Tuesday, April 15, 2008

MCain loses my vote

Today, John McCain gave a major speech on economics and proves it really isn't his thing. I read the whole thing. Most of it was fluff. He's sort of a step behind trends, which actually makes him look pretty good compared to most politicians (who are 3 steps behind at best). The parts that he should have expanded upon (like corruption on Wall Street), he didn't and the concrete parts are total crap (like the "choose your tax system" and making the 2001 tax cuts permanent). He could have said, 'I'll double the budget for the Securities and Exchange Commission.' That's something concrete that would dispel skepticism that he's not just another fiscally irresponsible Bush Republican.

And then I get to this part:

I propose that the federal government suspend all taxes on gasoline now paid by the American people -- from Memorial Day to Labor Day of this year. The effect will be an immediate economic stimulus -- taking a few dollars off the price of a tank of gas every time a family, a farmer, or trucker stops to fill up. Over the same period, our government should suspend the purchase of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which has also contributed to the rising price of oil...


I'll address the SPR part first. Filling SPR is something that should have been done a long time ago, when prices were much lower. If we assume for a moment that we must start bombing Iran soon or have a 100-year war in Iraq, filling SPR is a life or death necessity. Under that assumption, i does nothing but weakens the national security of the United States. Period.

The gas tax repeal has been put forth a few times in the past. Most of the time, it has been suggested as part of an emergency response to an OPEC embargo or hurricane along the Energy Coast (to borrow a phase from Mary Landrieu). Bob Dole suggested that in '96. For a short term emergency, it's an acceptable band-aid, but to ease a supply shortfall that isn't going away any time soon, it borders on suicidal. Not only that, but it fails basic economics. The price is determined, at it's most basic level, by supply and demand. His plan artificially lowers the price, which will raise demand. Since his plan doesn't address supply and there's not likely to be any dramatic changes over this summer (at least not positive ones), the price of gas will just go back to the level it's at now within a month or two. Then, what do you think the chances of politicians re-instituting the gas tax right before a major election? Not a snowball's chance in hell, leading to a repeat of this on a national scale:

Image from Wiki page on Minnesota Bridge Collapse


Imagine hundreds of bridges all across the country collapsing with cars careening over the edge...

Another thing that bugs me is I think he knows what he's saying is bullshit. He was smart enough to realize corn-based ethanol was bullshit when everyone else was gaga for it (and then, like all the other candidates, shut his pie hole right before Iowa). Knowing your plan is bullshit, yet expounding upon it anyway is reminiscent an alleged quote of Huey Long's in regard to the "Share Our Wealth" program. When Long was confronted by a someone running the numbers on his program and told their weren't enough rich people to make it work, Long allegedly said, "Yeah, but by the time they figure that out, I'll have them sold on something else."* McCain's plan smacks of unbridled demagoguery.

It really pains me to say all this, too. I really liked McCain. I remembered rooting for him in the primaries back in 2000 when I was still in high school. My dad knew the Mississippi McCains well. I read his book. I watched him speak to a crowd that was packed to the rafters during my Katrina semester at Ole Miss. It pains me to say this, but Senator McCain, you have lost my vote.

UPDATE- The Hillary/McCain gas tax plan reborn as a Nigerian fraud scam. Appropriate.


* I've been looking for a source on the internet for that. Am I just making the quote up? Did it come from a debunked history? If anyone knows, please let me know.

Monday, April 14, 2008

So, the last thing Derrick Shepard wants to do...

before he goes to federal pound me in the ass prison is pass that ban on baggy pants. Well, if that's what you want your legacy to be, so be it. Just remember not to brag about it too loudly in prison.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

"Watch out for engineers...

...they start out with sewing machines and end up with the atomic bomb."
- Marcel Pagnol
Critiques des Critiques


Fridge that operates without electricity. Great example of seat of the pants engineering . Uses evaporative cooling to keep fruit fresh for weeks.

There's been a major breakthrough in energy efficiency that you might not have heard of. EnergyStar (governmental body that writes efficiency standards) has, for the first time, written new standards for hot water heaters, one of the most energy hogging home appliances. A little less than 20% of your Entergy bill comes from your water heater. Here's what General Electric has come up with. The on-demand heaters are extremely efficient, but they draw a lot of amperage, so wiring them up demands special attention. The simplest way to improve your heater efficiency is install a programmable remote for your water heater that turns it off when you aren't likely to use it (like in the middle of the night and middle of the day during weekdays).

Peer Reviewers Raise Questions [about Corps' Cat 5 Plans]. First off, hats off to Mark Schleifstein. He wrote a technical article that's both understandable and factually correct. Not an easy task. Secondly, the article scares me. It sounds like the "plan" the Corps is coming up with is going to be inferior to something I could cook up in a weekend. None of the technical problems will be addressed, the operating assumptions will be false, and the organizational issues will doom their plan to failure from the start. And the report isn't anywhere near finished yet! The last deadline they missed was January and they're now saying they might not have the plan finished by December. Here's my suggestion: get the head of Boh Brothers in a room with the presidents of all the local engineering companies, give them a dozen staff engineers, give them 3 weeks, and watch what they cook up. The results from that experienced, local group would astound you.

Also, Bob Bea rails against "100-year protection."

SPR expansion on Gulf Coast concerns residents. I've helped design solution mining facilities and the numbers in this article are concerning. The disposal method is also an ecological disaster waiting to happen.

Top 10 Paying College Majors. The top 5: Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Civil Engineering. They don't even go into the smaller majors like Industrial Engineering (Lee Iacocca's major).

One final, random observation from my recent personal observations about engineering:
* Filtration. There's no information in most undergraduate curricula about filtration, but it's one of the fastest growing fields of work for mechanical engineers. Nobody has specialists in filtration, but everyone is starting to run into it. Also, filtration is more complicated than just "stick a filter in there and that'll do it."

Thursday, April 3, 2008

R.I.P. Ashley

Ashley Morris has passed away. I only met him in person a couple of times, but his writing was an inspiration. I'm shocked he's gone all of a sudden. He will be sorely missed. My condolences to his family.

Greg Peters and Ray eulogize him.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Oil drips and discharges

There is no gas shortage. While this author makes some good points, he has some enormous holes in his arguments. He confuses oil inventories with gasoline inventories. Also, while gasoline is at a 15 year high in terms of absolute numbers, in terms of days of supply, we're not doing nearly as well. Days of supply are how many days we could run our cars without any new refining until we ran out. It takes into consideration consumption, which is much higher now than it was in 1990. Also, as much as people's eyes pop at the profits the oil majors are making now, it wasn't too long ago they were just hanging on. In the late 90's, when gasoline was 99 cents a gallon (partly as a result of Venezuela fighting for market share), companies were laying off workers and just barely hanging on. After the oil bust in the 80's, 1/3 of the entire industry lost their jobs! I still find if fascinating that the old timers I deal with are thinking 'when is the bubble going to bust' and not 'wow, we're making a lot of money.' The oil bust of the 80's is still deeply ingrained into the psyche of oilfield workers.

Artic the next Saudi Arabia? I doubt it. The most famous prospect in the Arctic is Mukluk. Mukluk is INFAMOUS within the oil industry. It was considered to be a "sure thing" and when the exploration rights were put of for auction by MMS (Federal Government), the bidding exploded. BP spent a billion dollars (back when a billion dollars meant something) to drill a dry hole (no oil). Other companies couldn't believe it, so they went in and drilled more dry holes. No oil was ever found. Here's a different geologist's take. Much more realistic. Nice little factoid at the end, too.

Japanese government paid for 100% of Prius' hybrid drive development, ex-VP alleges Toyota says Jim Press is full of shit. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Japan takes their engineering research very seriously. They spend boatloads on research that could be useful in the near term on what is usually referred to as 'application engineering' (my half-assed definition: applying known technologies in combination to get stuff done).

40% of Spanish electricity comes from wind. 40% of electricity production met by wind energy in a major industrial country... Wind has serious potential and is the most economical of all the alternative energies. That doesn't mean you can completely do without base load stations, but nobody can claim wind is useless. Don't forget about solar, too. Especially solar thermal. Solar power provides peak power (electricity at mid-day, when demand is highest), which makes it even more valuable. Solar power is a long way away from being economical for base power generation, but because peak power generation is so expensive (it's usually achieved through natural gas powered turbines), it is starting to be economical for peak power generation, even without subsidies.

News of Note - 2 April 2008

Louisiana companies hiding from state tax man... Louisiana companies have the 5th highest rate of tax avoidance in the country. Maybe this should figure into our dear government's pro-business agenda. Some companies are paying their fair share, while others bear the burden for the rest.

The School Crotch Inspector. The line between school discipline and child molestation... needs to be tattooed across this sorry excuse for a principal's forehead. I can name a certain FORMER principal of Ben Franklin High School who wished she could get away with this fascist shit.

Oops, another ethnic group riots in China. Same tension between locals and migrating (Manifest Destiny?) Han-Chinese. That idea of the Han Chinese migrating westward in a replication of America's Manifest Destiny would be a very interesting concept to explore over a few beers...

And while we're on the subject of China, China's housing bubble bursts
and The Wheels Fall Off China's Boom. With the potential to knock the wheels off the entire country. China is going to regret having the Olympics. In the meantime, the Chinese army is going to get a workout. One piece of advice to the Chinese government: hire Scott McClellon. I hear he isn't busy. And the press LOVES buying his bullshit. The last 8 years have proven the press (or at least 98% of them) will swallow whatever bullshit you tell them to swallow, so long as you tell it to them in a spiffy way.

SCREW SUSTAINABILITY! Not the article you might think by reading the title. Well worth a read. Thought provoking and makes you think how we got where we are as a species.

How effective is abstinence-only education? Florida sets the bar.

Photos of Al Copeland's Funeral. Monster trucks, motorcycles, cars and boats galore.

Relay-based Computer. Relay-based computer. Instead of transistors, hundreds (thousands?) of automotive relays.

Where Cheney puts his money. Analysis of VP's financial holdings and movings based off his filings. Good place to put your 401(k) money?

10 Most Prophetic SciFi Films. Cool list.

More data beats better algorithm. I've always found the thinking behind computer programming quite useful, even if I'll never write another line of code for the rest of my life.

In Wal-Mart We Trust. Wal-Mart did the most to help those in need during and after Katrina. The article is as much an indictment on FEMA as praise for Wal-Mart, but from my experience, Wal-Mart was ok. I evacuated with a t-shirt, 2 pairs of underwear, and a laptop and not much else, so Wal-Mart was a life saver at the time. I'll give them some props for reopening as fast as they did, too.

You might have already read these, but they're worth highlighting:

Krugman's take on financial "overhaul." Paulson thinks LESS regulation is the answer!?!?

Matt Taibbi tells us the unvarnished truth about the Wright controversy.

Zbigniew Brzezinski writes about the best way to responsibly withdraw from Iraq.

I was just thinking that I hadn't heard anything from Jim Letten in a while...

He was busy. And now we know what he was working on. Mose Jefferson indicted on 7 counts.