Some minor updates

Sep. 23rd, 2017 08:54 pm
[personal profile] swaldman
Last week was my last at my short-term research job. I have the coming week full-time to get my thesis finished. I've committed to delivering a complete draft by the end of the month. This feels achievable.

This weekend is Edinburgh Doors Open (the equivalent of London's Open House weekend). This morning I went on a walking tour by the Scottish Waterways Trust along the Union Canal. It was a nice walk through some countryside, and I also learned about some of the industrial heritage of the city. I used to be fascinated by this stuff in London, and I'd missed that.

In the afternoon I took a bus over to Portobello to visit the house of two architects and their family. They have a child who is a full-time wheelchair user, and they designed the house from scratch around the idea of step-free access - it's interesting, and beyond the whole "ramp" theme, it's always nice to see what happens when creative people can be daring without worrying about their clients' reactions. I remember thinking, years ago, about the lighting scheme I would put in my own house if I had the cash, which I would never dare propose to a client.

Lothian Buses had an open day at their depot today, and to co-incide with that they had lots of vintage buses running on a particular route, which would take me home from Portobello. That didn't especially interest me, but by pure fluke the bus that came along first was not an old one but a very new one - one of the first all-electric buses that is on trial in Edinburgh. I'd never really thought about electric buses as a possible thing, for the same reason that I'm sceptical about electric taxis or trucks, at least with current technology - heavy load and long continuous use. We only drive our cars for about 5% of the time, but commercial vehicles get used a lot more, which had made me discount battery power. BUT buses spend an awful lot of that time stopped, or moving slowly, and electric ones don't need power when they're stopped, and regenerate a lot of what they've used when they slow down.... so range is relevant rather than time-in-service, and a 150 mile range probably is enough for a city centre service to go all day, and then some. This bus had some fan noise on the back seat, which is next to the batteries, but was otherwise quiet, vibration-free, and not pouring particulates into Edinburgh's air. I like!

Tomorrow I must start work on the final chapter of the thesis. Also, clean the house.

Climate comms...

Sep. 20th, 2017 08:02 am
[personal profile] swaldman
This week, a new paper was published in Nature Geoscience that shows that the planet has not been warming quite as fast as most climate models have predicted, so far. There's a deficit of 0.3 degrees C. I'm no climate scientist, so I don't feel qualified to judge whether this methodology is good; it's passed peer review, but it'll be worth waiting a week or three to see whether any other relevant scientists disagree with the findings. This article has a dissenting view[1]. Either way, though, it changes little: If correct it gives a little more breathing room, and the point that is mostly being made is that it makes a 1.5C rise merely "challenging" rather than impossible... but we're still likely to breeze through and beyond that anyway, IMHO. It changes little in terms of the required actions.

So faced with that finding, how to communicate it without either causing the denialist community to go "THE MODELS ARE WRONG! WE TOLD YOU SO! IT'S ALL A HOAX!", or causing the more moderate politicians to go "Phew. We have time. We can ignore this and let the next government deal"? And at the same time not being perceived as hiding less alarmist news? The first author made an excellent effort in this article, which IMHO is a really good example of giving an honest and straightforward lay explanation of a scientific study.

Did it help? Not really. It's escaped the front pages for now, perhaps due to the ongoing series of natural disasters in the Carribean and central America, but the usual suspects have still written what you'd expect. Scientific American has a reserved and balanced take. The Guardian is more optimistic, but warns us that "politics is still not easy". The BBC presents so many views that it's not clear what, if anything, they are concluding. Both of these note the possibility that the original article's conclusions about 1.5C being easier to hit may be wrong. Meanwhile Dellingpole, in The Sun, is spinning this story as "I WAS RIGHT!", saying "a tiny bunch of ­scientists got their sums wrong and scared the world silly with a story about catastrophic man-made global warming." Meanwhile an MP who is a member of the Commons Science and Technology Committee - and also a trustee of the denialist GWPF - complains in the Mail that "There has been no word of apology, no sign of humility. Remarkably, they carry on preaching their diehard gospel. With their habitual arrogance, they argue that the lower levels of global warming mean that we now have even more time to implement their radical policies."

Hmm. Yeah. Whether or not this study proves to be correct in its conclusions, we'll be hearing about it from denialist groups for the next 5 years or more. But I don't think there's anything that one can do about that; keeping quiet about such results would be far worse.


[1] AIUI nobody disputes the paper's direct findings so far, but some are doubtful about its import - some say that there is a natural cycle which has had a cooling influence in recent years, but will have a warming influence in future ones. Superimposed on the overall warming trend, this could apparently explain the discrepancy without changing the urgency of the problem.

Smart meter sagas

Sep. 13th, 2017 02:32 pm
[personal profile] swaldman
Scottish Power - through their subcontractors Actavo - wanted me to have a smart meter. They sent me a letter offering this, and asked me to call Actavo to arrange an appointment.

I did that. Actavo said that they couldn't do it because the meter was too high up (it's above a door).

Scottish Power kept on texting me, roughly once a week, asking why I hadn't contacted them (I had).

Eventually I contacted Actavo again to make the texts stop. This time they said they could do it. They arranged an appointment, saying an engineer would be there between 12pm and 4pm.

On the day, emptied the cupboard with the gas meter, waited in, and nobody showed. At 4:30pm I called them and they apologised profusely, offered me £30, and made a new appointment for the same times another day, saying that they had noted on the system that I had been let down and that it would definitely happen the next time. I put everything back in the cupboard.

The next appointment came, but no engineer did. At 4:10pm I called, and they said he was on his way and would be there in ~15 minutes.
He turned up at 5:15pm. He apologised and said that as he was meant to finish at 5 there was no way he could do the job, but he would have a look at the system and make sure it was possible. It was. He went away. I made another appointment. Realising that the problem is that the engineers are booked to be busy all through the day with no contingency[1] - so the last appointment is often missed - I booked a morning. I put everything back in the cupboard again.

On the third attempt the engineer did show up! He speedily removed my old meters and installed new ones, and then discovered that Scottish Power's comms system was down, and so was unable to commission them. He assured me that somebody would phone me to arrange a short appointment for commissioning.

So now, instead of my old dumbmeters, I have two new dumbmeters, which do exactly the same job as the old ones but with more blinkenlights. It's been two weeks since the last visit, and I have received no call about commissioning.

At this point I've given up being proactive. If they want my meter to be smart, they'll need to do something about it.


[1] Actavo have presumably decided that paying £30 compensation for missed appointments and allowing no contingency works out better for them than allowing time for things to go wrong. Sure, it pisses off Scottish Power's customers, but they're not Actavo's customers, so why should Actavo care?

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