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:

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.

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.

Narrow gauge dreams   Leave a comment

So, often when I’m gone for awhile, I’m thinking about one of my subjects of interest obsessively.  Of late it’s been nuclear reactors, intermodal freight and Star Wars.  It is far easier for me to write about one part of  the intermodal freight thoughts than an the others, so here goes.

I like to pretend that I could take over Russia in the early 1800’s, and what I would do for a transportation network.

I’d begin by switching to the metric system, and then adopting a sort of Decauville system, 80 years early.   Decauville had several standardized engines and track systems which worked like a giant model railway, with pre-made sections of track that were made to portable by one or two men on foot.  It was a fantastic idea.  All the trench railways of WWI were Decauville or Decauville compatible.

My first idea was start with the smallest narrow gauge that has ever been profitable, the 400mm, and then advance in 50% increases, like this.

0.4 m, 0.6 m, 0.9 m, 1.35 m, 2.025m, but decided to simply squish the 900-1350mm section in the middle into one, 1m gauge, and simplify the 2025mm down to a nice, simple 2000 mm (It’s only 2.5% difference after all.)  That gives a nice, simple 4 part progression of of.

400, 600, 1000, 2000 mm.    Why all 4?

The 400mm gauge is TINY.  This is why the militaries did not consider it for colonial or military narrow gauges.  Why bother at all?  2 reasons: First, tiny means light, and portability is often an advantage worth the compromise.  They could be reliably and safely pushed around by a single person, something larger ones could not. Remember that the days of these things were before trucks, before conveyer belts, and before tractors.  These toy-like trains were the 4×4 trucks of their day, and thousands were used by contractors.  As you dug a hole, the dirt went in the train. As the digging moved, it was no problem to pick up the light track and redirect the trains.  The second, sometimes inches matter.  A purposed railway through a terrible pass in Burma was suggested to be 400mm because the extra handbreadth of 500mm or more was simply undoable in the terrain.

(Let’s skip the 600mm for the moment)

The 1 m is the world standard for narrow gauge. 750mm up to 1067 (Cape gauge) covers virtually every major narrow gauge on earth.  Oddly, at these narrow rail gauges, the loading gauges are surprising similar, which was one of my reasons to go with the 1 m standard.  If you need a normal run of the mill railroad, with mixed freight and passenger service, through rough terrain, 1 m gauge (or the nearly identical 3 foot gauge) is used worldwide.

2 m is larger than any normal gauge in use, but not as much as you might think.  India and a few other places have thousands of kilometers of 5’6″  gauge (1676mm) rail.  The reason for jumping the extra 324mm up to 2 m is for sake of containerization, intermodal transport and standardization.  The 1 m loading gauge is about 2.25m.  2 m gauge allows you load 2.25m wide cargo 2 across, for a loading gauge of 4.5 m.  They could be double stacked as well which allows for terrific capacity, yet clearly not unreasonable since it is only an improvement over what is currently available.  The 400mm would have a proportionally higher loading gauge, and could take a standardized pallet of 1.125 m (very close to the standard US pallet, which is the most profitable type in existence.)

But what of the 600mm?

It could only take the pallets at single width, just like the 400.  It couldn’t take containers at a 2.25 width like the 1m.  Why then?  The 600mm (virtually identical in service to the 2 foot gauge) has been described as “the biggest little”.   In many places which had both 3 foot and 2 foot equipment, it was the 2 foot gauge that lasted the longest.  This was the gauge all the militaries chose for their military and colonial railroads.  Thousands of kilometers of 2 foot gauge rail criss-cross Australian sugar  plantations.  The promise of narrow gauge was go further for less, and it seems that the 600mm is the best gauge at meeting the promise of narrow gauge.  The 40% larger 1 m gauge frequently costs nearly as much as full gauge, and is only justifiable in very rough terrain.  The 50% smaller 400mm is often just too small to be worth the effort.   400mm has been the choose of odd circumstance and portability. 1 m the chose of common service in uncommon terrain, but the 600mm is the ideal compromise gauge.  Further, while containerization and pallets are nice…they are not the only thing railroads to.  Railways often carry both bulk freight and passengers.  The 1524 mm  loading gauge of  the 600 mm gauge allows bigger cars and comfier seating.  If you truly need minimal, scraping by but barely rail service, 600mm is the way to go.  Also, there are special railways.

The longer and faster the train, the more profitable.  Long fast trains need shallow changes of elevation (not much more than 2%) and gentle curves.  In rough terrain this can be horribly expensive, which is why long, fast trains through mountains are so often 1 m gauge. (Narrower gauge means smaller tunnels, and tighter curves).  With short enough trains and specialized engines (all axles powered) inclines of up to around 10% are possible, but for around 11-24% inclines, you need cog railways (essentially you put a pinion on your drive axle and rack between the rails.  For 25%-50% you need a different kind of cog railway, with the rack making a T in the center, teeth pointing out, and the cogs turning horizontally, 90 deg off from vertical. (For anything over 50% your technology becomes much less a train and much more of an elevator on rails. It’s called a funicular.)  I think that the 600mm gauge should be the specified gauge for cog ways, since such specialized railways are rarely common carriers and often twist through rough terrain. (Yet you want to do it with the largest common, making the 400mm to small.)

So my plan (if I could start fresh circa 1800) would go like this:


Standardized containers of 2.25 x 2.25 x 9 m  (About 7 x 7 x 29 1/2 feet)

Pallets of 1.125 m square for the containers.

Five key features matter when laying out railways: gauge, loading gauge (for tunnels and right of way size), grade, curvature (the radius of turns), and axle load (tons per axle.)

The 2 m gauge would have three standards.  Heavy, Standard, and Light.  Heavy and Standard would have identical loading gauge, but would be different regarding grade, curvature, and axle load.  The heavy would be specified to have shallow grades, long radius turns and high axle loads.  Standard would be just be rougher and slower, but sill made for the same 4.5 m X 4.5 m cargo size.  Light would the steepest (perhaps around 10%) and curviest with the lightest possible axle load, and the 2.25 m loading gauge of the 1 m line.

The 1 m gauge would have 2 standards: Standard and Light. (There is no heavy, because if it needs to be heavy for 1 m gauge, it should be laid as 2 m gauge).  The goal for 1 m Standard would be to meet or excede the right of way standards for 2 m Light standards whenever possible, with the acceptance that some tighter curves are acceptable hear and there, but with shallower maximum grade.  (In both the Light 2 m and the Standard 1 m, tunnels are avoided when ever feasible, with the plan being to put in Standard 2 m tunnels when traffic warrants conversion from either Light 2 m or Standard 1 m). Light would be the steepest, curviest, and lowest axle load possible.

The reason for these over lapping standards is that very lightly built full gauge is usually preferable to narrow gauge.  Narrow gauge is made without the room to grow that full gauge has and costs more per ton to operate.  Thus, it should only be used when truly necessary.  Despite the loading gauge problems of small bore tunnels and the axle load problems of light bridges, the fullest single network (even if some is composed of low grade parts) is better than two separate networks.  If nothing else, the ability to move things without break of gauge (even through a highly restricted loading gauge) is superior.  The reason is that light full gauge equipment has 100% interchangeability thought the network, where as narrow gauge can only be used on narrow gauge.

The 400 mm Standard would be very simple, as it it would be standardized components rather than standard practice, more like laying pipe than laying street.  Being it is designed to set on, rather than in the land it operates in.  The preferred loading gauge standard would be to accomodate the standard pallet, but pallet handling is only one facet of the 400mm railroad’s applications, and should not be a hang up.

The 600mm would have 2 standards.  The Short Term and Long Term.  Short Term would be a scaled up modular “toy train” system like the 400 mm, and subject to the same ad hoc basis. Long Term would be more like a miniature version of the Standard 1 m.


Depression ruined my vacuum cleaner   Leave a comment

People with depression sometimes get really good at hiding their symptoms.  I guess I started when I was kid.  There is a real pressure in the kind of Christianity I grew up in to be OK. You don’t have to be perfect of course, some minor struggles are allowed, like gossip or gluttony. You can even struggle with forgiveness if something particularly horrible happen to you, but there is this tyranny of OK that must be obeyed.   It’s not OK to be depressed.  There is a stigma against mental illness in normal society, and particularly against depression.  People who’ve never been there think that depressed people need to just buck up and get their shit together.  This is unusually true about the church because so many of the promises in the Bible about the “peace of God” and such.

So I started hiding my symptoms when they started showing up around the time I started middle school. I didn’t trust my parents or my parents church to deal with me or my symptoms the way I needed (a decision I have zero regrets about 20 years later) and I just hid it.  I was honest about it with my wife and later my daughter. (I figure having a dad who answers your question honestly when you ask “Daddy, why can’t you get out of bed today?” is less scary than having one who lies to you about it or does it in the first place) but in general, mostly no one really knew, or if they knew had any idea how serious it was.  I thought I did such a great job “functioning”.  I wouldn’t call it living really, just functioning, but now I am not so sure.

Yesterday I vacuumed the living room.  As usual, the vacuum cleaner barely worked. Irritated, I took it at apart.  Low and behold, all three filters were clogged, the hose was clogged in two places, and the beater bar was so covered in hair it looked like a legless ferret. Half and hour and 2 gallons of hair, lint and funk later, it works great. When you’re depressed, you feel like everything is broken, no one cares, and nothing really matters. Because everything I did felt pointless and shoddy, those feelings about the experience of vacuuming didn’t stick out from any other feelings I had. I felt that way about the work I put into relationships, school, music, and employment…why would housecleaning be any different?

I wonder how much this is going to help me with things like college?  Instead of being surprised I’m not going to fail in every single class I take, maybe the doubts I have about that class will be uniquely meaningful, and I’ll do better?  Regardless, at least I’ll have clean floors.

The poster child strikes back   Leave a comment

Today I read this blog Survival Sex, by Holly P.

This part really resonated with me

This is the kind of thing that I’m reluctant to talk about, because I worry that it hurts my credibility as a sex-positive person and especially as a BDSM-positive person.  It fits too neatly into a narrative of “she’s fucked up and that’s why she does freaky shit.” I don’t think that’s true–I was freaky before this, I know freaky people who weren’t abused and abused people who aren’t freaky–and I also don’t think I should care so long as my freakiness isn’t hurting me now.

But I’m wary of the “damaged goods” pity-smear, of being reduced to my traumas, and sometimes it silences me.  I don’t want to make this blog into a narrative of “ex-child-prostitute/emotional abuse survivor/sexual assault survivor has promiscuous and painful sex!”  Every part of that is technically true but it’s not my story.

And this just hits me like a truck.  Why do we do this? By we I don’t mean homo sapiens, though at some level it probably is true for all people, I mean “us”.  I’m not sure how to precisely spell out what the rules are to belong to this group, I only that I know I am in it.  I know we all do this.  I know we are all terrified of being the poster child for atheism/feminism/polyamory/alternate sexuality etc., not so much because of our shitty childhoods but because of how we fear others will respond to them.  Here’s some identifiers I find that ties this little group together:

Identifier 1:

Bad childhood.

Holly’s was awful.  I was never exposed to abuse even remotely like what she talks about.  My parents were not particularly physically abusive (to me), they weren’t even, per say, emotionally abusive.  I will stress here, as I always try to do when I talk about this, that they did their absolute best.  It’s just their best was subtly destructive, like corrosion.  Religion brings out the best in some people, and the worst in others.  In my parents it brought out both.  I think Christianity served as a moderater and brake to some of their more intense craziness, but at the same time modern Christian teachings like a “personal relationship with Christ” and “end times” got all mixed up with their own delusions of grandeur and paranoia to make my childhood a terrifying and insecure place.  Teaching an 8 year old how to kill people with a garrote or that police and psychologists (the two kinds of people who can help you)  are part of a demonic new world order hell bent on controlling your mind or sending you off to the gulag is simply not OK.  (Note: I love and respect my parents. They really tried. They just fucked up on that one.)

Identifier 2

Wickedly smart.

Holly got her bachelors degree at 19.  I’m not that smart, or at least not in that way, but I keep getting smarter. As I get better I can put less and less of my energy into dealing with my emotional problems, and I get smarter.  I wonder if I had started therapy at at say, 9 and antidepressants around 20 or so where I could have gone with my life.  My ACT score was high enough to get me into MIT, but I never applied, because I knew I’d have an emotional break down sometime in the first year. (I was right, too.)

Identifier 3

Sexual different

It’s like we just can’t be hetero normal.  The sexuality of this group, whatever this group is, tends strongly towards polyamory and polysexuality with a dash of S&M thrown in.  Whatever kink there is, we have it.  Now, there are hetero normal people in this group, but they tend to be the exotic other in these circles.  I’m not sure if openness attracts weirdos or if weirdos attract openness.  For this reason there is a strong approval of feminism, and affirmation of homosexuality, transgender, etc.

Identifier  4

Religiously different

Our religion tends towards two extremes: relativist pantheism and militant atheism.  If you think about it there is very little functional difference between between saying there is a little bit of god everywhere or there is no god anywhere, because in either case, no one thing, person, or idea, is more or less sacred in comparison to any other thing, person, or idea.

Identifier 5

Freakishly high need and ability for communication.  This is acquired because being really smart means being really alone until you learn communicate with people who aren’t as smart as you.

This is my theory:

Intelligence is largely inherited, so a smart adult was a smart child. The great story of civilization is largely one of mass delusion.  Highly intelligent abused children have to confront the bullshit of society’s delusion at an earlier age than most people. In fact, some people never confront those delusions.  They pat themselves on the back for catching delusions that are engineered badly on-purpose so they can feel good about catching them, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, and never move on to the 300 level courses, like theism, American exceptionalism, and gender binary.   We, whoever we are, have the intelligence to see the strings that hold the puppets up, and the intelligence to think “Well if that treasured belief is a lie, what about X, Y, and Z?”.  That’s how we end up as feminist, atheist, polysexual, polyamorous, folk.  And we have to communicate with others about it, because we have a huge need for communication, hence…we seem to have more community with our fellows than other hobbists (like say, model train builders) seem to have with theirs.  This why so many conferences and blogs.

None of this answers the question of “Why are we so afraid to be the poster children of the movements that give our lives so much meaning?”  I don’t know.