Saturday, March 02, 2002

When will the blackouts start?

They will. It's just a question of when, and where.

The problem is that nowadays in the US there is very little margin in capacity - power plants and transmission lines are operating at close to rated limits. In many areas the margins are in the single digits. Under those conditions problems at single generation units or switchyards can eliminate the margins, and bad things start to happen.

Electric power utilities have load dispatchers who attempt to manage the distribution of power throughout the system. When they see margins falling they start taking various actions to accomodate. They can increase the load on "peaker" plants which burn expensive fuels but can vary their loads rapidly. They can lower the frequencies - running the system's generators just a bit more slowly and slowly damaging your appliances. They can lower the voltages - you'll know, because your CRT displays will suddenly become smaller. They can start cutting off customers in a controlled fashion. Or sometimes they lose control, and you have something like this.

Many things can cause a plant to shut down, or "trip". Here's one example. On days with especially low margin forecasts, the plant was all but closed to all but the most critical operator activity, and we'd even start shutting off lights.

Look out New York:
Current projections indicate that New York City and Long Island will not meet reliability criteria requirements beyond 2001 unless conditions improve. Both areas are transmission and voltage constrained. There are some 10,000 MW of new generation proposed for New York City and Long Island, and the future adequacy of these areas will depend upon the timely completion of these proposed projects.
Then again, I won't shed any tears if NY freezes in the dark - they had a perfectly good nuclear power plant at Shoreham. Let them burn antinukers and other watermelons instead.

There's a lot of jargon in this field - here is a glossary.

And where were you last night?

Yep, I took a night off from blogging. Never mind just what I was up to. I definitely wasn't reading about politics.

Ah, politics - where do I fall on the spectrum? I'm no extremist, so forget communism, fascism (whatever it is), anarchy, theocracy, whatever. Today's liberals are a disgrace. With few exceptions libertarians seem only to want to have intellectual circle jerks - can you name even 1 effective libertarian congressman? (no, Ron Paul doesn't count)

So by default I guess I must be a conservative.

That can't be! I have a life, and thunder rumbles when I cross church thresholds.

But conservatives have fun too, as Charles Murtaugh notes.

Just don't tell the kids...

Thursday, February 28, 2002

I must be running out of ideas

If you possess taste and class, just keep moving right along.

To the rest of you I congratulate you on your self-awareness and direct you to this rude joke - why is the camel called "the ship of the desert"?

Because they're filled with Iraqi seamen.

I'll pass

"Mindles Dreck" has expressed an opinion on modern music here. He probably wouldn't have liked this artist, either.

Other pearls of underappreciated wisdom are here and here - Monica, take heed.

Who is Gladys Kessler?

More importantly, why should you care? Because she is the federal district court judge who has ruled that the Department of Energy must release records to an environmental organization, the National Resources Defense Council.

What does the NRDC want?
"The significance of this information for us is that it is going to expose the Bush energy plan's purpose as a payback to polluters," said NRDC attorney Sharon Buccino. "The plan benefited Enron and other big energy companies while doing nothing for public health and the environment."
Gosh, I thought you were supposed to get the documents first before you reached such conclusions...

Gladys Kessler is a Clinton appointee to the federal bench who has already figured in a number of decisions which favor Democrats. And from the following you might think she respects privacy concerns:
Kessler accepted the arguments by AFL-CIO counsel Michael Trister that the publication of the documents would violate the right of "privacy" that is so frequently invoked by liberal litigators. Using Trister's language, she ordered the FEC "not to disclose or otherwise make available to the public or to any individual requester (including Congress, any member thereof or any other government agency) any portion of the investigative files in matters under review."
The context was an investigation into illegal coordination between labor unions and the Democrats in the 1996 elections. She has also favored the National Education Association (NEA), which is inseparable from the Democrats and claims to have spent nothing on political activities.

She supported the stance of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in banning health claims not specifically approved by the FDA (but don't confuse her with David Kessler, another Democrat who once headed the FDA).
Judge Kessler concludes that "No one is more qualified for the task of determining whether significant scientific agreement exists among experts, than the experienced scientists at the FDA."

She ruled that Bush's appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights could not be seated, based on a truly fanciful interpretation of the relevant law. She has permitted the govt to proceed with a lawsuit against the tobacco companies under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statutes, which is a clear violation of the original intent of the law. She has ruled against abortion protesters in a way that does not apply to other protesters.

She has dealt with govt secrecy issues before, involving the IRS, the FBI and the U.S. Forest Service. The IRS decision ruled against releasing certain generic IRS documents, thus favoring tax collectors over the rest of us. The FBI decision involved allegations of abuse in FBI crime labs, which is a nonpartisan issue. The Forestry Service decision involved protecting lynx habitat - you might recall a recent scandal about that.

The professional protesters among us might complain of a ruling against protesters at President Bush's inauguration, but the restrictions weren't exactly onerous. She also ruled against Puerto Rico in a decision involving training at Vieques.

On balance I think there are grounds for suspecting partisanship here. But on the other hand, the papers affected by the ruling don't appear to be the ones Dick Cheney is withholding.

I wonder if she'll get a shot at this case.

Evan Williams on Tech TV's Call for Help

If you use Blogger or Blogspot, you owe something to Evan Williams. He demonstrated and discussed Blogger briefly. He wasn't given much time, and somehow the issue of Blogspot downtime didn't come up... Anyway, he and host Chris Pirillo (also a blogger) briefly discussed these blogs: - Olympics news and more - Bob Frankston - I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy! - many photos

Later in the show Cat Schwartz mentioned a cooking blog, the Red Kitchen. People post recipes, and you can comment on them.

Or check out the Call for Help website for another list of interesting blogs.

But before you do that, check out the many worthy blogs I've permalinked on the left.

Wednesday, February 27, 2002


So you think this post is about segues? Relax, I'll get around to it. It's not about overhyped personal transportation devices either. If this paragraph reads kind of funny, well, that just shows what happens when you don't have segues. In particular, nothing leads into the following.

I've seen a lot about cloning lately, and I'm not sure what I think of it. I'm reflexively biased in favor of further scientific research, but I'm not fully comfortable with this in particular. Maybe someday I'll be able to articulate it in a way that reads better than this post.

Meanwhile (<- at last, a segue) it reminds me of a movie called "Creator". In it Peter O'Toole plays a professor whose wife died young. Over the years he never remarried and has kept some of her cells alive in hopes of cloning her. That's one of several subplots that include Mariel Hemingway as an egg donor, Vincent Spano as O'Toole's abused grad student, and Virginia Madsen in her prime for love interests, pathos and skin. It's sappy in places, but I don't care - I like it anyway.

Did I mention Virginia Madsen's skin? Ah yes - the woman was qualified (sigh). I'd be happy to clone her, but I'd be even happier using more traditional forms of reproduction.

But really, her skin did pose a problem for the movie because a) it was pretty much gratuitous and b) it was inconsistent with the rest of the movie, which otherwise might have been Disney fodder. I suppose there might have been enough skin for the fast-forward types, but even so the movie might have been more successful commercially without it.

Another movie like that was "Grandview USA". You don't remember it? My point exactly. You've heard of some of the cast - Jamie Lee Curtis, Patrick Swayze, John Cusack, Jennifer Jason Leigh, C. Thomas Howell (well, maybe you haven't heard of all of them). Anyway, I think it showed for two weeks in the the town where they filmed it (Pontiac, IL), but then it disappeared.

It might have been beyond help, but I had a suggestion. They could have kept Jamie Lee Curtis' top on (she flashed briefly in a bedroom scene) and left out the incongruous bondage scene. It wasn't raunchy enough to attract anybody on that basis, but it was bad enough to keep out a lot of people who might have liked the small-town family fare which made up most of the movie.

This isn't about being a prude, it's about deciding who your target market is and focusing on it. If you aim for multiple targets, make sure that they're compatible. Is that so hard to figure out? Anyway, Michael Medved has a lot to say about strange decisions in movie making in his book "Hollywood Vs. America".

Oh yeah, segues. They're a lot easier when you write something halfways linear, but I've been clicking links for a while slowly turning into a goldfish.

Also, I've read a lot of James Burke's books and Scientific American columns, which jump topics at the drop of a hat on purpose. But somehow at the end they always managed to link their way back to the beginning.

So bear with me as this post reaches a climax with clues on how to sex a lizard, which itself features a strange segue.

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Interesting stat

First off let me offer a caveat that the source of this statistic is not exactly disinterested. However, no matter what some might tell you, the truth is not determined by who speaks it. If anyone can disprove the following I'll be glad to address it later. There, is that enough distance?

Now, the quote:
...our coal burning is just a tiny fraction of all the burning of stuff done by the 6 billion people on the planet; perhaps one quarter of one percent of the total.

I hadn't really given it any thought, but somehow I would have estimated that coal burning accounted for more than just 0.25% of all burning. I'd like to know where they got the figure. They also don't say whether this is on mass, volume, carbon equivalent or other basis.

Unfortunately not all of the coal we burn generates power. Check this out.

Monday, February 25, 2002

"Where did you go? Out. What did you do? Nothing"

That's the title of a book by Robert Paul Smith, originally published in 1957. It was #6 non-fiction book for the year 1957, which incidentally was the year "Atlas Shrugged" reached #10 on the fiction list.

It was written by a 41 year old father, who contrasts his kids' times (the 50's) with his own back in the 1920's. Somehow he got by without the Internet, PCs, video games, TV, or even radio. He says he got by doing a lot of nothing, and gives countless examples. It's a brief but fascinating, dated but timeless look at boyhood.

It will be hard to find, but worth a look.


Douglas Turnbull is calling Dick Cheney a liar. Why?

What disturbs Mr. Turnbull is that Dick Cheney says the GAO is after his meeting minutes and notes, but the GAO specifically disclaims this. A GAO representative said this:
"The GAO long ago dropped its request for the minutes and notes of the vice president's meetings with people outside the government, as well as requests for any materials those individuals have given to Mr. Cheney," Gamboa wrote. "The GAO simply seeks the names of those he met in his capacity as head of the energy policy task force, when and where he met them, the subject matter of the meetings, and an explanation of the costs incurred."
Oh, now I understand. The GAO doesn't want the physical documents. It just wants the information on them. Bill Clinton couldn't have phrased it any better.

Mr. Turnbull, you owe Dick Cheney an apology.

Sunday, February 24, 2002

Communists on fascism

As threatened earlier, our sage holds forth on "fascism". First, see if you can reconcile this, this and this. Now get your brickbats ready...

In the early part of the last century Communism was intellectually respectable. Few besides Marx had explored the logical consequences, and he got it wrong. It had never been implemented, so no one could see the results. There were large Communist and socialist movements throughout Europe. Even now much of our political vocabulary, including "capitalism", can be traced to Communist theorists.

Meanwhile Italy had only been a state for a few decades. To this day Italian politics are extremely volatile. Conditions were ripe for Benito Mussolini.

Mussolini was a socialist who ran a newspaper. He was expelled from the socialists for advocating Italian entry into World War I. So he demonstrated that he was a political opportunist by starting another newspaper and opposing the socialists. Since the socialists were against the property arrangements of the time, Mussolini wound up on the side of the property holders. Does anybody think Mussolini waited to generate a doctrine before taking steps to grab political power?

You don't get to oppose Communists and socialists without being called nasty names. Once Mussolini chose "fascism" as the name of his doctrine (such as it was), the formidable Communist propaganda apparatus set about blackening it.

Things only got worse after Mussolini sided with Franco and Hitler against the Communists in the Spanish Civil War. Propaganda is expensive, so Hitler and Franco became "fascists" too. Over time the term was extended to about anyone who opposed Communists.

If siding with Fascists makes one Fascist, then we Americans are all Communists for siding with the Russians in World War II. But the propaganda was very successful - although Franco was about as Fascist as Abraham Lincoln, the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion fought against him.

Likewise Hitler led the National Socialist German Worker's Party. He was propagandizing German workers with a spiel that mixed Communist ideas with overt racism (as opposed to Communists, who killed indiscriminately). Was he a heretic Communist? Nope, just another fascist.

The point of the above is not to rehabilitate fascism. But we ought to acknowledge that the word is used indiscriminately.

This isn't just semantics. One of the definitions from above implies that if Vodkapundit's "guns" and "money" are too friendly, you have fascism. Your imagination can take over from there.

I believe it is no accident, comrade, that that definition doesn't require much stretching before you can apply it to the US. It is designed to delegitimize our polity.

Why wouldn't the monied interests try to influence the govt? Why wouldn't the govt actively solicit their input? Even the dumbest of Congressmen knows where the golden eggs come from - it is only through the competence of our capitalists that we can carry the huge weight of our govt, and that is questionable over the long term. If the capitalists are harmed, then the system collapses, and the result is worse than some silly Depression.

The govt has exactly one legitimate reason for existing, and that is to protect property rights. The people who create our wealth by husbanding large amounts of property wisely deserve a large say in our govt and owe no apologies for seeking to do so. They certainly shouldn't be lumped in with Hitler's regime for their trouble.

It makes no difference

Now Fox News is telling us that Daniel Pearl was already dead when the @!!#$s cut his throat. Who cares?

Remember the Manson family? One of the women wanted a better deal because she supposedly didn't stab the LaBiancas until after they were already dead. She was given the death penalty.

The clam plate orgy

That was the name of a book by Wilson Bryan Key. It, along with Subliminal Seduction and others, told us how we were being manipulated by subliminal images.

This guy was easily stimulated. Show him a liquor ad that said "Canada at its best" and he sees the "tits". What, you mean you didn't?

Ritz crackers? They have sex written all over them. Literally - in one of the books he shows a picture in which he has kindly highlighted them all.

There's no telling what people are willing to believe.

Paranoia pays

I looked around in the 2/26 PC Magazine issue that contains the much-criticized Dvorak column on blogging. Dvorak's Inside Track column talks about keystroke loggers and spyware. He plugged Ad-aware, an antispyware scanner, noting that it found 26 systems hidden on his PC. See to download it, if you can get through.

Then he mentioned SpyCop, which you can get from or through Anonymizer. It looks for secret keystroke-logging software and retails for about $50. I think there's a free version, and you can get it bundled with other products.

I found a number of spyware programs on my system. They're gone now. I understand that there are some caveats - some software might be disabled, especially if it is popup-ad supported like Blogger.

Channel surfing

In the background the TV is on MTV. But only because they have the SI swimsuit models strutting their stuff. It's all about the swimsuits of course...

One of the models was wearing one made of beer bottle caps. Another wore two bandaids and a cork. No, I made that up. The models seem to be spreading their legs more than they used to. But although the tops artfully disappear once in a while, they still seem to be wearing butt floss at all times.

Ah, now they're showing the suits the cover models wore going back clear to the 60's. One of them just bent over to low-five the crowd. Bad idea - only her quick reflexes kept gravity from trumping MTV's relaxed broadcast standards.

Cash in while you can, ladies, because it doesn't keep. Yesterday's E! show on Brigitte Nielsen showed that. She's still attractive, but not dazzling like she was. If you want to pick from that demographic, go with Bo Derek - she has more brains.

Is this a trick question?

Right there at the checkout at Dierbergs was a stack of People magazines for March 4. The cover story was about Andrea Yates, the woman who killed her 5 children. The headline reads "Villain or Victim?".

Required reading

Frédéric Bastiat was a great French economist from the 1800s. His writings are hard to find in print nowadays, but now Samizdata has posted a link to a multilingual Bastiat site. If nothing else, you must read this.

Political animals...

Hmm. Animal behavior is primarily instinctive, right? That sounds pretty conservative to me. I guess Mother Nature must be a conservative too, huh?

Yes, the above is pretty stupid. But it amuses me because in my experience the people who blur distinctions between man and animals are not conservatives.

Then again, some of them may be liberals.