Spring Has Not Yet Sprung

It seems I‘ve been harboring under an illusion every since I can remember.

You see in my part of the world, commonly known as the Southern Hemisphere, today is the first of September. It’s a day I pretty much look forward to every year. Why you might ask?

By my calculation (and I don’t need a Groundhog or any other critter to tell me) today heralds the first day of Spring. Right? Wrong.

In fact it’s so, so wrong. You see technically speaking Spring has not even begun to sprung if you get my meaning. It’s all to do with the astronomical calendar.

In the true sense of the word, Spring begins on or around the 21st of September. Apparently the date varies by a day or so each year. This is known as the Spring Equinox. It is the beginning of when the southern hemisphere starts to receive more sun than the northern hemisphere.

There is a good scientific explanation for why this occurs as it does. It has everything to do with the 23.5 degree tilt of the earth’s axis. Don’t ask me to give you further and better particulars. Science was never my subject at school.

The reality is, astronomically speaking, it’s not actually spring yet.

But not everyone who is in a position to know is prepared to go with the science. Australia’s austere, if not occasionally inaccurate Bureau of Meteorology, is sticking to its guns and backing the 1st of September.

The Bureau says it’s easier for everybody if spring begins on the first day of the month from a record keeping point of view. They figure, quite rightly, that if you started making the seasons start on the 21st of the month it would only succeed in confusing people. So all the seasons start on the first of the month and nobody gets confused

But today I am a little confused. Like I said I have always thought the 1st of September is the first day of Spring. And if you were living in my patch today you would think exactly the same way. The sun is shining, it’s nice and warm and there’s every reason to be happy because from now on the weather’s only going to get warmer.

But if I was to be completely objective there is quite a bit of merit in the seasons beginning on the 21st of the month. I’m sure people who live in the northern hemisphere will struggle to get their heads around this but our hottest months are December, January and February. The month of March, normally signifies the start of our fall or autumn. But according to the record keepers March is almost identical to December in terms of average maximum temperatures. In fact if there is a difference it is only by half a degree.

Now before you start accusing me of banging on about nothing. Consider this. People in the Northern Hemisphere who think they have officially seen the last day of summer haven’t. In fact there are at least another three weeks before you can kiss Summer goodbye. There. I’ve made your day.

 

 

They’re Coming

Just when you thought you had enough to worry about with the effect of climate change on the environment, here’s something that’s bound to give you nightmares.

If you are like me and think spiders are already big enough and scary enough, then you’d better brace yourself. They are getting even bigger.

In Australia, where I live, we have some of the biggest and nastiest critters imaginable. For example we are home to the world’s most poisonous snake, the inland Taipan. Luckily it lives far, far, away from civilisation. Its venom is so toxic, it makes a death adder look like a wimp in comparison.

So the idea that our spiders might be growing even bigger is not exactly good news. Apparently this trend is happening the world over.

The cause of this has something to do with our cities becoming busier and more populated. Researchers have been examining how your everyday garden spider, like the harmless Golden Orb Weaver, is suddenly growing exponentially.

One species of this type of spider has been gaining weight almost at the same time as the city grows. Researchers say the further they are away from bush land and the more concrete there is with a corresponding reduction in leaf litter, the bigger the spider. And we are talking significant weight gain. For example, spiders found in a park away from the city had an average mass of 0.5 grams. But those in an inner city park averaged 1.6 grams or three times the size. Eeek.

Scientists are calling it the urban heat island effect and prey availability. Spiders are very sensitive to temperature. If it’s warmer they grow bigger. And urbanization has been a big benefit. The food or prey the spider eats tend to do well in small fragments of bush land like urban parks. And they do even better if there is lighting at night. So the spiders have more to eat so they can put more energy into growing bigger.

Income also plays a big part. Scientists found that wealthier areas in the city tend to have the largest spiders. The reason for this is less clear. But it might be because they have more parks and more concrete that heats up readily. Now the really bad news is that the trend is across the board. So poisonous spiders like the Australian Redback are also growing bigger. Global warming will encourage spiders to get bigger but they don’t like the really, really hot weather.

All of this has been pretty surprising to the scientific community. They expected that the opposite would be true. An increase in heat usually means an increase in the rate of development. It also means metabolic function speeds up so they mature early at a smaller size. But that is not what is happening.

The scientists do say the relationship between heat and body size is complicated. The heat might be allowing the spiders to hatch earlier giving them a longer growing season.

In any case, a healthy spider population apparently should be celebrated. They eat pests and provide food for birds. Spiders in urban areas should be encouraged. Sure. Anywhere except my backyard.

 

Be Careful What You Google

This would be disturbing if it wasn’t so farcical.

Be careful what you Google. That was the clear message after a New York couple received an unwelcome visit from counterterrorism authorities.

Blogger and journalist Michele Catalano was Googling pressure cookers. Yep. Pressure cookers. She wanted a pressure cooker to (wait for it) cook quinoa. For those who might not know what that it is, Quinoa is a South American grain you can purchase in a health food shop. It was a harmless Google search.

Next, her husband was using the same computer to search for backpacks. He needed a backpack. Don’t we all from time to time. Again it was a harmless Google search.

The couple’s 20 year old son was also on the computer. After reading about the Boston bombings he was clicking on links about home-made bombs. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. It was harmless curiosity.

But unfortunately there is no such thing as harmless anything any more. Not in the days of terrorism and counter terrorism. And especially not if it leads to authorities concluding that someone might be trying to manufacture a home made bomb.

Now apparently unbeknown to the Catalanos someone, somewhere in authority was putting all of this Google searching together and came to the conclusion that this family represented enough of a threat to warrant a visit.

Around 9 am one morning the family answered a knock on the front door. We are talking black ops. Six men in three black SUVs pulled up and surrounded the house.

Like I said they knocked. This time. As opposed to kicking the door down. Michele’s husband let them in. They searched and after not a long time they left.. Clearly convinced that the couple’s home was one of 99 percent of cases where there was no threat.

And that was that. Except it wasn’t. Because a lot of people are now asking how does the Government know what people are Googling?

It has already been pointed out elsewhere, that this question suddenly has great relevance given the case of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. One of the disclosures revealed by Snowden was details of an American intelligence programme that monitors internet activity.

Michele Catalano has since learned that authorities also monitored topics her husband  looked at on his work computer.

She has no idea which counterterrorism group visited her home. They apparently did not identify themselves.

The U.S. website Atlantic Wire tried to get to the bottom of who these spooks might have been without any success. They were not the FBI or the local police.

One thing’s for sure they  were not foodies. They had no idea what Quinoa was.

The World Is Really Flat

Forget about global warming. What we should all be worried about is global cooling.

So where did that ‘genius’ idea originate? Would you believe from a senior economic advisor to the Australian Government.

Yes I am being serious. Maurice Newman is the Government’s chief economic advisor. In fact he chair’s the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council.

Newman says there is “ evidence that the world is set for a period of cooling, rather than warming, leading to significant geopolitical problems because of a lack of preparedness.

He also warned “ Australia is ill prepared for global cooling owing to widespread “warming propaganda.”

In an opinion piece for a major national daily newspaper, Mr Newman wrote: “What if the warmth the world has enjoyed for the past 50 years is the result of solar activity, not man-made CO2?

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its acolytes pay scant attention to any science, however strong the empirical evidence, that may relegate human causes to a lesser status.”

Newman says money spent on studying climate change has been “to largely preordain scientific conclusions”. He says this has caused “serious damage on economies and diminished the west’s standing and effectiveness in world affairs”.

Newman claims scientists discovered a rapid drop in solar activity, with a “global warming pause” occurring in the past 18 years.

“But the political establishment is deaf to this,” he says. “Having put all our eggs in one basket and having made science a religion, it bravely persists with its global warming narrative, ignoring at its peril and ours, the clear warnings being given by mother-nature.

“If the world does indeed move into a cooling period, its citizens are ill-prepared.”

Newman, who has no scientific background, has repeatedly attacked mainstream climate science over the past year, claiming that Australia has become “hostage to climate change madness” and dismissing the overwhelming evidence of warming caused by carbon emissions. He is also strongly critical of investment in renewable energy.

Needless to say there are a lot of people including a significant number of climate scientists itching to take on Maurice Newman. They are accusing him of being misguided and “arrogant” for dismissing well-established evidence of warming in favour of a theory of global cooling

“There’s nothing credible to what he says”, according to Professor Mathew England from the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales. “I can’t believe this stuff about cosmic rays is being raised again after it has been discredited

Professor England’s work has demonstrated how strong Pacific winds are pushing surface heat underwater, contributing to the slowdown, or “pause”, in the rise of global temperatures.

“The amount of greenhouses gases we are pumping into the atmosphere means that the solar minimum is just a blip in the next few decades,” he says. “The idea that solar cycles can override climate change driven by greenhouse gases is fanciful.

“Saying we aren’t prepared for global cooling is like saying we aren’t prepared for an alien invasion. There is no credible scientist saying this is on the horizon.

“I think he’s arrogant to think he knows the answer to climate physics when he hasn’t studied it.”

Another climate specialist Professor Steve Sherwood says he isn’t sure how to respond to Newman, given the number of errors in his article.

“The sun doesn’t have as much influence on the climate as we previously thought, the latest estimates are that it explains only 5% of the warming over the last 150 years,” he said.

“We have been in a solar minimum and no one really knows what the sun will do next. I don’t think anyone is saying that the sun will compete with greenhouses gases when it comes to warming the planet.

“What he says may be entertaining but it’s also scary because it’s so out there. It’s so prominent that it’s concerning.”

Despite the warming “pause” that Newman repeatedly refers to, 13 of the 14 warmest years occurred in the 21st century.

2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record, while each of the past three decades were warmer than the previous one.

According to the experts, the world has warmed by about 1C over the past century and will get even warmer – by between 0.3C and 4.8C – by 2100, based largely on the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

In fact climate scientists in Australia are clinging to the vain hope that they might be able to meet with Maurice Newman to explain the facts.

The head of Australia’s Climate Council sees the Newman remarks as deeply disturbing.

“ Maurice Newman is a business adviser to the prime minister; you’d expect him to be representing the interests of the business community.

“But what he’s saying fundamentally misrepresents the interests of business, which faces a huge risk, along with the rest of us, from climate change. He’s using his position for a personal crusade in what, I think, is a serious dereliction of duty.”

The former head of BP Australasia, granted a company not noted for its commitment to the environment, had this to say about the Newman opinions:

“Newman holds views that are out of step with those held by serious energy businesses globally and mainstream business in general.

“His views are scientifically wrong and completely ignore the economic and business risks that climate change presents. It is worrying that he is providing this sort of ill-informed advice on energy policy and climate risk to the highest levels of government.”

The next thing the Australian Government will be saying is that the world is really flat. But I don’t want to say it too loudly. It might give them ideas.

Is Tinder Playing With Fire?

I came across something called Tinder the other day.

My attention was drawn by the news that a young Australian man met an even younger New Zealand woman through Tinder. But within hours of that meeting the young woman was dead and the young man charged with her murder.

I am not going to dwell on the details of the case, which is now before the courts.

But it got me thinking. What is this thing called Tinder? How does it work? And does it actually result in young people, particularly young women, being placed in dangerous situations?

The first two questions are pretty easy to answer.

To the technically challenged, in other words old farts like me, Tinder is a mobile phone dating application. It’s pitched at the 18-30 demographic and is a location-based app. Tinder let’s you know about people living nearby and then you can anonymously like them or not. If someone you like, happens to like you back then Tinder makes an introduction and let’s you chat within the app. Seems perfectly innocent?

Apparently, it is the hottest thing to happen to dating on the Internet and the stats tell, or should that be sell, the story. One billion matches so far, around the world which translates to ten million matches per day… every day. It’s resulted in 300 marriage proposals and five percent of the Australian population of 23 million has a Tinder profile. It’s the brainchild of a couple of southern Californian entrepreneurs but it’s owned by a multi-national start up company.

Tinder is set to be bigger than Ben Hur.

The intriguing genius behind the app is that it’s designed like a game with the tagline – “like real-life, but better.”

It asks users to sign in with their Facebook profile and then make a split second decision on whether they like the physical appearance of someone, or not, by swiping left or right. Once a match is made, the rest is up to you.

The result is an app regularly used by everyone from Miss USA to Olympic gold medallists. It’s in such hot demand that the company recently announced that it would add a verification tick to celebrity profiles. There is no advertising yet but that won’t be far away.

That takes care of the first two questions. But, what about the third question I posed? Does it represent any kind of danger to young people particularly young women? That question I am a bit scared to answer. If I was to give a personal impression of Tinder it could be summed in something I read today: If a guy walks up to a girl standing in a bar and asks point-blank for sex he’ll get his face slapped. Do the same thing on Tinder and she’ll be around in 5. It’s killed chivalry, taken away the need to make any kind of real connection and replaced it with instant, image-based attraction where one click confirms your intentions almost always of the carnal kind.

Think I am overstating it? Well, check this out. Here are some of the responses from people actually using this app, Men and women. We’ll start with the guys because this app really favours men.

Guy number one: ” ALL it took was for me to answer a couple of questions for a random girl to determine I had ‘passed the serial killer test’ and it was safe for her to make a late-night house call for a one-night stand.

“It was late on a Friday night when I rolled into bed and thought I’d just do a quick check of Tinder to see any new matches.

“I had a message from a girl that I had never before spoken with asking what I was up to.

“After a little bit of back-and-forth she and her friend called me, we chatted for a few minutes, she said I didn’t sound like a serial killer and then asked for my address.

“She’d been at a party where she’d seen her ex boyfriend hook up with another girl and she was out for revenge.

“Who was I to stand in the way of a scorned woman?

“Soon after, she was dropped off by her friend, we had one drink to break the ice and then headed up to the bedroom where we had sex.

“She stayed the night but after she left in the morning we never spoke again.

“Tinder really has been the greatest dating invention for guys.

“With a simple right-swipe, I can have a random girl in my bed quicker than it would take to buy her a drink at a bar.

“No more having to spend hundreds of dollars going out to sweaty clubs, trying to strike up a conversation with a hot girl while her unattractive, larger friend acts as a ‘c**kblock.

“The social obstacles of real-life don’t exist on Tinder and we can be much more forward and cheeky straight from the outset.

“Most of it is small talk that goes nowhere though.”

Guy number two: ” The strangest moment I’ve had on Tinder is when a girl that I matched with sent me a message on a Sunday saying ‘Hey, I’m up here from Sydney and the people I’m staying with don’t finish work until 8pm and I need somewhere to leave my bags while I go out in Nobby Beach’

“I strung her along for about three hours asking what was in it for me.

“She came round and we went to Nobbys. She was a primary school teacher in Sydney.

“We ended up hooking up and she had to call the deputy principal at her school in Sydney the next morning saying she had food poisoning because she was in my bed on the Gold Coast instead of catching her flight back home.

“Mostly it is all small talk on Tinder that fizzles into nothing but some girls are pretty forward.

“I normally stay well away from girls who use a bikini or lingerie photo as their profile picture.

“Tinder use is a lot more socially acceptable than it was 12 months ago. A girl breaks up with her boyfriend and jumps on Tinder… not necessarily to hook up with a guy but for a self esteem boost.

“It is a lot simpler to date but there’s no real connection anymore. One click and you’ve said your whole intentions without saying anything.

“I use Tinder when I’m really bored but only speak with girls I want to f***.”

Girl: “It was like I was out of the loop or something – Tinder – What’s Tinder? A colleague of mine explained it to me, “It’s like the new age Hot or Not.” Fellow male colleagues had a joke about it and said, “If I was your age, I would definitely be using that app.”

“And so it began, it was like a new toy. Never have I been so addicted to using my phone.

“I even let a colleague, who is happily committed in a long-term relationship, hijack my account, play single and ‘reject’ and ‘approve’ all potential Tinder boys.

“Just for laughs, she decided to strike up a conversation with one particular match.

“Sex?”

“His response: “Yep” and it was on.

“My colleague and I were unleashing our inner wild child and took the conversation to a whole new level, things I would never in my life say to a guy. The thing is on Tinder, you can be whoever you want to be.”

One Tinder user tells the story of how her best friend left her underwear at the house of a guy she’d known for a handful of hours only for the guy to threaten to frame her panties and hang them in his bedroom. Charming. Apparently everyone on Tinder has a story of how they meet some crazy person who made an unwelcome and totally inappropriate declaration of carnal lust.

In other words Tinder is unromantic, sleazy, contrived and superficial. It is born of a generation guided by curiosity, daring, boredom and lust with results that are as squalid as they are gratifying.

Of course the defenders of Tinder say, believe it or not, that it’s wholesome. A way to get out and meet people, gain self-confidence and enjoy life. One Tinder user described it as a baptism of fire for the lonely and the broken-hearted, the shy and the nerdy and those who are out for some fun. You do it because Tinder will be whatever you want it to be.

Personally I don’t buy it. I don’t think it does anything to advance the cause of human kind. But maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy.

I am not going to be the voice of doom and say don’t use Tinder. But at the same time I would urge the app’s users to closely follow the Tinder murder trial in Australia. There is bound to be a moral to that story.

Take Your Hand Off It

I reckon some people really do need to take their hand off it….figuratively and literally speaking.

This almost made me choke on my muesli when I read it.

A man in Tennessee in the United States is suing Apple for ‘ enabling him to access pornography.’

Can you believe it? He’s a Nashville lawyer, well he would be wouldn’t he.

Chris Sevier is alleging that the world’s biggest company supports ‘pornography and explicit sexual content which has led to the proliferation of arousal addiction.’

It seems Mr Sevier’s propensity for self abuse knows no bounds. He argues that Apple should install a content filter in its browsers to block all internet porn.

Sevier also blames Apple for his failed marriage and for not warning him of the dangers of pornography.

He says Apple should regard his lawsuit as a warning sign for a raft of class actions that will follow in the event that the company should resist his ‘ reasonable request.’

Mr Sevier is a wanker. There I have said it. The only thing he needs to do is stop wanking and exercise a bit of self control.

I am sure his wrist will thank him..