One of my main strategies for organizing information is to create databases for subjects of interest. I’m using the term in the broad Wikipedia sense of “an organized collection of data, stored and accessed electronically” here, and it includes everything from a single folder where PDF versions of all the references cited in a particular monograph of mine are stored to financial tracking spreadsheets, records of my weight, and sets of original RAW files for my photoshoots.

So far for my PhD research I have set up a few:

  • A spreadsheet of all accredited Canadian universities, with pertinent information about each divestment campaign I have identified
  • A master timeline for significant events in all campaigns, as well as events relevant to university divestment that happened in other institutions, like municipalities
  • A list of all scholarly work about university divestment campaigns, including which school(s) the authors looked at
  • A spreadsheet with titles and links to common document types at many campaigns, including detailed petitions like our ‘brief’, recommendations from university-appointed committees, and formal justification for university decisions
  • The consent database specified in my ethics protocol, which has also been useful for keeping tabs on people who I’m awaiting responses from
  • (Somewhat embarrassingly) A Google sheet where I manually tally how long each MS Word chapter draft is at midnight each day

For my earlier pipeline resistance project I had started putting together a link chart of relevant organizations and individuals, as well as a glossary and timeline.

I would love to have more formal training (and ideally coding ability) for working with more flexible kinds of databases than spreadsheets. That would be useful for debugging WordPress MySQL issues, but more importantly for more fundamental data manipulation and analysis. I haven’t really coded (aside from HTML and LaTeX) since long-passed days of tinkering with QBASIC and Pascal during the days of my youth in Vancouver. It seems like it would make a lot of sense to learn Python as a means of building and playing around with my own SQL databases…

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Climate change activists often (plausibly) assert that “the science is settled” and present themselves as the informed contrast to people whose lack of scientific understanding or manipulation by fossil fuel actors has left them with the false belief that climate change isn’t happening.

At Toronto’s smallish Rise for Climate march on Saturday, I saw at least four people who were trying to convince people that chemtrails from aircraft are actually secret nefarious geoengineering by governments. Along with a large banner with pictures of aircraft chemtrails and frightening claims, they were distributing a colour handout:

It’s a bizarre document. It claims that chemtrails (themselves a conspiracy theory that has been around for many years) are a secret “form of climate change mitigation” via solar radiation management (SRM). It also claims, however, that “SRM aerosol cloud canopies trap more heat than is deflected by SRM programs”, so the supposed chemtrail program actually makes climate change worse. It also claims that along with the chemtrails “associated microwave transmission atmospheric manipulation” is “decimating the ozone layer”. It’s a fever dream re-interpretation of contemporary environmental politics, marrying an old conspiracy theory with new concerns about the real potential technology of geoengineering by solar radiation management. They throw in that the geoengineering chemtrails cause autism, along with allergies and dementia, and claim that the program “was fully deployed immediately after WWII”.

It’s crazy from top to bottom, from the claim that the secret program is somehow “illegal” to the contradictory claims that the program is “officially denied” but also that there are “countless official documents which confirm” it. It’s also a bit ironic given how self-conscious the public conversation about geoengineering has been, including about whether any sort of testing could produce unwanted side-effects and how any geoengineering ought to be governed.

When you lose trust in formal sources of information like governments and scientific bodies, it becomes impossible to have an informed position on climate change. The internet is full of nonsense, as everyone expects, and the environmentalist movement includes many who are highly credulous when it comes to claims that they are inclined to believe, whether those are about health and nutrition or about government conspiracies.


Since U of T has replaced the inadequate funding it issues in years 1–6 of the PhD with none at all it is causing new problems and reinforcing my determination to finish and defend my dissertation by September 2019.

First OSAP (the Ontario student loan program) told me I would get no fall payment because it was all being put toward my $9000 in tuition. Today, OSAP contacted me again to say my funding was rejected because U of T says I’m not registered. Digging through the U of T online portal, I found that they will only confirm my registration after I pay $2550.

That’s confusing since OSAP said it was already paying them, but this is probably just a case of two awkward bureaucracies failing to mesh. I made the minimum U of T payment, so hopefully they will tell OSAP to reconsider their rejection.

I don’t want to go through this again in 2019, so there is every reason to get through the literature review, data collection, writing up, editing, and defence expeditiously.


LOX and RP-1 never burn absolutely clean, and there is always a bit of free carbon in the exhaust, which produces a luminous flame. So when you’re looking at TV and see a liftoff from Cape Kennedy—or from Baikonur for that matter—and the exhaust flame is very bright, you can be sure the propellants are Lox and RP-1 or the equivalent. If the flame is nearly invisible, and you can see the shock diamonds in the exhaust, you’re probably watching a Titan II booster burning N2O4 and 50–50.

Clark, John D. Ignition! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants. Rutgers University Press Classics, 2017. p. 96


Finally somebody in authority sat down and thought the problem through. The specifications of JP-4 [jet fuel] were as sloppy as they were to insure a large supply of the stuff under all circumstances. But Jupiter and Thor [ballistic missiles] were designed and intended to carry nuclear warheads, and it dawned upon the thinker that you don’t need a large and continuing supply of fuel for an arsenal of such missiles. Each missile is fired, if at all, just once, and after a few dozen of them have been lobbed by the contending parties, the problem of fuel for later salvoes becomes academic, because everybody interested is dead. So the only consideration is that the missile works right the first time—and you can make your fuel specifications just as tight as you like. Your first load of fuel is the only one you’ll ever need.

Clark, John D. Ignition! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants. Rutgers University Press Classics, 2017. p. 95–6



[Calculating rocket fuel performance mathematically] gets worse exponentially as the number of different elements and the number of possible species [of reaction products] increases. With a system containing carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, you may have to consider fifteen species or more. And if you toss in boron, say, or aluminum, and perhaps a little chlorine and fluorine—the mind boggles.

But you’re stuck with it (remember, I didn’t ask you to do this!) and proceed—or did in the unhappy days before computers. First, you make a guess at the chamber temperature. (Experience helps a lot here!) You then look up the relevant equilibrium constants for your chosen temperature. Devoted and masochistic savants have spent years in determining and compiling these. Your equations are now before you, waiting to be solved. It is rarely possible to do this directly. So you guess at the partial pressures of what you think will be the major constituents of the mixture (again, experience is a great help) and calculate the others from them. You add them all up, and see if they agree with your predetermined chamber pressure. They don’t, of course, so you go back and readjust your first guess, and try again. And again. And eventually all your species are in equilibrium and you have the right ratio of hydrogen to oxygen and so on, and they add up to the right chamber pressure.

Next, you calculate the amount of heat which would have been evolved in the formation of these species from your propellants, and compare that figure with the heat that would be needed to warm the combustion products up to your chosen chamber temperature. (The same devoted savants have included the necessary heats of formation and heat capacities in their compilations.) And, of course, the two figures disagree, so you’re back to square one to guess another chamber temperature. And so on.

Clark, John D. Ignition! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants. Rutgers University Press Classics, 2017. p. 84 (italics in original)