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After a bit of struggle to get ourselves in the same place at the same time, we had a meeting of Azimuthers in Sheffield on Thursday 28 March. Glyn Adgie, Jim Stuttard, David Tweed, and myself in attendance.
It was fun meeting them, and as usual they looked completely different than the mental images I'd built up over the years. I learned a lot more about what they do with computers in their work and side-projects. I wish they'd talk more about that stuff here, because it's very interesting, yet also sufficiently technical that I have trouble remembering it in perfect detail!
Let me try to remember the most important things we said:
Jim and Glyn and I seemed to agree that it was good to continue developing simple climate models that could run online, either on the user's browser or on the server Jim is developing. It may not "save the planet" quite as much as I'd like. But it's something we can actually do, and it can educate lots of people. They've put more work into getting ready to do this than I'd realized.
Jim wanted to charge through Gerald North's book on simple climate models and program those models up. He'd been held back somewhat by not having access to the figures in this book. This is something I should deal with. I should contact North and say we want to do this.
Jim was also having trouble finding where he'd gotten a specific Budyko-Sellars model (that is, a simple energy balance model of the Earth's climate) from Nathan Urban. Can we figure this out?
Jim and Glyn and David and I seemed to agree that it would be good to learn more about analyzing time series data for signs of incipient tipping points, or other forms of instability. This seems to score high on both planet-saving potential and doability. I'd have to learn a bunch more stuff, but it fits in with my new obsession with control theory. We might be able to bring David's skills at dealing with "big data sets" into play. Also, this could interact well with Gloria Gonzalez-Rivera's interest in systemic risk in financial markets, and its relation to the stability of food webs - she wants to start a seminar on that next year, and I should remind her that this is very interesting to me.
Jim and I seemed to agree that it would be fun and useful to have some software that'll make it easy for people (e.g., me and my grad students) to investigate the behavior of stochastic Petri nets. In retrospect this seems like a lower priority than item 1, at least until I find some models that shed light on something important, e.g. the stability of food webs. But Jim said he's already scoured the planet for Petri net software. I really want a list of the software he found, with some comments about it! I want this sort of information to be the last chapter of my book with Jacob Biamonte.
David Tweed said he would like to work on mitigation of global warming, since ultimately understanding a problem is insufficient; we need to be doing something about it. He wasn't quite sure what would be best to do. I agree completely with all this. He suggested thinking about 'smart grids' that can deal with intermittent power sources like wind and solar. That fits in with the 'network theory' theme, and also with control theory.
I urged Jim, but really all three of them, to write some short blog posts about what they're thinking about. They are thinking about a lot of interesting things, and I fear that my role as the 'public face of Azimuth' limits the number of interesting things that get talked about. Of course I'm not suggesting that I post less stuff; rather that they post more.
Jim had noticed a feature on the Azimuth Forum that I'd never seen: you can get it to notify you when new comments appear. However, it seemed to work only intermittently... maybe. I told him to talk to Andrew Stacey about this. He should post a comment in the 'Technical' category about this.
This is what I remember right now. Jim, Glyn and David will note that I've left out all their more technical comments on software - maybe they can fix that deficit.
We should talk more often!