Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Up, Periscope!

Bruce Springsteen and Max Weinberg, earlier this evening at Madison Square Garden as seen on periscope.
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It's Wednesday night and I'm sitting at home in Michigan and I'm watching Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performing live in Madison Square Garden. Oh, it's not on TV, and it's not "official." The picture is somewhat awful, but the sound is pretty good through my computer speakers. Anyway, what can we expect from a cell phone?

This day has been coming for many years. The day when an event like this would be fearlessly broadcast, live, from inside the event venue to anywhere in the outside world. Periscope, acquired by twitter in 2015 before it was even released to the public, was hardly the first app to enable broadcasts from smartphones, but so far it sure seems to be the best. Their slogan is, "Explore the world through someone else's eyes." A week ago, when Bruce played in Chicago, at any given moment there were, it seemed, between 11 and 20 live periscopes. I'm becoming addicted: I may explore the entire Springsteen tour through many people's eyes.

For the most part, I don't watch. I just listen. As I type, I'm listening to Bruce give a soulful introduction to I Wanna Marry You that was retired for decades before this tour. It's beautiful and special and I'm happy being able to listen to it while I type. In a couple days it'll be for sale at Oops! Bruce just messed it up. "Sometimes even the tightest band in the world fucks it up!" "Ooooohhh!! I fucked it up!" Now I get to see him play maracas.

While I was watching that Chicago show, I texted my son in college. It went like this:

Kids don't impress as easily, I guess. Then he added, about the broadcasters, "really people should just enjoy the concert for what it is; live." He's a music major. He is also very wise. I agree that I don't completely understand the impulse to broadcast large portions of a show to the world at large, nor to hold a cellphone up for an hour or two at a time (hopefully -- but likely not -- doing it without distracting anyone else in the arena), but as someone at home being able to listen while I type, it sure is nice for me.

From stage left. The picture is nothing special, but the sound is good enough.
The technology, of course, is still wildly imperfect. People lose their internet connections. Or security finds them -- though there are too many of them for security to get them all, or so it seems. Some folks are just a bit dumb, shooting selfies of themselves or singing along a little too loudly with the music... no, make that a lot too loudly with the music. In Chicago one broadcaster, we'll call him Ivan, was plainly trying to impress some girls with his loud knowledge of the words; those of us following on facebook started feeling sorry for the people sitting around Ivan. Then there are those who feel compelled to add their own commentary to what they are allowing us to witness. It's a small percentage markup on the price I'm not paying to watch.

Watching a show on periscope can be a bit like having a personal transporter. With a couple mouse clicks we jump from one vantage point in the arena clear to the other side, or up, or down. One person tonight even advertised that he was broadcasting from section 227; I guess he's not too scared of security. During those moments when I watch, I can get an idea of the staging, to get an idea of what I'll witness when I finally get to a show in a few weeks.

And now, from straight back.
Then... then... then... my computer crashed!!! Here Bruce is, introducing Stolen Car, and... well, I guess that is a propos. It took until The Price You Pay to get it back.
This show includes the entirety of The River album, so for the first 21 songs (the show opens with a River outtake called Meet Me In The City), it's a fixed order. Then there are the additional songs. Last week he worked up a sweet acoustic version of "Take It Easy," in tribute to Glenn Frey. Maybe there will be something special tonight, too. With periscope and the help of someone holding up a cellphone entirely too long, a few thousand of us will be watching, live.

The River is about time. Time slipping away. Make the most of it. That, more or less, is Bruce's closing spoken line to The River portion of the show. I'm not sure that watching a periscope broadcast of his show qualifies for making the most of it... but it's been fun so far.
Thunder Road from way up high.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Quite a Bit Warmer

Graph 1: Ascending: The global temperatures of my life. (data source: GISS)
January 9, 2016: Last January, I posted a piece I titled, "Just a Little Bit Warmer," just after NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) released the final piece of data for 2014 global temperatures. As expected, the data showed that 2014 was the hottest year since the beginning of record keeping in 1980, albeit by a very small margin.

In a few days, GISS will publish the final data for 2015. Once again, it'll be a new record. This time, by a wide margin. The data will be at

In October, the Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index crossed 1 full degree celsius above normal, for the first time ever. November became the 2nd month in a row above that mark, and December may well make it 3 consecutive. 2015 will also mark the 4th consecutive year of rising global temperatures; the last time that happened was 100 years ago. So far as I can determine, 5 in a row has never happened during the 135 years of record keeping.

As I noted last year, global warming has been consistent over the half century of my life. But warming is measured in increments we might consider "small." The GISS numbers are presented in hundredths of degrees celsius; the average yearly increment over the course of my life is barely one one hundredth of a degree. 2015 was fully a tenth of a degree warmer than 2014, which was already a year of record warmth. That's not really small.

Last year, I wrote: "2014's record warmth -- with no El Niño this time -- was as predictable as the sun rising in the East, and even cherry picked data points won't flatten the trend line anymore (note: with small data sets -- and 17 points is a relatively small set, one anomaly can throw the trend; just as having the start point in 1998 flattens things, so too would a single new "cold" year)."

That all changed, of course. El Niño returned in 2015, and the temperature records were shattered. Of course, once El Niño ends, we'll likely see a drop in global temperatures for a year or two -- just long enough for the deniers to come out of their foxholes again. In the meantime, even with 1998 picked as a startpoint, the trendline is no longer flat, nor even close to flat:
Graph 2: Even starting with the El Niño of 1998, it's still getting warmer. (data source: GISS)
Then there's the local weather: Last year, the question might have been, How can there be global warming when it's 10 below outside? Indeed, in Michigan, if I start with 1998 I can draw a trend line that's still down rather than up.
Graph 3: That local trend line is still down! (data source: Weather Underground)
Few people here are saying that this year, however. That's likely because in Detroit, where people are accustomed to low temperatures pushing 0 degrees Fahrenheit in the late fall and winter months, the temperature never once dipped below 21 once the polar vortex finally ended in March. Hours before writing this post, I ventured out to my barber, wearing nothing heavier than the same sweatshirt I might wear on a cool Michigania evening in early July. When the snow and cold finally arrives, as it is predicted to do within the next few hours, the "what warming?" questions will no doubt follow.

Graph 4: Detroit temperatures, compared to normal, in 2015. The historically warm December helped locals forget about February. (data source: Weather Underground)
Addendum, January 16, 2016: It took a little longer than I expected, but the final numbers for 2016 were finally posted today. As expected, 2015 is the warmest year on record. As expected, December was warm. Very warm. December is now the warmest month ever, compared to average. Warmer than the previous warmest December of 2014 by .34 degrees celsius, a huge margin. I'm confident it is the largest such margin ever recorded. The December warmth pushed the full year to 87 hundredths of a degree above normal, .13 degrees warmer than the previous record set in 2014.