February 8th, 2010

#1931: Steam power

Over at Hyperbolic Chamber they lament the passing of useful things, but I have to take exception to one of them: the steam engine.

"Lost for no good reason: the steam engine. For overall usage, not just the train locomotive."

The steam engine has a certain romance about it. Understand, by the time dieselization hit the railroad industry--starting in the 1940s--the steam locomotive had been in use for over a hundred years. Steam power let us build the industrialized world; it let us substitute machine power for muscle power everywhere for the first time in human history. Everywhere, not just places where we could build windmills or water wheels. Heck, I love 'em myself.

But steam power is simply too inefficient. The best steam engine we ever made barely managed double-digit efficiency; most steam locomotives averaged about eight percent. This means that even in the best case, for each BTU of fuel burned, only 1/10th of it was transformed into kinetic energy. The rest radiated away or went up the smokestack.

Steam locomotives also require a working fluid--water, which is turned to steam by the boiler--and they use a surprising amount of the stuff, such that even with careful management of the locomotive's water supply a range of 80-100 miles was typical for many locomotives.

Operating a steam engine is also highly labor-intensive. The boiler must be stoked, both before and during operation, and the harder the engine is working the more often fuel must be added. Some locomotives had power fuel feeds but a man still had to watch the quantity and adjust it accordingly. Operating a steam locomotive required the full-time attention of two men, an engineer and a fireman.

Starting a steam engine is a multi-hour process involving building a fire and heating tons of water to boiling. All the running gear had to be lubricated every time the engine stopped and oil and grease went everywhere during operation; a well-kept machine had to be steam-cleaned of all that guck after each run lest it attract dirt, which would eventually promote rust. Steam engines are extremely maintenance-intensive machines; they'll last forever if properly cared for but that "proper care" is a full-time job in and of itself.

If the team running the thing made a mistake, the boiler could explode. The most likely avenue for a boiler explosion came via the firebox: if the top of the firebox (the crownsheet) got too hot, a thin layer of steam would insulate the water from the heat of the firebox. The crownsheet would overheat and cave in under the pressure of steam in the boiler, and all that extremely hot water would flash to steam. The crew of the locomotive would be scalded to death in seconds, and the locomotive would become a steam rocket, causing a train wreck.

These are the "good reasons" we no longer use steam engines.

Railroads were in fact the last refuge of steam engines; just about everyone else went to internal combustion before the 1940s. Dieselization took a lot of romance out of railroading but you can't run a railroad on "romance"; you need to make money to keep running trains. (Particularly since the guys running the things for you expect to be paid.)

You can't argue with economics.

#1932: Watch out for polar bears.

Vox Day has a bit about the warmista movement. This is a good read.

The whole interview is here.

* * *

Why bother with this? I forget how many millions of illegals we have in the country right now, but it's not a trivial number--so many that "there's nothing we can do about it". But this woman--who was told she was a citizen and who is now being told she is not--faces deportation?

If "there's nothing we can do about" illegal immigration, why harass anyone?

This is horseshit. This woman made a good-faith effort to follow the law, yet she faces possible deportation when there are millions of Mexicans here who didn't even try to obey the law and whom are being mollycoddled.

Pournelle calls this "anarcho-tyranny": the laws are only enforced when it's easy or convenient for the government to enforce them. It's wrong; it violates the entire spirit of "equal protection under the law", which is one of the founding principles of this country.

If I were this woman, I'd make INS come get me and haul me out of the country, and I'd lawyer up and sue, sue, sue--because if they deport her but not the myriad of illegals who deliberately broke the law to come here, they are violating her civil rights.

* * *

Interesting article on the city of Toyota, Japan which is the hometown of Toyota, Inc.

I always wondered why the founder's name was Toyoda but the company was Toyota: "The company name is spelled and pronounced differently from the founding family name because Toyota is written in Japanese script with eight brush strokes, considered luckier than the 10 required for the family name."

That makes sense. The difference between "ta" and "da" in hiragana is the voicing mark, which looks like a quote mark ("). There's your extra two strokes.

* * *

Speaking of two strokes... no, that's too cheap, even for me. I'm so damn sick of Danica Patrick. Now she's in NASCAR? As far as I know she's still only won one race in her entire career. Is NASCAR going to be easier on her than IndyCar?

Do I care?

* * *

Zombietime on "eat local".


February 8, 2010: I look through the window at the hard, frozen ground, and contemplate the futility of existence. My cucumber patch still refuses to sprout. The pepper plants are dead. The beans--which were to provide the bulk of my protein--have not produced so much as a single leaf since I transplanted the shoots. I have been forced to eat the dog.* No idea when or where I'll get more meat....

He doesn't even go into the issue of climate, though; he doesn't need to:
Most of the produce which you can actually buy yourself is either grown in California, the West Coast, or in New England — precisely the areas where the “locavore” movement is popular. As a result, “eating locally” at current population levels is only even possible if you live in liberal enclaves on the coasts; the vast majority of Americans in the rest of the country couldn’t “eat locally” even if they tried.
Gee, a movement which makes coastal liberals feel like they're better than everyone else--who could have seen that coming?

No I don't have a dog...now.

* * *

Mark Steyn starts with the Gaffe-o-troid's corpse-man gaffe and goes on to even more fertile ground. If I were a woman I'd be mailing my underwear to Mark Steyn.

(...wait, would it be creepy to mail my underwear to Ann Coulter?)

Anyway, Steyn provides this critique of Obama-nomics: "Obama’s spending proposes to take the average Bush deficit for the years 2001–2008, and double it, all the way to 2020. To get out of the Bush hole, we need to dig a hole twice as deep for one-and-a-half times as long."

I am horrified by this pair of sentences: "In the spendthrift Bush days, federal spending as a proportion of GDP average 19.6 percent. Obama proposes to crank it up to 25 percent as a permanent feature of life."

Twenty-five percent? And that's just the federal government. Remember that many middle-class families end up losing half their income to taxes and fees imposed by the various levels of government.

Jeeze louise. That's nuts.

* * *

Anime playlist:

Revolutionary Girl Utena
Yume de Aetara
Martian Successor Nadesico
Excel Saga
Big O
To Aru Kagaku no Railgun
Haruhi II

"Haruhi" is alomst over--one ep left, and then I must await the movie. *sigh* But I'll watch the whole thing over again as I make DVDs of it.

Yume de Aetara is pissing me off. The female lead is a bitch: she's one of those women who won't give the male lead the time of day, yet she gets pissed off at him if he even looks at another woman. She refuses to refer to him as her boyfriend yet she acts as if he owes her total and undying fidelity.

The eps are short (10-15 min) but I don't know how much more of this nonsense I wish to deal with.

Nadesico is moving in directions I had not anticipated. The main character, Akito, is a bonehead. I like the other characters, though Yurika's blindness about Akito's feelings is annoying.

The ship's comm officer, Megumi Reinard, is based on Megumi Hayashibara.

Akito does 'way too much screaming. He also goes off half-cocked too much. The "I hate that man because I've just learned he caused the destruction of my homeland!" schtick annoys me whenever I see it, because nearly all the time it's so badly employed that it merely makes the character look unhinged rather than "complex".

Okay, the guy ended up dropping a Chulip on a martian colony. He was on the losing side of a pitched battle, and pulled something out of his ass that ended up saving the crew of his ship; he had no control over where the Chulip went after the remains of his ship collided with it. Mars fell to the aliens regardless and all the surviving colonists ended up concentrated in one spot because so few of them were left. I don't think the guy's actions made that much difference; when the aliens invaded--and totally squished the human military flat--Mars was pretty much a lost cause, anyway.

Oh well.

* * *

The forecast predicts snow tonight, and Tuesday's forcast says, "Total snow accumulation 6 to 12 inches."

As always, I'll believe it when I see it.

...the other day I went to McDonald's for a burger, and purposely drove the Jeep through a deep snowdrift. The snow was deep enough that the bottom of the body leveled off the top of the snowdrift, but the Jeep soldiered right on through. I didn't even have to engage 4WD.

It reminds me of a scene in a story I wrote. The main character is a female journalist who is trying to get an interview out of a reclusive hero, a man who single-handedly prevented a terror attack aboard an airliner. She's wiggled her way into staying in the guy's house, and takes a ride with him into town for some supplies.
The trip “into town” ended up being back to Garren—the big two-hour drive—rather than the half-hour into Marl’s Ditch. I didn’t mind; it was my first time off the farm in two weeks and I was getting low on some things the general store in Marl’s Ditch did not appear to stock.

We went in Henry’s “parts hauler”—a Ford pickup truck, rather old by the looks of it, but either carefully maintained or well-restored. Knowing Henry’s penchant for disassembling and reassembling cars, it could easily have been the latter.

Anyway, the truck purred smoothly over the goat trails they called roads around there, and once—with a wave to someone on a tractor—we cut right across a field, and Henry didn’t even switch on the four-wheel-drive.

“Why?” He asked when I pointed it out. “It hasn’t rained in a week; the ground’s dry.”

“What if you get stuck?”

“I’ll still have the four-wheel-drive if we do,” he said serenely. “You don’t use it all the time; just when you need it. We don’t need it.”

“I know you don’t use it all the time,” I said, “but I was under the impression that you did use it when you were off road, like we seem to be now.”

“No. Oh, if it was muddy, sure, but it’s not, and anyway we’re on sod. This is Bill’s fodder field; as far as I know he’s not plowed it in ten years."
My recent propensity for talking about my writing makes me think that the old brain is gearing up for doing something, writing-wise. Especially since I've found myself thinking a lot lately about stories that have been knocking around upstairs for a while.

* * *

With snow on the way I guess we'd better go get some shopping done today.

#1933: That had not occurred to me.

It's no secret that the Fungus has repeated assertions that Obama thinks he's able to persuade anyone.

It's a disease peculiar to politicians. I frequently refer to the famous quote, "If only I could have talked to Hitler! This could have been avoided!" Politicians think they can talk anyone into anything; they think that they are such masters of persuasion that even hardcore enemies will melt at the first handshake.

Obama ran on trying to increase America's reputation with the rest of the world, on trying to "undo the damage" supposedly done by George W. Bush and his cowboy antics.

The problem is, it's crap.

A good politician can indeed persuade others to see his point of view. But those others have to first agree to the same set of rules as the politician doing the talking: we disagree only on the particulars. The problem comes--as in the case of the lament of that egotistical US Senator--when the other party doesn't agree to the rules. Or, worse, when the other party holds to the rules only as long as is convenient for him.

Example: Hitler's treaty with Russia. Hitler sought--and got--that treaty solely to keep the Russians off his butt while he took Poland. He knew he couldn't take Russia before solidifying his grip on Poland; and so he used the "international peace process" to ensure Russia would not act before Hitler was ready for it.

(Hitler should not, in fact, have attacked Russia at all; but that's a discussion for another time.)

Reagan was pilloried in the US press for refusing to play the arms race the way the USSR wanted. Reagan went ahead with SDI and with missile systems "everyone" said would just piss off Russia and possibly spark a war; yet because Reagan played his own game, the USSR is no more. The traditional arms limitation process worked in the USSR's favor; Reagan's strategy did not. Reagan's opponents thought he should talk, not act; that a reasoned discussion among the right people (which Reagan was not) would lead to nuclear disarmament and world peace.

Obama is no exception to this mindset: he thinks that if he does the talking, the insane islamo-psychos will slap their heads and say, "Oh, shit! Why didn't you just say that? We had no idea you guys were so reasonable and nice!"

They won't, of course, because they know better than to listen to a person they've identified as their enemy. Obama may be more to their liking than a pro-defense Republican, but that doesn't mean they like him. They prefer Obama because it's natural to prefer that your enemy be led by a weakling, an idiot, or some combination.

Obama, of course, thinks these people are agreeing with him because he's such a smooth talker--when in fact he is playing right into their hands.

But there's an upside:

Obama wants to have a talk with Republicans. Limbaugh advises the Republicans not to participate, and I agree, because at the very least it'll give Obama too much political cover for the failure of ObamaCare. But that's not what I'm talking about.

No: Obama thinks all he has to do is talk to the Republicans and they'll uncritically support his efforts.

In fact the Obama White House consistently shows this: health care reform, Boss Tweek told us in the SOTU speech, failed only because it he didn't explain it well enough to the American people.

The White House believes their guy is the best orator in decades. They think that Obama can't lose if he can talk to his opponents.

But it's not so; it's arrogance and it's condescension.

As long as the Republicans continue to stick to their guns, Obama won't get the political cover he craves. And hopefully, Obama and his staff will continue to wonder, "Why don't they get it? Didn't we explain it the right way?" Because as long as they think that way, they're going to stumble over it, and it's going to make their aspirations more difficult to realize.

#1934: 1980s teenage love comedies

The Sure Thing is my all-time favorite movie and I know it by heart. But it's not the only movie of its genre that I like.

Here's the list, no particular order:

Can't Buy Me Love
Secret Admirer
Better Off Dead
One Crazy Summer
Hot Pursuit

It's not surprising that John Cusack stars in many of them. Before he got into his "Acting!" phase, he played likable characters anyone could relate to, and he did the sort of teenage everyman role rather well.

Cusak's "Acting!" phase is why Say Anything is not on that list. (Besides, it's not a comedy.) His desire to play "edgy" really screwed up the character of Lloyd Dobler, and it didn't work in many of his movies which followed. It was fine in Grifters but failed in Tapeheads.

But the first two movies on the list starred others. Can't Buy Me Love starred Patrick Dempsey (now a "hunky" character on Grey's Anatomy) and Amada Peterson (who dropped off the face of the planet). Seth Green played Dempsey's younger brother.

Secret Admirer starred Lori Loughlin and Kelly Preston. (C. Thomas Howell played the male lead in that movie.)

All these movies are full of some genuinely funny moments. None of them are art for the ages but they're entertaining.

Even as mindless entertainment, Secret Admirer had a flaw. The premise was that C. Thomas Howell's character, Michael, got a love letter on the last day of school, and this love letter ends up causing chaos and confusion not just amongst him and his friends but amongst his parents and their friends. Fred Ward played Lt. Fimple, the hardcore vice cop father of Kelly Preston's Deborah Anne Fimple, and the love letter ends up making him and Michael's mother think their spouses are cheating on them.

The stuff with the parents could have been excised entirely from the movie and not had any deleterious effect on the plot. Having it in the movie only interrupts the flow of the main story.

However, without that, one of my favorite moments would not be in the movie. There's a scene where Michael has taken Deb on a date; during their date, Lt. Fimple and Michael's mother try to catch Michael's father and Deb's mother cheating. On his way home Fimple sees Michael's father going the other way and runs into another car; and so as Deb kisses Michael goodnight we hear the sound of Fimple's unmarked car rattling and scraping up the street.

Fimple gets out, slams the door, and storms up the walk trying to light his cigarette and muttering curses to himself.

Michael offers, "Uh...good evening, Mr. Fimple."

Fimple grinds out, "Fuck you!" around his unlit cigarette and goes into his house.

I love it. Michael has no idea what's going on; he blinks at Fimple's explosion but kind of shrugs it off.

Lori Loughlin turns in the best performance in that movie, IMHO.

There's also a scene where Michael's best friend, Roger, is working at a burger joint to pay for repairs to his van; and after he politely gives a random customer his food, the guy screams, "Hey, thanks, zitface! Aaaah ha ha ha ha!" before peeling out. That one always gets me.

Can't Buy Me Love had an interesting message; the only thing marring that movie was the scene near the end where Ronald defends Kenneth from the jocks. The applause bit was too much; drop that and it'd be fine. Besides being hot, Amanda Peterson has a marvelous voice.

Hot Pursuit is notable for having Jerry Stiller play a bad guy. That was an interesting casting choice, but it worked well.

Favorite line: "That is democracy! I'd like my pina colada now, per favor, move it!"

Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer rely more on slapstick and caricature. They're entertaining movies but they make only a token effort at having serious moments, unlike the others. They're less "romance" and much more "comedy", but at their cores are love stories which is why I include them in this category.

...I haven't seen any of these movies for years. I ought to track down DVDs of them. I've got Can't Buy Me Love, The Sure Thing, and Better Off Dead already. Secret Admirer is the one I've really wanted to see of late.

I probably only like these movies because they were made when I was still in high school (or shortly thereafter).