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Clouds Seattle

Global Warming and the Scientific Method

Having a lot of family members who are scientists (and no, I don’t count my B.S. in philosophy amongst them), I’m used to people hedging around propositions that seem pretty clear to me. It’s part of the scientific method; the testing and retesting of hypotheses before concluding that a theory is true. Or as true as anything can get in science.

I also have a fair bit of experience with financial modeling, so I’m intimately familiar with the illusion of certainty a modeling exercise can give you. Lots of numbers, lots of crunching, but oftentimes an exercise in GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. The less certain the inputs, the more dynamic the variables, the less confidence one can have in the reliability of the model’s conclusion. That doesn’t mean that models are valueless. Straightforward models with conservative or highly certain inputs can provide quite accurate forecasts. And even complex models with highly variable inputs can provide directional guidance. But it’s really important to be able to tell the difference.

All this explains the sense of unease I feel about the certainty with which so many climate scientists approach global warming. It’s not the sort of caution I would expect from scientists dealing with hyper-complex models. They may well be right, but I’d expect a little more discretion, particularly when it comes to the models. While anthropogenic climate change is well-established, it’s far, far harder to say with certainty what the impact of that change will be.

Why should we care? Some would say that we know the climate is going to hell, so the more scientists can be advocates, the better. But you put down the scientist standard when you take the role of advocate. A real scientist should always be prepared for evidence that his hypothesis is wrong. The scientific method demands that they aggressively seek that evidence out. It’s how science is done.

Which brings me to this recent piece in The Economist, which goes into some detail about how global temperature growth has slowed in recent years, falling out of the bottom of the range of increases forecast by climate models. Who knows what the cause is, or whether it is merely temporary. Perhaps we will see temperatures grow at an accelerated pace in coming years to make up for the lag.

But we don’t know. And our climate models don’t either.

I’d like to see more of an acknowledgement of this uncertainty. It might actually make it easier to slow down the rate of atmospheric carbon growth if climate scientists spent more time acknowledging the limits of the data. After all, we as a species aren’t going to do what would be necessary to massively cut our carbon output. We’re not going to wind down our global economic structure, tell billions in the third world they can no longer have cooking fires, and force citizens of developed nations to live in 300 square foot huts with two hours of power a day. “End of the world” predictions, in addition to making those scientists involved lose credibility, actually make it harder to have productive discussions addressing the low-hanging fruit of carbon reduction.

Just a thought before I ride my bike home.

Amanda Palmer on Sharing

First of all, Amanda Palmer is NOT one of those artists who doesn’t grok what the Creative Commons “non-commercial” license means.  CC, check out her definition; it might help if you guided your folk this way:

“(meaning you’re not selling the resulting work)”

That should be a “duh,” but.

More importantly  her TED talk was awesome.  I find a lot of TED stuff meh, but this one was special.  Maybe because I don’t nearly often enough expose myself by asking for something – or maybe because I just like the concept of the “eight foot bride”, and Amanda Palmer giving you the death stare if you refuse her flower.  Enjoy.

Building the “Greenest Building on the Planet”

The Bullitt Center, under construction

Moving to Seattle over a decade ago from the Bay Area, I was struck by the lack of urbanity up here. For all its big-city aspirations, Seattle was – and still is, in many places – a city of single-family, separated houses and an urban core pockmarked with surface level parking lots.

So it’s been great to see the amount of urban infill that’s been happening on Capitol Hill over the last two years. With the economy improving, many stalled projects have sprung to life, and the neighborhood is bristling with cranes. Most of the projects are 5-6 story apartment and condo buildings, the sort of thing that leads to cries of “gentrification” but which are the necessary building blocks of a vibrant, walkable (and bike-able!) urban neighborhood.

Amidst these projects is the Bullitt Center. Perched above downtown, at the corner of 15th and Madison, the Bullitt Center is being built and billed as the “Greenest Commercial Building in the World.” From a massive, solar-capturing roof, to rainwater-collection systems, to a design that ensures no occupant is more than 30 feet from a window, the Bullitt Center is an attempt at maximum sustainability in a commercial structure.

What’s been really interesting to watch, however, is the juxtaposition between the construction of the Bullitt Center and all of the other buildings going up in the neighborhood. All that sustainability doesn’t come cheap, and the builders claim to be building the Bullitt Center to last 250 years (compared to the 40-year standard of a typical condo development). So it’s taking much longer. There’s also that crazy, cantilevered roof, the high ceilings and the massive amount of timber-frame construction going into a building whose height would dictate steel and concrete.

A typical condo project rises down the block from the Bullitt Center

Fair Weather Cycling

Not much rain in Seattle this summer (we had a 6 week stretch with nary a drop) and it looks like sun for most of the rest of the month.

That’s meant more cyclists on the street. Will that translate to more year-round commuters? Signs in my office indicate we’ve got a ways to go.

Typical day this summer:


The one day it rained:

Thugs in Congress

US Representatives Sue Myrick and Frank Wolf have written a letter calling on the law firm DLA Piper to not represent ZTE. In the letter, the estimable Congresspeople state that by representing ZTE:

“your firm is indicating it values the retainer of one contract over the legitimate cyber security and supply chain concerns of the United States government, as well as the oppression and persecution of political dissidents, human rights activists, religious groups, women, journalists, students and educators in Iran.”

Is ZTE a rogue state? Dr. Evil’s criminal organization? A banned foreign food additive?

No. ZTE is a Chinese electronics manufacturer. And like any company doing business in the United States, ZTE needs to have counsel over here. Counsel to help with contracts, with regulatory compliance, with litigation, with lobbying. With the million little legal details necessary to make an enterprise go.

It’s also the case that our American system recognizes and respects the right to counsel – even when the client is reprehensible, unpopular or vaguely rumored to be controlled by the Chinese government.

And it’s absolutely appalling that a couple of Congresspeople would write a letter like this.

Maybe they consider it payback for the kefuffle that erupted over the representation of a GOP Congress in the appeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Or maybe they are reactionaries looking to score some cheap political points at the expense of a target too risk-averse to fire back (although if I were DLA’s managing partner I would be sorely tempted to send a response along the lines of “snort my taint, you thuggish pricks”).

Whatever the case, Wolf and Myrick’s letter needs to be called out for what it is: un-American and unacceptable. Here’s hoping voters see fit to send these two lackwits back to the state legislatures where they can do less damage.

Blogging Consolidation

You’ll notice a bit of a change moving forward on Single Speed Seattle – I’m expanding the focus of the blog to cover things I’ve been writing about elsewhere; namely my perspective on business and legal-related stuff. Splitting my blogging between here and Corporate Tool was too distracting, and often I’d want to write something that didn’t seem a perfect fit for either blog. I’m hoping that having a single place to blog will help me write more often.

So now you get it all here! Time will tell if that is a good thing . . .

Cycling in my Hometown – Bend, OR

Just back from a trip to the town I grew up in – Bend, OR. If you’re unfamiliar with Bend, it’s located in the near-geographic center of Oregon, on the high desert east of the Cascades. It’s a beautiful place, and a mecca for all things outdoors-fitness related. And, despite having more brewpubs per capita than anywhere else in the US, it serves as a launching-off point and training ground for many world-class athletes. US decathlete Ashton Eaton (who just set the world record at the Olympic trials) is from Bend, and many cyclists, snowboarders and skiers have Bend as their home base.


(Mt. Bachelor from Lava Butte)

Bend has grown fast since I moved away in 1986. It’s gone from a mill-and-skiing town of 15,000 to nearly 100,000 today, with close to double that number in the surrounding area. The infrastructure has changed as well; outside of the core area of “Old Bend” (as pleasant a downtown riverside spot as you’ll find anywhere) the city’s system of roundabouts and roadways has expanded greatly since I tooled around town on my old Royce Union in the
80’s.

So it’s a bit shocking that with all of this new infrastructure, in a town awash in competitive and recreational cyclists (and yes, maybe even a few commuters), so little attention has been paid to cycling infrastructure. What could have been a model for cycling has been reduced to an afterthought. There are a few bike lanes along some of the newest roundabouts, but they’re strictly made for recreational riding, with a weird cobblestone texture. And what to make of Century Drive, Bend’s primo location for serious training? You’ll see a steady stream flying up and down CD to Mt. Bachelor every day, including teams training in full kit at high speed. But the road barely has a fog line, to say nothing of a bike lane. With only one lane in each direction and a posted speed limit of 55 MPH, it feels like a disaster in the making.

I love Bend, and I love going back to visit a couple of times a year. It’s just a shame that the city hasn’t been able to do more to embrace and support all the cycling that goes on there. Because with 300+ days of sun a year, it’s almost always a good time to ride in Bend.

And then there’s all those brewpubs . . .