Dust flux, Vostok ice core

Dust flux, Vostok ice core
Two dimensional phase space reconstruction of dust flux from the Vostok core over the period 186-4 ka using the time derivative method. Dust flux on the x-axis, rate of change is on the y-axis. From Gipp (2001).

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Emergency storage for Canada's gold

The Diefenbunker--a cold-war-era bunker built to house the Canadian government in case of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union--has a deep vault which was intended to house Canada's gold reserves during just such an emergency. The bunker is in Carp, a small town on the rail line just west of Ottawa.

The vault is about 25 metres below the surface, and looks like it would make a pretty good discotheque. Obviously, there is no gold there now.

Behold! Canada's gold reserves.
The vault was to be guarded by an impressive vault door.

Changes in pressure could make it impossible to open the vault door, so they had a smaller door that could be opened in order to equalize pressure between the vault and the entry hall.

They also created a narrow passageway completely around the vault, so it was less likely to be damaged in an earthquake. The vault would have been guarded, but rather than walk around the vault, each corner had a mirror in it, so that the guard could see all around the vault from one place.

Welcome to the underground

The plan was to move the gold somewhere where it couldn't be irradiated. Maybe the thinking was that radioactive gold wouldn't be suitable as a monetary base. I'm not sure I agree. The velocity of money idea suggests that the faster money circulates, the better off the economy is, and if all the gold had been minted into coinage and pumped into circulation, I think the radioactive coins would have really circulated.

Anyway, I took a close look for Canada's gold reserves, but didn't find any.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Peonies in Luoyang

Peonies are the flower in Luoyang. Every spring there is a festival in their honour where peonies are on display at numerous sites around the city.

I don't know too much about them, so I can't tell you the names of the different varieties, but they are many.

Some venues are more substantial than others.

Just be careful if you invite a young lady to accompany you that you check your text message for any autocorrect errors.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Ancient tombs of China

Luoyang, the one-time capital of China, is probably most famous for the Longmen grottoes.The most famous set of sculptures was commissioned by Empress Wu.

Under her encouragement, the practice of Buddhism in China greatly flourished. She had a political motive of course. She encouraged an interpretation of an ancient scripture which prophesied the appearance of a female follower of the Buddha would rise to rule the entire continent--an interpretation clearly meant to refer to her.

Luoyang was the capital city at times during the Tang dynasty--at least until the supply problems at the preferred capital city of Chang'an (now Xi'an) were solved. Hence, Disneyesque Tang Dynasty park.

Capital cities usually have royal tombs. Luoyang is no exception.

Burial mound of Emperor Xuanwu, of the Northern Wei Dynasty.

  Brickwork and burial site in the imperial tomb. The grave goods seem to be long gone.

Older, well preserved tombs have been found associated with the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1200 BCE) near Anyang.

 Burial pit of Lady Fu Hao, Yin Xu ruins

Evidently, someone decided that the site of the old imperial tomb in Luoyang would be a good spot to build a museum--specifically one dedicated to showing the styles of tombs from earliest China up through the Song dynasty. Many graves were relocated brick by brick from their original locations to the underground portions of the museum. So in addition to having the usual sorts of displays of grave goods and frescoes, patrons of the museums can wander through underground crypts ranging in the Han and Wei dynasties up to the Song dynasty, and see how the tombs change in material and architectural sophistication through the ages.

Han Dynasty tombs are relatively simple--rectangular, with not much in the way of interesting brick work. Doors may or may not have elaborate patterns carved into them. Grave goods were common, mostly clay, but very important people would have bronze and jade (and occasionally bits of gold).

Through time, tombs became more elaborate, and began to feature frescoes.

Han Dynasty tomb fresco

Tang dynasty tomb fresco.

Common themes in the frescoes were travel, mythical creatures, and flowers. There were also images related to the former occupation of the tomb occupants.

As time passed, tombs became increasingly elaborate, with patterned bricks, more interesting architecture, and a more diverse grave goods until during the Tang Dynasty. Possibly people grew weary of tombs constantly being looted--the remedy was to prepare paper goods for the afterlife--these would be burned as the body was interred, and at intervals afterward (reflected in today's practice of burning "money" for the deceased).

Grave goods, northern Wei Dynasty

Tricolour porcelain grave goods, Tang dynasty

Jin Dynasty painted brick

Peonies were already popular in Luoyang before the Song Dynasty, and were a common decoration in local tombs.
Tang dynasty tomb detail

 Although grave goods disappeared, the elaboration of the tombs increased through the Song Dynasty, with octagonal tombs and all manner of decorative details on bricks, and frescoes.

Detailed brickwork in an octagonal tomb, Song Dynasty


Song Dynasty tomb frescoes.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Huang He fishing village

About two years ago, I set out to find the fishing village north of Zhengzhou, close to the Yellow River. It was reputed to be something of a minor tourist destination. I followed my trusty all-in-Chinese map, and although I got somewhat close, I never did find it. At the time I hadn't mastered the transit functions on my phone map, and ended up going slightly astray.

This spring I finally made it, and unfortunately, found it slightly underwhelming. The place seems to have given up on fishing and has given itself to hosting barbeques for the locals and especially their children.

The place doubles as a summer camp where students can practice art, while they live in abandoned rail cars.

Idyllic, but almost devoid of activity.

And what village would be complete without a monument to cabbage?

Saturday, March 4, 2017


This will be short--there are extreme VPN problems in China now, and it is uncertain when I can post again. I am finding that almost all sites are blocked, even with the VPN.

Tarbosaurus sp., on display in Hustai Mall, Ulaanbaatar.

Mongolia's principal dinosaur museum is in a suburban mall. I guess the idea is to go where the kids are . . .

Sauropod on display in Chicago O'Hare airport.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Virtue signalling in a cynical age

A recent story on Yahoo Finance tells us that the popular perception of Starbucks has fallen since the company announced that it would hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years. The action is intended as a response to President Trump's attempt to block the entry into the US of refugees from selected countries.

According to the chart below, consumer perception levels have fallen by about 2/3 since the day of the announcement (orange arrow).

(Yougov/Business Insider)

It may be tempting to consider this a case of blatant racism encouraged by the election of President Trump. But I don't think so. I do think the phenomenon is related to Trump's election, but not in such an obvious way.

Virtue signalling doesn't work as a marketing strategy anymore. In fact, this understates the problem--virtue signalling (expressing moral values through a conspicuous action) is almost entirely viewed negatively. The world has grown cynical, and it is generally the fault of elites of all types, who have shown us time and time again that the more they play up their high morals, the worse their morals truly are.

Years ago, virtue signalling worked--companies would make an announcement about paying a fair price to third-world wage slaves for coffee, and people would ascribe a higher moral character to that company. Any company that has has exercised virtuous behaviour consistently over a number of years still benefits from it, but apparently any new attempt to signal virtue is viewed cynically as merely a tool to win favour.

In the old world, virtue signalling meant, "I am a good person." In the cynical world, it means, "I am a good person (but we both know that's not really true)."

More than twenty years ago, when I was teaching geology at the University of Toronto, it was common for students in environmental science to come visit me and tell me that they always recycled and composted. They were trying to sound like good people, but I perceived it as a lame attempt to suck up to the professor. I usually gave them a non-commital answer like, "That's nice. (Now go away, please)."

I prefer vice signalling. Once when one of my students told me about her prodigious feats of recycling, I told her that I actually encouraged people to create as much garbage as possible, because it meant more work for geologists, both in mining and in landfill siting.

In the old world, vice signalling meant, "I am a bad person." In the cynical world, it means, "I am a bad person (but we both know that's not really true)."

In the cynical world, the attempt by Starbucks to make themselves look good had the opposite effect. They might have been better off with a different marketing campaign. "At Starbucks, we believe in screwing over third-world coffee-pickers so you can have a great-tasting cup of coffee at an unbeatable price." Except the unbeatable price part doesn't fit Starbuck's positioning. But maybe some other coffee company could try it--it would be a killer campaign.

It is the cynical world, more than anything else, that is responsible for the election of President Trump. Virtue is simply out of favour. If Clinton had run her campaign twenty years ago, when the world was less cynical, she would probably have won. But in the cynical world, too many people thought, "she has to be a real crook to be trying this hard to look good."

For his part, Trump seems to have understood the value of vice signalling. Perhaps it was due to his businesses (for all their ups and downs, he always did market himself pretty well), whereas poor doomed Hillary and her advisors hoped that Americans still admired virtue. In the cynical world, virtue has fallen out of style. The worse Trump made himself look, the better people thought of him.

Is this the end for virtue? I think we have reached a watershed moment, where the world is so cynical, it has come to believe the opposite of everything we once held true. But the world tends to move in cycles, and I can't help but think we have stretched the elastic as far as it will go in this direction.

After the Trump presidency (however long it lasts), I think people will appreciate virtue again.