Monday, January 23, 2017

Pussy Cats

All Americans I've ever met and talked to about my pussies get very embarrassed. I've learned to say "kitties" instead. But, it turns out that these Americans have just been teasing me, and all along Americans have known full well what pussy cats are! I know I said it wasn't going to work, because it didn't work for BREXIT, but it turns out that pusscats are actually going to save the world. 

 So, it seems like a good time to introduce the new ones:

Lola is a little black (so basically impossible to photograph inside in a Yorkshire winter) 7 month old kitten who is bright, loves games, and climbing, and is also very affectionate - curled up on my lap right now. 

Esme is her slight;y larger sister, and is so pretty that she gets 2 pics. I'm not sure, but I suppose she could be a longhaired tortoiseshell and white, possibly dilute (i.e. she seems more cream and grey than ginger and black, but she still has a lot of kitten fur). She is a bit more timid than Lola and took a few days to settle in. She behaves like Lola, but as if she were wearing a pretty frock that she doesn't want to get dirty. She's quite long, and when she lies down she goes very flat and it is easy to mistake her for a scarf draped over the back of the sofa. 

"which one is my tail!?"

And then there is Alphie, although we have been calling him Boris, because he behaves like a Boris and the rescue only called him Alphie due to his alpha-male characteristics. He's the reason we have got this little troupe; he was causing a bit of trouble at the rescue, but I said I wanted more than one cat (we have two laps, after all!). Boris loves banging his head on everything, including people, and  he really puts his weight behind it ("clunk"). He's really fast when he plays, sometimes mowing down the kittens like little Japanese schools boys, but he seems to run out of energy quickly - I think he is a touch overweight. He's not super dominant, however, and seems to quite like the kittens, and since he doesn't push them away from the food bowl, I hope they will eat all the food and help him slim down a bit. 

Oh dear, great minds think alike and I accidentally over-blogged poor James. 

Is the Food Standards Agency fit for purpose?

Fans of Betteridge's Law will already know the answer....

This is about the latest food scare of course. Toast and “overcooked potatoes” which was later revealed to refer to roasted potatoes (and well-fried chips) are the supposed culprits this time. It's not the first time we've been warned about acrylamides, and probably won't be the last. It's all nonsense, sadly. The basic problem with the FSA approach is that it identifies and publicises chemicals as being likely to be a cancer causing agent, without any(*) consideration of the dose required. As David Spiegelhalter's excellent article explains, a typical human diet contains around 100th of the dose that has been observed to lead to a modest increase in the rate of tumours in animals. And despite all the studies that have been done, no-one has found any link between acrylamide and tumours in humans. But that doesn't stop the FSA generating scare stories about how we shouldn't toast bread properly, or roast our potatoes (I heard someone recommend 45 mins in a cool oven which would just produce soft greasy pallid lumps).

Incidentally, that article probably doesn't blow DS's horn sufficiently for people to realise how authoritative an expert he is. He is Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory, Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge. When he writes about something, he's probably right.

Anyway, I'm going to keep on roasting.

* not strictly true as a careful reading of David Spiegelhalter's article reveals. But the margin of safety has to be astronomical, rather than merely huge, in order for them to discount it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 The AGU review 2016

We’d rather enjoyed our last trip to the AGU and had always hoped to go back some time but it’s a long and expensive trip from the UK especially without having access to JAMSTEC’s generous travel budget. Back in February, PEN had decided to propose a session at the AGU this year, and there was at least a strong hint that some financial support might be available to presenters. So we were mulling over the possibility of going back, when a few months later, both jules and I received separate invitations to present our work there in unrelated sessions. We’ve never both been invited to speak there in the same year, so this all seemed too good an opportunity to miss. We cleared our schedules (ha!) and arranged the trip, starting with a couple of months at NCAR.

My invitation was to a new session which covered betting, financial markets and insurance as it relates to climate change. At least, it was new to me, possibly something similar has been tried in the last few years. It didn’t attract enough abstracts for a full session on its own, so was amalgamated with a long-standing session on climate model evaluation and interpretation. Jules was invited to a session on (paleo)-climate sensitivity, which also got folded into a larger session on cloud feedbacks.

We also submitted a poster to the PEN session on combining paleoclimate modelling and data, which focussed on our new attempt at reconstructing the last deglaciation. Interestingly, I found a presentation I gave back in 2009 at a different meeting proposing this idea (and an acronym – 21kaRP), but we had too many other things on our plates at that time and didn’t pursue it further. It is much more timely now that PMIP is pursuing a coordinated experiment aimed at simulating this interval with state of the art GCMs.

from window of Westin

As well as booking our favourite hotel (surprisingly good value through the AGU site, especially with two people to share the room costs) we spent a bit of time surfing tripadvisor for the best places to eat, which threw up a number of old favourites and a handful of new places to try. As a result of our research we didn’t bother with lunch on the flight but instead headed straight to House of Nanking for sesame chicken after landing on Sunday afternoon, before heading off to registration to avoid the Monday morning queues.

We didn’t find the schedule to be completely packed with must-see stuff, but there was enough to keep us interested most of the time. It’s not really sustainable attending lectures non-stop from 8am to 6pm anyway, though the remnants of a bad cold meant we didn’t have much energy for enjoying SF’s sights and shops. We had a few meetings arranged to do outside of the AGU conference itself, which kept us busy in some of the quiet times and made the whole week that much more worthwhile.

Monday was a particularly thin day, so instead of attending lectures we focussed our attention on discussing some joint work with others for most of the afternoon and on to dinner. Tuesday was mostly data assimilation. I find it interesting to see people still pushing the boundaries of what is possible with ensembles and particle methods. One interesting question is how and why the particle filter and even ensemble Kalman filter can work so well, when they should both basically fail for the modest ensemble sizes which are practically achievable. There seems to be some debate as to how these results are best interpreted…

Wednesday was a busy day for me, with a poster first thing and then a talk later. Our poster on the deglaciation is here or perhaps here if the AGU site changes

Unusually, the poster session was particularly well-attended and useful. I think this was a fluke of scheduling, as there wasn’t much of a clash with anything except with Bette’s Emiliani Lecture at 11:20am. So basically everyone who was interested in paleoclimate went to the posters around coffee time and stayed for an hour or so, before heading off to the lecture which was great.

It’s available though the AGU on demand streaming service, which doesn’t seem to have as much as in previous years, or perhaps I’m misremembering that. Anyway, several of the major lectures are available (the Schneider lecture by Battisti was another one that we attended), though not many of the normal short-talk sessions.

My talk (here as pdf) was late in the afternoon. Being shoehorned into someone else’s session gave me some justification, I thought, in going beyond the narrow remit of my submitted abstract to talk a bit more generally about betting and betting markets. So I enjoyed a brief meander through a subset of the betting stories that have popped up in recent years. The AGU has gone widescreen (maybe years ago, but this is the first time we’ve bothered formatting for it) which is all very well but there was at least one room where a bit more attention could have been paid to ensuring that the image didn’t extend beyond the white screen, clipping off figure captions and titles. We made sure our text wasn’t too close to the edges and it wasn’t a problem for us.

A celebratory beer

On Thursday, jules (to whom I had, just in time, successfully passed my cold) gave her talk, which had also been agglomerated into a larger session. This was a repeat of the Pliomip sensitivity paper, nothing that exciting to those of us who knew about this work though a good chance to talk about it with a new audience who mostly knew about cloud feedbacks and modern data and had relatively little exposure to paleoclimate. It actually clashed with a rather similar talk in a different session which I went to instead, so I can’t tell you how great it was🙂 For lunch we penetrated the AGU editors’ lounge which serves much larger lunches than the EGU equivalent. The pretext for this free lunch was to discuss using paleoclimate to estimate climate sensitivity with some colleagues at least one of whom is, we hope, an AGU editor of some sort. We finished off the day with a dinner at Scala’s anyway, where I had a very good ribeye steak.

By Friday we were a bit tired, and there was nothing that great on. We went to learn a bit about renewable energy which was quite fun, but it petered out towards the end. Didn’t have energy to go out for dinner so Pearl’s deluxe burgers had the honour of a second visit in the week. We also had plans for Saturday morning so weren’t really on for a late night.


A few years ago we entered the AGU fun run and were caught in a downpour, which wasn’t actually all that much fun. Plus, the 7am Wednesday start time made it impossible to get back in time for the early session and we were particularly busy on Wednesday this year including the poster presentation first thing. Therefore we decided not to do it this time. I had however spotted that there was now a parkrun on Saturday mornings at Crissy Field (one of only a handful in the USA). So we booked an afternoon flight back to Denver, and planned to take part in this, at least provisionally depending on the weather and how we felt after a week of AGUing. As it turned out, after a fairly wet and drab week for the conference, Saturday morning dawned sunny and perfect, so we greatly enjoyed a quick trot up and down the shore with great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and all the rest of it.


By chance it was the 100th running of the event, so there was perhaps a larger than average turnout and even cake at the finish. So that was quite a treat to end the trip with. The return flight was then heavily delayed due to another snow storm in Denver, and when we finally got to Boulder we had to trudge back home from the bus stop late at night through several inches of snow with temperatures of -20C which was a bit of a shock to the system. I don’t think I would much like to live in Boulder long-term, it’s a struggle to go outside in those conditions though I suppose some must enjoy the skiing.

Next year the AGU will be in New Orleans, then Washington DC the year after, while the Moscone Centre is being renovated in some way. Doubt we’ll be at either of them, but you never know.