A Cold day in H__L

This is reputedly a photograph of a test from years ago regarding windmills and icing. Almost the reverse of what it has sometimes been used to represent.
BUT….

Did Frozen Wind Turbines Impact the Texas Freeze? Here’s the Data

BY BRYAN PRESTON FEB 17, 2021

As the graph plainly shows, wind generation choked down but natural gas compensated. Coal and even nuclear power generation dipped. Solar generation has been negligible due to cloud cover and several inches of snow and ice.

From StreetWiseProfessor: Who Is To Blame for SWP’s (and Texas’s) Forced Outage? “The facts are fairly straightforward. In the face of record demand (reflected in a crazy spike in heating degree days)…

…supply crashed. Supply from all sources. Wind, but also thermal (gas, nuclear, and coal). About 25GW of thermal capacity was offline, due to a variety of weather-related factors. These included most notably steep declines in natural gas production due to well freeze-offs and temperature-related outages of gas processing plants which combined to turn gas powered units into energy limited, rather than capacity limited, resources. They also included frozen instrumentation, water issues, and so on.”

So then Krugman rolls in from the NYT saying ‘Texas’ problem was Windmills is a Lie. ‘ Which itself, while not a lie in Detail, is a lie in Essence. As per some top line thinking in ManhattanContrarian in This Piece Points out:

Total winter generation capacity for the state is about 83 GW, while peak winter usage is about 57 GW. That’s a margin of over 45% of capacity over peak usage. In a fossil-fuel-only or fossil-fuel-plus-nuclear system, where all sources of power are dispatchable, a margin of 20% would be considered normal, and 30% would be luxurious. This margin is well more than that. How could that not be sufficient?

The answer is that Texas has gone crazy for wind. About 30 GW of the 83 GW of capacity are wind.

….sometimes the wind turbines only generate at a rate of 600 MW — which is about 2% of their capacity. And you never know when that’s going to be.

ManhattanContrarian

But/And it IS complicated. 1) You can install deicing systems on windmills but they are expensive to install and maintain and require INPUT of electric power to operate (Texas average weather makes this uneconomic to install.) 2) Texas did this to itself, it has an independent Grid because it IS a country sized state, the grid operator is actually a Bit Wind Crazy…why…because Texas has a lot of wind power. 3) This weather is a Combination of once in a hundred year cold AND snow/cloud cover, which systems are not designed to deal with other than in some degraded manner.

So one can only hope that because it is complicated and is fairly easily shown to be so that the cool heads will be left to work out some solution that prevents this sort of thing happening again. Because yes weather is unpredictable and while this was a 1/100 double header, it did occur and that says that the odds may not be what we think they are and so some mitigation is required. That mitigation is Not more wind, Not stored power, it IS more nuclear +better of all the above, AND better links to the broader national grid, etc, etc.

Myself, I’m planning a new house in the country. Big propane tank, backup generator, solar power, grid tied battery backup, ultra insulated house (for the region.) My prediction is that the grid is going to get worse not better and if you you can, you need to be able to survive without electric power from the mains for a week or more. I can make that possible, though I am in the few percent just because of location, situation, grace of the Infinite.

To explore you need Access

Photo of a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system from the Rover/NERVA programs (left) and a cutaway schematic with labels (right). SOURCE: M. Houts et. al., NASA’s Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Project, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, August 2018, ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/20180006514.
Space Nuclear Propulsion for Human Mars Exploration
National Academics of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
National Academies Press
2021
[ParabolicArc Executive Summary, Findings & Recommendations from National Academies Report on Space Nuclear Propulsion
February 13, 2021 Doug Messier
]

While a chemically powered trip to Mars is feasible given the ability to lift a lot of mass so orbit, See SpaceX-Elon Musk, this is probably not the solution you would go for first. I think it makes sense as part of the Vision Setting that Musk does but the preference has always been for nuclear propulsion it enables faster (safer) trips and makes reusability even more effective since the ‘shuttles’ are not spending many months in transit each way.

Posit a Freighter something like the illustration below. Departing Mars having dropped of say 2, 3, 4 starships’ worth of cargo. MarsStarships shuttle up and down and provide point to point transport on Mars. EarthStarships shuttle cargo up to earth orbit. Maybe LunarStarships shuttle fuel from production stations on the Moon to reduce the cost of fuel for the starships and the Freighter.

Illustration of a Mars transit habitat and nuclear propulsion system that could one day take astronauts to Mars. (Credits: NASA) [ParabolicArc: Executive Summary, Findings & Recommendations from National Academies Report on Space Nuclear Propulsion February 13, 2021 Doug Messier]

Now you have a system that provides Access to the solar system with significant cargos and the ability to establish and support exploration stations wherever you go.

Space, a little at a time

Miniature Tethered Electrodynamics Experiment MiTEE

MiTEE is a cool space experiment out of the University of Michigan. Faculty led, undergraduate, graduate and PhD student team, developed and got launched a cube (stack) satellite that is demonstrating the use of tethers for de orbiting spacecraft, a serious need in this day of thousand plus satellite constellations.

As a note of interest this was on the first successful Virgin Orbit launch.

KelTec the wild man of the gun world

KelTec P50: First Look at the New 50-Round 5.7x28mm Pistol

COMPLETE WITH TWO FN P90 MAGAZINES, THE ALL-NEW KELTEC P50 LOADS BY LIFTING UP THE BARREL AND SLIDING THE 50-ROUND 5.7X28MM MAGAZINE I By BALLISTIC STAFF

So I love the old StarGate series and one of the icons of the series was the use of the FN P90 bull pup machine pistol with its 50 round transparent plastic magazine on the top of the barrel, just popping off the bad Egyptian dudes by the dozens.

The reality was that this French sponsored weapon was not just a prop. Developed in the 80’s as better than a pistol, sub machine gun or rifle for vehicle crews and security forces . Something with the ability to penetrate bullet proof vests, carry a lot of rounds, but not load the soldier down or make a big visual impression.

The core of this is the 5.7×28 mm round…a center fire 22 pistol round. With the ability to accurately hit and penetrate at moderate range. A 9in (ish) barrel in a bull pup kept the weapon short. The plastic magazine was bizarre but worked, stacking the rounds sideways with a ramp/pivot to feed the rounds into the chamber. It doesn’t sound like a great idea but apparently it was engineered well and does the job reliably while providing 50 rounds.

The 5.7×28 round has started to make an impact with the current interest in self defense and concealed carry. The Ruger 57, the FN 57 pistol both are modest successes and deservedly so. Now KelTec kicked it up a whole lot with this 5.7x28mm Maxi Pistol…really a bit of a competitor to the P90 which may be out of print now. It is a wild take on what is supposed to be a personal ‘side arm’ but it certainly makes an impression.

Cheers.

Tragedy of the NotCommons

https://www.pexels.com/@akos-szabo-145938

A blog tag to an article I did not read set me to thinking today. Read on if you think that the Net today is fraught with societal risk.

I have been using the WWW, Internet, since a couple of years after its start as ARPANET and MilNet for email and data transmission. Following it through the years I saw the slow exploration then the exuberant exploitation through the 80’s and 90’s even the 0ughts.

One of the things I had a hard time understanding was the effervescent froth about how this was freedom and that governments could never control it. When governments where the entity that installed it and ran it in many places. There are arguments in support of a weakish case for net freedom but for the masses it is not and will never be a truly open commons.

A big part of this is because of the way most people interface with the Net. They use it like they use a car, get in and drive, many times not knowing a thing about internal combustion engines, transmissions, etc. They are not technically savvy people, but then even people like me, an engineer, thirty plus year user of the Net, do not understand the ‘stacks’ on ‘stacks’ that are the interwoven hardware, firmware, protocols and software that makes the Net hum.

In the early days the Net was about Protocols, eMail and Hyperlink were two critical protocols that enabled communication and the creation of documents (Still, though they are called, Blogs, or Sites) that could be read out of sequence and include incredible depths of information that were simply impossible with a book or the like.

This early Net was dynamic and boisterous but largely a land of technical folks, academics, geeks and nerds. It was a natural environment for them in a way only the still evolving desktop computer had been until then.

After a while businesses started to move in and the media started to look at this as a way of distributing their content without the cost and logistic drag of newsprint, TV stations or even radio. Of course what most did not see coming was that the net would make their old advertiser supported business model very difficult to support over the long term while giving new Platforms (AOL and their ilk, now TWITTER, FACEBOOK etc) a leg up as essentially the new middle man between the consumer and ‘the content.’

But even at the start with AOL et al, some philosopher technical types pointed out that these Platforms ,while they gave Joe User an easy path to the internet, put a barrier between the user and the broader Net. Some like me never went down the platform path because we wanted the depth of the Net in the raw as it were but we pay the penalty of having to work harder to get things that Platform users get for free.

Twenty years on Facebook and Twitter have paved over the Net to a very significant degree. They started as just social networks with different focuses. But they have become the principle distributor of news and opinion. They have sucked up adjacent Net onramps in their fight to gain share and suppress competition. Now they lust after your data so they can sell it to the highest bidder, while using it, somewhat unintentionally to wrap the users in ever thicker cocoons of confirmation bias. They have also strangled the legacy media in its bed by stripping away the advertiser revenue.

Why?

I see 3 main reasons, ease of use, addictive content and the network affect. Ease of Use: You might argue that some of them are not that easy today but in the beginning essentially each of them was drop dead simple, so simple a tweener cheerleader could use it in ten seconds or less. Addictive Content: Most of these tools make something you want to do easy and provide reinforcing feedback, if your tweet goes viral to a 1000 people, woohooo! If your facebook post gets a like from a dozen friends, charge UP! This is addiction. Network affect: Simply stated, a network of 10 people has 100 interconnects, 100 people have 10,000 interconnects, the more people on a platform the more valuable it is to the user as well as the owner. Since you have limited time in your life, you cannot copy identical on multiple platforms going along. Then the platforms will make it hard for you to migrate from them with your list of friends, follows, photos, blogs, whatever.

So?

The title of the article I mentioned at the start said something about Protocols vs Platforms and this was one of those epiphany things you hear about. AHA!

Platforms are largely just Net hubs and they hate open protocols because it will reduce them to pipes and strip away their ability to siphon off value from the users, both consumer and creator.

Facebook or Twitter are just Protocols of Protocols with a software wrapper. Their core are proprietary protocols & software, not open protocols so that competition is impossible. The network affect and the users addiction to the particular flavor of Platform makes changing essentially impossible.

But if the Platforms are required to open their protocols and enable users to migrate their core identity the monopoly would be broken without destroying the user side value. One could even see an anti monopoly order that required some kind of Baby Twitter / Baby Facebook disaggregation that requires the ‘Babies’ interlink and compete.

This seems relatively clear cut process . It would provide the users with competition for their core value that is simply not there today. And while it will hurt the stockholders (who are earning monopolist profits today) it does not strip their assets while providing the opportunity to earn significant returns going forward.

The NonCommons of today, the Platforms, are a tragedy for the users in that their value is stripped without much recompense beyond ease of use. If we go back to the roots of the Net, open protocols, and user value, we have a chance to build back better….and make the Net great again.

Mice with damaged spine, enabled to walk again…Faster Please…

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

JANUARY 15, 2021
Designer cytokine makes paralyzed mice walk again

by

“Thus, gene therapy treatment of only a few nerve cells stimulated the axonal regeneration of various nerve cells in the brain and several motor tracts in the spinal cord simultaneously,” says Dietmar Fischer. “Ultimately, this enabled the previously paralyzed animals that received this treatment to start walking after two to three weeks. This came as a great surprise to us at the beginning, as it had never been shown to be possible before after full paraplegia.”

Above article in MedicalXPress via Phys.org

Let’s hope this paves the way for human treatment. Not that I don’t love cyborg exoskeletons in their place, but this is far better.

Lethal load out

U.S. Navy Amphibious Warship To Deploy With Anti-Ship Missiles Next Year
Containerized missile launchers would give amphibious warfare ships a new way to protect against hostile warships, as well as engage other threats.
BY JOSEPH TREVITHICK JANUARY 11, 2021

Article in The Drive’s WarZone.

So the Naval Strike Missile, a middle weight anti ship missile will be mounted on an Amphib to provide integral defense and a little bit of offense capacity. The main purpose of this deployment is for experimentation with the fleet, to see if it changes the nature of the game when at sea. The Amphib is a big ship but is in essence a sea going ferry for the marines, a fast freighter. But these ships are big and impressive and sometimes used to show the flag. They have defensive weapons but nothing to ‘shoot the archer’ usually that is left to an escort. Having some rounds on board would change the dynamics and utility perhaps in a positive way.

While the preliminary deployment will have the missile amidships like a warship might. But the missile could be mounted on a truck that is being transported, just drive it out onto the flight deck, lock it down and shoot. With all sorts of truck mounted ordinance such as Hellfire, 155mm Cannons, HIMARS GPS Guided Rockets, there are a lot of options that this could provide for protection or force projection.

With the continued growing cost of specialized warships this sort of flexible tactical utilization looks like a good use of modern precision weapons. One can and should argue that it does not provide any kind of one for one replacement for a warship. But is a warship; a frigate, destroyer, cruiser… really what we need? Maybe its a combination of gnat weight autonomous missile slingers supporting heavy flex fighters like this Amphib.

Photovoltaic…as I said, it’s real and getting more real.——Why the Price of New Solar Electricity Fell an Incredible 89% in the Last Decade

Our World In Data chart, via SingularityHub
By Jason Dorrier – Dec 13, 2020
This has been in the news but discounted in some ways utility side issues still make this a success story the utilities could do without. A couple of general downside views. Solar modules are a troubling refuse stream until recycling tech hits new highs. The cell modules wear out over time, the wear out and $payback often overlap in the wrong way. Both of these issues should ease in the coming years but you cannot discount them yet. Still this is amazing and it seemed obvious at least 5 years ago, nice that it kept on trend.

Artificial…uh, dance partners?

Two items run across recently the emphasize the huge progress that robotics and Artificial intelligence has made in the last couple of years.

From Robot Reports a somewhat frightening video:Watch Boston Dynamics Robots Tear up the Dance Floor.

Boston Dynamics Atlas doing parcur from an article in The Verge

The Boston Dynamics robots are at the point that they can do most things a human can in regards to locomotion. It is unclear how much beyond balance and moving is local to the robots as the thoroughly bounded arena makes clear but the basics of the body frame is there. Ability to manipulate the environment other than in the most basic way has not been demonstrated by Boston Dynamics but other companies are making huge strides in manipulators. Ability to sense and understand the environment is another huge step. Except that the sensors exist (autonomous cars etc). Leaving understanding the environment beyond a very limited ‘world.’ And that takes a brain, and that seemed a long way off….except is it?

Hat tip Maggies Farm, in Towards Data Science: the article; GPT-3: The First Artificial General Intelligence?

From the article
The picture above shows an inverted dome with a waterfall at is base pouring water into another circular waterfall. An interesting visual metaphor for the reinforced learning of many modern AI systems.

GPT3 would appear to be on the threshold of general purpose artificial intelligence. In the article it is noted that GPT3 is a brain in a box with no ability to sense or manipulate the environment without human intervention. But ‘wrapping’ those abilities ‘around’ GPT3 appears all but trivial. Given its ability to learn on its own would a Boston Dynamic’s wrapped GPT3 become something close to the robot of our dreams and nightmares. It certainly appears so.

Atlas’s is battery powered, I think, to the tune of an hour or so. GPT3 is instantiated on a huge computer network but both of those limitations are receding every day as computing power and battery storage continue to improve driven by their broad application across the tech scene.

Five years from now it would seem likely that the general purpose android robot will be a real thing. If built in quantity like say a Tesla 3 are you looking at $30K a pop? What does that lead to?

I want to make sure they understand that I for one welcome our dancing robot overlords.

Point to point sub orbital

Preparing for “Earth to Earth” space travel and a competition with supersonic airliners From NASASpaceFlight.Com an important and fun source on space activity all around the world not just NASA/US

So this seems crazy but in all honesty it has actually been a thing for a long time. It is mentioned in a lot of sixties/seventies SF not focused on space flight. It was seriously studied several times as a sort of replacement for parachute insertion of military force. And like most of those sorts of efforts there was a commercial concept to support the technology since the folks in the defense industry understood that military programs cannot support a robust industry on its own.

Just look at nuclear power, there was a reason that nuclear power stations evolved as the Navy came to realize they wanted nuclear ships. And there is a reason that small aircraft carriers and non nuclear submarines are anathema to certain parts of the Naval establishment. They know that if non nuclear CVs and SSs became common the industry required to support the nuclear fleet would become unaffordable.

https://thehighfrontier.blog/2016/03/20/straight-back-down-to-earth-a-history-of-the-vertical-takeoffvertical-landing-rocket-part-1/

People have already talked about the DoD buying Starships and using them as bombers / hypersonic weapons platforms. This is just turning the model above around.

Back in medieval times freighters and warships were the same thing, they just tacked on some fighting platforms and went at it with bows, crossbows, catapults, swords, etc. Even the Vikings probably started out as traders though always ready to ‘raise the black flag and slit a few throats’ if that looked like the right business strategy.

Anyway…sorry for the side commentary, it’s evening and I had a good dinner so I’m wandering a bit.

So, again anyway…if you look at it, a craft like the Starship, which has the performance as a single stage vehicle to haul 100 tons 10,000 miles in less than an hour has some attraction on its face….but in reality?

  • To my mind the most value dense time sensitive cargo is people but that’s years out at the least.
  • In the meantime are there cargos that are so time sensitive that something like a starship might make sense?
    • Couriered documents. Maybe
    • Mail. Does not seem like it.
    • Medical supplies only if the ship could land almost anywhere and take off again.
    • High value tech like chips? Maybe but 100 tons is overkill.
    • In fact most of the above are not 100 ton class cargos and frequency and flexibility of landing seem critical.

So dead on arrival? No there are customers who might pay for a a limited 100 ton capability. I think it would need to be anywhere in the world which is more than 10,000 miles but is probably within the capability of a modified Starship with more fuel and less cargo…or maybe an extended tank Starship could do 100 tons out to 18,000 miles (my wag of anywhere in the world from anywhere in the world.)

A somewhat smaller starship could do 10 tons 18,000 miles and probably land at just about any port or airfield as long as you can supply LOx and LNG, which is not that uncommon.

Go back to the start. If you burn a couple of hundred tons of LOx/LNG what is the cost? Does it make economic sense? Is it safe, is it going to be acceptable?

  • Economics:
    • LOx/LNG are in the same $/ton range as Jet fuel, you are burning a couple of times the fuel since you have to haul up the oxidizer with you and pay for that as well so say 4x the fuel bill.
    • The hull is in line with a modern airline.
    • If you can do a trip a day or so with support costs in the same range as a jet, it would appear to me that for the right cargo you could make it work.
  • Is it safe?
    • Well not right now but once the tech is wrung out ?? I think so.
    • the big difference is much higher energies than a jet.
    • But…your exposure time is a fraction of that of a jet over the same range. Accidents in mid flight are rare but generally lead to complete loss. Exposure time is probably the most important difference…advantage Point to Point
    • Ok so the major threat time is when you are near the ground around take off and landing, Those are shorter for the Point to Pointer.
    • And to me the difference in energy involved is immaterial…dead is dead and most of the time accidents of any magnitude in those phases are not survivable.
    • Accidents on the runway often have survivors but that is eliminated in the Point to Point case…up and down…no in between…
  • Acceptable?
    • Only time will tell, my guess is YES.
    • It will be a bit like the glamor days of the early airliners I would expect point to point for certain segments to be a real elite punch card
    • Especially as near earth space becomes an exotic but achievable location.

Exciting times indeed.