Sunday, December 08, 2013

Earth's Future

I've started a new role as Editor-in-Chief of the American Geophysical Union's new journal Earth's Future.  A transdisciplinary journal, Earth’s Future focuses on the state of the Earth and the prediction of its future, by publishing peer-reviewed articles as well as editorials, essays, reviews and commentaries. This journal will become the preeminent scholarly resource on the Anthropocene, and will help assess the risks and opportunities associated with global change and sustainability challenges.  All journal content is freely available, as material is published under the terms of the Creative Commons License, meaning that the journal is open-access (the author pays model, but publication after traditional peer review and rigorous editorial handling).   The editorial I wrote with Founding editor (and outgoing EiC) Guy Brasseur for the first Issue (December 2013) is below.  The link to the journal is:
I also create occasional posts on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter, with varying content and frequency.  Like/follow to receive updates.

Earth's Future: Navigating the science of the Anthropocene

Understanding and managing our new and future relation with the Earth requires research and knowledge spanning diverse fields. Earth's Future will explore and foster interactions among the Earth and environmental sciences, ecology, economics, the health and social sciences, and more. Its mission is to focus on the Earth as an interactive, evolving system to help researchers, policy makers, and the public navigate the science.
During the last decades, decision makers in public service and private sectors have increasingly realized that the major challenges facing human society in the 21st century will be related to the evolution of the Earth system. Among the global challenges are the limitation of available natural resources, the rapid population growth and its concentration in large urban areas, climate change with its impacts on the environment and society, the human and economic impacts of hazards such as earthquakes and extreme weather, air and water quality, sea-level rise, reduction in biodiversity, and so on. International organizations, national, regional, and local governments, and private corporations will have to address these issues and, specifically, find appropriate approaches, such as fundamentally modify our energy supply system; preserve the biosphere from anticipated degradations; adapt to unavoidable effects of climate change and geohazards; provide sufficient and healthy food as well as clean water; improve access to education, medical, and welfare services; and ultimately improve the level of human well-being and development of the world's population. All such decisions will have to be based on scientific knowledge and understanding of the governing processes. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the scientific community to develop programs that will help society address these key challenges in the decades ahead.

Many of the questions posed by stakeholders require interdisciplinary approaches. They will not be left to individual scientists nor even to scientific teams, but will often require a close dialogue with various players in society and the co-production of knowledge involving different partners. Disciplinary science will remain extremely important to build the pillars of the “science temple,” but at the same time, there will be a need to develop more holistic approaches that will integrate knowledge from individual disciplines and produce the roof of this temple.

About 2 years ago, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) constituted a task force to assess new journal concepts for the Union. The task force noted that the scientific landscape has been evolving toward more integrated, transdisciplinary science and toward more societally relevant research that is geared toward solutions to coupled human and planetary challenges. The task force noted that AGU has produced many successful journals in the past decades that cover a large spectrum of geophysical disciplines, but that there is a recognized need to better link these disciplines with, when appropriate, economic and social processes. We are pleased to introduce the first issue of Earth's Future, the new AGU journal that aims to address these issues and should become a primary tool for lively dialogue between a large multidisciplinary research community and stakeholders representing a broad spectrum of societal sectors.

Earth's Future deals with the state of the planet and its expected evolution. It publishes papers that emphasize the Earth as an interactive system under the influence of the human enterprise. It provides science-based knowledge on risks and opportunities related to environmental changes. Earth's Future is a transdisciplinary, open-access journal that is published electronically. The journal will include regular research papers, review papers, commentaries, and essays in support of its stated goals.

The journal has been launched by one of us (GPB) who acted as Founding Editor-in-Chief for the initial period of its existence and worked closely with Associate Editors, Michael Ellis and Anthony Del Genio. A permanent editorial team led by the new Editor-in-Chief (BvdP) is being constituted and will assume responsibility for future issues of the journal.

Both of us would like to thank all the colleagues and the AGU staff members who have contributed to the launch of Earth's Future and have steadied the first steps of this new journal. We look forward to an exciting (Earth's) future.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

vanderTrick: Google calendar and vcs import

Annoyed that you cannot import .vcs calendar files (like United Airlines') into Google calendar.  Me too.  Found a very simple trick.
Open the .vcs file in Notepad and change  "End" to "END" (so, all caps) and save as .ics.  Then import it again.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A hybrid bike

My hybrid bike: the X-treme XB-310Li 

I have been looking at other types of battery-powered transportation ever since we bought our Highlander4WD hybrid about 5 years ago.  Initially I looked at motorbikes and scooters while they transitioned from lead acid to Li-ion batteries.  At the upper end, such bikes can go for as much as 10K, often US- or Japanese- made, and at the other end the Chinese manufacturers have the market.  I had specifically been looking at motorbikes from a manufacturing group called X-treme, but after a recent visit to Holland I decided that powered bicycles ("e-bike") deserved another look. Much like their fully motorized counterparts, e-bikes come in many flavors, and, as many early-adopter toys, can be finicky.  However, given the potential for engine-related fails, an e-bike has the advantage that one can pedal on without engine help, while motorbikes leave you stranded.  So, I made the plunge after a little more internet research (incl with an X-treme bike that has a 24V Li-ion battery offering pedal-assist (so, tailwind or downhill both ways) or can be propelled with a mere handtwist. Reading the user comments and experiences on several forums, battery-powered bicycles and motorbikes can be as much a hobby as a transportation means, but, when working, they do deliver as promised.  The aluminum, 7-gear X-treme I selected seemed to have similar performance to others, but is more moderately priced (I paid $699, incl shipping at FarBike).

My ~52lbs X-treme bike shipped by UPS and arrived in parts (shown below) and after, mostly instructionless, installation, proved complete.  No parts were missing (I think), nor left over!  The enclosed manual is sparse and demands user interpretation, with several key items never even mentioned, yet critical to the final construction (like somehow inserting the rear suspension module). For added convenience I bought the folding model, which works fine and the construction seems sturdy (with lock clip).  The controller and battery are in a lockbox (Al Gore style) under the saddle, limiting the ability to lower the saddle to a person more than ~5'10" in height (or with long legs).  This configuration also requires a race-like forward riding mode that is less comfortable than I want (see my modification below).

After bike assembly, the battery and charger both worked, and after 3 hours the laptop-like charger indicated that the bike's battery was juiced (a green light showed).  The indicator on the battery itself suggested it was full on delivery, or simply indicates that it works.  Other than inserting the battery pack in its slot and turning a key, the power train requires no installation.  A quick test ride and I learned that power is delivered immediate and without gradation.  Pedal-assist means that after one turn suddenly something seems to be pushing you, just like a permanent tailwind.  Alternatively, the handtwist offers power without any pedaling and is likewise all or nothing (only delayed by inertia).

After my first trip to work and back, it was clear that several cheap parts (below) were used, as was mentioned in online forums too.  Several bolts needed tightening too.

So, I bought new handle bars that offer palm support, a new saddle that has strategic padding (and bolts that tighten) and an adjustable handlebar stem.  The latter allows me to raise the handlebar, so that a more upright posture creates less strain on the hands and wrists.  The new grips were slightly longer than stock (and different length for left and right to fit the handtwist), but easily fitted by moving breaks and such with the include (cheap) toolset.  I spent about $60 on these items and now the bike is a lot more comfortable.  My final configuration is below.

I bike about 5mi each way to/from work and notice no loss of battery power.  The manufacturer advises against draining the battery, so I fully recharge it when I get home.  Meanwhile, the tailwind sensation is addictive and makes the distance seem half.  Uphill is also much easier and on level parts one can just cruise using the handtwist.   Perhaps less of a workout than before, but also less excuse to take the car.  Once they become more available and visible, I believe that e-bikes have a clear future and could put many more people on bikes, greatly reducing the carbon footprint and offering much-needed exercise.  The energy required to charge the battery is similar to a lighting bulb (~60W), so inexpensive to charge.  We'll see about reliability in the next few weeks to months, which I will include as a follow-on update. 

UPDATE, 4 September 2013.
I made two additional modifications to my bike.  I wanted a more upright posture than originally possible, so added a new, lightweight 5" handlebar (picture).  Make sure to order 31.8mm diameter at stem, which is thicker than standard ends.
With the new handlebar+adjustable stem, there is optimal flexibility with height and lean-in for taller folks.  Also, the controller rattles in its plastic case, which cannot be good for the electronics and is annoying on bumpy roads (= all roads in my town).  So, I added some padding to the inside of the case, using heavy-duty frame insulation tape, which fixed this issue.

I have been using the bike ~3x per week, 10mi each; I recharge every night (with a timer).  So far, I have had no problems, and the bike is performing as new.  Remember that this is a bicycle with paddle-assist, which makes the ride lighter.  It is not a motorbike, and throttle operation only works well on flat and downward surfaces; it is poor on any upward slope.  In my hilly (and bumpy) town, paddle-assist makes the difference.  The occasional sideways glance from other bikers is amusing, especially when I comfortably coast past them. 

UPDATE (Fall 2014).  Rattling battery pack fixed by inserting a foam base in box and tightening some screws.  The rear tire developed warp as a result of (unidentified) broken spokes, noticeably affecting ride.  Installing two new spokes from local bike shop (custom length, $1 each) took only moderate effort. I discovered this problem late, so hard to get rim warp out.  Otherwise, bike is working as before and just readied for Spring use.

UPDATE (Spring/Summer 2015).  DISASTER!  More spokes snapped and it turns out that spoke holes are too large for standard gauge replacements.  Need to respoke with washers at considerable repair shop and parts cost.  (After repair) Respoked rear wheel working just fine.  Earlier vibration from uneven spoke tension is gone and, of course, warp from formerly broken spokes is gone too.  Some bolts have loosened and the battery box is back to rattling.  The foam probably did not survive a cold winter in storage.  All easy fixes.  Charging/discharging unchanged from last year, with no loss of power.