Monday, June 30, 2008

I like 'em!

These new milk jugs that is. I mean, yes they are better for the environment overall and more efficient in terms of transport and storage. But the real reason is that people don't know how to use them. Milk is being spilled left and right by those who are unable to master the new design, and much crying results...not that it's any use.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Reporting with poor context is grand.

Ain't it? In this case I'm referring to this article about underage drinking. The article is not exactly clear but on initial read it seems to be saying teens getting (any) alcohol from parents is bad. I don't think that is what the article is really saying, but it is very poorly written.

While binge drinking and heavy alcohol use by teens is bad, supervised alcohol consumption is potentially very good. When a teens first beer is at a kegger in a field somewhere, problems can arise (projectile vomiting, drunk driving, forgotten sex, unwanted babies, and sometimes jail or death). If that first beer is at home then (most of) those things are very unlikely to occur. Learning to drink responsibly, like learning to drive responsibly, eat responsibly, ... is best done at home, and taught by parents.

Of course, not all parents are exactly responsible...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Storm

Five hours outside. Over a hundred degrees. By this time he felt as though he was radiating more heat than the sun was beating into him. "It was supposed to rain, damnit!" he cursed under his breath.
At thirty five and after spending more than ten years doing a bit more beer than exercise he was not the same spry young man who had been drafted by the Cubs out of high school and spent five years playing in Des Moines.
He had never made the big league, and a motorcycle accident had wrecked his arm near twelve years back. So he got a tract of land and dug in.
The land was cheap. He grew vegetables. Some he ate and others went to farmer's markets. He had married his high school sweetheart at age 20. Regretted it at age 21. She left him, then came back, then threatened to leave on a regular basis for the next nine years. They had no children. She was gone now.
"Damn bitch never appreciated how hard I work," he muttered and flung a spade full of dirt over his shoulder.
It landed, scattered, in the vicinity of his pile. A few small clumps bounced of a pair of white sneakers.
The man stopped. He set the tip of the spade at the bottom of the hole he had been digging and guessed the depth to be a bit over four and a half feet.
"Good enough for what it's for," he said and climbed out.
Standing up he noticed that the air had changed. There was a bit of a breeze and it smelled damp. He scanned the skies and could see that a line of clouds had taken up residence to the west. A squall line. So it was going to rain after all.
"Hmph," he grunted and scanned his small field and its withering crops, "looks like you're gonna get the drink you need after all."
He smiled, then turned his attention back to the job at hand.
Bending over, he grabbed the sneakers and lifted them up. The feet inside and legs attached rose as well. The ankle length sun dress slipped down to the woman's waist exposing her legs. A pasty white color that nearly matched the cotton of her panties and was in stark contrast to the tan of her face and arms.
He locked his arms around her ankles and walked backwards, dragging her unceremoniously. Her dress worked its way upward, first exposing her white, round belly, then the underside of her bra, where it stopped, her breasts preventing the indignity from becoming any greater.
When the distant couple came astride the hole--her grave--he stopped and released her legs. They fell, her right foot overhanging the maw. He put his hands on his hips and looked down at her.
He tried to remember the good times. They seemed so distant. They had been in love, he supposed. He wanted to believe that it had been more than teenage lust. He didn't know. In the end it had been an accident, but he had caused it. She had been riding him for not getting the well pump running and when he jumped up to yell back he caught his leg on the coffee table and tumbled into her. They both went down but she had been under him and her head struck the wall coming down. Her neck broke. There was no blood.
They would blame him, he decided. So he chose this path. Dig, bury, tell anyone what asks that she finally made good and run off. He placed his boot against her hip and shoved her in.
The first drops of rain struck his cheeks above and hers down below. He hastily started to fill in the hole.
Each raindrop struck heavily, sparse at first but getting more frequent. The sun was gone and the light was fading fast despite it being just three in the afternoon.
He shoveled faster.
Only an elbow, bent upward from the short violent tumble, remained visible. It vanished then reappeared as the rain stepped up its attack.
His pile was turning to mud but he kept at it.
The hole was three quarters full and the rain was comming down in sheets.
He slopped in the last shovels-full. He was drenched. The hole was topped by a pool of mud.
The rain had created mini-rivers between the planted rows. He dropped the shovel, spread his arms and looked up at the cascading watter.
The torrent continued.
He wept. His tears washed away as quickly as they could form in the corners of his eyes.
Then he heard it. A crack. Loud and close. Lightning does not strike in the middle of the rain, only the edges. He knew this. It couldn't be...
A large branch of the sycamore had broken and fell. It was unrelated to the storm. Just a coincidence. It struck him on the head. He fell unconscious, landing face down in one of the mini-streams that were nourishing his crops. His heart pumped. His chest and stomach moved in and out, replacing the air in his lungs with water and mud. His heart pumped faster, trying to get more oxygen. His lungs were inundated. His heart raced, became erratic, then stopped. Signaling in his brain continued for a bit, then slowed, then stopped.

The next day his nearest neighbor came by to check on him. Then came an ambulance, then the police. His wife's body was discovered, and the coroner's report came back: both had drowned.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Misleading at best

This post over at Daily Kos is a real indicator of a problem, but not the way darkside uses it.

The problem is the second chart which shows the "Percentage of NIH R01 Applications Funded" dropping sharply in ~2003. The reason is not underfunding. NIH is actually fairly well funded. The reason is drift. Because the NIH's research funding budget increased dramatically in the 90's, they were, at first, able to fund more applicants. NSF funding was supposed to be increased as well, but that never happened.

Over the next ~10 years, science depts and universities came to realize that the promised funding would not arrive, and they began a real shift. They pushed hard to expand departments that could capitalize on the NIH funding, and in those areas where NIH funding was traditionally less important (chemistry, physics) there was a drive to shift emphasis in such a way as to qualify for the ample funding, and to hire people whose research goals were better aligned with the new funding reality.

The result was that applications for NIH money soared, and so the modest (inflation type) changes to their money subsequently were not enough to offset the increased number of applicants. So the percent funded started dropping.

The problem is not that the NIH is underfunded, it may be that, but the real problem is that the NSF is severely underfunded. It has caused a shift in fundamental science research in this country...away from things that would lead to advances in energy, for example, and towards health research. This is the real problem, and while simply increasing the NSF budget will fix this, the chart does tell us that the shift back will take ~10 years.

Non-health science research has been hurting in this country, and it won't get better in a hurry. Universities have been hiring health related researchers to take advantage of the existing funding dynamic.

Fuel cells, photovoltaics, battery technology--those very things that would have the best hope
at helping with energy problems--have had the short end of the stick, and the problem started in the 90's. It was exacerbated by the Bush administration, but they were not the cause. Blame it on Clinton (Bill) or the Republican congress that thought taking him out was more important than actually governing, but they caused the disparity that has resulted in the chart darkside shows...and the real problem in science funding.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Have no Pity

For this woman (edit: stuff was added, I was referring to the woman near the end with 9 children). None. Moreover, I'm a little pissed at the knowledge that this woman (well, her family) has nine little tax deductions, that have to be educated, protected, and otherwise benefit from various other government programs. More tax dollars go to them and they pay lower taxes.

I like children. I would like to have one or two. I am very much opposed to tax deductions for dependents. In fact I would support extra taxes for anyone who has more than 2 or 3 children. We don't need the growth, education comes from taxes, it really would be "fair" but too many people feel entitled to lower taxes...woah, that reminds me of something...

Oh yea, Republicans who hate entitlement programs but are peachy with this type of entitlement.

Oh, well.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Three R's

There are three "R's" that are meant to serve as a guide to consumption in the world. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. These have been tossed around for decades, but it is still only recycle that is actively practiced by a large number of people in this country (though not by Chicagoans).

The thing is they are even listed in order of importance. For emphasis, I'll do the reverse...


More and more common, this is excellent for metals, pretty good for glass and paper, and better than nothing for plastic. Many things can be recycled to various degrees, but in the majority of cases recycling means downgrading, and in all cases it requires energy input to breakdown then reconstitute. So recycle everything you can, but only after doing the next two things.


On the simple side is using grocery bags to pick up after your dog. On the somewhat more inconvenient side: always bring your own coffee mug to fill up at coffee shop/gas station/... Don't get any frickin' disposable cleaning product (wipes, bowl cleaners, etc.): brushes, mops, rags and even sponges can be cleaned (and disinfected) and reused, so knock that crap off!

If you are insane: flatten out and reuse aluminum foil, wrapping paper, ziplock bags, etc. There are better options for many of these things (gift bags instead of wrapping paper, tupperware instead of baggies...), but try and find second uses for anything that you must use that would normally be one shot and done, and trade out more reusable items for as many disposable ones as possible.


Turn off lights, don't run water, use cold instead of hot when possible (laundry). Don't purchase anything that is individually wrapped. Never buy bottled water. Get as much fresh food as possible. Get food that is processed as little as possible. Cancel magazines. Walk and bike rather than drive. Don't use disposable cleaning products (it bears repeating). Don't sanitize every surface every 30 seconds.

What is odd is that, all told, there is a great deal under the reduce category that is quite simple. Moreover, it often means saving money, living a healthier lifestyle, and helping to reduce our impact on the planet. It is win, win, win!

Oh, also, live in a smaller house, don't fertilize, and drive an efficient vehicle. Damn. I knew there was something wrong. Hummers, golf course lawns (and golf courses for that matter) and McMansions need not apply. No matter what "green" crap you add to a 6000 sq ft house, it will never ever be environmentally friendly--are you listening Al Gore? A family of 4 really doesn't need more than 1200 sq ft (or really, even that much).

This nation is not designed in such a manner to make reducing our impact to a sustainable footprint easy. It is--in the limits--damn hard. Reducing, however is the first and best option for achieving sustainability.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Sexism vs. Racism in the primary

Any form of bigotry contains within it a combination of the overt and the subtle (which has been dubbed "stealth" by those who like to play games with words). Racism and sexism have very different expressions, in both the relative amount of each type and the permeation within the United States.

Overt bigotry is fairly straightforward. It is fear, ignorance and loathing. Integration and education do a good job of getting society past this, but it takes time (like generations). The overt bigot will never vote for any member of a group they are bigoted against. This type of bigotry has diminished quite a bit over the past 60 years. It still exists (particularly in certain areas of the country), and it is far more common with respect to racism--or really toward outside/other groups: Hispanics, Muslims, blacks, LGBT--than sexism.

The subtle bigotry is more prevalent for all types. It is harder to identify the causes, but the general solution is the same, though the level at which it must be applied causes serious problems (just try to force integrate a fortune 500 company or a major university...or a legislature). Moreover, there is no consistent way to identify it. People who are bigoted in this manner may actually vote for a member of a certain group as a way to "demonstrate" how not-bigoted he/she is. People who oppose affirmative action may be more likely to be bigoted but it is hardly a given. As such it is very difficult to discern the effect of this type of bigotry on something like an election. It is real; it does have an overall negative effect on the group that it targets, and there may never be an effective measure to demonstrate it (yes, this includes salary disparity).

I would argue that, though it is confined almost exclusively to the latter category above, sexism is far more pervasive overall. There are myriad reasons which have been given, but there is an underlying one that is as often discarded as it is brought up, but provides the only real differences between men and women which lead to all subsequent treatments of either by either. That is that there are biological differences between men and women. These differences go well beyond: one has a penis and the other a vagina. Hormone levels, gland function and neural activity all vary. Behavior and thought processes have differences based in physiology and biochemistry. One cannot truly understand the other (understanding even this is actually a pretty big step). It is, I would argue, these differences which lead to differences in psychology that allow for the basis for what de Beauvoir writes on in Second Sex (read it, I'm not summarizing here).

I should stress that this in no way implies that one is better or even preferred in any given situation. To the contrary it would imply that an idealized world would have roughly equal numbers of men and women at all levels and functions so as to provide the best balance in opinion, thought and productivity.

In the end bigotry in all forms, including racism and sexism, still exists, but it is most often difficult to spot. Moreover, while the effects are mostly negative they are also not something so easy to discern, particularly in, say, an election.

***note: Sexism is unique among the various forms of bigotry. I've said before (I think here somewhere) that I am a fan of Simone de Beauvoir's writing on the issue of sexism, so some of what I feel on that issue can likely be traced back to Second Sex; I use her writing as a guide. I believe that she did well to describe the sociology that I see as the result of our differing physiology/biochemistry.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Methane fueled cars

This back and forth is presented for your confusion...

Person A:
I agree that Hydrogen is not a viable option. I have done a great deal of research into gaseous fuels and found some interesting facts. Methane from animal waste, garbage dumps etc is readily available and renewable, and is also a by-product of CO2 sequestration. The infrustructure is already in place (natural gas pipelines) and current vehicles readily convert to methane using state of the shelf propane conversion technology. Cars running on methane produce 1/2 the emissions accross the board. The other interesting fact is that methane is over 20 times more damaging to the environment than CO2, yet nobody is promoting this as an alternative.
Any help in getting this idea to the Obama campaign would be helpful. I have a list of experts ie scientists and researchers that are willing to present this concept to the right people.

Person B:
Methane can help, but there is not nearly enough of it to convert, and collection is tough--what with it being lighter than air and requiring separation (from air) and all. Moreover, it would be far more efficient to use it at the collection site to generate power which would be put onto the grid.
Plug-in and hybrid electric vehicles, and if we can ever get them here ultra lightweight Kei/city cars, are the best current infrastructure option, and MeOH/EtOH/H2 Fuel Cells (which are also, technically, electric) are the best next tech option. Research being done now may put both options to pasture, but it is not there yet, or nearly as close. By all means, make a push to capture and use methane to generate power, but the inefficiency associated with using it as a fuel for automobiles--along with it being in insufficient supply--is too great.

Person A:
Ever hear of a guy named Smokey Unik. He was a stock car builber back in the 60's. Before he died a few years ago, he invented a "hot vapor engine" and converted a 1984 Fiero to run on his invention. Type, Hot Vapor Engine into your browser and take a look. His system converted liquid gasoline into a gaseous fuel. The Fiero that he converted made close to 60mpg and still ran on gasoline.
Dairy farmers are erecting methane capture tents and cooking animal waste using passive solar to run large generators. These generators are hooked to the grid and supply energy to the local community.
How many people still use incandescent lighting? Thats an easy one.
What I am promoting is an interum solution. Electric cars are a part of the solution, so is better use of the fuels that we have readity available. Methane including natural gas is a far better solution than drilling for more oil. Cars run cleaner go farther on the same amount of energy and can be easily converted with state of the shelf technology and infrustructure.
I am sure you have seen the Proctor& Gamble commercial using methane produced at the local dump to power their entire production facility.
While we strive for better longer term solutions we have 250 million vehicles in the US alone along with 10's of millions of homes that use natural gas for heating. If methane captured from easy sources was added to the Natural Gas supply that would have a 2 fold benefit.
Methane is not sexy, but neither is additional damage to our environment and economy.
We simply can't wait 10 more years when there are easy solutions we can implement right now with huge reductions.

Person B:
I checked out your engine. It's neat, but it is also simple physics/chemistry. Gasoline as a vapor will burn more completely than it will as a liquid (or as an atomized liquid...i.e. very small droplets). Moreover, current fuel injection technology is much better than then and can just about match his combustion efficiency. All we need to do to match his fuel efficiency is couple that with light weight vehicles through small displacement engines...say, Kei cars (which get as much as 70 mpg).
Methane, starting out as a gas, is easier to burn completely than gasoline. This makes it more efficient. It is still less efficient to use CH4 as fuel for a combustion engine than it is to use it to power a generator, and then plug in an electric car (or to power a generator like in hybrids).
Again, I like using methane to produce energy, and I'm sure that CH4 powered cars are better than gasoline, but they are a step sideways rather than forward. We need to get beyond the (always inefficient) combustion engine, not find ways to make them more efficient, because they will never be able to compete with electric motors in that regard.

Person A:
You are missing the entire point.
The cars we have on the road now are going to be here for the next 10 15 years, (thats if we stop producing cars today). You are wrong about the effeciency of liquid fuel injection. Gasoline when atomized (not vaporized) has the effect that Smokey saw in the Fiero.
Atomized fuel is still not as good as gaseous fuel.
A car running on gaseous fuel will be 40-60% more effecient than a car running on vaporized liquid fuels. The 1984 Fiero has essentially the same fuel injection system that your 08 car has. Not sure where you are getting your information?
How long do you think it will take to replace the current fleet with electric cars or light weight cars, 5 10 25 years, (thats if we stop building cars today) and at what rate of replacement per year, meanwhile we are missing the easy fruit. As I said this is not sexy, but will get us to the next technological advancement, greatly reduce pollution, and greatly increase the effeciency of the current fleet, plus its all state of the shelf and utilizes current infrastructure = 0 develpoment cost.
Not a step sideways, not a huge leap forward, just a step forward. Better than a bunch of self proclaimed experts running their mouths. What do you do when the house is on fire? Talk about building your next house, or call the fire department?

Person B:
I'm really not. I am not only aware that vaporized is better than atomized, I even said that. If you really think that electronic fuel injection has not changed in the past 20+ years, I can see why you would advocate for gaseous fuels. Essentially the same, yes, but that doesn't mean that the differences are insignificant. The primary differences have to do with air flow sensing and the ability to adjust the fuel volume on the fly and based on both the detected air in but also measures of the exhaust that can figure whether the mixture was lean or rich. The efficiency resulting has been noteworthy. The reason that overall fuel economy has been stagnant is because all of that efficiency has been used to move heavier cars faster (bigger engines)...the Honda Accord engine displacement and weight have both increased by 50% over what they were in 1983, so it doesn't matter that the engine efficiency increased by as much as 25%, the car's fuel economy is still worse.
But, really, in the end, it's the infrastructure and conversion argument that really loses me. While there is infrastructure to move methane around the country, there isn't nearly as much to get it to fueling stations or into cars, so that would have to be built. And cars would have to be converted (or purchased new, in which case the existing car point is moot). And then it would be made obsolete by better technology to come? And all this for an improvement in efficiency that would be less than if the average weight of vehicles on the road dropped by 50%. I just don't see how this can help, in the short term or the long term. Methane can be of assistance to our energy problems, but not in automobiles.

Person B(again):
Oh, on a personal note, I'm not sure that I have ever proclaimed myself to be an expert here. I'm a damn good chemist and fairly knowledgeable in sciences and even beyond that.
As for the fire thing, aside from being kind of insulting it really does ignore both what I said overall and what you have been saying. You want to retrofit cars. I want to tax the hell out of anything over ~3500 lbs (not mentioned) and allow the sale of cars in this country that have existed in Japan and Europe for years. There is no solution, no matter how off the shelf, that will not take time (measured in years) and money (in the billions). Just because my opinion differs from yours does not mean that I am ignoring anything.

More to come???

Good Starter Motorcycles...and Guns!

I was surfing the tubes, looking for an inexpensive, used, 250 cc or smaller bike to get to and from work during nicer weather, and I came across this site: Good First Motorcycles. The article is a good read (especially for those certain folks who have never ridden before and decide they want to get a Harley--short answer: bad idea).

I liked the page enough to see what else the site had to offer. The page, immediately below the one above in the "Motorcycles and Riding" section was Motorcycle Firearms. While I found reading this quite funny, I know that there are people out there who will read it and think that it seems like a good idea to fire a .357 Magnum while riding a motorcycle at night and maybe on the highway. It isn't.

Moreover the article tries to fit this in under self defense: "...because the driver is attacking the motorcyclist with a deadly weapon (the car), the motorcyclist is legally entitled to defend him or her self with lethal force," and goes on to advocate (loudly) killing the attacking driver: "...FIRE AT THE DRIVER, NOT THE CAR."

And this is the real problem with the internet: every site, no matter how good it is on the whole, is "user beware." Nothing that comes off the tubes should be taken at face value (unless, of course, you read it here). Facts should always be at least double checked, and opinions and ideas should be thought through very carefully by the reader before any parroting of the statement.

This doesn't have much of a point beyond that except to say that those who comment on the various political blogs, are not a good indication of anything except for that particular commenter's thoughts at that particular moment.