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.