Friday, July 07, 2017

Bishop's Castle Tandem Triathlon

We were aware of this annual event many years ago before we went to Japan. However, back then I didn't run and jules was not that regular a swimmer, so we never got round to entering it. The last couple of years since returning from Japan it has clashed with our local club triathlon so it was only this year that we finally got round to doing it for the first time. It's a very informal event and the format is slightly non-standard in that the pool swim (1km), tandem ride (32km), run (10kmish) is followed by a final 5km tandem ride back to the event centre as the (trail) run is situated in a hilly forest some way out of town.

We drove down to Bishop's Castle the day before, not having worked out that this meant “enjoying” Friday evening rush hour on the M6...though it didn't turn out too bad as it happened. My Airbnb arrangement was a comedy of errors due to various communication problems and minor misunderstandings but it all turned out very well in the end and we found a decent pub dinner for pre-event calorie-loading - the traditional high-fat high-beer version as pioneered by yours truly for previous marathons (e.g. 1, 2). The airbnb had a little kitchen so we made quite a success of breakfast too. Theresa May take note!

Our start time was 10:52 which gave plenty of time to digest the bacon, black pudding, potato scone, egg, tomato, beans, mushroom, cereal, croissant, banana, yoghurt (albeit not all on the same plate). Oh, and we also managed a good look at the chaos taking place in the pool before jules had to jump in and join it. There were 4 lanes each with about 3 swimmers splashing up and down who had been theoretically laned according to their predicted swim times, but it seems they were mostly lying or, perhaps we may charitably say, mistaken as to their prowess. Jules ended up overtaking her breaststroking lanees multiple times but if anything this seemed to spur her on to a sub-19 min time, comfortably ahead of expectations. Then she made a quick switch of googles for specs and on the with the shoes and helmet and off we were on the bike.

The bike leg was great, it was fun to go properly fast again on a fairly flat course on A and B roads. There were plenty of tandems ahead of us to chase down around the course and one quite steep hill that we had to do twice (the route being a lap and a bit). Up the hill for the second time and I had to jump off and head into the forest for a moderately hilly run. That was really hard under what was by then a very hot mid-day sun. Even trees don't provide much shade when the sun is vertically overhead! There were times that I seriously considered stopping/walking/lying down in a ditch but fortunately water bottles handed out on course stopped me from expiring. I didn't even get a rest while changing shoes as due to the double transition I'd decided to just ride in running shoes and old-fashioned toe clips (which worked out fine, it didn't really handicap us on the bike). Back on the bike and downhill to the finish was a bit of a blur and then we forced down some food and drink before watching the later teams come in.


Perhaps "lying down in the sun while people ride past" would be more precise!

(top two pics from Sandy Plenty, bottom one by jules)

Chip timing and a live-updated web page (apparently for the first time this year) meant we could immediately see how well we had done and who of the remaining competitors was likely to be close...initially we were the first mixed team and 2nd overall....and then one more male team came in ahead...but all the mixed teams were a bit slower! Making us the national mixed tandem triathlon champions for 2017. Possibly world mixed tandem triathlon champions too, as this may be the only event of its type in the world. And we were first vet (over 40) team of any gender too. Jules has been basking in her multiple QOMs on strava, even though I somehow still managed to complete the first lap some 8 seconds faster than she did :-)

To be fair, all the fastest women are on tandems, this is clearly a route that only tandemmers race round (it's not an official RTTC course). So we don't feel too guilty about the ranking. We're hoping to return to defend our title...

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Verdict

I'm probably supposed to be doing some climate science, but that's not been top priority recently (might be different if someone was paying me to do it). Actually there is some slow progress and there will probably be something to report eventually. But it's all gone a bit boring in advance of the next CMIP experiments and IPCC report.

So, this is more politics. After the arbitration, the verdict. Not mine, but the country's. Don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger. I greatly enjoyed Thursday night, starting with the exit poll that no-one really believed until the results came in more or less confirming it. The local constituency went as expected, though at least the Green candidate saved his deposit with one of the best results they obtained around the country. The adjacent LibDem fared little better. The surprises were elsewhere.

To be fair, May did warn us that if she didn't get a majority we'd face a coalition of chaos propped up with terrorist sympathisers. The only point she forgot to mention was that she'd be leading it. It seems pretty much an ideal situation, a humiliated and ineffectual Tory govt limping on for a few months until the inevitable failure of the brexit process finally puts them out of their misery. Their eagerness to jump into bed with stone age bigots really does tell us (anyone who was still wondering) what sort of people they are, and is especially poignant after having been dealt such a spanking by an increased progressive vote from the 18-24 age group. That's one way to not learn a lesson.

Most people on the mainland are pretty uninterested in NI politics, myself included, but when they start to realise quite how unpleasant the DUP are, there may be significant opposition to any alliance. It's not just a matter of being effectively the political wing of the UDA and UVF. They are also reactionary creationist homophobic climate change deniers. In fact they are so toxic that the Scottish Tories have already threatened to break away if the DUP are allowed to influence Govt policy. And if they are not, then what exactly is the nature of their alliance? It will hardly reduce tensions in NI either, where the power-sharing structures are currently struggling to survive due to an ongoing scandal that the DUP are up to their necks in. If the UK govt so blatantly allies itself to one side and re-imposes direct rule there's likely to be unrest to put it mildly. May is of course completely tone deaf to any and all concerns, as her “carry on regardless” approach shows, though she won't be able to escape from reality indefinitely. We've already seen that she can't even reshuffle her ministers.

I'm not sure that a Labour govt would have been preferable really, since then they'd have had to carry the can for brexit and the Tories would then have been able to argue that they would have made more of a success of things. Of course they cannot, the unspoken truth which has poisoned the whole political process over the last couple of years is that brexit cannot possibly succeed. It is the Kobayashi Maru of modern politics: a test that has no positive outcome, the only way to win is not to play:

“The objective of the test is not for the cadet to outfight or outplan the opponent but rather to force the cadet into a no-win situation and simply observe how he or she reacts.”

The Leave campaign was allowed to get away with saying different (and contradictory) things to different people but as soon as anyone tries to put together a coherent strategy, it is obvious that there's no good outcome. The DUP has a particularly brilliant strategy of simultaneously demanding both no special deal for NI and no hard border with the Republic. Easy to say in a manifesto, not so easy to work out what it actually means in concrete terms. So far, no-one has exactly covered themselves in glory over brexit plans - perhaps the LibDems and Greens are the closest to having a rational response - but we must remember it was the Tories, and those who voted for brexit, who created this situation. They broke it, they own it.

The desperate scramble to put together this Maydup Coalition in time for the brexit negotiations is the icing on the cake: the timing of the election is entirely the responsibility of the Tories who forced through the invocation of Article 50 immediately before calling it. They can't even replace May, there's no way they can afford the time for a leadership election now and any new leader would face the inevitable (and accurate) criticism that they had no mandate for their views. With their election campaign having been so focussed on May as the “strong and stable” leader, they seem to be stuck with her for the time being at least. Though it's obvious enough that the plots are well underway, it is only a matter of choosing the first available moment to plunge the knife.

In another installation of “what has the EU done for us” (and returning briefly to science again), they are pushing hard for all research outputs to be open access by 2020. Hooray, we (supposedly) won't be EU members by then so can hide our research behind paywalls. 

Monday, June 05, 2017


My reader is probably waiting with bated breath for my views on the forthcoming election. In the blue corner, Teresa “strong and stable” May (or should that be “u-turn when you want to”). In the red, Jeremy “don't mention the brother” Corbyn. In the ignored corner, Nutter and Failing and a few others.

Of course, it's all about brexit, so there hasn't been any sort of meaningful debate about this. Both tories and labour are rushing headlong for the most catastrophic outcome they can possibly engineer, and there isn't a fag-paper of difference between them on anything substantive. Corbyn promises better employment protection and May less red tape but these are not really issues of how and why we leave the EU, rather what we do afterwards. The Labour vision may be marginally more attractive but that's basically a question of what colour deck-chairs you prefer on the “Titanic Success”.

It's important to realise, there is no such thing as  a “good brexit”. The only reasonable brexit would be something functionally indistinguishable from the status quo, which both sides have ruled out. The choice is between a bad brexit, a worse brexit and a catastrophic brexit, with all the smart money on the latter. All competent experts have repeatedly pointed out the huge problems that brexit will bring, including but not limited to our European flights (there's no agreement for anything post 2019 and timetables will have to be designed well in advance of that), the operation of our nuclear industry (including such details as medical isotopes), the huge customs problem at Dover/Calais for which the infrastructure does not exist and simply cannot be built in time, the Northern Irish border which will likely spark off unification violence, the harm to our financial industry, the fact that we aren't even normal WTO members in our own right and negotiating that will take agreement from the other 162, the 759 separate agreements with 168 countries that need to be renegotiated in the remaining 661 days etc. The whole thing is idiotic nonsense and the failure of most of our politicians to say as much in plain terms is a gross dereliction of their duty.

In my opinion, the most likely outcome by some way remains a year or so of increasingly acrimonious negotiations or rather arguments, followed by a collapse of the process and long period of recrimination. This national humiliation will come at great cost of course, not just economically but also politically, culturally and socially, as we are already starting to see. Lots of people are starting to bleat about the entirely predictable consequences. I'm intensely relaxed about the poor farmers, since just about every field round here had a “Vote Leave” placard this time last year. They of all people should realise that they will reap what they have sown!

And all for what? Even though it was all about “taking back control”, no-one is prepared to make any promises about immigration anyway. For while the EU was always the convenient excuse for the large-scale immigration that govts of all stripes have encouraged over recent years, it was never actually anything more than that. They could have reduced immigration substantially had they wanted to, but they saw the obvious economic benefits of it and rather than arguing honestly in favour, passed the buck on to the EU. That is no longer possible, so we get vague ambitions which are quite clearly meant as nothing more than a dog-whistle to UKIP voters who are presumably thought to be too stupid to realise that there isn't a plan to actually do anything.

I've been enjoying the way the Tory campaign has been falling apart. “Strong and stable” has been laughed out of existence, it doesn't seem such a clever idea now to base the campaign on May's personality when it is obviously so brittle and unpleasant. Amusingly, the local election leaflet which eventually plopped through the letter box just a couple of days ago features May more centrally than the candidate himself, which should lose him some votes but I'm sure won't affect the result. As for the central conceit of May being the only person capable of negotiating brexit, if anyone seriously thinks she'll actually be PM on the day we leave the EU, I feel a wager coming on.

The only mainstream party with anything approaching a sane policy on brexit is the LibDems, so I'll be supporting them. Or rather, I would be, but they have agreed a local pact with the Greens in a neighbouring constituency (Harrogate and Knaresborough) that they won't stand here and the greens won't stand there. Think they've got the better of that bargain as H&K is at least a possible LibDem seat though not one of their top targets. So I'll be voting Green instead, the candidate seems to have made a very good impression locally (though we missed the local hustings, being in Hamburg at the time). The Greens have a very similar policy to the LibDems anyway and it wouldn't matter who stood here, the local “pig in a blue rosette” is guaranteed to be re-elected even though he was a staunch remainer this time last year.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

[jules' pics] Pond

Hornby Castle belongs to someone who I was at primary school with for a few years before he went to Eeeeton. I probably only remember this because his grandmother joked about having to take out a second mortgage on the castle in order to afford the uniform. Oliver won't remember me, of course, especially as he is a few years younger, but he sometimes opens his castle gardens up to visitors. Luckily, there was time to walk round most of the garden before the rain started, and just as it got going, his aunt gave a talk about the history of the castle, which was quite an achievement as she started in the 11th century and used no notes.

Hornby Castle

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 5/21/2017 05:45:00 PM

Friday, May 19, 2017

Peak performance

A few weeks ago, I took part in the annual Three Peaks Race (spring version). In contrast to the autumn version that jules and I helped to marshall, participants in the spring event do not have to carry a bicycle but may walk or jog unencumbered bar a waterproof layer and bar of chocolate. Not too much walking though, as the time cut-offs are fairly severe. A 4 week gap from Manchester Marathon was plenty of recovery time, at least that was the theory. As the date approached I realised I wasn't really that motivated to aim for an optimal performance, and just set myself the target of getting round without too much of a struggle.

The race, as you might have guessed, takes in the famous three peaks in the Yorkshire Dales, which are conveniently located just a few miles up the road from us. So I had no excuse for not knowing what I had let myself in for, and had done a couple of "2 peaks" training runs, though never yet covered the full race distance. Recent weather had been dry making for very fast and easy conditions, with few of the usual bogs. But it's still 38km and 1600m of climb and descent. 

There were several other club members entered, including one who was probably going to be a bit quicker than me. I set off steadily and as expected he gradually pulled away over the first hill, eventually disappearing out of sight. Very much to my surprise, I caught him up around half way, he had a bad day and finished rather slowly.

Jules came to support and hand me my water bottle at the pit-stops where the course crosses roads, for which I was grateful on an unusually hot day for April.  She also took a couple of photos of course:

Runners heading towards Ingleborough

What do you mean "that's not much of a peak"?

I had a reasonably successful day, finishing comfortably under 4 hours though really I think most people would hope to take less than an hour more than their marathon time, especially with such good conditions. The women's record was well broken by Victoria Wilkinson, the men's record was not after the leader managed to head off the wrong way down Pen-y-Ghent. I think one or two veteran records went too.

In honour of the event, I have composed a haiku:

Ah Pen-y-Ghent ah
Ah ah ah Whernside ah ah
Ah Ingleboraaargh...

With apologies to Basho, although interestingly it seem that one of his most famous poems was not actually written by him.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017 Ich bin ein Hamburger

We are currently at MPI Hamburg courtesy of Thorsten Mauritsen. Just here for the week but planning a longer visit later in the year. I haven’t been here before, and jules has not particularly great memories of a brief meeting elsewhere in Hamburg 20 years ago, so the city has been a pleasant surprise so far. Got here yesterday just in time for a jog to the lake and back in the Sunday afternoon sun, followed by a somewhat disappointing hamburger,  so hopefully we’ll have a chance to put that right later this week.

2017-05-07 17.04.45.jpg

First thing this morning we gave short seminars which was great timing as it now means everyone else knows who we are and what we’ve been doing. That’s something we failed to manage so well at NCAR last year. Most of the joint interest concerns the use of paleoclimate simulations to test and validate different versions of their new/forthcoming climate model.

The building is interesting though jules can’t help but wonder if disillusioned modellers are ever tempted to take the short-cut down from the 4th floor…

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Energy budget constraints on climate sensitivity in light of inconstant climate feedbacks

The recent NCC paper of that name prompted a comment. Plausible? Yes, certainly. This idea has been doing the rounds for some time, the basic idea being that the response to radiative forcing is not precisely as would be predicted from a simple energy balance model with a fixed sensitivity in which the radiative feedback depends solely on the global mean temperature anomaly, but rather one in which the pattern of warming also affects the radiative feedback. And in particular, during a warming scenario, the feedback is a bit higher (and therefore effective sensitive is a bit lower) during the transient phase than it is at the ultimate warmer equilibrium. This happens in most (almost all) climate models, it's certainly plausible that it applies to the real climate system too. It is the major weakness of the regression-based "Gregory method" for estimating the equilibrium sensitivity of models, in which extrapolation of a warming segment tends to lead to an underestimate of the equilibrium result. Here's a typical example of that from a paper by Maria Rutgenstein:

The regression line based on the first 150 years predicts an equilibrium response of 5.4C (for 4xCO2) but the warming actually continues past 6.2C (and who knows how much further it may continue). There are numerous pics of this sort of thing floating around with multiple models showing qualitatively similar results under a range of scenarios, so this is not just an artefact of the specific experiment shown here.

Kyle Armour has also done a fair amount of research looking at the way regional effects and warming patterns combine with regional feedbacks to generate this sort of behaviour (eg here). This new work tries to quantify this effect in order to more precisely interpret the observed 20th century temperature changes in terms of the equilibrium response. For some reason I can't get through the paywall right now to check the details but in principle it seems entirely reasonable.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

[jules' pics] The morning after the night before

If you let them keep your contact details then, as well as sending you news on their latest fundraising scheme, your Oxbridge college will invite you back for din dins every decade or so. These days it isn't entirely free, but still a good deal considering the liver damage they try to cause you. Maybe the college is hoping the experience will make us all feel more mortal and rush home and make generous legacies in our wills. Although I matriculated at two Oxbridge colleges, I've managed to miss all these college din dins, due to being in foreign, and so last night's was my first. I only really went because I hadn't been to one before, but it exceeded expectation. Twenty five years on and it was very interesting to find out about the paths people had taken. Everyone I spoke to seems to be making good use of their talents, although ... how can a country need that many corporate lawyers? 

The dinner was dark and drunk so no decent pics, and we start this morning after the night before with breakfast at Corpus. The real sign that quarter of a century has passed is that several of the dead people on the walls are people we knew in life!

Then off for a little walk to try and sober up some more.
On the first corner is Corpus's special toy, Clocky McClock Face
King's Parade is just next door to Corpus.

Here's King's Chapel

Then to the river where the early punter catches the tourists

Later in the day, people were lazing in the warmth 

And the blossom were in full bloom

But back home, James was left holding the baby...

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 4/09/2017 09:27:00 PM

Monday, April 03, 2017


Marathon time has come round again. Jules and I decided against a trip to the EGU this year, having just recently gone to the AGU instead. So instead of Vienna Marathon, it was back to Manchester, who had kindly offered an extra discount to make up for the disasters of last year (which didn't actually affect us much as it happened). Due to a clash with some men kicking a pig's bladder around a muddy field, all hotels were getting booked up and expensive quite early on, but I still found a room for a tolerable price, this time at the Horrible Inn Media City, which actually failed to live up to its name by being rather comfortable and coping well with an influx of runners (surely not their usual clientele).

We suddenly realised as the event approached that it didn't really make much sense for jules to waste a weekend and come too, we'd already done The Lowry and it's not that exciting to stand around for 3 hours watching hordes of unknown joggers in Manchester suburbs for the second time. So when I realised that William was also doing it I suggested sharing the room with him, which actually worked out very well as we had a good chat over dinner about the dismal state of climate science while setting up the highly scientific pasta v meat experiment (meat proved to be the winner):

We had a relaxed approach to race day: a decent lie-in, getting up for a leisurely breakfast before strolling the mile down the quayside to the start just in time to hop into the runners' pens. Bumped into Settle Harriers club-mate Fraser who was aiming to cruise round in a comfortable sub-3 (he's much faster than me overall, but wasn't trying too hard for his first road marathon) but otherwise didn't know anyone near the front.

The bag drop (finish area) was actually a fair bit further away, so we just left our stuff at the hotel to return to later. I sacrificed an old unloved t-shirt to the start line gods, don't think WMC even bothered with that as it wasn't cold. As it turned out the organisation was very good this year, with none of the problems of previous events.

I didn't have that much to go on speed-wise: a pitiful 1 sec PB at 10k (39:21) on Boxing Day, a tolerable 1:23:01 half marathon at Blackpool in Feb (though that's not really much better than last year's 1:25:40 at hilly Haweswater). But training seemed to be going ok with no illnesses or setbacks so I thought I should aim a bit higher than last year and plucked 2:50 out of thin air as a possible albeit optimistic target, at least as a starting pace.

Didn't have any arranged running company this time but got chatting to someone on the start line also aiming for 2:50. "Last year I did 2:51, went off far too fast and did the first half in 1:21 then collapsed, won't do that again". Sure enough the second we got over the start line he shot off into the distance. I went past him again at about 18 miles :-) At that point I was still going pretty well and was perfectly on course for my target, but then the 21st mile marker took a long time to arrive and my legs started to hurt and there's still quite a long way to go from there. So I lowered my sights to just getting round the rest as comfortably as possible, and didn't worry too much about the seconds that were slipping away, at first a trickle, but a flood by the end. Can't be too disappointed with the final result of 2:51:46 which is a three minute improvement on last year, though actually a random sampling of strava results suggests that part of this is due to a shorter (but still legal) course. In a way it's a relief that I'm not close enough to 2:45 for this (which would gain entry to the Championship at the London Marathon) to be a serious target, at least for the time being. There are things I could have done a little better for sure (like a few slightly longer runs), but I don't really see where 7 mins improvement could come from.

Food-wise, I had a chunk of home-made Kendal mint cake and a couple of jelly babies every 2nd water station, at least until near the end at which point I couldn't really face any more. Took the water each time, as much to to splash on my hat as to sip. It was a touch warmer than most of my training, but otherwise perfect conditions. Alcohol-free beer at the end was very gratefully received though it took a little while to sip. Hung around in the finish area long enough to pick up a second pint for the stroll/hobble back to hotel. Club-mate came in at 2:56 looking very relaxed. Don't think I'll beat him again!

Saturday, April 01, 2017 Independence day

We all know by now that Brexit means brexit. However, it is not so clear whether independence means independence or perhaps something else entirely. This has been an interesting and important question in climate science for at least 15 years and probably longer. The basic issue is, how do we interpret the fact that all the major climate models, which have been built at various research centres around the world, generally agree on the major issues of climate change? Ie, that the current increase in CO2 will generate warming at around the rate of 0.2C/decade globally, with the warming rate being higher at high latitudes, over land, at night, and in winter. And that this will be associated with increases in rainfall (though not uniformly everywhere – in fact this being focussed on the wettest areas, with many dry areas becoming drier). Etc etc at various levels of precision. Models disagree on the fine details but agree on the broad picture. But are these forecasts robust, or have we instead merely created multiple copies of the same fundamentally wrong model? We know for sure that some models in the IPCC/CMIP collection are basically copies of other models with very minor changes. Others appear to differ more substantially, but many common concepts and methods are widely shared. This has led some to argue that we can’t really read much into the CMIP model-based consensus as these models are all basically near-replicates and their agreement just means they are all making the same mistakes.

While people have been talking about this issue for a number of years, it seems to us that little real progress has been made in addressing it. In fact, there have been few attempts to even define what "independence" in this context should mean, let alone how it could be measured or how some degree of dependence could be accounted for correctly. Many papers present an argument that runs roughly like this:
  • We want models to be independent but aren’t defining independence rigorously
  • (Some analysis of a semi-quantitative nature)
  • Look, our analysis shows that the models are not independent!
Perhaps I’m not being entirely fair, but there really isn’t a lot to get your teeth into.
We’ve been pondering this for some time, and have given a number of presentations of varyng levels of coherence over the last few years. Last August we finally we managed to write something down in a manner that we thought tolerable for publication, as I wrote about at the time. During our trip to the USA, there was a small workshop on this topic which we found very interesting and useful, and that together with reviewer comments helped us to improve the paper in various ways. The final version was accepted recently and has now appeared in ESD. Our basic premise is that independence can and indeed must be defined in a mathematically rigorous manner in order to make any progress on this question. Further, we present one possible definition, show how it can be applied in practice, and what conclusions flow from this.

Our basic idea is to use the standard probabilistic definition of independence: A and B are independent if and only if P(A and B) = P(A) x P(B). In order to make sense of this approach, it has to be applied in a fundamentally Bayesian manner. That is to say, the probabilities (and therefore the independence or otherwise of the models) are not truly properties of the models themselves, but rather properties of a researcher’s knowledge (belief) about the models. So the issue is fundamentally subjective and depends on the background knowledge of the researcher: A and B are conditionally independent given X if and only if P(A and B given X) = P(A given  X) x P(B given X). Depending what one is conditioning on, this approach seems to be flexible and powerful enough to encapsulate in quantitative terms some of the ideas that have been discussed somewhat vaguely. For example, if X is the truth, then we arrive at the truth-centred hypothesis that the errors of an ensemble of models will generally cancel out and the ensemble mean will converge to the truth. It’s not true (or even remotely plausible), but we can see why it was appealing. More realistically, if X is the current distribution of model outputs, and A and B are two additional models, then this corresponds quite closely to the concept of model duplication or near-duplication. If you want more details then have a look at the paper.

Anyway, we don’t expect this to be the last word on the subject, though it may be the last we say about it for some while as we are planning on heading off in a different direction with our climate research for the coming months and perhaps years.