Thursday, May 31, 2012

Book Review - Stolen Prey

It was not a good day for Lucas Davenport. Strange as it may seem, a couple of tweakers got the drop on him at an ATM and he ended up with a broken wrist. Then he was called to a gruesome murder of a family in a well to do neighborhood. The crime scene had all the earmarks of a torture murder by a Mexican drug gang but they could find no connection of this family to drug activity. It takes all of Lucas' sleuthing skills to uncover a well hidden money laundering scheme behind the murders. Meanwhile, Virgil Flowers is tracking the tweakers who seem to be in the business of manure transport.

I won't call this one of the best in the Prey series, but Sandford always manages to write a readable story. And this one has an interesting twist at the end.

Engineering Geekery

While I have never observed the phenomenon personally (probably because I usually get Guinness in a can), it is important to understand why it happens.

Engineers understand Stoke's Law which describes the drag on spherical objects with small Reynold's Numbers in a viscous fluid. It's the mechanism that describes how oil and water separate and you can use it calculate how long it will take a micron sized oil particle to travel a certain distance and hence know the residence time needed for separation. But folks who get their Guinness in a pint glass have notice that the bubbles in the brew seem to flow down rather than up. Leave it to the Irish to find out why.

Next I predict a Computational Fluid Dynamics Doctoral Thesis in the subject. You have to admit that the research would be fun.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

MSM Bias

I was watching national news on the National Barrack Channel yesterday when BrianWilliams starts a story about Donald Trump being a birther and then tying him to Mitt Romney. The implication being that Mitt is a goofy birther too. He went no further in describing why The Donald had re-started the birther issue. If he had, he would have had to admit that Obama's birthplace was listed as Kenya in Obama's literary agent's brochure and he would have had to explain how that happened. And then he might have to talk about why Obama let such a mistake carry on for so long. And then he might have to admit that Obama let it happen because it was a useful lie at the time.

And then he could have talked about the other useful lie perpetrated by Elizabeth Warren who claimed Native American status. But we can't let a few lies defer us from the The Narrative.

To paraphrase a popular commercial:

"When you want attention, you list your birthplace as Kenya.
When you list your birthplace as Kenya, people think you are not an American.
When people think you are not an American, they don't want you as President.
Don't affect you chance to be President, tell the truth."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Energy Cost Sticker Shock

PJM Interconnection is a regional transmission organization that manages the high voltage electric grid and wholesale electricity market for 13 mid Atlantic states and the District of Columbia. They recently held a capacity auction to fix the prices for electricity for 2015. The results are ominous! The market price was $136 per megawatt. In 2012, the price was $16 per megawatt. If you do the math, that's an 850% increase!

This is not speculation. These are real prices. Here's the press release.

Why, PE, you may ask, is the price increasing so much? In a word, Regulations. In Obama's war on coal, the EPA instituted regulatory changes to require coal plants to install MACT, or Maximum Achievable Control Technology, on their emissions by 2015. This regulation will effectively remove 14,000 megawatts of coal powered capacity from the system.

You won't see this news in the MSM. The Fox story is here along with information on what our legislators are doing about. Remember that this issue goes far beyond "tax the rich". Everyone will have to pay more for electricity. How would you pay for an electricity bill that increased by a factor of 8? What do you think manufactured goods will cost because of this increase? What will your food cost? Get busy and write your Congress Critters!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Going Walkabout

The Brother in Law hit Damascus, Va this weekend in his quest to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. He's covered a distance of 467 miles. He hit town during the Trail Days Festival. They had a medical tent there for the hikers so he got a checkup and was declared good to go.

In local news, Rico and his father were in town for a few days so we had a few drams of scotch and ate some Bar B Que shrimp.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

Up and out the door at O Dark 30 to catch the first flight to Houston for a day of meetings. The morning meeting, a project status update, went pretty well. It stayed on topic and folks didn't try to engineer a solution in the meeting. The afternoon meeting was a different story. It started with one of the brain trust talking about a highly specialized technical subject (lateral bucking in sub sea pipelines) and treating us to a detailed review of his research in an accent that almost nobody could understand. At about the mid point of the meeting, the leader asked about taking a short break. The next speaker assured us that she would be short and wanted to talk before the break. 30 minutes later she was still talking about a ramp up procedure for a well that wouldn't be put into production until 2015!

Sometimes I wonder why the price of gasoline is so low and how major oil companies manage to make a profit.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Robert Parker Lives!

It was a sad day when Robert Parker died. He gave me hours of enjoyment reading his novels and I was sad to see it end. But wait, there is a new possibility out there. Ace Atkins has been selected by Robert Parker's estate to ghost write Robert Parker novels and his first one, Lullaby, has hit the shelves.

Atkins has the uncanny ability to write in the same style as Robert Parker. If you know Parker's books, you know his style - short sentences, gritty descriptions and no nonsense action. It was all there. I look forward to more.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Bag Balm

Bag Balm is an ointment that was developed in Vermont in 1899 to soften cows udders. Farmers found that the little cuts and nicks on their hands healed faster when they were applying Bag Balm to the livestock. Since then, hundreds of non-bovine uses have been found for the concoction.

Saturday night, my wife and I were sitting for our 6 month old grand nephew while mom and dad had dinner and a movie. He had contracted a severe case of diaper rash (day care center dropped the ball on diaper changes). While mom had cleared up the worst of it, he was still tender in his nether regions. We made liberal applications of Bag Balm to his butt at every diaper change, and on Sunday, it was gone. Wonderful stuff!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

New Link

I was killing time at lunch by searching for Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Tool. That led me to search for Engineering quotes by Henry Petroski and I ended up at An Engineer's Aspect where I found some excellent engineering geekery. Use the links on the RH side.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


This is a true story that happened after Katrina.

My brother-in-law offered his back yard as a FEMA trailer site for a friend of his. He thought it would be easy to install as he had kept a 40’ Airstream trailer on the same spot, complete with hookups, for several years. However, with FEMA, nothing is easy. This is his story.

First, FEMA had to inspect the site to make sure it was suitable for a trailer. M brother-in-law told them to be sure to call because he wasn’t on the property and the gate was locked. One day he got a call.

“We’re here.”


“At the gate to your back yard.”

“Well, I’m across the river so get a soft drink, smoke a cigarette and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

When he arrived to let them in, he found not one, but two FEMA inspectors. Their only job was to measure the site to make sure the trailer would fit. Two guys, with only a tape measure! I guess there must be a FEMA job description somewhere for the guy holding the “dumb end” of the tape. But, then my brother-in-law already knew that it should be possible to fit a 34’ trailer on the site where a 40’ trailer had been. He asked them when the trailer would arrive.

“Couple of days or so.”

About a week and a half later he gets another call.

“We’re here.”

“Do you have the trailer?”, he asked.

"No, I’m just the escort. The trailer is on the highway.”

(That’s right. They had an escort for a camping trailer. Not a permit load. Not an oversized load. But a camping trailer that any bozo with a trailer hitch would be allowed to tow anywhere.)

So he goes back and opens the gate and the driver sets the trailer. Out of curiosity, my brother-in-law asked the driver how much he made. Turns out he makes a flat fee per trailer plus mileage to deliver it. For this one, his take was about $500. And that doesn’t include the escort guy. Now, this is a camping trailer. And almost everyone in South Louisiana has a pickup truck with a trailer hitch capable of hauling the thing. But our government feels it is necessary to pay people hundreds of dollars to deliver their trailers.

But the driver doesn’t do the hook up. And when will the guy be there to hook it up?

“Couple of days.”

As you have probably guessed, another week and a half goes by when he gets another call.

“We’re here to hook up that trailer.”

So he meets the guy and points out where to run the sewer hose and where to plug in the extension cord. (Remember, his personal trailer used this same site) But wait, FEMA says the plumbing must be hard piped and the electrical run in conduit. During that process, my brother-in-law has to tell the guy to re-locate the electrical meter because it will interfere with the push out section of the trailer. Then, the guy jacks the trailer off the ground, sets blocks under it and ties it down with hurricane straps.

OK, we know the thing may have to go through next hurricane season, but this is a trailer in a land where most people have pickup trucks with trailer hitches. If a hurricane is coming, doesn’t it make sense for the occupant to be able to hook up to the thing and tow it someplace safe instead of leaving it there to be destroyed?

When the hook up guy finishes, my brother-in-law asked him for the keys to check everything out.

“I don’t have the keys. Another guy will be here in a couple of days.”

Sure enough, about a week and a half later, the key guy shows up and everyone is happy and the tenant moves into his new FEMA supplied trailer. The plumbing hook up is so good that the first time he flushes the toilet, its contents is deposited on the grass.

That is why you can’t trust your life to FEMA.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Book Review - Harbor Nocturne

I am a big fan of Joseph Wambaugh, Master of the Metaphor. His production in recent years has been slow but his books are worth waiting for. Harbor Nocturne is the latest in his series about those wacky cops in Hollywood Station. Flotsam and Jetsam are back as well as Hollywood Nate. And there are a few new characters as well.

The book starts with a human smuggling job gone awry when a container full of dead illegal immigrants is found in the harbor. One of the victims is the sister of a woman working at a strip club. When she complains to her employer, she ends up dead in a back alley. Her roommate, who was a witness, then goes on the run to avoid a similar fate and seeks help from an unemployed longshoreman. As is usual in Wambaugh's books, the main story line is broken up with short vignettes involving the various cops of the Hollywood Station.

Its a good read and an excellent way to kill several hours on an airplane.

Head Count

Four murderers and one druggie were separated from their heads last month in the KSA for a total of 5 executions. The Kingdoms year to date total is now at 19.