Two for two

I was in Madison, Wisconsin and so missed the ice and snow storm in Norman. I came back to this:
In less than a month, we've had two major snow storms which is quite unusual for Oklahoma. I missed the Christmas Eve blizzard too -- we were on a family vacation in the Yucatan then. The similarities don't stop there. We returned from Mexico and got stranded in Dallas because there were no flights into Oklahoma City. The time, the airport was closed on Friday afternoon, leaving me stranded in St. Louis. Two for two then in missing the winter storm and in being stranded.

The difference, of course, is that this time it was not all of us. Just me being away from home. S2 (the five-year old) made me a card and wanted to mail it. Mom, ever practical, pointed out that I'd be home before the postman came to pick up the mail. Since this ended up not being the case, S2 had an extra day of waiting before she could show me "her surprise":
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The uses of a zero rupee note

A non-profit organization in India has pioneered the use of zero-rupee notes. The idea is that when a citizen is asked for a bribe, he hands over a zero-rupee note in protest.

I would have thought an official demanding bribes would be shameless, but surprisingly, this seems to work:
Fed up with requests for bribes and equipped with a zero rupee note, the old lady handed the note to the official. He was stunned. Remarkably, the official stood up from his seat, offered her a chair, offered her tea and gave her the title she had been seeking for the last year and a half to obtain without success.

Equatorial weather desired

"Nice day, eh, buddy?," remarked the taxi driver in Madison, Wisconsin today. Such a nice day that he was driving with his window rolled down. It is 21F and the wind is bitingly cold. But, yes, the sun was out. There's a crew watering the lake, so folks can skate tonight. This is what, in Madison, goes as a nice winter day. But it does beat ice, freezing rain and sleet, on the menu of outcomes in Norman tomorrow night.

It's times like these that I miss my childhood. Ice and sleet (like the bubonic plague) were just words in books when I was growing up in Africa, 6 degrees north of the equator. And 21F? I can not recall ever talking about the temperature.

p.s. do click the link for "6 degrees north". Google Maps now has a feature where they link photographs of the area.

Melbourne not so friendly anymore

Suddenly, it seems that Indians and Australians can not agree on how to interpret events.

A 21-year old Indian student was stabbed and killed in Melbourne. A few days later, a 29-year old Indian was set ablaze in the same city. Indians in the city were convinced that it was all racially motivated and protested that a string of attacks since 2004 had been systematically ignored by the police. The Australian police disagreed, called the events "crimes of convenience".

Another attack on an Indian student took place on a train. Video of this showed up on YouTube but was taken down because (some of?) the attackers were under 18. But of course, you can never totally shutdown video like this. The Australian response is "these guys are minors and this video is illegal" while the Indian response is "these guys are thugs ... why haven't they been punished?"

An Indian paper ran this cartoon:
prompting outrage in Australia. A bit unfair to taint Australians with the legacy of the American South, but from an Indian standpoint, all racist white people wear hoods.

Meanwhile, the number of Indians wanting to study in Australia has plummeted by 46%. Indian students started considering Australia and the UK after 9/11 when the US made visas harder and harder to get. Does this mean that we start getting those students again? Or will they take another look at Indian universities which have also been getting much better?


When it comes to expanding Daylight Savings Time by a month, Congress can find the votes. No dysfunctionality there. But when it comes to climate change or health care legislation, no way.

Democrats have simply seized on Scott Brown's election as an excuse to not do anything.

Ax me now

A bunch of Atmospheric Science Librarians -- librarians -- had a panel discussion today: "Do you know where your data is?"

Librarians, at the very least, should know that data are.

The most inappropriate thing I've seen at a conference

What is the most inappropriate thing you've ever seen at a scientific conference?

I've seen my share of the hapless and the rude. The people whose cellphones go off blaring out the Macarena in the middle of a talk. Even a presenter whose cell phone goes off and who then proceeds to fish out his phone and take the call.

There was also this fellow who'd been laid off. His ex-employer had paid for him to go to the conference so that he could network and perhaps line up the next job. What did the fellow do? His entire talk consisted of badmouthing his old job. To an audience of perhaps 100. I've never seen him again, so I'm pretty sure he no longer works in the field.

Anyway, today I saw the behavior that took the cake. This was during a session on probabilistic forecasting of wind speeds for use by wind power companies. These two idiots were sitting in the front row. She was sitting on his lap. His arms were around her waist and his hands seemed to be busy. Not that I was craning to look or anything, mind you.

Meanwhile, with a straight face, the presenter went on talking about how she'd found that there was no need to adjust the coefficients of a probability distribution because it turned out to be invariant in space. I didn't quite get all of that. I was busy fishing out my camera and not craning.

P.S. photo not published on the blog to protect the idiots who were making out.

Effect of climate change on the United States

"Climate changes in the US are underway in the United States and are expected to grow," says a key finding of a report on the effect of global climate change on this country. Higher levels of warming often negatively affect growth and yields, it continues, as do increased pests, water stress, diseases and weather extremes. Crop and livestock production will be affected.

I'm sitting at a talk given by the lead author of that report and the graphs and data are alarming.

Looking forward to "Mixed Nutz"

One of my friends emailed me this interview. She knew about it because her nephew, an animator, works in the studio. The "Mixed Nutz" idea is very intriguing. One of the reasons our children go to Sunday school at the temple (even though we're not very religious) is that they get to meet other children with similar backgrounds. The kids, I'm sure, would enjoy an animated series that explores the experience of growing up with immigrant parents.

Right now, though, a Google search for "Mixed Nutz" brings up just a Nutcracker show. A NPR story does indicate that the series has been sold to 27 PBS stations. It's too much to hope that OETA would be one of those (and in any case, we seem to have lost on-air reception of OETA a few months ago), so here's hoping that the show'll show up on iTunes or on YouTube soon!

Double blind reviews are kabuki

I just got a paper to review from a journal that does "double-blind" reviews. They blank out the names of the authors and send it to me. My review is anonymous. All this is meant to guarantee impartiality.

Who are they fooling? Two paragraphs into the paper, the paper explains that the authors are expanding on their previous work. Since I know what work that is, I know who these folks are. Even otherwise, they have cited my papers several times -- and from the context, it's easy to figure out the authorship. So, not only do I know who wrote the paper, I can confirm it another way too.

Meanwhile, my review will have to correct one of their citations and a couple of their descriptions and that'll give the game away. They'll know who I am.

Being carried and getting worse

I played five sessions at a bridge tournament this weekend -- the first time I've managed to play two days in a row. I've usually gotten to play no more than a session.

I was playing with a new partner and we started out great on Saturday. The very first session, we came in first overall. However, the longer we played, the worse we got -- no doubt because we were adding all sorts of subtleties and conventions that we promptly forgot to recognize -- so by the time we played in the Swiss teams today, we were simply awful. This is how we fared, session-by-session:
Saturday Open Pairs Morning. First overall. 3 points
Saturday Open Pairs Afternoon. Bottom half. 0 points
Saturday Open Pairs Evening. Fourth overall. 1 point
Sunday Swiss Teams Won 2 of 6 matches. 0.5 point

Two comments -- one by a bridge-playing friend and the other by the wife -- pretty much captured the tournament:
  1. "I'm impressed! You can even carry him." -- this to my partner after we'd won the Open Pairs event on Saturday morning (the person being "carried" is me).
  2. "Gone one whole day," marveled the wife today, "and all you got was half-a-point? Might as well have stayed home!" I'm sure my teammates would have much preferred it if I had stayed home.

Oklahoma is so small that ...

One way I impress on people how small Oklahoma is (3.5 million people in the entire state; 1 million people in the OKC metro area; 100,000 people in Norman) is by talking about how, on pretty much every flight into Oklahoma City, I know at least one other person on the plane. This is inconceivable to people living in big, anonymous cities. Still, that data point is about passengers.

Standing in the security line at the OKC airport the other day, I handed my driver's license and airline tickets to a TSA employee. He scanned it and then looked up. "Hey, I know you," he said, "you work at the Severe Storms Lab and are friends with J. L.". And yes, I knew him as a photographer and storm chaser, but didn't know that his day job was is with the TSA. I'd met him a couple of times at parties at the homes of friends who also chase.

So now I have another point of reference. It's a really, really small place when I now know socially at least two people who work at the Oklahoma City airport (the other person works at the check-in desk for an airline).

No pesos in Mexico

Visiting Mexico over Christmas, I found that I never once needed pesos. The hotel, for example, offered snorkeling trips to the Palancar reef. The price? $80. "How much in pesos", I asked. We'll have to multiply by $11.80", I was informed. In other words, the price was in dollars; the peso price would have to be converted.

Even the Mayan street vendors outside Chichen Itza quoted prices for masks and fabrics in dollars.

I went to a local shop to buy stamps and I was immediately given a 80-peso stamp. "Unless you are from Europe," trailed the cashier, "then it is 105 pesos." Those apparently were the only two choices -- United States or Europe. The possibility that I might be mailing a local letter didn't even arise. It's just that the Yucatan econonomy is organized around tourists.

The really ridiculous thing is that the daily usage fee that the Mexican government charges to go into protected marine areas was quoted in dollars -- the peso rate would vary but the dollar rate was fixed. Even the Mexican government would rather take dollars than pesos!
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