When I was 12

April 10, 2008

Large rocks, severed heads, and flaming pots of oil rained down on Baghdad, capital of the vast Islamic Empire, as its weary defenders scrambled to reinforce gates, ditches, and the massive stone walls surrounding the fortress city’s many brick and teak palaces. Giant wooden manjaniq catapults bombarded distant structures while the smaller, more precise arradah catapult guns pelted individuals with grapefruit-sized rocks. Arrows flew thickly and elite horsemen assaulted footmen with swords and spears. “The horses . . . trample the livers of courageous young men,” lamented the poet al-Khuraymi, “and their hooves split their skulls.” Outside the circular city’s main wall—100 feet high, 145 feet thick, and six miles in circumference—soldiers pressed forward with battering rams while other squads choked off supply lines of food and reinforcements. Amid sinking boats and burning rafts, bodies drifted down the Tigris River.

The impenetrable “City of Peace” was crumbling. In the fifty years since its creation in A.D. 762, young Baghdad had rivaled Constantinople and Rome in its prestige and influence. It was a wildly fertile axis of art, science, and religion, and a bustling commercial hub for trade routes reaching deep into Central Asia, Africa, and Europe. But by the late summer of A.D. 813, after nearly two years of civil war (between brothers, no less), the enlightened Islamic capital was a smoldering, starving, bloody heap.

In the face of disorder, any human being desperately needs order—some way to manage, if not the material world, at least one’s understanding of the world. In that light, perhaps it’s no real surprise that, as the stones and arrows and horses’ hooves thundered down on Baghdad, the protected core of the city hosted a different sort of battle. Within the round city’s imperial inner sanctum, secure behind three thick, circular walls and many layers of gate and guard, under the luminescent green dome of the Golden Gate Palace, Muhammad al-Amin, the sixth caliph of the Abbasid Empire, spiritual descendant of (and distant blood relation to) the Prophet Muhammad, sovereign of one of the largest dominions in the history of the world, was playing chess against his favorite eunuch Kauthar.

A trusted messenger burst into the royal apartment with urgently bad news. More inglorious defeats in and around the city were to be reported to the caliph. In fact, his own safety was now in jeopardy.

But al-Amin would not hear of it. He waved off his panicked emissary.

“O Commander of the faithful,” implored the messenger, according to the medieval Islamic historian Jirjis al-Makin. “This is not the time to play. Pray arise and attend to matters of more serious moment.”

It was no use. The caliph was absorbed in the board. A chess game in progress is—as every chess spouse quickly learns—a cosmos unto itself, fully insulated from an infant’s cry, an erotic invitation, or war. The board may have only thirty-two pieces and sixty-four squares, but within that confined space the game has near-infinite depth and possibility. An outsider looking on casually might find the intensity incomprehensible. But anyone who has played the game a few times understands how it can be engrossing in the extreme. Quite often, in the middle of an interesting game, it’s almost as if reality has been flipped inside out: the chess game in motion seems to be the only matter of substance, while any hint of the outside world feels like an annoying irrelevance.

The messier the external world, the more powerful this inverted dynamic can be. Perhaps that is why Caliph al-Amin, who sensed that his hours were numbered, preferred to soak in the details of his chess battlefield rather than reports of the calamitous siege of his city. On the board he could see the whole action. On the board he could neatly make sense of significant past events and carefully plan his future. On the board he still might win.

“Patience my friend,” the caliph calmly replied to his messenger standing only a few feet away and yet a world apart. “I see that in a few moves I shall give Kauthar checkmate.”

Not long after this, al-Amin and his men were captured. The sixth Abbasid caliph, victor in his final chess game, was swiftly beheaded.

Chess lived on. The game had been a prominent court fixture of Caliph al-Amin’s predecessor, and would voraciously consume the attention of his successor—and the caliph after that, and the caliph after that. Several centuries before it infected feudal Christian Europe, chess was already an indelible part of the landscape adjoining the Tigris and Euphrates. This simple game, imbued with a universe of complexity and character, demanded from peasants, soldiers, philosophers, and sovereigns an endless amount of time and energy. In return it offered unique insights into the human endeavor.

And so, against all odds, it lasted. Games, as a general rule, do not last. They come and go. In the eighth century, the Irish loved a board game called fidchell. Long before that, in the third millennium B.C., the Egyptians played a backgammonlike race game called senet. The Romans were drawn to duodecim scripta, played with three knucklebone dice and stacks of discs. The Vikings were obsessed with a game called hnefatafl in the tenth century, in which a protagonist King attempted to escape through a ring of enemies to any edge of the board. The ancient Greeks had petteia and kubeia. These and hundreds of other once popular games are all now long gone. They caught the public imagination of their time and place, and then for whatever reason lost steam. Generations died off, taking their habits with them; or conquering cultures imposed new ideas and pastimes; or people just got bored and wanted something new. Many of the games fell into such total oblivion that they couldn’t even make a coherent mark in the historical record. Try as they might, determined historians still cannot uncover the basic rules of play for a large graveyard of yesterday’s games.

Contrast this with chess, a game that could not be contained by religious edict, nor ocean, nor war, nor language barrier. Not even the merciless accumulation of time, which eventually washes over and dissolves most everything, could so much as tug lightly at chess’s ferocious momentum. “It has, for numberless ages,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1786, “been the amusement of all the civilized nations of Asia, the Persians, the Indians, and the Chinese. Europe has had it above 1000 years; the Spaniards have spread it over their part of America, and it begins lately to make its appearance in these States.”

The game would eventually pass into every city in the world and along more than 1,500 years of continuous history—a common thread of Pawn chains, Knight forks, and humiliating checkmates that would run through the lives of Karl Marx, Pope Leo XIII, Arnold Schwarzenegger, King Edward I, George Bernard Shaw, Abraham Lincoln, Ivan the Terrible, Voltaire, King Montezuma, Rabbi Ibn Ezra, William the Conqueror, Jorge Luis Borges, Willie Nelson, Napoleon, Samuel Beckett, Woody Allen, and Norman Schwarzkopf. From Baghdad’s Golden Gate Palace to London’s Windsor Castle to today’s lakeside tables at Chicago’s North Avenue Beach, chess would tie history together in a surprising and compelling way.

How could a game last so long, and appeal so broadly across vast spans of time, geography, language, and culture? Endurance is not, of course, a magnificent accomplishment in itself, but a compelling sign that something profound is going on, a catalytic connection between this “game” and the human brain. Another sign is that chess was not just played but also integrated into the creative and professional lives of artists, linguists, psychologists, economists, mathematicians, politicians, theologians, computer scientists, and generals. It became a popular and pliable metaphor for abstract ideas and complex systems, and an effective tool through which scientists could better understand the human mind.

The remarkable scope of this game began to infect my own brain after a visit from an old family ghost in the fall of 2002. My mother had sent on some faded newspaper clippings about her great-grandfather, my great-great-grandfather, a diminutive Polish Jew named Samuel Rosenthal who immigrated to France in 1864 and became one of its legendary chess masters. Family lore had it that Rosenthal had impressed and/or somehow secured the gratitude of one of the Napoleons, and had been awarded a magnificent, jewel-encrusted pocket watch. No one in the family seemed to have actually seen this watch, but they’d all heard about it. Four generations down the line, this story, retold to a boy from the Ohio suburbs, was just exotic enough, and just hazy enough, to set the mind racing. I had begged Mom for years to tell me more about the great S. Rosenthal and his lost watch.

As I combed through the records on my mother’s mother’s father’s father’s achievements, wondering what spectacular (if still hidden) intelligences had filtered down through the generations, I also became reacquainted with the game itself, which I had not played since high school (and then only a handful of times). Stumbling through a few dozen games with friends at home and with strangers over the Internet, I found that I was just as ambivalent about chess as I’d been twenty years earlier—charmed by its elegance and intrigued by its depth, but also put off by the high gates of entry to even moderately serious play. Graduating from patzer to mere competence would require untold hundreds of hours of not just playing but studying volumes of opening theory, endgame problems, and strategy. Years of obsessive attention to the game might—might—eventually gain me entry into reasonably serious tournaments, where I would no doubt be quickly dispatched by an acid-tongued, self-assured ten-year-old. Chess is an ultimately indomitable peak that gets steeper and steeper with every step.

I was also repelled, frankly, by the forbidding atmosphere of unforgiving rules, insider jargon, and the general aggressiveness and unpleasantness that seemed to accompany even reasonably casual play. I recalled one of Bobby Fischer’s declarations: “Chess is war over the board,” he proclaimed. “The object is to crush the opponent’s mind.” Fischer was not alone in his lusty embrace of chess’s brutality. The game is often as much about demolishing your opponent’s will and self-esteem as it is about implementing a superior strategy. No blood is drawn (ordinarily), but the injury can be real. The historical link between top chess play and mental instability stands as yet another intriguing feature about the game and its power. “Here is nothing less,” writes recovering chess master Alfred Kreymborg, “than a silent duel between two human engines using and abusing all the faculties of the mind. . . . It is warfare in the most mysterious jungles of the human character.”

Still, much to my wife’s dismay, I got hooked. It is an intoxicating game that, though often grueling, never grows tiresome. The exquisite interplay of the simple and the complex is hypnotic: the pieces and moves are elementary enough for any five-year-old to quickly soak up, but the board combinations are so vast that all the possible chess games could never be played—or even known—by a single person. Other parlor games sufficiently amuse, entertain, challenge, distract; chess seizes. It does not merely engage the mind; it takes hold of the mind in a way that suggests a primal, hardwired connection.

Even more powerfully, though, I became transported by chess’s rich history. It seemed to have been present in every place and time, and to have been utilized in every sort of activity. Kings cajoled and threatened with it; philosophers told stories with it; poets analogized with it; moralists preached with it. Its origins are wrapped up in some of the earliest discussions of fate versus free will. It sparked and settled feuds, facilitated and sabotaged romances, and fertilized literature from Dante to Nabokov. A thirteenth-century book using chess as a guide to social morality may have been the second-most popular text in the Middle Ages, after the Bible. In the twentieth century, chess enabled computer scientists to create intelligent machines. Chess has also, in modern times, been used to study memory, language, math, and logic, and has recently emerged as a powerful learning tool in elementary and secondary schools.

The more I learned about chess’s peculiarly strong cultural relevance in century after century, the more it seemed that chess’s endurance was no historical accident. As with the Bible and Shakespeare, there was something particular about the game that made it continually accessible to generation after generation. It served a genuine function—perhaps not vital, but often far more than merely useful. I often found myself wondering how particular events or lives would have unfolded in chess’s absence—a condition, I learned, that many chess haters had ardently sought. Perhaps the most vivid measure of chess’s potency, in fact, is the determination of its orthodox enemies to stamp it out—as long ago as a ruling in 655 by Caliph Ali Ben Abu-Talib (the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law), and as recently as decrees by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1981, the Taliban in 1996, and the Iraqi clergy in post-Saddam Iraq. In between, chess was tamped down:

in 780 by Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi ibn al-Mansur
in 1005 by Egypt’s al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah
in 1061 by Cardinal Damiani of Ostia
in 1093 by the Eastern Orthodox Church
in 1128 by St. Bernard
in 1195 by Rabbi Maimonides
in 1197 by the Abbot of Persigny
in 1208 by the Bishop of Paris
in 1240 by religious leaders of Worcester, England
in 1254 by King Louis IX of France (St. Louis)
in 1291 by the Archbishop of Canterbury
in 1310 by the Council of Trier (Germany)
in 1322 by Rabbi Kalonymos Ben Kalonymos
in 1375 by France’s Charles V
in 1380 by Oxford University’s founder William of Wickham
in 1549 by the Protohierarch Sylvester of Russia
and in 1649 by Tsar Alexei

But like the Talmud, like the theory of natural selection, like any organized thought paradigm that humans have found irresistibly compelling, chess refused to go away. Why were sixty-four squares and a handful of generic war figurines so hard to erase from the human imagination? What was it about chess that drew simultaneous devotion and disgust, and sparked so many powerful ideas and observations over many centuries?

This is what I set out to understand, through a close survey of chess’s history and a fresh look at the game.

Excerpted from The Immortal Game by David Shenk Copyright © 2006 by David Shenk.

Well it starts earlier than aged 12 for me really.

When I was in Primary School I had a fascination with Chess, I was indeed Chess champion back then.

Then I went off to Secondary School where peer pressure and trying to fit in made me lose my love of the game.  However I found out soon after starting there that my skills had not been totally lost.

I went to Germany with school as part of my German class and stayed with a family there for a week.  During that time the father of the household asked me if I would play with him.  The best of three as it turns out.  I lost the first, but won both of the next, much to the fathers displeasure I might add, proving to myself, as most kids that age think, that I was master of the universe.

I have lost any proper knowledge I had of the game from back then, even to the point of being afraid to really sit and think about playing someone who knows a little of the game. But being settled and content as I am with my life now, I think it is time to renew the love affair with the game.  So here I am writing this blog having placed a book about the history of Chess next to me and I am about to delve back into my childhood and much further into the human mind apparently.


Dell Laptop

February 17, 2008

Decided it was time for a new laptop as I am starting to learn to program, and although my ASUS EEE is an excellent machine, I really needed something a little bit bigger with more get up and go.  This is where Dell come in:

Base
Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor T7250 (2.00 GHz, 2 MB L2 cache, 800 MHz FSB)

Memory
2048MB 667MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM [2×1024]

Keyboard
Internal Lightweight Keyboard – UK/Irish (QWERTY)

Video Card
128MB nVidia® GeForce® 8400M GS

Hard Drive
160GB (5400RPM) SATA Hard Drive

Modem
No Modem

Optical Devices
Fixed 8x DVD+/-RW Slim Slot Load Drive, including SW

Wireless Networking
Intel® Next-Gen Wireless-N Mini-Card – Europe – Core 2 Duo Processors

Power Supply
65W AC Adapter

Bluetooth
Dell™ TrueMobile 355 internal Bluetooth Module – European

Primary Battery
Primary 6-cell Lithium-Ion Battery (56 WHr)

Biometric Identification
Biometric Fingerprint Reader

Colour Choice
Midnight Blue & 2.0 mega pixel Camera for CCFL Display

LCD
13.3″ UltraSharp™ WXGA (1280×800) CCFL Display (220nits) with TrueLife™

This should be delivered next week.  Why did I choose this model specifically?  Well I was listening to Lug Radio‘s recent podcast and it swayed me.

So, in the mean time while I wait it’s time to brush up on some C++ that I started a while back and prepare for the arrival.  I’m also thinking of doing a ‘diary’ of how I progress with my chosen language here when I start.  Again, we’ll see.


Some News…

December 15, 2007

Top 11 Warmest Years On Record Have All Been In Last 13 Years

ScienceDaily (Dec. 13, 2007) — The decade of 1998-2007 is the warmest on record, according to data sources obtained by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The global mean surface temperature for 2007 is currently estimated at 0.41°C/0.74°F above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14.00°C/57.20°F.

[spoiler]

The University of East Anglia and the Met Office’s Hadley Centre have released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850.
Other remarkable global climatic events recorded so far in 2007 include record-low Arctic sea ice extent, which led to first recorded opening of the Canadian Northwest Passage; the relatively small Antarctic Ozone Hole; development of La Niña in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific; and devastating floods, drought and storms in many places around the world.
The preliminary information for 2007 is based on climate data up to the end of November from networks of land-based weather stations, ships and buoys, as well as satellites. The data are continually collected and disseminated by the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS) of WMO’s 188 Members and several collaborating research institutions. Final updates and figures for 2007 will be published in March 2008 in the annual WMO brochure for the Statement on the Status of the Global Climate.
WMO’s global temperature analyses are based on two different sources. One is the combined dataset maintained by both the Hadley Centre of the UK Meteorological Office, and the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, UK, which at this stage ranked 2007 as the seventh warmest on record. The other dataset is maintained by the US Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which indicated that 2007 is likely to be the fifth warmest on record.
Since the start of the 20th century, the global average surface temperature has risen by 0.74°C. But this rise has not been continuous. The linear warming trend over the last 50 years (0.13°C per decade) is nearly twice that for the last 100 years.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 4th Assessment (Synthesis) Report, 2007, “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.”
2007 global temperatures have been averaged separately for both hemispheres. Surface temperatures for the northern hemisphere are likely to be the second warmest on record, at 0.63°C above the 30-year mean (1961-90) of 14.6°C/58.3°F. The southern hemisphere temperature is 0.20°C higher than the 30-year average of 13.4°C/56.1°F, making it the ninth warmest in the instrumental record since 1850.
January 2007 was the warmest January in the global average temperature record at 12.7°C/54.9°F, compared to the 1961-1990 January long-term average of 12.1°C/53.8°F.
Regional temperature anomalies
2007 started with record breaking temperature anomalies throughout the world. In parts of Europe, winter and spring ranked amongst the warmest ever recorded, with anomalies of more than 4°C above the long-term monthly averages for January and April.
Extreme high temperatures occurred in much of Western Australia from early January to early March, with February temperatures more than 5°C above average.
Two extreme heat waves affected south-eastern Europe in June and July, breaking previous records with daily maximum temperatures exceeding 40°C/104°F in some locations, including up to 45°C/113°F in Bulgaria. Dozens of people died and fire-fighters battled blazes devastating thousands of hectares of land. A severe heat wave occurred across the southern United States of America during much of August with more than 50 deaths attributed to excessive heat. August to September 2007 was extremely warm in parts of Japan, setting a new national record of absolute maximum temperature of 40.9°/105.6°F on 16 August.
In contrast, Australia recorded its coldest ever June with the mean temperature dropping to 1.5°C below normal. South America experienced an unusually cold winter (June-August), bringing winds, blizzards and rare snowfall to various provinces with temperatures falling to -22°C/-7.6°F in Argentina and -18°C/-0.4°F in Chile in early July.
Prolonged drought
Across North America, severe to extreme drought was present across large parts of the western U.S. and Upper Midwest, including southern Ontario/Canada, for much of 2007.  More than three-quarters of the Southeast U.S. was in drought from mid-summer into December, but heavy rainfall led to an end of drought in the southern Plains.
In Australia, while conditions were not as severely dry as in 2006, long term drought meant water resources remained extremely low in many areas. Below average rainfall over the densely populated and agricultural regions resulted in significant crop and stock losses, as well as water restrictions in most major cities.
China experienced its worst drought in a decade, affecting nearly 40 million hectares of farmland. Tens of millions of people suffered from water restrictions.
Flooding and intense storms
Flooding affected many African countries in 2007. In February, Mozambique experienced its worst flooding in six years, killing dozens, destroying thousands of homes and flooding 80,000 hectares of crops in the Zambezi valley.
In Sudan, torrential rains caused flash floods in many areas in June/July, affecting over 410,000 people, including 200,000 left homeless. The strong southwesterly monsoon resulted in one of the heaviest July-September rainfall periods, triggering widespread flash floods affecting several countries in West Africa, Central Africa and parts of the Greater Horn of Africa. Some 1.5 million people were affected and hundreds of thousands homes destroyed.
In Bolivia, flooding in January-February affected nearly 200,000 people and 70,000 hectares of cropland. Strong storms brought heavy rain that caused extreme flooding in the littoral region of Argentina in late March/early April. In early May, Uruguay was hit by its worst flooding since 1959, with heavy rain producing floods that affected more than 110,000 people and severely damaged crops and buildings. Triggered by storms, massive flooding in Mexico in early November destroyed the homes of half a million people and seriously affected the country’s oil industry.
In Indonesia, massive flooding on Java in early February killed dozens and covered half of the city of Jakarta by up to 3.7 metres of water. Heavy rains in June ravaged areas across southern China, with flooding and landslides affecting over 13.5 million people and killing more than 120. Monsoon-related extreme rainfall events caused the worst flooding in years in parts of South Asia. About 25 million people were affected in the region, especially in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Thousands lost their lives. However, rainfall during the Indian summer monsoon season (June-September) for India was, generally, near normal (105% of the long-term average), but with marked differences in the distribution of rainfall in space and time.
A powerful storm system, Kyrill, affected much of northern Europe during 17-18 January 2007 with torrential rains and winds gusting up to 170km/h. There were at least 47 deaths across the region, with disruptions in electric supply affecting tens of thousands during the storm.
England and Wales recorded its wettest May-July period since records began in 1766, receiving 406 mm of rain compared to the previous record of 349 mm in 1789. Extensive flooding in the region killed nine and caused more than US$6 billion in damages.
Development of La Niña
The brief El Niño event of late 2006 quickly dissipated in January 2007, and La Niña conditions became well established across the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific in the latter half of 2007.
In addition to La Niña, unusual sea surface temperature patterns with cooler than normal values across the north of Australia to the Indian Ocean, and warmer than normal values in the Western Indian Ocean, were recorded. These are believed to have modified the usual La Niña impacts in certain regions around the world.
The current La Niña is expected to continue into the first quarter of 2008 at least.
Devastating tropical cyclones
Twenty-four named tropical storms developed in the North-West Pacific during 2007, below the annual average of 27. Fourteen storms were classified as typhoons, equalling the annual average. Tropical cyclones affected millions in south-east Asia, with typhoons Pabuk, Krosa, Lekima and tropical storms like Peipah among the severest.
During the 2007 Atlantic Hurricane season, 14 named storms occurred, compared to the annual average of 12, with 6 being classified as hurricanes, equalling the average. For the first time since 1886, two category 5 hurricanes (Dean and Felix) made landfall in the same season.
In February, due to tropical cyclone Gamède, a new worldwide rainfall record was set in French La Reunion with 3,929 mm measured within three days.
In June, cyclone Gonu made landfall in Oman, affecting more than 20,000 people and killing 50, before reaching the Islamic Republic of Iran. There is no record of a tropical cyclone hitting Iran since 1945.
On 15 November, tropical cyclone Sidr made landfall in Bangladesh, generating winds of up to 240 km/h and torrential rains. More than 8.5 million people were affected and over 3,000 died. Nearly 1.5 million houses were damaged or destroyed. Often hit by cyclones, Bangladesh has developed a network of cyclone shelters and a storm early-warning system, which significantly reduced casualties.
Australia’s 2006/2007 tropical season was unusually quiet, with only five tropical cyclones recorded, equalling the lowest number observed since at least 1943-44.
Relatively small Antarctic ozone hole
The 2007 Antarctic ozone hole was relatively small due to mild stratosphere winter temperatures. Since 1998, only the 2002 and 2004 ozone holes were smaller. In 2007, the ozone hole reached a maximum of 25 million square kms in mid-September, compared to 29 million square kms in the record years of 2000 and 2006. The ozone mass deficit reached 28 megatonnes on 23 September, compared to more than 40 megatonnes in the record year of 2006.
Record-low Arctic sea ice extent opened the Northwest Passage
Following the Arctic sea ice melt season, which ends annually in September at the end of the northern summer, the average “sea ice extent” was 4.28 million square kms, the lowest on record. The “sea ice extent” at September 2007 was 39% below the long-term 1979-2000 average, and 23% below the previous record set just two years ago in September 2005.For the first time in recorded history, the disappearance of ice across parts of the Arctic opened the Canadian Northwest Passage for about five weeks starting 11 August. Nearly 100 voyages in normally ice-blocked waters sailed without the threat of ice. The September rate of sea ice decline since 1979 is now approximately 10% per decade, or 72,000 square kms per year.
Sea level rise continues
The sea level continued to rise at rates substantially above the average for the 20th century of about 1.7 mm per year. Measurements show that the 2007 global averaged sea level is about 20 cm higher than the 1870 estimate. Modern satellite measurements show that since 1993 global averaged sea level has been rising at about 3 mm per year.
Global 10 Warmest Years Mean Global temperature (°C) (anomaly with respect to 1961-1990)
1998 0.52
2005 0.48
2003 0.46
2002 0.46
2004 0.43
2006 0.42
2007(Jan-Nov) 0.41
2001 0.40
1997 0.36
1995 0.28
UK 10 Warmest Years Mean UK Temperature (°C) (anomaly with respect to 1971-2000)
2006 +1.15
2007 (Jan to 10th Dec) + 1.10
2003 + 0.92
2004 + 0.89
2002 + 0.89
2005 + 0.87
1990 + 0.83
1997 + 0.82
1949 + 0.80
1999 + 0.78
Adapted from materials provided by World Meteorological Organization.

[/spoiler]

More fuel for the metaphorical fire.

PS3 one ups Xbox 360 with its DivX support

The Xbox 360 may have beaten Sony to to the punch with regards to supporting the DivX format but it seems that the PS3 will have the last laugh on the matter. First of all, unlike the Xbox 360, the PS3 is DivX certified meaning it will get full DivX functionality. This even allows for developers to utilize the solid form of compression for various in-game cut scenes.

quote:

Last month, DivX announced that the PS3 will soon support DivX, and, this month, Gizmodo met with the company, which shared some interesting details on the big move.

First of all, unlike the Xbox 360, the PS3 is DivX certified. While Microsoft’s console can only playback some DivX files, the PS3 will get full DivX functionality. This includes the ability for game developers to use the very efficient compression format for in-game cut-scenes.

This means DivX video cut scenes will reduce stress on the machine, theoretically allowing for better load times, less power consumption, and less heat output.

News Source: Blorge

Hurrah!  Well ok, I’m not a PS3 fanboy per say, but I do own one.  So in the interests of keeping the inter console wars fresh…. Hurrah!


Germany Commits to Steep CO2 Cuts

December 7, 2007

The plan is forecast to cost Germany, Europe’s top polluter, $45.5 billion (that’s about what the U.S. spends on the Iraq war every seven months).

Germany yesterday sent a strong message to the 10,000 delegates discussing global warming in Bali: Change is possible, and we’re going to get started.

The German cabinet agreed to a 36% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, below 1990 levels, by 2020 through improvements in energy efficiency, better building insulation and investments in new renewable energy sources. (A report released last week found the U.S. could make a similar, or even steeper reduction, mostly by investing in energy efficiency; the report was produced by both environmentalists and leaders of industry, including major utilities and energy companies.)

Other notable news out of Bali, where the United Nations is convening an important meeting designed to produce a roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas emissions past 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires:

  • Because 16 of the 36 nations that ratified the Kyoto Protocol have failed to meet the targets set out for them, many are looking to buy carbon offsets, according to Reuters. That is drawing ire, even as most nations are focused on the future.
  • China is pushing for a new world fund that rich nations would contribute to, and developing nations would draw from, according to Reuters. It would pay for renewable and clean energy technology projects.
  • Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, urged nations to boost spending on so-called “adaptation,” according to China’s state-run media, because long-lived carbon in the atmosphere makes many effects from global warming inevitable.
  • After ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called on the United States — now, the only industrialized nation that is holding out — to follow suit, according to Asia Pulse. De Boer said Australia’s action sends a powerful message.
  • The United States, Canada and Japan are throwing up repeated roadblocks to even small steps on global warming, like setting up a working group to discuss the transfer of technology from rich to poor nations, Friends of Earth has said, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
  • Harlan Watson, a U.S. envoy, was quoted in Asia Pulse, however, as saying that the United States wants to support adaptation, mitigation, transfer of technology and funding, and possibly a mechanism for preserving forests in Indonesia and other developing countries. One roadblock to transferring technology from rich to poor nations is that the technology isn’t owned by the government, but the private sector, according to Watson.
  • The leaders of Pacific Islands warned the delegates that their nations would be swamped if nothing is done to stop sea-level rise due to global warming, according to the Australia Broadcasting Corporation. The Global Governance Project will recommend creating an international fund to resettle “climate refugees,” according to the New Zealand Herald.
  • Japan pledged to give $10 million to preserve forests through a World Bank program designed to combat global warming, according to Asia Pulse.
  • China is warming to the idea of binding emissions reductions, according to The Australian Financial Review.

Two Long Sleepless Nights

September 28, 2007

So baby CJ is settling well here at home though she hasn’t settled during the night. Both me and Olly are quite tired but we may have found the solution.

I bottle fed her some expressed milk for the first time today and she has settled like magic. We have one content baby. It’s the first time she has been fed by bottle and the first time I have fed her. What a magical experience. We’ll see if a bottle settles her tonight at bed time.

On a more serious note:

Nutrient pollution from farms and livestock hurts amphibians

Remember the uproar in 1995 when school kids in Minnesota began finding frogs with extra limbs? The mutated amphibians looked like props in some sci-fi movie, and scientists quickly began searching for the culprit behind the deformities. Speculation centered on pesticides, increased UV radiation, and infection from parasites—which ultimately turned out to be the “villain.”

But the question remained: why were these parasites—called trematodes—increasing in number and preying on frogs? According to a study published earlier this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the leading cause of the problem is the runoff of phosphorous and nitrogen fertilizer, originating from agriculture (likely the monoculture corn and soybean farms of the Midwest), cattle grazing, and domestic runoff.

What’s the connection? Through a process called eutrophication, the excess nutrients from animal manure and fertilizers cause more algae to grow in surface waters, like the pond where the kids first found the mutated frogs. The extra algae helps increase populations of snails (which feed on algae), as well as populations of the microscopic parasites (trematodes), which the snails eat and release into ponds. The trematodes form cysts on developing tadpoles, which can cause frogs to develop missing, or in some cases multiple, limbs. The frog’s predators then eat the frogs and the parasites, spreading the trematodes back into the ecosystem and relaunching the cycle.

But don’t think you’re safe from the effects of this pollution just because you’re not an amphibian. “Since most human diseases involve multiple hosts, understanding how increased nutrient pollution affects freshwater and marine food webs to influence disease is an emerging frontier in ecological research,” says Pieter Johnson, a water scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the lead author of the study.

Organic farming is the way forward as I have said many times, along with getting rid of farmed animals totally.

Arctic thaw may be at “tipping point”

Fri Sep 28, 2007 9:24am EDT

 

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) – A record melt of Arctic summer sea ice this month may be a sign that global warming is reaching a critical trigger point that could accelerate the northern thaw, some scientists say.

“The reason so much (of the Arctic ice) went suddenly is that it is hitting a tipping point that we have been warning about for the past few years,” James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told Reuters.

The Arctic summer sea ice shrank by more than 20 percent below the previous 2005 record low in mid-September to 4.13 million sq km (1.6 million sq miles), according to a 30-year satellite record. It has now frozen out to 4.2 million sq km.

The idea of climate tipping points — like a see-saw that suddenly flips over when enough weight gets onto one side — is controversial because it is little understood and dismissed by some as scaremongering about runaway effects.

The polar thaw may herald a self-sustaining acceleration that could threaten indigenous peoples and creatures such as polar bears — as Arctic sea ice shrinks, the darker ocean soaks up ever more heat than reflective snow and ice.

In Germany, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says Arctic sea ice has “already tipped.”

Among potential “tipping elements” that are still stable, it lists on its Web site a melt of Siberian permafrost, a slowdown of the Gulf Stream and disruptions to the Indian monsoon.

“I’d say we are reaching a tipping point or are past it for the ice. This is a strong indication that there is an amplifying mechanism here,” said Paal Prestrud of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.
“But that’s more or less speculation. There isn’t scientific documentation other than the observations,” he said.

SHIPPING, POLAR BEARS

Many experts now reckon Arctic ice may disappear in summer before mid-century, decades before earlier forecasts. The thaw would open the region to oil and gas exploration or shipping.

Reuters will host a summit of leading newsmakers on Oct 1-3 to review the state of the environment. Speakers will include Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the U.N. Climate Panel and Michael Morris, chief executive of American Electric Power.

“All models seem to underestimate the speed at which the ice is melting,” said Anders Levermann, a Potsdam professor.

“I do not believe that this is alarmist… not all tipping points are irreversible,” he said. And societies can weigh up remote risks, such as planes crashing or nuclear meltdowns.

Hansen said he is seeking more study of causes of the melt, widely blamed on greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels but perhaps slightly stoked by soot from forest fires or industries in Russia and China. Ice darkened by soot melts faster.

“It is a very good lesson, because the ice sheets (on Greenland and Antarctica) have their own tipping points, somewhat harder to get started but far more dangerous for humanity around the globe,” he said.

A melt of floating Arctic sea ice does not affect sea levels but Greenland has enough ice to raise oceans by 7 meters and Antarctica by about 57 meters, according to U.N. estimates.
Pachauri’s authoritative climate panel, in a summary report due for release in November, does not use the phrase “tipping point” but does say: “Climate change could lead to abrupt or irreversible climate changes and impacts.”

It says, for instance, that it is “very unlikely” that the Gulf Stream bringing warm water north to Europe will switch off this century. That could bring a big regional cooling.

And it says that a melt of ice sheets could lead to big sea level rises over thousands of years. “Rapid sea level rise on century time scales cannot be excluded,” it adds.

From the bits and pieces I have read it is going to take a long while for us to notice a difference in Global Warming even if we were to stop polluting now, maybe up to 10 to 20 years. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop, because the longer we continue the worse it is going to get. Fact. Hopefully the summit happening shortly will come up with some strong concrete goals and objectives that will be kept rather than spotlighted for a short period of time and then brushed under the carpet. A certain North American country and a treaty beginning with K springs to mind.


Arctic thaw opens fabled trade route For centuries explorers sought the Northwest Passage. Global warming has finally opened it up

September 16, 2007

For centuries explorers sought the Northwest Passage. Global warming has finally opened it up.

[spoiler]

The Arctic’s sea covering has shrunk so much that the Northwest Passage, the fabled sea route that connects Europe and Asia, has opened up for the first time since records began.

The discovery, revealed through satellite images provided by the European Space Agency (Esa), shows how bad the consequences of global warming are becoming in northerly latitudes. This summer there was a reduction of a million square kilometres in the Arctic’s ice covering compared with 2006, scientists have found.

As a result, the Northwest Passage that runs between Canada and Greenland has been freed of the ice that has previously blocked it and that, over the centuries, has frustrated dozens of expeditions that attempted to sail northwest and open up a commercial sea route between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

In addition, scientists have found that the Northeast Passage, a corresponding route that runs parallel to the north coast of Russia, may also soon become navigable – though the clearing of both passages is likely to fuel animosity between countries trying to exploit the region’s oil, fish and mineral resources, experts have warned.

According to scientists led by Leif Toudal Pedersen of the Danish National Space Centre, Arctic ice this summer dropped to around 3 million square kilometres, a decrease of 1 million square kilometres on last year’s coverage. Given that for the past 10 years Arctic ice has been disappearing at an average annual rate of only 100,000 square kilometres, this year’s reduction is ‘extreme’, said Pedersen.

‘The strong reduction in just one year raises flags that the ice [in summer] may disappear much sooner than expected and that we urgently need to understand better the processes involved,’ he added.

Pedersen and his team used 200 images – acquired earlier this month by the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar instrument aboard Esa’s Envisat satellite – to create a mosaic that shows the Northwest route across northern Canada is currently navigable, while the Northeast Passage along the Siberian coast remains blocked, but only partially.

Finding a Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific was a dream of European merchants since the 16th century. Explorers including Martin Frobisher and Henry Hudson tried to find a route but failed.

Finally, in 1845, a well-equipped two-ship expedition led by Sir John Franklin attempted to find the passage. It disappeared, with all its 129 crewmen. Subsequent investigations found the bodies of Franklin’s sailors and uncovered evidence that contaminated food may have helped doom the expedition. It is also thought some crewmen may have resorted to cannibalism to try to save themselves.

The passage was finally conquered in 1906 by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who completed the journey in a converted 47-ton herring boat called Gjoa. However, some of the waterways used by Amundsen were extremely shallow, making his route commercially impractical.

Although the discovery that the passage is now opening up dramatically, indicating it may soon be possible for shipping to take highly profitable northerly short cuts between the Europe and Asia, scientists are also very worried about the rate at which the region’s ice is melting. They fear the polar regions may have passed a crucial tipping point.

Ice reflects solar energy. But if it starts to disappear, heat is absorbed by the dark seas and rock below ice floes and glaciers. The Arctic then gets warmer and even more protective ice covering is lost – so melting accelerates dangerously.

The opening up of the sea routes is also like to increase the intensity of international disputes in the Arctic. Canada claims full rights over those parts of the Northwest Passage that pass through its territory and has announced that it will bar transit there if it wants. However, this claim is disputed by the US and the European Union.

In addition, Russia has laid claims to large tracts of the Arctic seabed, claiming these are extension of its maritime zones. Again this claim is disputed by other countries, including Canada, which recently announced it was building a fleet of naval vessels to protect its northern waters.

Source

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If the tipping point has been reached then it’s really going to be a shit storm. I would be less worried or inclined to even care about Canada building a fleet of ships to protect certain waters and such like than the fact that when Global warming really does kick in it’s effects will be worse for us humans than full scale nuclear war.

It’s always short term profit that captures the imagination of industry and economies rather than the profits to be had in the long term by protecting this fragile planet for our future generations.