Archive for August, 2012

Global Warming: a Cheap, Easy, Temporary Fix

August 29, 2012

I’ve been thinking about global warming. The US Meteorological Service has now changed its official stance and states that global warming is at least partially caused by human activity. That got me to thinking, and so I’ve now posted an idea in two Facebook groups I’m a participant in.
Global warming means that we will see more drought, more intense and more giant storms, and a general change to the surface of the Earth with disruption of food supply and probably an increase in hunger for those who live in marginally-productive countries. I suspect that in time we’ll find a long-term solution, but in the short term, there’s going to be a lot of human misery and death and loss of wealth among the developed nations. So even a temporary fix would be useful, until the science and engineering is available to provide a longer term solution.
I know how to fix global warming.  The worst problem I foresee is not cost or efficiency, but the resistance of people and politicians.  This idea needs no new science, but it does need an reinterpretation of existing science.

I’ll begin with an overview of the greenhouse effect. Global warming depends at bottom on that.  Global warming is simply a slight rise in efficiency of the trapping process of the insolation.

So what is the greenhouse effect, and why does it work? Much solar radiation passes through the atmosphere without being absorbed; that’s how we can use it to see. This radiation has a certain set of bandwidths, the colors that can be separated by a prism or rainbow. There are also ultraviolet and most interesting for our viewpoint, infra-red radiation. This is, in essence, radiated heat. It’s easy to demonstrate; you can feel it on your skin, and you feel its absence when a cloud shades the sun. It strikes the earth and is differentially absorbed or radiated back to space. Dark farmland, for example, absorbs heat quite efficiently; water less so, although what is absorbed is also released in the form of latent heat in evaporation (this is what fuels hurricanes, and usually begins off the coast of Africa in the northern hemisphere). Sunlight striking sand is partially reflected, and that which strikes snow and ice is almost totally reflected.
Reflected sunlight, like incoming sunlight, is not efficiently absorbed by atmospheric gases. It’s still at the same frequency/wavelength as it was when it came in, so it passes through the atmosphere and back to space.  Photos taken from space use this reflected energy.
But what of the energy that strikes the ground and is absorbed? It heats the Earth’s surface. That’s easy to prove; take a walk on a warm day barefoot, you can feel it. I also once used the heat-trapping effect of color (black plastic tubing to design and build a solar heater for my swimming pool in El Paso; 300′ of 2″ irrigation tubing, coiled on the roof of my porch, then a system of pipes to connect this to the pool circulation pump, and so whenever I used the pool filter, I also got free heat. Very efficient; I often swam as early as February and as late as November in El Paso, in West Texas).
The Earth not only reflects incoming radiation, it also radiates. It must; this is how the Earth disposes of absorbed radiant heat and also heat from the interior.  But because it has a temperature that’s different from that of the sun, it radiates in a different bandwidth. The soil doesn’t glow, but you can feel the heat radiating in the evening; very pleasant. This radiation is at a wavelength that is readily absorbed by water vapor, Carbon dioxide, and Methane.  Absorption of radiated heat is the greenhouse effect.
So it occurred to me that the way to interrupt the greenhouse effect was to change the albedo selectively; to reflect, rather than to absorb, the incoming radiation. The best place to do this is in the band of deserts that surround the Earth, at about 30º north and south of the Equator. The tropics, the band from 23.5º north to 23.5º south through the equator, generates its own albedo change through cloud production. But the deserts are often clear; no clouds, no rainfall, just heat absorption.
If we could change that pair of desert zones from a strongly-absorbent to a reflective zone, it should reduce the greenhouse effect and hence reduce global warming.
This is the science.  Change not global warming, instead change the Earth’s greenhouse effect.

I came up with a way to do this.  It depends on the fact that not all parts of the Earth absorb energy equally.  Change the part that is most energy-absorbent, you have a much greater effect on the greenhouse effect than you would have if you attempted to change the greenhouse effect by, for example, working at the poles.

I would first begin with a small test unit and gather data; one day, then a week, then ideally  over the course of a year. What seems practical in theory might not work in reality.

So I intend to build a test unit.  I will then gather the data, interpret it, put it into graphs and then present it. Only data needed is temperature, preferably from electronic thermometers taking readings from under the reflective panel and one or more readings outside it but nearby.  Simply put, to change the planet’s temperature, I would build large numbers of frames, preferably of aluminum, but wood would also work. Across these I would stretch 2-mil reflecting mylar film (one roll, $35 from Amazon, 50″x50′). Support the panels above the ground. For the test plot, perhaps a meter above ground; for actual use, two or three meters up. Make small units, say 5m x 5m. Install, move on. They can be manufactured over Winter, begin installation in early Summer, hope to last a year at least. They should be installed for maximum effect around the world on all land surfaces that are currently desert. At the designed height, they would not interfere with passage of humans and animals below them. I would slant them at about 13º facing South in the Northern hemisphere, facing North in the Southern Hemisphere. It is not necessary to wrap the entire planet in these; the beauty of it is that it’s cheap and each installation has some small effect. The shaded land won’t be harmed; it’s desert, hence not used for anything except grazing.

Maintenance: if damaged, a frame could be reused and the mylar film simply replaced. I suspect it wouldn’t last more than a season, perhaps with luck two, before solar UV deteriorated it. But even fragments blowing along the ground are minimally useful because they reflect sunlight.
Incremental effect; each panel reduces insolation, the basis for the greenhouse effect, by a small fraction. Many of these, large fraction. Adjustment: getting too cold, close down some of the panels. Still too hot, glaciers melting? Put up more.  The effect is incremental and linear depending on the numbers of panels.
Proof: easy to construct a cheap panel farm. Take temperature readings  underneath the panels in the shade, and around them in full sunlight. Collect daily information, say at 8am, at 12 noon, and at 6pm. Do this for a year. Examine how much maintenance is required. Large winds will likely destroy a significant number of panels, but a ‘breakaway’ fastener on one side might alleviate that while still keeping the panel tethered. Deterioration from the Sun, a problem. It may turn out that 5mil or 10mil would be better, but the cost would be higher. Costs should be less for mylar than I quoted; that $35/50″x50′ is retail, so wholesale and economies of scale should reduce that.
End of the year: assemble the data, graph it, discuss and publish.  Budget for a full-scale test? Say $1 million.  Actual cost?  Less than $100 000.  The rest is reserve for unexpected expenses.I intend to set up the test plot, consisting of one or two panels and the land surrounding them, and begin collecting data.  I should begin to do this within two weeks.
Feel free to circulate the idea and run it by experts.  The only thing I ask is that if you’re using my work, I get credit for my input.
Update: I’ve now acquired three thermometers, one that measures minimum and maximum temperature values, another as a check on the first (both are digital and use probes for sensing), and a non-contact infrared based thermometer.

I built a test panel and installed it today, Sep 15 2012.   I used salvaged plastic and wood and fastened the plastic to the wood with staples, then wrapped the plastic once around the wooden end pieces to keep the staples from ripping through the plastic.  I put up four T-posts that I had on hand, installed guy ropes to stabilize and tension the panel, and then clamped the end boards to the T posts.  The panel is approximately 50cm above the ground.  I have posted photos on my Flickr page.

I took first readings this afternoon about 3pm.  The differences between the shaded ground and plastic (those read approximately the same) and the sunny ground alongside the panel were 12.5 C degrees.  I’ll be making more precise measurements using the sensors of the digital thermometers.  But I conclude that this afternoon I became the first person to deliberately reduce the greenhouse effect, and global warming, by a small but measurable amount.


On the 2012 Elections: Issues

August 27, 2012

I wrote this reply to a friend named Harry in a group on Facebook:
Read what you wrote, Harry. “Obama is now seeking…” and “suggesting that he’s grabbing the taxing power for himself.” You don’t’ say that Obama has usurped the powers of congress, you imply motives for actions (not documented, except by your opinion; and not really knowable in any case; we can only judge actions, not motives) and some vague suggestion based on no cited evidence.
Be honest; how far would you get in court with that sort of argument?
What you’re left with is a single answer: Congress. Not Obama, but Congress. Fact.
And we all know what Congress has done, or more properly has not done. While earning the opinion that this is the worst Congress in modern history.
They have refused to consider Obama’s jobs bill. Fact. Easily verifiable.
They have taken no independent action to push the economy for jobs. Fact.
Indeed, public sector jobs have declined, but private sector jobs have risen steadily. Not fast enough, but then note who has the greater power to affect the economy. There are literally thousands of citations to confirm that; it’s not an unsubstantiated claim by me, as you have made in your post. Both working together, Congress and presidency, could have done more, but we also know that this Congress has had one aim, to deny Obama a second term. That’s been their aim, and it’s colored every thing they’ve done in the past two years. They’ve repeatedly said so. Fact. Easily verified.
Two horses harnessed together by the Constitution; but one pulls forward, the other balks and sits down. And then claims that it’s the other who is responsible for going nowhere.
Congress has had the power, and has not used it. They have done many things beloved to the right regarding Obamacare and abortion and women’s rights, although they’ve acted to block both of the last two in any bill that’s pushed forward. They’ve also blocked immigration reform. They have generated no bill to do anything about the economy. Fact. Easily verifiable.
Not one.
Despite the fact that THEY have the ability to do that. Obama couldn’t stop them if he wanted to. Presidents don’t control Congress; if anything, it’s the other way around. Congress holds the power of the purse. Presidents can, at most, influence Congress. But nothing can stop Congress from passing a bill to create jobs. They have that power and are answerable only to the voters. They can even override a presidential veto. Of course, first they have to send a bill forward. And they haven’t. Fact.
The Republican Party controls Congress. They can generate financial bills in the Republican controlled House. They have blocked bills in the Senate through use of the filibuster. They have blocked presidential appointments and they used the filibuster to block the bipartisan immigration reform bill. Fact.
Facts. Not opinions. Except for that one statement that the president and Congress, working together, could have done more.
And this is something that no amount of rhetoric can change. Something that Romney and Ryan don’t want to talk about. Ryan might have put something into that budget he brought out of committee to create jobs. He did not.

On Economic Trends: The Disappearing Labor Market

August 21, 2012

We really don’t have a good economic model for what’s happening now. I’ve got my own, but I doubt that I have all the facts. I’ve taken some of the things that Krugman has written about and some that Stiglitz has written (actually Stiglitz quoted ME once; I had published a paper dealing with economics on the International Mensa Forums two years ago), and there are a couple of other economists. But there’s no real consensus.
I’ve come to believe that the root problem is capitalism itself. Let me defend that before you scream too loudly.
Capitalism seeks ever higher profits, ever greater efficiency. That’s what the ‘market’ requires. If efficiency lags, then the capital flows elsewhere; Krugman would agree with this, I think.
What this really means is that human labor is first depressed in value by exporting of jobs, then by the ultimate export, having the jobs done by machine. Even China, home of cheap labor for a generation, is now mechanizing factories.
This puts people out of work. Where do they go?
Historically, when the Industrial Revolution began, they left the land and took jobs in industry, manufacturing goods. When mechanization hit the remaining farms (in the US, as an example), farmworkers left the land and moved to cities and worked in industry again.
But now the industrial jobs are rapidly disappearing. There are service jobs, but they pay little, in most cases not enough to live an independent life.
The few jobs left in manufacturing are increasingly high-tech, many of them involving computer control or robot maintenance and engineering. Not for the uneducated, in other words.
Even construction, long a place for unskilled labor, is changing. Where once half-a-dozen men with shovels and rakes and tampers filled potholes, now three men in a machine do ten times more potholes and do them better.
Force all those former employees to find work in domestic service-industry jobs and all you do is depress labor prices even more.
What to do with our excess labor? I’ve said that it can only be employed in making items for trade, and that will work for a time. What isn’t made for the domestic market can be made for the export market.  But the trend is clear: humans are being forced out of the labor market.  That’s the real economic problem.
And we don’t have any place left for them to go and nothing for them to do.  And no idea among politicians or even economists that this is the early stage of a trend that will only get worse.
There’s a real shortage not of managerial talent or clerical support; that group is overstaffed. The shortage is in engineers and scientists and technologists who can work with the engineers to build their designs. There are jobs for such right now…but colleges aren’t graduating enough of them. Instead, they concentrate on things that may make the student feel good, but without requiring the sheer work that a degree in math or science or engineering entails. Ethnic studies? Even education as a major? Not much work required. As an example, note that many education majors take classes that are deliberately dumbed down; math for education majors, science for education majors, etc. Education departments encourage this; it requires a Dean’s approval to count a MAJOR course toward a degree or teaching field instead of the ‘for education majors’ courses. I know…I did that. I took the full-on biology, physics, and geology courses. I didn’t go beyond second-year physics classes, essentially still elementary level but different, astronomy instead of physics II. At that point the math requirements would have meant dropping other things, biology or geology. And the GI Bill wouldn’t have paid for classes that weren’t required for me to graduate within 4 years, so I went with the broad education approach rather than the concentrated approach that would have led to a physics or math minor.
So economists and universities and politicians aren’t really addressing the trend. Industry is taking the first steps to do this; they’re offering training courses to prep people for unfilled jobs.  This isn’t yet widespread, but I suspect it will grow.  Meantime, some foreign specialists are immigrating to take the jobs that Americans aren’t qualified to do because of lack of education.  China and India and even Japan and Korea are providing the MD’s and the engineers and scientists that our universities aren’t providing.  And, since those divisions are expensive, universities continue to emphasize ethnic studies and gender studies and social studies…cheaper; more grads.

Political commentary

August 20, 2012

To me, there’s an issue of character about Romney and also Ryan. Bluntly, I don’t see anything I’d label as character about either. And I’m not at all sure that Romney’s evasions are always legal. Show the records; let investigators dig into them.
Meantime, it may be very satisfying to boot Obama. But what will you replace him with?
What will Romney do? He won’t say. So we’re asked to ‘trust’ a man of no demonstrated character to take principled stands regarding jobs and housing and immigration and education? A man who famously has said he’s not concerned with the poor, that he likes firing people, that he thinks we don’t need cops and firemen and teachers? Who would turn more social programs over to the rapacious healthcare insurance executives and for-profit entities to teach children? To care for old people at the end of life? We’ve see what their objective is: profit. Anything else is secondary. We’ve seen rebates from companies that spend less than 80 of the money they collect on healthcare for people; that, after paying executives tens of millions per year. Trust the man who thinks this is good? A man who led the offshoring of jobs? Who deliberately wrecked companies so he could loot the bones, regardless of the human cost?
No character. No ethic, other than personal profit first. No morality beyond “I’ve got mine!” And no openness from a man who conceals great wealth offshore and who now asks you to trust him.
Obama has made some mistakes by not being bold enough, in my judgment. Romney? He’s going to cost lives and increase national misery by exponential amounts.
It’s discouraging that others refuse to recognize this.

Facebook Essay, August 15 2012

August 15, 2012

Kind of the problem with Greece and Spain and Portugal. Ireland, too; none of them have robust manufacturing sectors. Spain, for example, has a number of highly-developed greenhouses on the South Coast that provide produce to the north of Europe, but their homegrown Fiat (Seat) isn’t exported very much if at all. Some touristy stuff manufactured, but nothing like what Finland does. Finland produces cell phones, has a heavy shipbuilding industry to produce cruise ships, stuff like that, and it’s comparatively tiny. You simply cannot have an economy nowadays that lives and dies with food production; one bad harvest year can virtually wipe out the nation. The economy must be diversified and must have a manufacturing base that’s competitive with the world. Some of that manufacturing must be for export; tourism brings in foreign exchange, but again, you’re now dependent on forces beyond national control. You must attract tourists, but they must also be able to afford to come for a stay. When their economy tanks, so does yours, if this is your source for foreign exchange.
And of course, that economy must be ‘balanced’ if it’s to remain viable over years. It has to have a domestic market (this is where China lags; small domestic market for what they produce, large export market), an export market (the US and Western nations have the domestic market, but the export one has lagged badly), and in so doing, you spread your economy worldwide. Only when the world economy tanks does yours feel the pinch.
I notice Romney is now claiming that if he’s elected, the US will be exporting petroleum within a few years. Duh. It’s going to happen, regardless. I could be president, or my dog could be; it will still happen because production is rising as old fields are revived by fracking. Plus there’s more offshore and in the Arctic, and sooner or later those will be exported. Gas too…right now, it’s so cheap that the gas producers aren’t really making much of a profit.
A long term problem that hasn’t been addressed by anyone: what do you do with all those people, all those workers, when you no longer need them for production? Virtually everything is becoming mechanized and roboticized; this is even affecting China which long relied on cheap human labor. What to do? Eventually, you’re going to need some sort of dole system or you face rioting and revolution. You cannot simply tell millions of people that they aren’t needed, go starve quietly in the corner and don’t bother your betters.
Such jobs as ARE available require advanced eduction. Not everyone s suited for this, but we must make certain that everyone who CAN benefit from education has access to it. And then somehow the fruits of that education and those machines must be available to sustain those who aren’t suited for functioning in a high-tech, high-education world. There must be some sort of work found even for the unemployable. If this seems unacceptable, then think about involuntary sterilization to reduce world populations. Unacceptable too? Whatever is done, it won’t be nice, or comfortable, or simple. Maybe global warming will do it for us; kill off a few billion, make much of the Earth uninhabitable for a time. Or trigger a global cooldown which will do the same.
I don’t see any chance that our political ‘leaders’ will do anything worthwhile. Any of them.

Why Students with Disabilities get Suspended.

August 8, 2012

Written in response to an article in the NY Times,

Suspensions Are Higher for Disabled Students, Federal Data Indicate


Published: August 7, 2012

It’s money. Public money, from taxes.
And the article got it right; teachers have larger classes and no support structure. And an evaluation that will measure their effectiveness in teaching the class at the end of the year.
So if you’re a teacher with 35 or more students in a class, and one or more of the students require extra time and attention, you can only provide that at the expense of the non-disabled. You cannot take time to counsel a disruptive student who is also often disobedient (it’s why he’s disruptive, after all) and there’s no place to send him. Choice: suspend that student and get on with the class, or see the rest of the students waste the period without getting the information you planned.
It’s all well and good to ‘include’ students with disabilities, but the flip side is that teachers MUST HAVE SMALLER CLASSES. Even then, a student who can’t keep up is going to be frustrated. And likely bored, and soon he’s disrupting other students. And they, the disrupted, complain to the teacher.
Much of the problem arises from discipline. The students have never been taught self-discipline. For whatever reason they’ve not been required to develop this skill. Life has never handed them boredom and forced them to turn inward to combat it. There have been TV programs, or video games, or a cell phone, or whatever. If you don’t like what’s on TV, change the channel. But you can’t change the channel in class. And so, if you’re an easily distracted and bored student, what do you do? You attempt to gain the attention of other students around you. You disrupt.
Teachers who teach resource classes have smaller numbers of students and typically one or more aides.
Somehow, putting those same students into a regular classroom (which doesn’t have the gifted and talented; those have already been removed to special classes) of 35 or more students and one teacher, means that suddenly they will cooperate and learn math and chemistry and physics and biology. Or reading; they’re almost always below-average in reading ability. Which requires more, not less, teacher attention, attention that then can’t be provided to non-disabled students.
As currently designed, the inclusion policy is a failure. It can work, but only if money is provided. For every 1 to 5 students with special needs, there needs to be one aide in the classroom who can assist the teacher and provide individual attention from an adult as needed. And there needs to be more resources available for students who begin to disrupt, a place to sent them until they’ve calmed down.
Or you can keep suspending them. And in time, they’ll be locked up, a kind of suspension-from-society.
And each time a student disrupts and is referred to the Vice Principal’s office (remember, there’s no place else to send them), a form must be filled out by the teacher. During class. The office won’t accept the student without the form. Five minutes to fill out the form, while the class loses interest, the teacher is distracted, and then another 5 minutes to get everyone back on track after the disruptive student has gone. This from a class that’s typically an hour or shorter in length.
And of course, evaluate the teacher on how well he/she teaches, without regard to the fact that they only have the middle-to-lower students in class, not the top performers; those have been selected out.
That’s the reality of teaching. About half of teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years.

Financialists and the Entitlement Nation

August 1, 2012

“On the campaign trail, Mitt Romney mocks it as “a social welfare state” and an “entitlement nation.” He rails that it smothers entrepreneurs and innovators. And he says it is simply not working. The target of Mr. Romney’s dismissiveness: Europe. And he warns ominously that if the United States is not careful, the country may end up just like it. ”

The above quote is from an article published in the NY Times, Aug 1 2012. It caused me to think about Mitt Romney and what his campaign and his comments have revealed about the man.

Entitlement nation. Mr Romney and his supporters use that term. One contributor complained that President Obama’s policies would ‘take my money and give it to those animals’.
Who is entitled to what?
Three groups, it seems to me, are involved if you’re to understand that view. Much ado was made about President Obama’s comments regarding entrepreneurs, “You didn’t build that.” He should have said, as Elizabeth Warren said, “you didn’t build that alone.” Both understand that there is more to building a company and creating wealth than simply identifying an opportunity, the root of entrepreneurship.
The economy needs all three, the entrepreneurs who see a need and move to provide for that need, and the capitalists and the production workers.
Perhaps that ‘need’ is imaginary, but never mind; advertising will sell us what we don’t really need. At any rate, it’s presumed that the entrepreneur takes the risks and so is entitled to rewards, whatever he/she can milk from the system. That concept gets lip service in the USA.
But the first thing many of these entrepreneurs do is set up a shield to limit their exposure to risk. It’s called a corporation or partnership or LLC. Limited Liability is the name of this game.
Entrepreneurs then seek financing from the third group, who also like limits to any liability (forgotten is the concept of ‘risk capital’; they expect guaranteed income from their money).
With financing, the entrepreneur is now poised to hire workers. Capital and entrepreneurship together cannot produce anything at all. But because workers are presumed to be interchangeable cogs to be slipped into the machine and removed at will, both classes have forgotten that production is at least equal to the other two parts…and production workers cannot milk the system for all that the market will bear. Only they have an upper limit to income.
And that attitude must change. The ‘entitlement’ part of that entitlement nation concept deals with the social support network that production workers need to gain some of the fruits of their labor. And some of the financing for that social support network comes from entrepreneurs and financialists. Both groups resent this in large part.
The American worker is at least as important as the other two parts. Financialists consider it ‘my money’ without regard to how that came to be and are adept at protecting money through political chicanery. The entrepreneur is lauded publicly but the financialists understand that it’s about money; the more you have, the more important you are, and the money is the source of that importance so therefore those who have little money have little importance. Once a company ‘goes public’, i.e. sells shares, the financialists now own what the entrepreneur built. And still at the bottom of all of this is the guys and girls who manufacture cars and steel and roofing and plumbing units and who install and maintain all of it. They are the ones who support the nation, generate the economic activity, and pay much of the taxes, but for some reason, the financialists see no need for them to BENEFIT from those tthings. Hence, ‘entitlements’. Somehow, they view the worker as a parasite unless he’s directly being exploited (and employment exploits; there’s no concept of sharing or equality involved. Employees are expected to produce a profit for employers to pay the entrepreneurs, the management elites after companies become publicly traded, and the financialists who own stock and sit on Boards of Directors).
The separation between groups is becoming greater all the time. The financialists at one time invested in a company and helped to make it profitable, and as it profited so did they; wealth was created. International finance in the 1970’s consisted of about 90% risk capital invested in development and creation of wealth, 10% speculation (gambling). That’s now reversed, according to Noam Chomsky; 10% is invested in development, 90% gambling. The gamblers, financialists, no longer involve themselves in creation of wealth so that their profits have some justification. It doesn’t matter; profits spend, regardless of how they are acquired.
And somehow the gamblers see everyone else as unimportant in their view of society.
Mitt Romney is the poster child for this view.
Understanding this may help you understand why he holds the opinions he does, and says and does the things that he does.