Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mother Earth is Losing Water

The other day I found an article on the internet based on a scientific publication pointing out that Mother Earth has not just one but two water leaks. It turns out that over the last 3.8 trillion years we have drained water at such a rate that a mass corresponding to the volume of the Atlantic Ocean has been lost. The same amount added today would increase the sea level by 800 m. Figure out yourself what this would mean for the place you live.

Emily Pope of the University of Copenhagen and her coworkers base their findings on an analysis of early formed deep lying serpentine rock layers in Greenland. Those 3.8 Ga old silicates  (i.e. only slightly younger then the age of the earth of 4.5 Ga) show a remarkable difference in isotope composition compared with more recently formed minerals of the same kind.

As the article points out one of the earth's water leaks is due to the diffusion of hydrogen into space. The chemical processes involved start out with methane (CH4) formed by a plausible biogenic source for methanogenesis with a concentration of this gas 60 times higher in the Archaean atmosphere than in today's. Methane undergoes photolysis in the upper atmosphere in a reaction CH4 + 2O2 → CO2 + O2 + 4H where some of the hydrogen formed in the process will diffuse into space. This evaporated hydrogen is lost for the formation of water. There is also deuterium the heavier hydrogen isotope better known in its combination with oxygen as heavy water. Deuterium, however, reacts more poorly with oxygen than hydrogen and in addition diffuses at a much lower rate. The net effect is that compared with the water in the Archaean oceans today's seawater is enriched in deuterium and hence there are newly formed minerals that contain hydrogen like serpentines. In those the amount of deuterium is higher by 2.5% compared with Archaean minerals.

The second source of Mother Earth's water loss is just the formation of minerals like serpentines incorporating hydrogen when magma reacts with water. When Pope and co-workers did the mathematics they concluded that oceans 3.8 Ga ago were more voluminous and that Mother Earth has lost 26% of its "light" water since then. Nowadays, however, both water leaks are less important than a trillion years ago for the chance of water reacting with magma is greatly reduced and the concentration of methane in today's upper atmosphere is much smaller than in Archaean times. We still lose 100 000 tons of hydrogen yearly diffusing into space. Does this mean that the Dutch no longer have to worry about rising oceans due to the melting of glaciers?

In 2009 UAF researcher Sebastian H. Mernild and colleagues from the United States, the United Kingdom and Denmark discovered that from 1995 to 2007, overall precipitation on the Greenland ice sheet decreased while surface ablation – the combination of evaporation, melting and calving of the ice sheet – increased. According to Mernild’s new data, since 1995 the ice sheet lost an average of 265 cubic kilometers per year, which has contributed to about 0.7 millimeters per year in global sea level rise. Last year this prediction became obsolete because Eric Rignot and co-workers jointly of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and the University of California, Irvine, reported that Polar ice sheet mass loss is speeding up, on pace for 1 foot sea level rise by 2050. The authors conclude that, if current ice sheet melting rates continue for the next four decades, their cumulative loss could raise sea level by 15 centimeters (5.9 inches) by 2050. When this is added to the predicted sea level contribution of 8 centimeters (3.1 inches) from glacial ice caps and 9 centimeters (3.5 inches) from ocean thermal expansion, total sea level rise could reach 32 centimeters (12.6 inches).

Compare this prediction i.e. more than 5 mm rise of the ocean level per year with the loss of water by leakage which only amounts to a fraction of a millimeter per year.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Are We Entering the Post PC Age?

Two years ago I wrote about my iPad 1: For me the iPad is the ideal machine when away from my desktop. E-mail, news and Wikipedia via the internet are all at my fingertips. I have no time for watching films or playing games but it seems that other people can well find their fill with the iPad.

When a year ago the iPad 2 hit the market I considered the improvements on this machine marginal compared with what I already had. I decided that two mediocres cameras did not make such a difference. Anyway, it is one of my habits to skip one generation of gadgets, just as I jumped from the iPhone 3S to the 4S. This also means that I made an effort to be among the first to get the newest iPad generation. As soon as the Apple web site opened for preorders I squeezed mine in. Like thousands of other people I got my iPad delivered on Friday, March 16. For me the main reason for buying the new iPad was not its much touted retina display but rather the faster processor for some of the operations performed on my iPad 1 take quite long.

Before giving you my impressions of the new iPad I would like to demonstrate that even my first generation machine fulfills most of the functions of a notebook at least for me and that instantaneously without lengthy rebooting. My favorite applications you will find below on my home screen. They are available at the very moment when I wake up my iPad.

For managing my appointments, tasks and contacts I use Pocket Informant, the one single application with which I have suffered so much over the last years because it did not and does not easily synchronize with MS Outlook. In the meantime, the people of WebIS have included IOS calendars in Pocket Informant that are also displayed in Outlook and stay synchronized in the cloud. The next icon in the first row of applications is Mail followed by one home made icon named Wikipedia. Touching it takes me directly to my Wikipedia watch list where I can follow all changes to articles that I have either written or contributed to. On the other hand, my activity on Facebook (next item) is limited to following my son's whereabouts.

The first application in the second row is Flipboard that gorgeous newsreader. With Flipboard I follow the most important national and international news. However, the app seems to be somewhat selective so when I want to be sure not to miss anything on a particular news I switch to the slower and less shiny Pulp reader. Next come two browsers I chose from the good dozen available in the Apple store in addition to the built-in Safari (last in the first row): Dolphin HD and Mercury. I change to Dolphin whenever and for no obvious reason Safari is ill- or non-responding. Mercury is nice for it sports a right hand scroll bar making browsing of longish web sites a breeze. Last but not least, the Wikipanion app is unbeatable when looking up something for it gives the opportunity to switch easily between the German, English and French versions of Wikipedia dealing with the same topic.

Let us talk about text processing in considering the applications I placed in the third row. Forget about a Word-like treatment of texts on the iPad. Apple's Pages that may perform wonders on a Mac is useless for working on texts when your desktop runs Windows. Document files created in Pages on the iPad end up in obscure places like WebDIS, iDisk and iCloud or are accessible on your desktop only via iTunes. There is Dropbox, the best invention for the exchange of information between two machines since Microsoft's ActiveSync that kept a Pocket PC in phase with a desktop PC, almost. In Dropbox you always work on the same file stored in the cloud from any machine that has access to it. No need of synchronization!. Quickoffice connects to Dropbox and you can happily work on your MS doc- or docx-files on the iPad but beware! Not all formatting done on the PC is kept when you make changes on the iPad and send your text back into the cloud. A fully justified formatted text turns to left adjusted which I still accept but more serious is that all underlying information like imbedded links is completely lost in transfer.

While dreaming about MS Office for the iPad (rumors about it circulated two months ago) I usually only need and use simple text processor jotting down my ideas, loading them into the cloud and retrieving the text-only-files on my desktop. There are a couple of text editors available for the iPad like iAwriter, Writeroom, Textwriter, and Plain Text however my favorite is Nebulous for it opens with an additional row of freely programmable keys. Here I have direct access to the umlauts, I find keys that allow me to move around in a text and last but not least the row of keys has the sorely missed forward delete key.

The next and most expensive item on the home screen is the advanced Pons English dictionary. Although I use LEO on the web quite a lot, Pons is always available even when I am offline. PhatNotes is one of the most cherished carryovers from my Windows Mobile times. The database contains all my personal information and passwords. PhatNotes is an iPhone app optically blown up on the iPad and synchronizes information between IOS and Windows versions. In the meantime I have transferred all my non-confidential information to Evernote (see the apps bar at the bottom) that will just store anything. Evernote belongs to the ten apps everybody should have on his iPad/iPhone. The same is true for GoodReader. It lets you read among other formats pdf-files in book format and annotate, cut and paste text. Remember my hailing of Google? On GoodReader I read e.g. those scanned-in books about the Baden revolution of 1848/49 that some of the participants had written and published shortly afterwards in Switzerland.

The fourth row starts with my collection of weather apps. My favorite is Meteogram but I switch to others if its forecast does not please me. In Utilities I have collected a couple of goodies like PCalc a calculator featuring inverse Polish notation, a fast way of calculating as promoted by Hewlett-Packard in the 80s in their famous pocket calculator series. I therefore cherish an emulated nostalgic iHP41CV available for both the iPad and the iPhone. In addition I placed apps for testing WLAN speed, the TapDictionary, and TextExpander in Utilities. The last row on the home screen is completed with a self-explanatory SPORT1 app and the DB Navigator. The navigator not only allows me to plan German and European train trips but also includes local urban transport connections leading to the nearest train station.

The apps bar at the bottom starts with Musik containing most of my classical CD collection and a couple of jazz oldies and evergreens although I prefer listening to them on my iPhone. Photo contains a collection of photo apps I still have to sort out for their usefulness. I also keep a private photo collection starting with the advent of digital picture taking ordered by years. In addition, an album called nostalgia contains scanned in photo souvenirs of yesteryear. I already mentioned Evernote the database for collecting any information that you would like to keep and refer to later and synchronize with the PC. Erinnerungen (Reminders) I usually fill in on my iPhone mostly with Siri's help. The last two items that figure on the bottom bar are obvious and essential to those using Apple's IOS devices.

Now, what are for me the most important improvements of the new iPad compared with my iPad 1? Strain on my ol' blue eyes is much less when reading text on a retina display. The increase in speed is dramatic. Launching Pocket Informant from scratch takes about 3 seconds on iPad 1, on the new iPad it takes less than a second.

The other day I read an article that with the advent of the iPad we are entering the post PC age. That is not entirely true, since for all major office work, editing photos, creating web pages and doing home banking the PC will remain my main work horse. Just consider the size of the monitor screen. However, post notebook age sounds fine to me.

Monday, March 19, 2012

March 18

In an earlier blog I referred to the 9th of November being a fateful day for Germans. Yesterday the Federal Assembly met in the Berlin Reichstag to elect a new German President. In welcoming the 1240 delegates the speaker of the German parliament (Bundestagspräsident) suggested holding any future election of Germany's highest representative on March 18, and not as in the past on May 23, the Constitution Day of the Federal Republic.

In fact, on March 18, 1793, German revolutionaries supported by French revolutionary forces proclaimed the first republic on German soil, the Republic of Mainz.

Berlin March 18, 1848
On March 18, 1848, people all over Germany rose up against their princely rulers and manned barricades to underline their Märzforderungen (demands of March) for freedom of the press, jury trials and free election of an all-German parliament.

On March 18, 1990, the first free elections in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) were at the same time the last in East Germany as the so called Volkskammer (the peoples' chamber) decided to join the West German Federal Republic. Following general elections in all of Germany on October 3, the same year this date, the Unification Day, became our national holiday.

This year the Federal President was elected on March 18, and not on May 23. This had to do with our constitution demanding that in case a president dies or steps down from office the Federal Assembly must meet within 60 days to elect a successor. It happened that March 18, 2012, in itself became a somewhat historic date because two presidents had resigned before finishing their five-year terms. Hence the Federal Assembly that usually comes together only once every five years had to meet three times within a span of three years.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Freiburg Call for Action

During this weekend, 63 environmental prizewinners met in Freiburg for the 1st International Convention of Environmental Laureates preparing Rio+20. This will be the follow-up of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also called the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro where it was stated: All States and all people shall cooperate in the essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, in order to decrease the disparities in standards of living and better meet the needs of the majority of the people of the world.

The two American participants in Freiburg's convention were Jeremy Rifkin and David Schweidenback. Rifkin the economist, writer, public speaker, political advisor and activist gave the introductory talk: The Third Industrial Revolution. Schweidenback was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador in the late 1970s and is president and founder of P4P (Pedals for Progress), a foundation distributing used bicycles to developing countries. Germany was represented by, among others, Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker*, holder of the German environmental prize. On the evening before the convention he gave an interview to the Badische Zeitung stating that energy must become more expensive and continuing that our world needs an increased environmental consciousness and clever engineers.
*He is the son of physicist Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker and the nephew of former German Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker

Weizsäcker spoke from my heart for I have always been of the opinion that energy is so cheap that people have no incentive to economize. Some of them will possibly kill me for saying this when looking at the price for gas that had reached an all time high of 1.68 Euros/liter (8.30 U$/gallon) last week causing a dramatic increase in the number of fill-and-run drivers in Germany. Over the last twenty years I started saving energy replacing nearly all of my incandescent light sources with economy bulbs and lately some with LEDs*. Nevertheless, I refuse, being an old man, to reduce the light output following Goethe who on his deathbed is supposed to have said: More light, more light. I drive only 6000 km per year and following my doctor's advice walk most distances within a 3 km radius from home. Otherwise I take the streetcar. For longer distances in Germany I love to take the train. When I moved to Freiburg I lived in an apartment built in 1903 with outer walls 60 cm thick and a room height of 3.20 m but in 2007 moved to a more modern flat with just 20 cm walls but 40 cm thermal insulation and 2.60 m room height cutting my heating costs by 50%. I don't eat strawberries from South Africa at Christmastime or grapes from Chile in March and prefer Kiwis from Israel to those from New Zealand.
*So far those clever engineers have not come up with an acceptable LED replacement for the low voltage spotlights

In his interview Weizsäcker mentioned two developments undermining the Rio 1992 statement. One is the rebound effect, the other the disturbed alliance between states and capital. Since Rio any progress in energy efficiency has been eaten up by more consumption. During the Cold War capital had come to stabilizing arrangements with the Western states the latter being the bulwark against communism. With the lifting of the iron curtain and the fall of the Berlin wall capital eventually became loose maximizing its profits e.g. in moving production to low wage countries and enlarging on sub prime credits producing one financial bubble after the other (dot-com in 2000 and US housing in 2007). Capital has recalled its alliance with the Western states.

Under these circumstances will it be possible to reconcile environmental problems and development programs, when the fight against poverty, hunger and for fair access to energy resources and raw materials cannot be ignored? In addition the demand of developing countries for economic growth must be weighed against global environmental objectives.

Apparently all these issues found their way into the Freiburg Call for Action. When asked about the importance of this declaration Helen Caldicott from Australia, laureate of the Nuclear-Free Future award, said: We save the world. Will they?

Freiburg Call for Action with handwritten changes (Sonntagszeitung).
So far I have not found the officially released version.

Friday, March 2, 2012

It’s Tofu Time

Following last year's wurst war and in accordance with the new regulation for the selling of wurst on Freiburg’s Münster market the last of the eight authorized vendors opened his stand yesterday. This is the one and only offering vegetarian snacks based on tofu. In the back you see the north face of the cathedral.

Today an einem Freitag in Freiburg zur fleischlosen Fastenzeit (on a Friday in Freiburg during Lenten season without meat) I decided to try a vegetarian currywurst. Here you may admire the dish:

To put it mildly the vegetarian version of a currywurst is stark gewöhnungsbedürftig (really takes getting used to). The sausage skin is apparently made from polymerized tofu. It peels off easily but is not easy to digest. Looking around I noticed something in a pan that resembled döner meat that the vendor was just filling into pita bread.

Although I warned Elisabeth she insisted to eat a tofu currywurst at the Münster market tomorrow while I shall try the veggie döner.

As for the price; it is higher for the vegetarian currywurst than for the real stuff.

Some of the traditional vendors at the Münster market offer hamburgers (Frikadellen). So I told the tofu people to consider selling veggieburgers for Freiburg's American guests.