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: http://motls.blogspot.com/2009/11/hacked-hadley-cru-foi2009-files.html#more )

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.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dubai, Dubai, Dubai

What were they thinking? I really have no idea. I posted a few times about how Dubai was by all appearances, a parade of crazy.

I guess they thought they would follow the example of Las Vegas, building a city in the middle of a wasteland. But it was on the coast, so it had hints of Miami to it as well.

The only problem of course being that Las Vegas and Miami are cities that serve a purpose, that have a source of income. Whereas Dubai was just a way for too rich oil oligarchies to dispose of wealth.

They led the way up with a list of the most preposterous ideas (indoor skiing in the 120 degree desert, underwater hotel rooms, man made islands in custom shapes, world's largest F1 theme park, the world's 55* tallest buildings, why not?).

And now they lead the way down with the world's largest number of ultra-luxury cars abandoned at the airport by debtors hoping to keep their heads and with the world's most rapidly declining real estate values. Their prices have fallen almost as much this year as the worste bubble markets have fallen since their peak. In 7 months they accomplished the same kind of damage that took Las Vegas almost three years to achieve.

Astonishing. Simply astonishing.

Not that it is happening, but that it took so long.

When a city is built primarily from money made by building and selling real estate in that city, how does one determine the underlying value of properties in that city? It is kind of like Detroit, but instead of not designing and building cars any more, they're not designing and building buildings any more. Will the world's 55* tallest buildings stand empty and worthless?

* I made this number up. Nobody knows exactly how many of the world's tallest buildings are in Dubai, because they use the Shariah Law system of measurement based on the distance a donkey can walk in an hour and donkeys can't walk up vertical surfaces. Also, many of these tallest buildings in Dubai are unfinished, so it is questionable as to whether they count as buildings or just as structures.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

hydrogen powerplant?

I'm tempted to start a "why, oh why" file just for this thing.

The details are sparse, but the general idea is that it takes electricity, uses it to produce hydrogen and oxygen from water via electrolysis, then burns the hydrogen to create electricity.

This is a notoriously wrong idea.

Electrolysis is notoriously inefficient, hydrogen is notoriously difficult to store, burning hydrogen is notoriously a waste of an expensive commodity.

I would be very surprised if they have a round trip efficiency of greater that 15%.

The good news is that they claim all of the funding is private, so at least their money isn't coming from taxes.

My favorite quote from the article:

"We're the first company that had the foresight to jump on creating a combinatory system and putting the pieces together to make it viable for the public and for electrical generation"

I'm not sure if "foresight" is quite the word I would have chosen. The "excess of money and dearth of sense" is closer.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

wasted waste heat

Nearly every device that uses energy produces waste heat. In your house, most of this waste heat gets just ends up heating your rooms.

In warm climates where air conditioners are common, this is ridiculous. You're paying to pump the heat out of your refrigerator twice. First to pump the heat out of the fridge and into the kitchen, then to pump it out of your house and into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, you're putting energy into another device to heat cold water.

So, why not combine the two systems? Why not use the waste heat from major household appliances to preheat the cold incoming city water before it gets to your water heater?

Between your refrigerator, air conditioner and clothes dryer there is a fair amount of waste heat just going, well, to waste.

Friday, July 17, 2009

disruptive power tech?

I was thinking about what it'd take to put me out of a job and am not too worried.

The electric utility industry exists to take advantage of the efficiencies of large scale energy production. Small scale household or neighborhood based production could certainly have a future, but a fairly disruptive technology would have to be invented to make it worthwhile.

No domestic option today is remotely competitive on a cost basis, even with all of the state and federal tax credits. With enough unrealistically optimistic assumptions (like zero maintenance, rapidly escalating utility energy costs, and a 30 year service life), cost inefficient technologies like household solar panels can be sold. But even the vast majority of these systems require being connected to the power system in order to work.

I expect that one day some kind of combined cycle natural gas fuel cell plus solar panel plus batteries system could approach cost parity with the power system, but so what? Most people don't go to the trouble of having that kind of thing installed in order to achieve zero savings.

And I can't think of a system that would require less than two disruptive technologies in order to completely obviate a connection to the power system. The one I think of requires 1) virtually free truly maintenance-free solar panels and 2) ideal energy storage and conversion system(no fumes, no maintenance, no acids, no fire risk, minimal noise, 30 year lifetime, predictable failure).

The other possible source of job loss for me is if some clever exec decides to move my work overseas. The best reason why this is unlikely to happen is that the cost of engineering staff is minuscule compared to the cost of a mistake. I do projects where my time is 5-7% of the project cost. If the project were outsourced, the total project cost might be reduced by 2-3%. But if any mistakes are made and the project construction gets held up by a day or a piece of equipment fails prematurely because it was incorrectly specced or designed, any savings on engineering time would be greatly overcome by construction and maintenance cost overruns.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

when bad news is good news (for me)

I find myself cheering for global financial panic these days because I'm trying to buy a house and because I have acquired some Australian dollar debt.

Every time a bad economic report comes out, people run to the relative security of the USD and US gov't treasuries. This moves exchange rates in my favor. And mortgage rates are strongly correlated with treasury returns.

The only bad news that is bad for me right now is talk of excessive inflation, because inflation expectations also impact mortgage rates. At the moment, there is a lot of talk about USD inflation, but there is also a lot of talk about USD deflation. And that is fine by me. I expect deflation for the next several quarters followed by inflation above 5% for several years, but what do I know.

So, I say bring on the US stock market crash and let the freedom fighters in China prevail. Better yet, let another smallish currency turn into confetti like the Icelandic Kronor did. Imagine what that would do to exchange rates and treasuries.

And it would put an end to all this diversified reserve currency BS that some G8 leaders have been rambling about.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

re:one for the duh files

I was wrong about the recent climate change bill that barely passed through the House.

At the last minute, on the morning of the day the bill was passed, a provision much like what I discussed two posts ago was added.

I still think China's sulfur and arsenic outputs are bigger worries than CO2.

And, so long as we are passing tariffs based on the regulations imposed in other countries, maybe we should have a child labor tariff, a sweat shop tariff, a minimum wage tariff, and so on.

These are all things that impact our humanity at least as much as CO2 impacts our climate.

Friday, July 3, 2009

business idea

This may be an obvious one, but I think there should be a full line baby stuff rental company.

Baby doesn't use any stuff for more than about a month, so what is the sense in buying it?

Considering how ridiculously expensive some of the gear can be (like the $1200 Gap Stokke Xplory), it'd be a good way for people to exceed their means.

Plus you'd be able to assure people that you'd take the stuff back after the month or so useful life, so they wouldn't have to worry about where they're going to store it until it is old and moldy enough to throw away.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

one for the duh files

The energy bill recently passed in the House puts limits on CO2 emitted in the US with a goal of reducing our CO2 output by 85% by 2050, but makes no effort whatsoever to address the CO2 output (or other pollution) from goods produced outside of the US.

Good thing the US doesn't share an atmosphere with any other countries.

Or a jobs market. (Making energy expensive in the US will push energy-intensive production overseas, taking factory jobs with it.)

How hard would it be to include an imported goods section? Something like:

All imported goods from countries that do not have equivalent CO2 capping programs must pay a CO2 tax equal to what a domestic competitor would pay.

Personally, I care a lot more about the arsenic and sulfur clouds floating over from China, but forcing them to participate in a CO2 program or come up with their own would be a good first step.

Monday, June 29, 2009

why motorcycles basically shouldn't be legal, except for Harleys

There are two types of riders:

1) Idiots who are willing to accept risk in exchange for performance.

2) People who prefer safety and comfort and are willing to wait their line in traffic.

The first type of people want bikes because they are the fastest machine you can get for the money. These people will love their bikes for all of the several weeks of their remaining lives. There is no way for these people to ever be safe riders, no matter how skilled. As their skill increases, so do the risks they are willing to take.

The second type of people could be good, safe riders, but never will be because they don't see the point in motorcycles. There is an exception within this group, of course: the fashionista Harley riders. They have no interest in performance (if they did, they'd be on a real bike), so they are likely to be perfectly safe. Their enjoyment from the ride has nothing to do with speed or performance, so they can rumble along perfectly contentedly and don't need to take risks or push limits to enjoy themselves.

If anyone cares, I'm the first type. Virtually everyone who has ever bought a bike is. Also just like virtually everyone who has ever bought a bike, I hope to own a ridiculous car someday. Maybe an S2000 or an Elise.

Friday, June 26, 2009

climate change is dead, long live the energy crisis

I have no specific opinion about human caused climate change.

I think the science is too complicated (and politically charged) to come to any kind of reliable conclusions and I see little point in artbitrarily choosing to believe one way or the other. Think about the number of factors involved between atmospheric composition, solar radiance fluctuation, surface reflectivity, cloud formation catalysts, and so on. It is a difficult question.

The WSJ thinks that we are seeing an international move away from belief that we're responsible.

I just hope gov'ts won't throw baby out with the bathwater. Other types of pollution and environmental degradation are undeniably real: deforestation, fish stock depletion, China's dirty coal addiction (the US and Europe use coal too, but we scrub our smokestacks to take the carcinogens out instead of fogging our cities with it), Europe's diesel particulate issues, soil erosion, worldwide groundwater depletion. These are all obvious and comparatively easily solved problems that have been pushed aside by the carbon debate.

And, of course, there is always the other side of the CO2 problem. The nasty, scary, possibly irresolvable part: that we are depleting the world's cheap energy reserves.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

falling prices are annoying

I'm looking to buy a place in a north Denver suburb.

I don't expect to make money on it, but I don't expect to lose a lot of money on it, either. I figure it'll be a good inflation hedge if things go that way, but mostly it is a lifestyle decision.

The only problem is that prices in the area have been nearly flat for a decade now. This sounds like it would be good news for a buyer, but it isn't. What it means is that there are three types of places on the market: distressed sales of run down houses, grossly overpriced HGTV-inspired amateur flips, and owners with unrealistic price expectations because they need to sell for at least 10% more than they bought for just to break even.

For a buyer, all of these options are bad. It means the only way to buy a place that hasn't been trashed by an angry debtor or abused by the HGTV-addled crowd is to pay significantly above market values. Nowadays, even that is not so simple, since appraisals have become so much more strict.

Friday, June 19, 2009

since when?

Nobody has been this tired of hearing about economic indicators at their worst since the Great Depression since (you guessed it) the Great Depression.

Why not mix it up a bit? Maybe say things haven't been this bad since before WWII, since Hoover was president, since Hitler graduated High School, since the Empire State building was completed.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

the way RE pricing should work

Part 2 of my continuing series on what is wrong with real estate.

Listing prices often have absolutely no relation to reality and make the whole system inefficient. Between short sales listed at ridiculously low prices that the actual property owner will never accept and ludicrously high prices that no new lender will ever give a loan for, badly priced properties just waste everyone's time.

The obvious solution that has probably been suggested a million times before:

A proper appraisal by an actually neutral third party should step #1 in any sale process.

Not a realtor opinion. Not a zillow zestimate. Not a silly homowner guesstimate. An appraisal arranged through a lender. Or, better yet, an incorruptible third party.

You have to get an appraisal to get a loan anyway, few people are willing to buy a place too far above appraisal, and few people are willing to sell a place too far below appraisal.

So, what is the sense in listing a place without getting an appraisal first?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

diapers as CO2 sequestration

They say that disposable diapers can take a century to biodegrade when buried in a typical landfill.

I say maybe that is a good thing.

The process of carbon sequestration is just taking carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it somewhere else for a long time. So, in the case of diapers, trees took the carbon out of the air, factories turned that tree-captured carbon into a useful product through the addition of a carbon-based sealant (a thin layer of plastic, usually made from oil) and humanity briefly used this product, then put it in the earth.

So, the carbon cycle is atmospheric carbon converted into carbon chains by tree, sealed to prevent carbon returning to atmosphere by factory, stored underground for a long time by an indifferent humanity.

That is the definition of carbon sequestration.

Maybe congress should pass a bill subsidizing paper diapers, carbon taxing rapidly degrading diapers, and banning re-usables and paper recycling in general.

Yes, up to this point, I have been mocking CO2 policy, not really being serious at all.

But, if you really think about it, virtually everything a person owns during their life that isn't metal or water is primarily composed of carbon. Clothes, beds, carpets, computers, houses, food. Basically everything. If all of that carbon came from the atmosphere today and got put into the ground, that'd be a pretty significant carbon sink. Unfortunately, all that plastic still comes from oil.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

subsidize taxis

I pretty much hate mass transit, but understand that there is a place for it.

I mostly don't like waiting for things, or sitting next to strangers, or stopping every 20 seconds.

But I was looking at a chart last night that showed the comparative fuel efficiency of a variety of transport options and it is undeniable that buses are quite efficient when they are full.

They are also the least efficient transport option in existence when they are empty.

My idea: only run buses during times of the day when they are the most efficient option, then subsidize other transport options (like taxis) during the quiet hours. I don't know what the exact rate structure should be, but the city would save a silly amount of money by only running buses 10-14 hours/day instead of 24.

The reduction of diesel particulate emissions would be even greater than the reduction of energy consumption, since most buses are diesel powered.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

oh noes!

Eddie Bauer is going BK.

Where am I going to get my shirts now? They are the only place I've found that sells Large/Tall long sleeve shirts that fit me*. Plus they are wrinkle and stain resistant to boot.

Hopefully they'll have store closing sales and I'll just buy every tall shirt in the city.

They really are just so nice and fit 100% perfect.

*Yes, I have heard of Big&Tall's and yes they are 100% useless unless you are both big and tall (and willing to pay high prices for truly nasty low quality stuff, no offense).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

simple tech to reduce RE transaction costs

I don't really know why real estate agents still exist. I'm using one right now, but only because I have no choice in the matter. Selling agents won't let you see a place unless you have a buying agent. It is 100% ridiculous.

They basically represent a 5-6% transaction tax on top of the other transaction costs.

Many web sites exist to lubricate most of the process. The part that remains is the lock box. Buyers will only give the lock box code to a seller's agent. Not individuals.

The idea to replace the lock box is such:
It is a lock box that communicates via the cell phone network. The buyer contacts the seller to set up a time. The seller enters that time and the buyer's cell number into a permission database. When the buyer goes to the house, they text the lock box. If it is the right time and the right phone number, the lock box unlocks and the buyer can see the place.

If you wanted to get fancy, you could add cameras and such to the lock box to make sure the key gets put back in, etc. But this covers the basics. Or a temporary wireless security camera system to the whole house to make sure it doesn't get trashed while empty.

Other than giving access to places, I don't see that RE agents add any value to the transaction that couldn't be replaced by a good automated system. Certainly not enough to justify a 5-6% tax.

You'd replace the buyers agents first with a fixed cost discount service that is accessible to anyone - agent represented or not. Then buyers agents would slowly disappear.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

interesting times

This is the scariest blog entry I've read in a while.

In essence, the gov't is trying to keep interest rates low to keep the economy from tanking. Low interest rates mean lower operating costs for entities with large debts. Most American entities have large debts, so lower interest rates reduce operating costs, which means it is easier to keep a business or household running.

They recently failed and interest rates jumped 30% in one day.

Simultaneously, the value of the dollar is tanking. Down to its lowest value so far this year.

And the stock market is excited about a small bump in a Chinese manufacturing index.

What I think right now:
1) This sentimental stock market rally is running on fumes. I trusted it for 2 days, took my 6% return and ran.
2) If the Fed doesn't get things under control, interest rates are going to continue to rise, which is about the worst possible news for house prices.
3) For the Fed to get interest rates under control, it may need to throw the dollar under the bus, which would obviously lead to 1970s style double digit interest rates and a thoroughly toasted economy.

I expect the gov't to take the proactive approach and accept ridiculous inflation as a pain that voters don't understand well enough to care about. Because of this, buying a house now as a hedge against inflation and as a way to lock in still historically low interest rates is a good decision. Considering that it can still be done with basically zero money down, it is a bet that can't go too badly. Not for me, anyway.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

American business talk

Maybe it is just engineers, but my average work conversation goes as such:

"business, business, business, business. oh yeah, and how're the kids/hobby/weather?"

Like the personal bit is tacked on at the end almost out of guilt.

I don't really mind, since I generally have little interest in the kids/hobby/weather of the person on the other end.

I'm just saying it is weird, is all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

National G Study find Americans are least poor

Yep, out of all of the nations surveyed, we buy the most new stuff and use the most energy.

Technically, the focus of their study was to determine how "green" various nations are, but instead, they basically just put together an inverse ranking of GDP per capita.

If you're poor, you repair stuff instead of buying new. You only buy what you need. You buy basic items with as little processing as possible. And you don't use very much fossil energy, because fossil energy is expensive. Some goes for clean water.

I just wish we were all poor enough to make this world a better place.

This is my favorite line:

"Consumers in Brazil, Russia and Mexico increased their Greendex score the most, when compared to last year’s results."

Maybe Nat G failed to notice this, but Brazil, Russia, and Mexico are amongst the countries most strongly impacted by the recent economic mess. Remember the riots in Mexico over grain prices last year? Neither does Nat G. They do strongly approve of the decrease in wanton tortilla consumption, though.

A useful study of relative greenness might consider what efforts are made to reduce the impact of consumption. Such as smokestack scrubbing, water management laws, portions of land that are permanently off limits to use. All things that the US has led the way in developing.

Any study that puts China's "foggy" cities and India's exploding population of grinding poverty on the #1 and #2 pedestals as examples to follow is 100% bad for humanity.

The link.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

the other kind of fusion

Who knew there was another kind?

There's natural fusion, which powers the stars.

Plasma-based fusion, which attempts to replicate natural fusion and is the only approach that has had significant funding for decades.

Cold fusion, which had been taboo for so long that only people on the margins of science studied it, except in France and Japan.

And now I'm hearing about laser-based solid fusion, which works as such: ultra dense hydrogen isotopes + lasers = huge amounts of energy + non-radioactive waste (helium, presumably). Worth the read.

Monday, May 11, 2009

loud bathrooms

I think there should be white noise generators in public bathrooms.

I recently read an article about the new ultra mega jumbo airbus plane and how the flight crews didn't like it because it is quieter than most planes. During long flights the crews take a rest and the white noise from normal planes drowns out passenger noise and provides them privacy enough so that they can sleep.

Privacy in a bathroom is generally a good thing. A cheap way to add privacy to a space is to make it loud. White noise is the least offensive form of loud.

Therefore, adding white noise to public bathrooms is a good idea.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

two miracles in one week

At least three miracles are needed for hydrogen vehicles to become practical and progress has been made on two of them this week.

1) cheap way to produce the hydrogen.

2) practical way to store the hydrogen in a car.

3) cheap fuel cell to use the hydrogen - progress is coming along generally. this is probably the easiest miracle, but it is at the product development stage so companies don't talk about their progress.

We obvious still need to get the energy to produce the hydrogen from somewhere and I think the crazy unschedule-able wind plants will do just fine for that. The hydrogen production facilities will only be profitable with the lowest cost electricity. The electric companies will give them the lowest rates in exchange for the hydrogen companies agreeing to follow the wind plants' output.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Battlestar Gallactica and the smart grid

There is a compelling story here, but I can't think of a clever way to state it.

Simply put:

There is a consistent (and fairly blind) effort to increase the level of automation in our nation's electrical system at all levels.

This creates an obvious and I think unavoidable way for hackers to play with stuff that might actually hurt people.

Some argue the benefits outweigh the dangers and that robust cybersecurity policies can protect us. I think that is 100% grade A BS. I don't think there is such a thing as a secure network and neither does the CIA. Their sensitive information is kept on computers that aren't connected to any networks. Networked information is basically public information.

As part of my work, I've seen some cybersecurity policies for the energy industry and I'm pretty sure the only reason we haven't seen a major hacker-induced outage is because nobody has really tried to cause one yet. Or maybe because they never learned power flow calculations.

Point being, I think we're better off going the Battlestar Gallactica route - embrace individual computing devices, just never let so many of them talk to each other and make automated decisions that they could endanger the reliability of the power supply.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

World Depression II

Lots of writers are claiming that the current economic issues aren't as bad as the Great Depression.

These comparisons are based on the US experience during the Depression vs the US experience today.

This article claims that if you compare the World then vs World now, every sign indicates that World Depression II is going to make World Depression I look like World War I.

World Depression I was severe, prolonged and unpleasant and all, but since then we've learned far more efficient and effective ways of turning our cash into confetti.

And yet I'm perfectly happy pulling up stakes and moving to a less secure new position. Am I really so confident in the invulnerability of my industry or do I not believe that things are as bad as the analysis indicates?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mr. Mori and I must share logic diagrams

Moving to the 'burbs of Denver in a few weeks, I've started to think about what I should get as a second car.

Naturally, I wasted a lot of time browsing ads to see what struck me. This is a useless process for me, because I am a lover of cars generally - and for a wide variety of reasons. My favorite car so far was a 12yr old Geo Storm. I owned it when it was announced the Lotus Elise would finally be coming to the US. I couldn't help but notice how the two were similar in many ways and how the Storm excelled the Elise in some ways (the chassis and the engine were built by the same company; the Geo wasn't held together by glue - well, it hadn't been when it was new, anyway).

Point being, cars are an emotional subject for me so browsing listings leads inevitably to frustration and fail. I'd end up buying something ridiculous like a Eagle Talon TSi (a hot little turbo-ed awd coupe with an engine so explosively unreliable that it has been referred to as a very expensive grenade from which the pin has been pulled).

Acknowledging my inability to make a rational decision, I decided to rely on a logic diagram to guide me.

The design was thus: we already have a reliable, competent, efficient, smallish car (a 2003 Pontiac Vibe). So the additional car should add as much vehicular capability as possible at the least total cost (initial plus operations and maintenance). The capabilities that I value are:

1) AWD or 4x4 for snow-going (AWD is slightly preferred because it is lower cost and probably good enough. I have no desire to drive off-road.)
2) a truck bed for hauling dirty stuff (for when I have a dirty garden)
3) decent acceleration from a turbo (for getting up into the mountains without putting excessive strain on the engine - turbos don't derate at higher elevations the way naturally aspirated engines do)

The required characteristics are:

1) must cost under $12k
2) must have less than 75k miles
3) must carry at least 4 adult passengers

Anyone who spends too much time reading car mags knows where this is going and is probably a little disturbed by it:

The much maligned Subaru Baja Turbo. Unofficially known as "the Subaru Outback that got in a fight with a sawzall - and lost." Depending on the price differential between the turbo version and the base model when it is actually time to buy, there is a decent chance I'll skip the turbo.

If you're still wondering about the title, Mr. Mori is the CEO Fuji Heavy Industries, the parent company of Subaru.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

cold fusion stigma melting

Ever since the episode of extraordinarily bad science (on everyone's part: those who claimed it happened, those who claimed it didn't, the media. bad science all around) in the '80s, it has been difficult for any serious scientists to investigate the phenomena because of the stigma attached to it.

Cold fusion (known as low energy nuclear reactions LENR in boring circles) promises to be everything nuclear fusion power was meant to be. Ubiquitous cheap energy, but without the radioactive waste.

But instead of being continually investigated by the best and brightest, a series of very poorly funded but dedicated folks have kept the dream alive. In basements, garages and France and Japan and one US military lab, mostly.

Up until a few years ago, the DOE even had a blanket ban on funding any cold fusion research.

But, if my interactions with a variety of physicists, engineers, and scientists is anything to go by, there is still a quiet but strong undercurrent of interest in the phenomena.

But today, this article appeared on Science Daily after being published in a proper journal: the American Chemical Society.

Even if the results are quickly proven to be the result of a known phenomena and the authors gently mocked, the fact that that the results were published in a real journal at all is significant. It means more researchers will be able to spend time studying it without throwing their careers out the window.

It is a good day for science.

Three cheers for the editors who allowed the paper in their journal.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


That's my clever name for a multi-mode baby soothing mechanism.

It is a conjunction of haptic and habitat.

It will be the ultimate machine for sleepy baby soothing. It'll produce white noise, vibrate, bounce, and stay warm.

Something tells me someone has already produced this device and I just haven't found it yet. It is probably only sold in Japan.

And it probably has a less creepy name.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

wrong economic theory fundamentals

I've been thinking about economics recently. Specifically about how it's foundation is a bit backwards. I don't really have time to write much, but the general idea goes a little something like this:

Classical economics states that the purpose of an economic system is to distribute scarce resources.

This was thought up at a time when resources meant something. When they were a limiting factor. When engineering, marketing, branding, and science barely existed.

I think that today, there virtually are no scarce resources. I'm wrong about this, obviously. Energy is a scarce resource. But, with energy, basically everything else becomes plentiful.

Instead, the vast majority of wealth creation has nothing to do with scarce resources. Wealth is created via added value actions. Specifically, humans modifying or creating things out of basic materials to male them more valuable to other humans.

If the vast majority of value is added by humans, rather than fundamental to the resources themselves, then economics that focus on the resources are missing most of the picture.

An example of why this matters:

From the classical perspective, poor countries are a good thing because they mean that the physical resources of that country can be exploited by he wealthy countries.

From my perspective, poor countries are a lost opportunity because each unemployed person is unable to add value to the system. Each untrained mind and underutilized pair of hands is a lost opportunity for humanity. There is no telling what great works of art or scientific discoveries aren't being made by the billions living hand to mouth right now.

I'm at a Power Systems Conference and Expo right now that brings this point home. I've listened to about 20 technical presentations on details of wind integration, turbine modeling, power system planning, etc and at least 80% of them have been given by PhD's whose parents or grandparents were (or are) probably subsistence farmers.

Naturally, there is also the problem of the selfish materialistic assumptions of modern economics that helped prepare investment bankers to create the mess we're struggling through right now, but I have no time for that right now.

It should be noted that I barely know what I'm talking about when it comes to what is an isn't classical economics, so it may be that there is a branch of it that believes as I do. If anyone can provide a reference, I'd be interested in reading it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fast charge battery tech

One more barrier to electric vehicles fell today. The several hours to recharge a battery pack may soon fall to just a few minutes, if claims from MIT can be trusted.

With this tech, you could keep your car on a constant slow charge at home overnight to take advantage of lower costs, but then also be able take the vehicle for long trips by doing a rapid recharge at a charging station.

Because of the amount of power involved, the rapid recharge will still take several minutes, even if the batteries themselves could recharge in a few seconds. If you have a 60kWhr battery pack (big enough for a subcompact car to have a decent freeway range), recharging in 6 minutes requires a 600kW connection. At 600 volts DC, this requires 1000 amps. Which is just barely feasible with standard equipment.

More likely, you'd have to give it 20 minutes and recharge at about 300 amps.

If you're driving cross country, you should stop and have a decent stretch every few hours anyway, I guess.

Monday, February 23, 2009

nuclear tankers

The US military uses nuclear power for aircraft carriers and submarines, why shouldn't big commercial ships do the same?

Hyperion power has a small nuke power plant design that they think will prove to be of little interest to terrorists and environmentalists alike.

So, why not put one in a big commercial shipping vessel? It'd be a great way to hedge against fluctuating fuel prices. And they only have to be refueled every couple of decades.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

clever and dumb

Today's clever prize goes to a few members of congress who introduced a bill to tax all stock market transactions at 0.25% to pay for the Wall Street Bailout. It'd kill day traders, greatly reduce volatility, and lead to a more stable system based on soundly reasoned long term buys instead of disruptive momentum speculating.

And the dumb prize goes to Abu Dhabi for banning employers from firing citizens. Who would ever start a company or hire any employees if they knew that they would be stuck with every employee they hired until the business went bankrupt? 100% dumb. Companies need to shrink sometimes and get rid of unproductive folks. It is part of a healthy process.

Monday, February 16, 2009

will our economic recovery be slowed by our economic recovery?

One of the big themes for the last several months has been that no matter how bad the news in the US is, the dollar keeps going up in value and investors are still tripping over each other to buy US treasuries.

In fact, the worse the news is, the more interest there is in the USD and treasuries. The USD has gone up by around 30% vs most other currencies in the last several months and the buyers of government issued treasuries are willing to accept essentially zero (and in some cases actually zero) return on their money.

The common explanation is that the USD and treasuries are the world's most secure investments during economic hard times. People are buying them in the hope they'll actually be worth something next year. Nobody wants to get stuck holding the next Icelandic Krona (which recently became nearly worthless as part of this whole crisis).

So what happens when the financial crisis ends and investors start to favor the higher returns of basically any other investment over the USD and treasuries?

Seems to me, it'll lead to a falling USD and demand for higher interest rates on treasuries. Falling USD means rising import prices (most importantly rising fuel costs). Demand for higher interest rates on treasuries will make servicing our national debt more expensive, and increase borrowing costs generally.

None of which is good news for a country trying to recover from a recession.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

periodic truck regulations rant

As far as I can tell, most fuel efficiency/hybrid tech policy is one step shy of being flat out stupid.

Maybe half a step.

Our transport energy use is so high because so many of us drive oversized vehicles from poorly thought out suburbs. We do this as individuals, of course, because it is the smart thing to do. Big trucks are safer, faster, cooler, provide better visibility, and have huge amounts of space to haul stuff all for about the same or a lower price than a similar car. For about $20k-$25k, you can get a decent ford fusion, which meets all of anyone's basic transport needs or you can get a Ford F150 crew cab that is better at everything except parking and fuel efficiency. Sure, the truck uses more fuel, but the incremental cost is insignificant over the first 3 years (which is how long most new car buyers keep their new cars).

So, if I'm avoiding the unavoidable discussion of fuel costs, then what am I going to go on about?

Perverse regulations. The Ford F150 is cheap not because of any especially clever engineering or manufacturing processes, but rather because of crazy crazy federal regulations. In the US, not all cars are created equal. Some cars are passenger cars and follow one set of regulations. Some cars are light duty trucks and follow another set. And some cars are heavy duty trucks and follow yet another set.

The perversity of the regulations is that the worse the fuel efficiency of a class of vehicles is, the less it is regulated. Cars have had fuel efficiency requirements and gas guzzler taxes since the 1970s. Light duty trucks, not so much. Heavy duty trucks (like the Ford Super Duty F-350) - they don't even have to publish fuel economy ratings.

This was somewhat revised recently by the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) law, but only somwhat. You'll still never see a gas guzzler tax on a truck that gets 12 miles per gallon, but you will for any car that gets the same. Instead, each manufacturer was basically told: whatever the fuel efficiency of the mix of vehicles you produce today, improve it by a few percent.

Whereas the oil reserves of the world (and the CO2 concentration in atmosphere) don't care whether this year's ford trucks are more efficient than last year's. They only care about how much fuel is burned. Rather than increasing the efficiency of a truck by 5%, we should be encouraging people to move from less efficient classes of vehicles into more efficient classes. If you move from a 18 mpg truck into a 28 mpg car (2009 F150 and Fusion), that is a 55% improvement.

And the idiotic regulations keep coming. The bill that Obama will sign next week contains tax credits for electric vehicles that vary based on the vehicle weight:

"A credit is also available for each qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle placed in service—qualified being a four-wheel, on-road vehicle equipped with a grid-chargeable battery pack of at least 4 kWh capacity.

The base amount of the plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit is $2,500, plus another $417 for each kWh of battery capacity in excess of four kilowatt-hours. The maximum credit for qualified vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less is $7,500.

This maximum amount increases to $10,000 for vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds but not more than 14,000 pounds, to $12,500 for vehicles weighing more than 14,000 pounds but not more than 26,000 pounds, and to $15,000 for vehicle weighing more than 26,000 pounds."

Effectively encouraging the continued use of excessively heavy and oversized vehicles by giving them more tax credits.

How dumb is that?

Similar provisions exist for hybrid SUVs vs hybrid cars.

If the goal is to reduce fuel consumption, the strategy of telling people that they shouldn't change their lifestyle at all is flat out worthless.

Instead, we should have a single uniform set of vehicle regulations. For safety, efficiency, emissions, everything - one set of laws. The preferential treatment that trucks get is flat out wrong-headed.

Level the playing field and see what the market really does prefer.

I think we'd find a lot more Fusions on the road.

For reference, I ocassionally do consider the idea of owning a truck. There are a few nice ones out there that make sense in their own ways. The only remotely affordable and practical Porsche, for example, is a used Cayenne. They sell in the $25-30k range these days.

And I've always had an inexplicable desire for a Ford Explorer Sport Trac with a nearly useless mini-bed in the back.

I really have no idea why I like them. Maybe they are so ugly that they have come around the corner and are cute again.

Friday, February 13, 2009

new cool tech

solid state refrigeration for the masses.

One of the biggest load growths in the US for the last few decades has been because of people moving to warm areas and getting air conditioning. The sort of device, when it comes to market will probably save a significant amount of energy and provide better performance (solid state means far few moving parts, less noise, less maintenance).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

cube finally coming to america. updated

Check out the gallery. These cars are beautiful.

It takes all of the things that people loved about the original scion xb - all of the things that were left out of the second generation scion xb - and improves them. Plus adds a healthy dose of asymmetry and a CVT. What could be better?

My only hope is that the sticky hair crowd leave this one alone, so that I can continue to want one.

I'll take mine in moss green, thx v much.

update: another gallery

The only thing I don't get is the tiny circle of shag carpet on the dash. Having a whole shag dash would be cool - or at least interesting. One tiny circle in the middle makes no sense. Fortunately, it is optional.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

CA budgets and overcrowded prisons

Three judges in California ruled that the overcrowded prisons are a public hazard and that up to 57k prisoners will be released.

According to an old LA Times article, each prisoner costs the state $31k per year.

So, reduce a public hazard and save $1.8 billion per year.

California's budget deficit for 2008 was $17 billion, so this should account for something close to a 10% reduction of the deficit in 2009.

The only downside: 57k more people looking for jobs. All of them with criminal records, few of them with any significant education or work experience.

Maybe the state could pay them $31k per year to dig ditches, provide them with a secure place to sleep, meals, time to exercise...

Monday, February 9, 2009

the US and Liberia share paid maternity leave policies

This caught my eye this morning in a Reuters article about what Mrs. Obama plans to do while she is first lady:

"There is no paid maternity leave mandated in the United States, a situation shared by only three other countries: Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Liberia, according to a 2007 study by Harvard and McGill universities."

Pretty weak.

My company lets me use as many of my paid sick days as I want while baby is under 1, but that is hardly the same thing as maternity or paternity leave.

As it happens, I am lucky enough to have a job that provides an income slightly above the median household income for Seattle, so we don't have troubles covering costs and I have family generous enough to help us adjust to life with an infant, but luck is hardly a solid foundation for maternity leave policy.

Friday, February 6, 2009


There has been a lot of discussion about torturing bad folks recently, and I think most of the discussion demonstrates just how clueless our administration was and how the new one isn't that much better clued in.

Fanatical Muslims participating in a Jihad want to die for their cause. They don't pretend to want to die for it. They actually want to die in the effort to achieve their goals. If they die this way, they believe they go to a special circle of heaven and their life's purpose will be fulfilled and their family will be proud for generations. The American equivalent of the position they think they will obtain is somewhere between Martin Luther King Jr and Jesus.

The people who truly believe this would be very unlikely to be responsive to any kind of torture. Temporary material discomfort is nothing compared to the prize of suffering and dying for their cause.

So, step one in the debate should have been "is it effective." Step two would be "is it justifiable." Instead, everyone has skipped straight to step two, maybe because they can't imagine what it would be like to be motivated by religion in such a fundamental way, so they just assume that nobody could possibly actually feel the way fanatical terrorists do.

Dedicated materialists (like Madoff or any of the jackasses that knowingly created the financial bubble) on the other hand.... torture would be very effective on them. The debate about using torture on them could reasonably get to step two.

Considering the amount and danger of the information these people are still withholding, I think "special investigative powers" of one variety or another could be justifiable.

where is my Shanzai?

According to the unpronounceable news agency, Chinese folks are embracing everything faux. Actually preferring the off-brand imitation over the original.

My only two questions:

How cool is that?

Where can I get some authentic Mike Aero Jimdan shoes in size 15?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

inevitable Dubai fail

Dubai, the epitome of the ridiculous real estate boom, has entered it's inevitable massive fail mode.

It is going to make the South Florida condo market look like the investment of the century.

To avoid jail time (and severed hands, this is the UAE we're talking about after all, like Saudi a land of oil princes and extremist Islamic governments) foreigners are abandoning their luxury condos, manmade islands, maybachs, and G-classes to flee home.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

EV's are still a fail tech

Tesla announced today that they are massively incompetent at business. It costs them almost $140k to build a vehicle they sell for $92k, netting them a loss of about $50k per vehicle sold.

GM by comparison now seems to be performing very well, since they only lose a few hundred dollars per vehicle sold. It should also be noted that GM probably uses something closer to true accounting rules, whereas the Tesla estimate is almost certainly based on fantasy. They probably take all of their business and engineering costs and spread them over many thousands of vehicles that they'll never actually sell because they're gonna go bankrupt first.

They attempt to put a happy face on things by suggesting that - out of thin air - they can cut their parts costs by about 50% without impacting the quality of the vehicle. Some would wonder why they wouldn't have already done so, if it is such an easy thing to do. Those towards the end of the production waiting list might reconsider whether they really want to pay full price for such a significantly economized vehicle.

Maybe they were too busy "innovating" (read: taping thousands of tiny batteries into giant bundles and breaking transmissions. that really is the extent of their innovation. they bought the motor, controller, charger wholesale from ac propulsion & the running gear from lotus) that they forgot to hire somebody who could take care of the basic stuff that Detroit has been doing for more than a hundred years.

I'd be willing to make an even odds bet that Tesla never finishes their initial production run of 300 roadsters, if anyone is interested. I'd take either side of the bet.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

too many action movies

Maybe I'm the only one, but Obama seems too good to be true.

Unabashedly intelligent, optimistic, aware that other countries exist and their people matter, admits that killing terrorists just encourages them - it is hard to think of anything to object to.

I think he overstated the gravity of our current situation. Then again, maybe he was providing historical context to demonstrate how what we're going through isn't such a great big deal.

Given his popularity and desire to do things the way they ought to be done, he is putting himself out there as enemy #1 for anyone who is happy with the way things are.

Because of this, all through his speech this morning, I kept waiting for something truly awful to happen. Either to him specifically or to the whole city. Action movie kind of bad thing.

I guess the reality is that any horrible thing that anyone may try to do will most likely be done to undermine him and render him powerless, rather than remove him physically.

Nonetheless, I spent most of the speech distracted by thoughts of how a crowd that size could possibly be secure.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Officially official. Officially.

The state finally updated their records to show that I am, in fact, a fully licensed Professional Engineer. Now I just need to order my official Professional Engineer stamp, and cap and gown.

Well, the stamp, anyway. Most people I know don't use their cap and gown more than once or twice a year, so I may not bother.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Go massive on solar thermal?

The large-scale solar power option is to convert dilute solar power into concentrated heat energy then convert that into electricity to export to the populated parts of the country.

Some estimate that the US could meet 90% of electricity demand by tapping into the solar energy in the Southwest.

Question #1: what would the regional environmental impact be?

Such a process would take tens to hundreds of gigawatts of heat out of area, potentially altering regional weather patterns.

my guess: irrelevant. each project would be permitted individually. each would only have to prove that their incremental impact would be negligible, which they would be.

Question #2, #3, #4: if Africa weren't such a mess, how much energy could be exported from the Sahara region to Europe (where energy costs are flat out ludicrously high - $.30/kwh is not unusual)? How would that compare to the oil energy exports from the Middle East? Would the income from so much power be enough to give Europe the economic incentive to finally clean up the mess they made in Africa during their empire-building days?

my guesses: more than they could use, 5-10x more, i have no idea

Question #4: (and this is the most appealing one for me) is there an appropriate technology low tech, local material-based way to convert sunlight into electricity for the hot, sunny, and arid regions of the world?

Arid is the tough part. Water is the most common working fluid. Maybe if you did it closed cycle and assumed that dirty water was available and clean water was a desirable output you could come up with something that made a bit of electricity and a bunch of purified water.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Iran and oil prices

External estimates are that 80% of Iran's tax revenue is from oil sales, implying that creating a budget based on the prices expected this year will mean serious cuts to expenses or extreme violations of OPEC export-limiting agreements. Either that, or Iran had a huge budget surplus last year.

On the other hand, President Ahmadinejad says that Iran's economy is entirely independent from oil prices. So, that is an option, I guess. Considering that there isn't an economy in the world that actually is independent from oil prices, though, I find it hard to believe that a nation that relies on oil to pay for 80% of the government budget could possibly make such a claim with a straight face. In this case, I'll trust the external sources and assume that cheap oil means budget cuts in Iran.

It is an important question because budget cuts mean cuts to government services which means a frustrated population looking for a direction for their anger. In the US, Madoff and a few others will be publicly humiliated and imprisoned for life for their roles in the financial problems. In Iran, the government will continue directing the people's anger at the US and Israel. If things get extreme enough, Iran may be forced to start a shooting conflict to satisfy the bloodlust they incite.