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Monday  May 19, 2008

Subject: "Toilet to Tap"


The radio talk shows are giggling about "toilet to tapwater" and recycling water, which is odd. Every city that gets its water from a river is bringing in used water, of course.

I recall when the phrase "toilet to tap" came into popular use to describe water recycling projects.

The LA DWP had been working on a project that would pump water from the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant (TWRP) to the Hansen spreading grounds. From there, reclaimed water would percolate down through the ground until it hit the water table. Five years later, it would reach the closest of the production wells for the city.

The plumbing was mostly in place, and the city was only one or two steps away from opening the valves and spreading this water. At about the same time, the Mayoral election was starting up, and there was no incumbent to run against. One of the City Councilmen found a memo that had been languishing on his desk for a few years, and started decrying "toilet to tap". A cynic would say he was trying to ride the issue into the Mayor's office.

Well, the Daily News picked up on this, followed in short order by the rest of the media, and everyone and his dog called the Water Quality office at the LADWP. I did my best to explain to those idiots our loyal customers that people have been drinking recycled water for as long as there have been septic systems and wells, that the treatment process carried out by the TWRP yields water that is cleaner than any septic system could ever achieve, and that every cup of water anyone drinks has probably been filtered through the kidneys of at least one dinosaur.

Well, the "yuck factor" proved impossible to overcome, and the multi-million-dollar project was quietly abandoned only a couple of steps away from completion.

In the 1970's at least the cleanest running stream in California was the outfalls of the Hyperion sewage treatment plant. That may or may not be true now, but it was then.

It may be true again. When I was working at Hyperion, the plant carried out only secondary treatment of sewage. The TWRP and Los Angeles-Glendale WRP carried out full tertiary treatment on the water discharged into the L.A. River.

Primary treatment involves allowing heavy stuff (like grit) to settle out of sewage, and light stuff (like oil and grease) to float to the top and be skimmed off.

Secondary treatment involves exposing the sewage to microbes which will digest any nutrients in the water, break down other chemicals, and convert the 0.6% of the sewage that is solids into bacteria or algae. At the Hyperion Treatment plant, water is pumped through aeration beds through which air (nowadays, pure oxygen) is bubbled. The sewage and oxygen feed bacteria which digest the solids in the sewage. After passing through the aeration bed, the water is pumped to a settling basin where the bacteria settle out, leaving clear water.

Tertiary treatment involves super-chlorinating the sewage to kill anything that may be living in it, and then treating with ammonia to remove the chlorine. For a while, the water leaving the TWRP and LAGWRP was arguably cleaner than the water leaving Hyperion. If Hyperion hasn't started doing tertiary treatment, that water still is.

The City of Los Angeles pulls in some 600 million gallons of water every day to meet its needs. Some 400 million gallons of water (as sewage) exit through Hyperion and other treatment plants. Sooner or later, we'll have to recycle at least some of that.

...................Karl Lembke


sewage to tapwater


Here in southern England, it is said that by the time the water in the River Thames gets to the North Sea, it has been passed through humans at least seven times, we use it, treat it, put it back in the river... ... ...

Regards and a speedy recovery from your malaise

Roger Peggram


Harry Erwin's Letter from England

Our Outside Context Problem:

My vicar is heavily involved in African missionary activities at a senior level, and reads think-tank reports on issues like global resources. Non-governmental organisations are currently seeing the following patterns:

-- More people; more demand world-wide

-- Supply even or down; prices up world-wide

-- Stagflation in the West, higher economic growth in the second world, lower economic growth in the third world.

In particular, they believe political leaders in the West are overlooking a very rapidly developing global energy crisis, driven by demand in the second world. They note that Western energy companies are getting out of oil exploration and are not investing in new energy sources.

Stories on price inflation


> <http://tinyurl.com/6ckww2>


> <http://tinyurl.com/6c6dhz>


> <http://tinyurl.com/3ubt8n>

Burma is a state where the rulers are never responsible. I've known about the junta for a long time. Please pray for their victims.


<http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/may/17/cyclonenargis.burma2> <http://tinyurl.com/6hjm44 >


article3952196.ece> <http://tinyurl.com/3maz2h>


> <http://tinyurl.com/48s6n3>

China copes. Some of my students have families in the region and are very worried.



article3949625.ece> <http://tinyurl.com/3ryffb>

Reminds me of Brown as Chancellor.


> <http://tinyurl.com/48nc2n>


Harry Erwin, PhD

"If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning." (Catherine Aird)


Subject - Educational results

"Precisely why they need so much money that no one can go to college without taking out enormous loans is never explained nor, so far as I can tell, even asked by the legislature which continues to pump money to the education system without looking at the results. "

Easy enough to explain - They keep on hearing from politicians and "public figures" that everyone needs to go to college or university. Therefore, there is no need to compete on price; in fact, there is incentive to raise pricing to keep out "the undesirables", whoever that might be to the people in charge. Given current trends, I strongly suspect that will end up to be the remaining middle class students, ones that don't have a huge sum of cash or access to scholarships or federal "grants".

Therefore, quality of education is irrelevant. The privileged few will continue to go to institutes that reinforce their beliefs, and the masses will go to institutes that are dedicated towards continuing the brainwashing that started in grade school.

Or, to state it even more cynically, why should we assume that it isn't getting the results that someone really has in mind?

John D. Ballentine III


race, intelligence and education

Sir: If you have not seen it yet, this article from The Economist may be of interest. http://www.economist.com/world/na/

"Mr Fryer eschews histrionics in favour of hard data. He is obsessed with education, which he calls “the civil-rights battleground of the 21st century”. Why do blacks lag behind whites in school? Mr Fryer is prepared to test even the most taboo proposition. Are blacks genetically predisposed to be less intelligent than whites? ...His most striking contribution to the debate so far has been to show that black students who study hard are accused of “acting white” and are ostracised by their peers. Teachers have known this for years, at least anecdotally. Mr Fryer found a way to measure it. "

Best wishes on your continued recovery.



Lack of engineers, 


My dad used to say, "Engineers like work, and salesmen like money. So they give the engineers work and the salesmen money." He had a BSE in ChemE, and an MBA from HBS. I guess he would know.

So the Japanese are losing smart kids that used to go into engineering. They are going into higher paying fields like finance. Our aerospace firms are looking at a demographic cliff: when their current engineers retire (soon) there are few coming up behind them.

Who would be an aerospace engineer? They get laid off at the drop of a multinational corporation's hat. No money, and no job stability.

Pay engineers more? Keep them on to work on future projects when the company doesn't have current projects?

Nah. Corporate executive salaries are based on stock prices, which are based on quarterly returns. You can always import the engineers you need from India, right?

You get what you pay for, more the pity.



Montessori schools.

I note you have a number of people (well, one anyway) postulating that there is wealth and class based selection for Montessori schools. I'll give you my views after dating a Montessori teacher for four years.

As is often the case, there is a little truth to the claim that only people who can afford private school can get a Montessori education, but it's not the entire picture. Here in Boulder, Colorado there are a number of private Montessori schools that do cater to people with money. However, there is also a public Montessori school (a "charter" school school-board lingo).

My friend teaches 3-5 year olds, and half of her class are disadvantaged Hispanic kids. She spends half her day teaching kids in Spanish (they also learn English, before anyone goes nuts) and half the day teaching in English for the kids who have English as a native language. Her kids (all of them) leave her classroom after 3 years able to read, write, do arithmetic, paint, draw and an assortment of other skills that the "conventional" educational system doesn't even start on until grade one.

Since I'm talking about Montessori, it's also worth noting that Maria Montessori chose not to patent/trademark/copyright (whichever is appropriate) her name and teaching style, and so it has morphed into two "main" branches. AMI (International) Montessori is Maria Montessori's baby, and requires that the teachers spend two years studying her methods and interning with a qualified teacher. AMI trained teachers can teach at any AMI school in the world. My friend goes to India and Nepal in the summer to help with materials and teaching at Montessori schools there (where owning a pencil makes a kid *rich*). These kids get the same training as the kids here in Boulder, and they are far from elite.

On there other hand, AMS Montessori is an American take-off. The teachers are mostly retread "conventional" teachers, and get 6-8 weeks of instruction before they are inflicted upon kids.

On another topic, possibly of use to tumor recovery issues, I have been reading an amazing book. It's called "The brain that changes itself" and is a summary & explanation of much of the current research being done on "brain plasticity". Amazing stuff, like training the healthy part of brains damaged by massive strokes to take over the functionality of the damaged portions. And helping "fix" autistic kids. And (of interest to me) training people in their 80s to regain the mental acuity and memory of their 50s. Since I'm in my 50s I'm hoping to try one of these programs and see if I can get my 20s back!

Here's an amazon link for anyone who's interested. You can also get it for the Kindle.

Highly recommended (by me!)




Toilet to Tap

This subject always gets me laughing about the difference between informed people and those who are not. Informed people have no problem with it because they understand how the system works. The uninformed would really panic and maybe have heart failure if they knew how many sewage treatment plants natural and industrial every drop of water that reaches the water input for the City of New Orleans has gone through on its journey down river!

Also I really wonder how much of the rain that falls on the LA basin and the two valleys is retained for use and how much is hurried to the sea by flood control districts getting rid of it as fast as they can. I also wonder about why they no longer pump ground water from the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys, they are both getting near to being active lakes again, I think the water level in the gravel pits is at about 40 feet from ground level now. Great for liquefaction in case of an earthquake

-- James Early, Long Beach, CA

I had not realized that we no longer pump local ground water.

We certainly could take more measures to retain rain water, and although I haven't done the numbers, I'd assume that it would be cheaper to keep water that's already here than to bring in water from Sacramento and the Colorado River...

And of course everyone drinks recycled water. We already treat the water, so the only cost is the energy to pump the purified water back up into the mountains so it refills the water table. I am sure we could also do some direct uses, particularly for agricultural and golf course and such use. If it flowed in the old rivers, it wouldn't cost much for golf courses to suck up the water to keep the fairways green. I admit I haven't done all the numbers, but conservation seems a cheap way to expand our water supply.


WSJ article 



Don't know what this does for the left of the Bell Curve, but it's pretty interesting for the right side. On the other hand, if entrepreneurship can be handled by the left side, there is lots of things they could do that is not getting done.

Phil Tharp


Stappers get you! Or bees you Standuch?

Hi Jerry, A Google on this phrase got your site and no other of relevance. This is the opening of a Science fiction story I read 35 - 40 years ago. I think it was in a collection by multiple authors but i can't remember: I remember it was a time travel tale with at least one language expert in it and 'stappers' was a coining from 'Gestapo'. They had also regularised the verbs. Can't remember the title or the author though - can you enlighten me please? I remember it as being of interest at the time and I'd love to read it again.


Stappers was Gestapo. Standuch was "Ausland Deutsch". The story was in a collection, and I have it somewhere but I have no idea where. It was an older anthology. Maybe one of the readers will recall. It was a time travel story, I think, and by one of the Golden Age classic writers.

See Below


Cost of Texas vs FLDS

Dr. Pournelle,

Raid, aftermath's early cost: $7.5 million Senate panel to examine expenses of largest child removal in U.S. By Corrie MacLaggan

Wasn't the Peace of Westphalia designed to gets states out of bothering with religion?

Scott Rich

It's not really my business -- California has plenty of faults -- but this did look like an act of tyranny. They do not seem to have found the anonymous tipster that starts all this. I thought there was some provision about being confronted by one's accusers? But I confess I have not studied the case.


Exploring the solar system with propellers???? BAT  CRAZY (maybe not)

Dear Jerry

Ok, reads crazy, but take a look at http://wjetech.250m.com/#propellers  (very short page), maybe a non conventional but simple idea may be practical. Give it a minute

Regards William

Regrettably, it's not going to work. Bit hard to test, of course, since we don't have access to orbital laboratories.  I leave the demonstration as an exercise for the readers.


Toilet to Tap

“I had not realized that we no longer pump local ground water.”

Actually, not true. Here in Altadena, CA (San Gabriel Valley), my local water company gets 50% of its water from local wells, the rest from MWD (Colorado River). I am within the JPL legacy clean up zone, a long term project to filter out chemical residue from the early days of the space program. Funny, I always figured my excellent dental checkups were due to the TCE from the lab.

Also, the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant is a truly fascinating place, a marvelous application of natural sources to process sewage. The majority of the water you see in the LA River in Studio City, I believe, comes from Tillman.



'When it comes to certain math- and science-related jobs, substantial numbers of women - highly qualified for the work - stay out of those careers because they would simply rather do something else.'

Once again, academic surveys serve merely to reaffirm the obvious:

_to_say_no/?page=full >

-- Roland Dobbins

Surely those women must be forced to be free! How dare they thwart the Zeitgeist?


A slight retrenchment on 'global warming'; even so, I'm surprised the NY Times reported it.

Hurricanes.html >

- Roland Dobbins

We can but hope. Either you believe in rational debate or you don't. The case against Human Caused Global Warming is getting to be overwhelming; enough so that it's getting harder for rational people to defend the thesis. The evidence keeps pouring forth, and it's not all that exotic.


Orwell wept.

article3965033.ece >

--- Roland Dobbins


The New York Times May 19, 2008 Drilling Down IPhone¹s Hold on Users Not Exclusive By ALEX MINDLIN

Nearly half of iPhone users changed carriers in order to use the device, according to a survey of 460 iPhone users by Rubicon Consulting, a technology consulting firm. The survey found that the average iPhone user was paying $19 more in phone bills than before.

³The numbers are big enough that clearly this thing is profitable for AT&T,² said Michael Mace, a principal at Rubicon. ³The big financial leverage is on the people who switch carriers. It¹s not like you have to add new cell towers for them; they¹re almost all profit. And those people are hard to come by, because you have to switch them off somebody else¹s network.²

The survey also found that 36 percent of iPhone users regularly carried another mobile phone as well, most often a BlackBerry. ³I can easily picture somebody carrying both an iPhone and a RIM device,² Mr. Mace said, referring to BlackBerry¹s maker, Research In Motion. ³Even though it sounds really geeky, to them it makes sense.²





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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kennedy has malignant brain tumor


"Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's seizure this weekend was caused by a brain tumor, his doctor said this afternoon, but it's not yet clear if he will undergo radiation treatment and chemotherapy to treat the tumor.

The tumor, on Kennedy's left parietal lobe, is known as a "malignant glioma," according to his doctors, who did not give a long-term prognosis on Kennedy's health and did not give details about the size or severity of this tumor. This type of tumor is the most common among adults, and the survival rates range from one to five years, depending on the severity of the tumor.

Kennedy, 76, was airlifted to Boston from the family compound in Cape Cod on Saturday morning after suffering a seizure, and remained at Massachusetts General Hospital all weekend. He was reportedly in good spirits and watching baseball and basketball games this weekend, which led to an optimistic outlook from his Senate office."

Thought you'd want to know.


It must be a pretty bad one, to have been undetected until he had a seizure. I don't much care for his politics, but I can sure feel sympathy for him.


Paper Money Discriminates Against the Blind, Appeals Court Says


"A divided D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled 2-to-1 that paper money discriminates against the blind in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, in American Council of the Blind v. Paulson
opinions/200805/07-5063-1117127.pdf>  . The ruling upheld a controversial <http://www.volokh.com/posts/1164777724.shtml>  trial court ruling in November 2006 that paper money discriminates because it lacks features that the blind can use to easily distinguish between different denominations, such as bumps or different sizes or shapes.

Sarah Waldeck observed that that ruling was judicial overreaching
archives/2007/11/cash_is_no_long.html>  , for two reasons. First, the Rehabilitation Act and other disabled-rights laws only guarantee the disabled meaningful access to services and transactions, not perfectly equal access, and the blind have such access, through use of credit and debit cards and other payment options and innovations, which reduce the risk that merchants will defraud unknowing blind people. Second, most of the burden of redesigning the bills (indeed, an undue burden) would fall not on the Treasury Department but on merchants, vending machine operators, and other third parties."

I keep thinking about ivory towers while reading this.


Ye flipping gods! I knew we had insane judges, but ye flipping gods.


Subject: Hauser's Law


The interactions among the myriad participants in a tax system are as impossible to unravel as are those of the molecules in a gas, and the effects of tax policies are speculative and highly contentious. Will increasing tax rates on the rich increase revenues, as Barack Obama hopes, or hold back the economy, as John McCain fears? Or both?

Mr. Hauser uncovered the means to answer these questions definitively. On this page in 1993, he stated that "No matter what the tax rates have been, in postwar America tax revenues have remained at about 19.5% of GDP." What a pity that his discovery has not been more widely disseminated.


I saw that in the paper this morning, but forget to mark it. The editorial comment assumes that in general, lower marginal tax rates increase GDP, which results in increased revenue for the government -- but not in a high percent of GDP becoming government revenue.

It's also seems to say it's very hard to reduce the government's take...


Subject: FARC Commander gives up


"After the devastating strikes on their leadership's camp just over the border in Ecuador, the FARC has been going through some tough time. Intel gained from their laptops has led investigators around Latin America to caches of money, arms, and supporters.

The information captured there, which was verified by Interpol the other day
farc-documents-theyre-real-and-theyre-fabulous/>  , continues to pay off on the world stage. It details the FARC's relations with Hugo Chavez, it led to the arrest of arms dealer Viktor Bout, and it even revealed the FARC's preference for an Obama victory in the upcoming U.S. election.

Now there's another dividend–FARC's top surviving commander "Karina" will fight no more forever. She surrendered this week after 24 years of fighting our ally."

Note again the presence of real, as opposed to War on Terror, torture in the article. Naturally, the presence of success in Columbia spurs opposition in Congress.


Some good news....


The Revolt Of The Judges


"May 20, 2008: Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has apparently believes the Constitutional Court will ban it sometime in the coming months. This amounts to toppling the Turkish government by judicial decision—so it is very big news. Why will it be banned? For supporting "Islamist policies." Turkey's secular republic is founded on Kemalist principals (named after Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's 20th century revolutionary leader). The Kemalists are deeply suspicious of "political Islam" – and with good historical reason. The Constitutional Court has the responsibility of defending "secularist principles" in Turkey. The case that may lead to banning the AKP involves the AKP's decision to allow Muslim women to wear headscarfs in Turkish colleges. "

Turkey is still trying to figure out what kind of state it wants to be.

 I am no fan of judicial activism, but Turkey is a special case. It's also not my business.

Kemal set up a secular constitution guarded by the officer corps. This timocracy has worked better than anyone would have predicted: the Army doesn't attempt to govern, it merely protects the Constitution, acting through a Constitutional Court. One would predict that this would lead to government by a military junta, as it has in just about every other similar case, but it hasn't.

Kemal had Draconian laws enforcing secularism: he forbade wearing the fez, as an example. I have been told that the penalty for wearing the fez was extremely severe.

The alternative in Turkey is straight democracy, which would very likely lead to Turkey becoming an Islamic Republic. I am not entirely certain that would be a good thing for either Turkey or the West. I could easily write a science fiction story in which Turkey goes Islamic and then goes on jihad to restore the Caliphate. I have personal reasons to admire the military prowess of Turkish soldiers.

I think when you say "Turkey is still trying to figure out what kind of state it wants to be," you assume there is a referent to the noun "Turkey"; and that's the problem. A straight democratic vote would go one way. A vote among the educated would go another. And the Constitutional Court and Officer Corps believe that in the last analysis they have the right to decide, and have sworn blood oaths to do so.


Dear Dr Pournelle,

Following on from my previous email about the removal of pig farming and pork butchers, now we have this:


Within a decade Turkey will be a fundamentalist Muslim state unless their military intervene, but any action by the military will be frowned upon by the so-called 'International Community'. The world needs a secular Turkey as envisioned by Ataturk -- what can we do to ensure it?

Best regards,



Dr Alun J. Carr
 School of Electrical, Electronic, and Mechanical Engineering
University College Dublin Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

I am not sure there is anything WE can do, other than not go ballistic when the Constitutional Court and the military change the Turkish government.


Subject: Catching Wise on Higher Education?


I found this opinion piece in my morning paper:

--- clip --->

College: A No-Brainer No Longer Rick Green May 20, 2008

Little lambs of high school, thank you for inviting me to speak on this special day, your high school graduation.

Many, if not most, of you are preparing for college.

Sadly, you have not been getting the truth. For years you have been told that "education pays." I'm not so sure of that anymore.

College just may not be such a good deal. It's quite likely what you get from college will only be a pile of debt and a vague notion of how to "think."

Today, I'm asking you to pause and think before you enter the university slaughterhouse.


Following up on his citations, I found the following links:



College Isn't Worth a Million Dollars

Go ahead - just try to find an instance in the last few years in which someone trying to make the case that going to college matters hasn't trotted out the statistic that the average college graduate earns a $1 million more over the course of a lifetime than a high school graduate does. You can find it in the rhetoric of presidential candidates bemoaning the unequal college going rates of Americans of different races and economic classes (per this speech by Hillary Clinton), foundations explaining their support for higher education, companies pitching investment and, not least, colleges and universities seeking to justify tuition increases.

It is the last in that list that particularly rankles Charles Miller. You remember Miller - he headed Education Secretary Margaret Spellings's Commission on the Future of Higher Education, and while he has been far less visible in the year and a half since the commission issued its report in September 2006, he is no less concerned about the state of higher education now than he was during the commission's deliberations. (He has also remained in close and regular contact with Spellings and with Sara Martinez Tucker, the under secretary of education who was a member of the Spellings panel.)

Miller is particularly troubled by the financial situation in higher education, especially a financial aid system that he considers to be a byzantine mess that, especially as tuitions continue to soar, is ultimately failing to fulfill its primary purpose: expanding access to a college education to those who need it most. And not only do college officials show no serious signs of trying to fix the system's flaws, he says, but Congress and others keep passing laws that just pour more money into it and even add to the complexity.<snip>


Indeed. One hopes many will catch wise.


Tokyoites least eco-minded of rich city dwellers: poll (AFP) : Yahoo! Green 


"More than four in 10 Tokyo residents -- 41.6 percent -- said they "don't want to sacrifice a convenient lifestyle to prevent global warming,""

Robert Heinlein also claimed there was scientific evidence of intelligent life in Tokyo.


One either believes in rational thought or one doesn't. The evidence on man-caused Global Warming is overwhelmingly against the hypothesis, and it's getting harder and harder to ignore. Alas, there is so much money at stake now...


Money and the blind, and... 


Now that they've established this precedent... wow, are they gonna be busy l'il bozos!

If they think *money* is unfair to the blind, can you imagine what they'll say about things like movies, television, cameras, firearms, automobiles, motorcycles, road signs, *roads*, video games, etc., etc., etc.

Perhaps they can require all movies to include the audio equivalent of "closed captioning"? Wouldn't it be great to watch a movie and have to listen to a constant verbal explanation of everything on screen, just in case a blind person might have decided to "watch" that film?

Black Robe Fever is an example of the tragedy of "orphan diseases" -- there's literally *no* research into trying to find a cure (not that I believe one is possible, but still... :)





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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ethanol and Bob Zubrin

Hi, Jerry - You're probably familiar with Bob Zubrin's reputation and credentials as a nuclear power systems engineer and Mars exploration enthusiast. As it turns out he is also an Ethanol/Methanol fuel advocate, and he makes the case for Ethanol fuels even more compellingly than do I. I had a brief email exchange with him, and he suggested this link as a good synopsis of the topic. You might want to pass this on to your readers.


I trust you are continuing to recover - you're always in my thoughts.

Best, Charlie

I heard Zubrin last night on Coast to Coast. He seems to have done a lot of math. He was also promoting the Set America Free organization, which has a confusing and very wordy web site: to much so for me to form much of an opinion about their sanity.

Zubrin last night put it much more simply: they want a law requiring that every new car sold in America be equipped as a Flexible Fuel Vehicle (FFV).  FFV vehicles can operate on gasoline, alcohol, or any mixture of the two. The benefits of this law, according to Zubrin, would be to set a new standard for world automobiles. The cost would be about $100 per vehicle, which is trivial given the trillions we are sending to the Near East for oil.

That part sounds sensible. It seems likely that if the US automobile market were closed to all but FFV then this would set a new standard for the world, and most cars sold anywhere would be FFV. This would give consumers a choice. By raising the market for alcohol, service stations would have incentives to put in alcohol dispensing pumps (there are very few now). We would start making or importing alcohol fuels, import sugar to make fuel, look for ways to convert biomass to alcohol fuels, and in general put money into places other than the Middle East.

The Market would presumably bring down the price of oil. There would be a great change for the good for the US.

Again, this makes sense in ways that our current laws do no. As I have said, I'd rather send a subsidy to Kansas or Nebraska than sell the nation to the Kuwaiti royal family. In any event, http://www.setamericafree.org/blueprint.pdf will tell you more, and it's worth discussion.


Bob Zubrin on Biofuel

publications/in-defense-of-biofuels>  "In Defense of Biofuels by Robert Zubrin

On the world markets, the cost of a barrel of oil is, at this writing, over $120.....[B]izarrely, instead of focusing their attention on the staggering cost of oil and its ruinous implications for global growth and economic wellbeing, American policymakers and energy analysts have begun to decry a different fuel-one that holds the key to ending our dependency on expensive oil purchased from countries with interests inimical to our own

Biofuels-a class of fuels of which ethanol is the most prominent and immediately promising-can play a central part in weaning the United States from oil. But in recent months, a flood of press reports, articles in scientific journals, and statements from international bureaucrats have suggested that ethanol is starving the world's poor, is a waste of government money, and is bad for the environment. These claims are simply not true; some are based on partial information, some on gross disinformation, but none of them can withstand close scrutiny....."

As usual, Zubrin is always worth reading.

Regards, Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE


Don't Take Our Word For It


"Al Qaeda's most fervent supporters acknowledge that Iraq has turned into a disaster for them. Nibras Kazimi
admit-defeat-in.html> , a
 visiting scholar at the Hudson Institute, reports on a posting at one of al Qaeda's web sites:

A prolific jihadist sympathizer has posted an 'explosive' study on one of the main jihadist websites in which he laments the dire situation that the mujaheddin find themselves in Iraq by citing the steep drop in the number of insurgent operations conducted by the various jihadist groups, most notably Al-Qaeda's 94 percent decline in operational ability over the last 12 months when only a year and half ago Al-Qaeda accounted for 60 percent of all jihadist activity!

The author, writing under the pseudonym 'Dir'a limen wehhed' ['A Shield for the Monotheist'], posted his 'Brief Study on the Consequences of the Division [Among] the [Jihadist] Groups on the Cause of Jihad in Iraq' on May 12 and it is being displayed by the administration of the Al-Ekhlaas website—one of Al-Qaeda's chief media outlets—among its more prominent recent posts. He's considered one of Al-Ekhlaas's "esteemed" writers.

The author tallies up and compares the numbers of operations claimed by each insurgent group under four categories: a year and half ago (November 2006), a year ago (May 2007), six months ago (November 2007) and now (May 2008). He demonstrated that while Al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq could claim 334 operations in Nov. 06 and 292 in May 07, their violent output dropped to 25 in Nov. 07 and 16 so far in May 08. Keep in mind that these assessments are based on Al-Qaeda's own numbers.

The author also shows that similar steep drops were exhibited by other jihadist groups.

Someone get the news to the Associated Press, quick!"

This of course makes it all the more essential that we lose as quickly as possible, lest it become impossible to hide victory.


Patri Friedman on 'seasteading'.



-- Roland Dobbins

There once was an organization called the Ocean Living Foundation. I was on its board, but it seems to have vanished -- at least I have not heard from or of them in years. We did a few designs for viable ocean colonies, and I used some of that work in stories. This was all a long time ago.

The seastead design looks interesting.


Global Warming Article


"So much for 'settled science'"


Regards, George


Education and the Separation of Generations

Dr. Pournelle,

There's a proverb that reads, "He that walks with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed." In other words, if you want to be wiser, hang around people wiser than you! However, what I have seen in my brief life is that, contrary to that basic principle, children are packed off to school where they spend the majority of their time with their peers, who are immature and largely undisciplined. Children are taught to look up to others their own age and to shun the companionship of older generations. Being with Mom or Dad is simply embarrassing, right? Separating people by generation continues through college, in which the majority of one's companions will be one's peers. This trend is also found in Sunday School, church groups, and generally any place you look in our culture (including movies which demean parents). Thus, youthful follies are encouraged and strengthened, instead of being replaced with self-discipline and personal responsibility. In short, when children and responsible adults make companions of one another, the children will tend to become responsible adults. When children are not companions of responsible adults, they will tend to grow old without growing up, which leads to a deficit of adulthood in the older generations. When such people have children, they do not have an example of responsible adulthood to pass along, and the problem grows steadily worse. Furthermore, such irresponsible parents view public education as a kind of glorified day-care which can be exploited to get the children out of the parents' way for a while. A good education "for the children" is someone else's responsibility, isn't it? Thus irresponsible parents do not want to be around their children, just as their children are taught by our culture to reject companionship with all older people, not only the irresponsible. It would spoil their fun, wouldn't it? So do generations separate.

This is something that is rather personal for me, for I was homeschooled all the way through high school. Folks used to ask my parents about the socialization I was missing, and my parents would reply, "Exactly!" It was not that I had no socialization; rather, I spent more of my time with adults than with peers. (And the time I spent with peers was the time I got into the most trouble! :) So, I grew up used to being around adults, and I thank my parents for choosing to raise me that way. It was not easy for them; they were attacked for doing it. This companionship with adults was a critical aspect of my getting a good job despite my lack of credentials. As a teenager, I helped my dad do computer work for folks; it was a side job for him (he worked at NASA) and good experience for me. Unbeknownst to me, a customer--who was a manager at NASA and knew my dad--was quite impressed with my working with my dad and offered me a job there, entirely unsolicited. So, shortly after my 19th birthday, I began working as a contractor at NASA doing computer operations work, and thus I continued to spend time with experienced folks a lot older than me. I'm in my 10th year now at NASA, doing systems administration work and thoroughly enjoying it--despite no college experience or credentials, and I know Divine Providence is behind that! My salary is lower than it would be with credentials, but I make enough, and I have no debt at all. Companionship with those older than me is something that has stayed with me. I have tried on multiple occasions to join groups of peers, but I have never been satisfied. I like hanging around people wiser than myself; there's something good missing when true adults aren't present. I don't mean to say I exclusively spend time with folks older than myself; I like being with entire families, young and old. Yet, simply being with groups of peers is bland somehow.

I reckon the point is that the elder generations, as a whole, have a great deal to offer the younger, but more and more in this nation the younger generations are being stolen from the elder, and the elder generations are being stolen from the younger. What comes of that cannot be good. Indeed, the Old Testament ends on that note!

"And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."



"Poisoning the Wells"

Mr. Pournelle,

Another way of messing up development work is to demand that some people be completely honest and impersonal in his/her development/research/selection process and then accuse him/her of all sorts of bad things when they decide something that is not what their superiors, who made that demand for honesty, want. The best example I know of today is the jumping up and down by Congress and others when the US Air Force selection people decide that the Airbus proposal for the new air tanker design was better than the Boeing proposal and gave it to Airbus. I am sure that the people doing this selection knew what a tornado they were going to stick their heads into when they did this, but I am sure that they decided that they had to be honest and above-board and "let the chips fall where they may". However, this "scandal" (kind of an "anti-scandal" really, since everyone is complaining that the selection people were "too honest"!!!), if it results in the reversing of the selection, is going to make a mess of the military procurement, development, and logistics systems, which is bad enough as it is (every Congressman wants his district/state to get a piece of the money pie and this causes all sorts of distortions in these systems already).

The BRAC (military base closing) system set up by Congress was designed especially to keep Congress "out of the loop", as shutting down bases can really hurt a Congressional District or even an entire state. It tried to do a kind of "double-blind" system that required a majority of everybody to agree to override any given decision of the BRAC board, rather than having them have to OK each such a decision (it is easier to do nothing to get a result when it is going to hurt, than have somebody later point a finger at you and say "you did it on purpose"). To change anything, they first had to throw the whole BRAC decision package out, this being something nobody wanted to do.

It seems that all large Government procurement decisions really have to be set up on that BRAC model ("Please stop me before I earmark again!" addiction counter).


On other end, seeing what is going to happen with the new carbon-based materials being discovered will be interesting on how this interacts with "carbon dioxide culture" that has recently sprung up. Every time the researchers look into carbon and the materials that can be made from it, they find a new thing about it that knocks them for a loop. For example, they recently discovered that the new material "graphene", made of a single-atom-thick hex grid of carbon atoms in a sheet (the thinnest form of graphite, expanded sideways in all directions into much larger sheets), is not only super-strong (it is also what makes up bucky balls and carbon nanotubes when curled up into various shapes, rather than remaining laid out flat, as in graphite), it also does something very weird to the electrons passing through it: They lose almost all of their effective rest mass (!!!), acting as negatively-charged neutrinos moving through the sheet at 1/300 the speed of light, which makes the graphene the most highly conductive (and having the fastest conductors) of any non-superconductor, and this is at room temperature. This has a side-effect that even at that relatively slow speed (much faster than in copper or other conductor, though), because of the effective loss of rest mass, you have to include the effects of Einstein Relativity (use the full equations of "Quantum Electrodynamics" when calculating these things). As a result of these almost massless electrons, electron "tunneling" effects change to a much greater percentage going through at a given time -- that is, potential barriers that stop most electrons, with only a few tunneling at a given time out of all that are backed up at the barrier, reducing the current flow, now let almost all of these quasi-neutrino-mass electrons through (it is easier for cotton balls to fly over a barrier than anvils, for a given force pushing them). And there are possibly even more unusual effects not yet discovered (what happens when you cool this stuff down to super-conducting temperatures, for example?).

These newly-discovered effects are going to blow the roof off of electronics when they get up to speed. And these are on top of the super-strong mechanical effects of these materials. How much carbon would be pulled out of the atmosphere when you replace all the copper and aluminum and silicon and gallium arsenide and steel and ... being used today by all of this carbon-based stuff? Could we actually have a SHORTAGE of carbon?? Now wouldn't THAT be a kick in the head!!!? It would certainly knock the slats out from under the current arguments about "global warming", no matter who is right about it!! Let the games begin!!

Nathan Okun

Well, if we need carbon there are plenty of places to find it. I doubt there will be a shortage. Energy, however....


And Bill Haynes (Col. USAF, Ret) says

Hello: The following (from Walter Williams) came from here:

Most of the great problems we face are caused by politicians creating solutions to problems they created in the first place. Politicians and a large percentage of the public lose sight of the unavoidable fact that for every created benefit, there's also a created cost or, as Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman put it, "There's no free lunch." While the person who receives the benefit might not pay or even be aware of the cost, but as sure as night follows day, there is a cost borne by someone. Let's look at a couple of congressionally created problems.

The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, whose provisions were strengthened during the Clinton and Bush administrations, is a federal law that mandates or intimidates lenders to offer credit throughout their entire market and discourages them from restricting their credit services to high-income markets, a practice known as redlining. The Community Reinvestment Act encouraged banks and thrifts to make so-called "no doc" and "liar" loans to customers who had no realistic ability to pay them back. A decade of monetary expansion by the Federal Reserve Bank, contributing to the housing bubble, encouraged lending institutions to take risks they otherwise would not have taken. Government actions created the subprime crisis and now government-proposed "solutions," such as foreclosure holidays, bailouts and further regulation of financial institutions, to the problems they created will create more problems.

Congress, doing the bidding of environmental extremists, created our energy supply problem. Oil and gas exploration in a tiny portion of the coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would, according to a 2002 U.S. Geological Survey's estimate, increase our proven domestic oil reserves by approximately 50 percent. The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and eastern Gulf of Mexico offshore areas have enormous reserves of oil and natural gas. These energy sources of oil have also been placed off limits by Congress. Because of onerous regulations, it has been 30-plus years since a new refinery has been built. Similar regulations also explain why the U.S. nuclear energy production is a fraction of what it might be.

Congress' solution to our energy supply problems is not to relax supply restrictions but to enact the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that mandates that oil companies increase the amount of ethanol mixed with gasoline. Anyone with an ounce of brains would have realized that diverting crops from food to fuel use would raise the prices of a host of corn-related foods, such as corn-fed meat and dairy products. Wheat and soybeans prices have also risen as a result of fewer acres being planted in favor of corn. A Purdue University study found that the ethanol program has cost consumers $15 billion in higher food costs in 2007 and it will be considerably higher in 2008. Higher food prices, as a result of the biofuels industry, have not only affected the U.S. consumer, they have had international consequences as seen in the food riots that have broken out in Egypt, Haiti, Yemen, Bangladesh and other nations.

What's the congressional response? On May 1, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, convened a hearing on rising food prices saying, "The anxiety felt over higher food prices is going to be just as widespread, and will equal or surpass, the anger and frustrations so many Americans have about higher gas prices." Congress' proposed "solutions" to the energy and food mess they've created include a windfall profits tax on oil companies, a gasoline tax holiday for the summer, increases in the food stamp program and foreign food aid. These measures will not solve the problem but will create new problems.

Americans are rightfully angry about higher energy and food prices but their anger should be directed toward the true villains -- the Congress and the White House.

My comment: The ones running the Congress now (Democrats) are a bunch of idiots, They replaced the previous bunch of idiots, the Republicans.

But they are, in both cases, exactly the people we all voted for.

What has to change is the voters, and not just for the sake of change.

We've seen what happens when enough of us get angry ... we killed the "Comprehensive immigration bill" in a few days. Too many of us are just too busy with our lives to get involved.

But we must!

I do it in my small way by sending e-mails to my friends.

But all of us have to get angry, or there will be damn little of the USA we have lived in left for our kids to inherit.

William Haynes


Possible solution to your energy problem

Here's a possible solution to my energy problem:

Subject: Starship Trooper!

Actually, I think he's got the wrong Heinlein book. It should be "Waldo."

If things had gone like they were supposed to over the past forty years, you should have been able to retire to a luxury orbital condo if you wanted to.

Tom Brosz

All true. But the Crazy Years continued....


Lost parrot tells veterinarian his address.

I think it was very clever of these folks to teach the parrot his own address:


- Roland Dobbins



 read book now




CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, May 22, 2008

This was not my intended opening piece, but apparently a number of readers believe there is a way to run your car on water, and for some reason it's not happening. My mention of Zubrin's proposal to require that in  future automobiles sold in the US must have FFV (Flexible Fuel Vehicle) conversions so that they can run on alcohol, gasoline, or a mixture of the two generated a good bit of mail that needs commenting.

The first is long, and says in essence that Zubrin is an idiot because he doesn't embrace running our cars on water. The way to do that, according to my correspondent, is to use aluminum/gallium which will disassociate the hydrogen from the water, and that will allow the cars to run on hydrogen.  I'll comment on that below. First the letters:


Subject: Zubrin -- in over his head -- 


I was listening to that [George Noory on Coast to Coast] show too -- at first, he sounded like he was making sense, talking about how the Saudis are systematically breaking our back, which is what I've been saying for some time now -- we *are* at war, and our adversaries are about the *business* of defeating us, and they're dead serious.

But then, he took a call, and he stepped *way* beyond his knowledge -- but, he kept on talking. Not only that, but he *had* to "sound authoritative*, argh!

The question pertained to the truly disruptive gallium/aluminum technology that I mentioned to you a few months ago -- a technology which *does* make hydrogen *usable*! It creates it on demand, by cracking water *without* any exotic *or* snake-oil stuff. Storage and transportation are NOT issues. This technology can break the *Saudi's* backs, and it's doable *today*.

Anyway, Zubrin had never heard of it! So, instead of *saying* he'd never heard of it, he decided to maintain the "World's Foremost Authority" facade, and proceeded to lecture the caller on how it was *impossible*, it could NOT be real, it was NOT going to happen, and then launched into a meaningless and irrelevant lecture on the storage and transporation issues of elemental hydrogen.

Below is the content from two emails I sent to a friend in real time last night. Please read it, and see if *you* don't find it to be every bit the disruptive technolgy!

If you'd like, I can re-write it into something more suitable for general consumption (I don't mind if you print the whole thing as-is, but I didn't write it with that in mind, and it shows :) Or, feel free to just summarize it on your own. There is plenty of information on this, I'm surprised he hadn't heard of it. Oh, well. (The three links and snips in the second email pretty much tell the tale.)


First email:

Sheesh. He was doing so well, and then someone asked him a question that was beyond his knowledge -- so, he did what "experts" will invariably do -- he answered it anyway, and is making a fool of himself.

The problem is, the host is a bit of a dunce, so *he* can't call the guy on his idiocy.

The topic was a question from a caller, about the gallium/aluminum "magic" hydrogen generation system.

It really does let a car "burn water" -- what happens, is that when the water contacts the gallium/aluminum, there is a chemical reaction. It's nothing very mysterious, definitely *not* woo-woo stuff.

Aluminum is a *very* reactive metal. If not for its habit of forming an oxide layer *instantly* upon exposure to air (or anything with oxygen in it), it would be like sodium. Aluminum, when it does get hot enough to burn, will burn like a sumbitch. Thermit is nothing more than aluminum powder and *rust*! Good ol' iron oxide.

When *it's* heated up enough to "catch", the burning aluminum reduces the rust back to iron (which also burns), and, in the process, liberates the oxygen (rust minus oxygen equals iron), which makes it burn even in the absence of air.

It burns *intensely* hot, courtesy of aluminum being *such* a reactive metal.

OK, the gallium -- gallium is a "room temperature liquid metal" without all the baggage carried by mercury. (You *could* do the same thing with aluminum and mercury, but then you'd have people run screaming into the night in terror, calling for the space-suit guys to "clean up the eeeevul *mercury*!" and then you'd be sued into oblivion.

Gallium is a "nice" liquid metal.

It alloys with aluminum, i.e., sort of like soldering -- it "wets" the surface (like rubbing a penny in mercury and having it "turn silver").

Now, once the aluminum is wetted with the gallium, the oxide layer is no longer an issue! So, get it *wet* (with *water*), and we suddenly see exactly *how* reactive a metal aluminum really is, once it's no longer shielded from water.

What happens is that the aluminum *does* oxidize -- but *without* forming an oxide *coating* on its surface (due to the gallium).

OK, you put aluminum into water, and the aluminum oxidizes -- so what's left? Well, what's left is what you have when you've removed the "O" from "H2O" -- namely, *hydrogen*!

There are NO storage issues (hydrogen, because it is the smallest atom possible, is just about *impossible* to store. It will leak through pretty much *everything*!)

The reason there are no storage issues, is because it's not being stored! It's produced upon demand -- by cracking water -- and thus is *very* safe.

After all the aluminum has been oxidized, what do you have? You have a pile of aluminum oxide, and, the gallium (which is not used -- it's only there to prevent the aluminum from forming the oxide layer).

You then trade in your used-up aluminum/gallium, and it goes back to the factory, where it's reduced back to metallic aluminum (probably by nothing much more complex than heating it until the oxygen is driven off).

The aluminum and gallium are *not* consumed. They are NOT "fuel"! The fuel is *water*, period!

So, there's the subject of the question. Mr. Authority had never heard of it -- so therefore, it *must* be shot down! So, he launches into a condescending, pedantic, *idiotic* explanation as to how it *can't* be real, since hydrogen can't be stored or transported.

Well, duh... that's the whole bloody POINT of the technology!


Crap like this really annoys me. Millions of people are now convinced that "aluminum/gallium/water 'fuel' is snake oil."

And it's NOT!

Why can't these people just say, "No, I haven't heard about that, but I'll look into it," instead of *pretending* that they know what they're talking about? Is it *that* necessary to "sound like he knows *everything*"???



I'll stop ranting now. <g>


*Just* as I typed that "stop ranting now" the *idiot* pops out, "but a car that runs on water, no, blah blah blah..."

Second email:

He lapsed into shameless touting of his book -- over and over (which I now question, because of his arrogance, his ignorance, and his harping on corn alcohol as The Solution -- and his insistence that there are NOT food problems, which is utter BS).

Anyway, here we go:



Aluminium is reactive enough to reduce water to hydrogen, being oxidized to aluminium oxide. However, the aluminium oxide forms a protective coat which prevents further reaction. When gallium is alloyed with aluminium, the coat does not form, thus the alloy can potentially provide a solid hydrogen source for transportation purposes, which would be more convenient than a pressurized hydrogen tank. Resmelting the resultant aluminium oxide and gallium mixture to metallic aluminium and gallium and reforming these into electrodes would constitute most of the energy input into the system, while electricity produced by a hydrogen fuel cell could constitute an energy output.




In 2007, it was discovered that an alloy of aluminium and gallium in pellet form added to water could be used to generate hydrogen. The process also creates alumina, but the expensive gallium, which prevents the formation of an oxide skin on the pellets, can be re-used. This has important potential implications for a hydrogen economy, since hydrogen can be produced on-site and does not need to be transported.


Engineers perfecting hydrogen-generating technology

 =================  http://www.physorg.com/news107446364.html

Snip [my comments at end]:

Purdue researchers demonstrate their method for producing hydrogen by adding water to an alloy of aluminum and gallium. The hydrogen could then be used to run an internal combustion engine or a fuel cell. The reaction was discovered by Jerry Woodall, center, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering.


The technology produces hydrogen by adding water to an alloy of aluminum and gallium. When water is added to the alloy, the aluminum splits water by attracting oxygen, liberating hydrogen in the process.


The gallium is a critical component because it hinders the formation of an aluminum oxide skin normally created on aluminum's surface after bonding with oxygen, a process called oxidation. This skin usually acts as a barrier and prevents oxygen from reacting with aluminum. Reducing the skin's protective properties allows the reaction to continue until all of the aluminum is used to generate hydrogen, said Jerry Woodall, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue who invented the process.


Because the technology could be used to generate hydrogen on demand, the method makes it unnecessary to store or transport hydrogen - two major obstacles in creating a hydrogen economy, Woodall said.

The gallium component is inert, which means it can be recovered and reused.


As the alloy reacts with water, the aluminum turns into aluminum oxide, also called alumina, which can be recycled back into aluminum. The recycled aluminum would be less expensive than mining the metal, making the technology more competitive with other forms of energy production, Woodall said.


"Particles made with this 80-20 alloy have good stability in dry air and react rapidly with water to form hydrogen," Woodall said. "This alloy is under intense investigation, and, in our opinion, it can be developed into a commercially viable material for splitting water."

The technology has numerous potential applications. Because the method makes it possible to use hydrogen instead of gasoline to run internal combustion engines, it could be used for cars and trucks. Combusting hydrogen in an engine or using hydrogen to drive a fuel cell produces only water as waste.

"It's a simple matter to convert ordinary internal combustion engines to run on hydrogen. All you have to do is replace the gasoline fuel injector with a hydrogen injector," Woodall said.

= = = =

There is MUCH more info in that article -- this is really amazing stuff, truly incredible, a classic "disruptive technology" that can give the Arabs a good swift kick to the robes.

But, Mister Expert never heard of it -- so, instead of *admitting* his ignorance, he had to launch into a LONG diatribe, insulting the caller (who *did* know about it), and insisting that it's impossible.

The thing is, this invention has received a *lot* of publicity -- it's no secret, and anyone who claims to be THE Authority on fuels and "fuel alternatives" (or "alternative fuels") who does NOT know about this, is really... well, he's not doing very well in his field.

[end of second email]

 The key sentence in all that above is

"Particles made with this 80-20 alloy [of aluminum and gallium] have good stability in dry air and react rapidly with water to form hydrogen," Woodall said. "This alloy is under intense investigation, and, in our opinion, it can be developed into a commercially viable material for splitting water."

What is described is a fuel cell; a storage device. What is overlooked is the details of how the science -- technology -- can be reduced to something commercially viable. That would require among other things conversion chambers, in which aluminum would be oxidized and hydrogen generated; a way to collect that hydrogen; a way to burn that hydrogen in a mobile system; a way to collect the oxidized aluminum; and a way to convert that oxidized aluminum back to aluminum "fuel catalyst" again.

None of those are trivial steps. Unlike the FFV system Zubrin and his friends advocate -- note I have neither endorsed nor condemned the notion, but I have said it is interesting and seems worth study -- there do not seem to be common demonstrations of the aluminum technology. I can well believe that.

In the 1970's I wrote rather enthusiastically of "the hydrogen economy". I understood there were no hydrogen wells, and that hydrogen was a distribution system, not a primary energy source. My enthusiasm for hydrogen took several body blows when we had to use it for a practical system, the DC/X. Hydrogen is very hard to contain, escapes undetectably, and while it has a high ISP (with LOX) for rockets, has enough other problems that I am now convinced that methane or propane will be the proper fuel for reusable rocket ships. Not hydrogen.

That could change with newer technologies but I have yet to see a good practical system for using hydrogen as a distribution medium. Now add having to do it in a car or truck: that is, the "fuel" is water and aluminum/gallium, which are to be mixed with water, the resulting energy of combustion dissipated, the hydrogen collected and then burned. This is certainly possible, but I would suppose -- and a quick survey of the Internet doesn't reveal anything to undermine my supposition -- that we are a long way from a practical device, much less a commercially viable system.

I have had my disagreements with Zubrin, some of them fairly tempestuous (given our personalities I presume that would be inevitable), over space and rockets. I think Dr. Zubrin is quick to overlook problems when he seizes on an approach to a solution to a favorite problem. I don't think he is an idiot, and I don't think he deserves the comments made about him. He is not a well to be poisoned.

I still find the FFV requirement an interesting approach to lowering our dependence on imported energy. I have already pointed out that I haven't done any extensive analysis of it.

Meanwhile, I find on the Internet a number of sites that will sell you the secret of running your car on water. Google will find you many, including http://www.water-fuel-car-exposed.com/ which will lead you to http://www.drivewithwaterfuel.com/?hop=muscleblog . My personal advice is that you not be the first person on your block to try this. Note I didn't say it will never work; but I really would like to see someone else use it for a couple of months before I converted my car to run on water.

Zubrin and his colleagues have a number of other proposals including defending subsidies that I don't find terribly interesting. I will agree that I'd rather a subsidy went to Nebraska (or to an American owned oil company drilling in the Gulf of Mexico) than to the Middle East, but that's a principle, not approving a particular practice.

It is pretty clear to me that if things go as they have the Kuwaiti and Saudi royal families will own America in fee simple within your lifetime if not mine. We can't continue to transfer a trillion a year out of the US into Sovereign Investment Funds without consequences. I am not sure that condemning people like Zubrin as idiots is the best way to cope with that all too real problem. I am also fairly sure that whatever we do will not repeal the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The US is in real trouble, and the situation does not get better. The one certain thing is that we need more domestic sources of energy. The second certain thing is that we are politically unable to do the obvious things we must do.

The FFV action seems doable, and my cursory look says it would do more good than harm. I welcome arguments against it, but I am not certain that Zubrin's lack of enthusiasm for converting your car to run on water and aluminum/gallium pellets is entirely compelling as a reason to reject FFV.


An Observation on Education: well worth your time

One Hour in High School

My 13-year old daughter (who is homeschooled) and I went to high school today. While we were there to listen to a presentation on plants, given by a senior we know well, we walked away with an eye-opening education about one high school.

The school is in an area with a mix of students, but judging by the Beemers, jeeps and other upscale cars in the student lot, many of the kids are well off. The high school is actually much like the one I attended in what now seems like the dark ages.

We waited in the office before attending the presentation. Since privacy is a concept of the past, we were privy to a lament from a student waiting to see the principal. She had a car and had gone out to lunch. Apparently she had taken someone to an unauthorized lunch this day. It was unclear what had precipitated her trip to the office, but she was in fear of losing her “privileges” for next year.

While trying to ignore the drama (which ended with another student telling the first: If you need me, just text me!) in walked a man who would have been more at home in a side show on a New Jersey boardwalk. One arm was completely tattooed. The other arm had one large tattoo (maybe this arm was in progress?). He had an earring in his right ear. He wore blue sweatpants which were rolled at the waist and a t-shirt. A student? No. A teacher. And, I later found out, an English teacher!

The student’s presentation was like a mini-masters degree oral. The student had worked on a year-long science project and was to present his findings. The student had created a book of 27 plants which he had collected, pressed and researched. Along with the pressed plant and information, he had a topographical map showing where the plant had been found. He also identified the kind of habitat the plant would thrive in.

There wasn’t one positive comment made on this student’s project and the questions from the teachers were asinine. One asked: Did you learn anything new doing this project? The other said: Could you describe the learning curve you attained after the project? Good grief!

The final comment from one of the teachers was: I just looked over your diary and it doesn’t document that you spent 150 hours on this project. In order to justify to the state that we could grant you credit, you need to document that you spent 150 hours on this. It took all my will power not to burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all.

The student had just spent 30 minutes talking about how he had made his own press. How he had failed in pressing the first two specimens, but eventually found a method which worked. (The one teacher said: Well, didn’t you research how to press flowers by using alum, sand and newspaper?)

The student relayed how he had consulted a woman his mom knew who had done a lot of flower pressing. (The question from the teacher: Did she do this flower pressing for a publication, or a commercial venture?)

The student talked about how it took him two hours to glue down one of the ferns because painting the glue on the fern had to be done just right so as not to bleed through the leaves. (The teacher question: Is the glue of archival quality? How about the paper, did you get archival paper? Did you cut your own paper in 12x12 sheets or did you buy it? Why aren’t the specimens sealed into the plastic cover?)

At the end of the presentation, the student thanked us for coming. We had enjoyed the talk and had been anxious to see the results of his work. This young man had spent many hours during our bird banding sessions hunting for plants and telling those of us at the banding table about what he had found.

My daughter wanted to give her friend a hug. However, on the way out of the presentation, she heard someone who looked like an adult tell two students that no hugging was allowed in school! So, she decided to withhold her hug so as not to embarrass her friend, and so as not to get both of them in trouble.

We got in the car and my daughter said: Well, there seemed to be two kinds of teachers. The first she identified as teachers who wanted to be like the kids. The second set of teachers were identified as older and mean. And, I have to say, the one teacher who was present and was called “Doc” really was a sourpuss. What an unpleasant individual! But hey, he had an advanced degree!

Needless to say, my daughter is in no hurry to attend any kind of high school and would prefer to continue to homeschool. I have to say, it was hard enough for me, as an adult, not to laugh at these self-absorbed teachers. It’s no wonder students find school such a joke.

Ironically, the student who gave the presentation has managed to (as he says) stay below everyone’s radar screen and keep his priorities straight. His last comments to us: I could care less if I get any credit on this project. I set out to learn about plants and to make a book and that’s what I did.

I have promised to help him put his “hours” together on paper which seems to be the biggest worry for his teachers.


I can't think of anything to add to this.

 Stappers Get you:

Chuck Rothman tells me, It's from "Barrier," by Anthony Boucher.



Another "Ether Propeller" 

DR, Pournelle

This is an article from 2006 and discusses Mach-Lorentz thrusters, which create thrust with no propellant. This seems to be a more realistic proposition than the space propeller linked to on your site on Monday.


More here:


I am a biology major and as such am unqualified to comment on the likelihood of this having any merit. OTOH I'm an east Asian studies minor, which, being a liberal art, gives me license to confidently spout off ill-informed, half cocked pronouncements about anything! :)

To wit...If this is not just Dean Drive 7.0, then the thrust is unlikely to be great. However, if constant it might be a good cruise engine in conjunction with a high thrust system like a Nuclear Thermal Rocket....like an ion drive but without the associated propellant tanks.

Any thoughts?

I sincerely hope your recovery continues and is swift.

Best Wishes,
Ken Talton

If you could get any thrust at all from a reactionless drive, it would be incredibly useful.

Mach's principle implies some connection between all matter; there are those who infer that this can be used as a theoretical basis for a reactionless drive. I suspect that sentence makes no sense to a real physicist, and it expresses the limits of my knowledge in any event. It's true enough that I once tried to buy the Dean Drive for Boeing, but I never got sufficient demonstration that it worked. It is my understanding that 3M also tried to buy it at about the same time and with the same result. At the time I understood that most physicists were certain it could not possibly work -- but no one would say it was impossible, only that they didn't believe it.

As I have repeatedly said -- quoting what Bob Forward said at a meeting I chaired that included the late G. Harry Stine who actually saw the Dean Device, and several theoreticians who thought they saw a way to make a reactionless drive work using what is usually called "Davis Mechanics" -- "What is needed is not theory, but data. A working data point is worth pages of theory."

I would love to see a working reactionless drive demonstration. It need not have much thrust. Certainly it need not lift itself. The test would be to put it in a swing, turn it on, and if the result now hangs off vertical when the power is on, and reverts to vertical when the power is off, we have something. It would need some proof of isolation -- a model airplane with propeller would do that -- but it would get serious attention.

Until there is a working model or some repeatable data point, I will leave reactionless drives to theoreticians; and I am not qualified to comment on the theory.

Sure would like to see a practical device, but I doubt I will live to see that. Alas.


A LA DWP engineer comments:

We no longer pump local ground water?

"I also wonder about why they no longer pump ground water from the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys, they are both getting near to being active lakes again, I think the water level in the gravel pits is at about 40 feet from ground level now. Great for liquefaction in case of an earthquake

-- James Early, Long Beach, CA"

"I had not realized that we no longer pump local ground water."

Neither had I. In fact, for as long as I've been with the Department, the Water Quality section has been sampling water as it comes out of wells in the San Fernando Valley, and before it enters the system. I guess I've been the victim of an elaborate hoax.....

...........Karl Lembke

Which is what I would have said but I wasn't certain.


Running your car on water

I'm not an engineer, so I won't comment on the practical difficulties of implementing mobile hydrogen generators for vehicles. However, one aspect of hydrogen generation that your correspondent casually brushes aside is in fact critical:

> You then trade in your used-up aluminum/gallium, and it goes back to the > factory, where it's reduced back to metallic aluminum (probably by nothing > much more complex than heating it until the oxygen is driven off).

Alas, it's not quite that simple. If it were, metallic aluminum would have been commonplace in antiquity. Aluminum is, after all, one of the most common elements in the earth's crust, and is present in large amounts in many common minerals. But, if you recall, Napoleon III famously served meals to his guests on golden plates while reserving the much more expensive aluminum plates for himself, and when the Washington Monument was completed in the late 19th century, it was capped with incredibly rare and expensive pure aluminum.

There's a reason for that. Like all very reactive metals, aluminum is very difficult to pry out of its compounds. You can't do it by smelting the compounds with heat. That works for copper and similarly unreactive metals, but obtaining reactive metals in metallic form requires the application of electricity (and lots of it) to a molten salt. Hall discovered that process in about 1885, and it made him a millionaire many times over.

So, far from simply applying gentle heat to the aluminum oxide, as your correspondent implies, you actually have to melt the stuff, which given that aluminum oxide is a refractory compound obviously requires a lot of energy, and then you have to use electrolysis to separate the metal, which requires lots of electricity.

The fact that gallium addresses the oxide-forming behavior of aluminum is an interesting scientific curiosity, but I don't see how it has any real benefit for storing energy. If we want to produce hydrogen from water, we could just as well use a truly reactive metal such as sodium. Sodium is also a very common element in the earth's crust, and in fact makes up half of every molecule in the sodium chloride that makes the sea salty. And you don't need gallium if you want to use sodium to produce hydrogen. Just letting sodium and water come into contact produces hydrogen, and lots of it.

But if sodium is so common, why is sodium metal so expensive? Once again, it's because of the large amounts of energy needed to pry sodium out of its compounds.

If I want to produce hydrogen, and as it happens I often do need hydrogen in my home chemistry lab, I simply drop pieces of aluminum into hydrochloric acid to produce as much hydrogen as I need. And, although hydrochloric acid is relatively cheap, as is metallic aluminum, that's still a very expensive way to store and release energy.

-- Robert Bruce Thompson


Bob Thompson's book on constructing your own home chemistry lab will be a book of the month this month. Thompson is one of the Chaos Manor Advisors.



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Friday, May 23, 2008

Postal Services Flex Fuel Vehicles Uses More Gasoline than normal vehicles.

Jerry I saw this on a blog. I think it casts doubt on the flex fuel vehicle mandate you've been talking about. I don't think the future is in flexfuel vehicles. From what I understand a gasoline and an alcohol vehicle need to be designed differently (compression rations) in order to get the most out of their respective fuels.

While our Washington-based Pooh-Bahs of Pork
_oil_company_executives/>  were witlessly pummeling oil company executives for the fact that there has been no increase in domestic oil available while international demand continues rising, Bloomberg reports that the US Postal Service has effectively demonstrated that the government’s ethanol mandates are not just a total bust, but actually counterproductive to the stated goal of less dependence on high-priced foreign oil.

May 21 (Bloomberg <http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aj.h0coJSkpw>  )—The U.S. Postal Service purchased more than 30,000 ethanol-capable trucks and minivans from 1999 to 2005, making it the biggest American buyer of alternative-fuel vehicles. Gasoline consumption jumped by more than 1.5 million gallons as a result.

…A Postal Service study found the new vehicles got as much as 29 percent fewer miles to the gallon. Mail carriers used the corn-based fuel in just 1,000 of them because there weren’t enough places to buy it.

``You’re getting fewer miles per gallon, and it’s costing us more,’’ Walt O’Tormey, the Postal Service’s Washington-based vice president of engineering, said in an interview. The agency may buy electric vehicles instead, he said.

The experience shows how the U.S. push for crop-based fuels, already contributing to the highest rate of food inflation in 17 years, may not be achieving its goal of reducing gasoline consumption…

Lost in the debate over the fuel’s contribution to food scarcity is the possibility that the ethanol policy itself isn’t working, said David Just, an associate professor of economics at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. It may stimulate demand by making gas cheaper, he said, an argument supported by at least two U.S. government studies.

The Postal Service bought the ethanol vehicles to meet alternative-fuel requirements. The vehicles’ size and ethanol’s lower energy content lowered mileage, the agency said. It takes 1.33 gallons of E85 (85 percent ethanol) and 1.03 gallons of E10 (10 percent ethanol) to travel the same distance as with one gallon of pure gasoline, the Department of Energy says.

So, because of the high-cost government mandate to produce and use ethanol to reduce our use of oil, we wind up using more gasoline than before, and at a higher cost than before, too. Why am I not surprised?

It will be pitifully interesting to see just how much it will cost us, the taxpayers, to correct the problem created by our government trying to fix a problem created by the government in the first place. I wonder how much we spent to buy all those ethanol Postal Service vehicles that were supposed to save us gas and money?

Best of luck with the recovery. I can't wait to read Inferno 2 and Mamelukes!


Thanks for the kind words.

I note

…A Postal Service study found the new vehicles got as much as 29 percent fewer miles to the gallon. Mail carriers used the corn-based fuel in just 1,000 of them because there weren’t enough places to buy it.

which is a good part of the problem.

I would not mandate purchase and use of alcohol for fuel; but requiring that all cars be FFV capable is not quite the same thing.

I would think that with oil >> $100/bbl we don't need perfect efficiency of alcohol vehicles.  This is beyond my competence in engineering; but I am quite convinced that selling the country to the Middle East is not a Good Thing.  In a few years the Sovereign Investment Funds will own the USA in fee simple. I would say that is a very bad outcome.

I have no simple answer to the problem and I am certain there is no magic bullet. I do think we have to Do Something, and burning food while refusing to import sugar is probably not the optimum policy.

I have said before that if I were proclaimed Caesar I would instantly issue a number of decrees, beginning with nuclear power plants, opening up off-shore drilling (which would remove a lot of the speculator pressure from oil prices), opening up new oil refineries near major sea ports, X projects for using  electricity in transportation systems, and prizes for technologies leading to space solar power. In my judgment FFV and alcohol are part of the solution but hardly all we need.



FFV and oil use

I am no fan of Ethanol, the high price of corn is giving me all sorts of heartburn (as a Cattle Raiser). But it seems to me that if you can go as far on 1.33 gallons of E85 as you can on 1.0 gallons of straight gasoline, that means your direct consumption rate of petroleum based fuel dropped from 1.0 gallons to 0.2 gallons using E85. And 1.03 gallons of E10 is just 0.93 gallons of gasoline used. While there needs to be a better way developed to make the Ethanol than making it from foodstuffs, it isn't a total loss in respects of reducing imported oil needs.

Wesley Howe



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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Subject: The monster and the sausages, 


The pseudonymous Spengler has come up with the most understandable overall explanation of the sub-prime mortgage mess I have yet seen:


The explanation looks right to me.



An overlooked point of Zubrin = methanol 

One point of Zubrin's proposal I believe you may have missed is that he pushes tri-fuel vehicles.

For just a little more than creating a gasoline-ethanol flex system, you can have capability to add methanol to the mix. The standard "flex-fuel" recommendations omit that.

Methanol is important because it is an output of may well understood chemical process.

In particular, the big deal is that methanol is *much* easier to produce from coal than synthetic gasoline, and as you know the US has coal in abundance.



my experiments with E85 ethanol

Hi Jerry,

I started planning for the current energy crisis several years ago and it seems that those plans are paying off today. I made sure to purchase a house close enough to my work and my son's school that I can walk to either, but it was by accident that I ended up with a FFV truck (Nissan Titan), I bought it because I needed something for light farm duty on the weekends and didn't realize it was an FFV until after I had purchased it. Having done some research, most owners report what you would expect, that you lose about a third of your mileage to E85, but I am not finding that to be the case. Because of the way I drive (mostly short start & stop trips in the city), I haven't seen any significant difference in my mileage. So, E85 is paying out in a big way for me, I get my gas for at least a dollar less per gallon than my non FFV neighbors, and I'm not supporting terrorism.

On a practical note I would think that since we are all going to feel a lot of pain over fuel prices, why not put that pain to productive use and start transitioning over to fuel sources we can obtain within our borders? Certainly, FFV vehicles get lousy mileage, but we're talking about a transition technology. As the ethanol/methanol economy gets moving, economies of scale will take over, and, engine technology will be adjusted to work with the new fuels more economically. Additionally, I like the idea that, theoretically at least, my truck uses fuel that I could make in my back yard if pressed to it.

Keep your spirits up, and sleep when you can!

Walter Killam

"I'm afraid you'll have to overlook it Fred, you knew the job was dangerous when you took it!"

Super Chicken (Henry Cabot Henhouse III)

Transition technology. Precisely. Start somewhere.

We all know that the real solution is to open up new energy sources, but that isn't likely.

In any event, we know there are many arguments against FFV. I think we may have said enough on the subject for a while. We're not going to decide this here this week.


Looking for ET's neutrino beam.


-- Roland Dobbins


Does Time Run Backward in Other Universes?

the-cosmic-origins-of-times-arrow&print=true >

-- Roland Dobbins










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Sunday,  May 25, 2008     

The Lakers are playing. I'll try to get something done tonight.




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