January 07, 2017

Defeating Putin is the Best Revenge

No matter whether Russian hacking was one of the decisive factors in the endgame of a close election, the best thing to do about Vladimir Putin is to defeat him. He has been successful in what I suspect was his original aim when everyone “knew” HRC was going to win: he has damaged faith in our electoral process. He is also providing an excuse to ignore what is wrong in America for those who don’t like the election results and don’t want to look at why the election was so close in the first place or why Trump was nominated or why Bernie Sanders almost was.

These are not the worst of Putin’s sins by far. There is the annexation of Crimea, the unspeakable horror of Syria to which he is a major contributor, the murder of political opponents at home and abroad, and kleptocracy on an unimaginable scale – and that’s just the stuff we know about. Like a tornado sucking in dirt, his strength is sucking in support from sizable minorities (I hope) in allied countries. Wavering leaders, scared by American weakness, are flocking to placate him. A recent poll even showed that support for Putin among American Republicans has increased.

Trump’s twitter assertion that we’ll solve the world’s problems together is absurd. It’s as dumb as Obama and Clinton’s reset button, George Bush seeing something good in Putin’s eyes, or hapless John Kerry “negotiating” a series of truces in Syria, which lasted exactly as long as Russia wanted them to tactically.

So how do we beat Putin? Hint: it’s not by threatening him with “consequences”; it’s not be telling him to “cut it out”; President Obama tried these already. Even sanctions, some of which have teeth, have not been effective. Putin respects nothing but strength; Putin won’t respond to anything but force. Strength now, literally, can avoid war later.

We need to crash the Russian economy. That’s what happened with Reagan’s then unpopular deployment of missiles to Europe. Russia and its unhappy satellites couldn’t afford the ensuing arms race. The satellites broke free; the wall came down; and there was glasnost, for a while, in mother Russia.

Fortunately, we have an easy and peaceful way to defang Putin: flood the world with American oil and natural gas. At above $50/barrel for oil Russia can probably squeak by; that’s why they agreed to a production cut with OPEC. If we step into that breech by quickly permitting LNG and oil export terminals, allowing pipelines to be built from our incredibly productive oil and gas fields to the sea, and getting rid of the ridiculous restrictions on exports designed to subsidize domestic refiners, there is no way that Russia will be able to earn enough oil revenue to keep its economy afloat.

I’m not suggesting we put public money into pipelines and export terminals; if we just issue permits expeditiously and do not allow vandals to interfere with construction, private funding for these infrastructure projects is a much better bet than getting Mexico to pay for a wall. The drillers are already starting to take their rigs out of mothballs even with the incentive of $50 oil and despite inadequate takeaway capacity.

Yes, there’ll be collateral damage: Saudi Arabia, what’s left of the tyrannical regime in Venezuela, and the market for ISIS-controlled oil. But our allies’ backbones will be strengthened knowing there is cheap American gas and oil available to protect them from Russian energy blackmail via Gazprom. Arab oil embargos are already a non-weapon because it’s so clear that American energy can flow into the breach.

The second part of the anti-Putin campaign is a quick buildup of American military strength. We need to deploy well-armed troops to the Baltics and along the Russian frontier. We should be willing to arm those who, like the Ukrainians, are willing to fight against Russia. This will NOT lead to an arm’s race as long as we deploy the energy-supply weapon at the same time. Russia won’t be able to pay for it.

A collapsing Russian economy and clear military inferiority will affect Russian “elections”, and hopefully will lead to regime change. Putin, if still alive after a change of power, can blame the US.

If we unleash our energy weapon and rebuild our military as only we can, it won’t matter whether the President calls Putin a thug or a genius; he’ll be washed up. May be better to let him save as much face as possible, as long as we’re winning.

The good news is that Trump is for both increasing our energy production and military strength. Will those who are decrying Russian attempts to influence our election support taking effective steps against Putin? Will Trump be able to channel their anti-Putin outrage to gain their support for a strong counter-attack? Does he want to? It’s a stretch on both sides of the cultural gulf.

January 06, 2017

PayPal Phone Phish – Be Careful

The caller ID said “PayPal” so I picked up the phone. A dulcet woman’s voice said: “Hello, this is PayPal automated phone confirmation system. Please enter your PayPal confirmation pin.” I hung up so fast that I dropped the phone.

This wasn’t especially tempting because I knew I hadn’t paid for anything recently on PayPal and didn’t think Mary did. But whoever is doing this is making thousands and thousands of robot call and so, statistically, they will catch some people who have just ordered on PayPal and will assume the call is legit. If I had just used PayPal, I might’ve been tempted; my broker calls to confirm wire transfers, for example.

Important points:

  • Caller ID and calling telephone number can be spoofed as easily as the sender’s email address on a phishing email. You cannot assume you know who is calling you.
  • Don’t be fooled by the fact that the call comes just after you’ve used a service. That is an amazing coincidence for you, but it’s also a statistical certainty that it will happen to someone if enough robo-calls are placed.
  • The only way you know whom you are talking to is if you place a call to a known number. If you get a call like this and think it might be legit, LOOK UP the number of the supposed caller and call back; it’s not safe to use a callback number in a voice mail.
  • Always insist that the person asking you for a confirmation give you the specifics of the transaction they’re confirming even if you called them. The call I got was from a robot so I couldn’t have gotten any information even if I hadn’t hung up
  • Don’t give information to robots that call you.

For information on phishing attacks by email, see Don't be Phished by Russians - or Anyone Else

January 05, 2017

Natural Gas and “Fugitive Emissions”

Why are people who are passionate about saving us from the perils of global warming often found in opposition to natural gas drilling and pipelines?

If you’re worried about global warming and think we need to do something quickly, you should love natural gas. It emits 50% less CO2 per BTU of energy created than coal, 26% less than oil. An economically-driven switch from coal to natural gas for electricity generation made the US in 2012 the only nation in the world to meet the emission reduction targets set for it in the Kyoto Protocol even though the Protocol was never ratified here. Moreover, natural gas is a necessary complement to renewable sources since it can be switched on quickly when the sun doesn’t shine and/or the wind doesn’t blow. Natural gas burning doesn’t release harmful SO2 and virtually eliminates ash and other particulates.

At the opposite extreme, if your concerns are mainly economic, Americans have saved a fortune by substituting natural gas for coal and oil in transportation, industry, and power generation. Cheap energy is leading to a comeback in American manufacturing.

There are three “environmental” arguments against use of natural gas.

  1. It’s a fossil fuel and it does emit CO2. Both parts of that statement are true. However, most of those coal plants would still be running and emitting twice as much CO2 per megawatt if it weren’t for natural gas (not to mention that electricity users are actually saving money from this switch). Making the perfect the enemy of the good never makes much sense.
  2. Fracking poses grave dangers to ground water. “Fracking” is a terrible name from a marketing PoV; it’s an unfortunate shorthand probably chosen by an engineer for hydraulic fracturing, which, together with the twin technology of horizontal drilling, has led to a cheap and abundant supply of natural gas in the US. However, this argument is largely a slander. I wrote a post about that here and will update it.
  3. Methane (the active ingredient of natural gas) is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 and huge dangerous quantities are released as consequence of natural gas use. The first part of this statement is true but the second isn’t. That’s what today’s post is about.


The Union of Concerned Scientists says that, if 9% of natural gas extracted escaped into the atmosphere, the net greenhouse effect of using natural gas would be the same as coal. They cite a range of estimates for natural gas leakage between 1% and 9%; so at the high end of the range, there'd be no CO2 emission decrease. However, even in their citations, I can’t find any support for the 9% number. Argonne National Laboratory gives a range of current estimates between 1.13 and 1.55%.

Union of Concerned Scientists also says:

“The good news is that proven, cost-effective technologies are available to significantly reduce fugitive methane emissions.

“Aging, leaky pipelines can be upgraded or replaced. Drilling site emissions can be better monitored, and effective use of available technologies can minimize the amount of fugitive methane that escapes.”

The Environmental Defense Fund agrees: “Oil and gas methane pollution is an urgent problem with a clear, low-cost fix.”

But how “urgent” is the problem? How much harm are fugitive emissions doing? Could much more natural gas be escaping as a byproduct of natural gas drilling and distribution than is commonly believed?

Here’s data from the United Nations sponsored IPCC report on the dangers of global warming. The chart below is from Chapter 6. It shows annual increases and decreases in the atmospheric concentration of methane.


Note that since wide-spread fracking for natural gas in the US began in 2008 and through the period of increased natural gas use worldwide after that, the rate of increase in atmospheric methane has actually declined. This isn’t what you’d expect if gas drilling and use were releasing significant new amounts of methane.

One reason there isn’t any correlation between natural gas drilling and use and atmospheric methane is that fossil fuel use as a whole (including methane emissions from oil drilling, pipeline leaks, etc.) is that, again according to the IPCC, fossil fuel use accounts for less than one-sixth of methane emissions, much less than the roughly one-third which comes from agriculture and half that comes from natural sources like swamps.

Again according to the study: “The growth rate of CH4 [methane] has declined since the mid-1980s, and a near zero growth rate (quasi-stable concentrations) was observed during 1999-2006, suggesting an approach to steady state where the sum of emissions are [sic] in balance with the sum of sinks…”.

The most important point in all this is that, unlike CO2, the amount of methane in the atmosphere isn’t going up. Also, unlike CO2, methane naturally decomposes over time. We don’t have a methane problem.

Bottom line: the environmental as well as economic benefits of using America’s abundant supply of natural gas have been and continue to be much, much greater than any harm from fugitive emissions.  The industry has been, can, and should be reducing fugitive emissions. No excuse for not doing that. Building new pipelines is critical both to expanding the availability of natural gas and eliminating leakage from old pipes. More drilling for natural gas (responsibly, of course) is a pathway both to a better environment and a better economy.

Please note that I am not disinterested when it comes to natural gas. I founded a company which trucks natural gas to large users beyond the reach of pipelines and still have a financial interest in its success. I’m proud that it has both saved businesses by reducing their energy costs and vastly reduced emissions. Still, you have to watch my objectivity on this. The business is helped by low natural gas prices, hurt by low oil prices, would be helped by a tax on carbon dioxide (which I’m not advocating), and is not needed where pipelines do get built.

Other posts in the climate change series:

“Dissent is not a crime” – Except to the New York Times

Believers and Deniers Combating Climate Change (the nuclear option)

Past Climate Change - The Pictures

Natural Gas vs, Climate Change

Solar and Wind Need Natural Gas

January 04, 2017

Trump Draws Red Line in North Korea


President-elect Trump just drew his first foreign policy red line with his tweet promising that development of a North Korean nuclear weapon capable of reaching the US “won’t happen!”. It is likely this line will be tested. How he responds will set the tone for his presidency, just as the firing of striking air traffic controllers did for Ronald Reagan. In fact the risks are much higher than they were for Reagan; the air traffic controllers were not armed with nukes.

Unlike many of Trump’s tweets, this one actually is in line with existing US policy. Despite this policy our actions towards North Korea were a bipartisan fiasco of appeasement and bribes during both the Clinton and Bush administration. President Obama has avoided getting caught in window-dressing negotiation with North Korea but he certainly hasn’t slowed their progress on development of either nuclear weapons or the means to deliver them. US red lines don’t have much credibility since Assad went unpunished for using chemical weapons on his own people (and everything he’s done since). According to the administration itself, Russia didn’t stop hacking after Obama told them to “cut it out” and that there would be “consequences”. It’s likely that Putin was more confident that he could get away with annexing Crimea than if he hadn’t had a chance to see us retreat from Obama’s red line in Syria.

It is obviously much, much better never to draw a red line than to draw it and then retreat from it. Obama didn’t have to say what he did about Syria. Trump didn’t have to tweet what he tweeted about North Korea. On the other hand, although we could stand aside in Syria, we really can’t let the mad man Kim Jung-un do what he threatens: “…tip new-type intercontinental ballistic rockets with more powerful nuclear warheads and keep any cesspool of evils in the Earth, including the U.S. mainland, within our striking range.” We will need to deal with this threat sooner rather than later; Trump would have been tested whether he tweeted or not.

Setting the red line and then enforcing it will give Trump credibility he can later use to stop other bad actors, perhaps just with words. What Trump does about North Korea will have much more effect on Putin’s behavior than whether he calls him a thug or a genius. Perhaps the most important audience for this red line exercise is Iran; will we or won't we hold them to the letter and spirit of the deal Obama made with them? Of course demonstrating that our word is reliable will also be a great relief to our allies.

But I don’t think words will stop Kim Jung-un and I hope Donald Trump doesn’t either.

January 03, 2017

How the Fed and Dodd-Frank Killed Jobs

Every economist worth her or his salt has a theory about why the great recession was followed by a nearly jobless recovery. Historically, lots of jobs are created in a surge when the economy is recovering; didn’t happen this time; many people left the work force and never came back.

I’m not an economist but I like mysteries and I think I know who done it: it was a toxic combination of unintended consequences of the Federal Reserve’s low interest rate program, which is still going on, and the Dodd-Frank bank regulation bill, which may be targeted for elimination or serious modification by the new gang coming to town.

What the Fed Did

It is normal Federal Reserve behavior to shovel out cheap money when times are tough in order to jumpstart the economy. The idea is that the availability of capital will lead to business expansion and a rising tide will lift all ships. The Fed shoveled out the money; the stock market recovered (aka the rich got richer); various interesting bubbles have developed; but the job market didn’t recover as measured either by percentage of the labor force employed or rising wages. Oh, BTW, some people seem to be rather pissed off about this; but let’s stay away from politics. Point is that the economy strengthened but didn’t create the usual surge in demand for workers. We might well have lost jobs overall if the invention of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing hadn’t led to a boom and only partial bust in energy and associated industries. That’s why we’re better off than Europe, IMO.

What happened? Where are the jobs?

Well, suppose you run a factory and you see the economy getting better and the demand for your widgets growing. You want to increase production. You have a choice to make: hire an additional shift or buy a new machine. Ordinarily, in the cautious beginning of a recovery, you might go with the people; you can always lay them off if things change and you’re going to be stuck with the payments on the machine. But these aren’t ordinary times; interest rates are near zero; the payments on the machine won’t be that bad. Energy costs to run the machine are going down, not up. And there are some really nifty new smart machines out there. In fact, as you shop around, you realize that if you replace some of your existing equipment as well, maybe you can actually reduce staff and still increase production (you’re a hard-headed, hard-hearted business person). Your banker really wants to “give” you the cheap money the Fed crammed into the bank’s vault. You go with the machine; GNP and your profits go up; employment and wages aren’t helped.

Classic economists will object that, even if you buy the machine, someone has to make it and that’s jobs. But these aren’t classic times. New “machines” have a large software component. It takes programmers to write the software. But it takes the same number of programmers to create the program whether you sell one copy or a million (I used to be in that business). Moreover, for the hardware, maybe the machine maker also just orders a new machine rather than increasing staff.

What Dodd-Frank Did

But new businesses always create new jobs. That’s still true. The availability of cheap capital should have led to new businesses and new jobs. That’s where the unindicted co-conspirator Dodd-Frank comes in. The bill actually had a reasonable premise: if the public is going to bail banks out (as we unwisely did), then we have not only a right but a responsibility to regulate them so they don’t need bailouts. Trouble is that the new rules effectively said that banks could only lend the flood of cheap money they were being force-fed by the Fed to very, very well established businesses; that doesn’t include startups even if the founders have great records and the collateral is rock solid.

This was a double whammy if you’re a startup (I was one but am not bitter; we got funded but not by a bank). The old established guys that you could easily knock off by being more innovative and aggressive get free money and you don’t get any at all. Access to capital, as all us capitalists know, is essential to business growth and formation.

So, to sum it all up: the Fed, through the banks, makes almost free money available to old established businesses who use it to increase production without hiring more people. When this doesn’t create jobs, the Fed makes even more cheap money available. Profits go up (it’s nice to have free money), but wages and employment don’t. Dodd-Frank assures that even less money at even higher rates than normal is available to the small businesses and startups which have always accounted for the bulk of new jobs (and keep the profits of the old guys under control).

That’s how we got an almost jobless recovery. It’s almost enough to make you want to occupy Washington, DC. Or maybe that’s what’s about to happen.

More including how to undo Dodd-Frank and bank bailouts at Dodd-Frank and Me.

January 02, 2017

Solar and Wind Need Natural Gas

The current build-out of solar and wind worldwide is enabled by a parallel buildout of natural gas fired power plants. This from a recent article in The Washington Post:

“We’re at a time of deeply ambitious plans for clean energy growth…

“Only, there’s a problem: Because of the particular nature of clean energy sources like solar and wind, you can’t simply add them to the grid in large volumes and think that’s the end of the story. Rather, because these sources of electricity generation are “intermittent” — solar fluctuates with weather and the daily cycle, wind fluctuates with the wind — there has to be some means of continuing to provide electricity even when they go dark. And the more renewables you have, the bigger this problem can be.

“Now, a new study suggests that at least so far, solving that problem has ironically involved more fossil fuels — and more particularly, installing a large number of fast-ramping natural gas plants, which can fill in quickly whenever renewable generation slips.”

The abstract of the study (all that’s available free), which was published as a working paper by the National Bureau for economic research, says: “All other things equal, a 1% percent increase in the share of fast reacting fossil technologies is associated with a 0.88% percent increase in renewable generation capacity in the long term.”

Nuclear and coal plants are very slow to start and stop; they provide baseline power but can’t be used to top off the grid. Oil plants are possible as peakers but can’t spool up as fast as gas turbines and are both dirty and expensive to run even at the current cost of oil. Hydro can be turned on and off if there is the right amount of water behind the dam; but hydro is not available everywhere. Hauling electricity long distances (for example from where the wind is blowing to where it’s not) involves transmission loss and requires grid infrastructure which may or may not be where it needs to be. Large scale battery technology is still in the grant-sucking phase and involves huge amount of toxic waste from used batteries. That leaves natural gas to take up the slack. It’s the “fast reacting fossil fuel” the study is talking about.

The abstract of the study doesn’t mention it but the fact that small natural gas generating plants can be built economically means that these plants can be located near the renewable sources so that new grid capacity doesn’t have to be built to get the backup power to where it’s needed. Moreover, a distributed grid with power usually generated and consumed in the same locations is much more resistant to either natural catastrophes or sabotage including hacker attacks (subject for a future post).

So the economics of renewables depends heavily on the price and availability of natural gas. See Natural Gas vs. Climate Change for steps I think we should be taking now to assure we have natural gas when and where we need it at a good price as well as for the objections to use of natural gas and my conflict of interest in recommending it.

If you believe that we are on the cusp of a climate meltdown, you should support abundant natural gas both because it emits 50% less CO2 per kilowatt of electricity generated than coal AND because it is an essential part of reliable electricity in a grid which also uses renewable sources. Even if you are just interested in cheap and reliable electricity, the combination of well-sited renewables and cheap, clean natural gas makes sense.

Other posts in the climate change series:

“Dissent is not a crime” – Except to the New York Times

Believers and Deniers

Combating Climate Change (the nuclear option)

Natural Gas vs Climate Change

Past Climate Change – The Pictures

Natural Gas and Fugitive Emissions

January 01, 2017

Administration Leaks Inaccurate Report of US Electric Grid Hack

Friday night The Washington Post (WaPo) ran a front page story saying that, “according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity”, Russian hackers had penetrated the US electrical grid at a then unnamed utility in Vermont. Other major news organizations, to their credit, did NOT pick up this story. Turns out that WaPo made a very bad choice in running it.

If you now look at the story, there’s a banner above it saying:

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.”

But there’s no front page story in today’s WaPo explaining how administration sources used the paper to spread inaccurate, scary information – quite possibly as part of the unseemly tit-for-tat between Trump and Obama over Putin (which Putin is winning so far).

Here’s part of the statement from the utility, which turns out to be Burlington Electric and which appears to have acted quickly, effectively, and responsibly:

“There is no indication that either our electric grid or customer information has been compromised. Media reports stating that Burlington Electric was hacked or that the electric grid was breached are false…

“Federal officials have indicated that this specific type of Internet traffic also has been observed elsewhere in the country and is not unique to Burlington Electric. It’s unfortunate that an official or officials improperly shared inaccurate information with one media outlet, leading to multiple inaccurate reports around the country.”

What did happen is that malware called Grizzly Steppe was found by the utility on a worker’s laptop which was NOT connected to either the electric grid control computers or customer information. This is serious but nothing like penetrating the grid. American businesses routinely find malware and viruses on their computers and detect phishing attacks.

[Update 1/5/2017 The story gets stranger and stranger. WaPo has now walked back from even the claims that Grizzly Steppe was found on the computer or that there was necessarily any Russian involvement. According to a story in VTDigger "The Post said it received bad information from anonymous authorities who leaked to them 'without having all the facts and before law enforcement officials were able to investigate further.'" Essentially the sources used WaPo to yell "fire" in a crowded theater.]

Here are some questions which WaPo and other media ought to be asking:

  1. Why did the administration leak inaccurate information?
  2. If there is a real threat which the nation needs to know about, what’s the correct way to make that information public? (hint: the answer is not an anonymous leak)
  3. Since the FBI and DHS knew about Grizzly Steppe ever since they investigated the hack of the Democratic National Committee way back when, why did they wait to alert Burlington Electric and other utilities until last Thursday? (technical note: each piece of malware effectively has a digital signature – the code itself. Virus scanning programs look for this pattern on computers to detect the virus.)
  4. Why didn’t law enforcement make the digital signature of Grizzly Steppe available to the commercial antivirus firms? If they had, almost very business computer in the country if not the world would have been cleansed. Have they done that now?
  5. Why do we want to let the hackers know where they have been effective? There is a cyberwar and this is battlefield intelligence.

I have no fondness for Putin, no illusions about his intentions. I’m among those who think Russia should have been sanctioned sooner rather than later and that President Obama should’ve done more than say “cut it out” and threaten his usual “consequences”. I’m very nervous about Trump’s seeming fondness for the Russian leader.

But acts speak much louder than words. This leak by the administration was petty and probably partisan. It damages rather than helps our side. WaPo should not have been complicit in this; should’ve insisted on attribution or fact checking. The New York Times was wise not to pick up the unsourced story.

But now the questions above need to be answered.

December 30, 2016

Don't be Phished by Russians - or Anyone Else

The Washington Post has a front page story headlined "Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, officials say". The story, which is attributed to anonymous administration sources, says: "According to the report by the FBI and DHS, the hackers involved in the Russian operation used fraudulent emails that tricked their recipients into revealing passwords." It's been widely reported that the same technique was used to get into the email account of Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta.

[Update: later versions of the story say that the evidence of hacker intrusion was found by the utility on a laptop which was NOT  connected to the grid.]

Most of us aren't targeted by foreign spy agencies, but all of us who go online are targeted by those who want our passwords for plain old theft and fraud. The Russian hackers are probably very clever; but phishing is an old (and unfortunately very easy to implement) way to get passwords. Fortunately it's easy to avoid being phished. I wrote the post below more than ten years ago. Phishing hasn't changed much since then ; so, if you're not up-to-date on how to avoid being caught on a phishhook, please read on.


Phishing is a nasty way of stealing your account IDs and passwords. This post is about how NOT to be a phish and contains some secrets about how you can be fooled on the Internet. The email below is an actual illustration of phishing email Mary received.


Note that the email claims to have com from PayPal and shows a return address of service@paypay.com. Secret #1: Anyone can put any return address he wants on email. Return address is absolutely NOT an indication of where email came from. This one DIDN’T come from PayPal.

Note the link that says Click here to verify your account and the other link which says https://www.paypal.com/us. If you clicked on either one of those, they would take you to a site which pretends to be PayPal. It ISN’T. “But surely,” you say, “I can see where the second link is taking me. It does go to PayPal.” Secret #2: What is visible in a link and where it actually goes DO NOT have to have any relationship to each other. In fact, in the actual email (but not in this post) both of these links would take you to a bogus site whose address is I haven’t gone there. I suggest you not go there either.

This site will look like PayPay. It will ask for your ID and Password. It may even ask for some other personal information. Now someone else knows how to get into your PayPal account. You’re a phish.

Just to show you how easy this scam is, if you click on https://www.paypal.com/us or the other link in this post, they will take you to site of my book hackoff.com, not PayPal. But I don’t think I’ll resort to phishing for readers.

Once you know these two secrets, it’s easy not to get caught on a phish hook.

You already know that you can’t trust either the from address or any link to be what they appear to be. You can see what a link actually goes in Outlook email by hovering your mouse over it without clicking it but that’s not the way to handle security. The simple rule is this: Never, Never click on a link in an email to go to any site where you will be asked for your name and password. Never. Don’t do it.

So suppose you get a letter like this and think it may be real, what do you do? First of all, be skeptical. Organizations like PayPal know about phishing so they don’t ask people to click on a link to get to the signin page. But some other vendor might be really dumb.

If you think the email may be real and you do want to get to your account, simply type the login URL – in this case “www.paypal.com” – into the address bar of your browser. Then you know you are going where you think you’re going. DO NOT click on a link in email to get to a signin page. DO NOT copy the link from the email and paste it into your browser; even if it appears to read right, it may have a tiny difference that gets you where you don’t want to go. Type the URL into your browser or use favorites that you have set up in your browser to get there.

That’s all you need to do to safe from phishing.

One note: suppose a friend sends you an email with a link to an interesting website. Should you go there? Well, you won’t get phished if you don’t supply any account number or password. But you also can’t be sure the email is really from your friend unless there is a personal note with content no one else would write. And some websites can be dangerous even if they don’t have phish hooks. Be careful following links.

Salt of the Earth

Pure impurities

Apparently the "purest salt in the world" is distinguished by its "varying" impurities.

December 29, 2016

Past Climate Change – the Pictures

In order to understand the significance (or lack thereof) of the effect we are having on the climate, it is helpful to look at pictures of climate past. Not surprisingly perspective makes a big difference in the story the pictures tell. And past performance is no guarantee of future results. I don’t think that the pictures below prove either way the effect of anthropogenic activity on climate; but they’ve all been entered as evidence into the debate. And there is a debate whether people on either side of the argument find that comfortable or not.

The graphs below are from the latest UN-sponsored IPCC study. The one immediately below clearly shows temperatures rising since 1850. There’s some debate about the methodology but the shape of this graph is generally accepted. Since the temperature increase dates from the beginning of the industrial age and the warming apparently accelerates as greenhouse gasses accumulate in the atmosphere (picture below this), it is used as strong evidence of cause and effect and projected into the future (which I’ll write about later).



For the next graph we widen our perspective to warming and cooling over the last two thousand years. Here we see that global temperature seems to oscillate and that it was really cold about 1700 and very warm around 900. We are now recovering from what is called the “Little Ice Age”. The green line, about which there is some debate, does show a noticeable spike now above any previous peak. This spike is often cited as evidence of anthropogenic warming.


But when scientists look at data they also look at the likely accuracy of the measurement. The graph below shows the same data as the graph above but shaded to show what range of possible actual temperatures the graphed line represents. All measurements are subject to some error and estimates from before anyone was directly measuring temperature even more so. It is highly likely that the pre-measurement data obscures any short-term peaks (but that doesn’t prove there were any). The graph below shows that, within the range of likely error, the current peak – even the disputed peak at the end – may not be a onetime event.


Now let’s look back 4500 years. It was much warmer than now about 100BC. There were certainly humans then and they had fire but they weren’t making any significant change to the atmosphere. The scientists who made this chart say: “We, Cliff Harris and Randy Mann, believe that the warming and even the cooling of global temperatures are the result of long-term climatic cycles, solar activity, sea-surface temperature patterns and more. However, Mankind’s activities of the burning of fossil fuels, massive deforestations, the replacing of grassy surfaces with asphalt and concrete, the ‘Urban Heat Island Effect,’ are making conditions worse and this will ultimately enhance the Earth’s warming process down the meteorological roadway in the next several decades.” After that they predict natural causes will take over again.


Finally if we look back to before there was life on earth, we see that temperature oscillations are the norm. The huge drop in CO2 (purple line) at the beginning is because of the emergence of photosynthesizing plants. In the couple of million years since our ancestors evolved from the primate pool, temperatures have been relatively stable at the low end of the historic range. But “relative” covers a lot of ground. 20,000 years ago Vermont was covered by a mile of ice and migration to North America was by land across the Bering Strait. Lots of warming and lots of rising seas since then.


So what should we make of all this “evidence”?

  • We urgently need to better understand the causes of past climate change. No reason to think those same causes aren’t still at work. Could show, for example, that we’re in for extreme warming even with drastic reduction in the emission of greenhouse gasses. I hope government-funded research in the new administration will be on natural as well as anthropogenic causes. I don’t hope the research will stop; we do need to understand this.
  • Looking at the last 160 years by itself can be misleading (doesn’t mean it leads to the wrong conclusion, though).
  • Climate change is apparently chaotic; its graph a fractal. Small inputs can have huge effects and vice versa. Remember the butterfly wing in China that can cause a hurricane in the Florida. From a mathematical point of view, this means the linear extrapolations of the effects of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the UN report are suspect (but more on that later).

Other posts in the climate change series:

“Dissent is not a crime” – Except to the New York Times

Believers and Deniers

Combating Climate Change (the nuclear option)

Natural Gas vs Climate Change

Solar and Wind Need Natural Gas

Natural Gas and Fugitive Emissions

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