“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Monday, February 28, 2011

RealClearMarkets - Articles - The Rich and Their Taxes

RealClearMarkets - Articles - The Rich and Their Taxes

Evil California homeowners and their failure to repeal Proposition 13

Those evil, selfish California homeowners passed the infamous Proposition 13 (I won't link it until later because this is a riddle), thus depriving the State of the financial wherewithal to adequately fund its operations and the pension funds of the various public employee unions. That's the wailing and moaning we hear from Sacramento and, in fact, from around the Country.

Is it true? I've culled some data and made some charts to investigate (all charts can be enlarged by clicking on them). First, let's see the California budget from 1970 to present:

Can anyone guess from this when Proposition 13 was passed? Ah, but California's population has increased as we see here:

So naturally, the budget would increase. So let's look at the budget per capita:

I still challenge anyone to guess when Proposition 13 was passed. Wait, I hear you! What about inflation? Yes, this has a major effect, let's see California's budget in constant 1970 dollars:

Was Proposition 13 passed in, say, 1993? 2008? Well, for a final chart, let's see the budget per capita in 1970 dollars:

OK, time to end the riddle. Proposition 13 was passed by the voters of California in June of 1978. That year, California's per capita budget was about $371 1970 dollars. It peaked in 2008 at a bit over $690 and, even in the teeth of the recession and California's budget crisis, the most recent year stood at $538 or 45% higher than before Proposition 13 took effect.

In an earlier post I showed the outflow of funds from California to the Federal government, and certainly the cost of undocumented immigrants (or illegal aliens, depending on your political orientation) in the educational and criminal system has had a major effect. But that population is included (as much as possible) in the census data from which the per capita figures are derived.

For these reasons, I have a very hard time developing sympathy for the crocodile tears shed by the political class over the devastation wrought by Proposition 13. Full disclosure: I am a homeowner.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Burning fuel to learn to save energy

Ironically enough, I flew from Los Angeles International Airport to Dulles International outside of Washington, DC to attend the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit. The speakers include former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Department of Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu. The purpose of the Summit is to bring together developers of disruptive energy technologies, venture capitalists, regulators, and ARPA-E officials to discuss opportunities, successes, and failures. Frankly, I'm quite excited to be here.

But...anyone could be forgiven for thinking that this is a bit reminiscent of climate change conferences taking place in Bali. I wonder how many joules of stored fossil fuel energy were converted to dissipated thermal energy in the process of putting on such a conference? An estimate of that number will have to await my attendance so that I can determine the number of attendees, where they're from, what was hauled in to display, etc.

But I certainly converted a lot of fuel on the way here, and will convert more when I return to California on Thursday. I flew on an American Airlines Boeing 737-800. The flight was direct and, according to Wolfram Alpha, the distance was about (because the flight couldn't be quite direct) 2,288 miles. According to Wikipedia, in a two class layout (I flew coach, of course), this aircraft carries 162 passengers and was completely full.

On the way out of the aircraft, I asked the First Officer how much fuel had been burned on the flight, and he kindly checked his documentation and stated that the burn had been "just a bit under 20,000 pounds." I'm going to go with 20,000 since I have no firm definition of "just a bit." Using figures from Wikipedia again, the density of Jet-A fuel is 804 kilograms/meter^3 or 6.710 pounds per gallon so the flight burned 2,981 gallons of fuel. So the aircraft achieved 2,288/2,981 or 0.7675 m.p.g. But it did so while carrying 162 passengers, and so it achieved 124 passenger m.p.g. This is a slightly better figure than would be achieved in a car carrying 4 passengers at 30 m.p.g. And it did so at something like 550 m.p.h. I realize that carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere at 37,000 feet is more harmful than that emitted on the ground but this is still pretty impressive efficiency and is a testament to engine and aircraft designers.

I expect to come away from this conference with a much firmer grasp on the extent to which it is reasonable to expect such a means of transportation to be available in the future.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Field rules of evidence interpretation

Hanna's rule: If it did, then it can. Discovered teaching geology field classes.

Ryan's law: If they are, then they do. Discovered during inspection of contractors' activities.

The Hanna/Ryan tautology: If something's wrong, then something's wrong. Discovered during aviation activities.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How to get to Berkeley (other than study)

I tried, I really did. I'm going to have a transportation-intensive eight days beginning February 26. I'm flying to Washington, D.C. and returning, followed by a trip to Berkely, CA. Ironically enough, the Washington trip is for the arpa-e Energy Innovation Summit and the Berkely trip is for the American Physical Society Second Conference on the Physics of Sustainable Energy: Efficiency and Renewables.

While travelling to D.C. by any means other than airlines is out of the question, I thought that perhaps the Berkely trip might be a good opportunity to utilize something less energy intensive. My first thought was Amtrak. I was willing to leave from Anaheim and get somewhere near Berekely and fend for myself after that.

The one-way rate is extremely competitive at $53.00 but I need to depart Anaheim at 6:01pm, change to A BUS (!) in Santa Barbara at 9:45pm and arrive in Oakland at 5:55am Saturday morning. I would not envy the experience of those sitting next to me at the conference, to which I'd go directly by taxi from the bus station. Out of the question.

How about an intercity bus? Various sites claim that this is the most fuel-efficient form of transportation available (though, of course, factors such as frequency of stops, proportion of urban travel, load factor, etc. will cause individual trips to vary). So I checked Greyhound. For $51.92 I can leave Long Beach at 8:35pm and arrive in Oakland at 5:05am. This is a bit better but still leaves no time for a shower.

I did a perfunctory analysis of an arbitrarily designed merit index of different modes of transportation in a previous post and determined that, for a trip of intermdiate length such as this one, the order of preference of transportation modes would be: airline, driving my Land Rover; flying a business jet (if I had one); bus; and my Saratoga. I didn't include trains in that analysis but it hardly matters here since Amtrak will put me on a bus for the vast majority of the trip. This experience certainly bears that anlysis out.

One final option would be to switch vehicles with my partner and drive his Prius. Google Maps shows this to be a 396 mile trip taking somewhere between 6 1/2 and 8 hours (depending on traffic). I'd likely spend $56 on about 16 gallons of gas. In the Land Rover it would take about $143 to buy 38 gallons of more expensive (premium) gas. Since I'm alone though, and the airlines typically get somewhere in the range of 50 miles per gallon per occupied seat, it's a toss up for fuel with the Prius and quite a bit quicker.

Strictly in dollar terms, the Prius wins by a factor of about 9 (since I'd be purchasing tickets late). But it's symptomatic of where we stand in transportation that the two modes of transportation of which the green community is most enamored are completely out of the question and the villians of the eco-movement (airlines and owner occupied vehicles) are my realistic choices.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Too personal?

I tend to listen to the radio while I shower and get ready for the day. During the week I listen to KNX, the local outlet of CBS Radio. The format is "all news all the time," but on weekend mornings it's food news. This interests me not in the slightest. So I'll often turn to KPFK, the local Pacifica outlet. Here, I'll often find intelligent (though frequently infuriating) discussion.

Last Sunday, there was a woman being interviewed regarding meditation and mindfulness. I've not practiced meditation but she claimed that, among other things, regular practice of meditation would have a beneficial effect on ability to concentrate, to imagine, and to reduce stress. These things all sounded good but, being in the shower, I couldn't log onto a website or take notes. Thus, I remember neither the interviewee's name nor the name of her book.

Here it is the next Saturday and I wondered if her book might be available in a Kindle edition (I'm too impatient to wait for a print version - perhaps meditation could help). So I went to the Amazon site and searched for "meditation mindfulness". The first couple of pages returned didn't trigger the "ah ha" reaction so I thought I'd search for an appropriate book even it it wasn't the one the KPFK person wrote.

I found a book on the second page that had a title that sounded appropriate, "Meditation for Beginners: Techniques for Awareness, Mindfulness and Relaxation (For Beginners (Llewellyn's)). Gosh, sounds perfect, I'm a beginner!

I thought I'd check the reviews, the synopsis, and the author information and found the following:
A professional astrologer for over twenty-five years, Stephanie Jean Clement, Ph.D., is a board member of the American Federation of Astrologers and a faculty member of Kepler College and NORWAC. Her Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology has prepared her to work with clients in defining their creative potential and refining their creative process. Her published books include Charting Your Career; Dreams: Working Interactive, What Astrology Can Do for You; The Power of the Midheaven; Charting Your Spiritual Path with Astrology; Meditation for Beginners; and Mapping Your Birthchart.
Seriously? What do I make of this? There's pretty much nothing such a one could say about any subject that I could take seriously. Does this represent the reality of the supposed benefits of meditation?

Update: Based on Michael Tobis' comment and a brief review of the conclusions for the papers at the page he linked, I decided to not dismiss meditation and mindfulness out of hand. I went to the archives of KPFK (they handily archive many of their broadcasts) to find the book and author - it's Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program. It doesn't seem Kindle-friendly in that there are CD's included in the dead tree version and, according to a reviewer, some formatting issues in the Kindle version as well. I guess I'll see if I can locate the book at a Barnes and Noble or Borders. If not, I'll order from Amazon and wait out the couple of days.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The "Gadgetman Groove"

There's a very nice gentleman named Ron Hatton who sells a vehicle modification called the Gadgetman Groove. The modification consists of utilizing a Dremel tool to cut a groove in the throttle body of a fuel injected car (though the site indicates that it's possible to modify multi and tuned port injectors and carbureted sysems as well) just past the throttle plate. Hatton states that by doing so, it causes "amplification of the pressure wave" thus providing "more fuel blended with the air at the point of ignition" and "more complete combustion."

There is a collection of youtube video testimonials from satisfied customers who've had the modification done to their vehicle, with some very dramatic claims for fuel economy increases. Here is the most extreme claim I saw, where Kyle claims an increase from 12 m.p.g. to 27 m.p.g. while going 5 to 10 m.p.h. faster.

There was an internet dustup (in which I participated) regarding the Groove at an Ecomodder blog post about the Groove back in July of 2010. It was very clear to me that Ron is no crook and really believes in this "technology." However, his web site at the time (since changed) discussed having a car tested on a dynamometer at Automotive Testing Laboratories in Mesa, AZ. The results were posted at Ron's site (they're not there now) and showed a decrease in fuel economy and an increase in emissions in both the
FTP (Federal Test Procedure) and the HFET (Highway Fuel Economy Test) protocols. Ron attributed this to an inappropriate choice of vehicle and its poor mechanical condition. To the best of my knowledge, Ron was responsible for the choice of vehicle and the test protocol.

In any event, I'd more or less forgotten about the Groove, but received an email that someone had posted a comment to the thread. This turned out to be "Dave," an ex-policeman who has had the Groove installed, is quite satisfied, and posted to defend Ron against a "hatchet job." I replied that I believe that both he and Ron believe, but that none of this constitutes evidence.

But let's take a look. Kyle's 1993 GMC truck was claimed to exhibit a 125% increase in miles per gallon. So, call the initial m.p.g. "x." Then, after the modification, the m.p.g., with a 125% increase, he would be getting 2.25x miles per gallon. Inverting this fraction, that means he's using 1/2.25 or 4/9 as many gallons per mile. The conclusion is that the other 5/9 of the gallons were not burned or were burned in such a way as to not move the car. To emphasize, this is NOT the 75% of the heat from burned fuel that's wasted due to thermodynamic limitations, friction, etc., this is fuel that is supposedly NOT BURNED! How about a tangible example? Suppose that Kyle has an 18 gallon tank. Every time he filled up pre-Groove, 10 of those gallons were not burned. This is Kyle and Ron's claim!

This is about as good an example as could be hoped for of the futility of reliance on anecdotal testimonial evidence. I am reasonably sure that not only Kyle and Dave and the other youtube stars on the Groove web site, but that Ron Hatton as well are truly convinced of the efficacy of this simple modification.

And yet I am not claiming that the Groove produces no benefits, only that there's no valid evidence that it does produce them. If Ron stated that the result of multiple runs of blind testing of otherwise identical vehicles under controlled conditions showed an improvement of 5% in m.p.g. with a standard deviation of 1.5% and a confidence level greater than 95% I'd believe it and consider the modifcation for my vehicle. But I wouldn't consider spending $500 based on a series of enthusiastic youtube testimonials.