Monday, December 17, 2012

Other Blogs

For my other blogs, and a proposal (in Dutch) for a Work Project in Crisis Years, see

Reinier Jan Scheele over Project in Crisistijd -

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


What is this blog about?

At the age of 75, this blog deals with some stories (from memory) on a working life of research. Most are chronological, back to teenage years. However, this blog starts with three items exemplifying 
(1) research on a climate issue, 
(2) my world view on energy depletion, and 
(3) cycles of research management.  

A Climate Issue

Regarding the mechanism of global warming, hurricanes were supposed to play a crucial role in the process. Especially, while they were obviously connected to higher sea water temperatures of over 26.5 degrees Celcius. 
Hurricanes have always been intriguing to me, at first from a navigation point of view, especially regarding the sailing ship era. They revolve with extremely high speeds, but move as a system slowly along, at not much beyond 'bicycle speed'. 
Then, more recently, hurricanes were kept responsible for distributing global warming, a logical proposition within their role of tropical circulations. So, I started to look more closely at their origin and behavior. From my days of study I did not remember, that much attention was paid to them, and restarted more or less from scratch. Furthermore, I considered that climate could not be connected to the short term characteristics of weather of one year. For that reason, I decided to add the yearly frequences of the Atlantic hurricanes to decade numbers. The figures could be derived from the well documented diagrams of the authoritative National Hurricane Center in Miami. 
While the one year figures did not show any structure to me, the resulting diagram surprisingly did. Summing the frequences clarified cycles of 60 year. From 1851 on we see highs around 1880, 1940 and 2000, and lows in-between around 1910 and 1970. Extrapolating we might expect a new low around 2030, to be followed by a new high around 2060. I communicated the resulting diagram with the National Hurricane Center, and also Woods Hole of the same esteem.
The 60-year hurricane cycle did not only show gradual waves, but also a slight rise. However, not very steep compared to the so-called 'Hockeystick', which rises sharply since 1910, and more recently is skyrocketing. Besides, and interestingly, its peaks do precede the hurricane 'highs' some 10 years, and its 'lows' to half this extent. The entire phenomenon  is now known as the 60-Year Climate Cycle. Its occurrence might be a bit disturbing to science, as the physical origin is more likely to come from outside the realm of the earth, instead of being triggered by human cause, as is widely supposed. May be the gradual rise can be attributed to the latter?
For the time being, the 60-year cycle seems to represent sound empirical evidence of the development of our climate. Yet, much of it is still hypothetical, hampered through the lack of a proper correlation of causal nature. Moreover and regrettably, the discussion has taken on quite a political inclination nowadays. Accompanied by founded or unfoumded accusations, outside forces produce an inevitable burden for further research.  
This counterproductive development might have been triggered by two seemingly incompatible lines of reasoning. Let us for a start, regard the wave lengths (not heights) of the decadal hurricane frequencies, and those of the hockeystick (again disregarding the wave heights), I observed a peculiar phenomenon, which did not seem to make sense. The hockeystick highs precede some 10 years those of the hurricane frequencies, while the lows precede some 5 years. One would expect from causal reasoning of the climate of the world, at least a different sequence, the other way around. Is there a logical explanation?
Assuming then, as a systems approach, three major determinants of climate development. 
Firstly, some external force, resulting in the order of a 60 year cycle of the climate, of mostly unknown origin. 
Secondly, and fluctuated by the first determinant, the fundamental heating up of the earth, particularly by the sun´s almost rectangular inclination at lower latitudes. 
Thirdly, at higher latitudes, a green house effect. 
The two latter ones are 'measured' differently, in two completely separate physical states: water and atmosphere. Hurricane frequences depending on sea water temperatures vs. tree rings depending on atmospheric temperatures. Although oceanic and atmospheric approaches are both indirectly related to their subjects to be measured, as such, they seem to be genuine representatives of climate development, i.e. if measured correctly, and if climate is only defined as outcomes of particular research. 
Could the gradual rise of the hurricane graph be explained from global warming? Then, the next reasoning might be adopted. Water masses will take longer to adapt to temperature changes, then air masses. Hence, hotter air masses might after some 10 years have helped enough to heat up surface sea water to such an extent, that more hurricanes result. If less hot, it takes only 5 years to reach some temporary equilibrium at the lows, resulting in less extra hurricanes. (Again, this reasoning can only be true, if the tree ring data have been allocated correctly to the time scale. It should also be noted, that dutch research of tropical tree rings indicates, that latitude is no issue).
What about the climatological phenomena that we observe by eye, then? In this rationale, surface ice will melt sooner as it is exposed to atmospheric temperatures, while submerged ice in contact with colder water, will take much longer. Differences in thermal stability between water and air determine melting behavior of both environments. 
Now, what if we again do incorporate the wave heights of both curves in our reasoning? We observe in the latest decades a gradual rise of the hurricane activity versus a sharply upwards turning hockeystick representing the atmosphere. There is no apparent correlation between the hockeystick tree ring data, and hurricane frequences, whatsoever. This is hard to comprehend. At least in more recent decades, one should trace to some extent the risen influence from atmospheric changes to oceanic water masses.  
All in all, even if the above reasoning proves to be correct, it will not change my general expectations of climate development and sea water rise. A gentle rise is more likely, in stead of a hockeystick type development, staying rather close to the gradual rise of hurricane frequency waves. In this process, the wave lengths might shorten.

Summarizing, the diagram below represents the NOAA-based Atlantic decadal hurricane frequency developments from 1851-2010 by way of blue columns. The upper line graph, prematurely running out of the diagram, represents the so-called 'hockeystick' findings based on arctic tree ring interpretations (tropical tree rings are said to show comparable outcomes). Obviously, these latter terrestrial figures precede the oceanic temperature findings, although the wave lengths (not the heights) do correspond in general.
Evidence is growing that warming up is staying behind after 2000, crippling the hockeystick development hypothesis. Superficially viewing the '60'-year hurricane cycle, it even seems reasonable to falsify CO2 emissions for warming up/cooling down causes. At first sight, a correlating economic cycle does not fit the hurricane temperature cycle as shown. However, after scrutinizing a 60- to 70-year credit expansion-contraction cycle, suggested in economics, one might unearth some or more explanatory force for the hurricane cycle as it did develop during 160 years.  

Ecology, Energy Shortage and Infrastructural Future

Although research should be value-free in my opinion, the choice of my research items had and has everything to do with my world view. So, some clarification might be given in advance, so a reader can decide whether it is of any interest to him or her. 
First of all a typical example of an ecological project. A Nature Policy plan for the Netherlands had been published, its main goal being to connect our scattered nature areas by some sort of 'nature infrastructure'. It was called the Ecological Main Structure. However, implementation fell short for a couple of years.
Then, Rijkswaterstaat asked me to 'have a look at it'. When I studied the Nature Plan I was surprised to read that this particular ínfrastructure, consisting of nature connection zones, should be situated along roads. I considered it far better to concentrate these along water bodies, the Netherlands are actually covered with. So, I started using (1) the rough connectivity arrows of the Plan, (2) our advanced Faculty Geographical Information System, and (3) the official water maps, to meticulously design this new structure across the country.
The outcomes, presented to the Heads of the Regional Water Systems of Rijkswaterstaat, were met with enthousiasm, and now it did not take long for implementation to start. The Goverment forwarded the money needed, and the original scope of 25 years is mostly behind us by now, presenting its results clearly to everyone in the Dutch landscape.
Another major issue cocerns the availability of energy. The world with its fast growing population moves towards energy shortage, and the consequences should be considered. As no one wants to do with less, the question is how to provide the same quality of life, with less available energy. The economic rationale dictates - if goods become scarce, they will be more costly. So we will see less trade and freight, less bulk transport, more specialization, shorter distances to work, (alternative) energy sources, such as coal and uranium, and reduced energy consumption. Still, differences in energy consumption can be expected according to incomes. But the majority will one way or the other feel the consequences, if only at the work place, influencing production. Those old enough to have done with less in the past will probably adapt more easily, and suffer less as a consequence. Also those who have experienced existence in remote places, or on board long distance sailing boats. They know how to deal with sparse circumstances. 
Let us consider some major amenities - enough food and drink, temperature and moisture comfort at home as well as in the work place, comfortable transport, and comfortable tools to perform one's daily activities. Major infrastructure and machinery can hardly be reduced upon, as mass food and drink have to be produced and distributed for a long time to come. The world growing population is likely to live, more and more in urban areas, and in need of equal or even better nourishment. So, the energy demand of our already efficient food producing system will have to stay at least at the current level, if we do not want people to starve or trigger food wars. In a way it is an iron ration, that cannot be fiddled with. 
Comfort at home and in the work environment has been improved through central heating and air conditioning. Even to a high level of redundancy. In the past heating was often reduced to one room, and the entire family, often quite large, would concentrate there and do all what was needed. In a way this pattern might return. But, very local electrical heating of clothes, chairs and beds may make a difference in comfort in the future. However, cooling will have to be achieved by better building systems, as energy-related cooling will have to be reduced substantially.
As stated, heavy transport will remain, although better regulated by clearing houses, to minimize empty or partly loaded trucks. Heavy machinery in agriculture stays indispensable for mass food production. However, in the realm of personal transport, major changes can be expected without peril. Development of far more efficient transport, through far less weight of vehicles, even including pedaling for health reasons, is already outgrowing its infancy. Related construction of separate high tech infrastructure, to offer safe and competitive opportunities, is likely to develop much further, as I originally advocated in the Province of Noord-Brabant in its project 2030.  

Seven Year Research Cycle

The university department I worked in had the explicit assignment to do research that was related to society, the so-called 'practical world'. In those days lecturers had the freedom to initiate and organize their research, which professors could not effectively interfere with. Yet, my research appeared to differ from others.
I was asked to offer a last presentation at my final department 'two day retreat' (a yearly occasion) on 'how-I-did-it'. 
I started to make a shortlist covering the major problems in society. Then I looked at the long project list of my colleagues, and I tried to relate their projects to one or more of society's problems. Such as, immigration, energy, traffic congestion, etc. But, I hardly could, while mine matched more or less. So, my view on problems in society, or my propensity to address them, certainly differed from my colleagues. My research could at least be defined as kind of 'deviating'. Working hard, not considering the issue very much, I even supposed to have done the right thing, and rather foolishly, thought that my work would at some time be recognized in the end. 
I had to delve in my old agenda's and my memory, to get some idea of how my projects had actually evolved. Then, also to my own surprise, it turned out that each major research field I had pursued, covered some seven year period. But also, that these periods had a halfway overlap. The first half of the seven year period I was involved in proved getting accustomed to the new topics, collecting data, and sometimes making a starter mistake, or trying an unfruitful dead end alley. Yet, at its halfway peak beginning to produce tangible results. The second half became less time consuming and was mainly filled with presentations and publications the project material offered abundantly. However, during this second half of easy time, I got in one or the other way, involved in a subsequent project, that repeated the familiar 'first half characteristics'. Again, this did not produce substantial results above the prescriptive, descriptive and explanatory phase. Yet, no one noticed, as I was still easy riding on the previous project, avoiding gossip, as well as the well-known 'publish or perish' consequences. It also had as a result, that I was still offering presentations after my retirement, as if nothing happened.
How did these major project periods trigger off? In general, I was approached by a representative of some external organization, asking me to 'have a look' at a problem they experienced. But, in some cases, I already expected the project to come about, so I had done some preliminary investigations. I.e. at the time I was still having the means available. Almost always, I could on short notice estimate whether I would be able to produce worthwhile results, and how I was to design my approach in general. I learned afterwards that my easy attitude to such questions could be surprising to third parties. Especially, if they had digested a couple of refusals beforehand. Not seldom being told of the impossibilities of the research question.
However, my ready approach towards research demands did not come about that easy. When I had to organize my PhD research on matters of computer use for Provincial monitoring I felt a more than usual need to answer the questions of designing my research project. I required fundamental reasoning, but literature was largely absent in that respect. Most arguing restricted itself to mere editorial recommendations, which were inadequate in my case. The only way out was to develop a general research design myself, that comprised solid internal consistency.

Working through a Life

A Climate Issue
Energy Shortage and Infrastructural Future
Seven Year Research Cycle

    Teenage Years
    Military G2 Service

      Working for a Living While Studying
      University Employee
      Locating a Hospital

        An Estuary Project
        Traffic Issues
        External Orientation

          Innovation vs. Rumination
          A Narrow Escape
              Lessons Learned or Just the Familiar Innovation Trap?

            From Crystal Receiver to Road Pricing
            3-D Designs

Teenage years

In my days, teenagers started their summer holidays picking fruit to earn some vacation money. However, successfully picking fruit asked for supple fingers, which, apparently, I did not have. Related work was sometimes available - such as carrying fruit baskets with a cart to the factory. I liked to do that better. I also worked on an agricultural test farm, where I had to mix different types of soil, and put these in earthenware pots. 
But the real difference came about quite unexpectedly. My interest from my youngest years on, were boats, and I read a lot on boat building and maintenance. So, I knew how to paint, and do all the preparatory work, such as sandpapering, putting on filler, and primers. In theory, that is.
But reading proper manuals, usually make me do things right. Also, time was still very short of money and taking practical lessons was restricted to professional courses. Although I knew that in the US DIY was already daily practice, with materials easy at hand, this development was still absent in my case, although it soon would change. Professionals at the time were often reluctant to favor such developments, seeing them as a hazard for their living.
How she knew I do not know, but our single female neighbor thought she could have her house painted by me. She asked a professional workshop to deliver the materials, and cast an eye on my work. As far as I remember the shop owner also suggested my reward, which was quite acceptable to me, as it could buy me a canoe. 
So, the next moment I collected ladders, brushes, sandpaper, paints, stones, and instructions from the shopowner. He stressed the need for sandpapering, which was not my favorite part of the job, but I already understood the importance of it. The weather must have been favorable, as I do not remember any delay. The shopowner came sometimes by on his bicycle, telling me some professional secrets. He had no complaints regarding my work. 
The job came to an end, and became the beginning of many such jobs in the neighborhood. To my surprise, a female doctor, living at the corner of the street, praised my work. Some years before, I had involved her son in smoking a first cigaret, which of course had made her furious. As far as I know, no permanent damage was done; later I read in the newspaper about his ground breaking work in the medical field in Africa.
My 'paint-neighbor' also allowed me to put an eyebolt in her side-window pane, so I could tie a rope across our very quiet street to a tree. That enabled my friends and I to play volleyball at the end of the afternoon. After some time, however, the police arrived, telling us, that it was not allowed. Luckily, one of the players could convince his parents, that a part of their backyard was ideally suited for our game.  
During the rest of our summer vacation we were often on the beach, playing volleyball. A friend and I organized a tournament between all of the beach teams, and recently I read in the newspaper that this tournament was still alive.