Bryan Lawrence : Bryan's Blog 2009/04

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Bryan's Blog 2009/04

lowering my co2 emissions one step more

Our blue 1987 Megane catastrophically failed an MOT a few weeks ago (which means that it's hors de combat, we can't drive it on public roads, not get it insured). So it's off to the knackers yard ... (yes, we really did have two Renault Meganes, albeit very different models, and yes, we do need two cars given where we live and work) ...

... so we've just bought a year old Seat Ibiza ecomotive. So that's two cars we've bought where a primary discriminator between cars has been the expected CO2 emissions per km. You may recall that last time we upgraded a car (also due to knackeraciousness of the previous car) we were pleased to significantly decrease our emissions ... well this time, the difference is even greater. The ecomotive official extra urban figure is 88 mpg!! (Mind you, I think our red Megane has an official figure of 69 mpg, and we get more like 55 ... so if we get 70 with the ecomotive, I think we can be pleased).

From a life cycle point of view, the ecomotive really stands out, currently third on the supermini category at, and seventh overall if you ignore electric cars (for now). (As an aside, I think is a great site, even if it's not that firefox friendly, and together with the fuel figures at should be an essential port of call in pre-car-buying research.)

The only annoying thing about this car is that it doesn't have a trip computer telling us our fuel consumption, and as I remarked in 2006, I think one of those does influence driving style (and fuel consumption) significantly. Not that I care much what Jeremy Clarkson thinks, but it's relatively fun to drive too ... so you can have some cake and eat it too!

by Bryan Lawrence : 2009/04/30 : Categories environment : 0 trackbacks : 1 comment (permalink)

Reading in 2009, 6,7,8: The Language of the Stones Trilogy

The Language of the Stones, The Giant's Dance, and Whitemantle, by Robert Carter.

These three books are the literary equivalent of "quaffing wine", that is they're inoffensive users of time which don't leave a memorable taste. I suppose one can't drink (or read) the best stuff all of the time.

The basic idea of the books is quite a good one (how, and to some extent, why, the wars of the roses play out in a parallel earth where there is still magic). I should note that while the books all carry a prominent subtitle, "the third coming of Arthur", I think that's a bit of a marketing ploy: the Arthurian link in the concept is fairly weak, and doesn't really justify the subtitles.

Given that I think the idea's a good one, why is it "just" a quaffing sort of a book? Primarily because the books meander along with many uninspiring passages of weak prose. Nonetheless, I was interested enough to meander along with Will (the main character) all the way through the three books (I guess that must have been 1500 pages in all). If you have the time, and any sort of "fantasy" bent, then you'll probably be happy to read these books. If you're time pressed and/or fantasy isn't one of your genres, then there are other books to read first ...

Having read the 1500 pages of this lot, I'm left thinking that if Readers Digest got hold of these books, they could probably condense the three books down into one good one: the concept, some of the events, and the characters could have made a really cracking book if it had had some pace and tight prose.

In a vague attempt at some even handedness in my 2009 book reviews, having read this lot, I'm minded to compare them with my criticism of The Pillars of the Earth. While I thought that book was too long, and I claimed not be enthralled, compared to these three, Pillars is vastly superior in pace and prose, so perhaps I was just a wee bit more enthralled reading that than I thought at the end.

by Bryan Lawrence : 2009/04/29 : Categories books : 0 trackbacks : 2 comments (permalink)


These are strange times we live in ...

Oracle and Sun ...

  • Tim Bray's analysis (I originally called this link a "nice" analysis, but somehow it seemed wrong to use the word "nice" given the topic).

In truth I'm not much worried about the impact on MySQL itself (we use postgres), but it is, as many have said, a poster child for the open source movement. Some of the commentators that Tim links to mention the fate of Berkely-DB since Oracle got it. Sadly, I think that's the future that awaits MySQL: slow decline by organisational neglect - mind you, perhaps that's no different than slow decline in affordability by increasingly aggressive renewal cost increases.

The immediate potential impact that worries me most is upon OpenOffice ... which I've begun using as my default choice for most things (over MS-Office), primarily because, gasp, it's better (and it obviously produces xml that could be, in extremis, consumable - unlike the MS-Office XML mess). I hope that Oracle, who have no track record in this space, can maintain the momentum (both in the free version and the commercial version).

by Bryan Lawrence : 2009/04/23 : 0 trackbacks : 0 comments (permalink)

WCS is dead, long live WFS

For many years Steve Hankin has been asking me why we want WCS when OPeNDAP has similar functionality, and many, many, working implementations. For just as many years I've argued that OPeNDAP has/had three major flaws:

  1. It wasn't easily securable (soon not to be a problem),

  2. Didn't have good relationship with metadata, and in particular,

  3. Was all about syntax, not semantics - you subset by array index, not the desired portion of a semantically described domain (e.g give me array elements 4-6 compared with give me the array elements which lie between latitudes 40 to 60 degrees).

but I've also admitted that WCS had some flaws too:

  1. It might be easier to secure, but only because it (might) be easier to implement your own stack ...

  2. Nearly no working implementations.

You would have thought the latter would be a show stopper, and indeed it is, but the first flaw for OPenDAP has also been a show stopper ... until now. So, we are going to deploy OPenDAP soon ... but we still want to deploy something which addresses semantic subsetting as well. So we've been investing in WCS ...

... but today I heard a presentation that filled me with horror. Very well presented, but still horrific. The plan for the future evolution of WCS is so flawed that I can't see it surviving!

Fortunately, the talk on WCS was followed by one on WFS (declaration: from someone in my group) which outlined how WFS can deliver much of the same functionality as WCS. It remains to be seen whether it can deliver a semantic version of OPenDAP ... I hope so, in which case it'll be "WCS is dead, long live WFS".

So predictions, should either of them read this:

  • Rob Atkinson will smile: He's been claiming for a while that WCS was, or would be, only a convenience API to a WFS!

  • Steve Hankin will role his eyes, and think: "oh no, not another WXS ..."

by Bryan Lawrence : 2009/04/23 : 0 trackbacks : 3 comments (permalink)

Tales from the EGU

Vignettes from EGU

  • None (for now). I forgot the cable for my compact camera!

General Observations:

  • Vienna is a lovely city, and the Austria Centre is the best venue I've seen for a conference of this size.

  • EGU is mired in the past: halls with literally thousands of posters. However that many, coupled with a "no photography of scientific material" rule makes little sense. Not only do I not approve of the rule, I think it's counter productive: posters simply don't reach the audiences they deserve. While allowing photography wont solve that in the way an electronic archive of the posters could, it would at least mean that some posters which folk found interesting enough to find, but didn't have time to consume, would be digestable later.

  • Session chairs still don't seem to understand the importance of staying on schedule: if someone doesn't show, don't advance the talks, you just piss of those of us who have tried to generate a cross-session schedule.

  • The wireless network(s) and proxy server(s) were/are not up to the load! In this day and age that's unacceptable ...

    • ... and neither is having about one power socket per 100 people. (Both of which factors are why I'm not live blogging. All kudos to Steve.)

  • The folks who went to the trouble of developing a java application that talked to a sqllite database of abstracts and giving it to all the attendees might have considered making it more easily available on a linux platfom! Why bother with an interoperable platform and then bury it in O/S specific launchables?

Scientific Observations:

  • Stephan Ramsdorf's presentation on thermohaline stability was thought provoking.

  • The prevalence of model intercomparison projects demonstates both the scientific utility of the approach and the necessity to find more ways of rewarding those whose careers are devoted to model development and model integration as opposed to scientific interpretation.

  • Downscaling, both dynamic and statistical, are both bigger business than I had appreciated. (It's a long time since I've come to such a broad spectrum conference so this.)

  • Seasonal predictability appears to be just as dependent on the physical parameterisations of convection and land surfaces as we expect longer term climate to be.

Comments off the record:

  • If you want to have a highly cited paper analysing the CMIP5 database, make sure you publish in a journal which moves fast, not necessarily one with the highest impact factor.

State of mind after three days of five days?

  • Pleasantly surprised. I've been a pretty trenchant critic of conferences this size. I think I might have been wrong. The networking opportunities are outstanding and the opportunity to get educated across a breadth of things, simply excellent (particularly for someone in my role)!

by Bryan Lawrence : 2009/04/22 : 0 trackbacks : 0 comments (permalink)

Scientific Method

There are loads of depictions of the scientific method out there ...

This is one I've just prepared for a presentation next week. I thought it was worth sharing as is ... the key difference is in this one I wanted to highlight the role of existing data in the process, and the necessity of archiving and annotating product data. In anticipation of obvious objections: of course we don't archive everything, but the point here is that we need to consider archival and annotation as a formal part of the method.

Image: static/2009/04/16/ScientificMethod.png

by Bryan Lawrence : 2009/04/16 : Categories curation badc : 0 comments (permalink)

Newark Liberty International Airport

Avoid it if you're travelling internationally.

Inbound, the immimgration folk are the slowest I've met in years of travelling into "fortress America".

Outbound, the security folk are the most officious and nasty of any airport I've ever been to (imagine travelling with a three year old, who having gone through the scanner wearing a fleece is "offered" a choice of having to go back and take the fleece off or have a body search, even though the the scanner didn't ping). That after ensuring that all the families with young children are in the longest queue possible. Then, given the time one has to spend "airside" of security, the food and reading options there are terrible ...

If Newark is your only experience of flying in or out of the US, you may not want to come back. Fortunately it's not my only experience of the US.

by Bryan Lawrence : 2009/04/07 (permalink)

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