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February 4, 2007

Not An Exact Science

Tom McLaughlin

Humor by Tom McLaughlin

I decided to find out for myself about global warming. Not that I didn't believe Al Gore, mind you. As a raving liberal, I feel every word he says is the gospel truth according to some book in the Bible. (Good one, Tom, the gospel truth does come from the Bible).

In one of those epiphanies (another Bible word), I decided to download the weather data from the buoy off Ocean City and put it into something called Excel, a program that has been languishing on my computer; but I hadn't a clue what it did.

Assured by everyone that this would be easy, I went to the site, clicked on "historical data," and downloaded the information, all three tons of it. I had wind speed, wind direction, barometric temperature, both seawater and air and more. I had 21 years of hourly-recorded data.

Instead of doing the smart thing and going to the bookstore and purchasing "Idiots for Excel" and learning the program methodically, I elected to take a shortcut and went to the local teenager. When I explained my problem, he looked at me astounded. I honestly believe he thought computer courses had been taught since the Revolution.

I asked him to show me how to manipulate the data and within about five seconds, fingers flying over the keyboard, he had the information sorted and averaged according to year. Meanwhile, his cell phone had musically summoned him at least 10 times over the same five-second period. I thanked him and took my data home.

Smiling a Bill Cosby smile, I started to interpret the data and discovered the average ocean water temperature for a few years was 46 degrees. That sounded about right, I thought, until I discovered it was degrees Celsius. The oceans were warm enough to make clam chowder and fish stew. Either the data was incorrect or an underwater volcano was about ready to erupt off Ocean City in its pre eruption phase.

I went back to him and explained the problem. He looked at me quizzically and with the expression that this guy not only could not work a computer, but he couldn't read the numbers either. He assured me that he had done everything correctly, checked again, this time for only three seconds, and went back to his cell phone.

I decided it was either the teenager or the data was wrong. I elected for the data because I taught teenagers for many years and knew intuitively he was correct. I had learned enough in my eight-second tutorial to page through the numbers and discovered many strange entries. This was when my love-hate relationship with buoy 44009 - 129 miles off of Ocean City - began.

Whenever the buoy went to sleep, or took a couple of weeks or months off, it would enter "999" as a temperature and I was convinced it was code for the "666" the sign of the devil, because this insertion would bedevil me for many hours. It would definitely show a marked increase in Atlantic warming, support Al Gore and end all discussion. But the old adage "statistics don't lie but liars make statistics," rattled around in my brain. I had no intention of manipulating the data because of my science background.

Back to the teenager. He was totally fed up with this boob as I walked into his room and watched two naked women's breasts instantly disappear from the screen. Exasperated, he showed me how to legally get rid of the 999 using some kind of strange "E." (either by omitting them or inserting the previous temperature in its place).

But, I could not consciously make up data for missing weeks or months, as most politicians some times employ to hide embarrassing periods in their lives. I ended up omitting those years. Luckily, they were in the early part and I could use1995-2005. (I ran this by statistics people and they said it was okay.)

The result? There is Atlantic warming off of Ocean City but it proceeds in fits and starts much like my sex life. Sometimes a year will show warming but sometimes it won't. But the trend shows warming in more years and those years are increasing in number. Unlike my sex life which is moving in the opposite direction.

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