Archive for the 'Teaching & Research' Category

A New Hobby?

I’m trying to do a build-it-yourself desktop.  I’ve got the components, and now just have to build the case (or cry uncle and buy a case) and get things going.   My goal was to have all the pieces cost less than $500, and I managed it with a little to spare.  I’ll list my components for the computer-o-philes who might stumble by.  I’ll start with Windows XP (got a copy for $25 on the way), but my set-up is OK for Windows 7 64 bit when I decide to take the plunge.Here’s what I had to buy:

 Processor:  I picked last year’s quad-core from AMD, the Phenom x4  9850 — it’s 2.5 GHz.  I actually looked up performance benchmarks, and this was better than the Core 2 Duo’s by Intel.  Not as slick as the i7 or Intel Quads, but not nearly as expensive, either.

Motherboard:  This is apparently the key to the whole thing.  You of course have to get one that is compatible to the processor socket set.  Mine has an integrated LAN card and sound card (8-channel).  I also have six built-in USB ports plus the other usuals.Memory:  I got 4 GB RAM (2 x 2 GB) on sale.  Turns out that with Windows XP I’ll only be able to access >3 GB due to address limitations, but this be enough and set me up to get Windows 7 when I decide to.Video Card:  I chose an NVIDIA GeForce GT 240 “low profile” card with 1 GB internal memory.  According to benchmarks, it is five time better than the graphics card I’m currently using in terms of performance.Discs:  I’ll have a CD/DVD Burner and a 500 GB Hard drive.I also had to get a power supply and a CPU fan.   I already have a wireless network adapter card.

I’ll let you know how things work out.  I want to make a custom-case that fits on the back of my monitor, so I have a home-made all-in-one, but we’ll see if I stick to that or not.   I’m anxious to have a fast machine that actually meets recommendations for my games and can do all my work-stuff, but will also be portable (I got everything low profile so I can make a case only 2 - 3 inches thick).  This will be a great machine for under $500 if I can pull it off.

Check this out, PLEASE.

Sorry to keep harping on this issue, but the more I read about it, the more worried I get.  Here’s an article that explains “raw” versus “adjusted” temperature data really well:

Here’s a key graph from that article:

Temperature Data

More Climate Stuff

If you rely on ‘yahoo’ for your news, you’ll have pretty much missed out on “climate-gate”.  This involves leaked emails from the climate research center that the UN relies on for its global warming projections.  Some highlights:

  1.  Lack of Peer Review:  A few of the key players in global warming science intimidated journals into not publishing articles that contradicted the “consensus” on global warming.  They also tended to review each other’s papers, so the whole “peer review” and “consensus” is basically an incestuous group of well funded climate scientists.
  2. No Freedom of Information:  Apparently, people are supposed to have access to raw data and modeling information upon request.  The emails indicate efforts to deny access to outside scientists who wanted to check the numbers.  It turns out that the lab threw out all their raw temperature data, so only the “value added” numbers are available now.
  3. Data Massaging.  Data were fudged or massaged to frame them as rising temperatures.  Here’s an example quote that is showing up everywhere:

“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith to hide the decline [of temperatures]”

If you are wondering what is being hidden, here is a graph from showing it.  (BTW,”Mike” is Dr. Michael Mann from Penn State, another reason to be ashamed of my school).  THE STUFF IN RED IS WHAT WAS “HIDDEN”.  Note that this doesn’t include the past few years of the decline (see Temperature Trends below).

Temperature Data

Temperature Trends

I just can’t resist.  Here’s a graph of temperature trends over the last several years by  The y-axis is the first derivative, i.e. annual temperature rise in degrees per year.  The climate models predict a rise of 0.2 degrees per year (the red line).  Actual data is given in various colors based on the source:

Temperature Trends

The point of this presentation is that people can say outrageous things about climate by “cherry-picking” the data.  It strikes me how looking at fifteen years shows a dramatic deviation from model predictions.  The senate better get that climate bill passed quick, before more evidence against a “global warming tipping point” comes in.


I am not a “global warming skeptic”, I am a “tipping-point skeptic“, meaning that while temperatures have risen the past century, and human activity may play a role in this, we are not in danger of reaching a “tipping point” where temperatures will rise faster and faster unless we take drastic action.  I think we should take reasonable measures to reduce emissions and create alternative energy sources but I do not think it is constructive to insist on idiotic goals such as “reducing carbon emissions to 1960 levels in the next 20 years”.

In particular, I believe Dr. Roy Spencer, who suggests that current climate models are likely to overestimate carbon dioxide effects on temperature because they do not properly incorporate natural climate control (negative feedback) effects such as precipitation.  I also believe Bjørn Lomborg, who suggests that the costs involved in trying to prevent temperature rise will be far greater than the cost of adapting to them (if they occur).

Check out their work here:

(PS, Amazon is not paying me for any sales associated with my posting these links).

Material Safety Sheets, and Anna-isms

For any of you who have ever worked in a lab or taught a science class, you’ll get a kick out of this article on Material safety data sheets for standard chemicals:

The author looks at the warnings accompanying sand:  prolonged exposure causes cancer, it can only be used in a fume hood, and - let’s post this on the beach - people who come in contact with sand should  “Immediately flush skin with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes while removing contaminated clothing and shoes.”.

He also sites the situation where a bridge in SF was shut down while a special squad was called in to clean up a hazardous spill of iron oxide - aka “rust” - because the MSDS said you had to have protective gear to handle it.

*** Anna -ism ***

I realize that no one actually reads my posts unless I put some Anna news in, so here it is.  Anna likes to pretend to be a monkey, and Will likes to pretend he’s a dog.  I was refilling the water bowl for our real canines and the kids wanted to know why Porter was drinking the way he did - lapping with his tongue.  After I explained, Anna then noted that William will be able drink this way once he grows up and becomes a real dog. ;)

Check This Out - On Climate

Here are two articles using the MAGICC (Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse-gas Induced Climate Change) model for global warming to examine the potential effects of the Waxman-Markey legislation (cap and trade). The “baseline” (if we do nothing) prediction is an increase of 4.5 0C from 2000 to 2100.  The first article examines the change in predictions if the goals of Waxman-Markey are met in the US.  The second article shows what happens if various other parts of the world also play along. 

It’s important to note that this has nothing to do with “not believing” Global warming or being a “global warming skeptic”.  This analysis assumes that global warming will occur, and allows the user to see how changes in human behavior affect it. 

Article Part 1:

Article Part 2:

 The skinny: if US meets Waxman-Markey goals (reducing our CO2 emmissions by eighty percent) the global temperature change is reduced a whopping two-tenths of a degree (0.2 0C).  It turns out that having other “industrial” nations play along doesn’t help much either - unless Asia is included.  Kinda puts the cap-and-trade debate in perspective.  I just hope that the effects on the economy are as negligible as the effects on the planet.

The point is not to go for expensive, self-abusive, symbolic gestures that will end up having little if any impact.

Time Flies

OK, it’s been a month already since my last post.  My semester break came and went and not much to say about.  The little ones are in daycare today:  I found a place that will take them once a week, and think it will be good for them to interact with other children.  They are all excited about preschool in the fall.  Anna is now 38 inches and 28 pounds, filling out a little bit (she has a cute little belly now) but keeping her basic long-thin profile.

I’ve been frantically working on the Gestalt project at the Center during my semester break.  We’re finishing up efforts to have 1700 patients in the database:  this will provide a dataset for data mining operations, if I’m clever enough to do this.  It also provides a tool for doctors and a paperless charting program for the Center.  For those who don’t know, Gestalt is an excel workbook with custom-written (by me) visual basic macros to enter and display patient history data and lab test results.  A pretend example below shows how the data are displayed is shown below:  each box is a parameter, with parameters in healthy ranges being colored green and those at dangerous levels being colored red. 

 Gestalt Example

The program has other features too, such as a color coded comparison of various parameter values over the course of time (for example, if mom’s liver enzymes were repeatedly measured and improved, they would show up as a row of boxes starting out red and then turning progressively more toward green).  So there it is, I’m sure people wonder what I’m doing at home all day besides watching the kids.  Otherwise, my life involves exciting stuff like assembling a swing set, installing a screen door, and, just today, doing my first mowing of the year.

Adoption Day 2 - beijing tour

My Anti-Penn State Rant

I’m going to try attaching this as a Word-generated text file, as it’s very long.  Let’s see how it goes.

Click on This –> anti-psu-rant.rtf

The basics, in case you don’t want to bother:

  • Penn State is now too difficult for your average Pennsylvanian to get into and too expensive to afford without going into debt.
  • Community colleges actually do a better job of instructing students during their first two years (in basic courses) than Penn State does.
  • The Penn State administration has developed an attitude that disparages the idea of hard work and study.
  • The football team is no fun to watch anymore.

Anybody Out There


I’ve neglected everybody in blogland for a while, so now I’m checking to see if it’s worth resuming my blog.  Here’s how I’ll do it.  I’ll list some topics that I might expand on if anyone is interested, and if I get two or more comments requesting further posts I will post more.

Some topic choices include:

  • The ever-present Anna updates, including pics of her I took on my new “point-and-shoot” digital camera but haven’t uploaded yet.  These will be exclusive pics!  I’ve also got a pic or two of my brother and his newborn son.
  • Why I’m renouncing all my associations with and loyalties to Penn State University and its athletic programs.  This is a long and sad tail that recently came to a head.  I’ll spare you the details, unless of course you want them.  Then I can put up my thoughts on the problems of four-year universities and Penn State in particular.
  • Are conservatives really stupid?  According to a recent study, students identifying themselves as “liberal” did better in adjusting to changing inputs in menial tasks than students identifying themselves as “conservative” did.  I was planning to work up a critique of this study for my statistics class, but decided against it.  I’d be glad to deconstruct it for you, though.
  • Does anyone want a blow-by-blow of our next China trip (end of October, to get Will)?  I know Billie will have one.  There’s always the chance that both children will cling to me and I’ll be physically unable to post, but I can try.

Sorry I’ve been so busy with classes, parenting, and work for the Center.  Oddly, getting all four vehicles inspected (two bikes, two cars) in August and moving our office downstairs (so we can convert the old office into a bedroom for Will) took up more time than I thought.  We need to finish clearing out Will’s room and then paint it.  Also, I have a generator and a junction box that I need to set up for power failures (which we seem to have a few of every year, and at least one per year that lasts a day or two).   I also had one student complain that my statistics course was too easy for her, and I wasn’t challenging her enough, this in a class where other students are barely getting by.  Sigh.

On the ligher side, here’s an interesting link to check out.    Actress Felicia Day, who is an avid gamer, is working up a series of web-isodes about an ammusingly strange group of on-line-gamers.  There are currently three episodes, each being 3 - 4 minutes, that she is posting on YouTube.  Check it out if you’re bored.  I don’t play on-line role-playing games, but I can still relate to “the guild” depicted here.  For instance, when my version of Neverwinter Nights 2 crashed and had to be re-installed it took on the significance of a life-crisis for me ;) .

I forgot to warn you that there is some “adult language” in the above “Watch the Guild” web-isodes.