Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Cog does West Hume

28 members and guests gathered at the appointed spot and time.  It was to say the least a little draughty and the prospects for a long list were not great.  The chart has wind gust in Kph as the vertical axis with points on the horizontal axis ranging from 8am to noon (but Excel had difficulty showing them).

The aim was to circle the area, expecting this to cover about 5km (in fact we did 4.74km).
We began by touring some paddocks which produced 5 Australian Pipits (surprisingly the only ones we saw all day) some Red-rumped Parrots and 3 Common Starlings.

The first pond encountered ....
... had 1 Coot, 2 Pacific Black Ducks ...
and 1 Little Pied Cormorant as visible waterfowl.  It is possible that others were lurking in the reeds but such hypothetical birds do not get counted.

Skirting an industrial site we entered a large wooded paddock where Eastern and Crimson Rosellas were added to the list.  The former were closely inspecting a nest hollow.  Common Mynahs and Noisy Miners were both in the paddock, enjoying the good live
... and dead-with-lots of -hollows  eucalypts.

Passing the site of the former homestead 38 Australian Wood Ducks were grazing on the roadside before flying to another pond.
 We then progressed up an "improved" Dogtrap Gully without seeing a bird.  Improvement is in quotes as we didn't think bulldozing everything and replacing a natural creek with daft rocks and hessian was good habitat. 

The best birding was along the Cooma railway line  where we found a pair of Scarlet Robins, at least 3 Speckled Warblers and 20+ Red-browed Finches.

We totaled 31 species which was felt to be quite good given the revolting weather.

Things to do with a Cold

Basically, reading.  But that seemed a better heading than "Yet more book reviews" even thought tht's what it is.  But only two.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

This is another book book written by a journalist, and in fact a New York Times writer.  

The essential point of the book is that much of the way individuals, organisations and societies operate is driven by habits.  The author presents this as a 3 part process:
  1. A cue; which triggers 
  2. An automatic routine; that generates 
  3. A reward.
The start of the book has a good scientific base using laboratory rats and brain scans to explains how these cycles are set up.  

After a brief foray into damaged individuals, who seemed a bit like refugees from an Oliver Sachs book, he moves into how marketers set up cravings - in effect anticipating the reward on getting the cue.  His first case is Pepsodent which was easy for the advertiser responsible: everyone wants nice teeth.
  •  Quoting from the book:  Before Pepsodent appeared only 7% of Americans had a tube of tooth[paste in their medicine cabinets;
  • A decade later that had risen to 65%!
The second case, of air-freshener, was difficult didn't recognise their need: a case of a woman with 9 cats is quoted.  One success story was a Park Ranger who dealt with skunks: she knew she had a problem and the freshener fixed it up.  They change the adverts from getting rid of bad smells  to making the freshener a part of cleaning process - get a clean smell!  The product went from hardly any sales pre-shift to $230 million in the year after the shift.

The final chapter in the "individual" section is about gridiron coaching where a head coach changes the on-field habits of the players.  Basically he makes some habits automatic, and thus getting form cue to reward quicker.  (In this case reward could be the satisfaction of hammering one of the opposition.

The rest of the book is about ways of applying these processes to companies or societies.  All extremely interesting but I won't repeat it here.

It is possible to see some elements of a self-help manual in the book, in that if you want to change part of your life applying these principles could work..  Beyond that, and more interesting from my point of view it is a very well written and interesting study of some behaviours.  Well worth a read.

Inside the Canberra Press Gallery by Rob Chalmers

In the excellent book by Seymour Hersh about his work as an investigative reporter in the US he is very disparaging about the Washington Press Gallery.  To a large extent he presents the reporters in that group as bottom feeders, subsisting on the slime oozing from press releases and not chasing better prey.

This book confirms his view.

It was published after the death of Rob Chalmers, although he seems to have compiled it before then and the editors (Sam Vincent and John Wanna) have just tidied it up.  My issues with the tome come under two headings:
  • Lack of coherence: there didn't feel to be a solid story underlying the book.  He will be talking about a topic at time x and then introduce an anecdote about a related point from another period.  Its rather like me yarning about things and getting led into verbal parentheses until I forget where I started (and the audience has transformed into stunned mullet).
  • Focus on prurience: he very frequently talks about the amount of booze consumed by the gallery and the Parliamentarians but in a nudge, nudge "we're good ol' boys" style.  (The surprise is that he can claim to remember what went on.)  He also repeats a lot of gossip about real or apparent affairs by some people - Menzies, Holt and Cairns.
As an example of the problems there are some names missing from the index of people I remember as key players in the more recent games.  The prime example is Ainslie Gotto, who was the key minder (and possibly had other roles) for John Gorton isn't covered at all: to use an analogy from more recent times, this omission is like covering Tony Abbott without mentioning Peta Credlin!  

I am unsure why I finished the book.  Perhaps it was the "spectator at a bad accident" phenomenon where I just wanted to see what happened?  Certainly one never really finds out anything important.  That is a contrast with Hersh's book where I found I learnt a lot about important topics I was only marginally aware of.

Save your time and avoid this.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

COG does well on a wintery Sunday

The day started off very wintery with snow at home

 This is a little unusual with snow being seen from underneath.  It is looking up at our skylight!
Heading out to the initial meeting point there was a good serve of snow on the Taliesin Hills ...
 .. and this view of the Brindabellas as I drove down the escarpment into Queanbeyan.
After an initial gathering at Spotlight we traveled (hopefully all getting through a speed camera trap with no damage to the wallet) to Mick Sherd Oval in Bungendore to meet the rest of the group, forming a band of 21 members and guests.  It was very pleasing to see a good representation of younger folk.

As David McDonald explained, our itinerary had evolved somewhat as the dam on Lake Rd was dry and a TSR had been leased out and was no longer available for birding.  We began with a walk to Bungendore Common, with a permanent water feature, but little known to people who don't live in Bungendore.  
Only three species of duck (Australian Wood Duck, Pacific Black Duck  and Chestnut Teal) were sighted but the three common members of the rail family were evident in fair numbers.  Australian Swamphens are not common in the area, but are regularly seen here.  This one appears to need some advice on grooming.
 A Little Pied Cormorant was taking advantage of the vintage light fitting.
The least frequently record bush ​b​ird was a Grey Currawoong. Two breeding records were logged with Australian Magpie and Crested Pigeon both building nests.  

Water levels were low in the lake,but at least the billabongs in Turallo Creek had some water.
There was some concern when a car appeared driving across the middle of the park and when some plastic bags were dumped out  I was getting ready to report them for littering.
Then the bags were emptied of netting, which was applied to nearby soccer goals and the youth of Bungendore carried on with the entirely admirable sporting activities.  Your reporter calmed down.

We recorded 29 species here.

After consolidating cars because of limited parking at the next two sites we drove to the Bungendore Sewage Treatment Works.  
Despite the dearth of open water around the area there were very few waterfowl on the Eastern pond.  A single Australian Shelduck was the most unusual sighting here.  We then walked along the ditch to the two Western Ponds.  The highlight here was  34 Pink-eared Ducks loafing on the central bank or swimming in the "water".  Hardhead and Australasian Shoveler were also notable.  
We recorded 24 species here.
 ​
The next stop was the main dam on Trucking Yard Lane.   We were able to park without disturbing the ducks!  As is now expected there were 27 Plumed Whistling Ducks on the bank and 56 Australian Shelduck (including one with very strange plumage)

 ...  were grazing on the paddock.  At least 8 Chestnut Teal were also present and 5 Straw-necked Ibis grazed near Hoskinstown Rd,  

It was good that the landowner dropped by and explained how he was keeping food up to the stock (and consequently the ducks) during this drought.  As he also owns the Bungendore Butchery (and his meat is very good) that store should be supported!

19 species in total.
As time was moving on we decided to proceed directly to Cuumbeun Nature Reserve on Captains Flat Rd,  
A Wedge-tailed Eagle was seen soaring over the Reserve as we arrived.  The hope for this walk was a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, but unfortunately that species was not evident.  Indeed, very few birds were evident until we got close to the Queanbeyan River Fire Trail.  This visit was beginning to be more of a botanical outing!  Then a mixed bathing flock in a puddle there delivered Scarlet Robin, Brown Thornbill, and Striated Thornbill with a female Golden Whistler overhead.  14 species were seen here.

In total we recorded 50 species for the day, which we regarded as a pretty good outcome for a chilly day in a dry season.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Before fire season

Earlier in the week the local Fire Service announced that due to the on going dry conditions the start of the fire season was being brought forward from 1 October to 1 September.  It was very good to get some notice of that change as we have (or, updating slightly, had) a pretty large pile of non-compostable things to get rid of.
 Looking at weather forecast the best day (little wind) appeared to be 10 August. After putting notices on a couple of community social media channels, letterboxing a few people who may have missed those and letting the Fire Service know I was ready to go.

On the afternoon of the 9th I joined up various hoses (giving a total length of 65m ) to assist in keeping things under control.  Of course I omitted step 1 - draining one of the hoses.  This meant that after a low temperature of -2.8oC there was about 45m of ice between the tap and the desired outlet.  So a few buckets of hot water were needed to allow me to go with the flow.

That was all sorted.  We had also noticed that the weather forecast had changed a tad with stronger winds foreshadowed, so the dog walk was shortened and a match was applied to some paper at 0817.
 Yep, we had ignition.
 By 0824 (7 minutes after ignition) it had raised to conflagration level.  Given the proportion of the heap that I rated as weeds rather than prunings, I was very surprised how little smoke was generated.
That being said  a military chopper flew over quite low and appeared to have a look.  I wondered whether one of our neighbours in that line of work spotted the smoke and decided to check the situation

By 0835 things were calming down.
 By 0912 there was almost no flame visible, but still quite a lot of heat coming off.
By 1030 no flame was visible but the wind had got up as forecast.  So several buckets of water were got from the dam and applied to the perimeter of the ashy heap.  Much hissing and generation of steam!  Then the hose - remember the frozen hose - came into operation and thoroughly soaked everything.  I shall check later but I reckon that job is over for another year.
I got a couple of good snaps of the sunset tonight -  and as the first looks rather like the flame shot above I have included them here.


Monday, 6 August 2018

A bit of fact checking!

In Seymour Hersh's book, reviewed in my previous post, he makes a huge amount of comments about the fact checking to which his work was quite justifiably subjected.

When I read a story on the ABC website about a town called Murrurundi running out of water I got interested and decided to check it out.  The town is located in the Upper Hunter as shown by the orange polygon in this map of the State Suburb of Murrurundi from Census Table Builder.
About the only place in the area I had heard of is Scone, shown in the lower part of the map, adjacent to the big dam at Glenbawn.  From the 2016 Census there are 1037 people, of whom about 20% are aged under 20, resident in  ther State Suburb.  I'd expect that a fair proportion of them live in the town, but there will be a few living on properties in the Hinterland.

Google Maps produces this map of the town
I assume the town dam is the blue blob.  It is probably replenished from the Pages River.  The current river heights from the BoM site suggests that falling into the Pages River at present offers a greater risk of concussion than drowing

The first quote that struck my eye was this: "Jen Morris, who runs Murrurundi's White Hart Hotel, said they would consider trucking water in but have no tanks to store it."  A 50 kilolitre tank would cost about $8,000 - having bought one a year ago I am sure of that price. Plumb it into the pubs gutters and I'd be surprised if they had to buy many truck loads of water in a normal year.  Certainly better value than closing the pub because they've run out of water.


Then we have another resident "Ms van Balen and her husband live down the road and do not have access to town water. "We rely on rainfall and that's just been non-existent in the last little while," she said.  Ms van Balen and her husband live down the road and do not have access to town water.  "We purchased probably, I'd say, four loads in the last 12 months at a cost of about $1,000.""  Now I don't know Ms van Balen's family situation but I'd have thought if she has a tank of a decent size, and a reasonable sized  roof to catch the rain, she should get by on their rainfall.  For example:
If she is paying $250 for a load of water, at Carwoola prices that is 14 kilolitres, so my guess would be she has at least a 20kl tank.  After 6 weeks with no rain we (two adults) might have taken 5kl out of our tank (in-house use only), which would be replaced by 17mm of rain.  In the last 18 months there have only been 3 months in which Murrunrundi has received less than 17mm of rain.

That led me to look more generally at Murrurundi's recent rainfall.

The average annual rainfall (since 1995) is 856mm which is a bit more than the full BoM series offers. The area received close to that in 2015 and (using data from Scone Airport, 29km away , to fill in a few missing months) again in 2016.  2017 was rather low: only 604mm - but in the 22 years back to 1995 there are a couple of years with less rainfall than that.  2018 to date is also low - about half the average for the first 7 months of the year.

I wondered if having two bad years in a row was a problem, and certainly the two low years back to 1995 were isolated.    However Murrurundi has a long series of rainfall records and there have certainly been periods in the past with 2 dry years (below 600mm) in a row:  The three years from  1938 - 40 were all below 600mm as was 1935 and 1946 with no year in that period above average rainfall.

Another  quote: "The long-term plan is for a pipeline between Glenbawn Dam near Scone, about 50 kilometres from Murrurundi, due to be completed in two years."   Possibly they have taken their eye off the water conservation ball as a "soft" solution is nearly here.

I doubt if the farmers will want to buy water from the dam as it will cost a lot: 50+km of pipeline has to be paid for somehow.  It was good to see one farmer quoted as saying "While Mr Wylie supported drilling for water, for farmers and the town, he worried about how long the groundwater supply would last if drought conditions continued."  This does make me wonder whether this story hasn't been stirred up by threats to ground water other than drought?  Did anyone say fracking and coal seam gas?

My overall thought is the journalists haven't really done their homework but have found some nice people in a town in some strife and reported their concerns without really looking at the range of solutions open to the residents, or indeed the historical background.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Some more book reviews

I have been reading some light fiction, but none of it has been particularly noteworthy either in the sense of "You must read this!" or "Wotta crock."  So this report is limited to the three non-fiction works I have recently perused.

"Working Class Man" by Jimmy Barnes:

I gave some commentary about Barnesy's first volume "Working Class Boy" in an earlier post.  That was written before I'd finished it, but the second half of the book continued in the same vein.  It finishes more or less as he heads off with Cold Chisel.

This second volume continues on from that point and is mainly concerned with three themes:

  1. His career with Cold Chisel;
  2. Subsequent career as a solo artist: and
  3. Running across both of those, his marriage to Jane.
It isn't as desperate as the first volume, as the darkness described in this volume is much more one person descending into a personal abyss.  His childhood was someone existing in a social environment forming an abyss.  

I found it very interesting as many of the bands described are ones I know.  The descriptions of the music business were also worth while.  I suspect that if one isn't interested in popular music and /or doesn't like the writing style - use of  phrases such as "I'll tell you about that later" matched with "I promised I'd explain this ." - you might well disagree with me.  

There were a couple of flaws in the narrative.  
  1. In his time with Cold Chisel he complains frequently about having no money.  Shortly after going solo he has a huge house at Bowral and Jane has bought him a Ferrari but he doesn't explain how this is so.  Since after going down the financial gurgler he still has enough money to go and live in a nice place in Southern France it can't all be due to living on credit.
  2. He doesn't mention the Choir of Hard Knocks at all, despite the TV program about the Choir suggesting he put in quite an effort with them.  Perhaps it was a form of pennance he didn't wish to flaunt?
Given that he describes his daily diet at the lowest point as 3 bottles of vodka and several grammes of cocaine I guess it is amazing he could remember his name, let alone anything else!

Overall, I reckon this is well worth a read.

"Landmarks" by Robert Macfarlane

This is the second book I have read by this author and I am a tad surprised I didn't do a review of "The Wild Places" when I read it in 2014.  In part that covered an area I knew very well (the Dengie Marshes)and I got a nice email from Macfarlane when I gave him a few anecdotes about the area.

In this book he writes about a wide range of landscapes in the UK (mainly) and people that have written about the landscape and the words used to describe ascribe the landscape.  Each chapter concludes with a Glossary of the words he had recorded.  He has added a postscript reporting another blokes work compiling a world wide Glossary: the entries under 'b' come out at 350 single spaced pages!

I used some samples drawn from Macfarlane's Glossary for some fun questions in a weather discussion:
  1. What single weather phenomenon is known as: aquabob (Kent), clinkerbell (Wessex); daggler (Wessex):Cancervell (Exmoor); ickle (Yorkshire); tankle (Durham); and shuckle (Cumbria)? (Answer icicle)
  2. The Scots of the Cairngorms have some nice weather-words: what is the meaning of "smored"  (smothered in snow) or "roarie-bummlers" (rapidly moving clouds)?
Most of the people described are non-mainstream.  This is possibly most obvious with a bloke who studies Peregrines in Essex UK.  He lived in Chelmsford and it appears his study area was near Maldon - where I went to school.  I would not have been surprised if he had lived somewhat more in the SW of the County (see red icon in this map).

The book is very well written, as one would hope from an academic at Cambridge UK and the topics, landscape and language, are of interest. 

Even if you know nothing of the Old Dart's geography I'd rate this as very good.

"Reporter" by Seymour M Hersh

One of our guidelines is that non-fiction by reputable journalists (which lets out anyone from the Murdoch caliphate) is generally going to be well written.  This is an autobiography by an investigative reporter who specialised in dark and dirty deeds by the US Government.  A dust jacket note is:
"Quite simply the best investigative reporter of his era." David Remnick, New Yorker.
As both Frances and I are huge fans of David Remnick we couldn't go past this.  Hersh's biggest story was exposing the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, which won him a Pullitzer Prize.  He also covers aspects of the doings of Tricky Dicky Nixon, the overthrow of Allende, CIA dirty tricks groups and the ABU Graib prison scandal.  Reading his work on them gives great insight to the events described of which I was dimply aware but not in a detailed sense.

That also applies to his time as PR lead for the Eugene McCarthy Presidential campaign.  The detail of why it all fell in a screaming heap is most interesting.

Weaving among all of this is a wealth of detail about how the US print media works (at least the respectable bits of it with particular emphasis on the New York Times and The New Yorker magazine).  His description of his methods of getting stories and how he protected his sources - particularly in what George Smiley would refer to as "the cousins" is also very thought provoking.

I suspect his deepest dislike is for Dick Cheney.  I don't think he had full exposure to Trump when writing this book but that is a gem to anticipate!

An excellent read for understanding US politics and media.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Weather report July 2018

As I estimated the last week for the Gazette report there are a few small changes, notably for the average temperature (dropped a small amount) and rainfall (went up a small amount).
Note that for future months, for reasons explained below, the temperature material for past years will be restricted to the period since 2010. Rainfall will continue to cover the period since May 1984.

My view before analysing the data was that it was a very dry and pretty cold month.  After analysis those views are confirmed:

  1. Both the negligible rainfall and relative humidity data show a dry month.
  2. For temperatures the average maximum was a little above average but minima and frost-days were both indicative of a cold month. Bringing those together it appeared that average temperatures were .... average!

Rainfall

My weather station recorded 8.8mm for the month.  That is the lowest recorded for July in Carwoola since our Carwoola records started in 1984.  There are however several lower totals for July offered by BoM for the Canberra Airport Comparison site (site 70014) which closed in 2010. So, bad as things are, they could be worse, on that measure at least!

The basic situation is shown in this graph:
I have in past months commented on the total rainfall since January 2017.  By last month that was 18 months which matches one of the standard BoM series, so here is a scatterplot of rolling 18 month totals since 1985.
The last two values almost overlay each other, and each was the lowest value recorded.  Here is a BoM map for 18 month rainfall deciles.  

It appears, from the metadata shown on the above linked page, that the 'average' to which the current values are compared relates to observations since 1900.  Noting that Julys in the the 70s were drier than the current arid period it is believable that Carwoola is on the cusp of the 1st and second deciles (rather than lowest on record as suggested by the data since 1985).

Using the Carwoola data I extended the range to 19 month totals and the scatterplot looks very similar, except July 2018 drops well below June 2018 (as the month of July 2018 was much drier than July 2017).

It is still bloody dry!  As at the end off July we are at 47% of average rain, year-to-date and looking at a total of 337.1mm for the year. 

Temperatures

The basic situation is shown in this chart of daily maxima and minima.
By and large it is what was expected   Most maxima were in the range 10oC to 15oC and most nights having a frost.

Before getting to subcategories I will note that as I have become more familiar with the data set, and with other data available I have found that some of the older records do not appear compatible with (a) records taken in Carwoola since 2010 nor (b) observation from Canberra Airport (BoM site 70014 - now closed).  In contrast the more recent Carwoola records do show a good correlation with observations from the currently active site 70351. This is illustrated in the discussion of minimum temperatures below.   I have thus decided to only use Carwoola records since 2010 for my analysis of temperatures

Maximum temperatures 

The average maximum for the month was 11.1oC a touch lower than year and almost exactly on the average.
 Looking at average maximum temperatures for July since 2010 shows some variation around ~11oC but no significant trend.
The highest maximum temperature in the month was 16.3oC recorded on the 5th.  This is the second highest (of 279)  temperature recorded in July since 2010.  (The highest was 17.3oC recorded on 19 July 2016.)  It is notable that the 15.3oC recorded on the 28th of last month was the 4th highest since 2010.

In contrast the lowest maximum in the month (7.1oC on the 7th) was the tenth lowest July maximum.  As might be expected from the low average maximum, most of the lowest daily maxima occurred in 2015.

Minimum Temperatures

In recent months I have commented how the minimum temperatures have all, like the children of Lake Woebegone, been above average.  In the past month I have re-evaluated that view and concluded that minimum temperatures in the early years of the series I was using were not consistent with later readings.  The comparison is illustrated in this chart:
The major concern is the area ringed in red where the Carwoola data is much below the Airport data for a few years but then 'jumps'.  By contrast the later data, ringed in green, while still somewhat below the Airport data does show a similar pattern.  The middle set of Carwoola data does show a pretty good correlation with the BoM information (but I have doubts there about the maximum data).  Thus, I am only using the data since 2010.

Here is the basic chart.
The subplot with minimum temperatures is the number of frost-days.  In July we recorded 23 days with temperature below 2oC (a ground frost) of which 21 went below 0oC (an air frost.) The ground frosts were a smidgin above average since 2010 while the air frosts were well above average.
The lowest temperature recorded was -6.2oC which is - to my surprise the lowest July temperature recorded since 2010.  It is the 3rd lowest temperature for any month since 2010 with the lowest being -6.8oC on 5 August 2014.

Average temperatures

There are two ways of obtaining the average temperature for a period.  
  1. The first, and more reliable is to take the mean of all available temperature readings for the period.  In my case for each day that is the sum of the 24 hourly readings divided by 24.
  2. Where that level of detail is not available the average can be estimated as the highest value plus the lowest value, and the sum divided by 2.
Both methods are illustrated in the following chart.
The two lines follow one another quite well, and tend to turn in the same direction most of the time, so it is not surprising that they correlate well: the correlation coefficient is 0.97.  Its not perfect, so where important it is far better to use the actual data if it is available.

 One application of average temperatures is to calculate the 'anomaly' which is the difference between the current value of a variable and its long term mean.  For average temperature I have calculated two values of the monthly anomaly as shown below.  For years since 2013 I have the actual data available whereas for 2010-12 I only have the estimated mean data.
While the actual values of the anomaly differ somewhat - and for a couple of months have a different sign - the overall pattern is very similar: April was a bugger of a month!

In looking at the daily average temperatures I noticed a rather low value (0.5oC, on 22 July, as the outcome of a day ranging from -5.3oC to +8.8oC.  This is the 5th lowest exact mean temperature I have recorded.  This led me to wonder about low mean temperatures for each month.  I arbitrarily defined a low mean temperature as 4oC or less.  Means this low have been recorded, from 2014-18 in 6 months (albeit only once each in September and October)  The number of occurrences by year is shown below.
July 2018 is right on the average following June 2018 which was slightly below average.

Humidity

The levels of humidity recorded in July were quite low.  Which is of course quite consistent with appallingly low rainfall.  A bit below last year (al;so dry) and a lot below the average.
The dryness is especially obvious when the values for 0900hrs are checked.   I'd normally expect them to be above 80% at this time of year rather than below 70%!

Wind

The month was quite windy, as I'm sure everyone noticed.  My station is relatively sheltered from the wind so the speeds here are well understated, but it does give an idea of relative windiness.