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Core Fixations

Honestly, how did the mild-mannered core become the focus of so many disaster movies? Having one–The Core, which was laugh-out-loud bad–would have seemed to have exhausted that particular aspect of earth disasters (we are still awaiting The Landslide–who knows, maybe the sequel to San Andreas can do that).  But no, then we had the reboot of Star Trek drop “red matter” (or maybe we misunderstood–perhaps it was “read matter” as in science books they chose not to read) into the core to cause planets to implode. Why did you have to reach the core, anyways?  If this made black holes, wouldn’t it be enough to just pitch it onto the surface?

But now, after 20 years of gestation, we get the core as once again the weak link in life on Earth.  [Spoiler ahead–arguably the only thing you might not guess from ads or reviews]. Read More…

“Is Science Bullsh*t?”

John Oliver’s answer was an emphatic “no,” but he went on to show how much of science reporting is–nothing surprising to those here, one presumes, but it is worth going to YouTube (or HBO) and seeing how he does a nice job showing how off target this reporting can get: (as usual with HBO these days, some language not for sensitive ears).

(GG is most fond of Oliver showing a morning show host saying that you should just wait for the study that agrees with what you want to do, a behavior Oliver declares is not science, it is religion). Now while this is immensely entertaining and hits the target rather solidly, Oliver notes that replication studies are really important, but is that really the case?

Read More…

Earthquakes are so passé…

Yeah, it is now time for Hollywood to move back to that old favorite, volcanoes! What is this?  Well, it appears there will be a sequel to San Andreas that apparently takes the cast out to “when the notorious Ring of Fire in the Pacific Ocean erupts” as the ScreenRant story says. Given the excesses that San Andreas had compared to older earthquake-driven disaster movies, just how over the top can this one go compared to, say, Volcano or Pompeii? Will the volcanoes erupt one by one, heading for some major metropolis like a string of firecrackers? Will the whole thing erupt and spawn a new moon? (Oh wait, that’s been done already). Will The Rock rescue people on a giant surfboard as he uses the successive tsunamis to race ahead to save distant relatives?  Feel free to speculate; it will be awhile before we find out what awaits…

Reality invades animation

There is something mildly amusing and ironic going on in the world of animation.

It is the desirability of including realism in the form of land- and cityscapes.

After spending lots of time making up fake worlds (that, um, to a geologist look fake), animators have turned to real-world datasets to make their fake worlds look real.

Most amusing is that this discovery has brought the recognition that there is a lot of data. One was Big Hero Six, where real data about San Francisco was used to create the fictional San Fransokyo. The most recent example is Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, which apparently used USGS DEMs in order to create background landscapes that look like landscapes should look. (Indeed, it appears that Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley and perhaps part of the Colorado Rockies are used from GG’s perusal of the film). That story notes that this resulted in the use of far more data in a single image than in entire movies. This is no surprise to any earth scientist who has played with 1m LIDAR images, though to be fair probably a lot of their data use was in spreading vegetation on their landscapes.

Ironically, there is a long history of software designed to try to simulate landscape development.  One particular program that stands out was Bryce, which used an unusual interface and fractal optics to create photorealistic images of artificial landscapes.  Of course, the trick was to create the landscape in the first place. You wonder how long it will be before they hire geomorphologists who can operate the CHILD software to produce geologically reasonable topography from some specified geology…

Pants on Fire Fire Geography

Yes, it’s time once again to whine about the New York Times and their simply spectacular grasp of western geography.  Consider the map below and then some text accompanying it:

The map below shows this year’s fires, as detected by satellite. There are blazes big and small all across the West, but wildfires have been especially concentrated along the mountain ranges of central California.”

Western U.S. ignition map, Jan-July 2015, New York Times

Western U.S. ignition map, Jan-July 2015, New York Times

Yes, you see that big swath of red dots across California and it should be, it must be, loads of forest fires! The mountains are just one big bonfire! Wildfires everywhere!

Now let’s take that map and put it on top of the topography:


Um, are we seeing things? Are those dots…in the valley?

In fact, a sharp eyed reader might note that SR 99 is shown on the Times map on the east side of nearly all these fires. And if you have driven in California, you know that between 99 and I-5 (which is more obvious on the map) is farmland. Very flat farmland.

What is going on is the typical action of farmers preparing fields and clearing canals in winter and early spring: they set controlled fires.  Most of these are not wildfires. The maps the Times made is largely made up of intentional agricultural fires (you can see the same thing northeast of Denver).  And had any clever soul in their graphics department compared the map with land use, they might have seen that this was the case.

So, once again, thanks, New York Times, for sharing your sense that the geographic realities of the west don’t matter and so preparing material utterly beside the point you are trying to make!