26 February 2008

Commute week of 18 Feb 2008

6 commutes in total; 0 potentially rainy commutes, 0 actually rainy commutes.

Total commute distance for the week: 82 km (51 mi).
Total commute distance for the year: 765 km (475 mi).

Potentially rainy commutes for the week: 0 out of 10 (0%).
Actually rainy commutes for the week: 0 out of 6 (0%).

Potentially rainy commutes for the year: 8 out of 70 (11%).
Actually rainy commutes for the year: 8 out of 56 (14%).

Had to rent a car Tuesday so didn't ride. Too lazy to go home and pick up the bike on Wed morning upon returning it - took the bus all the way...

25 February 2008

Getting a driver license in WA - don't bring a gun!

First of all, that is how it is spelled here in the Pacific NW.  In Nova Scotia the same thing is called a driver's license. But anyway, once I had located the local licensing office it was a breeze to wait in line for 4 hours on a sunny Saturday morning before I got permission to take the theoretical test. (I had somewhat hoped that they could just swap my Danish license, but also knew from my Canadian experience that it was unlikely to happen).

Anyway, after passing the theoretical test my practical test was scheduled and I was given this folder with advice on how to pass, what to do and what not to do or bring!

Only in the US (I hope!)

Admin when moving abroad

Since 2002 I have lived and worked in Canada, UK and now the US.  Before that, 30 years in Denmark.  Whenever you move to a new country you need to go through a lot of administrative stuff in the beginning, in order to get entered into 'the system' to the same degree as everybody else living there.  But you have to do it in 1-3 weeks whereas the natives will have had a lifetime to get it all sorted out.  Once you've stepped off the plane you need to get, in quick succession:
  1. a place to live
  2. gas/electricity
  3. furniture (or clear customs if you're shipping stuff from abroad)
  4. phone/broad-band/cable
  5. cell phone (US and Canada) or mobile phone (UK)
  6. social security (US), social insurance (Canada) or national insurance (UK) number
  7. bank account/credit cards
  8. driver license
  9. health insurances (US only)
  10. various personal insurances (accident, tenant etc.)
  11. transportation (and registration and insurance for it if it's got an engine)
  12. find a new doctor/dentist
Probably lots more, but the above is generally what I've had to deal with over a 1-3 week period every time I've moved.  A lot of it obviously also applies to people moving internally in one of these countries but they at least have the advantage that they generally know what to expect and where to go to get it done.  

For example, when I moved to the UK in 2005 nobody, not even my employer (2000+ employees), could tell me where to go to get a national insurance number (hint: it's at the job centre).  This was despite the fact that my employer's HR department repeatedly bullied me via e-mail in order to get my NI-number for the payroll so I could get paid...  

The procedure for getting the NI number was particularly painful.  First I had to show up at the job centre (now Jobcentre Plus) in person and inform them about the dates approximately 3 weeks from now where I would be UN-available to come back for a personal interview.  Then I had to fill out a form with address, date of arrival in the UK, previous addresses, and phone number.  I then thought that they'd at least call in advance and check with me, 3 weeks down the road, if I was available on a particular date. But no, the just sent out a letter stating that I had to show up at a particular date and time and that I should call them immediately if I was no longer available on that date.  Due to the nature of my job as a sea-going scientist it turned out that my first appointment coincided with me going to sea.  
I then had to show up in person again and fill out the same form, and wait another 3-4 weeks for the letter to show up.  Not surprisingly, in the meantime my job had me scheduled in for another 'away-day', coinciding with the date the Jobcentre requested my appearance in their elegant facilities.  So, once again I had to call them and inform them that I was unavailable to meet with them on the date requested. 

Later on in the week I then had to walk down to their office for a 3rd time in order to fill out the form yet again. But when the 3rd letter came around, a month or so later my calendar was blank so I managed to get down there and get my NI-number eventually!

24 February 2008

Chilly Hilly 2008

So, today was the annual Chilly Hilly bicycle ride on Bainbridge Island off Seattle in the beautiful NW. A colleague had told me that it was a big event but I hadn't anticipated seeing a few 1000 other cyclists at 7am in the morning queuing up for the first ferry to Bainbridge Island and the 33mi loop around it.

The ride didn't quite live up to it's name, I think. I wasn't too chilly and the hills were definitely manageable, even if it was the beginning of the season.

Regardless, it was a very nice day and an excellent outing. The views of Seattle across the bay are spectacular - I'll be back next year for the 2009 chilly hilly.

And here's the course:

19 February 2008

Rock glaciers in Akugdlit (Mellemfjord), Disko Island, West Greenland

Rock glaciers are somewhat like normal glaciers except that they consist of vast amounts of rock with an ice matrix. The ice can either be the remains of glacier ice, snow, or water that has entered the pore space between the rocks and subsequently frozen.

Rock glaciers form where the annual precipitation is too small for normal glaciation to occur, and where there is a large supply of rock debris from steep mountain sides. They are thus found in cold, high relief landscapes. Rock glaciers typically move with a speed of 0.05-1 m/year and thus transport vast amounts of talus away from the rock fall area at the bottom of the mountains. Consequently they are of high importance for landscape development and geomorphology in the areas where they exist.

The largest concentration of rock glaciers is found on Disko Island, West Greenland, where at least 200 rock glaciers have been identified, but they are found in other high relief areas such as the Alps, the mountains of Afghanistan, the US (e.g. Colorado, Alaska, Wyoming), Iceland, Khazakhstan and Svalbard.

For scale, in this picture the top of the mountains stand at approximately 800 meters above sea level. The picture is taken towards the south.

The picture was taken during a 4-week field trip to W-Greenland during the summer between my 3rd and 4th year at university, in 1995. 

16 February 2008

Who do you like?

Via various sources you can find a test tool that apparently tests which of the presidential candidates you *really* support - not just who you say you support, but who your brain likes best. Quite interesting results. I would have thought I disliked Huckabee a lot more than McCain, but anyway, both are way below Obama (#1, yay) and Clinton (just below him). So the overall picture is correct. I had to say, though, that I found the explanation a bit confusing and it wasn't until my 2nd round that I really understood what was going on. But maybe they correct for that when analyzing the data? Anyway, check it out.

Commute week of 11 Feb 2008

10 commutes in total; 2 potentially rainy commutes, 2 actually rainy commutes.

Total commute distance for the week: 137 km (85 mi).
Total commute distance for the year: 683 km (424 mi).

Potentially rainy commutes for the week: 2 out of 10 (20%).
Actually rainy commutes for the week: 2 out of 10 (20%).

Potentially rainy commutes for the year: 8 out of 60 (13%).
Actually rainy commutes for the year: 8 out of 50 (16%)

15 February 2008

Commute week of 04 Feb 2008

10 commutes in total; 3 potentially rainy commutes, 3 actually rainy commutes.

Total commute distance for the week: 137 km (85 mi).
Total commute distance for the year: 546 km (340 mi).

Potentially rainy commutes for the week: 3 out of 10 (30%).
Actually rainy commutes for the week: 3 out of 10 (30%).

Potentially rainy commutes for the year: 6 out of 50 (12%).
Actually rainy commutes for the year: 6 out of 40 (15%).

Commute week of 28 Jan 2008

6 commutes in total; 0 potentially rainy commutes, 0 actually rainy commutes.

Total commute distance for the week: 82 km (51 mi).
Total commute distance for the year: 410 km (255 mi).

Potentially rainy commutes for the week: 0 out of 6 (0%).
Actually rainy commutes for the week: 0 out of 6 (0%).

Potentially rainy commutes for the year: 3 out of 40 (8%).
Actually rainy commutes for the year: 3 out of 30 (10%).

Didn't ride home Mon evening, didn't ride in Tue morning, didn't ride Wed. (All due to flats)!

13 February 2008

Final chapter of Paris-Brest-Paris 2007

Woohoo! Today I got my PBP medal and homologized (homologated?) brevet card back. Finally I can prove that I actually did it in 86h52m! What a great ride it was. I'll be back in 2011.

The opening page of my brevet card.

Stamps between St. Quentin En Yvelines and Brest.

Stamps between Brest and St. Quentin En Yvelines - the return!

The last page after homologation (sp?)!! 86 hrs 52 mins for 1227 km.

The medal!

11 February 2008

Anthropogenic erosion

Many people probably realise that a wide range of geological processes acting on the surface of our planet cause sediment erosion and movement: Rain water draining in a gully in a field, or waves slowly eating away coastal cliffs, for example. Landslides, aeolian (wind) activity and glaciers also erode sediment. 

Humans also move sediment (for example construction and mining activities). But how much? More or less than the 'normal' geological processes acting on the surface of the earth? These questions formed the basis of a couple of papers by Hooke (On the history of humans as geomorphic agents. Geology 28 (2000): 843-846) and Wilkinson (Humans as geologic agents: A deep-time perspective. Geology 33 (2005): 161-164. doi:10.1130/G21108.1), and they just blew my mind. 

Wilkinson looked at how much the deep-time sediment flux was, using the volume of surviving continental and oceanic sedimentary rock through the geological epochs from the Lower Cambrium to the Pliocene. As we go back in time less and less sedimentary rock remains, because there has been more time to erode it, and by fitting a curve to the remaining volume of sedimentary rock it is possible to estimate the cycling rate of the sedimentary rocks. At present 0.14% +- 0.06% of all sedimentary rock is being eroded every million year - equivalent to a lowering of the surface of the earth of 24+-11 m every million year.  This number is the rate we would expect without humans also acting on the surface of the planet.  So now on to the humans.

Human sediment-moving activities can be divided into direct (for example mining and construction) and indirect (for example agriculture and forestry) activities. In his paper, Hooke showed that movement of rock and soil during construction accounted for ~30% of all sediment transported by humans, the balance being made up by erosion from agricultural activities. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that development of pastureland results in a soil loss of 400 m every million year, while cropland tillage results in a soil loss of up to 1400 m every million year. By estimating the global area being tilled and the global area used as pastureland, Wilkinson estimated that the erosion resulting from these practices was equivalent to a lowering of the earth's surface at a rate of 360 m every million year - more than 10 times faster than the deep-time erosion rate obtained from natural processes. Humans are, therefore, much, *much* more efficient in eroding sediment than mother Nature herself! 

As amazing as that may seem, an even bigger surprise (to me) arose when Wilkinson then computed the historical rates of erosion caused by humans, and compared that to the deep-time erosion rates (the 24 m per million year above).  Hooke provided data on the per capita annual amounts of soil and rock movements from construction and agriculture for the last 5000 years.  By multiplying with the population estimate he could then estimate the total erosion due to human activity.  Wilkinson's comparison with the deep-time erosion rates showed that the two curves crossed each other around the end of the viking age (approximately year 1000).  This means that for the last 1000 years humans have on an annual basis eroded more sediment than all other natural processes acting on the surface of the planet combined.

That's wild! I first read about this 3 years or so ago and I'm still amazed by it.  Who would have thought that our ancestors just by digging around with primitive shovels, dragging wodden ploughs through the earth and planting some crops could erode as much sediment as all other natural processes combined? And this was in year 1000! Today it's 10 times as much! Wow!

Blackberry outage...

From CNN:

NEW YORK (AP) -- An outage has disconnected BlackBerry smart phones across North America. AT&T Inc. says the disruption Monday is affecting all wireless carriers. AT&T first learned about the problem at about 3:30 p.m. ET.

There's no word on the cause or when the problem might be fixed.

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion did not immediately return a phone call.

Emphasis mine...

03 February 2008

Snail-sex for kids

Just posting this because it makes for an unusual title.  In Denmark more than 300 schools take the kids outside for hands-on learning in the so-called nature lessons ('naturklasser' in Danish). (link in Danish only, sorry).  The lessons are hugely popular with the kids, a girl in 2nd grade (8-9 years old) said to The National Association of Schoolparents magazine:  "We taste and look at a lot of stuff. We have tasted white carrots and parsnip, we have looked at dead animals and cleaned the meat of their heads so we can have a skull-collection.  We have also looked at snail-sex and that was fun."

Cool, good that kids get outside and study nature while in school.  But they should of course study some more geoscience instead of looking at snails having sex.