Apr 222018

Here’s an interesting thing:

Back to the wild! How letting Mother Nature reclaim prime farmland and allowing cattle and ponies to run free produced breathtaking results

Short form:

If the writer is accurate, there was a 3,500 acre British farm growing barley and maize, and doing a poor job of it. Due to sitting on not very productive clay, the farm was barely breaking even. So the farm owners tried something different: “Screw this,” sez they, “let’s just let nature take its course.”

Rather than undergoing some complex and micromanaged conservation program, they just let the land alone. Neighboring farmers were displeased, thinking that this was going to result in a weedpocalypse. And early on they were indeed overrun with weeds. And then the butterflies came and the resulting caterpillars ate up the weeds. In the years since, with no effort on their part except for stocking a few species of critters like a native British breed of longhorn cattle, their land is now close to what Britain *used* to be like in the days before agriculture. Even better, the cattle that live there are well-fed, healthy and apparently damnfine producers of tasty beef; their numbers need to be culled to keep from over-populating. The place is now exploding with multiple bird species, deer, horses, wild pigs, insects.

A couple things:

1) Cool. Nature is spiffy.

2) This experiment takes a *giant* dump on some of the more important arguments made by vegans. The claim is often made that growing animals just to eat them is an inefficient way for humans to get nutrition and calories, since the vast farms that grow corn and whatnot to be turned into cow/pig/chicken feed could more easily just straight up feed humans. But here’s the thing: in this 3,500 acres, humans are apparently expending approximately *zero* effort, and the plants that are growing there are largely inedible to mankind. And yet… this dismal farmland, barely profitable with a whole lot of effort, is now cranking out foodcritters that are claimed to be healthier and tastier than  farmed beef. This is likely no great surprise to those who hunt their own venison and the like, but as far as I know wild cattle are much less often consumed.

I live in rural Utah farmland. The farms around here suck up a *lot* of water to turn this place into profitable land for wheat and corn… not surprising given that it is, after all, essentially the desert. But here’s the thing: I have my own nearly five acres of land. Before me, it was farmland. When I moved in, my plan was to do *nothing* with it, a promise I’ve kept. I grow no crops. And wheat and corn don’t exactly spring up on their own on this now un-irrigated land. But you know what? It’s nevertheless *alive.* It’s not at all unusual to have weeds two or three feet high out back, several acres of the stuff. Now, my land, only a few acres, is too small to be turned into some sort of nature park. And as alive as it is, it’s much too dry around here to really come to life like that British farm. But if even this dusty patch of Utah can spring to life on its own, imagine what a lot of Americas farms could become if properly non-managed. There would be a few potential advantages to re-wilding a few million acres:

  1. Stop draining aquifers. Some big ones are getting kinda close to DOOOOOOM levels of empty anyway.
  2. Meat without effort. Meat without hormones and antibiotics.
  3. Less expenditure on fertilizer and fuel. More CO2 yanked from the air and turned into oxygen.
  4. Less farmland to work… less need for farm workers. Back across the border ya go!
  5. If it’s not actually a farm, then it doesn’t need to be taxed like one… nor does it need or deserve the subsidies.

I’m not at all sure how to go about this on a major scale. Eminent domain is one way, and it is of course a desperate evil that should only be invoked in matters approaching National Security level (though using it to snag large stretches of, say, Detroit, bulldoze it and convert it into woodlands seems like an actually good use). Perhaps if farm subsidies were simply done away with, that might do it: farms that cannot economically compete without subsidies can be convinced to re-wild, perhaps via something like a twenty-year subsidy of its own. Instead of paying farmers to grow corn, you pay them – for a strictly limited period – to re-wild their land, seeding it with appropriate species of plants and animals and basically just leaving it alone. The surrounding farms would of course also lose *their* farm subsidies… but then, they are also losing competitors. Less corn and wheat on the market.

Vast privately owned stretches of nature could make money a number of ways. If the British model can be replicated, a whole lot of meat – cattle, pigs, deer, antelope, rhinos, buffalo, bison, mammoths, camels, elephants – will be self-sustaining and prosperous. Within a certain number of years their numbers will begin to push the lands carrying capacity… and then you start harvesting. Maybe some places will have some sort of industrial process where the herds of paraceratherium will be driven into pens and a certain number extracted. Others can let hunters pay to go take ’em down themselves.

 Posted by at 5:31 pm
Apr 142018

“The Amazing World of Gumball” explains some complex subjects in ways that are enlightening and, let’s face it, accurate.

The stock market and economy:

The meaning of life turns out to be a whole lot more Lovecraftian than most kids shows would have you believe, on both the small and large scale:


Video games are dangerous. But are they the *most* dangerous?


 Posted by at 5:13 pm
Apr 062018

“Idiocracy” is a movie that I suspect needs no introduction to most who deign to read this blog. Nevertheless, the video below provides a good summary of both the plot and the underlying ideas… the primary notion being that “dumb breeds true and in large numbers,” which, while some testing seems to not necessarily support, anecdotal evidence (like, say, “look outside at the damned world”) does seem true enough. And logic would support it: humans are smarter than chimps, and I’m pretty sure there’s a sizable genetic component of that, or otherwise there’d be some chimps raised in captivity who would be at least as smart as your average big city mayor.


As for whether of not “Idiocracy” is a good movie with some important ideas, you need look no further tha reviews by people who likely do *not* regularly read this blog:

Idiocracy Is a Cruel Movie and You Should Be Ashamed For Liking It

‘Idiocracy’ Is Bad, Actually

You know who’d find the movie hilarious? Hitler.

‘Idiocracy’ Is One of the Most Elitist and Anti-Social Movies Ever

Safe to assume that these folks likely are cheesed off at video games that reward players based on merit.

 Posted by at 11:07 pm
Mar 302018

John Paul Stevens: Repeal the Second Amendment

Former (fortunately) Supreme Court Justice Stevens wants to repeal the Second Amendment. The chances of this happening are slim, to say the least. Two thirds of the House *AND* the Senate would need to ratify an amendment; then three-fourths of the *states* would need to buy off on it. This would seem to be an unreachable goal for the purposes of reducing civil liberties, but it’s never a great idea to tempt fate. Who knows what hijinks might be afoot to help push such an idea forward. Still, it would be interesting and constructive to see just such an effort hit the House and Senate, to see who would actually vote in favor of such a thing.

There are forever people yammering on about a new civil war (which would be just about the worst thing imaginable… an actual American civil war would probably result in the US losing Alaska to the Russians, Hawaii and the west coast to the Chinese, the south west to the Mexicans, and the battered remains forever impoverished and reduced to the status of just another failed state, at the whim of greater powers who don’t now and never did give a rats ass about the high falutin’ ideals that the Americans were up in arms over). And while for the most part I think the great majority of these people are just bloviating, if somehow the Second Amendment was repealed – or the First, for that matter – my estimation of the chances of an actual civil war would go up *substantially.*

Consequently: anyone voting to repeal the Second would be essentially voting to initiate another civil war. They’d be voting to destroy the United States. They’d be voting to end the great experiment in democracy and freedom. With Europe soon to fall into a new dark age, Russia turning inward and dumb, China becoming a giant national socialist nightmare… anyone voting to repeal the Second would be voting to end western civilization, to preclude western values from making it to Mars and beyond, to turn the dream of the future over to monsters.  If history remembers anything, it would remember these Senators and Congressmen alongside Vidkun Quisling, Ephialtes, Klaus Fuchs and Benedict Arnold.

 Posted by at 1:28 am
Mar 202018

MIT librarian: Tech workplaces plastered with Star Trek posters, other geeky stuff is non-inclusive to women

Because this image drives women away from the tech professions:


And I suppose the following sort of Star Trek posters – most of which I admit to actually owning copies of, because they’re friggen awesome,  fight me – must be like wolfsbane to the snowflakiest of the SJW set:

Bah. Listen: if you are in the tech industry and this sort of thing offends you or disturbs you or in any way has a “negative impact on your likelihood of pursuing tech work,” consider that TECH WORK ISN’T FOR YOU.

And if you need confirmation that the subject of the post is a little on the screwy side, take a look at her blog posting, which has such nuggets of wisdom as:

Or at least, lots of the visible manifestations of culture are local. There is research that shows that workplaces that are plastered with stereotypically “tech or nerd guy” cultural images – think Star Trek – have negative impact on women’s likelihood of pursuing tech work and of staying in tech work in general or in that particular work environment. Replace the Star Trek posters with travel posters, don’t name your projects or your printers or your domains after only male figures from Greek mythology, and just generally avoid geek references and inside nerd jokes.  Those kinds of things reinforces the stereotypes about who does tech; and that stereotype is the male nerd stereotype.

Translation: Nerds: stop liking nerd stuff and being proud of your nerd-dom. Identity politics and group pride is fine, just not for you.

I also want to urge you all to pay attention to the kinds of informal socializing you do at work and in those liminal spaces that are work/social – if all the guys go to lunch together and not the women; then maybe stop doing that. And if the guys go to lunch and talk about women, then really, really, really stop doing that.

Translation: Men: stop expressing interest in women. You know, the thing that has kept the species alive.

If there’s a core group of guys who go out for beers after work just because you’re all friends, that’s kind of OK; but if you also talk about work and make decisions then it is definitely not OK.

Translation: Men: consider not having other men as friends, that’s at best “kind of OK.” But for the love of The Divine Goddess, do *not* have any interest in your career outside of work hours. I mean, come on. That’s just sense.

And then right at the bottom of her post:

Comments are currently closed.

Imagine that.

But there’s also this:

Another thing individuals can do to improve the culture and make tech more inclusive and welcoming is to be an active bystander and ally. If you see something, say something. If other men are talking over women, jump in and say “Hold on dude, I really want to hear what Cathy was saying.”

Note how she *doesn’t* suggest that Cathy needs to learn to assert herself. Assertiveness is a key to not only being heard, but to being *accepted* and *understood.* Trying to suppress discussion down to the level of the quietest, meekest member is a good way to utterly trash group morale and enthusiasm.

But I think that just might be the point.


 Posted by at 9:06 am
Mar 152018

There is an acronym that is commonly used in the various engineering disciplines (it certainly was in aerospace): TLAR.

That Looks About Right

What it means is simply that some things are so well understood and characterized that at least at first glance, to first approximation, at the back of the envelope stage, a design can look like it will work. Someone can, say, sketch out a jetliner… a tubular fuselage, modestly swept low-mounted wings, swept tail surfaces, podded engines suspended below the wings – and it will look like a “proper” design. TLAR is useful for things people have really nailed down the design of over the years. Entirely new stuff? An Alcubierre Warp Drive ring assembly, for example… who the frak knows right from wrong on that. But jetliners? Ships? Automobiles? Launch vehicles? Sure. An engineer can look at a design and say “that looks about right.”

And bridges. A good engineer can take a look at a design and say “that looks about right.” And sometimes, even an engineer from another discipline with rusty skills can take a look at a bridge design, and his engineering-spidey senses will start tingling, and “TLAR” is *not* engaged.

I look at the design of the failed FIU pedestrian bridge and man, TLAR is *not* what pops into my head. Instead I get a distinctly That Looks About Wrong feeling.

To be fair, the design of the *completed* cable-stayed bridge (by Munilla Construction Management, whose website still hilariously claims: “Safety first! At MCM Safety is paramount and we are committed to zero accidents on all projects.“) looks pretty ok to me:

It looks fine. It has two spans, each supported at the ends atop piers, and then in five places along each span by what appear to be quite stout tension cables connected to a central tower. It looks nice.  Completed, it looks nice. Incomplete, it scares the pants off me:

Note how here, during the rapid assembly process, the bridge is supported from below at four points: the two ends on the piers, and within the span by temporary supports. This is a perfectly good way to install a suspension or cable stayed bridge: support it from below until you can get the cables in place. Really, there aren’t too many other practical ways to do it for a bridge like this. But where me “I want to be elsewhere and unassociated with this project” response kicks in is when they remove those central supports… without having the suspension cables in place. The design of this span just does not Look About Right for something supported only at the ends. You have a great big and seemingly massive deck at the bottom, a few centrally located diagonal supports, and then a relatively narrow structural span running along the top.

Note that the deck certainly looks pretty thin… it appears to be one, maybe two feet thick. Doubtless of steel and concrete construction, but still quite thin. As a cable-stayed span, the deck would be hanging every however many feet from those diagonal supports; the upper structure could (*could*) be virtually cosmetic. However, as a simply supported bridge, that lower deck is under a *lot* of tension, the upper structure under a *lot* of compression, and the diagonal supports transmitting those loads in a way much different from when it’s a cable-stayed span (cable stayed, they’d be in tension; incomplete, they’re in compression).

In its incomplete state, it just doesn’t *look* like a decent structure.

That’s of course easy to say now that its laying in the street. And let me be clear: an engineer should never, EVER say that something is good unless they’ve run the numbers, and should avoid saying something is bad unless they’ve run the numbers. Engineering is the wrong discipline for anyone who operates by “feelings;” it is the place for hard numbers, hard facts, objective reality. Merit rather than politics. Still: the reality is that in a world of hard facts, some things are WRONG, and you don’t need to do a whole lot of math because the facts have already been long demonstrated. You can’t run an internal combustion engine on water, nor can you tinker with your carburetor to make your otherwise unmodified Ford F-150 go 200 miles per hour and get 500 miles per gallon. You can’t make the spar of your jetliner out of butter. You can’t use a pound of dynamite to blow the Moon to flinders, nor can you make a perpetual motion machine out of a cordless drill and some weights. These are of course ridiculous examples, but there is a spectrum between “that’s obviously so stupid I don’t need to do the math” and “that looks about right.” And the FIU-Sweetwater bridge certainly falls between the two. “Feelings,” I found during my engineering days, were, when applied properly, an appropriate and useful check against unwarranted enthusiasm and optimism. I get the feeling here that someone should have been a bit more pessimistic during the design process.



Well, scratch all that BS. Remember how I said that as a cable-stayed design it looked ok? Well, color me stupid:

Miami bridge that collapsed was a truss design, despite the cosmetic tower, support cables


 Posted by at 9:20 pm
Mar 152018

Whether due to a lack of rigor in the design process, the manufacturing process or the construction process… *someone* didn’t run the numbers right. And as a result, people are dead. Honestly: anyone who argues against the value and importance of engineering rigor can go eat a bag of dicks.

FIU pedestrian bridge collapses days after installation; police say multiple deaths, cars trapped

FFS, people, this sort of thing shouldn’t happen. *EVER.*

The bridge was not open to pedestrians; it appears that it was not yet even finished being built. It was, in fact, a suspension bridge… but the “suspension” part of the bridge hadn’t been built yet:

It seems that they installed the one span… and then removed the supports from underneath it, leaving it supported only at the ends:

This plan seems…unwise.

And here’s another failure of rigor, in this case either the loadmaster not doing his job, or something wrong with maintenance. Cuz doors don’t just open in flight.

Gold bars worth millions fall from plane over Russia

If you’ve ever wanted to see what a runway looks like when it had hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold bars scattered all over it look like, that link will hook you right up. In this case, it looks like the cargo fell out as the plane rotated for takeoff. The plane was able to promptly land at another airport seven miles away. They got lucky: while the idea of gold falling out of the sky has some romantic appeal, the fact it that a bar of gold would have a *really* *high* terminal velocity as well as a lot of mass. It would do a whole lot of damage if it fell from altitude onto people or property. And if things are so bad on the plane that stuff is falling out, the chances are that the load could shift enough for this sort of thing to happen (Bagram, Afghanistan in 2013):

 Posted by at 2:18 pm
Mar 062018

Trump is going on about wanting to put a 25% tariff on foreign steel. This can be immediately seen to be a bad, and potentially economically tragic, idea, since everyone else in the world will naturally respond with tariffs of their own, which the increased cost of foreign steel will drive up the costs of domestically produced products, while exports will decline.

It’s therefore probably a good idea to understand just why the US steel industry might need bolstering. After all, within living memory the US steel industry was the envy of the world. Important figures in Axis powers knew that tangling with the US was not a good idea due to our industrial capability. After WWII, if it was made of steel, it was probably made of *American* steel. So what the frell happened?

How the U.S. Squandered Its Steel Superiority

via Transterrestrial Musings

Short form: prior to WWII, the US competed with Europe and Japan to crank out the worlds steel. After WWII… not so much. The steel manufacturing capabilities of Europe and Japan had been reduced to smoking rubble, while US facilities were still roaring along. So the US kept on using what we had. This of course makes sense… replacing functional facilities with other facilities when you have no competition and your current facilities work just fine… that;s silly.

But thre was a problem: the US facilities were based on old, and soon to be obsolete, technologies and techniques. There were cheaper ways to make better steel. So when the Europeans started rebuilding their own steel manufacturing infrastructure, they wisely started not with the old ideas, but the new ones. Their new plants were better than the American ones, right out of the gate.

Had the US steel manufacturers upgraded, they could have kept up being economically competitive. But they didn’t. They kept using the same old facilities, right up until the Europeans stole the market away from them. Then the US steel manufacturers started screaming for protectionism from the government. Rather than evolving, they demanded protection from the natural environment.

This is not a unique occurrence. World War II trashed pretty much *every* bit of infrastructure in Europe, and so post-war they got to start from scratch. And as a result they got to change things up, often resulting in better systems. The same sort of thing happens from time to time with biology… Europe was a cultural wasteland, a hidebound mess of serfs and Church and aristocracy until the Black Death came along and pushed over all the walls and people rebuilt into a better world.

And it cane be seen today, within the US: look to space launch. SpaceX started from scratch, about half a decade ago, working on the BFR heavy lifter. It may well fly in just a few years, for perhaps a few billion in total development cost. At the same time, NASA’s SLS started a decade and a half ago and has spent enough already to run a good sized war, and with luck it’ll fly at about the same time as BFR, at a far higher per-flight cost, using old, Old, OLD technologies (the safe and arms used on the SLS boosters are likely the same used on the Shuttle boosters, and those were the same as those used on the Minuteman I ICBMS from the early 1960’s). BFR looks to be better in every respect because BFR is the result of competitive thinking; SLS is the result of Intelligent Design.

So what’s the best way for the FedGuv to help the American steel industry? I can think of a few ideas:

1: Get the Europeans to blow themselves up again. Exactly how to do that, I leave as an exercise for the student.

2: Start a few government programs to build a lot of stuff that requires a lot of steel. Interstate infrastructure – especially bridges – would seem a good choice… it needs doing *and* it’s actually within the Constitutional purview of the FedGuv. Also: a few hundred Ohio-class-replacement boomer subs, a few dozen new supercarriers, a few hundred small, fast carriers, a few thousand 4,000 to 10,000 ton Orion spacecraft, But her’s the thing: put a provision in there that the only steel to be used is American steel produced by top of the line steel production facilities (say, they have to use XYZ production method, or something demonstratably better). You want part of that ten trillion dollar, thirty year program? Then build a new foundry. You’ll not only make bank off Uncle Sam, but when your done you’ll have a competitive production capability.

 Posted by at 8:39 pm