Category Archives: Solving Global Warming

Peak Season

HURRICANE-IRENE-PATH-2011-NOAA-2

For those of us who live on the East or Gulf Coasts, we’re now headed into peak hurricane season. Although hurricane season begins in June, we frequently see the worst storms–and the ones that make landfall–between now and the end of November.

It’s kind of like Christmas shopping–the stores have the Christmas products on the shelf in October, but it’s the last few weeks when the shoppers go into a frenzy.

So, I’ve checked the generator, put the six-month old gas from the storage cans into the car and replaced it with fresh (and added the fuel stabilizer). I’ve checked the backup chargers for the cell phones, and of course the ham radio gear.

Now all I have to do is wait.

The last big storm we had was Hurricane Irene in 2011. We’ve had some damaging, but not disastrous weather since, so I’ve been waiting since 2011.

If you’re wondering, I much prefer waiting to dealing with a storm. Wish me a happy and successful 2018 wait, with no serious storms.

 

Tithing

In ancient times, the Israelites, or if you prefer, the Jews, were expected to set the first ten percent of their harvest aside as an offering to God. Many of us–Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, have roots reaching back to that same practice. Of course, back then, they slaughtered animals, the priests took a portion for their services–after all, they did not farm or own herds–but the rest was burnt on the altar as a sacrifice.

Most churches today, wouldn’t know what to do if someone placed a lamb in the collection basket. Even worse, the children in the congregation would be traumatized by the idea that a cute little lamb (although they really are dirty and stupid creatures)  would be slaughtered (even though they might very well enjoy that same lamb–with mint jelly–if it were packaged on a Styrofoam tray covered with shrink wrap at the grocery store).

It’s a different world. Today, very few of us raise sheep (my friends in New Zealand excepted, of course), so that’s not what we bring as a sacrifice. So what do we offer?

  • Church goers often donate cash to their church.
  • Many people donate money or goods to various charitable organizations.
  • Some people donate time to soup kitchens or shelters for the homeless.

But their are other opportunities to contribute to the good of all, even if you can’t help out at a soup kitchen and wouldn’t know which end of a hammer to use for Habitats for Humanity.

You can donate computer time. and it’s painless.

When you are not using your computer, you can let it work for others. Calculations that once required a supercomputer are now divided up into byte-sized (sorry about the pun) chunks and sent to thousands of personal computers. Each personal computer is limited; a hundred personal computers has possibilities; a thousand personal computer is awesome.

A million personal computer working on a problem might just solve it.

If you participate, you can set your computer to work on such issues whenever you aren’t using it. There are sites working to track asteroids that threaten the earth, the cure for various diseases, the global warming issue–does it exist? What causes it, and what should we do?

There are a variety of other questions to be answered. Curious? Check out

boinc.berkeley.edu.

 

Inferior Garbage

Image result for recycle symbol

At our house, we repurpose by donating things to Goodwill or K4AMG—a charity that helps kids learn electronics. We compost. We recycle. Some places I’ve lived, we had one bin for paper, one for cans, and one for bottles. Here, we have one giant container for everything, with the sorting done elsewhere after it’s picked up. A few years ago the paper included a story that two weeks after scrap cardboard was sent to China, it was headed back as packaging for new merchandise.

But wait.

The Chinese are complaining that there are too many imperfections in the material we recycle. (Please note that “we” refers to more than just my family).

The approved recyclables include bottles, cans and cardboard, BUT NEVER, EVER INCLUDE A PIZZA BOX BECAUSE THE GREASE FROM THE PIZZA RUINS EVERYTHING! However, some people have included more than what is on the list—bowling balls, deer heads, and——-you really don’t want to know.

Once American products set the standard for the world, but no more. Now we’re known for inferior recyclables.

So, how do we improve the quality of our recyclable garbage? Maybe the White House should appoint a recyclable garbage Tsar, but that would mean bigger, more complicated government.

On the other hand, there’s one group that knows garbage better than anyone—politicians. So, let’s make it one of the duties for any politically elected or appointed position to spend a couple of hours a week down at the recycling center separating the good recyclables from the bad recyclables. While they’re down there, sooner or later they’ll start talking among themselves, which would be a marvelous improvement.

Only a Loan

Mother Nature loans us many things, but we need to remember that they’re only a loan.

Hurricane-Katrina-FloodingNorfolk, Virginia has much of its downtown built on filled in waterways and swamps. The area already tends to flood with nor’easters, and tropical storms, but with rising sea levels, flooding is expected to happen more often. Since there are people and businesses already established in the area, government officials are exploring possibilities such as levees, flood walls, and whatever the latest technology offers to prevent loss of life and property.

I understand. Where I live used to have a moderate risk of flooding, but as more of the area was developed the waterflow reversed. Low-lying wooded areas were clear-cut, raised five feet, and houses built so that instead of absorbing the rainwater, it now flows into my neighborhood. Bummer. Maybe if I replace my lawn with rice it will work better.

Mother Nature only loans us geography. I used to live in Louisiana. Mother Nature wants to move the Mississippi River west into the Atchafalaya basin. The United States Army, Corps of Engineers have been tasked with keeping the Mississippi River where it is. They’ve been mostly successful, except for the occasional world-class disaster like Katrina. History has shown that if weather doesn’t satisfy Mother Nature’s requirements, the occasional earthquake will. The New Madrid Fault in the early 19th century caused the Mississippi to flow backward for several days and reroute itself.

These issues are not unique to Norfolk and Louisiana. I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, which is built on what was the Black Swamp. Part of Downtown Chicago is built on the rubble from the great Chicago Fire, which was tossed onto the shore of Lake Michigan. Enough of Florida is built on drained swamps, or the equivalent, and so much groundwater is extracted that sinkholes routinely swallow cars or even houses.

Mother Nature loaned us these areas. I hope she doesn’t want them all back too soon.

Complain, Complain, Complain!

I haven’t written much lately, or at least not much for the blog. (I have been working on a story, though. For some reason, writing fiction has become more satisfying than writing about reality).  I try, when I write, to focus on the silver lining rather than the cloud. Lately, this has become most difficult.

We’ve already discussed how the news media obsesses on all things negative—or meaningless (What’s wrong with Richard Simmons? Will Johnny Depp survive the breakup? Will Caitlin decide to become Bruce once again?). Every trend dies sooner or later, except, apparently for this one. I suppose it’s because they pick the stories that sell the most erectile dysfunction prescriptions, thereby financially benefiting the media, your physician, Big Pharma, venture capitalists, and investment firms.

I propose that we start anew. First, let’s hold a memorial service for journalism. It had a short and tragic life. The first American newspapers were all opinion pieces, but there was one brief shining moment—a century or so—when factual reporting became the gold standard. Many were thrilled at its demise.

My favorite magazines—National Geographic, Wired, and Smithsonian, and National Public Radio have begun to beat me over the head with more doom and gloom. I don’t care who just wrote a book to announce that they’ve come out as gay; I’m sorry that peasants hack down the rain forests because they need to plant food; I regret that there’s a controversy in reintroducing wild wolves into areas where cattle are raised; and I find it unfortunate that while developed countries used coal in the nineteenth century, we balk at twenty-first century countries using such antiquated (but economically viable) methods.  The difference is that rising sea levels today threaten ninety percent of the world’s population because they live near the coast.

In the 1960s we had a saying, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Complaining, even if you’re a well-known television newsperson, accomplishes nothing. How do you plan to solve the problem? Like the ghost of Freddie Prinz the response seems to be, “Not my problem, man!”

So?

Air Travel – A Business Model to Behold

Airplane! Need I say more?

Airplane!
Need I say more?

You’ve got to hand it to the airline industry. Their business model must be the envy of every other industry.

  1. No one likes to travel by airline. It is an trial to be endured. You may want to get to Vail or Orlando but the getting there via airline is not any part of the fun. Whenever there is an alternative, most people choose to avoid commercial flight. Unfortunately busses take forever, trains are unreliable and expensive and there’s a limit to how far the average person will drive.
  2. You can’t get there from here—not directly anyway. You have to stop at one or more additional airports, each of which gets landing fees, gate fees, profit and taxes from fuel sales, etc.
  3. Customer service is so abysmal that one might well consider it customer abuse. No leg room—let’s pack seats closer together. Boarding, which according to queuing theory could be handled significantly better, continues to be handled in a manner markedly worse than animals entering a slaughter house. During the flight, cabin attendants hawk the benefits of signing up for the airline’s very own Visa or MasterCard to a captive audience. “Get more points so we can abuse you more often!”
  4. Customers have been trained to accept additional charges for anything and everything. Check a bag? Twenty dollars. Check a second bag? Thirty-five dollars. Want to sit with your spouse and kids? Better dig out the gold credit card.
  5. Of course, the airports and the shops in the airports have jumped on THIS bandwagon. Parking fees are such that buying a beat up car and abandoning it at the airport is cheaper than paying for parking. Then, of course, there is the magnitude increase of prices for sodas, and food prices that Manhattan restaurants can only dream about. (In the Charlotte airport—a major connection hub—there is even an attendant in the men’s restroom with not one, but TWO Plexiglas tip receptacles [complete with padlocks]. I confess, he was entertaining enough, but aren’t airport restrooms supposed to be seedy places where members of congress seek out casual sex?)
  6. Fuel prices have been dropping, but ticket prices haven’t budged, even though they went up when fuel cost more. Why? The planes are full, so there’s no incentive to lower prices. (More customers? We don’t need no more stinking customers!)

Airlines have complained of being unprofitable for many years, but there’s unprofitable as in “Ohmigod we can’t pay our bills,” and then there’s unprofitable as in, “The accountants have figured out how to juggle the numbers even better. (Those of you who live near airline corporate headquarters—have you ever seen a rusted-out five year old compact car routinely parked in the CEO’s reserved parking spot? Didn’t think so.)

“Please remain seated until the aircraft has come to a complete stop—at which time we’ll sit here for a few more minutes before opening the aircraft door—Why? BECAUSE WE CAN! We know you have a choice in airlines, but we’re buying each other as fast as possible to eliminate choice as the last tiny vestige of human dignity. You can attempt to retrieve your baggage, or what’s left of it after we’ve kicked, dropped, crushed and perused the contents of it on the lower level. (We get some really neat stuff this way—as well as finding out some of your more embarrassing secrets). Some of you may be lucky, while the rest of you will have to make the 120 mile drive back to the airport tomorrow because after standing in line for three hours it made your luggage check in late. In any case, just like your luggage, your dignity has been shredded beyond recognition.

Maybe their motto should be, “We love to abuse, and it shows.”

 

Welcome Carbon Dioxide*

* If you can’t sing the songs from “Hair” you won’t get it…

can copy

An unnamed co-worker pointed out to me today that if carbon dioxide is to be controlled as a pollutant, then we need to think about our beverages.

Hmmm.

An Easter Thought for All

SONY DSC

Easter is a time of hope, optimism and looking forward. Because of its ties to Passover it occurs in the spring, with its focus on life. I propose that we take this time to harness our creative energies as we look ahead.

The prolific Thomas Alva Edison was self-educated, and, before some of you protest, let me remind you that Facebook wasn’t invented by a large corporation, and Apple started out with two guys experimenting in a garage.

So, now to the challenge – What is frequently in the news because we have too much?

Carbon and heat.

Someone is going to figure out what makes carbon – or more specifically carbon dioxide – valuable. When they do, I’m sure that the rest of us will bemoan how obvious the answer was and that we all should have thought of it. As near as I can tell, carbon in many other configurations is preferable to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Likewise, we’re always looking for new sources of energy, particularly renewable energy. W commonly measure energy in terms of heat (calories, and BTU – British Thermal Units). Somehow it must be possible to efficiently capture the extra heat in the atmosphere and store it for use elsewhere.

It’s a time of beginnings, worldly as well as other-worldly, beginnings and possibilities.

Autumn Leaves – A Different Thought

photo homtv.net

photo homtv.net

When I was growing up, people would rake up the leaves in the fall, sweep them to the curb and burn them in the street. The smell of fall was the smell of burning leaves.

Some people thought the smell was attractive. I haven’t thought of it in years. When I lived in Florida, there were few leaves to burn, and when they did it was usually an out-of-control wildfire. Burning palm trees smell like someone torched the dump. Wyoming had lots of wide open spaces unencumbered by trees, so there was no need to burn leaves.

Open fires are frowned on in Virginia. That frown comes with a citation and a fine.

Over time, up here in Ohio and Michigan, burning leaves changed. Many of the concrete or brick streets were covered over with asphalt. Asphalt tends to melt and/or burn, so burning fell out of favor. If you smelled burning leaves, it probably meant that someone parked over top of a pile of leaves and the heat from their catalytic convertor started a fire. Somehow the mix of burning car and burning leaves isn’t quite the same.

So it surprised me to find in southern Michigan – just over the line from Toledo, OH – to be exposed to the ubiquitous smell of burning leaves.

I think that burning leaves, whether autumn or tobacco, belongs to a time now past.

Let’s Fix the Post Office

It's Mr. Zip! He'll fix it!

It’s Mr. Zip! He’ll fix it!

 

We really need to do something about the United States Postal Service (USPS).

1. Their business plan has been to focus on junk mail because it is more profitable in the short run. Never mind that the junk mail goes immediately from the mailbox to the trash or recycling 99% of the time, and eliminating it might be the single largest contribution to solving global warming. Think of all the carbon released making paper, delivering paper to the printer, printing the junk mail, delivering it to the post office, forwarding it from there to the receiving post office and delivering it. Oh, and don’t forget the exhaust from garbage or recycling truck that then takes it away.

How many big businesses went under because to focusing on the short term?

2. The Postal Service is closing facilities in the name of efficiency while sacrificing effectiveness. A birthday card from my house to a neighbor no longer goes 6 miles to downtown Norfolk and back in one day. All that mail now goes 105 miles to Richmond and back in two days. Did I mention how all this transportation by the USPS contributes to global warming?

Plus it takes longer to deliver.

3. The latest brainstorm for the USPS is to compete with FedEx, UPS, and the other successful package delivery systems. So how’s that going?

  • I ordered an item from Mumbai, India on August 15. The Indian postal system showed the item dropped off at the Mumbai Airport Sorting Office on August 17 and arrived in New York (7809 miles) on August 18, at which point it:
    • was handed off to the USPS
    • status on its progress is no longer available
  • I ordered another item from Ames, Iowa, USA on August 13. This item was put into the mail on August 14 and sent to the USPS sorting facility in Des Moines, IA the same day (distance, 34 miles). This morning (August 21) it departed the Des Moines, IA sorting facility after a fun-filled, all expense paid week there.

Mind you, when I ship something, I use the USPS whenever possible. If I sell something on eBay, I send it Priority Mail (2-3 days) in a “if it fits, it ships” box. I purchase the postage on-line and print out an official USPS barcoded label. I’m trying to do my part.

So, c’mon guys. Dump the junk mail and compete like you want to win.

Emergency Preparations

hurr

It’s now June, so Hurricane Season is officially upon us, although if you live in Oklahoma, and your calendar wasn’t blown away with the rest of your house, you might not be impressed.

They say that the best way to prepare for a disaster is to have a plan. On the other hand, they also say that all plans become ineffective once the first incident occurs. Believe it or not, this is not contradictory. In many cases, the planning process is what’s important.

At our house we have emergency supplies from flashlights to dog food. There’s a battery operated television and a generator sufficient to power the refrigerators, the microwave and a window air conditioner. There’s also extra cans of gas and bottles of drinking water, and of course the ham radio equipment.

Even with all that, tonight, I’m going to sit down with my family and discuss what we should do in the event of a storm. In that discussion, I expect that some of the things I haven’t planned for will come up. Even more importantly, everyone will have a better understanding of what we plan to do so when the plan falls apart, there’s a better chance at arriving at a successful alternative.

Danger! Doom! And Disaster!

Among all the doom and gloom that we read about every day, is one particularly troubling story.

Giant snails are invading Florida.

I lived in Florida for a few years, and remember my wife reading to me from a book about Florida. The book said you could describe Florida in one word.

Bugs.

Now I know snails are really terrestrial pulmonate gastropod molluscs, but anything that makes you want to squish it qualifies as a bug in my book.

These snails are particularly nasty. They are Giant African Land Snails and get as big as rats while eating their way through stucco and plaster.

I believe that instead of panicking, we should act.

First, chill four cases of chardonnay.

Mix 100 pounds of butter with a quart of minced garlic and the juice and zest of two dozen lemons. Fire up the big grill and invite your friends over for an all-you-can-eat escargot party.

Better chill more chardonnay and add a couple of cases of beer.

grill

colbyandstacy.wordpress.com

The Church, Science and Mistakes

Pope Francis graduated as a chemical technician before moving on to study philosophy, psychology and theology. CNN (Link below)

Pope Francis graduated as a chemical technician before moving on to study philosophy, psychology and theology. CNN (Link below)

It seems as if many are watching the Vatican to see what Pope Francis is going to do. Lord knows there are mistakes to be cleaned up.

Being human, and being an expert at making mistakes, I accept the fact that churches and their leaders do the same.

My family is not particularly fond of my mistakes, and I’m not fond of the church’s mistakes.

The relationship between science and theology, for example. The church decided that the sun went around the earth, and when Galileo took a “responsible opposing view” the gloves came off.

The problem was that Galileo was right and the church was wrong.

CNN quoted Monsignor Tomasz Trafny, the Director of the Vatican’s Science and Faith Foundation as saying, “There was a time when theologians thought they understood everything… If you look at what is going on today you will see that theologians are very careful about what they are thinking or speaking about related to scientific issues.” [Click for CNN article]

This is good.

As much as I like the pastor at our church, he can’t seem to tell me why my car makes that funny noise, how to get my lawn to look better and we won’t even talk about how bad his advice was on my golf game.

Nevertheless, on spiritual matters he’s good to have around.

The World Ends! Again!

foxnews.com

foxnews.com

Like almost every other American, I have a smart phone, although I only use a few of its features. I do check e-mail, not so much to actually read all of it, but to skim through and see if there’s anything really interesting. The internet access is sometimes handy, although the slow speed and small screen are significant disincentives. The alarm clock comes in handy when I’m on the road.

When I access the phone, the home screen gives me the current weather – just basics like 23 degrees and clear or whatever. However, it has little gizmos to make the weather more entertaining. If it’s raining, a windshield wiper clears video raindrops off the screen, complete with wiper sounds. If it’s windy, I hear the sound of the wind and see clouds blow around the screen.

This morning, before the alarm went off I reached for my phone. The weather screen showed an asteroid streaking toward the earth accompanied by the sound of destruction and screaming.

I’d never known the smart phone to be wrong before, so I took immediate action. I’m a trained professional! I’ve dealt with all kinds of emergencies and disasters throughout my life, so I knew exactly how to handle this.

I immediately yanked the alarm clock power cord from the wall. I fluffed my pillow crawled back under my covers and reveled in the fact that the bed was so warm.

Rule #1: If the world is going to end, you might as well sleep in.

Turns out it was a glitch with the phone.

I still enjoyed the extra sleep.

The Advance of Technology

 

Edison

1963: “Teacher, how does a light bulb work?”

What an excellent topic for Science class today. Several inventors had built light bulbs, but they didn’t last very long. Thomas Alva Edison figured out how to make the first practical light bulb after years of research. He was a prolific inventor with over 1,000 patents including how to record sound and motion pictures.

For the light bulb he figured out that he’d need a filament – that is something that glows – and it needed to be in a vacuum so it wouldn’t just burn up. A glass bulb would maintain a vacuum and let the light shine through, but the filament was a problem. He tried all types of exotic metals, including silver, gold and platinum, but eventually settles on carbon. One story is that he carbonized a piece of cotton thread for the filament.

Today we use tungsten for the filament, but the rest of the design hasn’t changed much. They’re reliable – in fact there are several bulbs that were installed at the beginning of the twentieth century that are still burning today.

2003: “Teacher, how does a one of those curly light bulbs work?”

Well, let’s Google that. Hmmm, it was invented back in 1976 by George Hammer who worked for GE , but they didn’t want to spend the money to manufacture them. Eventually, the Chinese started making them.

They use less electricity than incandescent bulbs but the light is kind of funny colored. They’re supposed to last for five years, but around my house they seem to last about half as long as the old style light bulbs they replace.

They’ve got mercury in them, which is a hazardous material. The expression “As mad as a hatter” referred to the fact that hat makers used mercury and as they absorbed it through their skin, they exhibited erratic behavior, so if you break one, you have a problem.

There’s a phosphor inside that glows. That’s about the best I can do to explain it.

2013: “Teacher, how do light emitting diode – LED light bulbs work?”

Ooops, we’re out of time for science. Put your science books away and get out your social studies books so we can learn all about how Congress gets things done.

There’s Nothing to Write About

Okay, I actually have been very busy with Thanksgiving, setting up the Christmas decorations, soccer tournaments, etc., but I keep looking for something new to write about. In the last month we’ve had elections, economic reports, coups, countercoups, threats, counter threats, but what is really different?

Economists are saying recovery is just around the corner again/still.

The economy is still in the dumper again/still.

Washington is gridlocked again/still.

Lindsay Lohan is in trouble again/still.

Our president is the president again/still.

Everyone says we have to solve the tax / deficit / immigration / jobs / global warming problem again/still.

No one is actually willing to do anything about the tax / deficit / immigration / jobs / global warming problem again/still.

I keep looking for something – anything – that is new enough to inspire me, but, alas, I continue to fail. And I mean really fail. I’ve tried to write another science fiction serial, but there needs to be something, instead of nothing, which is what we’ve got.

(Even the graphic I tried to put here showed up as nothing…..)Fortunately, there is enough nothing to go around. If every American had his fill of nothing every day through the holidays and well into next year, there would still be enough nothing left for future generations.

Wal-Mart considered outsourcing nothing to lower cost Asian and Central American companies, but these emerging economies wanted nothing to do with it.

Jerry Seinfeld already did a television series about nothing, so there’s nothing to be done there.

So we have to ask ourselves, “Is nothing sacred?”

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Honey vs. Vinegar

While I was in Washington, DC I noticed a number of vehicles with the logo for Metro – the commuter train on the side.  They ranged from lawn equipment hauling trucks to armored cars, as well as a number of automobiles.  As it turns out, my hotel in Alexandria, VA (suburban Washington) was located near one of the equipment yards for the Metro.  However, one of the big local stories was that a number of Metro officials had access to cars they could take home.

Now I’ve been told that Washington, DC not only encourages people to use the Metro it also intentionally limits parking spaces to a number that is a fraction of the numbers of people who work there.  Apparently they take their mass transit quite seriously and expect everyone to utilize it whenever possible.

I use the Metro in DC whenever possible.  In my case it’s because there are certain places where I prefer NOT to drive.  Among them are Washington DC, the French Quarter in New Orleans and most of California.  I consider it powerful evidence that I do not have a death wish.  The Metro offers convenience, reliability, reasonable safety and is cost effective, so if I have the option, I’ll use it.

However, the hoopla over the Metro cars shows an interesting situation.  The stories pointed out that some Metro employees with cars included Metro police including their K-9 teams; if someone is threatening the commuter train, I think a rapid response is good.  Others were authorized cars that may be used by others during the day.  These same cars CAN be taken home by certain managers in the evening – but most do not routinely do so.  I’m guessing that if you have an early morning meeting out of town (i.e. beyond the train’s coverage) use a company car. 

These issues didn’t distress me, but got me to thinking.  Marketing convinces us to make a choice because we believe that it is in our best interest.  On the other hand, some people prefer to have the ability to demand that some people make a certain decision.  It’s the old honey vs. vinegar argument.  Use the Metro because it’s safe, convenient and inexpensive vs. take the Metro because we told you to and we took away most of the parking spots.

I prefer the illusion that a decision is mine.

The Power of Positive Smog

The Virginian Pilot picked up a story from the Washington Post written by Juliet Eilperin.  In this article, it discusses a theory published in Science that particles in the air have an effect on the earth’s temperature.  While the article tends to lean toward the effect of volcanic ash, it also discusses soot from fossil fuels.  The particles in the atmosphere block sunlight, thereby potentially reducing global warming.  This is not a new idea since one of the fears of nuclear war was the “Nuclear Winter” that would follow as the sun’s energy would be blocked by clouds of dust generated by the explosions.  The nuclear winter was feared because it could drastically reduce crop and vegetation growth with resulting starvation on the planet.

Global warming and things that influence it is a complex issue.  Various causes and associated remedies have been proposed, however this article causes me to think that other factors may be at play.  A pet peeve of mine is when people come up with easy answers for complex problems.  A danger sign is when someone prefaces their suggestion with, “All you have to do is just…”  That’s right up there with “This won’t hurt a bit.”

When analyzing a situation and proposing a solution, some people fail to do two things.  The first is that they fail to create some type of feedback mechanism.  Now that I’m trying my proposed solution, am I getting closer to the goal I set?  Part of this is due to the fact that it can be very tempting to move away from a problem rather than toward a solution.  If a problem were a point in space, there would be an infinite number of directions away from that problem.  Only a finite number of these move toward a viable solution.  This tells me that it is important to define a solution toward which you can move and then check your progress.  Of course, this also means that if your solution is not working, you need the ability to admit that fact and to try something different.  When trying to solve a problem the goal is the solution, not stroking someone’s ego.

The second problem is that people tend to ignore the rule of unintended consequences.  By addressing one problem other problems that did not exist before come to be.  I know of a man who lived near a national forest and the raccoons were able to find bits of food outside his home.  When he left on vacation, the raccoons came looking for food and did not find any, so they managed to break into the house.  They opened every box in the cupboards and pantry.  They managed to get the refrigerator open.  When he returned his house was a wreck and he had to pay to have the raccoons live trapped and relocated.  The trapper ended up catching 28 raccoons within the house.  (The mess was bad enough, but can you imagine the smell?)

There’s one other issue that often impacts problem resolution.  If the problem does not affect me, I may believe that I don’t need to worry about it.  Or if it affects me differently than others then my priority is strictly to be concerned about myself. 

I worked for a company that sold diagnostic medical equipment such as CTs, MRIs and X-Ray machines.  The X-Ray machines did not produce much profit because it hasn’t changed much in decades and is almost a commodity; one company’s machine is pretty much like all the others.  Frequently hospitals would be interested in a package deal such as 2 X-Ray machines and an MRI scanner in order to negotiate a better price.  The Vice President of MR was unwilling to lower his margin after the X-Ray equipment had been heavily discounted.  As such, he maintained a high margin on a sale of zero dollars as opposed to a smaller margin on a sale of several million dollars.

In the Navy we know that even if all the damage is at the other end of the ship, when that end sinks the whole ship will be lost.

After reading the article I had to ask myself if our efforts to reduce air pollution over the past 50 years has had both positive and negative results.  We’ve reduced smog and are able to breathe better which is good.  However, have there been unintended consequences as well?  I’m sure there are.

Any good navigator would tell us it’s time to compare our current location against where we think we should be.  We may find we are exactly where we expected to be.  If so we can ask if we are headed toward the correct destination – if so then we should continue.  However if either our current location or our intended destination is incorrect we need to make some changes.

Weather is complex; environment even more so.  However, if we can learn about these and become better at coming up with better problem solving skills, it will be a great advance in two significant areas.

Is This Really Progress?

I have been working on a number of small projects – you know the ten minute repairs that (if you’re lucky) only take 5 – 6 hours.  With it being summer it’s too hot to work out in the garage for very long and definitely not after early morning.  I naturally have a few minor observations that I’m willing to share.

As we’ve advanced in technology, items have become more difficult to repair.  Many are sealed to prevent access and the component values obliterated or epoxied to prevent identification.  I’ve been told that in some cases such as televisions, adjustments can be done if you know the top secret codes to enter into the remote control.  However, these are guarded with more efficiency than the names of terrorists’ couriers.

My grandparents had radios that were handed down to my parents and then handed down to me.  Having large individual components meant that repairs could be effected fairly easily.  In most cases the components were robust enough to last a long time with no maintenance.  Tubes needed to be replaced from time to time, but tubes could be bought at the corner drugstore.  Plenty of used parts were available by watching the curb for old black and white TV’s as color became affordable. 

While tubes did wear out, some components such as electrolytic capacitors tended to fail only if the device was not used on a regular basis.  Turning the radio on allowed the capacitors to “form” which extended their life; after long disuse the capacitor broke down and the electrolytic paste seeped out of the case – the first indication that the component needed to be replaced.  The second indication was that the device failed to work and developed a strange smoky aroma.  This led to the myth that all electronic components have smoke inserted during the manufacturing process; when the smoke leaks out the component will no longer work.

In order to make repairs easier, one could visit the local public library for easy access to the repair manuals.  These provided information on testing procedures, component identification as well as repair and reassembly instructions.

Electronic devices were less forgiving back in those days.  The voltages within televisions and radios were fairly high, and certain components could provide an especially nasty surprise.  A television’s flyback transformer, for example could deliver a jolt that would render the tinkerer’s arm mostly useless for several hours.  Of course in those days people knew that coffee was hot, ladders were dangerous and if you weren’t careful, poking around in a television while it was on could have consequences.  Today’s electronic devices operate at much lower power levels so although they are safer, they are harder to work on.  While some could claim it is to keep consumers safe I suspect it is more to generate the market for replacements.

I removed an automatic device from my ham radio equipment that had failed and replaced it with an older manual device.  The older device works fine and will probably provide many more years of reliable service.  This made me think; for how long can we support an economy that depends upon failure and replacement on a two to three year cycle?  Talk about an environmental issue – what is the carbon footprint or the amount of landfill that holds electronic devices, not to mention the hazardous metals that they contain. 

Then of course there is the fact that we have pretty much removed an entire tier from our economy – the workers who are technically trained to repair electronics.  This is especially significant when coupled with the fact that we’ve shifted much of our manufacturing and tech support overseas?

I realize that in some cases new technology provides capabilities that prior technology did not, but I challenge whether newer is always better.  Maybe we should recycle more than newspapers and milk jugs.  Just a thought.

Solar Cooling?

A report came out yesterday indicating that scientists expect the sun to enter a period of lower activity beginning somewhere around 2021or 2022.  This prediction is based on the precursors to the sunspot cycle – an 11 year evolution during which sunspots peak then fall.  The magnetic flow for the next sunspot cycle should be visible by now, but it is not.

(Note:  The reason I’m so interested in this is because sunspots determine the propagation of radio waves, an important issue to ham radio operators.  Too few sunspots and the ionosphere doesn’t reflect radio waves back to earth; too many and communications can be disrupted by noise from solar flares.)

There is the possibility of a “Maunder Minimum” which is a prolonged period marked by minimal sunspots.  Until now, this term has been used primarily to describe the period between 1645 and 1710, during which winters in the Northern Hemisphere were particularly cold.   These conditions led to colder temperatures, reducing agricultural output and leading to decreases the human population in some areas. 

While three scientific studies are see indicators believed to predict reduced solar activity, it’s too early to predict what effect, if any, it may have.  In the past I have written about global warming and taken the position that it is never wise to foul one’s nest, so we are best served by being good stewards of our planet.  I’ve also said that global warming should be handled as a scientific question rather than a political one.  I believe the same approach is appropriate when looking at solar variations.

I think there’s one definite lesson here; we are an intelligent species, but not an omniscient one.  Add to this that issues once relegated to Scientific American or summarized in Popular Science are now immediately broadcast on cable news within the hour.  These theories are then accepted as “facts” when, as theories, they are not.

If true, and we are headed toward cooler climates, isn’t it convenient that we may have created a greenhouse effect that could minimize its effect? 

Some might even suspect the hand of a loving God once again protecting us.