Author Archives: FloodSkinner

About FloodSkinner

I am a numerical modeller with experiences ranging from hydrometeorology to geomorphology, and am interested in how sediment processes contribute to the evolution of flood risk. I'm also a keen science communicator and I lead the SeriousGeoGames Lab which uses new and emerging technologies to share research. My Fellowship will draw on all this experience to look at the links between sediment processes and flood resilience, developing a novel modelling framework able to forecast the impacts of sediments on flood risk, and bringing this to the people who need to know.

FloodSkinner’s Model Life – Coming soon!

A couple of weeks ago I posted a preview of an upcoming personal project, promising that I would reveal more soon. Here is that reveal – I’m starting my own YouTube channel.

I made a teaser video – check it out (and like and subscribe!):

What’s Model Life about?

Well, it’s about modelling and especially modelling flooding. However, there are already lots of channels out there that can explain to you the technical details of modelling, and do it way better than I ever could, so I want to take a sideways look instead. Expect videos on the ‘whys’ of modelling and things from other disciplines that I find fascinating and useful, things like behavioural psychology and public engagement.

What else?

I want to help those at the start of their careers or who are just interested in learning more about modelling. I plan then to share any wisdom and career tips I can offer that people might find useful. Anyone who knows me will know that I am obsessed with the links between games, research, and models, and I expect this will feature strongly on the channel. Eventually, all going well, I hope to interview some of my favourite people about their models.

When?

I am doing this in my free time around a busy full-time job, so I have to manage my own expectations. I am also pretty new to making videos and will be learning as I go. I plan a series of six videos to be released over November and December this year, followed by a second series early in 2023. I will use these to learn, gain some confidence, and establish workflows that will settle into a regular release schedule – either fortnightly or monthly, we’ll just have to see.

What will the videos look like?

Homemade! At the moment I am reliant on doing everything in OpenShot and PowerPoint. I don’t have a DSLR camera, so will be using the reasonably decent camera on my Surface. Apparently, sound quality is not to be compromised on so I will be getting a good mic. Videos will be short and snappy, 5-10 mins, without doing deep dives into subjects – when I do cover technical topics, these will be introductory to give you just a ‘toe in’.

Why?

I’ve had an itch for a long while now to do something creative. When I was in academia, I scratched this itch with the SeriousGeoGames and Earth Arcade projects. However, when I left Hull the IP for those projects stayed with the University and although I still help out now and then I really want something which is mine. Just mine.

Why YouTube?

I volunteered to put a video together for my team at work for a work meeting and I realised how much I enjoyed speaking to a camera and editing the video together. It’s really repetitive, which is something most people find boring, but I find it’s something I can hyperfocus on and it’s actually soothing for me. It’s just something I’m really motivated to learn more about.

What do I expect?

I don’t know. Not much. As much as I may daydream about becoming a successful YouTuber and being sent a shiny Creator Award for 100,000 subscribers, honestly I’d be happy with a dozen subscribers and a few hundred views. I’m doing this for me first and foremost – I just hope I’m lucky enough to find some likeminded people along the way.

What are my influences?

I have been watching a lot of videos and these are some of my favourite channels:

RealCivilEngineer (Warning: childish jokes)

How to ADHD

Simon Clark

AirForceProud95

Half-Asleep Chris

They are elements of style and format I’ll be learning from all these and others.

OK, the name?

Those who know me will know my aesthetic has been 1980s and retrowave – it is all over the Earth Arcade and its branding. I wanted to move on, and like the Goldberg’s into Schooled, step effortlessly from the 80s to the 90s. Think Clarissa Explains it all, think Saved by the Bell, think Rocko’s Modern Life. Modern Life, to Model Life, I have my name. Ok, I was also watching Dave Gorman’s Modern Life is Goodish at the time too, itself a play on Blur’s Modern Life in Rubbish, so it was shouting at me from all sides.

How can you help me?

You want to help me? Great! The best way is to Subscribe to the channel and watch and like the videos I post. This positive feedback will really motivate me and keep me going and I will truly appreciate it.

Protect & Survive: Can doom-laden messages ever be successful?

Spoiler alert: This blog contains spoilers for the following films and programmes – Don’t Look Up, The War Game, Threads, The Day After, and a single episode of BBC’s Panorama from 1980. If you want to watch any of these and for them to be a surprise then stop reading now.

Trigger warning: This blog contains discussions of climate change and nuclear war. The consequences of both are dire and can justifiably cause anxiety. Nuclear weapons and nuclear war are indescribably horrendous and you might not want to have another thing to worry about at the moment.

The echo-chamber of my Twitter feed was buzzing over the holiday period for the Netflix film, Don’t Look Up. The film, described by those involved as a satire, follows a pair of scientists after they discover a comet heading for Earth. They try, and fail, to convince the world to take them seriously. They come up against a media that is obsessed with celebrity and politicians that are only bothered about their next election, even when the fate of human civilisation is at stake. Through apathy, selfishness, misinformation, and distraction the world (well, the US) misses all its opportunities to act and the comet hits the Earth and presumably wipes out all humans on it. It’s a comedy but not a feel good one.

Trailer for Don’t Look Up

Although the plot is about society’s response, or lack of, to a very real threat in the form of a comet, the film is really a deliberate allegory for our lack of a serious response to climate change. Some of the criticism I have seen of the film (there’s been a lot along with a lot of praise) is that it is a message of doom – it ends in failure and suggests that we do not have a capacity as a species to take hold of the solutions that are in reach. The reason for this criticism is a belief that to restrict climate change we need the majority of the public to take meaningful actions and for that they need hope. Messages of doom have been shown that they can raise awareness but actually make it less likely that people will do anything about it (Link).

A counter-argument to this is often that it should not be up to individual members of the public to bear the burden of climate action. Some go further and claim that campaigns and tools based around the concept of an individual’s ‘carbon footprint’ are actually a distraction campaign, placing the focus and blame on the individual consumer and not on the fossil fuel companies profiting from their pollution, and the politicians who enable, subsidise, and fail to curb them. They would argue that messages of doom actually focus attention on those who are most to blame and also have the ability to solve it. They would say they are speaking truth to power.

Doom-laden communications during the Cold War

Now, let me take you back to the last century (millennium even) and the era of the Cold War. My earliest memory of it was Timmy Mallett giving away fragments of the freshly demolished Berlin Wall as prizes on his morning kids TV show. I did most of my growing up in the post-Cold War world where the spectre of global thermonuclear war seemed to be something, thankfully, consigned to the past. I think it is difficult for people of my generation and those younger to really appreciate what it was like to live during this time and the very real fear of nuclear war.

With my interest in how risks are communicated, I have become fascinated in the information provided to the public about nuclear war and comparing them to messaging on climate change or flood risk. Below is a summary of some of the films I have been watching – before you continue, I would refer you back to the trigger warning at the start of this blog and consider if you wish to continue.

I started a few months ago with The War Game. Not to be confused with War Games (one of my favourite films), this 1966 black & white film is a dramatised documentary that tried to describe the likely aftermath of nuclear war on the British public. It was initially decided to be too horrific to be screened by the BBC and was only first shown on TV in 1985 (Link). It portrays the panic before the nuclear exchange and the near complete breakdown of society after, where law is enforced by firing squad and food becomes the only currency of value. It has been a few months since I watched this one but the bit that stayed with the most were the interviews with children a few years after the an attack – they are asked what they wanted to be when they were older. They universally replied “I don’t want to be anything”. It was simply the death of hope and the loss of the future.

A clip from The War Game showing the moment of nuclear attack

The second film I watched was a drama called The Day After. Made in 1983 and set in Kansas, it follows people going about their day to day lives (including a hospital doctor and a young couple getting ready to be married) as an international incident develops and is communicated via newspaper headlines and snatched messages from breaking news broadcasts. It famously does not reveal who launched first but does show the launches of US ‘Minuteman’ Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) from sites around Kansas. After the first launches there’s a poignant shot of a white horse bolting – there was no way of putting them back now – and the crowd at a College football game watching them launch – “It will take thirty minutes for them to reach Russia,” “That means it will be thirty minutes before theirs reach here”. The aftermath shown is similar to The War Game, dealing with themes of societal break down, struggle for food, and radiation sickness. The doctor struggles to deal with the sick, including the overwhelming number of burn victims in a hospital where all electrical equipment has been rendered useless by an Electromagentic Pulse (EMP).

Trailer for The Day After

Threads is the film that impacted me the most and left me feeling nuclear anxiety. Made in 1986, it is set in Sheffield and follows a similar pattern to The Day After. We follow people just living their lives as the relations between NATO and the Soviet Union deteriorate in the background – none of the characters are involved in the situation, they have no agency in it, and many show little interest until they are forced to.  The nuclear exchange begins with the detonation of a large yield warhead over the North Sea, the resulting EMP knocking out electronics and communications across Europe. Military targets outside of Sheffield are then hit before a direct attack on the city itself targeting the steel works. Most people are unprepared but some have hastily constructed shelters and manage to survive the blast, sitting in their ruined homes under upturned doors and binbags of dirt until the radioactive fallout has ended and radiation levels have lowered to an immediately survivable level.  The title of the film refers to the ‘threads’ of community that hold society together and which rapidly unravel after the attack. The second half of the film shows this, much like in the other two films, yet goes further by showing the potential effects of nuclear winter, something we only really began to understand in the mid-1980s.

Trailer for Threads

The firestorms that would follow a large nuclear exchange would force huge quantities of dust and soot from destroyed cities into the atmosphere. This would block out the light and heat from the Sun, an effect that some modelling has shown could last for over a decade and dramatically lower global average temperatures and rainfall (Link). Even a much smaller exchange between India and Pakistan could have profound impacts on global climate and could entirely deplete the Ozone layer globally, exposing the planet to harmful ultraviolet rays (Link). In Threads this is shown by people having to work the land by hand (all machinery either destroyed by the EMP or lacking fuel) with faces and bodies wrapped in rags to shield from the sun. Harvests are poor, if any at all.

What is universal about all three films is that are utterly devoid of any form of hope. They are as doom-laden as they could possibly be – even if you were to survive, the aftermath is so horrific you’d be pressed to consider yourself lucky.

The final film I watched had a different take. It was an episode of the Panorama programme from 1980, featuring an exceptionally young looking Jeremy Paxman, that was critical of the UK’s plans to prepare for a nuclear attack. Its opening argument was that at that time the nation was so unprepared that more than 70% of the population would die, yet with a credible national plan and some personal resilience actions more than 70% could survive – it highlighted the dramatic mis-match between the nation’s spending on nuclear weapons and the funds it provided preparing the civil defence in case it happened. However, plans to prepare members of the public at the time consisted of distributing the “Protect and Survive” pamphlet to households and even then it was unlikely these could even be printed in time. The same Protect and Survive messaging would also have been distributed via radio and TV. The messages provided information on the dangers from nuclear attack, the alert signals that would be used, and how to prepare a fallout shelter for your household.

Original recording of the 1980 episode of Panorama – If the bomb drops

However, as explored in the three dramatised films and where the Panorama episode is particularly critical, any attempt to prepare yourself was entirely futile if there was not a Government plan to ensure those ‘threads’ of society were maintained in the aftermath. In the 1980s there was a plan of sorts, with the country being divided into sections with each run from a nuclear bunker staffed by the equivalent of a local resilience forum, with the head of the local council having supreme command. As shown in Threads, when the situation arises individuals might prefer to stay with their families rather than being stuck in a bunker totally oblivious to their fate. In the programme, Eric Alley from the Institute of Civil Defence was rather scathing of the nation’s preparedness – “At the moment we’re back to the British system of ad hockery, of hoping for the best… we can’t muddle through how we have muddled through in the past”.

Threads itself was inspired by the Panorama episode, featuring in it snippets from the Protect and Survive videos and shows people following some of the personal resilience actions like the homemade fallout shelters. It was being critical of the Government’s plans to deal with the aftermath of a nuclear attack but also critical of the very notion of telling people they could survive it or even that surviving it would be preferable to perishing in the initial blast. It was considered that promoting the idea that the UK could survive a nuclear war (the closest you can get to winning one) – providing hope in this grimmest of situations – was actually dangerous and might encourage Government to pursue that course of action. It prompted anti-nuclear protestors to produce the “Protest and Survive” pamphlet as a response – better to convince governments to get rid of these weapons altogether than trying to survive on tins of beans, surrounded by bags of dirt, whilst radioactive dust rains down around the ruins of your home.

Perils of doom-laden messages for climate change

Despite it clearly being preferable that we do what we can to stop it altogether, climate change is not as immediate or binary as a nuclear war would be, but it could be just as terminal. Individuals do have genuine agency in reducing the impacts of climate change and we need those messages of hope to inspire these. Yet, over-emphasis on individual actions risks leading governments into complacency and inaction – the impact of those individual changes will be relatively small compared to what could be achieved through strong and collaborative action by the world’s governments. To inspire this action we may need the messages of doom from films like Don’t Look up – it was rumoured that US President Reagan claimed The Day After had an influence on him signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Soviet leader Gorbachev after all (Link).

The big difference though is that climate change is not just introducing new hazards into the world, it is making existing ones worse. An example close to home for me is tidal flooding in Hull. This is a very real threat to the city, sadly demonstrated by the 2013 storm surge. It is crucial that people living in areas at risk are made aware of the risks they face but also feel empowered to take actions that would help them. Sea level rises of up to 1.2m by the end of the century will increase this risk a lot. Doom-laden messages are used about Hull claiming that this will plunge the city “underwater”, to make people aware of climate change to inspire them to put pressure of authorities to tackle it but this is problematic for two reasons. First, it is an exaggeration of predicted impacts and whether using hope or doom, you should always be honest. Second, by causing fear of future flooding it disengages people from present dangers, increasing their risks. You can read more in my old blog post here.

To summarise, there is a place and also a real need for the doom-laden messages to help us address climate change but they are a double-edged sword that must be wielded carefully and sparingly. Unlike nuclear war, individuals can make a real difference to limit the impacts. Also, a groundswell of grassroots action has the potential to lead companies and governments into positive changes. The majority of messaging should be hopeful, focusing on the solutions that already exist, whilst acknowledging that the burden of action should not lay with individuals.

Climate change, as Joshua discovers about Global Thermonuclear War in War Games, is “a strange game. The only winning move is not to play”.

Additional comments:

I am writing this whilst watching news reports of a Russian military build-up on the borders of Ukraine, with the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists keeping the Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been. In recent years Russia has been rapidly modernising its nuclear arsenal including the development of hypersonic missiles that are able to evade modern missile defence systems. Russia has also been rumoured to have adopted an “escalate to de-escalate” approach that theorises that they could ‘win’ a small scale nuclear exchange and force their opponent to the negotiating table (Link).

Russia isn’t the only nation modernising its nuclear arsenals. The UK is refreshing the Trident nuclear deterrent but increasing the number of warheads at the same time (Link). It is considering adding scenarios to the reasons to justify a retaliation using nuclear weapons, including a wide-spread cyber-attack on the country (Link).

The risk of nuclear war is much lower than in the Cold War. The risk of nuclear war is not even considered as part of the UK’s National Risk Register, but then again neither is climate change…

Needless to say, these views are entirely my own and are not intended to represent the views of my employer.

The train to Prague and back – Prague Quadrennial 2019 #PQ2019

I realised this week that is has been two years to the day since Amy and I set out on our adventure by train to Prague. It is one my favourite experiences and I can’t quite believe it was whole two years ago now. The memory is even more prominent in my mind because the thought of such a journey right now, still in the midst of the pandemic, seems so alien now. Below, I revisit a blog post I wrote, originally for the SeriousGeoGames website, about it.

The Prague Quadrennial of Scenography and Design is a conference for theatre makers, unsurprisingly held in Prague every four years. It’s a huge event over 11 days where 15,000 people attend. My wife, Amy, is a Lecturer in Theatre and Performance and was chairing a panel at the conference, so I decided to tag along – I did so four years ago and found it inspiring, check out my previous blog from then.

Amy’s first book – Meyerhold and the Cubists – was long-listed by the conference

We have been conscious about our carbon budget so decided we would take the train instead of flying. Unfortunately, unless you pay out for an expensive sleeper train, the journey from Hull to Prague is a little too long to do in one day so we split our journey via Brussels. Our planned route was: Hull – London – Brussels – Frankfurt – Nurnberg – Cheb – Prague.

IMAG1581

Our route plan for Hull to Prague – Amy prepared us laminated journey cards

Day 1 went ok and we arrived in Brussels in time to grab some Crepe Suzette. However, despite a positive start to the Day 2, our first train inexplicably terminated at Koln. A guard suggested another route and marked our tickets as no longer having restrictions. Our new route involved a near seven hour train from Koln to Dresden, before a train on to Prague. We settled into our new train and enjoyed seeing a cross-section of Germany, including places like Dortmund and Hannover. All was fine until 40 minutes from Dresden when the train suddenly juddered to a halt outside Leipzig. We stayed, electric off, in silence for nearly an hour, missing our connection in Dresden, before the train limped back to Leipzig. There we were herded onto an overcrowded train to Dresden.

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The view from the train, outside Leipzig

We arrived at Dresden to see the last train to Prague pulling out of the station. The nice woman at Passenger Information pointed us towards the coaches and we ended up on a Flix Bus – a European-wide bus service popular with backpackers. We were comfortably the oldest ones on the bright green bus. We arrived in Prague just after midnight. Thankfully, our return journey along the planned route but in reverse went without a hitch, with all six trains on perfect time – a surprise considering the atrocious weather across the UK at that time.

It was stressful and long, but watching the beautiful European countryside whizz by the window was nice, especially across the Czech Republic. The journey took a lot longer than flying, and it did cost more, so I appreciate that it was a privilege that we were able to travel this way. However, it does allow us to reduce the impact on the environment and society from our travel quite significantly – according to ecopassenger.org we reduced the CO2 we produced by nearly 348 kg, producing less than 24% of what we would have done by flying.

travel cost

Calculated travel costs for London to Prague according to ecopassenger.org

The environmental concern did not end once in Prague – the city has excellent public transport and we travelled everywhere by trams and buying tickets via an App was super easy and convenient. Keep-cups and reusable water bottles are popular, and local shops have plastic bottle deposit schemes. We saw school students participating in the climate strikes, and public areas had information boards highlighting water issues in the country and worldwide.

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Climate protests in Prague

Information boards in central Prague showcasing water’s importance to society

At the Prague Quadrennial, or PQ, countries (and regions, like Quebec) are invited to exhibit the best in their scenography and design over the past four years in about a 6m x 6m space. How they choose to do this is up to each country and there is a lot of variance and creativity on display. I was pleased to see several of the exhibits making use of VR but was a little disappointed that most did little more than show flat, low resolution, 360 videos on them – Ireland’s was notable as using high resolution, stereoscopic video, interlaced with graphics (including a creepy eyeball) to show the work of some of their best designers.

Several of the exhibits featured virtual reality, including some with modified headsets

Several of the exhibits chose environmental themes. I was taken by China’s exhibit as it revolved around a long distance train journey Chinese designers travelled to get to past PQ’s – in contrast to today, it was more expensive to fly so had to go by train.

China’s exhibit used lighting, projection, and mobile phones to showcase design inspired by a long distance train journey from China to Prague

Quebec explored whether reducing our use of resources was at odds with creative freedom, asking whether the performing arts holds the key to renewed environmentalism. They showcased the best in eco-scenography and invited visitors to complete a questionnaire whilst powering a pedal-powered propeller.

Quebec’s exhibited highlighted their designs and use of eco-scenography

Switzerland used a ski-lift carriage and a canvas held on hydraulic rods to visualise snow depth data in three dimensions, responding dynamically as the data changed resolution on the screen – you had a different perspective whether you were on the ground or one the lift.

Switzerland’s ski-lift could visualise environmental data dynamically and in three dimensions

France was one of the winning exhibits and several I spoke to said that it had moved them to tears. On the outside, harsh lights displayed the warning “No Nature, No Future” and on the other side a smoke-filled room with haunting piano music was inhabited by shaking and shivering figures made of the waste of man-made materials. It was bleak and dystopian.

The French exhibit made the waste materials of the artist into human-sized living creatures. It asked what we would be without nature

The conference itself engaged with environmentalism, with espresso-sized Keep Cups for sale, and an awesome scheme where if you bought a plastic bottle then Soda Stream, one of the sponsors, would refill it for free with fizzy, flavoured water – this was 200 czk (about £7) well spent, and I really want to buy a Soda Stream now!

I love a conference sponsored by Soda Stream with flavoured fizzy water on tap

The way the exhibits are put together was really inspiring and we have incorporated some of the ideas we saw into the design of the Earth Arcade, particular The Forest. You can find out more about this work on our poster for the European Geoscience Union meeting in 2020.

Portugal’s exhibit, Windows, featured mirrored metal boxes with small holes to peer through – inside were lit up models of stage designs. I would love to use this to hide away scenes of possible futures based on climate scenarios – dare you look inside?

Portugal invited you to spy on miniature design scenes through small windows

Cyprus featured a board room table with a bubbling pool of water in the middle – what about hosting a dinner around this where the water rises and falls, occasionally floods, and dinner guests can choose to purchase food, wooden blocks to hold back water, or extra place mats to raise their dinner?

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A board room with a risk of flooding, from Cyprus

In Hungary’s student exhibit you had to walk through hanging plastic sticks and as they cascaded against each other it sounded like rain – through the clear floor beneath your feet were examples of design, details you cannot see outside of the ‘storm’. This was so simple, yet so effective.

Walking through a rain storm – Hungary’s student exhibit took you on a experiential journey through the clouds

I am always sad when we leave PQ, there always seems to be more to see and explore. It also means I have to leave Prague, which is a city I adore and would like to live in one day. With it being two years since the last PQ that means, all being well, we’re now half-way to the next one in 2023 – the organisers are now beginning to release details with an official announcement to be made on June 22nd. We plan on visiting again and by train, of course.

FloodSkinner’s Guide to #Eurovision 2021

Most people who have known me for long enough know that I am a huge Eurovision fan. In my teenage years, I was left at home most Friday and Saturday evenings to babysit my little sister whilst my mum and step-dad went out on the legendary Barton pub crawl. It was boring – I had no mobile phone, I had no computer, and you could only play Bamboozle on Teletext once a day really. So, I’d often fill the evening by taping the evening’s episode of Robot Wars and watching over and over and over…

Razer, the greatest robot to grace the arena. Pic by Alex Healing – Creative Commons 2.0

Yet, every so often, there was something on the tele to look forward to. Children in Need, Comic Relief, whatever the one ITV did that I’ve forgotten the name of (Telephon?), and of course, The Eurovision Song Contest.

For any readers not familiar with Eurovision, it is the world’s largest song contest and it has been going for 65 years. But, it’s much, much more than that. It was started as part of efforts to reunify Europe after the horrors and conflicts of two World Wars, set up to test a European-wide broadcasting network, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). It has grown massively, with many former Soviet countries joining, including Russia, wider Mediterranean countries including Morocco and Israel, and most recent, even Australia has joined.

Built out of a mission of peace and unity, Eurovision has always stood for being welcoming. It is a space where artists from each of the competing nations can express not just themselves but the culture of their country, and when they do it is when Eurovision is at its best. I love the opening ceremonies to sporting events, getting to see how the host nation has chosen to represent the best of themselves, and Eurovision is like getting to see 40+ opening ceremonies in the same week.

I wanted to write this post to run you through some of my favourite entries from this year and tell you who I think will win. But first, let’s go back a year…

Eurovision 2020

In 2020 we were due to travel to Rotterdam for the final after the Duncan Laurence won the competition for Netherlands, in Israel*, with his song Arcade, a song that threatened a key change it never delivered. Across Europe, the nations had chosen their champions and prepped them for competition but as the world stood still, stunned by a global pandemic, the 2020 Eurovision was cancelled.

The 2019 Eurovision Winning Entry

It is a commonly held view that had the competition gone ahead then the superb entry from Iceland, Think about Things by Daði Freyr, would have walked to victory. I’m not going to argue against that too strongly, I love the song and Daði has become a Eurovision legend, but I think Russia’s song, Uno by Little Big, would have run Iceland close. My concern for Iceland is staging and matching the performance, on the huge European arena stage, with the song. On the night, I think Little Big would have done this better.

The 2020 winners that never were?
Eurovision’s most viewed video – a potential winner for 2020?

I am still said that we were denied the chance to see both these songs on the Eurovision stage and to witness the voting that I’m sure what have been tense. At least I got to add Little Big’s back catalogue to my Spotify playlist and for that I am very grateful.

2021

In 2021, we are finally in Rotterdam and after the two semi-finals there is a strong line up for the finals on Saturday night. Entries from 2020 are allowed to compete again this year but they must have a different song. Around half of the entries have returned and I am so pleased they will get their chance to perform.

First off, let’s talk Daði Freyr. He has returned this year with a new song, 10 years. It’s a good song although not as good as Think About Things and the novelty impact has waned over the last year. Sadly, he and his band, won’t be performing again as members have tested positive for Covid and they need to isolate. Instead, they will broadcast a recording of their last rehearsal, like they did on Thursday’s semi-final. It’s maybe unfair to judge but this confirmed to me that they struggle to translate the impact of their videos onto the stage. The song will do well, top 10, but not a winner.

It’s good but it doesn’t keep on getting better…

My early favourite was Voila by Barbara Pravi, representing France. I loved it so much when I heard it I foolishly called it as my tip to win back in February… It’s a beautiful song. If you asked me to imagine what I think a French song would sound like, my stereotypes and biases would have imagined this song. It makes me want to learn French and listen to Camille. It will be on the left-hand side of the board but not troubling the winners.

France in song form?

Ukrainian group, Go_A are returnees for this year but their song Shum is a big improvement on last year’s Solovey (which wasn’t bad). I just love this song and its energy, I’ve been listening to it over and over, dancing around my kitchen. The performance at Tuesday’s semi-final was fantastic too with some great visuals. It’s overtaken France as my favourite from this year’s competition and I think it will do well with the public, less so with the judges. Left-hand of the board but no more.

Ukraine, my favourite to listen to.

Disappointingly, Little Big chose not to return this year to represent Russia and instead they are represented by Manizha with her song Russian Woman. This song is an anthem of empowerment and it’s progressive message is at odds with our Western perceptions of Russia. The song is fun, catchy, and is paired up with some quirky and clever staging. I can see this pushing for a spot at the top.

Could this be a surprise winner for Russia?

Now, almost every year Moldova gives us a treat. Whether it’s lucky coned-hat unicylcists, Epic Sax Guy, or my favourite piece of Eurovision staging ever, Moldova usually brings the fun. This year’s entry, Sugar by Natalia Gordienko, promises so much from its utterly, utterly bonkers video. The song is a great tune but I was massively let down by the staging of the performance during Thursday semi-final… it could have been so much more Moldova!

Moldova’s staging falls far short of the video…

One thing I love about the performances we’ve seen so far in the semi-finals is the amount of 80’s and retrowave aesthetics being used. I don’t know if they brief the acts on a theme or style but its everywhere. You can probably tell from the retrowave style I put together for the Earth Arcade project, this is a style I adore and this year’s Eurovision is going to just look amazing because of it.

Ok, but who’s going to win, Chris, I hear no one ask. Well, I can only see the Maltese entry, Je Me Casse by Destiny, winning this year – it’s a triple threat: great song; positive message; staging that makes the performance pop. It’s time to grab your hand lens, a copy of Limestone Isles in a Crystal Sea, and spot yourself some globergerina with a bottle of Cisk or Kinnie next year in Valleta.

Valetta 2022 anyone?

As for the UK’s chances? We’ve another act taken off the stage at Butlins that will finish in the bottom five again**, so here is a video of Daði Freyr playing Jaja Ding Dong to close. Enjoy Saturday, it’s a good year.

Play Jaja Ding Dong!

*the winning country is required to host the competition the following year.

**except Lucie Jones, she deserved better.

Cut it out: How behavioural psychology can help us improve environmental modelling

I am speaking to the environmental modellers now. Imagine, you have been asked to make your model better, to improve its performance, and generally make it a more useful tool for decision makers. You have got a generous budget and free reign to do whatever you want. Just take a short moment to think about what you would do.

When you read the paragraph above, what did you think about? I am going to guess it was something along the lines of “Amazing, I’m going to add in representation of that process the model currently doesn’t have”. Maybe it was how you would increase the resolution of the model or how you would collect more data to add into it.  I am also going to guess that you did not think about what you would take away from your model.

A recent study by Adams et al (2021), published in Nature, found that we are hard wired to solve solutions by adding things in rather than looking at taking things away, despite the fact that taking something away would have been the better and more efficient way. I really encourage you to watch the video below that nicely summarises this work.

I know when I have approached modelling problems, my go to has been to add something in, rather than to consider what could be taken away. Yet, often when we add in new processes or increase the resolutions we may improve our outputs but we also increase the complexity, resulting in slower processing speeds and increased uncertainties. When assessing the models on how useful they are to decision makers, we may have actually made them worse.

The European Centre for Medium Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) have recently upgraded their Integrated Forecast System. One of the improvements they made is a great example of taking something away to solve a problem. Previously, they had stored numbers using 64-bits of memory within their computers. Using 64-bit over 32-bit allows you to store bigger numbers, i.e., use more decimal places and increase the precision of the output. This sounds like it is better, it sounds like if you had the option to go to 128-bit you ought to as you could have even bigger numbers and even greater precision still. The flipside is that storing and computing with bigger numbers takes a tiny bit longer to do each time and when multiplied over the vast number of sums the supercomputers at ECMWF do, this adds up. They realised that they did not need that level of precision and, for many processes, using 32-bit instead of 64-bit made little different to the output. Making the switch reduced the computational load by 40%, meaning swifter, and therefore more useful, results.

Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

This is not anything new in numerical modelling and reduced-complexity approaches are popular and long established. However, these were designed with a conscious effort to take things away and it is when we stop making this conscious effort that we default back to adding things in as a first option. This is especially true, as the video tells us, when our cognitive load is high. Next time you sit down to solve a modelling problem make sure to remind yourself to stop and think – what can I take away to make this better?

Chris

Fridays are my non-work day so I try to write a short blog post on my thoughts about environmental modelling, games, or really anything else that is on my mind. The purpose is for nothing more than the love of writing and for practice but I do hope you enjoy them. For the avoidance of any doubt, all of the views and opinions I express in these blogs are very much my own and not those of my employer.