The ice in the Arctic officially reached the summer minimum on September 12th after a blazing summer in the North. The ice reached the second highest minimum in recorded history just a bit less than 2007 where almost half the ice disappeared off the cap of the world. Read the official post from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The NSIDC has produced a number of excellent animations for Google Earth depicting real-time analysis of the amount of ice on both poles over time. Using a demarcation line of the average ice melt extents over the past few decades as a reference, you can compare the current levels and see just how bad the melting has been the last two years.
A bitterly cold Alaskan summer has had surprising results. For the first time in the area's recorded history, area glaciers have begun to expand, rather than shrink. Summer temperatures, which were some 3 degrees below average, allowed record levels of winter snow to remain much longer, leading to the increase in glacial mass.
"In mid-June, I was surprised to see snow still at sea level in Prince William Sound", said glaciologist Bruce Molnia. "In general, the weather this summer was the worst I have seen in at least 20 years".
"On the Juneau Icefield, there was still 20 feet of new snow on the surface [in] late July. At Bering Glacier, a landslide I am studying [did] not become snow free until early August."
Molnia, who works for the US Geological Survey, said it's been a "long time" since area glaciers have seen a positive mass balance -- an increase in the total amount of ice they contain.
Since 1946, the USGS has maintained a research project measuring the state of Alaskan glaciers. This year saw records broken for most snow buildup. It was also the first time since any records began being that the glaciers did not shrink during the summer months.
Those records date from the mid 1700s, when the region was first visited by Russian explorers. Molnia estimates that Alaskan glaciers have lost about 15% of their total area since that time -- an area the size of Connecticut.
One of the largest areas of shrinkage has been at the national park of Glacier Bay. When Alexei Ilich Chirikof first arrived in 1741, the bay didn't exist at all -- only a solid wall of ice. From that time until the early 1900s, the ice retreated some 50 miles, to form the bay and surrounding area.
So who does have a clue about what the climate is doing, anyway?
The basic facts seem to be consistent across the two sources—melting was less this year than in 2007. But is that an indication that things were almost as bad as the worst thing ever—or that this is, impressively, the first recorded reversal of a two-and-a-half-century monotonic trend?
All I know is that if Glacier Bay lost most of its ice in the 150 years prior to 1900, it wasn't because of people driving Hummers.
Looks like the big news today out of Apple-land is the new class of display, the first variant on their mainstream lineup they've had since phasing out CRTs and consolidating on widescreen Cinema Display LCDs.
A 24" LED-based widescreen monitor that's specifically cabled to hook up to your MacBook/MacBook Pro, with a teensy video connector that fits it without an adapter, and a MagSafe plug that lets you charge the thing without wasting a second spot on your power strip for the laptop's power brick.
And it's got an echoed iSight/mike, and built-in speakers to boot—another first since the Cinema Display line's feature set was solidified.
Clearly they've made today's announcements specifically to court road warriors, if that's the right term for someone whose business life centers around his laptop and who likes to be able to do work wherever he happens to be, but to have the option to hook up to a bigger monitor whenever he comes into his cubicle at work. I know it matches my own workflow to a T: I do work in places ranging from the garage to the airport to the park, but when I come into the office, I set the MBP down on my desk next to the monitor, hook up the power brick's MagSafe connector (the power brick is permanently plugged into the wall, and I had to go buy a second one to use outside the office), carefully plug in the monitor's VGA-to-DVI adapter dongle into the laptop's DVI port, and then grope around for the right 1/8" stereo plug hole to connect my headphones. Then I have to plug in the USB cable leading to the USB hub (with its own power brick) to which are connected my full-size keyboard and mouse. The whole ritual takes a good minute to accomplish properly, especially since it all has to be done in a certain order to keep things from happening wrong (I don't like my machine to be making sound effects before I've got the headphones plugged in and muffling the sound, yet there's always stuff that pops up and makes noise as soon as I unsleep the thing, and the system tends to get tongue-tied while it's doing its display-autodetection routine). But the bigger gripe is that the connectors are all so ungainly, so touchy, and so unnecessary. I shouldn't have to buy more than one power brick to use my laptop efficiently, should I? I shouldn't have to worry about fumbling with my speaker cable every time I come in and sit down. If I had a regular Cinema Display, it would have come with built-in USB and FireWire hubs; but with so few other features (e.g. speakers), I can never make the case for a real Cinema Display at work, so I have to go with a hub-less VGA Dell or Samsung or whatever. I shouldn't have to settle for that.
So this is where Apple has focused its efforts this time around: making that whole ritual a hell of a lot less tedious. You come in, you sit down, and you plug in three tiny plugs—all on the same side of the computer, all well marked, and all native. You take the power brick out of the equation entirely. Your sound and your iSight get routed up to the big screen (though if you like your sound to come through headphones, I guess those still have to be plugged in separately to the laptop); and your USB is broken-out to the three ports on the back, to which you've no doubt got your keyboard and mouse and other peripherals permanently connected. The big win is in not having to wrestle with a clumsy full-size non-native video cable or buy a separate power adapter or USB hub; with those things out of the picture, you've essentially built yourself a docking station that, aside from auxiliary RAM and hard drives, is the envy of the old DuoDock.
Once upon a time, monitors were shipped with those D-connectors to hook into the auxiliary socket of your desktop tower PC's power supply instead of directly to the wall. Now that laptops have replaced towers in the workplace, the setup is reversed: the monitor becomes the power conduit, and your computer plugs into the monitor. This really is a milestone to signify the ascendancy of the laptop as the primary form of computer.
It's even an LED-based display, just like on the new laptops—which are now dug out of billet aluminum and finished off with exclusively glossy screens. (Damn. I guess we who prefer the matte finish had better just get used to life in the Modern Age of Reflections of Fluorescent Overhead Tubes.) Designed to match the dock-a-displays perfectly, it seems these laptops are meant to be sold with a display if the salesperson can possible swing the upsell. And knowing how many cubicle warriors there are out there, increasingly mindful (even in this MobileMe-enabled cloud-computing milieu) of the value of only having one computer where all your stuff is centrally stored, this package deal makes a great deal of sense.
I completely didn't expect Apple to delve directly into a solution for this use case—yet, in hindsight, it must have been precisely the kind of thing that was painfully obvious to anyone inside the actual company. How many employees at Infinite Loop must come in to work every morning and spend that tedious minute fumbling through their hook-up ritual? Did Steve come bursting out of his office one morning after reading some snarky editorials in the tech press, lean over his second-floor balcony into the foyer, and yell, "HEY! What pisses you guys off about your computers?" Did everyone in their cubicles look around uncertainly, raise a few eyebrows, glance at their rat's-nest laptop-centric computer stations, and immediately start cracking their knuckles with helpful e-mails?
UPDATE: Commenters rightly note that you've got to buy one of the new MB/MBPs in order to take advantage of this setup, since the mini-mini-nano-DVI ("DisplayPort") plug is proprietary (wait, no it's not; wait, yes it is) and has no adapters as yet. (How permanent a situation can that be, though?) This display and these laptops are clearly meant to be sold as a unit; either it's planned obsolescence, or it's Apple's uncompromising approach to design, in which they do what seems most ideal across the board with all new components, and screw backward-compatibility. Backward-compatibility is a mire that leads to Windows.
I'm not sure why Gruber is surprised that Apple is still selling the full lineup of regular Cinema Displays even with this new one in the picture. The Cinema Displays lack iSights/mikes, power passthru, and speakers, and instead have USB/FireWire hubs. They're also still LCD-based whereas the new one is LED. The regular Cinema Displays are clearly optimized for permanently-wired tower use, whereas the new 24" is designed around the MB/MBPs, which is a use case that demands a different enough feature set that they've finally stopped making us try to pretend it can fit comfortably into the desktop display lineup.
Also, I neglected to note that even if I got one of these setups for myself (my MBP is only two years old, so I doubt I'd need to upgrade anyway), I'd still have to plug in the Ethernet cable separately as part of the ritual. So this rig doesn't completely emulate a dock; but leaving room in the market for people who don't need a docking monitor and the compromises in port arrangement that a laptop with support for one would entail means that this is a pretty decent compromise.
I'm more or less resigned to an Obama presidency, in case anyone's wondering. I'm not particularly happy about it, especially as a small business owner who's likely to be directly in his sights tax-wise, but I don't think it'll be the end of the world. In fact, I suspect it may well be a good thing to a certain convoluted extent, with necessary caveats:
The worst thing about the coming Democratic victory (if that's what we're about to witness) is not that the Democrats will take over power. In a democracy control switches from party to party fairly regularly. It isn't even that the Democrats seem committed to a hard leftist agenda. We've been free from significant leftist experimentation for decades, but one must expect it from time to time.
The worst thing is that the left-wing Dems are poised to take control at a time of apparent economic crisis, or something approaching it. History suggests that under these circumstances, the party that gains control keeps it for longer than normal.
In other words, I'm sure it will be a whole lot less exhausting for the next four (?) years if the people around me and with whom I tend to associate don't feel it necessary to complain about politics as a first resort, the way they have since 2000. Not only will political discourse likely become a whole lot less angry and obstructionist and absolutist at all public levels, I may personally find myself a whole lot happier. And if the economy goes south (more?) following an Obama inauguration or other bad stuff happens, then I won't be throwing any parties or rubbing anyone's noses in anything (not only would it be bad form, it would put the lie to any theory I've held that such things are generally beyond the purview of whatever poor sap is in the big chair at the time anyway); but I also will take a certain wry satisfaction in knowing that at least it will be a chastening force against those people who expected a Second Coming. And for that matter, if things do get ridiculously better and we have another decade like the 90s that enjoyed giddy levels of growth and security more as an accident of historical rhythms than as a result of any particular policies, well, I'll celebrate just like everyone else and enjoy it while it lasts and keep quiet about the politics of it, since (as we all discovered in the 1996 election) there's nothing more pitiful than some embittered outsider trying to convince someone that he's not as happy as he thinks he is.
But all that said, the primary reason for my vote against Obama will not be for economic reasons, or military, or anything else policy-related, though those are all factors. It's simply that as a matter of personal principle, I cannot allow myself to have any part of letting peoplelikethese have their way.
It may be a futile effort, but I won't regret it, whatever the outcome.
UPDATE: Oh, and I just gotta say, whatever else Obama might or might not be, at least he's spared us the indignity of going through another episode of an effete intellectual leftist candidate desperately trying to win flyover-country hearts and minds by ineptly throwing footballs around or affecting an accent, like Kerry and Hillary. Claims of dishonesty might well be leveled here and there, but at least the guy is comfortable in his own shoes, which is more than I can say for McCain these days.
Ever have one of those moments when you're watching a video, and you think you know what's going on, or think that whatever is going on isn't worth caring about—and then suddenly something dawns on you that makes you suddenly pay reeeeal close attention? And immediately start sputtering and muttering and trying to dream up appropriate pithy phrases to use in response?