April in Vancouver: Super warm, also dry


The weather in Vancouver this last April was atypical, wasn’t it? A lot of my people are saying so. My mom says April showers bring May flowers, but that obviously can’t hold true everywhere. I wonder where that saying is from. Wikipedia says April showers are a thing in Ireland and Scotland. Anyway, regardless of origin, when it doesn’t rain much in April, this old proverb adds a little extra weight to the unsettled feeling in the air.

This year I’ve transitioned from managing a web product at Peer Giving Solutions to working with data at Chimp Technology. With that shift in my work life, I’m feeling extra motivated in my personal life to find complimentary outlets for my analytical aspirations. You might not believe this, but it feels refreshing to be analytical in my down time. I guess I just miss the years I studied math and physics, when I was known to lock my bedroom door during house parties to continue working on my homework uninterrupted.

I really am a nerd.

With climate change in the back of my mind too, I’m doubly inclined to sharpen my sense of what’s actually happening. I feel uneasy in conversations about how unusual things seem. I don’t really trust my ability to intuit what’s happening, maybe because I don’t trust my memory. I’m much more comfortable talking about facts, especially when it comes to something important like the state of the planet.

So I decided to take a deep dive into this weather question: Was the weather this April atypical?

Did I start by hammering google with search requests? Not even. It’s a pain in the ass to establish trust there too. I went straight to the government’s weather records, specifically data recorded at YVR. It only took an hour to download and format all the daily weather records between January 1937 and April 2016. From there I spent a few hours asking various questions with my favourite tool of inquiry, the spreadsheet.


Ready for science? Here we go:

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows the number of days in April where the daily high broke thirteen degrees Celsius, going back eighty years. Go ahead and take a look. High points indicate warm months.

Here’s the story with numbers:

  • 27 days in April 2016 broke the thirteen degree mark. That ties the eighty year record set in 1940.
  • On average (last eighty years), April has 14.2 days that see thirteen degrees or higher.
  • The standard deviation is 5.7

Since 27 days is more than two times the standard deviation from the average, this reads as quite unusual, statistically speaking. That’s enough for me to be comfortable with the statement that this past April was super warm.

For everyone who just choked on their salad at the term standard deviation, think of it as a kind of ruler stick, a tool which tells you how far away from the rest of the data – and therefore how unusual – a particular data point is.

If you had just choked and coughed up all the half-chewed lettuce in your mouth, most of the chunks would have landed in a general area, and just a few pieces would be farther away. Likewise, in most data sets, most of the data is less than one standard deviation away from the average, and only a tiny portion is more than two standard deviations away.

Let me show you the data from the previous chart without the time scale – its distribution. What we’re looking at in Figure 2 is the number of years (the height of the bars) that had Aprils with a certain number of days that broke thirteen degrees (different bars for different numbers of days). Notice that the distribution kind of looks like a bell curve (a normal distribution).

Figure 2

Near the middle you see a peak around 17 days, the bar there showing that 10 years in the past eighty had Aprils with exactly 17 days breaking thirteen degrees. Two Aprils, this recent one and one from 1940, saw 27 days breaking thirteen degrees, so there’s a bar at 27 (which I’ve circled) showing those 2 years.

I’ve also drawn three blue lines to show you (from left to right) the average, one standard deviation above average, and two standard deviations above average. The crux of the story here is that the circled bar is more than two standard deviations from the average, which indicates statistically that it is very unusual to see 27 days all above thirteen degrees in April.


Figure 3

Let’s talk about rain next. Take a look at Figure 3, which shows the number of days in April that saw rain, for all the years since 1937. Low points show dry months.

The story again with numbers:

  • days in April 2016 saw rain
  • On average (last eighty years), April has 13.9 days with rain
  • The standard deviation is 3.9

What this says is that the rainfall this past April was below average, but not unusually so, since it’s only one standard deviation from the average (see circled bar in Figure 4).

Figure 4


So basically I’ve now convinced myself (and hopefully you too) that this last April was abnormal. Mostly it was unusually warm, and to boot it rained less than average. I ran the same analysis for May, and it’s the same. Not great news for the water supply this year, but it does feel good to have confirmed reports about the weather so far this Spring. Now you can tell people that not only was April unusual, it was two standard deviations unusual, with respect to the number of days above thirteen degrees.

Stay tuned for my proposal that we start dividing the year into eight seasons instead of four. And thanks for reading! Feel free to drop any questions you might have in the comments.

Into the Abstract

I want to write about an idea that’s been bouncing around my head for a while now. It’s an idea about abstract spaces, like the spaces where our thoughts are born and develop, or where stories unfold. Or like the spaces where science and math play. And it’s an idea about how we relate to those spaces as humans.

We put a lot of energy into those spaces.

I grew up watching star trek, acting like an android, and just generally idolizing logic and theoretical science. They were for me a kind of magic, one I was encouraged to pursue, and one I found myself comfortable in. I started programming computers in my early teens, excelled in high school math, and studied physics in university. Now in my mid thirties, I work with code and data and the internet.

But logic and science weren’t the only magic to me. Writing, art, and music interested me too. Not so much sports or drama. In general I’ve always been drawn to creative spaces of the mind over physical spaces. I put a lot of my time there.

Modern civilization also grew up on art and philosophy and mathematics, and like me, finds itself operating in increasingly abstract spaces. Markets, like the financial and real estate ones, are good examples of abstract spaces. They are abstract because they deal with value, a concept not a tangible thing. There is a lot of energy in markets. The internet is another abstract space with a lot of energy.

I guess if we look way back, human beings have been getting increasingly abstract for a long time already. Think about what the spoken word did for our distant ancestors. It allowed them to entertain and share the intangible. Would we even have abstract spaces without language? At the very least, language seems to allow for more complex abstraction.

Technology does this for us too. Think about how much more complex the internet is than a conversation. It’s the next level in abstraction complexity. And as things become more complex, we are more drawn into them. More time and energy is needed to create them. More time and energy is spent exploring them.

One question I keep asking is what we are leaving behind as more energy flows into creating and being in these spaces.

One obvious collateral to me is our relationship with our bodies. The more cerebral our work and play becomes, the less we move. Maybe that isn’t an exclusive rule but to me it does seem to hold true in general. Thanks to language, and more recently technology, more of us work at desks. More of our free time is spent lounging.

Most of the things I like to do don’t require me to move very much, like producing electronic music, writing, coding, painting, etc. I sit pretty much all day, and have to make a point to get adequate exercise. But take away technology, and that probably changes. Take away language and that definitely changes. Both make it easier for me to get what I need and do what I want without moving.

Sometimes I feel like I even resent my body. I don’t want to have to eat or exercise or urinate, especially when I’m wrapped up in creating something or being entertained. And I bet a lot of people feel that. Bodies require maintenance, can be unpredictable, moody, painful, can break. Given the opportunity, I think there are people who would leave their bodies.

The thing is, we can’t leave our bodies. Not yet.


A few days ago, my wife Laura and I were struggling over a strong aversion I was feeling about a snorkel tour in Maui (she was excited about it). It got heated, as these things do sometimes when strong feelings have unclear origins. As we discussed we just became more angry.

After a while, it occurred to me that we were both holding onto an assumption – that the cause of my aversion was the snorkeling tour plan. Laura was trying to convince me that there was no reason to be averse to it. I was trying to simultaneously explain and discover which aspects of the excursion I felt averse to.

At some point I said, “We’re not talking about the snorkeling, were talking about how I feel.” We immediately stopped arguing, and began instead to talk about how I was feeling instead of why. We had dropped out of an abstract conversation about cause and effect, and into one about my present emotional-physical experience. And it worked too, because isolating my aversion from the tour allowed me to feel okay about going on it. We saw whales, a manta ray, swam with turtles – it was amazing!


I can’t help but wonder whether these kinds of misunderstandings are rooted in our movement away from our bodies and into our minds, away from the physical and into the abstract. If we paid more attention to our physical selves, would we have less misunderstandings? Be more empathetic? More harmonious?

Proponents of yoga and meditation encourage spending more time with our bodies, with the immediate present as opposed to the abstract spaces of thought. And maybe there’s good reason.