The Comical Conservative

Updated to correct an error in wording that reversed the meaning of a paragraph.

Don’t get too excited about the title. I’m reusing it to maintain continuity. This is going to be about the Comical Environmentalist.

Sometime back I reposted a Rick McKee cartoon from Facebook and used that as a starting point for a discussion about anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Here’s the cartoon:


I have referred to this cartoon in multiple posts. After the most recent post Rick posted a lengthy comment, and I initiated an email dialog with him. And I agree with him on one point. From his comment:

So, I have a question for you: Can you not see how a reasonable person, having been bombarded with all of this contradictory, false and alarmist information for all these years, could be skeptical of anything to do with the topic of climate change, which, in fact, was the point of the cartoon?

And my answer is yes, I can see how environmental activists are sometimes their own worst enemy. You can have a noble cause. You can have a just cause. Your cause can be right. That is, it can be factually correct. And all of that can be undone by extremism in the name of conviction.

In a previous post I took the cartoon to task for oversimplifying a complex issue. A problem with the cartoon is it makes use of—as required by the cartoon medium—hyperbole and shallow presentation. I figure it’s no good to find fault without remedy. And I propose to provide remedy by doing better. I can do the cartoon one better. I can provide substance and detail. Where to start?

Let’s start with something Rick mentioned:

Ecologist Kenneth Watt stated, “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”

All right, I tried to run that one down. The references I found could not confirm that Watt actually spoke those words. Neither did he say anything like that:

Best Answer:  I’m not sure. Each and every single website I see, as you found too, merely gives the quote and no link to the transcript of the speech, or any further context besides “He once said in a speech at Swarthmore…” Of course, we all know how easily stories are taken and repeated without any sort of analysis at their validity.

I had graphed temperature data from NASA’s GISS, NOAA, and HadCRUT3v together a little while ago. I’m not sure what data Watt presumedly [sic] looked at, but there was no discernible trend during the “twenty years” he allegedly referred to. Temperatures actually began their descent in 1940, and leveled out after 1945 until they began to rise again in the seventies. Why would he claim that that trend would produce 4˚C cooling in 20 years? And 11 in 30?…

Nobody’s saying Kenneth Watt never said it. It appears to be completely apocryphal, with no contemporaneous account of such a speech. The Wikipedia entry for Earth Day includes the quote, but there is no associated link. However, it is the kind of thing Watt might have said, taking into account some of his other proclamations:

Watt also stated, “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil.”

Neither does that one have a home, and readers are invited to help me find a link.

A problem with Internet research is the fluidity of the information. Often the provenance of sources is incomplete, and this is particularly true of sources that date from before the time everything started getting put on the Internet. More particularly, this applies to sources from deep history. An example, one of the references Rick cites, is this:

The Arctic ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot…. Reports from fishermen, seal hunters and explorers, he declared, all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone… Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared. Very few seals and no white fish are found in the eastern Arctic, while vast shoals of herring and smelts, which have never before ventured so far north, are being encountered in the old seal fishing grounds. – Washington Post 11/2/1922

Yes, we’ve seen this one before, and it was on this blog:

Second, Tom neglected to put the Post article into perspective. The article is based on an item in Monthly Weather Review, a publication of the American Meteorological Society. Here is the original article from the AMS:

And readers can go to the previous post and read the full context. It’s a context that is typically left out when enthusiasm gets the better of rigorous scholarship. The full context shows this was not some alarmist prediction from 1922 but was a report on a local climate anomaly observed in the vicinity of “Spitzbergen and Bear islands under the leadership of Dr. Adolf Hoel, lecturer on geology at the University of Christiania.”

What a serious writer will do is obtain access to contemporaneous sources—newspaper clippings, journal reports, correspondence.

Especially, newspaper reports are beyond value—they are next to impossible to forge. Somebody can print up a fake news clipping, but it can be exposed by matching it with any number of other copies of the same issue. Also of worth is the time value of a clipping. A news item published immediately after an event has credibility over something that finds print days, weeks, or years later. Additionally, corroboration can be obtained by comparing clippings from separate publications.

Journalistic sources published on the Internet are equally valuable, provided they are contemporaneous. Although Internet publications can be altered by a few keystrokes, the reputation of the source will preclude attempts at fraud. Absence of fraud is in no small part due to the thousands of readers who keep tabs on Internet news and place pages into archival storage.

The case of the 1922 Washington Post item is an example of obvious fraud. What happened is somebody scanned the clipping, did not follow up and obtain the complete context, and then posted the item on the Internet (or somewhere else) to highlight an argument against AGW. Subsequent users forwarded the fraudulent story without realizing the fraud, or caring. This is often the case when a story tells somebody what they want to believe. And it’s done by both sides of any divisive issue.

Rick McKee responded to my previous post with 124 years of Failed Climate and Environmental Predictions. I count 92 separate references in Rick’s comment, including the one relating to the 1922 Washington Post item.

Some others of the 92 are worth mentioning. I have made slight edits to Rick’s list, adding item numbers and such, and have produced a PDF. Readers can refer to the enumerated list, which I have posted on-line.

Take number 1:

Is our climate changing? The succession of temperate summers and open winters through several years, culminating last winter in the almost total failure of the ice crop throughout the valley of the Hudson, makes the question pertinent. The older inhabitants tell us that the Winters are not as cold now as when they were young, and we have all observed a marked diminution of the average cold even in this last decade. – New York Times June 23, 1890

What’s this all about? It appears to be a news report about weather changes of interest. If you’re like me, you’re going to have difficulty reconciling this with “124 years of Failed Climate and Environmental Predictions.”

Items 2 and 3 appear to discuss a coming ice age. Here is number 2:

The question is again being discussed whether recent and long-continued observations do not point to the advent of a second glacial period, when the countries now basking in the fostering warmth of a tropical sun will ultimately give way to the perennial frost and snow of the polar regions – New York Times – February 24, 1895

The word “failed” has no apparent relationship with these two items. These are newspaper articles discussing the projected repeat of the previous ice age. Although AGW may turn out to forestall the next ice age, nobody 100 years ago was thinking about this. For your viewing, here is a chart of historical global temperatures relating to previous ice ages:

Here’s number 5:

Scientist says Arctic ice will wipe out Canada, Professor Gregory of Yale University stated that “another world ice-epoch is due.” He was the American representative to the Pan-Pacific Science Congress and warned that North America would disappear as far south as the Great Lakes, and huge parts of Asia and Europe would be “wiped out.” – Chicago Tribune August 9, 1923

“North America would disappear as far south as the Great Lakes.” Yes. Just as in the previous ice age.

Number 8:

“Gaffers who claim that winters were harder when they were boys are quite right…weather men have no doubt that the world at least for the time being is growing warmer.” – Time Magazine Jan. 2 1939

As with a number of the others, it’s difficult to see how this is an argument for or against the current science related to AGW.

Here are numbers 76 and 77:

“Globally, 2002 is likely to be warmer than 2001 – it may even break the record set in 1998. – Daily Mirror August 2, 2002

Next year(2003)may be warmest recorded: Global temperatures in 2003 are expected to exceed those in 1998 – the hottest year to date – Telegraph UK- December 30, 2002


Would you believe these two predictions turned out to be pure bullshit. Actually not. They were only partially bullshit. An analysis of the top ten warmest years on record include 2002 and 2003. Both were warmer than 2001, which means the first prediction was true. But 2002 and 2003 tied for hottest years on record, meaning 2003 average temperatures were the same, not greater than, 2002. It might be interesting for readers to go to the NOAA site and check out the numbers.

Number 78 is a problem for climate scientists as well:

(The) extra energy, together with a weak El Nino, is expected to make 2005 warmer than 2003 and 2004 and perhaps even warmer than 1998 – Reuters February 11, 2005

Oops! Check with the NOAA page. 2005 turned out to be warmer than 1998, 2003, and 2004.

And I’m getting tired of playing this game. While I suspect there are some other clinkers among the 92, I’m going to spot Rick this, and agree that many of his references are accurate and pertinent. That allows me to avoid having to diagnose each of the 92 and to get back to the topic of this post. Sidestepping matters of AGW, here are some major fubars related to environmental issues:

By 1985 enough millions will have died to reduce the earth’s population to some acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people. – Paul Ehrlich

Yeah, you have to wonder what Ehrlich was thinking, if he was thinking, at all. It is comments like this and others that should have cost Ehrlich dearly in the marketplace of ideas. To give you an idea of how little effect this kind of silliness can have, I subsequently heard reference to “respected scientist Paul Ehrlich.”

Here are some additional silly comments by people who should know better:

“[Inaction will cause]… by the turn of the century [2000], an ecological catastrophe which will witness devastation as complete, as irreversible as any nuclear holocaust.” Mustafa Tolba, 1982, former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program

“We’ve got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?” Lee Iacocca, CEO/Chairman, Chrysler Corporation, 1979-1992

It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it. Dan Quayle

Approximately 80% of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation, so let’s not go overboard in setting and enforcing tough emission standards from man-made sources. Ronald Reagan

Rick McKee is right. We should be skeptical of what gets pushed into the nightly news or posted on the Internet.

In real science, as in real life, it’s not what what people say that matters, it’s what is that matters. In the end, facts trump opinion. People may, if they choose, post “124 years of Failed Climate and Environmental Predictions,” but that does not make an argument. What makes an argument is a statement of fact.  I’m going to restate something from previous posts:

I have been following the topic of AGW for over 20 years, and a recurrent observation is that people opposed to the science rely on quotes and opinions, some from real scientists, and not so much on the basic science. What any opponent to the science needs to do to refute AGW is to demonstrate one or more of the following:

  • Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does not absorb infra red radiation.
  • Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are not increasing dramatically.
  • Increases in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are not due to human activities.
  • There are natural sources to the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that supersede the human contribution.

I have put this out before, and nobody has come back at me on it. Keep reading.

The Phosphorus Trail

This is inspired by an observation I made on a field trip last year. We were in the Government Canyon State Natural Area northwest of San Antonio. A guide was explaining all the local plant life. We observed some Spanish moss growing on a tree.


The guide explained the plant (not a real moss) is not a parasite. It gets all of its nutrients from the air. My reaction was a quick rundown of the nutrients a plant receives, and I realized the statement was not correct. One thing that came to mind was phosphorus. A plant definitely does not get any phosphorus from the air. It has to get it from the host plant, usually a southern live oak, which most of us have.

And that got me to thinking about phosphorus and plant life. Phosphorus is essential to all living organisms on this planet. For one, DNA molecules involve phosphorus. Additionally, the association between adenosine triphosphate and and adenosine diphosphate manages energy transfer within living cells. A typical human body will contain about a pound of phosphorus. Nothing can live without it.

Phosphorus is something home owners need to consider when managing their landscape. In the wild there is little need to be concerned about nutrient phosphorus compounds. As a plant grows it takes up phosphorus from the soil in the form of various phosphorus compounds. When a plant dies it decomposes, and the phosphorus is returned to the soil. There are gaseous phosphorus compounds, but they are not involved in plant and animal nutrition. Phosphorus tends not to migrate in nature.

If you compost your tree leaves and your grass and garden clippings and return this material to your landscape, you will not need to add much phosphorus from fertilizer. Moreover, you can cause problems by adding too much phosphate fertilizer. Excess phosphates will be leached from the soil and will end up in the surface water, where it can cause problems. River and pond water will normally not have enough phosphorus to support growth. Addition of phosphates from fertilizer supports the growth of water-borne life such as algae. Rampant growth of algae is detrimental to other life in these bodies of water. When the algae die their decomposition consumes dissolved oxygen, which is needed by fish.

To manage the phosphorus content of your fertilizer, pay attention to the three letters NPK. A designation on a package of fertilizer will give the quantities of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Often the letters are omitted, and only three numbers are printed. For example 18-4-4 means the fertilizer has 18 pounds of nitrogen per hundred pounds of fertilizer, and so on for phosphorus and potassium. A growing plant needs all three of these macro-nutrients in addition to a number of micro-nutrients. If you are mulching or composting your yard waste, then the nutrient phosphorus is being returned to your landscape, and you should be using a fertilizer with a small second number.

NBC’s Mysterious Origins of Man

This has got to be number 6 in my series of posts about the documentary NBC’s Mysterious Origins of Man. The previous post covered the amazing finger fossil, which unfortunately does not appear to be the fossil of a human finger. Before that I touched on the Burdick Print, an apparent stone carving being passed off by creationists as an actual human footprint in Cretaceous limestone. If by now you are beginning to suspect each of the remarkable stories has the look and feel of a hoax, then you are starting to get the idea.

Veteran actor Charlton Heston, now deceased, hosts the show, and his presence is commanding and authoritative. What I find most remarkable is the way he presents each of these tales with a straight face. You will recall he won an Academy Award for his role in Ben Hur.

Up next we are told of some remarkable metallic spheres found in Klerksdorp, South Africa.

Yet, as we saw earlier, objects have been found in rock strata much older than this. In Klerksdorp, South Africa, hundreds of metallic spheres were found by miners in pre-Cambrian strata, said to be a fantastic 2.8 billion years old.

Call me skeptical if you want, but I find that to be especially fantastic, since the Cambrian began about 541 million years ago. The chart from the video shows the spheres at 2.8 billion, not 541 million, years ago.




Let’s take a look at one of these remarkable balls. Fortunately the producers had one to show. Here is a screen shot from the video.


Charlton Heston continues:

The controversy centers around the fine grooves circling some of the spheres. Lab technicians were at a loss to explain how they could have been formed by any known natural process. According to the curator of the Klerksdorp Museum, Roelf Marx, the spheres are a complete mystery. “They look man made, yet at the time in Earth’s history when they came to rest on the rock, no intelligent life existed. They’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

Viewing this you might get the idea that no intelligent life exists today.

Of course, real scientists, taking a real view of the matter, have thrown some cold water on this notion. Said cold water not appearing anywhere in the TV documentary.

Various professional geologists agree that the Klerksdorp spheres originated as concretions, which formed in volcanic sediments, ash, or both, after they accumulated 3.0 billion years ago. Heinrich argues that the wollastonite nodules formed by the metamorphism of carbonate concretions in the presence of silica-rich fluids generated during the metamorphism of the volcanic deposits containing them into pyrophyllite. It was also argued that the hematite nodules represent pyrite concretions oxidized byweathering of near surface pyrophyllite deposits. Below the near-surface zone of weathering, which has developed in the pyrophyllite, pyrite concretions are unaffected by weathering and, thus, have not been altered to hematite. The radial internal structure of these objects is a pseudomorph after the original crystalline structure of the original carbonate or pyrite concretion.

Both Cairncross and Heinrich argue that the grooves exhibited by these concretions are natural in origin. As proposed by Cairncross, the grooves represent fine-grained laminations within which the concretions grew. The growth of the concretions within the plane of the finer-grained laminations was inhibited because of the lesser permeability and porosity of finer-grained sediments relative to the surrounding sediments. Faint internal lamina, which corresponds to exterior groove, can be seen in cut specimens. A similar process in coarser-grained sediments created the latitudinal ridges and grooves exhibited by innumerable iron oxide concretions found within the Navajo Sandstone of southern Utah called “Moqui Marbles”. Latitudinal grooves are also found on carbonate concretions found in Schoharie County, New York. The latitudinal ridges and grooves of the Moqui marbles are more pronounced and irregular than seen in the Klerksdorp (Ottosdal) concretions because they formed in sand that was more permeable than the fine-grained volcanic material in which the Klerksdorp (Ottosdal) concretions grew.

Very similar concretions have been found within strata, as old as 2.7 to 2.8 billion years, comprising part of the Hamersley Group of Australia. The Australian concretions and the Klerksdorp spheres are among the oldest known examples of concretions created by microbial activity during the diagenesis of sediments.

[Some links deleted]

Next we meet “author researcher” David hatcher Childress. We are told he “has written numerous articles on the co-existence of humans and dinosaurs.”


This is posted on YouTube, and one of the nice features of the site is that you can sometimes get a transcript from the video. The transcript is apparently produced by a voice to text process, which doesn’t always get it right. I obtained Childress’s quote from the transcript.

I think that one other solutions to the paradox of dinosaurs and people together and the vast discrepancy in time this … the whole time line above millions of years versus as only thousands of years can be explained in a cataclysmically geological view of the past where rather than geological events taking place over millions of years they take place more quickly. What is a million years on a geological timescale is in fact only say a thousand years and therefore is going to bring all this dating much closer to us and make it possible so that in a scientific way man and dinosaurs can have existed together in the past and in fact dinosaurs can still be alive today in small numbers.

That’s a remarkable view of space and time, especially time, but Childress uses it to rationalize something else.

The Zuiyo-maru carcass (ニューネッシー Nyū Nesshii?, lit. “New Nessie“) is a creature caught by the Japanese fishing trawler Zuiyō Maru (瑞洋丸?) off the coast of New Zealand in 1977. The carcass’s peculiar appearance led to speculation that it might be the remains of a sea serpent or prehistoric plesiosaur.

Although several scientists insisted it was “not a fish, whale, or any other mammal”, analysis later indicated it was most likely the carcass of a basking shark by comparing the number of sets of amino acids in the muscle tissue. Decomposing basking shark carcasses lose most of the lower head area and the dorsal and caudal fins first, making them resemble a plesiosaur.

[Some links deleted]

Metallic sphere, a plesiosaur carcass, what else from the fertile minds of producers Bill Cote, Carol Cote and John Cheshire? The world waits. In the next post of this series we can expect to see the producers take on the venerable theory of evolution. This should be interesting.

Orbital Mechanics

The title should be “Elementary Orbital Mechanics,” but I wanted to keep it short. The story goes back 60 years.

My friend Patrick and I were the class nerds, and this was a great time for us. First there was lots of news about America’s plans for putting satellites into orbit around the earth. Colliers magazine ran a series of articles about space travel based on a book titled Across the Space Frontier, with writings by Cornelius Ryan, Willy LeyWerner von Braun and others and illustrations by Chesley Bonestell Besides that there was constant news of rocket launches with some successes and some spectacular failures. The Soviet Union launch the first Earth satellite. We built our own rockets and shot them off. Rockets and space flight were the thing.

Our school library got in this book by Willy Ley titled Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel. The book told all about the history of rocket development, up through the story of the German V2 missile of World War 2. It also had a lot of useful information on rocket propulsion facts and a smattering of orbital mechanics. We learned a lot and stretched what we could achieve without any knowledge of calculus. This is some interesting stuff, but I need to start with at tale from my college days, because this seems to be the likely place to put it.

It went like this. I went down to the University of Texas at Austin to enroll for a degree in physics. However I realized that after getting said degree I would really be working as an engineer, so I enrolled in the engineering college with a degree plan for aerospace engineering. I figured that if I were going to work with rockets and space travel, that was the degree I would need. It took me two years to realize I was in the wrong plan. There were a couple of incidents that made that determination for me, and here is one of them.

I was in this course in my degree plan, and the instructor was giving us the straight skinny on orbital mechanics. He explained what keeps a satellite in orbit. See the diagram:


That black ball is the satellite, and it’s traveling along a circular path around the earth. Gravity exerts a downward force on the satellite, represented by the down arrow. What keeps the satellite in orbit is the centrifugal force due to the satellite’s curved path. The centrifugal force is represented by the up arrow. Now, as explained to us, if the two forces are exactly equal, then the satellite will not fall but will continue to orbit the earth.

I wasted abut a half second thinking about this before realizing it was absolutely wrong and absurd, besides. Somebody who has made a passing grade in a high school physics class will see that if the two forces (assuming there really are two forces) are equal, then the satellite will not follow a curved path. Since the two forces are equal and opposite they cancel out, and the net force on the satellite is zero. The satellite will follow a straight line, according to a well-known observation of Galileo. There is no actual centrifugal force acting here, only gravity. The person teaching us about orbital mechanics knew absolutely nothing about mechanics in general and about orbital mechanics in particular. Shortly after this I exited the aerospace engineering program and wound up getting a degree in engineering science.

Anyhow, back in high school Pat and I worked through some elementary investigations into orbital mechanics, and here are the high points. See the next figure:


This represents a generalized view of the orbit of a small satellite (Sputnik) around a large object (Earth). Contrary to popular perception, all orbits are not circular. At best, all orbits are elliptical. The figure shows an exaggerated case for illustration. Even this is an idealization, because the large objects and the small objects are not uniform and spherical, so there is some deviation from the idealized case. For the ideal case (perfectly uniform and spherical objects) the statement that orbits are elliptical is always mathematically correct. This is because a circle is the special case of an ellipse. The next figure shows the relationship between ellipses and circles:


On the left is an ellipse as defined mathematically. The ellipse is defined by two points called the focus points or the foci. The ellipse is all points on a plane containing the foci such that a + b is constant. When a = b the foci become a single point, and we have a circle, as shown on the right with radius r. The ellipse has two axes. One is longer and is called the major axis. The other is the minor axis. This is important.

When a very small object orbits around a very large object, then for all practical purposes the orbit is an ellipse, and the center of the large object is one of the focus points of the ellipse. The other focus point is somewhere along the major axis.

Johannes Kepler a long time ago made a number of important observations. One was that the orbits of the planets around the sun are elliptical, and another is that the area swept by the planets position is constant for a constant period of time. See the diagram:


This shows a planet in two positions in its orbit around the sun. The blue wedge is the area swept by the planet’s line to the sun in a certain time interval, a day for example. What Kepler observed is that for any position around the planet’s orbit this blue area is the same for a one-day interval. What Kepler did not state, but what this shows, is that angular momentum is preserved. This would be immediately clear for anybody having an understanding of basic mechanics and the law of gravitation. Following Kepler, Newton described gravity as a force between two masses, acting in a line that connects them. Since the force of gravity has no component perpendicular to the line it cannot contribute to any change in the angular momentum. If gravitational attraction is the only force acting, then angular momentum is conserved, and Kepler’s second law is in agreement.

Now to the (more) real world. Large objects are not absolutely large, and small objects are not absolutely small. There is some equality between the two. When a satellite is orbiting around a large object, the large object does not stand still. It reacts to the gravitational pull of the small object. Never is this illustrated better than the case of the Earth and the Moon. The Earth is about 81 times as massive as the moon. This means that when the Moon goes around the Earth, the Earth moves. The fact is they follow elliptical orbits having a common focus point located 600 miles beneath the surface of the Earth. See the diagram:


The big object is the Earth. The smaller object is the Moon. I did not get these sizes to scale, but the Moon’s orbit is the large ellipse, and the Earth’s orbit is the small ellipse. This is important, because if you are taking observations of objects within or in the vicinity of the Solar System, you need to know exactly where the Earth is at all times.

Using only simple physics my classmate and I determined that we could compute the orbit of an object around the Earth (or the Sun) if we knew two things at once:

  • The location of the orbiting body
  • Its velocity vector

It was amazing to us (to me at least) that this problem was so easily resolved. We went further. There was talk of sending spacecraft to Mars. The problem is, what is the minimum transfer orbit between the Earth and Mars? That is, what transfer orbit requires the least expenditure of energy That was easy to solve, as well. See the next diagram:


If the Earth and Mars orbits are idealized circular orbits, then the transfer orbit is tangent to the Earth orbit and also to the Mars orbit. From that it is easy to compute the major axis of the transfer ellipse and also the transfer time and the initial velocity (relative to the Sun).

All that was a lot of fun in high school, and in college I took a course in celestial mechanics and another one in planetary navigation. The problems got a lot harder, and it wasn’t as much fun. It was more like work. But that’s the way life is.

Principles of Optics

You would not guess from the title that this post is about compact fluorescent lamps (CFL).
Surprise. Here’s some background for a start.

People were studying electromagnetic radiation and energy over 100 years ago. I’ve
studied this stuff before, but I’m not going to derive it all over again. Here’s a plot I posted

What you see in this graph is a series of plots of radiation intensity (energy flux) against
wavelength for black bodies of various temperatures. Remember that individual photons of
longer wavelengths have less energy than photons of shorter wavelength. That’s a basic
principle of quantum mechanics. The following equation is from Wikipedia and shows how
energy relates to photon wavelength:

E is energy, h is Planck’s Constant, a well known physical constant. The letter c is the speed
of light, and λ is the wavelength. That’s fixed. There are no two photons with the same
wavelength but different energies.

Notice in the graph how each plot starts out at zero, then peaks, then trails off toward zero
again. For each blackbody temperature the peak is in a different place. The peak
wavelength for a particular temperature is given by Wein’s Displacement Law:

The maximum energy intensity occurs at λ max, which is some (well-defined) constant
divided by the absolute temperature, T. What you should be seeing, children, is that as you
increase the temperature of the body, the peak, the place where the energy output is most
intense, shifts to shorter wavelengths. Here’s what this means in practical terms.

Any blacksmith knows this. You heat a horseshoe in the fire, and when it gets hot enough it
begins to glow red. Hotter and it glows yellow. I have watched a master glass blower at UT
Austin work with fused quartz. He did not use an ordinary fire. He had an oxygen-
hydrogen torch, and that is very hot. He lit off the torch, and it was bright. He had a tube of
fused quartz, and he plunged it right into the hottest part of the flame. Fused quartz is
good about this. It does not expand when heated, which is why we were using fused quartz.
Anyhow, the quartz tube quickly went from red, right past yellow and became blinding
white. When something gets hot enough it starts giving off all the visible colors in nearly
equal abundance.

So, here’s what I’m getting at. If you want to operate an incandescent lamp you need a
filament to get hot and glow. You put a tungsten wire into a glass bulb and run electricity
through it to get it really hot, and it will glow and put out light. OK, you need to take the air
out of the bulb, else the oxygen will burn up the hot tungsten. OK, you need to put some
argon in the tube, else the hot filament will evaporate too quickly.

Therein is the rub. Even tungsten, a metal with about the highest boiling point (lowest
vapor pressure) for a given temperature, will eventually evaporate at the temperatures
necessary to produce a usable lamp.

Here’s a problem. If you operate the tungsten filament at a low temperature it will not
evaporate much at all and will last almost forever. However, at this temperature its energy
output will peak deep in the red region. You will have a nice, red light source. You want
white. Also, at low temperatures (look at the graph) the filament will dump a lot of its
energy into the infra-red spectrum, nice for warming the room, but useless as a light
source. A lot of the electrical energy consumed by the lamp will be wasted. Your electric bill
will show this.

If you operate the filament at a higher temperature you will get a more efficient light
source, and your electric bill will show this. But what about filament vaporization?

Glad you asked. They solved this problem over 100 years ago. You put a bit of iodine
inside the bulb with the filament. Then you operate the filament at a very high
temperature. You have a nice, efficient light source. But the filament evaporates. But the
lamp envelope is made of fused quartz, and it gets very hot. The tungsten vapor combines
with iodine and does not deposit on the lamp’s envelope. The tungsten-iodine, I’m guessing

tungsten tetraiodide, soon hits the hot filament, where the tungsten is deposited back, and
the filament gets to live another day. These are called halogen lamps, because iodine is a
member of the halogen family of elements.

So, halogen lamps are more efficient forms of incandescent lamps. Here’s a comparison
chart from Energystar.GOV:

Technology CRI Efficacy (lumen/W) Lifetime (hrs) Color Temperature (K)
Compact Fluorescent 80-90 60-70 6,000-10,000 2700-6500
Incandescent 100 12-18 750-1,500 2400-2900
Linear Fluorescent 70 – 90 80-100+ 20,000 2700-6500
Halogen 100 16-29 2,000-4,000 2850-3200
White LED 65-90 20-50 Up to 100,000 2700-6500

This table shows that halogen lamps are somewhat more efficient (more light per your
electrical dollar) than regular incandescent lamps. They also last longer: 2000 to 4000
hours of use opposed to 750 to 1500 hours.

Halogen lamps are also more expensive, and they are more tricky to use. The envelop
must be operated at a high temperature, so it must be kept very small. You handle a
halogen lamp with you bare hands, and it will be ruined unless you are careful to clean it
before use. Modern automobile headlamps use halogen lamps. You do not have to change
them out very often.

You want to save more money? For your home lighting needs go to fluorescent tubes or
even to compact fluorescent lamps. Fluorescent lamps have been around over 70 years. I
know this for sure, because I watch old movies on TV, and I see factory settings that
incorporate fluorescent lighting. Commercial enterprises long ago went to fluorescents. In
business the bottom line may not be everything, but it’s way ahead of whatever is in
second place. In homes the use of fluorescents was not popular for a long time, because the
available applications were limited. Fluorescents were at first only used for ceiling fixtures.

Stop here for another technical update. Fluorescents are efficient because the process used
to produce the light does not also produce a lot of heat. They work this way:

You have a glass tube with a low-pressure gas inside and some mercury. Applying power in
the appropriate way induces an electrical arc the length of the tube. This arc does not
produce a lot of heat, and it produces electromagnetic energy mainly in the ultra-violet
region. You can see how this relates to Wein’s displacement law: lots of energy with a very
small fraction apportioned to the infra-red.

The problem is we cannot use the ultra-violet. In fact, the ultra-violet cannot even get out
of an ordinary glass tube. The glass stops it. If the ultra-violet did get out it would give
everybody a sunburn. You coat the inside of the tube with a fluorescent material that
absorbs the ultraviolet and re-emits the energy in the visible spectrum. Lots of light with
very little heat. You can comfortably put your hand on an operating fluorescent tube.

But what to do about your cute little table lamp? You nice, decorative ceiling fixture? Enter
the CFL. With CFLs they have just shrunk the fluorescent tube and coiled it around to fit it
into your cute lighting fixtures. They have also installed electronics into the base of the
CFLs to manage the voltage supplied to the tube, since the tube needs a high-voltage kick
to get the arc going, but then needs a lower voltage to operate the lamp.

CFLs are efficient. See the table. Linear fluorescents produce 80 to 100 lumens per watt,
compared to 12 to 18 for ordinary incandescents. CFLs produce 60 to 70.

And CFLs are butt ugly. That’s the complaint I hear from anti-environmentalists and even
from some others.  One such was reputed conservative Glenn Beck:

Glenn Beck Vows To Fire Employees For Buying Fluorescent
Bulbs, Recyclables

The light bulb wars are still on apparently.

Glenn Beck, the broadcaster who claims to fuse entertainment
and enlightenment, vowed on a recent show to fire any
employee for buying fluorescent bulbs.

“I am dead serious,” he said, admittedly while laughing. “I fire
the person that starts to purchase fluorescent light bulbs unless
that is the only light bulb for a specific reasons and I want to be
CC’ed on what that reason is.”

He further added “If you’re doing anything in this company
because of global warming, you’re fired…Global warming is a
pile of crap…a load of socialist, communist crap.”

He further added that recyclable spoons and recyclable
cardboard boxes are banished from Mercury Radio Arts, his

In addition, a conservative Facebook friend once posted a meme that depicted liberals
bowing down to an idol in the form of a CFL. It’s gone that far, people.

But wait! I’m not through. There’s something better than CFLs. Light Emitting Diodes
(LED) have been around for nearly 50 years, and they are an amazingly efficient source of
light. Their initial use was in portable device displays (digital watches and hand-held
calculators) because they are so power-stingy. The problem in the beginning was they only
put out red light. Now a new day is dawning, and we can get white light LEDs. See the
table. White LEDs approach CFLs in efficiency, but they last 100,000 hours. I now see
automobile headlights that I am sure are LED-sourced.

What’s also good about LEDs is they inherently compact. An LED is just a solid-state diode
junction, a small region on a silicon wafer. You want a tiny light source, the LED is the way
to go. Pick up a few LED night light modules at Home Depot and plug them into some wall
outlets and forget about them. You will never notice them on your electric bill. I have a
couple of modules that are always plugged in. they only put out soft indicator light when
plugged in. Until the power goes out. Then the built-in battery kicks in, and these become
emergency lights. I can reach down and grab one and use it as a flashlight as I roam about
my darkened house. The battery continually recharges when the unit is plugged in.

This post was inspired when I picked up this from a CNN news item:

Light bulb ban set to take effect

Light bulb manufacturers will cease making traditional 40 and
60-watt light bulbs — the most popular in the country — at the
start of 2014.

This comes after the controversial phasing out of incandescent
75 and 100-watt light bulbs at the beginning of 2013.

In their place will be halogen bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs,
LED bulbs and high efficiency incandescents — which are just
regular incandescents that have the filament wrapped in gas. All
are significantly more expensive than traditional light bulbs, but
offer significant energy and costs savings over the long run.
(Some specialty incandescents — such as three-way bulbs —
will still be available.)

The end of old light bulbs will likely anger some consumers that
are already faced with higher prices for a variety of goods. But
it will also tick off tea party activists since the ban is the result
of the final phase of government-mandated efficiency standards.

Liberal as I am, I do not have a political interest in this controversy. In this matter I am a
John Jacob Astor capitalist. In certain respects I run my household like a commercial
enterprise—with an eye to the bottom line. At the end of the year I look at how much
change I have left in my pocket, and CFLs have been good to me. Please go check your
monthly electric bill and come back to finish reading this.

Done that? My house is all electric. There is no gas service in my neighborhood. The San
Antonio electric service, CPS, charges me $20 for picking up my trash. The rest is for
electricity. Taking that into account, my monthly bills are seldom more than $100 per
month. Eventually money is going to make an environmentalist out of each of us. But
maybe not Glenn Beck.

Nor Any Drop To Drink

In high school we all studied the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The line is immortal:

Water, water everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink.
Water, water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

So, this post is not just about water. It’s about usable water. Water we can irrigate crops with, water we can use in industry, water we can drink. I am going to have further posts on water, so this will be just an introduction.

When I was a mere child I was startled to learn that 72% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. Later I noticed the average depth of the world’s oceans is 2.5 miles. That’s a lot of water. So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that water washing from the land into the oceans carries all kinds of minerals, especially sodium chloride (salt) into the oceans. Since there are not many ways for these minerals (salt) to get out of the oceans, the oceans have accumulated a lot of salt are too salty to drink or to use for many other human needs. We are left to rely on other sources of water, and that would be water that has fallen as rain and has not yet washed down into the oceans.

The Awful truth is we are greatly dependent on rain. Water flows into the oceans, and when it evaporates from the oceans the salt is left behind. Now the water vapor in the air is salt free and available for our use, once we get it back out of the air. Therein is the problem.

The principle mechanism for getting the water back out of the air so we can use it is rain, but people don’t make rain. Rain occurs when certain circumstances arise. There has to be a sufficient concentration of water vapor in the air, and then the vapor has to be cooled to a point the air cannot hold that much water vapor, and then the vapor will condense to liquid water and will fall as rain, sometimes snow, sleet or whatever. In any event, this is usable water. Provided the rain falls where we need it.

Another thing you will notice is that a lot of rain falls in so-called rain forests. There’s a mountain on the American island of Kauai that gets on average 400 inches of rain a year. There is a desert in Chile that goes for years without any rain. It would be nice for Chile if they could make a deal with Kauai and trade off a little of their dryness for some of Kauai’s wetness. But it doesn’t work that way. Natural forces alone control rain, almost.

Now, you might think that since the Earth’s surface is 72% covered with ocean there would be a lot of evaporation going on, providing plenty of water to go around for everybody. There is, in fact, a whole lot of evaporation going on, except… Except a lot of the rain that falls, falls back into the ocean, avoiding the parched region in Chile and the almost parched regions of Kansas. So, getting usable water where we need it is a problem now as it has been for human populations of times past.

There’s a lot more to tell about water, and I will cover more exciting details in future posts. Read more.