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These good old days of cheap energy

June 4, 2015

Here’s a video that highlights something I think most people take for granted.

All that work to generate the electricity that costs me about 2/10 of a cent. How many Roberts for a penny’s worth of current? 5.

He’s lucky he only had to power a toaster. One of my grandmothers had no toaster. Instead, she toasted bread using the broiler in her electric oven – one side at a time. (And was that slow.) I’d like to see Robert toast bread that way.

As for granny, it gets worse: on cool mornings in spring or autumn, she’d turn the oven on with its door open to take the chill out of her kitchen.

Looking at the #toasterchallenge hashtag, I imagine that the video makers’ point is that we should all conserve energy as much as possible.

But I don’t regard energy as some finite resource that we’re likely to completely consume in the near future. We hadn’t run out of coal when we switched to oil. We hadn’t run out of trees when we switched to coal. I doubt that we’ll have run out of oil when we switch to… whatever.

As one of Carl Sagan’s sons (I don’t recall which one) said: life is possible because the Earth exists in the sun’s energy gradient. That gradient – that waterfall of energy we live within – is what drives it all. And I think we’ve got a few billion years to go before we’ll need another star.

Assuming that the market’s allowed to work, energy will continue to be available pretty much indefinitely. It may not always be available at today’s bargain prices, which allow us to waste it on things like air travel for pleasure, power sports, global computer networks, vanity satellite launches, quick and easy cooking, well-lit roads and sidewalks, and toasting bread in electric ovens.

But it’ll be available.


Update 6/6/15: Now here’s a way to toast bread that wastes even more energy than granny’s method, I think. I hate to think how many ‘Roberts’ this would take.

Via engadget


Update 6/2/15:

Maybe I was too pessimistic above or too into the current group think about energy. This article appeared recently at Bloomberg Business.

The Way Humans Get Electricity Is About to Change Forever

The renewable-energy boom is here. Trillions of dollars will be invested over the next 25 years, driving some of the most profound changes yet in how humans get their electricity. That’s according to a new forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance that plots out global power markets to 2040.

Here are six massive shifts coming soon to power markets near you: […]

Prices are coming down for rooftop solar and — more importantly — for home energy storage. (See Tesla’s Powerwall.)

Dry battery storage is still a little spendy; the Powerwall unit’s not cheap when you start looking at its lifetime and replacement costs. But when I can store 30-40 kWh in my basement for 10¢/kWh (counting maintenance & replacement), I’ll be all over that.

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Brawl for Liberty

May 29, 2015

Stand with Rand.

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Make it so

May 3, 2015

Who needs reaction mass? And who understands the physics behind this?

I ran across a mention of testing an EM drive in vacuum a couple of weeks ago but didn’t pay it much attention because of where I found it. Then Paul sent a link to this article at a NASA site which makes me take it more seriously.

If you’re interested in space flight, RTWT. It could be a game-changer.

Evaluating NASA’s Futuristic EM Drive
April 29, 2015 by José Rodal, Ph.D, Jeremiah Mullikin and Noel Munson – subedited by Chris Gebhardt

A group at NASA’s Johnson Space Center has successfully tested an electromagnetic (EM) propulsion drive in a vacuum – a major breakthrough for a multi-year international effort comprising several competing research teams. Thrust measurements of the EM Drive defy classical physics’ expectations that such a closed (microwave) cavity should be unusable for space propulsion because of the law of conservation of momentum.

EM Drive:

Last summer, NASA Eagleworks – an advanced propulsion research group led by Dr. Harold “Sonny” White at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) – made waves throughout the scientific and technical communities when the group presented their test results on July 28-30, 2014, at the 50th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference in Cleveland, Ohio.

Those results related to experimental testing of an EM Drive – a concept that originated around 2001 when a small UK company, Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd (SPR), under Roger J. Shawyer, started a Research and Development (R&D) program.

The concept of an EM Drive as put forth by SPR was that electromagnetic microwave cavities might provide for the direct conversion of electrical energy to thrust without the need to expel any propellant.

This lack of expulsion of propellant from the drive was met with initial skepticism within the scientific community because this lack of propellant expulsion would leave nothing to balance the change in the spacecraft’s momentum if it were able to accelerate.

What amazes me (and apparently many others) is that you don’t need to haul along a bunch of reaction mass to throw away behind you in order to accelerate.

Heinlein wrote an article about interplanetary travel at constant acceleration. (He and many others have written novels based on that assumption, of course.) The travel times are remarkably shorter than building up an initial velocity and then coasting – which is how we do it now. The critical factor in using constant acceleration has always been carrying the reaction mass you needed to expel in order to get the acceleration.

Even a constant acceleration of 0.1G (0.98m/sec2) makes a huge difference in travel time.

And now – maybe – that’s not necessary after all? Wow. I don’t know if Larry Niven would classify this as an example of his reaction-less drive but I think it’s pretty close.

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Can we end the "War on Drugs" yet?

May 3, 2015

News from Houston, Texas: read it and fear your government.

My emphasis in the final line because the idea that los Federales can highjack your equipment for a criminal purpose – without your knowledge – and leave you without recourse from your insurer is adding injury to injury.

Judge: Feds owe trucking company nothing over DEA informant murder (update)
Posted on April 28, 2015 | By Dane Schiller

Officers from multiple agencies work at the scene of a shooting in which Drug Enforcement Administration informant Lawrence Chapa, who was posing as a truck driver to infiltrate the drug world, was shot to death at Hollister near Champions Walk Lane Monday, Nov. 21, 2011, in Houston. ( James Nielsen / Chronicle )
A Houston-based federal judge ruled that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration does not owe the owner of a small Texas trucking company anything, not even the cost of repairing the bullet holes to a tractor-trailer truck that the agency used without his permission for a wild 2011 drug cartel sting that resulted in the execution-style murder of the truck’s driver, who was secretly working as a government informant.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, which was made public late Monday, heads off a potentially embarrassing civil trial that was supposed to start early next month at the federal courthouse.

Andy Vickery, a lawyer representing trucking company, said he was floored by the ruling.

“She is basically saying you can’t sue the feds,” he said by phone.

And he emailed this reaction:

A federally deputized corporal from the Houston Police Department decides to pay your small company’s driver to drive your truck to the Mexican border, load it up with illegal drugs, and try to catch some bad guys. He knows that the driver is lying to “the owner” – although he doesn’t know your name or identity and doesn’t bother to find out. The bad guys outwit the cops. Your company’s driver is killed. Your truck is riddled with bullet holes.

Query: is our federal government liable to pay for the damages to you and your property?

Answer: Nope.

He said an appeal is already in the works.

Trucking company owner Craig Patty has said that the truck was used and damaged in a drug sting against one of Mexico’s most violent cartels without his permission and that his family lived in extreme fear they would face retaliation from the cartel, even though they had no idea what the government was doing. […]

Patty’s truck was impounded and later released to him, but was out of service for months. The DEA refused to pay for the damages, as did Patty’s insurance company, which ruled that the truck had been used in a criminal act, and therefore the damages weren’t covered.

DEA delenda est!

H.T. Paul

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Yeah, let’s do that

May 2, 2015

Here’s recent e-mail from Chip Mellor at the Institute for Justice.

IJ’s fight to end civil forfeiture continues with a new lawsuit on behalf of Lyndon McLellan, a convenience store owner in rural North Carolina who had $107,702 seized last summer by the IRS. Despite a policy change by the IRS last fall indicating that they would no longer pursue such cases, the DOJ filed a civil forfeiture complaint in December against Lyndon to forfeit his cash without even accusing him of a crime.

After Lyndon’s case was brought up in congressional testimony this past February, the U.S. Attorney in charge of Lyndon’s case told Lyndon’s lawyer, “Whoever made [the document] public may serve their own interest but will not help this particular case. Your client needs to resolve this or litigate it. But publicity about it doesn’t help. It just ratchets up feelings in the agency. My offer is to return 50% of the money. The offer is good until March 30th COB.”

Lyndon, however, is unwilling to give the government a single penny of his hard-earned money and teamed up with IJ to get his money back. You can read more about the lawsuit in the New York Times article[…]

The NYT article is fairly short and worth your time.

And here’s a video IJ produced about this case.


So, yeah, let’s "ratchet up feelings in the agency." That sounds like an excellent idea to me… just in a different manner than Steve West (the U.S. Attorney quoted above) has in mind. Maybe a 50%, across-the-board staff reduction at the IRS would do it? Then we could look at DOJ too?

The gall of a government lawyer saying, basically, "shut up before we get really ticked off" piques my ire. It’s a stereotypical lawyer’s line, isn’t it? What do you call 5000 dead lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

And the idea of a government attorney haggling over $50,000 gives you some idea of how much "justice" is going down at the Department of Justice. That’s a whopping 0.0000157 of the $3,176,000,000 Congress enacted for the 2015 US Budget. No reflection on Mr. McLellan’s business, but it’s like the Mafia shaking down kids with lemonade stands. (Except the thugs’d have too much pride, I think.)

That 0.0000157 is impressive! They only need 63,520 more cases like this one to pay for this year’s Federal spending. Hey, don’t laugh… you could be next.

I think someone needs to quit his government job and go find a real one. Maybe one where he’s not biting the hand that feeds him.

More seriously, Congress needs to call its damned dogs and put a clear and definite end to civil forfeiture.


Update 5/14
More e-mail today from Mr. Mellor:

Less than two weeks after IJ announced its involvement in a civil forfeiture action against Lyndon McLellan, a convenience store owner in rural North Carolina whose entire bank account of more than $100,000 was seized by the IRS, the government has admitted defeat and dropped its case against Lyndon. This means he will get back all the money he worked so hard to earn.

The case has made national headlines, including The New York Times, Drudge, Fox News, Forbes, Vox, and MSN.com. You can read early coverage of the dismissal in the Raleigh News & Observer piece below.

All the best,
Chip

Raleigh News & Observer
Prosecutors drop IRS seizure case against Fairmont convenience store owner
By Anne Blythe
May 14, 2015

Lyndon McLellan, a convenience store owner in rural Robeson County, became an emblem for the many ways that IRS seizure and civil forfeiture laws have dogged run-of-the-mill business owners who operate with cash.

For nearly a year, the 50-year-old Fairmont man has been fighting the federal government to recover the $107,702.66 seized from his business account without any allegations of crime.

On Wednesday, nearly two weeks after The New York Times profiled his struggle with the government, McLellan received a welcome call from his lawyer.

U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker, the top federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of North Carolina, had dismissed the case that since July had blocked his access to his money.

Thank goodness for the IJ. I don’t know many more practical ways of spending your money to fight government overreach than by donating to IJ.

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Hear, hear! (3)

April 26, 2015

Daniel Hannan (member of the European Parliament) writes:

It’s time to introduce a voluntary fame tax

I’ve just come across an utterly brilliant idea for tax reform, one that would elevate and improve our public discourse. It comes from my friend James Hannam, who is standing for election as a councillor in Kent, and for whom I went canvassing over the weekend in the gorgeous village of Sissinghurst. […]

James’s suggestion is as follows. The sorts of people who get recruited by political causes as celebrity supporters – television personalities, comedians and the like – should have to pay a special “fame levy” of around 20 per cent of their income. This tax would reflect the fact that they get paid to do really cool things, and are at the same time asked to opine about politics without the bother of getting themselves elected to anything.

It would, however, be voluntary. All the celebrities would need to do, to avoid the toll, is sign a public declaration to the effect that they wanted to opt out.

They’d be free to sign or not to sign. Either way, the rest of us would know whether or not to take them seriously when they assured us that they “wouldn’t mind paying a bit more tax” in order to “make society fairer”.

H.T. Jeff G

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Economics humor

April 26, 2015

I know… sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

Via CoyoteBlog

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