Motorcycles are dumb (After research)   Leave a comment

So, I spent the day reading crash stats for motorcycles.

At its most basic, it goes like this: you are 25 to 36 times more likely to be a fatal accident per motorcycle mile than car mile.   I knew that motorcycles had higher crash stats than cars, but I didn’t really know how much.  So, why?

Accidents have phases.  (1.) Unsafe situation begins (2.) Response (3.) Accident (4.) Secondary accident (caused by the unsafe/abnormal situation created by the first.)

Motorcycles have such high fatality stats because the fail at every turn.

(1) Motorcycles are more likely to be in accident because people look through the motorcycle to see the car behind it.

(2.) Response is crappy because reflexive actions are opposite of what is needed.  In emergencies motorcycles steer backwards (counter-steer) and braking needs to be bringing the the front wheel to the threshold of lockup.  Unless you have enough practice that you reflexively do something “wrong”, you will over break the back wheel and skid, not swerve fast enough, and increase your stopping distance.

(3.) Once the accident begins, you suffer from the problem of ejection.  In cars thats what happens when you don’t wear you seatbelt.  You go flying out of the relatively safe car.  On rare occasions ejection saves lives.  However, most of the time it kills.  You are 25X more likely to die in a car accident after you get ejected.   In the end, a motorcycle has exactly the same safety as a bodiless, windshield-less, convertible without seat belts.  In fact, every piece of safety equipment on a motorcycle is directed at keeping you alive and in one piece after ejection.

(4.) So now the bike is down and so are you.   Downed bikes can’t steer out of on coming traffic.  After the intial accident you are still flying down the road…but now without brakes or steering.  That and the lack of side impact protection is the extra 10X increase in fatality.  There is no way to avoid secondary collisions.

 

If you want to ride a motorcycle…that’s cool.  Life is full of risk.  In fact you could reasonably go as far as saying life IS risk.  We balance and risk in different ways.  Some people skydive, some people fuck strangers.  Some people ride machines that have a 35X higher risk of killing you per mile than cars.  Not me.

 

Posted May 3, 2012 by israelkwalker in Uncategorized

Why you can’t have a super economy car   Leave a comment

From time to time, I hear about this car: http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Hybrids-meet-your-rival-it-gets-376-59-mpg-1264903.php

It’s an old Opel that got 376.59 miles per gallon.  And people will say “OMG, why didn’t they make more them?  Why didn’t they turn those out at the factory?  It’s a conspiracy, man!

I’m going to break this down in the simplest terms possible:

The physics of better economy.

(1.) The harder you push air, the harder it pushes back.  If you really, really want to improve your economy, slow down. Half the speed, and you square root the power required.  If it takes 100 hp to go 100 mph, then it takes 10 hp to 50, and 3.16 hp to go 25.   Below about 30, aerodynamics effects are pretty minimal.

(2.) Cars get better economy in higher gears, so you have to set up the gearing so that the car is at it’s top speed when it is still going slow.

(3.) All otto cycle (the normal, nondiesel kind of car engine) produce the most power per lb of gas consumed at around 900 – 1100 piston feet per minute.  The smaller the engine, the higher RPM that will occur at, but it will be  almost always be lower than your normal cruising speed.

(4.) Energy that isn’t moving the car forward is eating fuel economy.

(5.) Weight that isn’t moving the car is eating fuel economy.

Knowing that, how do make a super mileage car?

We make it as narrow as possible so it is pushing on as little air as possible.  Then make it low and torpedo-like so it wastes as little energy as possible moving the air it must.  Gear it so it is in 5th gear when it is doing 30 mph or less.  Maximize the engine design to produce power only in the narrowest efficiency band.  Eliminate any extra parts that move: replace the transmission with a single straight-through gear. Take out as much weight as possible.

Makes sense right?  And what did the designers of the Opel do?

They attached Opel body panels to a big go kart frame.  It sat low, had no suspension, no transmission, no seats, heater, no air conditioning, no anything.  It was chair in a go kart frame.  The engine was connected to solid rubber tires (no flexing rubber to eat energy) which turned locked together, without a differential (no 5% loss in the diffy).  The engine was insulated so that as much of the heat that was lost into the coolant could be recycled to heat the intake instead (the gas was heated for the same reason: to take energy out of the exhaust and put it back in to be recycled.   Above all, it had a top speed of 30 mph.

Why don’t we do those things now?

(1.) We do.

http://technorati.com/lifestyle/autos/article/eco-marathon-of-future-cars-3000/

Off-the-shelf technology exists to get not 50, not 100, not 377 mpg, but a full on 3000 mpg.  You have to wear the car like body sock, go 18 mph, and sit inches of the ground.

Why don’t we do this more often?

(1.) Above all, lack of interest.

People don’t really want better economy.  They really don’t.  When people say “I wish I got better gas mileage” an silent “without changing my lifestyle, including using the level of consumption I can afford as a status symbol, at all” follows it.  In the Ford Falcon of the 60’s, the bigger six outsold the smaller one by a wide margin.  The Chevy II’s little 4 cylinder was rarely purchased, and dropped quickly.  V8 mustangs outsold I6 mustangs by a 14:1 ratio.  You can’t say that those numbers had anything to do with the perceived lack of safety in small cars, because those were simply different engines in the same cars.  That wasn’t simply pre OPEC hubris either.  Chevrolet introduced the Chevette in 1979, with 2 engine choices: a 85 and 98 ci.  The 85 ci engine was dropped within a few years because so few people bought it.  In 2011, Ford Focuses outsold Ford Fiestas by a vast margin, despite the fact the Fiesta has better handling, gets better gas mileage, and is one of the safest cars on the road.

(2.) Mother Nature and her red headed step child, economics, will not be cheated.

In each of the following lists you can have only 2 of 3.

Strong, light, cheap

Aerodynamic, durable, cheap

Fuel efficient, broad power band, cheap

Functional, stylish, cheap

Safe,  small, cheap

Safe, light, cheap

Economy, convient, cheap

Economy, comfortable, cheap

(3.) In the end, pollution and the cost of commodities (like cars and gasoline) are not technological problems.  They are social ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted April 26, 2012 by israelkwalker in Uncategorized

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Capitalism   Leave a comment

The basic mythos of capitalism is that it is a form of morally acceptable elitism because it’s meritocratic.

The reality is that it is not particularly meritocratic, and as such the elitism it generates it’s not, in fact, particularly moral by any popular ethical standard.  Here’s why: capital means money that is not doing anything in particular at the moment.   The standard explanation is that the capitalist gives up his money into the creation of a factory or a new business, and he is paid more than he put into pay him for the service risking his capital.  The more the capitalist is willing to risk, the more he can get back.

The problem with that kind of thinking is that risk has both likelihood and magnitude, and both aspects matter.  Let’s say you have a disease and your doctor offers you two treatments. Treatment 1 has a 10% risk of failure.  Treatment 2 has 1% risk of failure.  If you only look at likelihood then obviously you take treatment 2.  But what about magnitude?  Let’s say that the magnitude of failure in treatment 1 is losing a finger, and the magnitude of failure in treatment 2 is death.  Now, which one do you want?  Comparisons of this type are not nearly as unusual as you might think, and are, in fact, why nuclear power vs other forms is a contentious issue.   The risk of catastrophic failure might only be 0.001%, but the magnitude (increased mortality over decades and/or centuries, mass relocation, hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of land unfit for human habitation, etc.) makes one pause.

The first reason that capital is not particularly meritocratic is that the capitalists magnitude of risk is virtually nonexistent.  Magnitude is an objective, not subjective measure.  Human want may be an endless well, but human physical and social needs are actually fairly small in number, well defined, and well understood.   More is only better up to a point, and we can clearly graph out a curve of more everything, more space, more money, more electricity, more food, more medicine, etc. for a whole society and we can see where the curve starts to flatten out. For sake of convenience, I will us the US number:  about 40,000 USD for the median family.  You can certainly have more, but that is the point where the curve of more increasing quality of life by objective measures starts to flatten out noticeably.

Until a capitalist is risking his ability to pull in $40K a year, he has virtually no risk whatsoever.  The difference between going from point A to point B in Bentley versus a Chevy exists only in the mind of the driver, as transport rather than status symbols, both cars do exactly the same thing.   If a capitalist has a nest egg capable of providing a family income of $40k a year, every need he and his family has can been afforded without ever working a day.  On average a large fund can payout 5% and still leave a lot behind to grow for next year.  A million dollars may not be what it used to be, but it still affords everything a person actually needs on interest alone.  So what if you have 10 million dollars?  You can “risk” 9 million dollars.  I say risk in irony/scare quotes because you aren’t actually risking anything thing.   In in the real, functional terms human need, the elite risk nothing.  Of course, the more elite you are, the more ridiculous it becomes.  Bill Gates was once valued at 50 Billion dollars.  Remember it takes about assets of a million year to have a risk free/work free lifestyle.  He could invest 99.99998% of income before he was under any functional risk whatsoever.   (Where as a Wal-Mart employee making $30,000 risks virtually everything to switch jobs.  Their home, their nutriton, their health care.  Everything.)

The second reason is that Bill Gates not withstanding, most people don’t become millionaires from their work.  They inherit it. Since ability to tolerate risk is the ability to generate new wealth, they acquire the ability to make more money not by work, but by being born into a rich family.  Acquiring the ability to advance in society by birth rather than hard work is only meritocratic if you believe in the divine right of kings.

The third reason is that outside economic textbooks, very little investing is actually done by individual investors.  The bulk of investing is done by institutions. Savings bonds might pay only few percent, but 10 million dollar blocks of treasury bills (the lowest risk investment on the planet earth) often pay around 10%…or 2%-4% than the 100 year average of the stock market, so the risk is actually very minimal to those who can afford the highest risk.

The forth reason is that hard work alone gets you nothing.  If hard work generated wealth, than pre-civil war slaves should have been the wealthiest Americans there ever were.  Another logical point would be if that hard work generated wealth, then the least hardworking should be the poorest…yet because of the first three reasons, the rich get richer even if they do nothing.  In fact, since spending is “doing something” the will get richer much faster if they do nothing.

The fifth reason expands on the fourth.  You have to work at what society rewards, not just work hard.  Like the slaves in the fourth example, brain surgeons don’t make 1/1000th the income of bank CEOs because there is a law that says they must, but because there is no law that says they mustn’t.  A further point on this is that fact that some of the things society needs most, teachers for instance, are some of the lowest paid employees on earth.

All this enforces a single point: capitalism, as practiced, isn’t about meritocracy; its about elitism.  There is actually a pretty simply mathematical explanation for this. Remember that because of his imaginary risk the capitalist must make a return on his money, called profit.  The cost breakdown of every product must look like this: material cost + labor cost + profit.   Let us say the material cost is basically the same worldwide.  While shipment costs and refinement costs can create minor variances in material cost, they don’t matter as much as you think.  The transport costs in any given market will be virtually identical, and refinement cost reductions are do to two major issues: intelectual property and scalability.  Intelectual property will be shared within 7 years for patents and 70 years for software, so those costs tend to stabilize.  If scalability is a large issue then rapidly 1-3 producers will own the entire market, the cost between them will be identical.  That means the only two costs we have to worry about are labor cost and profit, but the important point it leads us to is that product cost must always be greater than labor costs that went into it, the “+profit” aspect.    That means that, all other things being equal, people who make a product cannot afford it.  

It only appears capitalism works because economies of scale work, and the factories produce vastly more than the market that produced it can bear.  This why capitalist must open up new markets constantly, and is the explanation of both imperialism and consumerism but also issues like urban sprawl and planned obsolescence.

I hate the home school movement sometimes   Leave a comment

Anti-authoritarian leftist snob confession #2.
I secretly hate the homeschool movement. It is not, in fact, all sunshine and gumdrops, and some people in it desperately need more accountability. (1.) So many of the good ones are so freakin’ self righteous about it. (2.) Some home schooled kids are dumb and ill behaved (3.) A surprising number of parents home school because they are paranoid, delusional, psychotic, lazy, abusive or some combination of the five.

Let me be clear.  I was home schooled.  My daughter was home schooled for the first few years of her school career and will be again (at least partially) in the future. I am not anti-home school. HOWEVER, I sometimes hate the movement.  I puts forward this idea that parents are always the best guardians of their kid’s interests.  Some parents are all the time. Many parents are most of the time, but there are people out there who are simply too immature, unhealthy, or stupid to make all the decisions homeschooling requires.  Those people need the accountability that public school allows, and because of the feel good, pro-parent clap trap the movement publishes, they think that homeschooling is a good idea for them.

I grew up with a lot of home schoolers.  Many of them have gone on to start their own businesses or get college degrees.  They are life-long learners, with great life outlooks and ethical mindsets.  However, what the movement doesn’t seem to want to talk about is some of my other home schooled acquaintances over the years.  Many of the home schooling parents I knew were home schooling their kids because they thought that only by home schooling them could they keep them from getting laid before they got married, and protect them from the Russians/New World Order/Federal government/Satan/Whoever-the-big-bad-was-that-week.  Their sexual obsession combined with their political and religious paranoia was passed on to their children as a lot of weirdness that continues to haunt those kids as adults.

I’ve known “unschooled” kids who were as sharp as tacks and witty conversationalists to boot, but I’ve also known parents that “unschooled” their kids because they were literally too lazy to get their ass out of bed and get their kids to school.  I’ve known functionally illiterate kids, kids that didn’t know any math you couldn’t learn off a flash card, kids whose understanding of world history stopped in 1957 and included only subjects starting with B, C, N, R, and XYZ (because that was the publishing date of the incomplete set of World Book Encyclopedias their parents got at a garage sale), 16 year olds who didn’t know where babies came from, and 18 year olds with 6th grade educations because their parents decided that was enough.

That is to say nothing of the kids I knew who parents beat the living hell out of them, and they had no mandatory reporter (like a school teacher) that they had regular daily contact with.  Kids that got punched through walls, kids that were ordered to beat their siblings or their dad would beat them worse, and one 16 year old that actually recognized that she was painfully stupid and had no social skills so she got a boob job the day she turned 18 so she could snag a rich guy.

Yes, there are kids like that in the public school too, but I’ve never met a parent who moralizes for hours about how awesome the public schools are, or how parents who really care send their kids to public school.  I’ve also never met a parent whose kids are are public school who tries to tell me that their teachers know best and no government oversight is needed. But I have been moralized at length, told homeschooling is the best option, told that any accountability is a government take over, etc. etc., etc. by otherwise mainstream, healthy home schooling parents.

Home schoolers: I support you.  I support your rights.  But the utopianization of home school families has to stop…for everybody’s benefit.

 

Switching the brain channel for solar.   Leave a comment

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about making my house solar powered.  I see two problems with it, but neither are really technological problems.  They are mental problems on the part of the end user.

This the Cansolair 240.  It has a heat output approximately equivalent to a 1200 to 2400W electric heating element, or 10,000 BTUs.  It’s actually a pretty good thermal solar panel, one of the best.  The first mental problem you have to get over is the ratio of size to energy output.  My toaster and the 240 both produce about 1200W of heat.  The panel is nearly 4 feet wide and 8 feet long.  It has volume of about 15 cubic feet.  The toaster can be held in one hand and has a volume of less than a 1/6 a cubic foot.  I don’t feel like running the numbers, but I suspect, all things considered, that the panel actually takes up less space if you tally everything.  The panel is an energy producer.  For a fair comparison the toaster needs to have added it’s individual share of the the hundreds of miles of power line, the tens of thousands of cubic feet of coal mine, transportation system, and power plant.  (If I was feeling up to it, I could average those things out and get a number, but meh.)  The point is here, you are not used to seeing your share of the entire power production and consumption apparatus  combined and attached to your wall or roof, so it seems disproportionately large.

The other issue is winter heat.  A problem with heating a house with solar energy is that when you need the most (winter) you have the least available and when you need the least (summer) you have the most available.  Winter in the midwest sometimes passes days without sun, and if you are going to go 100% solar, you need a huge thermal mass, and correspondingly huge collection area to make up for it.  The house, in essence, becomes an inhabited box behind the solar thermal collector, which in turn dictates virtually every aspect of the house’s shape and size.  This is particularly a problem if you are being environmentally responsible and rehabilitating an old house instead of building a new one.  The technological solution to this is to separate the house from the collector, and make the collector a fence like object in the backyard.  However, there is a simpler mental solution: drop the requirement for 100%.  The law of diminishing returns kicks in at different points in different locations.  Accept 100% when the sun shines, 0% when it doesn’t, and cover the gap with the responsible use of the lowest foot print technology you can.

100% renewable is almost a religious fanaticism. People use huge amounts of non renable resources to get that last 15% or so. Just slow down, relax, and be content with very good instead of best.

Ice Box ice usage   Leave a comment

So remember how I mentioned that I want to use a small solar powered freezer?  Specifically, this is the freezer I want:

The Sundanzer 50L Why a freezer?  Because if you have a freezer you have ice, and if you have ice, you can refrigerate.  Thus, a freezer grants you both the ability to freeze and the ability to refrigerate. A straight refrigerator grants you only the ability to refrigerate. Why choose one or the other?  Because you have to use a chest type, for efficiency. Chest type reefers are more efficient for a variety of reasons, but the biggest is that they don’t dump all their cold air out every time you open the door. In fact, you can strongly reduce your power usage by just turning a Chest type into a refrigerator by putting a refrigerator thermostat in it.  But the point here is that no one makes dual compartment chest types.  The freezer and reefer unit have to be separate,  so if you can only get one, get the freezer.  Why the Sundanzer 50L?

The Sundanzer because it has 4″ of high quality insulation and uses the same premium compresser that all high end, high efficiency units use.  The 50L because it is the smallest, lower power using one they have.  It only uses about 100W  a day.  That’s the same energy requirement of using a microwave for about 6 minutes, or two bags of popcorn.  That’s why you can use solar power for them.  The idea hear is make a real, old fashioned icebox (only with premium 4″ insulation), and us that as a refrigerator while using the SunDanzer to make ice for it.  How much ice?

Today’s handy fact: Ice use in a well designed icebox is around 1 lb of ice per cubic foot per day.

A 50 quart cooler (The Model T of coolers) has a capacity of 1.671 cubic feet, you’d expect it to use 1.671 pounds of ice a day. Premium stock coolers are listed as staying cool for 5-7 days. That’s 8.3 to 11.7 lbs of ice which takes up 16.6-23.4 quarts. which is approximately 1/3 to 1/2 of capacity…perfectly in line with manufacturer recommendations, and confirming the 1 lb per cubic foot per day.

Finally, the first electric refrigerator for the middle class, the GE Monitor Top was 5-7 cubic feet. GE chose that size because it was a close approximation of the average icebox of the late 1920’s. Going with the above formula, the average icebox should have used between 5-7 lbs of ice a day. Ice came in 25 or 50 lb blocks, so you would need around two 25 lb blocks a week or one 50 lb block. Which if I recall, is reasonable reports of people who remember using iceboxes.  How big is a 25 lb block of ice? 10″x10″x7″ is the standard.

Survivalists and preppers are nuts.   6 comments

As I’ve said many times before, I grew up in a cult like environment, though not a cult. One of the things my parents got really excited about was the end of the civilization. I think within their peer group of religious fundamentalists this was totally normal, so it’s not like they were bizarely fixated on it, with in that group.  It’s just that group was (and I’m sure still is) bizarely fixated on it.  I think it adds a lot of unnecessary unpleasantness to your childhood/adolesence when your big concern in choosing a girlfriend is someone who is really pumped about living in a crawlspace with your family while you wait for the radioactively of the fallout to decline to safe levels.  In short, my parents were a little…um…touched.  On of the interesting things that has happened recently is that being a bat shit insane survivalist has gone mainstream.  There’s even a show about it.  These otherwise normal people buying pellets of freeze dried food so when the “big one goes” they will be living it up in MRE luxury. It makes me laugh, honestly.  Societies don’t fall apart on their own.  They fall apart when the social and physical infrastructure that hold them up rots out.  You have these people who think they will be fine in the total collapse of society because they have an AR-15, a 1000 rounds of ammo, and a 55 gallon drum of cracked wheat, but it just ain’t so.

Under normal circumstances if you use lethal force, the strong arm of society comes in and applies due process.  Unless you want to go jail for murder for the rest of your life, you’d best call the cops after you shoot a thief, even better before you shoot him.  Even under circumstances where the society is near breaking point, police still make an effort to investigate homicide, and you can be certain that Billy Badass’s mom or brother or girlfriend knew he was going out to your place, and will send the cops out there when he doesn’t come back.  If Billy is crow’s food, or burried in a shallow grave, you are going to jail for a long time IF society is functioning well.  If its not, you might just be shot there for “resisting arrest”.  Remember? Society is failing?  The cops are being given more latitude to keep the peace.

“No, man! I don’t mean like society is failing. I mean it’s totally destroyed! No cops. No phones. Nothing!”  So their idea is, society fails to point where you can just use lethal force with impunity, law of the jungle, everyman for himself.  Here’s why that A-15 and barrel of wheat are going to amount to jack squat.  Because if the law of the jungle is really in effect, there are people who can exploit that much more effectively than the average gun savvy home owner.  Like the police, who are already armed to the teeth, wearing body armor, and trained to work together.  Or the military, whose first action will be to sieze fuel stores and make sure that they control who has the capacity to project force using mobile infantry and who doesn’t.  Tell my how that AR-15 works against an enemy who has air superiority.  Oh…also both those groups will have the support of the locals because people crave legitimacy and authority MORE, not less, when times are bad. It gives them a sense of order.

If you really want to survive doomsday show up at city council meetings and have a good middle of the road, pro-everybody, pro-community attitude, and volunteer for every police related volunteer function available.  Power keeps power.  Always. The people in charge, and the people legally allowed to utilize force will have it the best.  If your mayor likes you and the cops like you…you will be the first one to get stuff and the last to have stuff taken away.  Read history if you don’t believe me. This survivalism stuff is self-congratulatory BS for grownups who want to live in an adolescent fantasy world: “I don’t need you!  I DON’T NEED ANYBODY!  I’m going to run away with my friends and we’re going to be HAPPY. I’ll show you! I’ll show EVERYBODY!”

All that said, preppers and survivalists are onto at least one truth: the world changes in unexpected ways, and preparation can help ease the transition.  So my wife and I have developed a simple principal to be as prepared as possible without becoming wack-jobs: joy.  When survival preparation adds to our self-worth and joy we do it. When it doesn’t, we don’t.  Fuel supplies can be erratic at random times, and fireplaces are beautiful.  So we want a fireplace.  Electricity can save lives, but solar is insanely expensive, so we’re just powering a small freezer with solar.  Home made food is delicious, and food supplies can be erratic, so we will have a garden, and some ducks.  Above all, no one survives or thrives alone, so we are going cultivate relationships with people.

I think that might be what survivalist get wrong, above all.  They draw back and hide in the hills, because they think that’s safer.  But it’s not.  Community is an evolutionary development.  At it’s most basic, human survival is calorie problem.  Calorie output is required to cause calorie input.  The input must excede the output, or you starve to death.  Community was adopted as a strategy before humans existed because it works.  Communities generate more calories while expending less to do so, than the same number of individuals collectively.  If they didn’t, societies that embraced community would die out from the evolutionary pressure of societies that didn’t.  The ultimate survival tool is a community.  People who pull away from that increase their risk, not decrease it.

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