an engineering problem as much as a health problem.  Higher humidity can result in condensation and that can lead to problems with minor floods and mould and mildew.    Because changing air systems to support more humidity would mean mechanical modifications to buildings in a lot of cases that will have cost issues and time for installation.  It isn’t something where you can do it overnight the next time there is a pandemic.
 
There would probably have to be regulation.   The interest of building owners and building managers that aren’t tenants would be to keep humidity down because of problems with condensation, rot, mould, etc.   The interest of tenants would be to have higher humidity provided that doesn’t lead to other health problems.   The owners/managers in a lot of cases might have to be pressured towards improving something that they might not see as their problem- unless there is a pandemic. 
 
Loss of productivity due to sickness costs enormous amounts of money every year, and it may be that a policy that reduces sickness results in net economic gain even though there are capital costs.