Monday, February 18, 2013

Butterflies? More like Butter Flies...

I was feeling pretty good tonight — had a pie plate worth of salad (oh, the very best way to eat leafy greens), baked avocados with egg, and some strawberries in yogurt.  I was energized; so much so, I thought I'd jump online and see what the internet was up to.  Big mistake.

It was up to this.

First of all, is there anyone out there in the weather predicting community, anyone, who would claim, even for a second, that a butterfly's hapless flapping could cause any appreciable change in weather at any point?  Not if they are at all competent.  I mean, if the tiniest of pressure fluctuations could impact the weather so, what would the result of a baseball stadium full of fans doing "the wave" be?  Tornadoes, that's what.  While I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the turdblossom over at The Turbulent Scientist suggested that does indeed happen, he'd be — surprise, surprise — completely wrong.
What I think of the term "the butterfly effect."
The true tragedy is that the concept behind the term "the butterfly effect" is real and extremely cool, despite being poorly named.  Of course, turdblossom totally glossed over this point, so here I am to the rescue again.  The concept is that even if we can describe something completely with deterministic laws, it is practically impossible to predict the future.  Take Angry Birds for example: imagine you're shooting the bomber bird at a complex tower and need to time the drop of the bomb-egg perfectly.  If you're like me, it'll take several tries to maximize the elimination of those greedy pigs.  Sometimes, despite how similar the angle of launch and the timing of the drop is attempt to attempt, each try will get wildly different results.   Sometimes I crush all the despicable if delicious pigs, sometimes I miss each and every one.  Even though each attempt is very similar, the slight differences between them lead to very different outcomes.  Systems like this are called chaotic (yup, the technical term), and the study of such systems falls under the purview of chaos theory.

Weather can also be chaotic, but not because of butterflies.  Sometimes small differences in place-to-place temperatures, pressures, etc., can lead to very different weather predictions.  But these small differences are still much bigger than even a swarm of flies whizzing around a rancid pile of butter could produce.

And oh, let me just mention how CUTE The Turbulent Scientist's little tool is.  That's nice that they could paint a cheesy little sea monster on it.  You can't do that to my tools, because they're in OUTER SPACE:

NuSTAR, the great and powerful.


  1. Well, technically you could paint a cheesy sea monster on yours too. It's just no one would see it to take a pretty picture. In fact, what's to say there isn't one on it right now? YOU WOULD NEVER KNOW!