Saturday, July 24, 2010

Like the parting of the Red Sea: Madison lakes miraculously break up storm front


The myth works! The myth, that is, which says that Madison's lakes protect us from tornadoes. I know it's a myth. Just like any other place in the Midwest, we get hit by tornadoes every once in a while -- one of which T and I watched skipping across Lake Wingra before it went on to take out a wall at the Madison recycling plant several years ago. But still, like a lucky rabbit's foot, it's something to hold on to when bad weather approaches. Sometimes it doesn't matter that it's a myth. It's still better than nothing.

Then there's the occasional moment when myth and reality appear to coincide. I caught one of those moments on Channel 3's Doppler radar loop tonight. Watch the bright red storm front roll up the screen from the southwest. It's amazing -- just as it gets to Madison, the line of severe weather breaks apart, spares the city the heavy duty stuff, and circles around the city to the northwest and southeast. Like the parting of the Red Sea.

It was pretty cool. You could see the lightning off to both sides, but none directly over the city.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The metaphors of everyday life: The many lives of the picnic table

The Many Lives of the Picnic Table
Sure, it's getting on in years now. Life sometimes seems drab and brown. The word "senior" is heard now and then -- but scratch the surface and you'll find the remnants of an exciting, colorful past. The first attempt at settling down ran toward the more somber dark greens, but before that there was a scintillating lime green period. Earlier, there were the short-lived maroon years. A youthful fling with vibrant turquoise, perhaps with sterling silver accessories, long since lost. And years before, there was the youthful natural period. It may just be a picnic table, but it's been around, and it contains multitudes.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Trending in Madison: Be your own gondolier on the city's lovely lakes

Trending in Madison: Be Your Own Gondolier on the City's Lakes
Suddenly you see it all over town. It's called stand-up paddleboarding (SUP for short). This was on Lake Wingra recently, but this summer the boards have rapidly multiplied on all the Madison lakes. Isthmus notes the sport originated in Hawaii, spread to coastlines everywhere, and now is being reborn on inland waters.
Resistance is futile. Often referred to by its acronym, SUP is shaping up as recreation's next Big Thing. Spreading from Hawaii to coastlines around the world, it's now dispersing to inland waters. A growing number of surfboard manufacturers are producing oversized paddling-specific boards, with a comparable proliferation of long-handled paddles. The sport has spawned races, blogs, websites and online videos galore, and was the hit of last summer's annual Outdoor Retailer convention in Utah.
And it's not just Madison. The New York Times took notice the other day.

Monday, July 19, 2010

On the eve of British PM Cameron's visit with President Obama, BP has a plan. Again.

It's deja vu all over again. On the eve of the David Cameron's state visit and meeting with President Obama, BP has good news, same as it did the last time they met a few weeks ago at the G20 meeting in Canada.

This time, it's that the "seepage" found recently (sounds so much nicer than "leak" or "spill") is unrelated to their well. And that BP is considering permanently sealing the well they just capped with a so-called "static kill." The New York Times only had to use three qualifiers to describe the latest BP plan as their spokesman described it -- "could," "could" and "might." By BP standards, that's almost a sure thing.
He said that the procedure could speed the process of sealing the well and that the digging of a relief well, which has been seen as the ultimate solution and could be completed by August, might be needed only to confirm that the technique had worked.
Others are not so sure and worry that with their capping "experiment," BP is once again flirting with disaster for short term gain. Dimitry at The Oil Drum calls BP's constant resetting of the goalposts the "normalization of error."
But hey, if you really, really want the results to be good, you will just have to assume that these things are really responsible for the low pressure and not some prosaic, unpleasant leak.

So, to sum up, we get a bad result, rewrite the agreed upon rules, come out with a number of unverifiable assumptions backed up by uncheckable analysis and declare the actual bad results to be "almost certainly good". We then proceed AS IF we got an actual GOOD result in the 8+ ksi range. We proceed as if we actually established well integrity - this is normalization of error. It is the most often responsible for really bad errors that result in disasters - the two space shuttle disasters come to mind, underscoring the possibility that organizations can repeat the same methodological mistake twice.

The really weird thing to me, is that there is a spectacular lack of realization that an analogous process led to BP's original blow out.
Why do I get the feeling that Obama and Cameron will not be talking about "normalization of error"?