Friday, February 11, 2011

guns kill people

Another one for the duh files.

I live in NRA country now and the lunch conversation turned to gun rights. Somebody suggested that guns don't kill people and claimed that murder rates are similar around the world. The data suggest the opposite.

Murder Rates:
US: 5 per 100,000 people
Australia: 1.2, but this number excludes attempted murders
UK: 1.28, but this number excludes attempted murders
New Zealand’s number includes attempted murders, so should be more comparable to US. It is 1.3
Canada: 1.81, includes attempted murders

Total crime rates:
US: 80 per 1,000 population
Australia: not listed
UK: 85.5
NZ: 105.9
Canada: 75

Guns per 100 residents:
US: 88.8
Australia: 15
UK: not listed
NZ: 22.6
Canada: 30.8

The US has a lower crime rate but higher murder rate compared to similar countries. Criminals and crime everywhere, but crime rates aren’t correlated with murder rates. Guns make it easier to kill people. We have more guns, so we kill more people.

If you list these countries according to gun ownership rate, the list is in the exact same order as if you list them according to their murder rate. And the proportional rates are also similar. The US has 2.88 as many guns per capita and 2.76 times as many murders per capita compared to Canada. Given very similar cultures, economics, languages, etc, the data suggests that if you double the number of guns in a country, you also double the number of murders. In English speaking countries, roughly one gun in 18,000 will be used to kill someone each year, independent of which country that gun is located in.

Keeping everything else constant, you'll eliminate one murder per year for each 18,000 guns that you randomly remove from a population. It stands to reason that if you selectively remove guns from a population (i.e. from people with criminal histories or from poor or young or people with less education), you should be able to get better results from your efforts. But that is a different discussion.

The ludicrously obvious point is: guns kill people. If you have murderous intent but only a knife at hand, you will probably hurt someone but you are far less likely to kill them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Smart grid is not low hanging fruit.

$100 Million to install 24,000 smart meters:

That is just over $4000 per electricity meter to enable communication.

For comparison, a 1000 sq ft of R60 attic insulation costs about $1500 before subsidies.

Replacing every light in your house with CFLs costs about (25 lights x $5) $125. Or prettier LEDs for $1250.

Adding a timer to your water heater so it only heats the water during the hours when you might use it is another $25.

The difference being that all of the things on this list save energy by wasting less energy, while the smartest grid in the world can only tell you how you are wasting energy.

On the other hand, the project will likely result in everyone else’s energy prices going up and raising energy prices does encourage conservation.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

maintenance and smart grid

I read this and was blinded by rage:

Apparently, the smart grid would have prevented the 2003 blackout that took out the Northeast and caused $6B in damage.

I don’t know how the magic of smart grid would have prevented the utility from slashing its tree trimming budget to boost profits or how it would have prevented the SCADA system from failing to communicate that the lines were overheating or how it would have convinced the operators to listen to the operators from the neighboring utilities or how it would have created an effective regional decision-making structure to force utilities to shed load to prevent the problem from spreading, but somehow, magically, it would have. Maybe by letting the utility know that 20,000 toasters were being used in Tulsa, smart grid would have saved the day.

Outages doubled because of one reason: lack of maintenance. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell an expensive and largely useless smart grid.

Seriously, this is a simple problem that has been badly mishandled. And the fundamental cause is weird financial arrangements. Utilities use loans to build their system. The interest rate they pay on these loans is based on their credit rating. Their credit rating is based largely on how much they owe on outstanding loans as a fraction of what their system is worth. The value of their system is based on money spent to upgrade the system. Additionally, for profit utilities have the rate they are allowed to charge their customers based on the value of their system, so money put into the system means more profits.

So, if they get loans and use the money to improve their system it improves their credit rating, making it cheaper to get loans, which makes delivering power less expensive and/or more profitable.

Money spent on maintenance isn’t treated the same way. It is a current expense – money down the drain.

From an MBA CEO perspective, this is the entire story. Money spent on system improvements makes profits while money spent on maintenance is just gone. Only an idiot would throw money away on maintenance. So nobody does. Instead, you run equipment until it fails, then replace it using a capital improvement budget. And when you can convince your regulators to let you do it, you throw more layers of expensive useless crap like the smart grid on top of your teetering system because it is another way to make more profits. Even if it doesn’t serve any useful purpose, the utility still gets to charge their customers for installing it and extract a profit.

The solution is to let utilities treat maintenance costs the same way capital improvements costs are treated and to increase the cost of blackouts through a fine of some variety. Maybe something like a free week of service for every hour of an outage not caused by unusual weather would do the trick.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

thesis idea: geographic diversity of renewable energy

One of the common claims about renewable energy is that geographic diversity is the saving grace. The wind will always be blowing and the sun shining somewhere. And this is true - to a point.

Earlier this winter, the UK had an uncommonly strong snow storm that was accompanied by several days of cold with little wind. Their nationwide wind energy output went to virtually zero. I don't know of any statistics about their solar power, but it seems reasonable to assume that a few inches of snow would pretty effectively reduce solar energy output to near zero as well. Meanwhile, the cold weather lead to peak load conditions. If the UK relied on wind or solar power to meet any portion of the nationwide peak load, they would have had to take extraordinary measures (like brownouts or rolling blackouts) to keep the lights on. And do this at a time when doing so would cause the greatest harm to the population.

So, geographic diversity of renewable energy production has to be greater than can be found in the UK if we are going to make the power system rely on it. Barring the invention of very large scale energy storage, no amount of wind and solar energy (or smart grid or conservation) will ever be sufficient to meet basic power system reliability criteria in the UK. They will always have to have a non-intermittent power system in place that can serve 100% of the peak load independent of the weather.

The thesis paper's goal would be to determine roughly how much geographic diversity is necessary and possibly to use this as a way to question the wisdom of renewable energy development zones (like the wind energy development zones in West Texas).

It is a very important question for the future of wind and solar power. If the UK wanted to meet the goal of reducing their CO2 emissions by 80% by way of building wind and solar energy, a significant fraction of the 20% of emissions left would have to be consumed by the back-up power system that needs to be kept in place and running on standby ready for severe weather events that only happen once every 50 years.

The solution, of course, is to use excess energy production to fix CO2 into methane (or some other easily stored fuel) and to use it in natural gas peaking plants, but that is the subject for an entirely different type of thesis paper.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

sociology of climate science

A quick thought experiment: If climate scientists were infinitely intelligent, would their results be any more useful for policy?

My claim is "no."

And the reason is because of a selection bias for people who enter the field and sociological influences.

If scientists where infinity intelligent, they’d still be herd animals like the rest of us. If the herd is going in one direction, only a small portion of the population will choose to go the other way. This theoretical herd of infinitely intelligent scientists will apply their intelligence to mock them.

To my mind, the best scientists are borderline autistic (a la big bang’s Sheldon). These people can abandon their own ideas with no thought to social consequences.

And herein lies the problem with the "save the world" sciences (social work, environmental science, climate science, etc). They inadvertently select for people who want to save the world: people who are both highly socially aware and who have chosen their field because they see it as a way to bring positive change.

Being socially aware is a hindrance in science because it makes it harder to bear the scorn of the herd when you disagree with them.

Choosing a science as one's path in life based on the hope to be able to help humanity is a hindrance because it means that if it turns out that there actually isn't anything wrong (that there is no danger to save humanity from) is a form of failure to achieve one's hopes. Additionally, it'd likely mean the eventual loss of one's funding, since climate science without anthropogenic global warming is pretty boring.

So, no I don't think greater intelligence or capability would be remotely useful, but a little bit of impartiality would go a long ways.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Anthropogenic Climate Change Proof map

I'd like to see a logic map for the need to address anthropogenic climate change.

It'd show the complete logical and scientific analysis from how we know atmospheric CO2 reflects heat to how confident we can be that a given international policy will be effective at preventing changes in our habitat.

I understand that a lot thorough science has taken place approaching each step in the proof from several directions. I think a graphical representation would be the best way to communicate how thorough and robust this process has been and whether there really are any data or analysis choke points (any single crux of the issue that could be false).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Climate Scientology

I haven’t posted for a long time because I’ve had nothing interesting to say.

But a comment about the hacked climate emails from last week seems to be in order, since I have yet to see traditional media coverage that seems to give a damn about the actual implications of the communications.

The people involved said a lot of dickish things – that is irrelevant and uninteresting. And also seems to be the only thing anyone is talking about.

The only thing that matters is that they confirmed that they were intentionally withholding critical climate data from people who disagree with them – for years. And that they were so dedicated to not sharing their data that they actually said that they would prefer to destroy the data than let people who disagree with them see it. (You can read some of the emails here: )

Take a moment to think about that.

And another.

If you are not disgusted, enraged, and outraged, there is something wrong with you.

There is never an excuse for scientists to hide data on any matter that impacts humanity and is being used to guide international public policy– ever. Never. Not one. Ever. None.

The whole point of science is to disagree and try to prove each other wrong while constantly moving closer to the most correct interpretation of the data. That is the scientific method. If scientists only talked to people that agreed with them, we never would have made it out of the dark ages.

If you don’t share your data, it can only be because you think your theory is too weak to withstand criticism, because you have no understanding of what it means to be a scientist, or because you have embraced your theory religiously and cannot accept criticism of it because it could slow the spread of your cause. I think the last is the most likely.

I take both science and the environment very seriously. I think human induced climate change is a plausible theory. Unfortunately, the key historical temperature study that has been used to demonstrate that current times are a-historically warm – is the same study that is based on data that hasn’t been shared.

The crux of the climate change argument has never been verified because of the religious anti-scientific actions of a small group of people (I can’t bring myself to call them scientists) that control the critical infrastructure of climate science. These people are Climate Scientologists and they deserve to be ostracized by the community of real scientists. Real Climate Scientists need to lead the charge against them if they want their field to have any credibility.

To any trolls: please disagree with me in a coherent manner. I would love to be wrong about all of this. It has been a traumatic revelation for me. I’ll just delete any of the incoherent name-calling that pops up when you question Climate Scientology.