Simon Waldman Tue, 16 May 2017 11:38:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Google Scholar oddness Tue, 16 May 2017 11:38:08 +0000 That was entertaining.

Like many people, I have some ongoing Google Scholar Alerts set up. These bring up most of the new relevant work in my area, as well as a fair number of false positives.

The spurious results usually come from astrophysics, which is fair enough as they use similar types of model and legitimately talk about tides a lot. Sometimes I also get medical stuff, when researchers use the word “tidal” relating to breathing.

But this is new. Today’s alert suggests that I read,

“Beyond the thong : Contexts, prepresentations, and the performances of erotic masculinities in male strip show(s)”

It appears to be somebody’s thesis in anthropology or some related field. It refers to a stripper called “Mike”, who shares a name with some of my software….

First journal article! Mon, 15 May 2017 18:57:31 +0000 Well, sort of. My last post also listed two journal articles but I was a minor author on those, contributing a small part of the text and comments on the rest. This post is about my first article as lead author.

It’s called “Implementation of tidal turbines in MIKE 3 and Delft3D models of Pentland Firth & Orkney Waters”, and it describes work that myself and two groups at Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Universities did a few years ago, near the start of my PhD. Lots of people have represented tidal turbines in regional-scale flow models, but most of them have used academic codes that industry and investors won’t trust, or have modified trusted code – which itself tends to undermine that trust. Our aim for this work was to look at how tidal energy extraction can best be represented in two widely-used commerical modelling suites, without modifying their code. We also did some actual modelling, by way of example, and the results of that have been passed on to others in the project to use for ecological work.

In a small way this was perhaps a baptism by fire, in that I had to pull together work and writing done by people far senior to myself, add my own work on top of each, and try to construct a single coherent publication. Perhaps partly for this reason, coupled with my own inexperience, it had a long journey through review… but it’s out there now, and I’m glad it’s done!

If you have a subscription to Ocean & Coastal Management you can read the published version here; otherwise the “accepted version” (without journal formatting) is available at this finely crafted link.

New publications! Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:45:29 +0000 A quick post to announce a couple of new things listed on the publications page. In both cases I’m a minor contributor.

One is a summary paper covering the TeraWatt project, and drawing out conclusions from a number of primary publications (including one of mine which, while cited in this one, is actually still in review!).

The other is an updated review of the wave and tidal energy resource of Scotland. Contributors are from multiple universities across Scotland, including myself, skilfully corralled by Simon Neill.

Keen eyes may also notice a new paper listed as “in review”, based on the work that I did in Japan last summer. More on that if and when it is published.

Fun with smart meter installations Sat, 11 Mar 2017 16:12:11 +0000 As readers may know, all UK residences are supposed to have smart energy meters by 2020. Last week I got a letter from Actavo, explaining that they are acting on behalf of Scottish Power to install these. It asked me to ring them to arrange a convenient time.

Fair enough. I called. After a few minutes on hold a lady took my name and address, and then asked, “Where is your electricity meter?”. I responded that it was above a door in the hallway. She asked whether it is more than 8 feet high. I said that it was in that ballpark and might be 7’8″ or 8’2″, and she responded that in that case, because it would count as “working at height”, they would not be able to do the installation after all.

That’s bizarre, because any normal electrician would do the work without a second thought, and it makes me wonder about the level of training of the people they’re using… but I asked why they had sent the letters out if they couldn’t do the work. The response was,

“Until we started doing this work, we didn’t realise that some meters are high”.

I confess, dear reader, that at this point I laughed down the phone at the poor lady. I then apologised and explained that I realised that it wasn’t her fault, but that it was funny…

So apparently I’m to sit tight until they figure out how they can install smart meters above head height without endangering themselves, at which point they’ll call or write to me again.

Writing retreat Mon, 14 Nov 2016 15:34:06 +0000 Closeup of a woman typing on a laptop with a notebook and a mobile phone next to her.

Photo: Public domain (CC0).

Last week myself and nine other researchers of various levels, from PhD to professor, drove ourselves to a moderately large country house in the middle of nowhere to write. All of us had a paper to produce; some were converting thesis chapters into journal articles, some (like me) had new and fully-outlined articles that they just needed to sit down and write, and others had less-clear ideas that they needed clear thinking time on.

Writing, and subsequently publishing, is probably the most important thing that most researchers do – at least in career terms – but it is never the most urgent. There are always other things demanding attention, and those things tend to have deadlines, while journal articles usually do not. As a result it can be hard to set aside time to get papers written. Setting aside a week for doing nothing else allowed people to protect their time and, at least as importantly, their thinking space, and there was a consensus among the group that this was a Good Thing.

During working hours we mostly wrote; at mealtimes and in the evenings we socialised, discussed our work, played giant Jenga, and bounced ideas. One biologist benefited greatly from this cross-fertilisation when she spoke to a policy expert and realised that her very specific, factual article about a protected area for a specific species raised an important policy issue that is much more widely applicable. Now she is planning to expand the focus of her paper and submit to a different (and more prestigious) journal.

I had a good time professionally and socially, and I had a productive time, and now I have a fully drafted paper that I need to fill in a few figures on and send off to co-authors. Woo!

CFD news Fri, 11 Nov 2016 11:06:08 +0000 Two men in suits shaking hands across a large amount of money

Photo: Pixabay user Geralt; CC0 public domain.

Amidst all the attention that has been (rightly) focused on the US presidential election, the UK government has published something that has been long-awaited by the renewable energy industry: Details of the next round of Contract for Difference (CFD) subsidies. For anybody who wants to read the details themselves, they are here.

The first thing to note is that this is a very short-term measure; while the previous round, in 2014, covered the six-year period of 2015-2021 (that is only six – they’re financial years), this round is for just two more years of support from 2021-2023. So after all the uncertainty leading up to this announcement, we’ll still be begging for info again in not all that long.

In terms of technologies, onshore wind is gone as expected (and as per the Conservative manifesto commitment). There had been talk of making an exception for Scottish islands, and this hasn’t been totally abandoned, but it has been kicked into the long grass with another consultation. Offshore wind is in, with a strike price of £105/MWh that reduces to £100 later. That’s good – it’s the price that the offshore wind industry has been publicly aiming at, and they show every sign of meeting or exceeding it.

Tidal is in there as well, at £300/MWh (reducing to £295), which is probably a reasonable price… but there’s a catch. In the earlier round there had been a certain amount of capacity that was reserved for the more expensive, less-developed, technologies, but this time that is gone. There’s a total budget for payments of £290m/year, and if sufficient generators apply to use this up then the contracts will be auctioned off to the lowest bidders; and there’s no way that a tidal scheme can hope to complete with offshore wind on price right now.

I’m not sure exactly how this calculation is done, given that the subsidy costs of a development will depend both on the amount of energy generated and the market price for electicity at the time (remember that the government only pays the difference between the market price and the agreed price, not the whole lot), but in a very rough back-of-an-envelope sort of way I reckon that around 2-3GW of offshore wind capacity could use up that annual pot and leave nothing for tidal. That eventuality would be bad news, but even that possibility is probably bad news – because it means that rather than tidal developers and investors having certainty from the announcement date, they won’t know whether they have viable projects until the auction is held. I’m not sure whether any date for that has yet been announced.

November writing Wed, 02 Nov 2016 23:31:43 +0000 Text scrawled across a colour chart reading "insert something profound here"

Photo: Flickr user maddiegascar95. Licensed CC-BY-SA 2.0.

It’s November, and that means that a number of my friends are starting on NaNoWriMo, a crazy scheme to write a novel in a month. I am not doing that, but I do have a lot that I need to write. So I’m setting myself a goal to write something every working day in November, and maybe a few other days as well.

I’m going to use a pretty broad definition of “writing” here. Outlining counts (this is a necessary part of my writing process). Reading my work and editing counts (this is not NaNoWriMo, I’m not simply trying to bash out wordcount). Reading papers, if not also accompanied by writing, does not count – endless reading when trying to write is a particular trap that I tend to fall into.

Next week I’m going on a “writing retreat”, where a group of researchers who have papers to write sequester themselves in the middle of nowhere for a few days to do that, with mutual support. The idea for me is to get a paper drafted without letting it spread and encroach too much on my thesis work. It also has the benefit of providing a deadline for being ready to write, and this week I’m putting a lot of effort into getting all of the data ready. Today’s “writing” task was outlining that paper (more precisely re-outlining it, as last week’s data didn’t show quite what was expected).

Things that I hope to write during November:

  • A summary of what I did in October. I find that writing these up monthly is really helpful for me.
  • The paper that the writing retreat is for.
  • Revision of another paper in line with reviewer comments.
  • Updating and refactoring the literature review for my thesis. Some of what I did a couple of years ago is no longer relevant as my subject has shifted, and other stuff is now needed. This is a bit open-ended, and is unlikely to be finished this month.
  • Maybe some more blog entries? They totally count 🙂

It’s likely that one of these will slip, but…. we’ll see.

Renewable liquid fuels – No silver bullet, but perhaps important. Fri, 21 Oct 2016 10:41:58 +0000 Over the last few days I’ve seen a number of tweets appear like this

and like this

The story is one about a paper in Science which goes way over my head, but which appears to talk about a new catalysed method of sucking CO2 out of the air and using it to produce ethanol. A number of people have reacted as though this will solve all our problems. They are wrong. This is not a clean fuel source that will solve all our energy problems, because the process will require an energy input greater than that which is released by burning the ethanol. I’m no organic chemist, but if that wasn’t the case it would be bucking some of the most fundamental principles of physics. This isn’t free energy, and it isn’t going to make climate change go away.

However, it may still be important. If the round-trip efficiency is good enough, it may provide a useful means of long-term storage of energy. Even if the efficiency is relatively poor, it may still be important as a sustainable way of producing an energy-dense liquid fuel for those transport applications, such as aircraft, ships, or heavy trucks, that don’t show any prospect of being electrified any time soon. In this way the new technology is in competition with other ideas for producing methanol, ammonia, or (beloved of many) hydrogen. If the new catalyst makes this more efficient, all the better.

Timber structures and notions of permanence Wed, 05 Oct 2016 07:37:45 +0000 There was a sign that amused me, on the summit of a sacred mountain, which read,

“The Konpon Daitō is the tallest building in Kōyasan… In later centuries the Konpon Daitō was destroyed in fires caused by lightning striking five times, and rebuilt each time. After the great fire of 1843, only the foundation stones remained. The existing building was rebuilt in 1937.”

Some people just don’t seem to get the message!

But it illustrates a wider observation, which is that in Japan an ancient wooden temple or other structure can still be ancient even if it has been rebuilt many times, the latest sometimes being quite recent. Indeed, it is tradition that some of the most important temples are deliberately torn down and rebuilt every few decades. Other places are “renovated” every 50 years in a way that pretty much entails dismantling them and putting them back together again, replacing timber wherever it is no longer sound. These processes don’t cause anybody to think of them as modern structures.

A white, traditional castle. Although it's hard to tell, it's constructed from concrete.

Kokura-jō: Four hundred years old, or sixty?

A similar concept applies to castles. Castles in Japan were made of wood, and thus prone to being burnt down – sometimes by accident, sometimes by the enemies of the occupants, and sometimes by the occupants themselves on the occasion of their departure. When one visits a castle one tends to find a litany of all the times they were destroyed and rebuilt. It’s not unusual for the last rebuilding to have been in the 1950s or 60s, out of reinforced concrete, but they’re not really thought of as replicas.

There’s a strong element of My Grandfather’s Axe here. It’s echoed to some degree in descriptions of British churches (and occasionally pubs), which tend to go “There has been a church here since 1273…”, but the British think in terms of the site: there was a church here, but it was not this church. The Japanese view of it, at least as I perceived it through the flaws of translations, is that it’s the same building. It’s as though it’s the notion of the building that’s important, rather than its physical or material structure.

A new-looking timber building behind a fence in woodland, built in the style of a pre-buddhist Shinto shrine

Ise Grand Shrine: Two thousand years old, but rebuilt every twenty. Photo: Flickr user Kzaral, licensed CC-BY 2.0