How not to measure temperature

Former TV Weatherman Anthony Watts asked an interesting question one day. He wondered if the kind of paint used to protect the shelters that hold the thermometers used for over a hundred years to measure local temperatures mattered. So he did a little research, found some recipes for classic whitewash and some samples of modern paints and set up an experiment.

Along the way, he got a look at a couple of official weather stations. They were not a pretty sight. He looked at a couple more. They weren't a lot better. Then he had a bright idea. Why not go and personally inspect all 1221 stations that make up the US Historical Climate Network (USHCN). This is a "high quality, moderate-sized data set of daily and monthly records of basic meteorological variables from over 1000 observing stations across the 48 contiguous United States" according to its maintainers.

This is a huge undertaking, but odder things have come to pass with the help of volunteers and the Internet to organize them. Thus came about the Surface Stations site and the army of volunteers that have surveyed, photographed and rated over 70% of the USHCN stations to date. Site ratings are based on NOAA's own guidelines and criteria.

Along the way, stations are found that have issues so clear that they have been singled out to become the subject of blog posts. Admittedly, these are generally the worst of the worst of the stations, so this list clearly shows a kind of selection bias...

To date, 89 examples of How Not to Measure Temperature have been posted at Watts Up With That. I've listed them all here, because there isn't an easy way to get this list directly from the site and they make interesting reading. Naturally, this list will be out of date shortly...

  1. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/05/26/how-not-to-measure-temperature/
  2. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/05/28/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-2/
  3. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/05/31/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-3/
  4. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/06/01/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-4-at-the-royal-observatory/
  5. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/06/01/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-5/
  6. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/06/03/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-6/
  7. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/06/08/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-7/
  8. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/06/11/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-8/
  9. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/06/15/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-9/
  10. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/06/17/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-10/
  11. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/06/22/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-11/
  12. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/06/23/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-12/
  13. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/06/26/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-13/
  14. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/06/27/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-14/
  15. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/06/28/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-15/
  16. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/06/30/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-16/
  17. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/07/02/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-17/
  18. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/07/08/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-18/
  19. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/07/09/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-19/
  20. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/07/10/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-20/
  21. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/07/11/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-21/
  22. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/07/21/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-22/
  23. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/07/22/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-23/
  24. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/07/25/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-24/
  25. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/07/26/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-25/
  26. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/08/01/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-26-counting-ac-units/
  27. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/08/04/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-27-basketball-anyone/
  28. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/08/06/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-28-eureka/
  29. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/08/22/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-29/
  30. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/08/28/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-30/
  31. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/09/20/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-31/
  32. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/10/01/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-32/
  33. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/10/23/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-33/
  34. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/11/19/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-34/
  35. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/11/20/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-35/
  36. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/11/25/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-36/
  37. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/11/26/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part37/
  38. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/11/27/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-38/
  39. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/11/28/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-39/
  40. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/11/29/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-40/
  41. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/12/02/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-41/
  42. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/12/03/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-42/
  43. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/12/04/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-43/
  44. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/12/05/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-44/
  45. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/12/10/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-45/
  46. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/01/10/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-46-renos-ushcn-station/
  47. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/01/20/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-47/
  48. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/01/23/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-48-noaa-admits-to-error-with-baltimores-rooftop-ushcn-station/
  49. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/01/27/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-49-alaskas-coop-stations/
  50. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/01/29/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-50-how-to-make-a-rural-station-urban/
  51. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/02/14/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-51/
  52. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/02/17/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-52-another-ufa-sighted-in-arizona/
  53. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/03/17/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-53-find-the-noaa-thermometer-in-this-picture/
  54. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/03/24/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-54-los-angeles-the-city/
  55. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/04/01/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-55/
  56. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/04/03/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-56/
  57. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/04/10/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-57/
  58. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/04/14/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-58/
  59. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/04/16/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-59/
  60. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/04/17/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-60/
  61. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/04/18/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-61-maintenance-optional/
  62. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/05/19/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-62/
  63. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/05/28/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-63/
  64. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/06/17/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-64/
  65. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/06/17/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-65/
  66. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/07/07/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-66/
  67. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/07/15/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-67/
  68.  http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/07/28/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-68/
  69. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/08/23/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-69/
  70. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/09/12/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-70/
  71. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/09/15/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-71-noaa-neglect-of-volunteer-observers/
  72. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/10/04/how-not-to-measure-temperature-italian-style/
  73. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/10/30/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-73-in-the-middle-of-nowhere/
  74. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/11/19/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-74/
  75. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/11/20/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-75/
  76. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/11/24/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-76/
  77. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/11/26/surveying-a-weather-station-by-watching-jeopardy/
  78. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/11/27/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-78-teach-the-children-well/
  79. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/12/08/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-79-would-you-could-you-with-a-boat/
  80. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/01/02/where-thermometers-go-to-die-how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-80/
  81. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/02/07/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-81-roofing-the-past-in-columbia/
  82. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/02/13/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-82-friday-the-13th-the-temperature-shelter/
  83. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/02/20/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-83-no-smoking-please/
  84. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/03/22/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-84-pristine-mohonk-lake-ushcn-station-revisited/
  85. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/03/23/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-85-what-katrina-did-for-temperature-measurement/
  86. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/03/28/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-86-when-in-rome-dont-do-as-the-romans-do/
  87. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/05/28/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-87-grilling-in-the-cornhusker-state/
  88. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/06/16/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-88-honolulus-official-temperature-2/
  89. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/07/04/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-89-surface-temperature/

To balance the hugely unfair selection of stations shown above, here are some posts about stations that are exceptionally well sited and maintained:

  1. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/07/04/how-to-measure-temperature-part-1/
  2. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/07/05/how-to-measure-temperate-part-2-down-under/

I wouldn't want to sound too judgmental, but the survey results show that the USHCN is anything but a high quality network, because about 89% of stations surveyed fail to meet reasonable standards for siting. Standards published by the same people who created the USHCN in the first place.

A report was published at the 70% coverage point, and more analysis is in the works.

Worse, it is hard to imagine that the situation in much of the rest of the world is a whole lot better.


House of Leaves

I just finished reading House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.

Tempting as it is to indulge in the kinds of odd typography layout used in the book in a review, it just doesn't seem worth the effort. The one indulgence I'll allow myself is the color blue applied to all occurrences of the word "house". The rest is just too much work to do here.

The book as a substantial work, at something like 700 pages. Some of those pages are crammed with text to the point of almost not fitting inside the trimmed size of the page, and some are nearly empty.

The story is told on three layers, two of which are physically present in the book. The first layer is a documentary film about the house on Ash Tree Lane, made by its owners during their occupancy of the property. Intended as documentary, it also functions as horror, and at some strange level as a love story. The film is presented as real, and as the subject of a substantial amount of critical review and analysis.

The second layer is a critical work about the film, written by an old, blind man, left unfinished when he died in somewhat mysterious circumstances. This is the main text of the published book, and takes an erudite approach to the subject of the film, and incidentally recounts the content of the film as it progresses. It is heavily footnoted both as citations to the source material quoted, and to provide translations of some of the many quotations presented in their original languages.

This text is set in unconventional ways in several of the chapters. It often gives the impression that just writing about the events of the film forces the text layout to reflect some of those events. This is most obvious as changes to the shape of the house are reflected in the page layouts, with claustrophobic sections trapped in a tiny section of an otherwise blank page, a maze represented by text and footnotes tangled and running all ways on the page, and so forth.

The third layer is provided in footnotes by the younger man who acquired the manuscript after its author's death, and has become obsessed with pulling it into form suitable for publication. He too is subject to the subject, and given that he has his own personal demons joining the party, it isn't entirely clear that he'll survive the work.

At times, the reader gets the distinct impression that the three layers are at war with each other, and the reader is playing the role of battlefield, or perhaps civilian collateral damage.

I picked up the book due to an XKCD cartoon titled House of Pancakes. I've since spotted it in several bookstores, but oddly shelved. It is usually in the horror section, but I've spotted with the graphic novels and manga as well.

Would I recommend it? Certainly not to everyone.

Would I seek out other books by the same author? I'm not sure.

What about music by the author's sister that was inspired by the book? I don't know, but it seemed to move the principle character in the third layer story when he happened on to a band playing music inspired by an internet bootleg copy of the book he hadn't published yet...

Having finished it, I have to wonder if it was worth the effort. I'm still not sure. From one point of view, the book is a self-indulgent waste of time and the paper it was printed on. However, it is probably the best researched and most complete hoax of its kind I've ever seen. It is reminiscent in some ways of the seminal volumes Why Paint Cats and Why Cats Paint which both produced some of the same reactions.


I told you RFID didn't belong in passports!


A recent RISKS issue contains this item contributed by the editor, Peter G. Neumann:

Using inexpensive off-the-shelf components (a Motorola RFID reader and antenna, and a PC) ... Chris Paget ... built a mobile platform in his spare time that can clone large numbers of the unique RFID tag electronic identifiers used in U.S. passport cards and next generation drivers licenses. While driving around San Francisco for 20 minutes, he was able to harvest two passport tags without knowledge of their owners from up to 30 feet away.

Read the rest of the RISKS item over at the archive, or a complete article over at SecurityFocus.

Given the huge security risks that ought to be self-evident here, what justifies the use of a technology like RFID that can be read at a distance without the awareness of the document holder?

The only sensible approach in the first place was to use an optical technology such as a 2-D barcode symbology if it really was necessary to put more information into the electronic record than just the passport number itself. Printed inside the cover (or on the back of a card) it would be immensely more difficult to read at a distance, and since the cover would normally not be left open, it would rarely be possible to get the content without the holder knowing. Even better, because the symbol is visible the owner would be more likely to know that the threat exists, and avoid leaving it laying out open to the symbol in plain view.

In contrast, the RFID tag is invisible to the owner and can be read without opening the document (or without even removing it from a pocket or wallet).

Until the world comes to its senses, wrapping your passport in copper foil may well be the only sensible action. Of course, you will then have to explain yourself to the nice TSA agent at the security checkpoint...



Coraline, now in theaters in 3D

We saw Coraline[IMDB][wiki] the other day. It was shown in one of the new digitally projected 3D systems at our local multiplex.


I was very taken with the book by Neil Gaiman, who is one of my favorite authors. It is a simple story about a young girl who feels neglected by her workaholic parents. They move to an old house that has been divided into flats, taking the large flat for their own. While exploring the house, Coraline (not Caroline!) finds a locked door in the parlor that appears at first to open onto a brick wall. Later, she finds it opens into another world where her "other" mother and father dote on her. They seem a little creepy, an effect enhanced by having large black buttons sewn in place of their eyes. She can stay, but only if she consents to have the buttons herself.... Read the book and you'll never look at buttons the same way again.

The movie actually extends the story beyond the book in several ways, and it does it without breaking it. In fact, the film's version of the story is better at least as handled on screen. The writers added an entire new character and improved the depth of the back story of the villainess. They even managed to fit a musical number in that was written (but not performed) by They Might be Giants.

Given that it was directed by Henry Selick (who directed Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, and Monkey Bone) the stop-motion animation is as striking as could be expected. More striking is the delicate use of 3D projection. The 3D was used to give extra depth to the scenery without abusing the audience. It was not used as a gimmick. There is a hint of the effort expended on the animation in a short segment after the credit roll that shows a sequence shot from a wider angle and without any of the clamps or wires removed. There was some CGI used, but mostly for cleanups and wire removal.

In short, see this movie.


Valuable, Open Content Creation Tools

As a software developer, I am certainly no enemy of commercial software. However, the quality of some of the free and open source alternatives has been giving their commercial competitors quite a run for their money. This is especially true for the casual or occasional user. It would be extremely difficult to justify a complete set of professional-level commercial tools just to support a hobby, but when the price is $0, the question is more one of learning curve and disk space.

Adobe has always had a large market share of the paint and drawing markets with Photoshop and Illustrator. They invented the PostScript page description language and the closely related PDF file format. They are the current owners of the high-end publishing system FrameMaker, and recently became the owners of the widely used Shockwave and Flash tools. For each of these niche products, a slew of "almost as good" commercial competitors have also been around for a while, but the open source community has been a lot slower to catch up.

Here are a few free alternatives that should be on the radar:

The GIMP is a paint tool that has overcome its anti-Windows roots to become a widely used and extremely powerful competitor to Photoshop. I haven't personally used it (when I had the chance to adopt it instead of Photoshop, its developers were still exceedingly hostile to the idea that it would ever run on Windows, so I bought Photoshop instead) but reviews and testimonials make it pretty clear that it must be taken seriously. If I were new to the market today, I would strongly consider buying Lightroom from Adobe for its RAW file handling and lightweight DAM capabilities and installing the GIMP for use on larger editing tasks such as stubborn corrections and montage.

Inkscape is a vector graphic drawing tool that set out to be the both the best possible drawing environment it could and the best example of a full-featured editor for the SVG file format. It is well on its way to succeeding on both fronts. I had tried using Corel Draw in the dark ages (under Windows 3.0, IIRC) and never got hooked. Inkscape lacks the easy templates and shapes of Visio, but then it isn't primarily a diagramming tool, and Visio was never intended to be an art and illustration tool.

Scribus is clearly aiming to become the best available professional publishing tool. This is not for casual users. But if you had a budget and would be considering FrameMaker, taking a good hard look at Scribus might pay for a fair amount of pizza and coffee. I have used FM (it was standard at a customer's site in 1988) but I haven't personally used Scribus (yet) so I'm basing this impression on reviews and testimonials. FM in 1988 was complicated, huge, heavy, expensive, and exceedingly reliable when producing huge technical manuals. FM today is more complicated and no less expensive. Of course, if having a GUI is not critical, then the clear winner over both is probably LaTeX. A good distribution that runs well under Windows is free from MiKTeX.

Blender is one other tool that deserves a mention, although I have not had the chance to even give it a test run yet. It describes itself as a "free open source 3D content creation suite." It seems to have an extremely complete set of modeling, rendering and animation features.