Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

 
Friday, February 28, 2003

High Speed is here!

Alrighty folks, I just got connected by Comcast to the high speed information superhighway, which means my ramblings and maunderings will be coming to you faster than ever....

Never have I been able to make so many mistakes so quickly....

Posted by Rich
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Why I gave up ice cream.

The short version is it's just too darn expensive.

Now, if I stuck to the short version, what kind of blog post would this be? That's right; DULL.

Coming home from work Wednesday night, I noticed an odd noise coming from the engine, sort of a cross between a hiss and a click. The sound got worse as I got closer to the house, and the Tracker began to lose power. Fortunately, I was only a few hundred yards from my house, and I made it home.

By this time, the noise was definitely louder and nastier. It sounded like the engine was coughing, and the faster I revved the engine, the faster it coughed. I called my brother in law who's a mechanic, and asked what it sounded like to him.

"About $1500," was his reply.

Oh great!

He came on over to the house to check it out in person and found that the problem was actually much less serious. One of my spark plugs had come loose, and was allowing air to leak out past the seal. That caused that cylinder to lose compression, resulting in the cough, and the loss of power. Unlike the old days of the V-8, when losing a cylinder meant you couldn't accelerate as fast, and burned more gas, dropping a cylinder off a four banger pretty much ruins your day.

Well, I was pretty relieved, pulled the spark plug, replaced it, fired up the engine....

The noise was still there.

So I checked the next plug. A tracker doesn't have the familiar distributer with an octopus of wires leading to the spark plugs. Instead, a lead from the computer connects to a coil which sits on top of one of the plugs, and a wire leads to a second plug. So, I pulled the coil off the second plug and found a new problem. The coil came off in three pieces, instead of the standard one.

Not good.

To make matters worse, the spark plug came out with it, without having to be loosened. Apparently, when I changed the plugs, I didn't get this one tight enough, and it gradually backed out until it finally blew out., trashing the coil.

So, now I needed a new coil. $88.04
And new plugs $12.00
And new plug wires $44.74
And a thread chaser to re thread the spark plug socket. $9.00

What does this all have to do with ice cream? The car started messing up when I stopped at Baskin and Robbins for a double waffle cone. Like I said, that ice cream is just too darned expensive.

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, February 27, 2003

New reference link

Hey folks, if you're curious about science topics or want to check up on some of my explanations on science topics, check out this site, which I am ading to my links. It's a bit more technical than what I do, and assumes a basic level of knowledge, but has a wealth of information on physics, chemistry, etc.

And it's free!

Posted by Rich
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New Hydrogen production methods

SK Bubba links to a couple of experiments dealing with new ways to generate H2. The hope is to find an inexpensive way to generate H2, making fuel cells practical.

The first link is to ORNL's experiment in producing H2 by photosynthesis. They say that they are producing close to the theoretical maximum of 12 moles H2 for every mole of sugar processed. Unfortunately, the article doesn't give us relevant info like time and area required, but we'll go with what we have.

A mole of sugar weighs approximately .4 lbs and a mole of H2 weighs approximately .004 lbs, so we have a 8:1 relationship. So 8 kilos of sugar will be converted to 1 kilo of H2.

The energy value of a kilo of H2 is about 33.3kWh, and a fuel cell will utilize about 60% of that, or 20kWh. 20 kWatts is equivalent to approximately 27 horsepower, so assuming a car runs with 150 horsepower, the energy from 100 kilos of sugar will run the average car for about 10 minutes. 8 kilos of sugar is about 18 pounds for those of us who hate the metric system.

That's a lot of sugar.

In his second reference, the process uses specially designed membranes to catalyze the splitting of water into H2 and O2. reading the patent claim, I discovered that the process takes place at around 1000 degrees centigrade, or 1832 degrees F. That's going to take some significant energy to maintain. While it may make it less inefficient to liberate the hydrogen, it still doesn't get us past the laws of thermodynamics.

No matter how many clever ways we try to get around it, you can't get out more than you put in. But what fuel cells and hydrogen technology might do for us is lower the back end costs, pollution, environmental damage, etc to the point where the additional front end costs are compensated for. Looked at from that perspective, every little bit helps.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Just when he thought it couldn’t get worse…

Russia is now giving signals that they won't block a second resolution authorizing force.
Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian Parliament's upper house, defended the need to give weapons inspectors more time, a position France and Germany hold, but he said he doubts the Russian ambassador to the United Nations would cast Russia's veto power in the Security Council.


Also, Blix has flipped again to saying that Iraq is not complying fully with the inspections.
Blix said Saddam hadn't made a "fundamental decision to disarm," though Iraq had made greater efforts to release more documents and data about its weapons program to inspectors.

"I do not think I can say there is evidence of a fundamental decision (to disarm), but there is some evidence of some increased activity," said Blix, who is preparing another Security Council report this week. "There is certainly more activity now."

"Full cooperation or a breakthrough? No. I don't think you can say that," he told reporters. "We have a very long list of disarmament issues and it will require a big effort in order to clarify all of those."


This guy changes direction faster than a weathervane in a tornado. Just yesterday, he was quoted as saying the Iraqis were showing signs of increased co-operation.

Momentum for military intervention is mounting, as the uncommitted voters on the UNSC begin to swing behind the US. Mexico's Vincente fox indicated that his country is leaning away from inspection and supporting the US position, a marked change from just a few days ago.

What does this do to SoDamn Insane? Put it this way; if he were a turnip, he'd be bleeding.

Posted by Rich
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Computers in DNA

No sooner than I finish making fun of Michael Drosnin do I find this article in National Geographic:
Israeli scientists have devised a computer that can perform 330 trillion operations per second, more than 100,000 times the speed of the fastest PC. The secret: It runs on DNA.


Now, how's a guy supposed to make fun of wild speculations when these darn scientists keep going out and turning up proof in support of them?

It's just not fair....

Posted by Rich
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Saudis are on board…

The news keeps getting worse for SoDamn Insane. The Saudis have agreed to allow the US to use the Prince Sultan Air Base as an air command center, as well as a base for certain unidentified US aircraft.
.”
In addition to the use of the air command and control center at Prince Sultan, 70 miles southeast of Riyadh, the Saudi capital, the agreements will allow the United States to fly refueling aircraft, AWACS surveillance planes and JSTARS battlefield radar aircraft from Saudi airfields, the sources said. The United States also will be permitted to use Saudi airfields to base fighter jets that undertake interception missions against Iraqi aircraft and that enforce the “no-fly” zone over southern Iraq.
A source said there also is a tacit agreement that will allow the United States to conduct bombing missions from Saudi Arabia in the days after an initial wave of U.S. air attacks as long as no public announcement was made.


SoDamn is toast, and sooner, rather than later.

Posted by Rich
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Whats a few miles between friends?

One of the anti war movements favorite defenses for Husseins latest violation of the cease fire terms is that the al Samoud 2 rocket only exceeds the limit by a few miles. It isn't really a threat to the US or our allies, so it isn't worth going to war over.

So much for that theory:

THE missile at the centre of the looming showdown between Iraq and the United Nations may be part of an ambitious secret project to develop a much longer-range missile that could hit Tehran or Tel Aviv, UN and independent missile experts believe.
The specifications of the al-Samoud 2 missile appear to have been designed so that it could be fitted with a second engine, making it a much more potent threat than previously realised, the experts have told The Times.


The article goes on to say that not only does the missile exceed the maximum range allowed by the UN, it is also wider than allowed, and uses a rocket engine specifically forbidden by the UN. The wider body would allow the missile to carry two engines, dramatically increasing its range and payload.

Now I uderstand why Blix has been uncharacteristically firm on the matter of the al-Samoud 2 rockets. It isn't just the few extra miles; it's the few extra millimeters, and what they mean.

Posted by Rich
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This is blogging

The next time somebody asks you what a blog is, print out this from Possum blog and give it to them.
First, the word "blog" itself is an abbreviated compound word, derived from the combination of "barouche," a four-wheeled cart with a folding top over the rear seat, "loach," a carplike freshwater fish, and "soubrette," a minor female part in a comedy, or any flirtatious girl in general. (Do note that they make "blob," not "blog." The "g" was inadvertently inverted by mistake, and was allowed to remain uncorrected.)


Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The Bible Code II:  The Countdown

Michael Droskin has written a comic masterpiece, albeit unintentionally. The Bible Code II is the sequel to The Bible Code, which breathlessly tells us that there is a code hidden in the first five books of the Bible which reveals everything about the future.

For those of you who are unaware of the Bible Code, here's a quick overview. According to Eliyahu Rips, the Israeli mathematician who 'discovered' the code, information about the entire history of the world is encoded in the first five books of the Bible. The code is accessed by using the original Hebrew, removing all spaces, and treating the resulting text like a string. The text is searched for key words, using both standard searches and skip searches (every other letter, every third letter, etc.) When the key word is found, the string is broken into an array, based on the skip pattern. Then, rather like a cross word, the resulting code table is examined for relevant key word associated with the original. Rips obtained some startling results utilizing this process, results which were well beyond the realm of statistical coincidence. I don't have the math to verify his analysis, but the only paper published so far to dispute his claims is seriously flawed, only demonstrating that it is possible to fake the results Rips achieved in his original experiment.

However, whether the code is genuine or not, Drosnin's book is an amusing trip through the mind of a less than rational man. We start with 9/11, and finish with a proposed dig in the desert of Jordon to find artifacts left by the aliens who first seeded the earth with life.

I'm not joking.

Drosnin states over and over that he doesn't believe in God, that he is an atheist. How then does he explain the code hidden in the Bible, the Code that he claims predicts our future?

Aliens, of course.

Yep, aliens from another time or place came and crashed to earth, seeding it with DNA which eventually became man. He uses Francis Crick, the co-imager of DNA to back up this claim. Of course, Crick's claim that life must have been seeded since DNA is too complex to have evolved has taken a beating recently with the discovery of chaos and complexity theory, but Drosnin ignores that bit, and goes so far as to claim that not only is DNA the code of life it is inextricably bound up with the Bible code. He even suggests that part of the key to unlocking the code may be in our DNA.

In fact, Drosnin is so enamored of the idea that aliens came to earth that he claims to have pinpointed the area where they crashed, and hopes to find their ship buried in the desert near the Dead Sea.

With this as background, it is clear that this is a man to take seriously when he predicts the end of the world, coming to you in 2006. from his intensive studies of the Bible Code, he tells us that the final war will start after a terrorist attack in the Middle East.

I'm shocked, truly I am.

According to him, he ran around for a couple of years telling various heads of state this shocking news, and was disappointed when they didn't react with amazement at his ability to divine the future.

To add to the comedy, he claims to have found proof in the Bible that Al Gore actually won the election, and the Supreme Court Stole it from him. I guess the Encoder never checked the recounts from Florida.

Ok, enough with the jokes. This book is a piece of crap from end to end. Wjatever merit the original paper by Rips had is utterly demolished by this slapped together piece of rubbish. Unless you enjoy inadvertant comic relief, avoid it like the plague that will hit Israel in 2005.

You heard it here first.

Posted by Rich
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Horsewhipping is too good for these people…

Imagine your mom or dad has just shipped out to Iraq. Imagine that you know there's a war coming. You're not quite sure what it's about, only that some bad people want to hurt America, and your mom or dad is going out to protect all of us. You know that because your mom whispered it to you as she put you to bed, or your dad told you outside on the front porsh, when he told you that you had to be the man of the house for awhile. Either way, they kissed you gently on the forehead, and left.

Then you go to school and the next most important adult in your life, your teacher, tells you that your mommy and daddy are bad people; that they are going over to do bad things to innocent Iraqi's.

That's exactly what happened to the kids of soldiers in Maine, Texas, and Kansas, at last report. The story first broke on free republic, then was picked up by Winds of Change. Emperor Misha picked it up next, and tracked down the media source. (Large wmv file.)

I really hope that this turns out to be an urban legend legitimized by TV news, (It's happened before) but I'm afraid it's all too plausible.

It's an outrage.

Posted by Rich
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My first political cartoon…

and probably my last.
Juggler1.bmp

I'll bring the original to the bash and raffle it off for charity or something.

Posted by Rich
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I told you this was coming!

Remember this?
10 Signs you've blogged too much


  1. You insert links into an interoffice memo.

  2. The symbols on your angle bracket keys are worn out.

  3. You're banned from Google for wasting bandwidth searching for yourself.

  4. A mention of your blog by Glenn Reynolds causes you to call your family to brag, to which they respond "What's a blog?"

  5. You require antidepressant therapy when Blogger is down.

  6. You quit your job because one person leaves money in your tip jar.(That's it! I'm a professional now!)

  7. You blog a critique of your child's first play. In realtime. On a laptop you brought to the performance.

  8. You want to name your next child Infapundit.(C'mon, honey. It's perfect!)

  9. Your future ex-wife forces you to choose between her and the blog. (god, I'm going to miss her!)

  10. You write humorous lists in a blatant attempt to draw more traffic to your site. (Err...um.....)



Well, check out this site

Always two steps ahead of the curve here at Shots Across the Bow....

Posted by Rich
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Anybody STILL think inspections will work?

Blix found missiles which exceed the range allowed by the UN. He has demended that Iraq begin destruction of the al Samoud 2 missile starting tis Saturday. Hussein has indicated that he will not destroy the missiles.

So much for inspections providing containment.

Here's a hypothetical for you. Suppose we find 2 vials of small pox in a lab somewhere. Is that proof that he isn't disarming, or is it just a "technical oversight?" Do we go in then, or do we say it's still not enough to justify military intervention?

Here's the deal people. The line was drawn by the UN in the terms of the cease fire. The UN said "Here's what is acceptible, and here is what isn't." Iraq has crossed that line repeatedly. The UN now looks like Khadaffi, and his "Line of Death." Unless they are willing to enforce their resolutions, they are irrelevant. George Bush didn't make them irrelevant, neither did Saddam Hussein. They did it to themselves by acting like spineless cowards (Germany) and rank opportunists (France and Russia) in the face of utter defiance from Iraq.

Posted by Rich
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Hybrid cars…that’s the ticket!

This week's issue of the Metro Pulse has a story on hybrid cars, the ones that run on both electric and internal combustion motors. They made an attempt at explaining the technology, but they are limited to a few hundred words, where I, you lucky readers, can go on at length.

And I will.

Regular readers know that I am against the concept of hydrogen powered, or fuel cell cars, because they don't save energy at all. In fact, as I demonstrated, they actually use more energy due to transformation losses.

So, you're probably thinking that I won't like hybrid cars either.

Wrong. Hybrid cars reduce many of the inefficiencies of the IC engine, without the ancillary costs of a fuel cell. Let's look a little deeper, and you'll see what I'm talking about.

We have to start with mileage, because that's the measure of efficiency of a car. There are several factors that affect your mileage, some designed, which you can't control, and others operational, which you can. Examples of the first include gear ratios, tire sizes, and body aerodynamics, while examples of the latter include velocity, magnitude of acceleration, magnitude of deceleration, and routine maintenance. Let's look at the engineered factors first.

Body aerodynamics and gear ratios are the two biggest factors affecting your mileage. The aerodynamics determines how hard it is to push your car through the air, and the gear ratio determines how hard the motor has to work to push the car. Aerodynamically, the smoother the air flow is around your car, the less resistance, or drag is produced, and the easier it is for your car to slide through the air. Automakers spend millions on wind tunnel tests, determining which body designs provide the smoothest air flow.

Gear ratios determine how efficiently the power of the engine is converted into thrust. The selection of a gear ratio is always a compromise between torque, speed, and economy. A very economical gear ratio will have a limited top end, and minimal torque. Conversely, high torque or high speed reduces efficiency. Car makers try to achieve the optimum balnce by providing multiple gears, which can provide low end torque and high end speed, while still giving decent fuel economy.

If you've ever driven a stick shift, you know what I mean. I drive a 4 cylinder 1.6 liter Tracker with a 5 speed stick. Depending on how I choose my shift points, my mileage can vary by .75mpg. An automatic transmission has programmed shift points; the auto maker selects those points based on his target buyer. A Corvette with automatic (sacrilege, but I'm just making a point) will shift differently than a Yugo. (Boy, will it shift differently!)

Now, each gear has a performance curve associated with it, also called a power band. Basically, this curve represents how efficiently the power from the engine is converted to thrust. For each gear ratio, there is a point where maximum power is transferred to the wheels. Once you hit this peak, any additional energy input, ie standing on the throttle, produces diminishing returns. Returning to my Tracker, if I increase my average speed on the Interstate from 70 to 75mph, my mileage decreases by about .5 mpg. (Yes, I track these numbers. I am a nerd.)

Now we've seen how different factors affect our fuel economy. So what do hybrids do to help us?

Well there are a couple of things. IC engines are most efficient when you are running in the power band, and running steady state. This is why highway mileage is significantly higher than city. It isn't sitting at lights the burns the gas; it's the starting and stopping. Think about it; as you accelerate, you spend most of that time outside of the power band, at lower than optimal efficiency. If you accelerate quickly, you're even further from the optimum, resulting in even worse efficiency.

But what about braking? You're not giving the engine any gas; how is that inefficient?

One of the factors which makes operating at steady state so efficient is that the car is acting sort of like a battery, storing energy in the form of momentum. This goes back to the first of Newton's Laws of Motion, that an object in motion tends to remain in motion. Most of the energy produced by the engine during acceleration is stored in the car's momentum. Once you've reached cruising speed, the engine only has to produce enough energy to overcome friction and drag. The problem with braking is you take all that lovely stored energy, and waste it as heat. You get no benefit out of it.

Here's where the hybrid comes in. Instead of friction braking, a hybrid uses electromagnetic braking.

I can see your eyes glazing over.

It's not that complicated. Here's how it works. A while back, some smart people found out that if you passed electricity through a wire, you generated a magnetic field. Then they found out that if you wrapped the wire in a certain way, the magnetic field would rotate. Stick a chunk of iron or a magnet in the middle of this rotating field, and you've just converted electrical energy into mechanical energy, and made the worlds first motor. Pretty cool, but it gets better.

Another smart guy wondered what would happen if you went backward, and moved a wire through a magnetic field. He was shocked to find out that it generated electricity. (Sorry, it's late and I couldn't resist...)

Now here is where is gets a little confusing. Run a wire through a magnetic field, and you generate a current through the wire. But now that you have a current running through a wire, you're generating another magnetic field, only this one is opposed to the first. This magnetic field is called a Counter electro motive force, or cemf for short.

And now we're back to the electromagnetic braking. When you hit the brakes on a hybrid, you get some conventional friction braking, but you also cut in a coil surrounding a magnet on the axle. The magnet creates a field which moves around the coil, generating electricity. This electricity is stored in the hybrids battery, for whenever it is needed next. This is just too cool, because a lot of that lovely energy that used to be wasted is saved to be used again later, greatly increasing the efficiency of the car.

Now we're getting towards the end, and if you've stayed with me this far, you're almost home. (there will be a test at the bash, so please pay close attention)

OK, so we're saving energy by electromagnetic breaking. Where does this energy get used?

Well, that depends on the hybrid your talking about. All systems use the energy to supplement the IC engine when it isn't running at optimal efficiency. Some do so during acceleration, others do it at low speeds, others a combination of both. In any case, you have a double benefit; you have an assist when IC is inefficient, and you capture a large portion of energy formerly wasted in breaking.

It truly is a win-win situation.

One last point before I go to sleep. An efficient IC engine is a clean running engine. By augmenting or replacing the IC engine when it can't run at peak efficiency, the hybrid reduces emissions even more than the improvements in economy would suggest.

So, it runs better, cleaner, and cheaper. It's a little more up front, but you'll recover that and more in fuel savings over the life of the car.

My next car will be a hybrid.

Good night.

Posted by Rich
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