Category Archives: Tech

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove for the Rule Five links!

Moving on:  Of all the dumb mistakes made by all the Democratic candidates in the 2020 election, the calls to ban fracking may be one of the dumbest.  Excerpt:

Modern fracking — horizontal hydraulic fracturing — combines two technologies in a way that only a few decades ago would have sounded more like witchcraft or alchemy than a viable business proposition. It was devised in the late Nineties by Texas entrepreneur George Mitchell, the son of Greek immigrants (his father had been a goatherd), who set out to solve a seemingly impossible problem: how to make the richly abundant but apparently inaccessible pockets of gas trapped in America’s shale formations economically viable.

After spending $6 million on research and development, Mitchell found the solution. He combined the existing process of fracking (invented in the 1940s) — forcing liquid at high pressure into the shale so as to break up the rock and release the gas — with horizontal drilling. Everyone told him he was wasting his time and money but Mitchell was vindicated. As the Economist wrote in 2012, the year before his death, ‘Few business people have done as much to change the world as George Mitchell.’

Here’s the kicker:

On the contrary, most of the Democratic presidential hopefuls either want to curtail its use or ban it altogether. Mike Bloomberg says that ‘gas isn’t as clean as we thought’. He wants to ‘get [it] out of as many homes and buildings as we can’ and stop the construction of new gas plants. Elizabeth Warren would like to take things a step further and has pledged to ban fracking as part of her $3 trillion ten-year plan to take America zero-carbon. Bernie Sanders also plans to ban fracking as part of his Green New Deal, which will nationalize the utility industry and end fossil-fuel use in buildings by 2030. Billionaire Tom Steyer — part of whose fortune was built on fossil-fuel investments, causing fracking tycoon Harold Hamm to label him ‘the world’s biggest hypocrite’ — hasn’t yet committed to banning fracking. But fracking seems unlikely to escape unscathed from the ‘national climate emergency’ that he plans to declare on day one, in the highly unlikely event that he ends up as president.

Seriously, if these people wanted to throw the 2020 election on purpose, they could hardly do a better job.  By all means, campaign on returning us to a colder, darker world!

Cheap and abundant energy is one of the biggest, easiest ways to assure economic prosperity.  The Democrats commit a threefold sin when weighing in on “climate change”:

  1. They ignore the developing nations, including Brazil, India and China, who are the worst offenders in carbon emissions, and who are increasing, not decreasing, emissions.
  2. They wallpaper over the fact that their various “green” energy initiative will never make up for the deficiency caused by the loss of natural gas.
  3. They ignore nuclear energy, which is not only safe and reliable but also clean.

But hey, by all means, campaign on this!  It’s a donation in kind to the Trump 2020 campaign.  Morons.

 

Rule Five Future Airliners Friday

Mrs. Animal and I do more than the average amount of air travel, and it is as it has been of late:  Uncomfortable and inconvenient.  But there are ideas floating around to make air travel at least a little uncomfortable.  To that end, Airbus may have a neat new concept for air travel.  Excerpt:

The European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has unveiled a model of what it believes may be the future of passenger-aircraft designs.

The Model Aircraft for Validation and Experimentation of Robust Innovate Controls, or Maveric, made its debut at the Singapore Airshow 2020 on Tuesday. The new aircraft design seeks to upend the long-standing tradition of tube-shaped aircraft fuselages.

The model reflects what a “blended-wing” design, a concept used mainly in military aircraft, would look like for commercial planes.

Maveric is in the initial stages of development. Airbus quietly launched the project in 2017 and began tests on a small remote-controlled model in 2019.

Though it looks like something out of a science-fiction movie, aircraft with designs like the Maveric may become a reality if Airbus, one of the largest commercial-aircraft manufacturers, has its way. 

Take a look at what may be the aircraft design of the future. 

Here’s the neat bit:

A wider aircraft could also allow for a more open concept on board and make the cabin feel less congested compared with current-generation aircraft designs.

Less congested would be awesome.

One of my major peeves with air travel is how damn tight everything is on a typical airliner.  On international flights, as Mrs. A and I took earlier this week, we generally spring for United’s upgraded Premiere Economy seats, which are roughly the equivalent of the old Business Class; with this section selection we get wider seats and fewer people per overhead bin.  But those seats involve a not-insignificant extra cost, and while Mrs. A and I are empty-nesters and owners of a reasonably successful business and so can afford those seats, that’s not an option for everyone.  And the standard Economy seats are a trial for someone of my 6’1″ stature.

These concept art depictions (and, by all means, go look at them) literally paint quite a different picture.

Here’s the catch, though:  While the shorter, wider layout does seem to give a sense of more breathing space, I’m damned certain that the airlines would capitalize on that by cramming in the same crappy, undersized seating.  That’s not a problem without compensations; adjusted for inflation, air travel is cheaper now than it has ever been in the past, and the price we pay for that is crowding, rude one-time travelers and three-year-olds kicking the backs of our minimum-pitch seats.

So, this Airbus concept may be neat – and neat it is – but will it make air travel significantly more comfortable in practice?  Color me skeptical.

Rule Five Micro-Nukes Friday

Here is some more information on small modular nuclear reactors; these could revolutionize energy provision in many ways, some of which we’ve discussed before.  Excerpt:

Actually – small nuclear reactors are not new. We have been using them on nuclear submarines and other vessels for years. What is new is commercial SMRs for grid power. I could not find any in operation currently. The US company NuScale, has approval for a design and could be operational by 2026. They estimate the electricity costs at $65 per MW hour, which is not far from the current costs of solar at $60, and offshore wind at $50. Of course, wind and solar prices are dropping, but the hope is that economies of scale will also drop the cost of SMRs.

There are also potential advantages of SMRs over renewable and traditional nuclear power plants. Regarding renewables, while the prices are dropping now once we saturate the grid with renewable energy, something like 30% penetration, in order to increase the grid share of power from renewables you need some combination of two things, grid storage and overcapacity (sharing energy across the grid). The latter also requires a massive grid update. So the effective cost of renewables will start to skyrocket. The solution is to make up the rest of our energy infrastructure with on-demand energy sources. We can try to maximize hydroelectric and geothermal (which are geographically limited), but for now that means fossil fuel or nuclear.

So realistically, over the next several decades at least, the real choice we face is not between nuclear vs renewables, it’s nuclear vs fossil fuel – and I think the answer here is a no-brainer (I will return to this below).

What are the potential advantages of SMRs over traditional larger nuclear plants? According to a US government analysis:

Advanced SMRs offer many advantages, such as relatively small size, reduced capital investment, ability to be sited in locations not possible for larger nuclear plants, and provisions for incremental power additions. SMRs also offer distinct safeguards, security and nonproliferation advantages.

It’s important to note a couple of things here.

First:  The United States has already gone cleaner, carbon-wise, than almost any other nation on the planet.  How have we done this, given the opposition to nuclear power?  Mostly with natural gas, of which the United States has become a major producer due to advanced drilling and fracking technology.  The major offenders of carbon emissions – if you accept that it’s a problem – are India, China, Russia and some of the other developing nations.

And these kinds of reactors could help them as well.

Consider the advantages of a modular reactor that could be delivered over regular railroads or highways on a flatbed rail car or tractor-trailer.  If difficult terrain they could even be flown in.  These could bring power to remote villages, say in the Chinese hinterlands, Siberia, or even Alaska and norther Canada, and deliver cheap, clean electricity to areas that are now either going without, or are dependent on extensive power lines which run from coal-fired power plants.

The article further points out:

In this countries (sic) we have two main political parties, one largely ignored the science on global warming, and the other largely ignores the science on nuclear energy. The Democratic candidates range from Sanders, who would phase out nuclear quickly, to Yang, who is the only one who would expand nuclear. The others are all weak on nuclear, and would either “wean” off, or not expand or build any new plants, letting existing plants sunset. This is the politically safe thing to say on the left, but it’s not reality.

That last sentence is something of an understatement.

The political Left, not only in the United States but in the EU nations and the rest of Europe, have been rabidly anti-nuke for some time.  As reactor technology continues to improve, this opposition will grow more and more nonsensical – which doesn’t mean they’ll stop.

Progress (real progress, not “progressive” progress) waits for no man – or political party.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Hard to believe we’re in the last month of the year already – 2019, we hardly knew ye.   Meanwhile, thanks to Pirate’s Cove and Bacon Time for the Rule Five links!

So, speaking of energy – there’s a new kind of fission reactor being developed called a traveling-wave reactor, and if it works as predicted, it could change the face of energy production.  But here’s the catch:  It’s being developed, using American funding, in China.  Why?  Because too many Americans are morons when it comes to nuclear power.  Excerpts, with my comments:

For well over a decade, Bill Gates has funded TerraPower, a startup seeking to design, build, and commercialize a revolutionary nuclear reactor. Their traveling-wave reactor design uses depleted uranium to operate, rather than uranium-235 like in current reactors, and is built so that if left unattended, it will slowly shut down, making a catastrophic meltdown a near impossibility. Optimistic estimates from the company suggest that current American stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel could be used in traveling-wave reactors to electrify the entire country for hundreds of years, and for far cheaper than current nuclear plants. This is carbon-free, baseload electricity that could easily provide the foundation for a next-generation, renewable-focused energy grid.

This would rattle a lot of cages.  Combined with clean natural gas for various purposes (like heating, for example) this would be great for delivering cheap energy.  And cheap energy is like octane-booster for a nation’s economy.  In the case of something like this, there’s really no down side.  So why China?

In partnership with the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), TerraPower was preparing to break ground on a prototype 600 MegaWatt reactor in Fujian province, but then political disaster struck. Late in 2018, Department of Energy policy changes stemming from the U.S. – China trade war forced TerraPower to end its agreement with the CNNC, leaving their potentially game-changing reactor without a home.

So bring it home.  Let’s start building this reactor here, in the United States.

We can’t, you say?   Why not?

Science!

This saga brings up a key question: why was an American company, funded by one of America’s most wealthy and respected philanthropists, going to China to build their next-generation nuclear reactor? Why not here? The simple answer is that Americans are notoriously afraid of and unfriendly toward nuclear power. Though nuclear has reliably and safely provided roughly 20% of electricity in the U.S. for the past quarter-century, a majority of Americans oppose it and politicians have repeatedly erected more and more regulatory roadblocks, driving up costs and making new nuclear power plants nearly impossible to build. Even innovative ideas like what Bill Gates and TerraPower are proposing are not welcome.

As I said, too many Americans are morons when it comes to nuclear energy – and too many of those morons are warming chairs in the Imperial City.

Seriously, folks, there are few better examples of how an overbearing government can screw things up for everybody.  Here we have an innovative technology that could deliver cheap, clean, nigh-unlimited energy to millions, and it’s being logjammed because OMG NUKULAR!

The article closes with:

There’s no guarantee that TerraPower’s traveling-wave reactor will work in practice. Its system of liquid sodium cooling has been attempted before with little success. Moreover, power production efficiencies could end up far lower than what their simulations suggest. Other, unforeseen problems could also arise.

But we’ll never know unless government gets out of the way and allows our scientists, entrepreneurs, and engineers to build the nuclear reactor prototypes that could power the future.

The government won’t get out of the way.  Not voluntarily.  The Nuclear Energy Leadership Act mentioned in the article would be a spit into a hurricane.  The only way we’ll know if a traveling-wave reactor will work is to build one, and I’ll be the most amazed guy around if the Imperial government allows it in our country.

I could be wrong.  I’d love to be wrong.  But I don’t think I am.

Rule Five FoMoCo Friday

Thanks again to The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

Ford Motors is slowly doing away with their car lineup in favor of SUVs and pickups.  Excerpt:

Although it has been a while since Ford announced the cancellation of nearly all of its passenger-car models, it turns out that the Fusion sedan is set to die a long, slow death. A Ford spokesperson told C/D that there are still “a couple more years” left for the Fusion, meaning that production at its plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, will continue until sometime in 2021. The company has already begun chopping up the Fusion lineup, however, as the Fusion Sport model (pictured) has been dropped for the 2020 model year.

Introduced for 2017, this higher-performance trim level offered a 325-hp twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V-6 engine and all-wheel drive. It went from zero to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds in our testing. A turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four with 245 horsepower will now be the most powerful engine available in the 2020 Fusion; two less-powerful four-cylinder engines, a hybrid, and a plug-in-hybrid model are also still offered.

What will happen to the Fusion name after production ends in 2021? The current-generation Fusion sedan will certainly reach the end of the road, and the Hermosillo plant will begin building the next-generation Transit Connect van. But Ford has suggested that it may apply existing names to new crossover body styles, and there are rumors that the Fusion nameplate itself may be applied to a Subaru Outback–esque wagon model at some point in the near future.

Full disclosure:  I’ve been a loyal Ford buyer/driver for over forty years.  Mostly trucks, although I’ve had a few cars, including a ’65 Mustang and a 1972 Gran Torino Sport very similar to the one in a certain Clint Eastwood film.  Mrs. Animal and I have only Fords among our three vehicles.  Mrs. A has a 2017 Expedition, I of course have the inestimable Rojito, a 1999 Ranger 4×4, and we have our “company car,” a 2013 Edge.  Most of our kids drive Fords; we’re a Ford family.

That said:  Ford is fucking up here.

It’s not just with the deletion of their coupes/sedans.  Ford is introducing their first all-electric coal-powered car, a small, Escape-sized “crossover” – and calling it a Mustang.  That, friends, is a fuck-up of the first water.  The Mustang has been Ford’s flagship vehicle since the demise of the Thunderbird, and while over the years it has taken many forms, a greenie electric “crossover” has never been one of them, and never should be one of them.  For the love of Pete, Ford, go ahead and introduce your new lettuce-mobile if you want, but call it something else!

I have nothing against crossovers, mind.  I own one; our “company car” that goes on the road for long gigs is the aforementioned 2013 Edge, in the top-shelf Limited trim with the 3.0 liter V-6.  It’s roomy enough for Mrs. A and myself, gives a good view of the road and is peppy enough to be interesting to drive.  I’m normally a truck guy but the Edge works great for this purpose and I’ve grown rather fond of it.

And don’t get me started on the upcoming re-release of the Bronco.  That would be an entire post unto itself.

Ford has always been a truck company, granted.  But eliminating all of their car line is a mistake – a bad one.  The Fusion in particular is a great vehicle.  Three of our four kids have owned them, two still do, and they are big fans.  I’ve had them as rental cars several times in several trims; they are easy to drive, handle well, have decent ergonomics; they’re great.

I hate to see Ford going down this road, especially when they were smart enough to refuse the 2008 Imperial auto-industry bailout.  But going down it they are, and while we’re truck people and so won’t be immediately affected, I’d hate to see Ford lose their market position because of it.

Animal’s Daily Futuristic News

Be sure to catch my latest over at Glibertarians; this week it’s another installment of my Allamakee County Chronicles.

Meanwhile:   SingularityHub’s Dr. Peter H. Diamandis Has a list of new technologies he thinks we’ll see in the next ten years.  Color me skeptical.  Here’s the list, with my comments:

Hyperloop One: LA to SF in 35 Minutes

Did you know that Hyperloop was the brainchild of Elon Musk? Just one in a series of transportation innovations from a man determined to leave his mark on the industry.

In 2013, in an attempt to shorten the long commute between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the California state legislature proposed a $68 billion budget allocation for what appeared to be the slowest and most expensive bullet train in history.

Well, he’s not wrong about the bullet train.

But Elon Musk’s Hyperloop isn’t going anywhere on any real scale.  Certainly not in the next ten years.  Just obtaining the real estate necessary would be a massive undertaking, and he hasn’t (apparently) even started yet.  This is the same guy who has promised to start a colony on Mars, among other things, and the Hyperloop is another display of Musk’s primary talent:  Self-promotion.

Which brings us to:

Rocket Travel

As if autonomous vehicles, flying cars, and Hyperloop weren’t enough, in September of 2017, speaking at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, Musk promised that for the price of an economy airline ticket, his rockets will fly you “anywhere on Earth in under an hour.”

No.  Way.  In.  Hell.  Not in ten years.  Not in twenty or thirty years.  While the technology exists for this, the practical application of it is decades away – and decades more before the economies of scale make it possible for ordinary folks.  Even Musk admits this:  “We could probably demonstrate this [technology] in three years,” Musk explained, “but it’s going to take a while to get the safety right. It’s a high bar. Aviation is incredibly safe. You’re safer on an airplane than you are at home.”

Avatars

An avatar is a second self, typically in one of two forms. The digital version has been around for a couple of decades. It emerged from the video game industry and was popularized by virtual world sites like Second Life and books-turned-blockbusters like Ready Player One.

Now this one is a tad more realistic.  In fact, we’re already sort of doing it, with WebEx and Skype.  Videoconferencing is nothing new.  But the VR avatar concept is somewhat different; Diamandis describes a robotic version:

Robots are the second form of avatars. Imagine a humanoid robot that you can occupy at will. Maybe, in a city far from home, you’ve rented the bot by the minute—via a different kind of ridesharing company—or maybe you have spare robot avatars located around the country.

Either way, put on VR goggles and a haptic suit, and you can teleport your senses into that robot. This allows you to walk around, shake hands, and take action—all without leaving your home.

I don’t think for a moment that many companies would go to the massive expense of buying VR-occupiable robots just so remote workers can walk around and shake hands.  In the next ten years, what will happen is that companies will continue to use Skype and WebEx.  I use WebEx a lot, and it’s better than a telephone call – you can loop in many people and in discussions, especially where any debate is involved, it’s great to be able to see the people you’re talking to.  It not only personalizes the other folks in the meeting, but it allows you to take in the visual cues that make conversation much more than just the spoken word.

And finally:

Final Thoughts

Individual car ownership has enjoyed over a century of ascendancy and dominance.

And will continue to do so for the next ten years and beyond.

The first real threat it faced—today’s ride-sharing model—only showed up in the last decade. But that ridesharing model won’t even get ten years to dominate. Already, it’s on the brink of autonomous car displacement, which is on the brink of flying car disruption, which is on the brink of Hyperloop and rockets-to-anywhere decimation. Plus, avatars.

Not in the next ten years.  Not in America.  The ride sharing and autonomous car model may work for someone living in New York City, but not for a farmer in rural Missouri, a small-town doctor in Iowa or a rancher in Wyoming.  The majority of Americans are going to continue to own and operate personal vehicles.

The most important part: All of this change will happen over the next ten years. Welcome to a future of human presence where the only constant is rapid change.

Dr. Diamandis, are you a bettin’ man?  I’ve got a C-note says you’re wrong.  I’ll be around in ten years.  I’m sure you will be too.

Rule Five Fusion Friday

Housekeeping note:  In a few moments, I will leave civilization behind for a few days as loyal sidekick Rat and I will be off to the wilds of Grand County, Colorado, there to do battle with antlered ungulates.  Some placeholder totty is scheduled to hold your attention until I return.

Now, with that out of the way:  It seems the U.S. Navy has applied for a patent on a fusion reactor small enough to power small ships and even aircraft.  If this is a real thing, it’s a real big thing, or as daffy old Groper Joe Biden would say, a big fucking deal.  Excerpt:

The War Zone has been reporting on Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works work to create a game-changing compact fusion reactor. The elite aerospace design unit has been constructing a new, more powerful experimental reactor as recently as July 2019. 

Aside from Lockheed Martin, several private firms have been developing their own compact fusion reactors in recent years, and the government-run Chinese Academy of Sciences has claimed to have made significant progress in developing fusion reactors that could one day be capable of producing revolutionary levels of energy.

While Lockheed Martin’s CFR designs have garnered quite a bit of media attention and internet buzz in recent years, it appears one of the Skunk Works’ major clients is also hard at work in this field. The U.S. Navy has filed a potentially revolutionary patent application for a radical new compact fusion reactor that claims to improve upon the shortcomings of the Skunk Works CFR, and judging from the identity of the reactor’s inventor, it’s sure to raise eyebrows in the scientific community.

This latest design is the brainchild of the elusive Salvatore Cezar Pais, the inventor of the Navy’s bizarre and controversial room temperature superconductors, high energy electromagnetic field generators, and sci-fi-sounding propulsion technologies that The War Zone has previously reported on. The patent for Pais’ “Plasma Compression Fusion Device” was applied for on March 22, 2018, and was just published on September 26, 2019. The claim states, in part:

At present there are few envisioned fusion reactors/devices that come in a small, compact package (ranging from 0.3 to 2 meters in diameter) and typically they use different versions of plasma magnetic confinement. Three such devices are the Lockheed Martin (LM) Skunk Works Compact Fusion Reactor (LM-CFR) , the EMC2 Polywell fusion concept, and the Princeton Field-Reversed Configuration (PFRC) machine. […] These devices feature short plasma confinement times, possible plasma instabilities with the scaling of size, and it is questionable whether they have the ability of achieving the break – even fusion condition, let alone a self-sustained plasma burn leading to ignition.”

Wow.  WOW.  Forget for a moment whether or not we’re going to buy into this being real, and just imagine for a moment the implications of it being real, and imagine beyond just the shutting up of the climate scolds, which would be a pleasant enough outcome.

Now I’m not sure about the feasibility of powering vehicles or aircraft with one of these, size notwithstanding; like fission reactors, fusion reactors provide useful power through heat, by boiling water to turn a steam turbine to generate electricity.  (That’s almost certainly a gross oversimplification, but what the hell.)  That works in a power plant or a ship; in an airplane, not so much.

But you know, that still works.  We could continue to run airplanes and autos on fossil fuels.  The climate scolds would continue to go RHEEEEEEE, of course, but we can ignore that.  The simple fact is this:  A practical fusion reactor design would literally change everything.  Energy would be cheap and unlimited; cheaper than it is now, unlimited as it is not now.

Modern technological societies depend on energy.  Cheap, abundant energy yields a strong economy.  The cheaper and more abundant energy is, the better conditions are for a robust economy.

And this design – if it’s real – could deliver power to places where it’s difficult to do so now.   It could relieve remote communities of the need for generators or long stretches of power lines.  Small towns could run on a small tokamak that would fit in a garden shed.  And better still, a factory could buy its own reactor and obviate the need to be tied to an inefficient government-granted monopoly for power delivery.  The possibilities are endless.

I’m not sure if this is a real thing.  But it would be really cool if it was.

But enough of that for now.  The bloodwind calls.  It’s time to hunt.  See you all a week from Monday!

Animal’s Daily Space Travel News

Space is big.  Really, really big.  It’s so big, it’s hard to imagine just how really big it is without unhinging your brain enough to really, really understand something so stupendously big that even the wildest of sci-fi nuts just don’t get how unfathomably big it is.  But one scientist who is also a Star Trek fan has made a video to give us at least some idea how long it would really take to get about in space at Star Trekkian speeds.  Excerpt:

O’Donoghue chose to depict the Enterprise flying away from the sun and across the solar system toward a finish line at Pluto. The spaceship starts out at warp 1 and eventually accelerates to warp 9.9, or about 2,083 times light speed.

  • Warp 1, or light speed, makes the Enterprise look like it’s at a standstill over the sun. At this light-speed rate, the ship would take 5 hours and 28 minutes just to reach Pluto, which is about 3.67 billion miles (5.9 billion kilometers) away from the sun. Meanwhile, Proxima Centauri — the nearest star to our own — is a dismal four years and three months away.
  • Warp 5 is about 213 times faster, making a sun-Pluto journey just 1 minute and 30 seconds long. Proxima Centauri is still a weeklong voyage.
  • Warp 9.9 makes Pluto less that a 10-second trip away, and Proxima Centauri an 18-hour cruise.

This last rate of travel is thousands of times faster than the physics of our universe may ever permit.

However, traveling at a warp factor of 9.9 from one end of the Milky Way galaxy — a body of hundreds of billions of stars that may stretch 150,000 to 200,000 light-years wide, according to a recent study — to the other could take 96 years. That’s almost a decade longer than an average human life span today.

Even considering the fastest “transwarp” (or “beyond warp”) speed achieved by the Enterprise, which is about 8,323 times light speed, according to “Star Trek: The Next Generation — Technical Manual,” a transgalactic voyage would take 24 years. A transwarp voyage to Andromeda, which is the nearest galaxy to ours at about 2.5 million light-years away, would last about 300 years.

Yup.  Space is big.  Really, really big.

The closest any sci-fi writer has come to getting this right, at least in my reading history, was James Blish in the Cities in Flight series, originally published between 1950 and 1962.  In those still-engaging stories the major cities of Earth and other worlds left their planetary homes and wandered the galaxy, using a gravitic drive Blish called a “spindizzy.”  Even though, as Blish postulated, the cities under gravitic drive were separated from the general framework of the universe and moved in their own continuum, and were therefore not hampered by relativistic effects or the universal 1C speed limits, even within the galaxy travel times were so long that the inhabitants of the cities required “anti-agathic” drugs that made them, essentially, immortal, else they’d not have been able to travel such distances.

Science!

It’s a neat series, by the way, even if it is a little dated today.

Warp drives and such are neat to think about and write about; in my own dabblings in science fiction I’ve resorted to that same plot device to make my characters go gamboling and capering about the Milky Way.  That kind of stuff is, after all, fun to read about and fun to write about.

But in reality, unless some kind of wormhole drive can shortcut interstellar distances instantaneously, then interstellar travel is never going to be really practical, even at transphotic speeds.

Because space is really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY, REALLY big.

Goodbye, Blue (Labor Day) Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove, Bacon Time and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!  Thanks also to our blogger pals Doug and Ed over at The Daley Gator for the linkback.  If The Daley Gator isn’t on your blogroll, it should be.

On Saturday last I took my new (old, made in 1942) Winchester Model 12 Black Diamond to the trap range.  I shot two rounds of 12-yard singles, hitting 23 and 23.  Not too bad, considering it’s the first time I fired the gun.  A couple of things  stood out:

  1. In those years, when Winchester said “Full choke,” they meant full-damn-choke.  The choke on that gun is as tight as a bull’s ass in fly season.  On a lot of my hits I was just ticking the edge of the bird.  You have to be right on the bird to dust it.
  2. The straight-grip stock will take some getting used to.  I’ve only owned shotguns with what we think of as standard pistol-grip stocks.
  3. The big wide rib and contrasting beads make picking up the birds quickly almost ridiculously easy.

I’m going to like this gun a lot, even if it is, as a dedicated trap gun, kind of a one-trick pony.

Model 12 Black Diamond

It’s Labor Day, so before we get on with all the nothing we’re planning to spend today doing, here are a few links.

Why do people believe in curses?  Well, I can think of two reasons:  Ignorance and stupidity.  Pretty much the same reasons people think of socialism as an effective economic system.

What it feels like to eject from a plane.  Not something I’ve ever been tempted to try, personally.

Amazon lists unauthorized cell phone signal boosters.  Unauthorized?   OMG UNAUTHORIZED!  We need more government over here STAT!

And on that note, we wish you a safe, happy and restful Labor Day.

Rule Five Red Light Cameras Friday

Our own Aurora and the neighboring city of Denver have experimented with red-light cameras.  I think it’s a terrible idea, and almost certainly unconstitutional.  Here’s an interesting take on the topic.  Excerpt:

Speed and red-light cameras are the bane of many motorists. A modern idea made possible by technology, they have been installed in at least 24 states. Although these cameras are a revenue boon for governments across the nation, their intrusion into daily life is disturbing, and their constitutionality is dubious.

Specifically, use of these cameras could violate the Sixth Amendment. The Confrontation Clause grants criminal defendants the right to be confronted with the witnesses against them. Since it is a camera and not a person that witnessed the offense, such violations generally cannot be considered a criminal offense. The ticket is issued to the owner of the vehicle, not to the person driving it, leaving a lack of certainty as to the identity of the offender.

Therefore, the “ticket” in most places is nothing more than a civil fine, making enforcement and collection difficult. To date, governments have avoided this problem by requiring payment of the fine before motorists can renew their driver’s license or auto registration. Although there generally are appeals procedures, they typically do not give drivers a day in court. In other words, what happened to being innocent until proven guilty?

There are several for-profit companies that install and operate the cameras, some of them foreign-owned. In a typical arrangement, a camera company will contract with a local government to pay the capital cost of installing the cameras in exchange for a share of the revenue generated via fines. In short, governments get a new revenue stream without any operating cost, and the camera companies make a tidy profit.

Stop right there.  Take a look at that last sentence.  Here, read it again:

In short, governments get a new revenue stream without any operating cost, and the camera companies make a tidy profit.

Did you get that?

In short, governments get a new revenue stream without any operating cost, and the camera companies make a tidy profit.

Now there, True Believers, you have the key to the whole thing.  These red light cameras, which almost certainly violate the Sixth Amendment – how can you confront your accuser when the accuser is a camera? – aren’t about traffic safety.  They are all about generating revenue for city governments.

Most of the citations issues are civil fines, meaning you have no recourse in the courts.  And since these are based on photos of moving vehicles and are focused on the plates, the better to ID the owner, they are issued to the owner of the vehicle.  So if you loan your car to a friend, or let your teenager drive, you are fiscally liable for a minor infraction you didn’t commit.

Crap like this lessens respect for the law.  It’s capricious, lacks even a pretense of due process, and is clearly and transparently a revenue-generating tool for city governments.

Last year our own Aurora put the issue on the ballot.  The residents of our town, yr. obdt. among them, voted to get rid of the cameras.  That’s a step in the right direction.  Let’s hope more municipalities follow suit.