August 23rd, 2012

#3543: Gremlins?

Tuesday I decided that I'd take the motorcycle to my therapy appointment, so I opened the garage door and rolled it out, and the tire was flat.

The front tire.

...

Rear tire was at 24 PSI, right where I'd left it; the front tire was totally flat, so flat it didn't even register on the pressure gauge.

WHAT.

THE.

HELL.

I'm not kidding: this is insane. The bike was inside a locked garage and the tire that hasn't been giving me fits was the one that went flat while the one with the intermittent leak retained all pressure.

What the hell is going on here?

...so I'm starting to think I'm going to need a priest to exorcise the thing, and maybe get a gremlin bell, too. WTF.

#3544: Here's the beginning of the second decline.

Karl Denninger has the latest jobs report and it doesn't look good, no matter how you slice it. It doesn't do us a hell of a lot of good even if unemployment (U3) stabilizes at 8.3%. "Full" employment is when less than 5% of available workers are unemployed, and since U3 is figured against the pool of people who are looking for work (rather than the entire pool of unemployed workers) it's artificially low right now.

So as long as job growth fails to be positive, we're in pretty sore shape.

Obama, in the mean time, is measuring employment growth from the nadir it reached in his term rather than from where employment was before the recession. By doing that, he gives the appearance of having created as many jobs as (or more than) any other President in the last 70 years.

But it's like comparing apples and rutabagas.

* * *

The CAFE standard will be the death of GM.

Not much wrong with this article, but I've got a bone to pick with one bit:
But the Obama administration is now driving a Tahoe through the opening that the Bush administration created. It has upped the 35 mpg to 54.5 mpg by 2025. This is higher than the 50 mpg that the Prius currently delivers. There is no engine anywhere on the horizon that could deliver that kind of gas mileage. So American carmakers are making heroic efforts to redesign the rest of the vehicle to get to that target.
Emphasis added to point out the point of contention.

We could build a car right now that gets 55 MPG...and no one would buy it.

It's not the engine that's the problem; it's that the public does not want to make the sacrifices required to get that kind of fuel economy.

The public wants:
* roomy, comfortable cars
* zippy, sporty cars with good performance characteristics
* very safe cars with lots of standard features and options
* cars which get excellent fuel economy
...and they can pick at most any three of those. In many cases they can only pick two, depending on how much money they can afford to spend on buying a car. Hint: someone looking at a "D-class" car (Malibu, Accord, etc) for their primary family transportation is probably not going to be able to pick three.

In particular, good acceleration and high fuel economy are mutually exclusive. Look: there's a certain amount of energy in a gallon of gasoline, and the most efficient piston engine out there can turn 30% of that energy into motion. The rest is simply wasted and it is physically impossible to change this fact.

You can do a bit better by hooking a gas turbine up to a generator, and using the electricity produced by that to run an electric motor. But in practical terms you're still going to be hard-pressed to get more than 50% efficiency out of any system that can fit into the chassis of a typical car. Even 50% is a stretch, and would require some expensive technology to get to that point.

35 MPG is where conventional technology fast approaches the point of diminishing returns. In order to improve much on that, you need to start doing things which either vastly increase the cost of the car (hybrid) or vastly reduce its performance (VW Rabbit diesel ca 1979).

Or, if you're willing to give up safety--because safety means weight and complexity--you can get better performance out of a given vehicle. (Or if you're willing to give up comfort, because increasing comfort also increases weight.)

Ford of Europe--I've talked about this before--markets a version of the Focus which gets 65 MPG and goes 0-60 in about nine seconds. Most people would find this acceptable performance for most of their daily driving needs--Ford sold millions of Escorts in the US which had similar acceleration--and the fuel economy is outstanding. It runs on diesel instead of gasoline, but that's not such a huge step to make.

It cannot be brought to the US because it doesn't meet US safety standards, which are the most stringent in the world.

So you see, the problem is not just "there isn't an engine which can do what we need". We have the technology to build cars that get 60+ MPG right now.

But no one will buy them.

People didn't buy pickup trucks and SUVs because the car companies made them do it; they bought pickup trucks and SUVs because they're big, comfortable, and have reasonable performance.

And when their popularity was beginning to rise, car companies weren't charging a premium for the things. Leather upholstery in a pickup truck just sounded ridiculous. In some lines you couldn't even get carpet; you got a rubber floor mat instead.

Then people discovered that you could buy a Jeep Cherokee with a six-cylinder engine, and have all the benefits of a full-size station wagon without paying the prices car makers were asking for full-size station wagons. And get four-wheel drive to boot. Sure it didn't have the latest in suspension technology, and the interiors were a bit spartan, but people weren't buying these things to autocross; they were to take the kids to school and stop at the store for groceries on the way home--and if it snowed, you could switch it into 4x4 mode and keep going without getting stuck.

...naturally once the automakers got wind of the new trend, SUVs got ever-fancier and more plush, and the price increased dramatically. And because the trucks and SUVs used ladder frames and live axles and pushrod engines, they were cheap to manufacture and maintain, and thus there was a lot of pure profit in selling them. As I recall, a Ford Expedition cost $55,000 at retail, and cost $15,000 to manufacture. What's not to like about that?

Well, the highway fuel economy was something like 11 MPG. That's probably okay when gas is $1.15 a gallon, but when it's $4.02?

Advice Goddess blockquotes a Wall Street Journal story about this very issue. CAFE was instituted in response to the US' idiotic imposition of price controls on gasoline; if gas was going to cost less than market value there had to be some way to control how much gas people used, and CAFE was the government's best idea.

Instead of, y'know, letting gas seek its own price and then letting the people decide how much they wanted to spend each week on gasoline, because after all the people are all idiots and would much rather drive fast cars with big engines and destroy the planet.

* * *

And the government's quest to make energy prohibitively expensive continues to this day. From the 1970s onward--what is that, forty years, now? Shit.

I'm going to say it again: the only "energy crisis" we have in this country is due entirely to political forces. There's plenty of energy all over the damned place but we are not allowed access to it by our own government.

* * *

Here's a story about how the shitty economy is affecting "millennials", but I gotta say some of this sounds like whining.
Because of the economy, 17 percent have skipped a wedding, family reunion or other significant social event.

In terms of summer plans, 83 percent of Millenials say the current economic conditions have also made them curb spending: 53 percent have cut back on entertainment and non-essential social spending like nice meals, spa treatments, bars and going to the movies.

The survey said 34 percent have had to skip taking a vacation in the United States and 19 percent have had to skip taking a vacation abroad. Twenty-four percent have had to work all summer without any vacations.
That's the "whiny" part. This is the "not-whiny" part:
Thirty-eight percent of Millennials are delaying buying their own place, 32 percent are delaying getting more education or training, 31 percent are delaying starting a family, 26 percent are delaying paying off student loans or other debt and 25 percent are delaying saving for retirement.
And of course the idiots in D.C. continue to spend, spend, spend like there's no tomorrow...all the while careening madly towards the fiscal cliff.

*sigh*

* * *

Just get used to the fact that making useful things is a dirty business. Look: if you're not allowed to use lead in solder, you still have to use something. Tin has a good low melting point, so it's the obvious substitute.

You can pretty much tailor-make the melting point of an alloy of tin, bismuth, and lead simply by changing the proportions of each metal in the alloy--and sometimes adding a bit of other metals--and the metals mix fairly easily.

Melting points:
Tin: 449.5° F
Lead: 621.5° F
Bismuth: 520.6° F
Alloy, 58% bismuth, 42% tin: 281° F
See?

Generally you want solder to melt at a low enough temperature that a soldering iron can melt it, but not so low that leaving the electronic device in the sun will cause the solder to melt. We make solder out of an alloy of tin and lead, usually; 30% tin is not an uncommon proportion and this alloy melts at around 361° F. This is safely high enough that most of the time an electronic device won't get so hot that it unsolders itself.

But of course you can use pure tin to solder; you use tin solder when sweating water supply pipes together because you don't want lead coming in contact with potable water. And so if you live in a country which emplaces draconian safety regulations on businesses which use or manufacture solder, of course most of those businesses are simply going to switch to a lead-free formulation even if it costs more.

...and of course a bunch of people far away in a third-world country suffer for it.

* * *

A bunch of old technology.

"Old" in terms of Moore generations, not actual physical age.

I still have my SCSI Zip drive, but Zip drives were overtaken by CD-R. The original Zip disks were 100 MB (huge in 1996, when I got mine) and cost $20 each. By 2000 they had the 250 MB version and those were $20 while the 100 MB disks were $10. But by 2000, CD-R drives had dropped precipitously in price.

And could store 650 MB on a $1 disk.

Sure, you couldn't rewrite it, but who cares? You could store 6.5 gigabytes for the price of one 100 MB Zip disk. I was able to back up the entirety of my Zip disk library onto one CD-R, and have room left over to back up the "My Documents" folder on my old Celeron.

Eventually, of course, the price of blank CD-R disks dropped into the floorboards. Now you can routinely get a spindle of 100 blank disks for $20 or $30, depending on who's got them on sale this week.

So now here we are in 2012 and DVD+R disks--which store 4.7 GB--can be had for $20 or $30 by the spindle, too. Considering that the disks cost the same as CDs (even though the CDs store so much less than the DVDs) I think we're probably somewhere near the price floor for single-layer writable optical media.

...except for BluRay, which stores 50 GB per disk and costs about $20 per.

What we really need now is some optical storage medium that can run up to a terabyte per side and costs $5 per blank disk. Then I could back up the entirety of this system to three disks.

*sigh*

I just remember that scene from Code E where Chinami is at the school store and there's a sign in the background advertising that they now have 20 TB SD cards in stock....