Friday, May 29, 2009

More Junk Science from Obama

Steven Chu, Obama’s Energy Secretary has stated that if we paint our roofs and roads white, we will offset the effects of automobiles on global warming by 11 years. Can the Nobel Committee make him give his prize back?

First we have the idea of some geo-engineering experiment to block the sun's rays and now we have the proposal to paint everything white. These suggestions show a clear lack of understanding of basic thermodynamics, especially radiation heat transfer. And these guys are shaping our energy policy.

The earth has a property called “albedo”. Albedo is a measure of the reflectivity of an object. On a macro scale, the albedo of the earth is determined by the fact that our rock is covered 71% by water. The amount of surface area of the earth covered by roofs and roads is miniscule. Painting your roof white will not change the albedo of the earth. It will change the albedo of your house, but that may not be desireable, especially if you live in northen climes.

The earth is heated by the suns rays. These rays are in the UV and visible spectrum. They pass easily through the earth’s atmosphere and heat the ground/ocean. We know that hot objects give off radiation and some of that heat is radiated back into space, but that radiation is in the infrared range of the spectrum and these rays don’t penetrate the earth’s atmosphere all that well so most of the heat remains trapped under the blanket of air that makes up our atmosphere.

Think of your car on a summer day. I don’t care if your car is white or black, the sun's rays come through the windows and heat up the interior. The heat stays tapped inside the car because the hot car seat cannot radiate its excess heat back through the glass.

You can go paint your roof white if you want to. It might reduce your air conditioning bill by a few dollars. Me, I won’t waste the paint.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Confederate Memorial Day

A group of academics sent a letter to President Obama requesting that he not, as had been the tradition since Woodrow Wilson, send a wreath to the Confederate Soldiers Memorial on Memorial Day. Somehow, they decided that Confederate Soldiers were not deserving of a memorial. That got me to thinking about the men who made up Bobby Lee’s Army.

The Confederate soldiers were not slave owners. That should be obvious to the casual observer who looks at old photos. They were poor farmers themselves. They had little hope of ever attaining a status in life where they could afford slaves. Therefore, they had no dog in the fight to preserve slavery. They must have taken up arms for other reasons.

A major difference between the mindset of people today and the average person during the Civil War was the idea of loyalty to your State versus the Country. The Civil War changed that focus from loyalty to your State to loyalty to Country, but before the war, a person’s loyalty was to his state. Hence, Robert E Lee opted to defend the State of Virginia rather than accept a high position in the Union Army.

Most of the leaders of the Confederacy had relatives that had fought in the Revolutionary War. Independence was not a remote concept to them. They had family that had fought for it. Robert E Lee’s father was Light Horse Harry Lee, a hero of the revolution. Jefferson Davis’ father fought in the war in Georgia. They grew up with living proof of the concept that if you do not agree with your government, it is your right, and even duty, to change it.

And that brings us to the real reason that the Confederate soldier fought. It wasn’t a fight over slavery. Slavery by itself couldn’t make a bunch of poor Southern farmers take up arms against the government. The reason for the Civil War was an issue over states rights and who had the right to tell a state what it could and could not do. And that just happened to be the issue of slavery.

The Confederate soldier believed that their state had sovereign rights. When faced with a federal government they felt was usurping their right to self determination, they followed the lessons of their fathers and decided that a change in government was necessary. In their mind, they were fighting for their freedom. Therefore, they were fighting for the same ideals that made America a land of freedom and liberty. They deserve recognition as much as any soldier-patriot and the movement to disavow them is wrong.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thoughts for Memorial Day

I’ve built a network of contacts over my career and the internet is useful in keeping in touch with them. Here is an email I received from a friend of mine who received it from someone we both worked with who was a POW in Vietnam. The article is written by Leo Thorsness, another POW. Its topic is timely, and educational

Memorial Day – Torture Thoughts ©
By POW and Medal of Honor recipient Col (USAF Ret) Leo Thorsness
Author of Surviving Hell – A POW’s Journey

Think Memorial Day and veterans usually come to mind. Think Veterans and
our national debate about torture comes to mind.

Of the 350 “old timer” Vietnam POWs, the majority were severely tortured by
the North Vietnamese. Ironically the Department of Defense did not
formally study torture after the POWs were released in 1973. We provided
our military an actual “torture database library” but to this day, the
Pentagon has never tapped the resource to help clarify national debate
about “what is torture.”

I and many other Vietnam POWs were tortured severely – some were tortured to death. Several POWs wrote books after our release in 1973 describing the torture in detail. Mike McGrath’s book had extensive drawings vividly depicting types of torture the North Vietnamese used.

When I wrote “Surviving Hell” in 2008, initially I did not include torture
knowing that others had earlier described it. My book editors encouraged me
to add it; if our younger population reads only current books, they may
perceive that the treatment at Abu Grab and Gitmo was real torture. I
added my experience being tortured so that readers will know that there is
abuse and humiliation, and there is torture.

If someone surveyed the surviving Vietnam POWs, we would likely not agree
on one definition of torture. In fact, we wouldn’t agree if “waterboarding” is torture. For example, John McCain, Bud Day and I were recently together. Bud is one of the toughest and most tortured Vietnam POWs. John thinks waterboarding is torture; Bud and I believe it is harsh treatment, but not torture. Other POWs would have varying opinions. I don’t claim to be right; we just disagree. But as someone who has been severely tortured over an extended time, my first hand view on torture is this:

Torture, when used by an expert, can produce useful, truthful information.
I base that on my experience. I believe that during torture, there is a
narrow “window of truth” as pain (often multiple kinds) is increased.
Beyond that point, if torture increases, the person breaks, or dies if he
continues to resist.

Everyone has a different physical and mental threshold of pain that he can
tolerate. If the interrogator is well trained he can identify when that
point is reached – the point when if slightly more pain is inflicted, a
person no longer can “hold out,” just giving (following the Geneva
Convention) name, rank, serial number and date of birth. At that precise
point, a very narrow torture “window of truth” exists. At that moment a
person may give useful or truthful information to stop the pain. As
slightly more pain is applied, the person “loses it” and will say anything
he thinks will stop the torture – any lie, any story, and any random words
or sounds

This torture “window of truth” is theory to some. Having been there, it is
fact to me. While in torture I had the sickening feeling deep within my
soul that maybe I would tell the truth as that horrendous pain increased.
It is unpleasant, but I can still dredge up the memory of that window of
truth feeling as the pain level intensified.

Our world is not completely good or evil. To publically proclaim we will
never use any form of enhanced interrogations causes our friends to think
we are naïve and eases our enemies’ recruitment of radical terrorists to
plot attacks on innocent kids, men and women – or any infidel. If I were
to catch a “mad bomber” running away from an explosive I would not hesitate
a second to use “enhanced interrogation,” including water bordering, if it
would save lives of innocent people. Our naïveté does not impress radical
terrorists like those who slit the throat of Daniel Pearl in 2002 simply
because he was Jewish, and broadcast the sight and sound of his dying
gurgling. Publicizing our enhanced interrogation techniques only emboldens
those who will hurt us.

Notes From the DMZ, circa 2004

Given the recent nuclear weapons test from the NKs, this email I wrote to friends from Korea seemed appropriate.......

Korea may be the last country that appreciates the USA. They still remember 1950 and the fact that 37,000 Americans guard the border with North Korea and that a state of war still exists between the two countries. Therefore, I was intrigued to discover that regular tours are offered to the DMZ.

The Barbed Wire Highway

The DMZ is less than 1 hours drive from Seoul. Highway 23 runs parallel with the Han River until it meets the Imjin River near the border. Since the rivers are an easy infiltration route, and infiltrators have been caught several times, the left side of the 6 lane highway is protected with 2 chain link fences that are topped with some serious razor wire. Every 5 feet or so, a smoke grenade can be seen hanging in the razor wire, I suppose to give warning should the wire be disturbed but it also must get exciting if a car jumps the guardrail. (I am astounded that military pyrotechnics are so easily accessible. If this was the US, they would be stolen and used for all sorts of mischief.) If you look to the right, everything is normal. But to the left it looks like the Maine State Prison. Then you notice that the median has sandbagged fighting positions and coils of razor wire ready to pull across the road.

The Cold War and Tourism

We arrive at Imjin-gak where we board another bus for transport through the civilian control line. At Imjin-gak, you can see Freedom Bridge which is where prisoner exchanges took place. Now, messages are written on ribbons and tied to the fence. Its a little surrealistic to be this close to North Korea and watch several thousand people gather to run a 10K foot race that was scheduled for the Sunday I was there. As our bus approaches the checkpoint, the driver points out some points of architectural interest. A block of concrete is positioned on an overpass and is rigged with explosives to drop and block the road. From this point, only tourists and farmers are allowed to go any closer. Our passports are checked against a list of names submitted earlier and we are allowed to proceed. The farmers till ancestral land that had the bad luck to be located near the DMZ. They must leave by nightfall. And the rice they produce is sold under the brand of DMZ rice. I guess it's a patriotic thing to eat it.

Now things are getting serious. Signs along the edge of the road advertise the presence of land mines. This is not a place to go "behind a tree" as Dad used to say.

Our first stop is the 3rd infiltration tunnel. It was built by North Korea in the late 70s and was the third of 4 tunnels discovered when a defector spilled the beans. (or maybe kimchee) The idea was provide a route under the mine fields in preparation for an invasion. We sit in a small electric car and travel 230 feet underground. We exit the train and walk in a slightly stooped manner (at least for me) to a point under the DMZ about 500 feet from the North Korean line. A concrete plug and a television surveillance camera now guard against the North. The walls of this tunnel are pink granite and it would make a Maine quarryman weep. It had to be hard digging. And it is engineered well, too. It slopes slightly back to the North so that water does not give it away on the South side.

After exiting this hole in the ground, we tour the small museum where we learn about the history of the border, but more space is given over to the ecological anomaly that is the DMZ. Since the area has had no human intervention in 50 years, it has become a de-facto nature preserve. It is now worthy of scientific investigation - if you could get in.

We next go to the Dora Observation Post (I don't know how they name these things) There is an observation point on every hill as well as large lighted signs that are used for propaganda. This particular post has an auditorium with a wall of glass that faces North Korea. Off to the right is Panmunjon. Also over there is Freedom Village, a small community of volunteers that live in sight of the enemy in exchange for a tax free existence. They are in a long standing war of the flagpoles with the North. The North is currently ahead with the tallest flagpole in the world. We hear music and are told it is North Korean propaganda being broadcast to the South.

But the story we keep hearing repeated is the fact that Korea has a 2-1/2 mile wide nature preserve running across their country. They would much prefer people remember that about the DMZ than its other history.

There is no doubt that South Korea is ready to re-unite. Our last stop is the Dora-san station - the last stop on the Korean rail system. President Bush (the second) helped to dedicate it in 2002. The North is slowly building their half as agreed, but South Korea is ready with a brand new station and a brand new customs and immigration building to process the hoped for future influx of North Koreans. They even designed Highway 23 to be expanded to 8 lanes if needed. So, it was with a strange mix of tension and hope that I left this last of the armed borders in the world.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Carpentry Skills Improve

My wife and I have been remodeling a rental property we own. Saturday I was replacing several interior doors. The 30 year old luan veneer hollow core doors had just had it and needed to be replaced.

As I was chiseling out the recess for the hinge, I realized that the chisel I was using had belonged to my father. He was the last one who had sharpened the thing. His hands had honed it to a edge so fine that it peeled off slices of wood in thin and crisp curls. I guess I could have used a router, but I have little need for one and don't own one. And I wasn't going to get one just for a few hinge recesses. Besides, there is something satisfying about shaving out a hinge recess and having it fit just right.

Dad believed in sharp tools. He came from an era when tools were meant to be used, sharpened back to razor edge, and used again. Tools don't grow old. They may break. They may even wear out. But they are always useful. I see old tools in antique shops and I think, "Gee, I've got one of those and I still use it from time to time". When I finish with these doors, I'll get out the stone Dad bought for me years ago and put the edge back on the chisel. Dad would want it that way.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Math Whiz

My niece and god daughter came by last night for help with her math before exams. She is a sophomore taking a junior level algebra course. Quadratic equations, no less. She really didn't need that much help. She knew the stuff. I provided a little guidance and a boost to her self confidence. Her classmates call her the Human Calculator and go to her for help. She likes math and she's not a geek. Damn, she makes me proud and gives me hope for the future.

Obama Care

Lets say you take your car in for some preventative maintenance. They give you two choices. You can do a relatively inexpensive and simple test or you can do a partial tear down and look inside. If you do the simple test, no tear down is necessary, but if they find something, they will have to do the tear down anyway. If you opt for the tear down, they can fix what needs to be fixed, if there is anything wrong, but the cost is maybe 10 time more than the simple test - and there may not be anything wrong! As far as you can tell, there is nothing wrong - you are just scheduled to have a preventative maintenance check. Which option do you choose?

Well, if you are under Medicare, you don't get a choice. They have decided not to allow virtual colonoscopies. Read the story here.

Just another example of how Obama will look after you.

Liberal Conspiracy Theories

During the presidential debates last year, Obama kept referring to the eeevil oil companies sitting on non-producing leases and how he wanted to tax them for their non-action. His statement made absolutely no sense to me then based on my 20+ years experience with offshore leases in the Gulf of Mexico. It also made no sense from an economic standpoint for the oil companies. But repetition breeds belief and it became accepted that oil companies were screwing us by sitting on leases.

An oil company pays big money for the privilege to gamble that there is oil down there. They don't want to see that investment wasted and usually need the cash flow it can generate. It's just too valuable to sit on as long as the price of oil is reasonable. Also, the Mineral Management Service gives companies a fixed period of time to "use it or lose it". If there is no activity on a lease, they will take it back. I have seen managers jump through hoops to prevent that from happening as it is a black mark on their records to have to return a potential asset. Of course, there are those leases that are deemed "dry" and are allowed to revert to the government.

In fact, Obama put in 122 million dollars in revenue in his budget for from fees collected for non-producing leases. But now we know that for all the talk about non-producing leases, the government has no clear definition of what constitutes a non-producing lease. Secretary of Interior Salazar told the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee that the DOI had no clear definition of a non-producing lease.

The story is here.

So, if there is no clear definition of a non-producing lease, how can Obama claim there are hundreds of them costing the taxpayer dearly and how can he propose to tax them????

Thursday, May 14, 2009

More Unintended Consequences

The London Times is carrying a story about compact fluorescent bulbs and mercury poisoning in China. You should know by now (and if you don't, you've had Rectal-Cranium Disorder) that fluorescent bulbs contain mercury. If you break one, you have to take special caution when cleaning it up. You can't toss them in the trash. They have to go in the hazardous waste pile. But now we know that the Chinese that work in the factories that make these things are being poisoned by the mercury they contain. So, as you pat yourself on the back for being soooo environmentally aware, know that a poor Chinaman is suffering for you.

The link to the article is here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rig Count, Jobs and the Economy

The graph to the left is the drilling rig count for the US including the offshore Gulf of Mexico. Since the beginning of 2009, it has been falling like a rock. It is 50% of what it was one year ago. Why should I care, you ask? Well, those are jobs evaporating. And not just roughneck jobs on the rig but construction jobs for all the producing facilities that won't be built. And trucking jobs for the material that won't be shipped. And engineering jobs for the guys that design the production facilities. And steel mill jobs for the well casing, line pipe and plate steel that won't be made.
Why is it dropping? Besides the price of oil, think US Government and taxes. BHO has promised to completely change the tax structure for the oil industry. The uncertainty of what the final tax law is going to look like has the industry concerned. And concerned businessmen don't make investments. Sure, the tax issues of the oil industry is pretty boring stuff, but the oil industry runs on economics, and taxes are a big chunk of the calculation. Pay attention to the new tax plans. They will have more of an effect on you than you think.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Energy from Ocean Waves

This is a lecture by a friend of mine. If you are interested in using ocean waves for power generation, you will find it well worth the investment in time. At the least, you will be able to discuss the issue from a position of science rather than emotion.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Swine Flu and Obama's Health Plan

I'm sure this is what we all expected to happen when the Swine Flu was announced. And it also illustrates how Obama's new health care plan would respond to a pandemic.

Yeah, That'll Help

The news is saying that Obama plans to cut 17 billion dollars from his 3.4 trillion dollar budget. Well, that sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but it's a flea on the tail of the total budget.

It amounts to 1/2 of 1%.

That's 0.5% or 0.005 in decimal form.

It would be like a family that earns $50,000 cutting out $250 from their budget.

Don't get fooled by the all the zeros. It's chump change to the government!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Road Trip and Louisiana Sauna

Made a trip to the field today. Went to a natural gas storage operation a little west of the picturesque town of Krotz Springs. Three hours of windshield time - each way. I'm fixing up some problems (by others) from the original installation. It's not a complicated project but its required by environmental regulations so folks get real anxious. Besides, the client is always happy to see his engineer on site. I also believe that I should show the people who work for me that I am willing to do the same things I ask them to do. So I held the dumb end of the tape while my designer took field measurements. A few hours of walking around the plant in Louisiana humidity was as good as being in a Finnish Sauna. At almost 6 decades, I'm probably getting too old that stuff. But, it was a break from the office and I got to visit my favorite Mexican restaurant, Ninfas, for lunch.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Unintended Consequences

My wife used to own a franchise for a national temporary employment agency. She closed it at the beginning of this year because of the lousy economy and lack of business in the "affected area". But she still keeps in touch with her friends in the business and she heard the other day that company headquarters had cancelled the health insurance plan for their temporary employees.

One of the items in Obama's new budget plan (the one that nobody read) was that health care providers would have to pay 65% of the cost of the COBRA for a laid off employee thereby reducing the employee's cost to 35%. (Previously the employee paid up to 102% of the cost). The idea was to make health care affordable for laid off employees. Unfortunately, the end result seems to be that now nobody will have health insurance benefits.

So, Obama institutes a plan to make health care more affordable to laid off employees but ends up having health insurance cancelled for all employees.

Was this the change you expected?