Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fury Scarcely Suffices

h/t RtO

By and large, when it comes to climate, and the changing thereof, my ignorance is fairly prodigious. I know some physics and chemistry, and can sometimes discern statistics from cuisine. However, I must admit that my disinclination towards AGW is derived at least as much from temperamental and non-climate bases as from any knowledgeably reasoned conclusions about climatologists' consensus.

Since ClimateGate, though, I can add knowledge to reflex. While I bow to AOG in all computer matters, my ignorance here is not total: I have a graduate degree in computer science, and have spent a couple previous lives in the field putting daily bread on the table.

With regard to the programming that is, in effect, the climate of the future:
Ben Santer, still at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, did not want to spend his time making his line-by-line computer program accessible to public perusal. He knew – and obviously so did his attackers – that the programming codes would be virtually useless to any one trying to replicate his results. … Personal codes are so idiosyncratic to the programmers that it could take months to explain them to others who could, in much shorter time, do an independent audit by building their own code using the same equations or data sets.
Ben Santer is a climate modeler at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory; the quote comes from Steven Schneider's autobiographical Science as a Contact Sport, pages 147-8.

This is complete, unadulterated, distilled, thoroughgoing essence of nonsense. There is simply no charitable explanation that doesn't involve lavish accusations of ignorance or disingenuousness.

Most climate modeling is done in FORTRAN. Despite being one of the oldest high-level languages, it is still one of the most popular for numerically intensive applications. This largely due to its long term presence on mainframe computers; by mainframes' very nature, languages developed for them (see also COBOL) will be much more persistent than those developed since the advent of personal computers. (Update: per rchrd's comment, I should add that Fortran is still widely used because it is efficient, portable, and, perhaps most importantly, well understood. For demanding numerical applications, SFAIK, it is the gold standard. Corrections are underlined below.)

However, the FORTRAN versions used in most, if not all, climate models has some significant shortcomings.

Foremost among them is that, prior to FORTRAN 2003, it was a procedural language, as opposed to structured. FORTRAN allows code that is as difficult to follow as a bowl of spaghetti; modern structured languages essentially enforce programming that much more closely resembles Legos.

Complicating that problem is that FORTRAN is relatively cryptic, even to cognoscenti. That means intelligibility to any reviewer, or even the author more than a few days after the fact, is very dependent upon comments embedded in the code. In contrast, well written code in a structured language is essentially self-documenting; no comments are required because the program statements are self-evident.

This is about far more than scoring style points. The modeled climate is not really the squiggly line depicting temperature deviation over time: that line -- the "results" -- is the visual manifestation of the interaction between data and code. It has no independent existence whatsoever. Therefore, in order to replicate the results, both data and code must be readily available AND comprehensible.

Hiding behind idiosyncratic programming is to write a blank check for every manner of programming sins; suggesting that an independent audit yielding contradictory results would be considered as disproof of accepted wisdom is, at best, touchingly naive. As the development of Linux has shown, by far the best approach would have been to open-source the software development. Instead, what we have is the worst method imaginable: secretive development by those whose specialty, whatever it might be, is most assuredly not software engineering.

Back in the day, when I was dealing with Structured Query Language, had I produced anything within a cannon-shots distance of being as bad as the CRU's climate modeling programs, I would have been fired faster than that cannon ball came out of the barrel.

Google "cru climategate source code fortran". You will not find anything that is as close to complimentary as I have been. Here is just one example.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sketches from an American Notebook

Recently, worm had this post about abandoned Soviet cities.

For anyone intending to make a post-apocalyptic film, particularly of the polemical stripe, their location research is done.

Unless, of course, they would rather have their post-apocalypse while not having to leave the comforts of pre-apocalypsia. America is, to be fair, not without its own areas of seemingly irremediable decay.

During the life previous to this one, I lived about thirty miles north of Detroit. And during one of the lives of that life, I worked about 10 miles west of city center. Due to the entrenched nature of freeways, the commute largely, if not completely, shielded the worst of the blight from view.

However, once I played tour guide, starting at the Ford Estate in Grosse Pointe (a couple of spelling excrescences which have burdened subsequent housing subdivisions across the land). Grosse Pointe is beautiful; handsome homes set in a verdant landscape with lake views to help make the point.

Turn your back on it though, as I did, ignorantly, to take the shortest route back to the freeway from the southern end of our grande day out, and within a very short mile, the cityscape goes from splendid to spoiled; Arcadia to Beirut.

Whole neighborhoods — well, once upon a time, anyway — lie largely abandoned, vegetation encroaching everywhere, with plywood turning windows into the eyes of the blind. The houses were once handsome themselves: many of them stately Victorian places. It scarcely taxed my imagination to overlay what could be mistaken for a post-plague land with an image of a post-gentrification makeover.

Depressingly, it was even less of an intellectual burden to see it will never happen.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Holiday Whingeing*

In my line of work, October through December are the busiest months of the year. That means being gone more than home, and completely losing about six nights sleep per month, never mind perpetual jet lag. My compatriots and I could earn a decent income as circadian rhythm disruption lab rats.

So, apropos of precisely nothing, the following describes my holiday, plus some original, on the scene, hide the children and lock the door reporting.

My Christmas eve:

Departing Seoul for Shanghai

Remember where you first heard it: Harry has gone viral:

I'm writing this on a Mac. Apple builds its reputation on refined look and feel. Okay, obviously I'll buy that, since I have. However, enquiring minds want to know why the heck the text editor flags (then, on occasion surreptitiously "corrects") words as being wrong, when they appear in the supplied dictionary. "Whingeing" is just one example. If I turn my back, it becomes "winging".

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Nature or Nurture?


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Problematizing the Obvious

There are certain things in life so glaringly obvious in their very essence that further debate is surely superfluous: psoriasis truly is heartbreak; diamonds are forever.

That list should surely include boys. Plug simple, remarkably self-similar, and really no more inscrutable than a wedge. Using terms that I am most comfortable with, boys are to paper airplanes as girls are to the Space Shuttle.

Apparently, I need re-educating. Based upon the scholarly blizzard, boys are a puzzle, after all.
My son just turned 3. He loves [insert your own list of typical boy stuff; no point making you read what you already take for granted].

That doesn't make him unusual; in fact, in many ways, he couldn't be more typical. Which may be why a relative recently said, "Well, he's definitely all boy." It's a statement that sounds reasonable enough until you think about it. What does "all boy" mean? Masculine? Straight? Something else? Are there partial boys? And is this relative aware of my son's fondness for Hello Kitty and tea sets?

Just a guess here, but if that relative was aware of a predilection for feline cartoon characters and arranging dishes on a table, that relative would instead have observed a studied silence.

The impetus for this waxing scholarly interest is boys' relative lack of academic success. More girls graduate both high school and college, the theory being that the school environment has become so feminized that it is actively hostile to boys who insist on remaining boys.

Predictably, there is another flurry about the genderization of boys; and just as socially structured binary heterocentric patrimony follows societally bound internalization of oppressive role constructs, it is all the fault of culture:
Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons From Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes offers an analysis of what boys soak in from TV shows, video games, toys, and other facets of boy-directed pop culture. … According to the book, boys are being taught they have to be tough and cool, athletic and stoic. This starts early with toddler T-shirts emblazoned with "Future All-Star" or "Little Champion." Even once-benign toys like Legos and Nerf have assumed a more hostile profile with Lego Exo-Force Assault Tigers and the Nerf N-Strike Raider Rapid Fire CS-35 Dart Blaster. "That kind of surprised us," says one of the book's three authors, Lyn Mikel Brown, a professor of education and human development at Colby College. "What happened to Nerf? What happened to Lego?"
Actually, what is surprising is that someone who could be surprised by the advent of the Dart Blaster has not long since been confined to a closely supervised therapeutic setting.

Some scholars have concluded boys are "more complicated, and less single minded than adults give them credit". Apparently since none of those adults have ever been boys, or have experienced boys, scholarly insight is essential.

From someone whose "… background is in clinical psychoanalysis, feminism, and queer studies".
That has opened the door for scholars like Niobe Way. A professor of applied psychology at New York University, Way recently finished a book … on how boys communicate. She's been interviewing teenage boys about their friendships, and what she's found is remarkable. While it's common wisdom that teenage boys either can't express or don't possess strong feelings about their friends, Way has discovered that boys in their early teens can be downright sentimental when discussing their friendships. When asked what they liked about their best friends, boys frequently said: "They won't laugh at me when I talk about serious things." What has emerged from her research is a portrait of emotionally intelligent boys who care about more than sports and cars. Such an observation might not sound revolutionary, but what boys told her and her fellow researchers during lengthy, probing interviews runs counter to the often one-dimensional portrayal of boys in popular culture. "They were resisting norms of masculinity," she says.

Note the past tense. At some point in high school, that expressiveness vanishes, replaced with a more defensive, closed-off posture, perhaps as boys give in to messages about what it means to be a man. Still, her research undermines the stereotype that boys are somehow incapable of discussing their feelings. "And yet," she says, "this notion of this emotionally illiterate, sex-obsessed, sports-playing boy just keeps getting spit out again and again."
Damn reality.

What surpasses remarkable, though, is that anyone, no matter how intellectually benighted, could give the tiniest credence to the self-compiled results of self-developed questions self-delivered by a woman to boys. She is right, though, that boys are interested in more than sports and cars: computers.

I hate to yank the social construct out from under the imposition of yet another worthless addition to the panoply of money and time wasting university programs, but really I don't, so I will. There are forests and pixels to be saved here, so it is time to cut to the chase: Boys are pack animals, and need an alpha male role model. They generate energy in amounts that girls can't even imagine. Unlike girls, boys spontaneously self organize into competitive team activities that often involve real or imagined violence. Boys like things that go fast, blow up, and shoot, preferably all at once. Boys are more emotionally articulate than dogs, but not much. Boys want to be tough, cool and athletic because boys ostracize boys who are weak, uncool and inept. Boys are sex obsessed, unless they are obsessing about sports, cars, and computers. Boys are not taught any of these things, they are boys. Boys who like Hello Kitty and tea sets are unlikely to provide grandchildren.

I'll leave the penultimate line to Professor Way, upon whom New York University is spending way too much money, no matter the amount:
"If you don't understand the experience of boyhood," she says, "you'll never understand the achievement gaps."
Pot, meet kettle.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Time to biff The Economist?

The Economist has been a weekly fixture of my mailbox for nearly all of the last 28 years. During most of that time, I found it a compact way to become at least conversationally informed on what is going on throughout the world, across a wide span of subjects. It also gave the appearance of "straight" reporting; that is, one could feel comfortable that the facts reported actually happened, were salient, and not selectively chosen to substantiate any particular conclusion.

Lately, perhaps, not so much.

Within the last couple years, The Economist has given the distinct impression that it doesn't know much about its eponymous subject.

More recently, The Climate Narrative has become paramount. The cover story of the December 5th issue was Stopping Climate Change. Huh? We are going to freeze the climate in amber for all time? Seriously? Has anyone talked to the sun about this?

Continuing in the global warming vein, The Economist simultaneously insists on how really horribly awfully terribly catastrophic climate change will be, laments the ignominious end of the Copenhagen talks, and spares not one syllable, ever, to discuss the potential for geo-engineering our way out of iceless apocalypse.

Providing another example of sermonizing, last week's survey article about women's greatly increased presence in the workplace, Female Power, contains this factoid: "Women earn substantially less than men." That is easily demonstrable nonsense, casually deployed, although to no apparent end.

Sadly, this reminds me of Scientific American jumping the shark, although not yet to the same extent.

My subscription came due for renewal this week. Still haven't decided to part ways. The twee literary stylings and increasing penchant for sloppy sermonizing is getting increasingly annoying. On the other hand, though, what else covers the territory like The Economist?