Archive for March, 2013


Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

This year’s GE class had 27 engineers from 19 different countries – all regular engineers this time, and not an MBA or economics degree amongst the bunch! The day before the lectures started, the Environment Committee of the European Parliament held an important vote to rescue the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), now awash in carbon allowances. It’s not finalized yet, but hopefully I’ll still be able to talk about the EU ETS next year….. instead of giving a post-mortem report, like I have to do for the US SO2 market.

Most of the time, the engineers in the class will smile (or at least give a low groan) if I tell a nerdy technical joke, but this year I didn’t even bother to tell them about a bumper sticker I recently came across:

Calculus: The Agony and dx/dt

I thought this was absolutely hilarious, and quickly sent it off to my daughters (two of whom are engineers)….. but their response (huh????) made me realize that these young engineers wouldn’t have appreciated it either. For those of you under 60 still scratching your heads, the bumper sticker is a pun on a best-selling 1961 Irving Stone novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy, later made into a film (of the same name) starring Charlton Heston. The book is a biographical novel of Michelangelo, but it wasn’t available on Kindle — so I bought an old, used college library copy (which somehow seemed more appropriate), and also checked out the movie on Netflix. I enjoyed them both very much!

In recent years I’ve made excursions back to the Accademia di Belle Arti to see David, and also to the Sistine Chapel and the Pietà in Rome…. [you realize, I’m sure, that not everything makes it into ‘Raufer Updates’!] So the book & the movie were just part of an ongoing, lifelong, never-ending Michelangelo appreciation tour — & this Florence visit allowed me to add a few more stops on that tour.

Hotel & Santa Maria Novella

In the first section of the novel, 13-year-old Michelangelo was serving as an apprentice to Domenico Ghirlandaio, and assisting him in painting frescoes in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. A visit to see these frescoes wasn’t too hard to arrange, since I was staying in the Grand Hotel Minerva, immediately adjacent to the church. Other visits included the Sagrestia Nuova in the Medici Chapel of the San Lorenzo Basiilica (described in section nine), as well as his final resting place in the Basilica of Santa Croce (just a few paces from the tombs of Galileo and Machiavelli, other Renaissance notables).

Michelangelo’s Tomb

Also in that ninth section of the novel, a heavy-hearted Michelangelo leaves the city on horseback, and

“…turned to look back at the Duomo, Baptistery and Campanile, at the tawny tower of the Palazzo Vecchio glistening in the September sunlight, at the exquisite city of stone nestled under its red tile roof. It was hard to take leave of one’s city; hard to feel that, close to sixty, he could not count on returning.”

But the very next sentence reads: “Resolutely he turned the horses south toward Rome,” and the author notes that this genius/artist still had a third of his life remaining ahead of him, with some of his finest sculpture, painting and architectural works still to come. No wonder I liked the book so much!


Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

San Juan Capistrano

My daughter and her family – and thus three of my five grandchildren – moved out to Southern California early last year, and we figured that February would be a great time to go see them. It turned out to be a good decision, since we avoided snowstorms in New Jersey … and had nice sunny weather in LA! I had a bit of r&r, and we beat the swallows to San Juan Capistrano this year … & took in some other sites around the region as well.
I hadn’t been out to LA for quite a while (since a 2007 trip for CLSA), and decided to prepare for the trip by reading Smogtown: A Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, an interesting book written by a couple of local journalists that came out the following year. They teased that “Orange County got its name from the color of its atmosphere, not its indigenous fruit,” and included some fascinating historical pictures… as well as a brief description of the complicated pollution trading scam (later described in greater detail by one of the authors) of a former CalTech professor turned ‘smog-credit swindler’ turned shady Philippine gold/West African ‘money repatriation’ entrepreneur.

‘Smogtown’ and ‘Sunsmoke’

Despite such tales, the authors promised in the book’s Preface that it wouldn’t be “a campy, low-brow take on the subject,” which made me think about the last book I had read about LA’s smog – a definitely campy, 1985 pulp fiction novel called Sunsmoke. You might recall that I spent many of the early years of my career doing atmospheric dispersion modeling – and this is definitely the only novel I have ever read written by a fellow dispersion modeler. They say that you can’t judge a book by its cover – but this one comes pretty close, with a nasty smog creature arising from the monitor screen of the early 80’s-era computer. The novel is replete with such moving passages as the following:

“He had been right about the clean air episode. The transport algorithm parameters had been modified. This particular solution scheme, SHASTA, Sharp and Smooth Transport Algorithm, depended on a balance between numerical diffusion (for stability) and antidiffusion (to undo the effects of the numerical diffusion). But the antidiffusion step had been amplified and the chemical composition of smog had been separated as effectively as if in a gas chromatograph.”

Yup, pretty racy novelistic writing… so what’s not to like, huh??