29 September 2008

24 Hour Contests

My wife, Vickie, and I took part in 24 hour contests last weekend. Hers was the more formal -- a 24 hour short-story writing contest. They give a topic and the word length at noon one day, and the story is due by noon the next day. Neither of them really suited her; the length was only 850 words, which is quite short to write a good story in. But I believe she succeeded. And she discovered some more about her writing, and what she can do. So all to the good. We'll find out in a month or so what the judges thought.

My own contest was a bit more unusual, not least because there were no other contestants, no judge, and no rules. Still, it occurred to us that while Vickie was doing her 24 hours focused on writing, I could also do 24 hours focused on writing. But in my case, a science paper. Continuing with a paper I've already started and trying to finish it in 24 hours would not have been in keeping with the spirit of her contest, which was focused on novelty. I have a ton of ideas, though, lurking in the back of my mind at any given time, and several feet of them in cabinets if, for some reason, I don't like ones that are leaping to mind. So my challenge was to take one of them and give it a good hard run for 24 hours.

I didn't finish a paper, though I did get 2 good pages written. The writing was done in the first hour. (I'm a fast typist and have been thinking about this idea off and on for a few years.) Then in to the charge at data. Or, rather, the slow and careful sneaking up on data and hoping that it didn't bare its fangs and shred my idea in the first few seconds of contact.

After my 24 hours, the notion was still intact and, if anything, looking better. Didn't finish the paper, but no surprise there as actually there are quite a few papers to come from this idea. But I did make good progress on getting data and testing that the idea held up against some reasonably good counter-tests. More detail to come later, once I get a little farther. But things to be coming up here before then are the North Atlantic Oscillation, Arctic Oscillation, Pacific-North American, and Antarctic Oscillation (NAO, AO, PNA, and AAO, respectively).


Anonymous said...

Hi Bob,

Glad to see you made this much progress in 24h, and even getting hold on data. I'm not a scientist, so perhaps not looking in the right direction, but could you point me to a source of data? I've spent most of available time (still have a job and a wife and kids :) last week searching for sulfate and/or black carbon emissions, especially for recent years. There is some text that sulfate emissions are increasing in Asia (I found one press clipping about a 26% increase in China for 2006), but I was searching for something like a global time-series. I found EDGAR, but it has no data after 2000, the Giovanni project has no early data on black carbon ...

When I saw the first denialist saying warming has stopped in 1998, I replied that it could be normal, all the heat going into melting icecaps, instead of heating the air. But now, I've a hunch that the amount of 'Asian' sulfate and soot is wreaking the same havoc on climate as the American/European sulfate and soot in the '60s and '70s. But no hard data to confirm or infirm. Can you point me to something?

Robert Grumbine said...

Getting hold of data is easy; getting hold of good data, that address the problem you have in mind, can be very hard. Mine search was satisfiable by relatively common sorts of data sets. I'm afraid I don't know, specifically, of anything good for your questions. I would think that AVHRR and, even more, METOP would be able to help you. But this may run afoul of "one person's signal is another's noise" The usage I know for both satellites is deriving sea surface temperatures. For that, aerosol information is noise. So, though an adequate job for sea surface temperature may be done, it may not be good enough to help you with your questions.

I can definitely sympathize on the job/wife/kid front. Just got my youngest off to college. And what I was doing for the 24 hours had nothing to do with my day job. (That was part of the fun.)

Anyone else have leads for Koen?

I'm afraid that part of what you're running in to is a common issue in science. The data you really want don't exist, so you have to try to think of proxies that would help you estimate that figure. ex: if sulfates primarily come from coal burning, try to get figures for how much coal is being burned, where (and what type it is, as sulphur levels vary widely in different coals).

Good luck, and let us know how it proceeds!

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the world record is in writing a paper fast, from idea to finished paper. Kelvin's paper about the age of the Earth is a possibility, it certainly is short, and for someone who have dealt with similar problems the math isn't complex either.