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Friday, April 3, 2020

Why Covid 19 testing

All the reasons to test for Covid19 you hear every day on the radio are perfectly true.  It allows contact testing so you can isolate possible future cases.  It allows a reduction of the number of cases at any one time (flattening the graph) so that our health system can cope with the serious cases.  It allows us to see how effective our measures are and where new cases are coming and gives us an insight on how the virus spreads.  But there is another important reason to test for Covid 19 which has to do with getting our economy back running.

For this we need to be testing not for the antigen (the virus itself) as we do now to detect active cases but we must be testing for the antibody.  The antibody is the material generated by the body which will neutralize any new viruses that we pick up from our environment.  If we have antibodies in our blood for a given virus we are immune to it.

The assumption that the following is based on, is that after we have generated the antibodies, we will be immune to this virus for a considerable time, perhaps even for life.  It is also likely that if the virus mutates there will be at least partial immunity to the new variety.  If these assumptions, especially the first turns out not to be true, then all the following in null and void.  However, that is the case with most viruses and it is a reasonable assumption that we will develop an immunity to this virus as well by having had the disease.

It has been reported that for each person that show symptoms, there are 4 or 5 that catch the disease but are a-symptomatic.  This was an early estimate and I have not heard a more authoritarian one since then.

If this is so, for every recovered person there are about 5 people who are also immune to the disease but this can only be determined by testing people for antibodies (not the antigen)to the disease.  These people are extremely valuable.

They can go back to work, look after people in isolation facilities and even in hospitals with no risk to themselves or to others.  We can begin to get the economy up and running again

It is true that these people could transmit the disease but only like a table or hand rail could. They are simply a surface on which the virus could remain for a while but they are not virus factories spewing out millions of viruses.  If they are in contact with Covid 19 victims, they should probably shower carefully and change their clothes before coming into contact with unaffected folks.

It is highly important to be able to test people for antibodies and I would suggest that anyone that is positive (is immune to Covid 19) should be issued a photo ID card to keep in their wallet or purse to show the police or employer or anyone else who is concerned.  These people are very valuable in beginning to get our economy up and running

Sadly the countries that have been slackest in controlling  the spread of the virus will be the countries that can get up and running first.  They will develop herd immunity earlier and the virus will die out in their countries.  The cost of their poor response to the virus will be the death of many of their citizens who didn't have to die.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Cheap Tree Planting

We are all a flutter these days over planting trees to take up carbon dioxide from the air.  Great.  It is not the whole solution but nothing is.  Planting trees is one useful arrow in our quiver.

However, don't produce seedlings for planting.  Simply Truncheon.  Most Deciduous trees in the Northern Hemisphere truncheon beautifully and it is orders of magnitude cheaper than using seedling.

Of course if you are the politician who is making the decisions and a nursery company is financing your election campaigns, you will probably go for seedlings.  But,,,,If you truly want the maximum bang for the taxpayers buck, go for Truncheoning

So how do you Truncheon.

First, you do this in the wet season or at least when there is a reasonable amount of moisture in the soil where you want to establish a grove, riparian zone or forest.

Given a choice, spring is best when the sap is rising and there is a whole summer ahead for good growth.

Decide which tree you want to plant; say a willow.  Cut  down a willow tree at about waste height.  You want it to coppice (grow out from the stump you have left) since it will  be a source for more truncheons in the future.

Cut the whole tree into forearm length pieces from the trunk to the smallest branches.  Pile the pieces into your pick up truck, cover with some wet sacks and head to the area you want to plant.

You will need a sledge hammer, a straight steel bar sharpened at one end, a sharp axe or hatchet and a sharp knife.  You might want to take along a balk of wood to use as a chopping block.when you are sharpening the larger pieces with your axe.  Optional is a can of PVC paint that you have lying around from your latest DIY project.

When you get to the site, put out your chopping block and start to sharpen the lower end of all the large pieces with your axe.  Use your knife or axe to strip one thin strip of bark from one side of the truncheon along the lower third of the truncheon.  Where this is in contact with the soil, roots will form.

Pound these pieces into the ground.  If the ground is unyielding, drive the steel bar repeatedly into the same hole and then pound  the truncheon into the hole. Rotate the truncheon after each drive to open the hole and facilitate getting the bar out for another drive.

For the smaller fore arm length pieces, no need to sharpen them.  Just strip a thin strip of bark from the lower third.  Drive the Steel bar into the ground until you have made a hole as deep as a third of your thinner truncheons and drop in the truncheon.  Heel it in.

Presto chango, you have created a grove of trees.  You may have to protect them if you have deer or rabbits in the area but you have local knowledge and will know of any special problems in your neck of the woods.

Oh, and if you want, you can paint the cut top of the  truncheons with the PVC paint.  This reduces evaporation and may help the growth of the truncheon in dryer areas.  Paint half and leave half and see if there is any difference.  A couple of coats is worth doing.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Democrats throwing Presidential Election

That is the question.  Are the Democrats knowingly throwing the coming presidential election. How bloody ridiculous, you say.  Why would any political party throw the presidential election on purpose.  Why indeed!

Let's look first at another item in our recent past.  Before the great depression of the 30's, the economy cycled between boom and bust about every 11 years.  The great depression was so severe that FDR (Franklin Delanor Rosefelt) was able to put in measures such as  Glass Steagall, that stopped the banks gambling with our money.  This lasted for about 50 years until the banks came to the government and pleaded to have the regulations relaxed.  Their argument.  "Why would we do anything to wreck our businesses.  It is perfectly safe for you to remove the regulations" and the government fell for it. Later, after the 2008 crash, Obama succeeded in getting Dodd-Frank passed which returned some sanity into banking.

Actually, I don't think they fell for it.  I think they knew what would happen but were probably getting financial support for their elections from the banks and who knows what other 'perks'.

Now with this Covid19 crash, the banks are once more going to get a big bail out.  It would be far better to give it to the people who would spend it just to keep their heads above water and thus feed it that way to the banks.  What will banks and other big businesses do with the money.  I bet they will buy back their shares at bargain basement prices so that they have less dividends to pay in the future and more money to give each other as bonuses.

But here is the question.  Why in the lead up to 2008 did they bundle up junk morgages and sell them at a premium as if they were double A, knowing perfectly well that they were endangering the whole economic structure.  The answer is commissions.  With every transaction, the bank earns some money and part of that money goes to the employee who did the transaction.  Individual bankers could care less about the viability of their business as long as they can accumulate their commissions; as long as they can feather their nests.

Come now to the question at hand.  Why would the Democrats knowingly throw the presidential election by choosing an incompetent man who is clearly 'loosing it' like Joe Biden.  To answer that question it is instructive to paraphrase a comment by that great politician, Sarah Palin.  I can only recall one sensible comment she made in her career.  To paraphrase, she said, How come congressmen and senators that come into office with modest means, leave office rich.

It certainly is not due to their salaries, which are quite adequate but not enough to make them rich.  Clearly there are various 'benefits' to be had if you are on the inside.

Do you see a parallel with the bankers.

So to answer the question, it is not so much that they want to throw the election.  The truth, though,  is that they would much rather throw the election and leave Trump in office so that the various systems that allow them to feather their nest remain, than to have Bernie in office.  They know for a dead certainty that Bernie will whittle away at the corrupt practices in government and that this will make it harder and harder for them to enrich themselves.

They would be quite happy of Joe was elected.  The Democrats are becoming more and more like Republicans.  The Republicans always choose puppets who will do what they are told but who have zilch minds of their own.  The last thing they want is a leader that will look after the people rather than the insiders. The last thing they want is an honest president in the White House.  They need someone that will play the game. Look at those great presidents, Bush and Regan.  WTF.  If Joe is in office the whole system will remain just as favorable for the insiders as it is today and sod the people.

So what is the final answer to the question.

No the Democrats don't want to throw the presidential election but they would much rather loose than allow Bernie anywhere near the leavers of power.  Bernie would  drain the swamp as Trump promised to do with no intention of carrying through. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Covid19 unexpected results

As this pandemic spreads through the world there will be some somewhat contrary, unexpected consequences.  Once a vaccine is developed and widely available, the whole situation changes but just now we see a situation in which some countries, notably, New Zealand, have put measures in place that may well stop the virus in it's tracks while others, notably Italy, have not.  In Italy, the virus has got away from them.

You may remember reports on a previous pandemic.  I refer to the black death in Europe.  Before it killed massive numbers of the population, the serfs were completely under the thumb of their feudal lords.  They had no where else to go.  Following the multiple waves of this disease through the population, the remaining serfs could sell their labor to the highest bidder and it was the beginning of the end for feudalism and the beginning of the rise of the 'common man'.

So what can we expect in countries like Italy where the virus has got away from them  First there will be a lot of death, skewed heavily toward the elderly and to people with existing medical conditions, and especially, but not confined to people with respiratory problems.  So what will this do to the health service.  Initially it will be overwhelmed.  There will never be enough beds or equipment to take care of the huge pulse of sick people and many will die.  Those that survive will most likely be immune to this virus and likely for a considerable time, perhaps for the rest of their life.  They will likely also have some degree of cross immunity for any mutations of this same virus.  Two results seem obvious.

First you are creating a large number of people rather rapidly who can go back to work, can take care of sick family members and can even work in isolation facilities with no danger to themselves or to others*.  There will be a lot of deaths, although not at any where near the rate of the black death and mainly among the elderly and otherwise medically compromised people.  This brings us to the second consequence

*It would be useful to issue a plastic card like a credit card or drivers license to people who have tested positive for antibodies and negative for the virus.  In other words, people who are now immune to the virus. They can be allowed to circulate and associate with the healthy and the sick with no danger to themselves or to others.

At the end of the spread of the disease, the government will have decreased health and pension costs.  Many sick people who needed more care than members of the general public are gone as are many pensioners.  It is a hard reality that the exchequer will be in better shape.  And this brings us to the third consequence.

Countries that reacted poorly to the virus and didn't stop it spreading will recover far more quickly than countries that stopped it in it's tracks.  Their businesses and especially tourist businesses and others in which the workers come in contact with large numbers of people can be up and running very quickly Of course all this changes when an effective vaccine is widely available.  With an effective vaccine the whole country can rapidly return to business as usual.  This brings us to the fourth consequence.

A country which has been slack in it's treatment of the disease will start to develop herd immunity which will slow down the further spread of the disease. A country that has stopped the spread of the virus will be vulnerable to new explosions of the virus until a vaccine is available and widely rolled out.

In addition, with all the death, not all of it confined to the sick and elderly, there will be upward mobility for the survivors.  The whole dynamics in businesses, governments and other organizations may change, sometimes for the better as some dead wood is got rid of and sometime for the worse as critical people die.

But, in all this, what is a government to do.  It can't present the above scenario to the people and say as a country we will be better off if we simply let the disease take it's course but a lot of you will die.  No government could, in good conscience do such a thing .  And besides, once a vaccine is readily available, the whole situation changes --- Until the next pandemic appears.

And, the more we can slow down the spread of the virus, the less people will be sick at any one time.  This is what they mean when they talk about flattening the curve.  This means that it will be possible to care for the sick more intensively and  save lives.

But, sadly, it is still very likely that countries that have allowed the virus to spread will be up and running sooner than countries that have looked after their citizens.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Renewable Energy - The breakthrough

There has finally been the breakthrough in renewable energy we have all been waiting for.  Many small incremental advances have been happening all along which has make this final, vital, critical breakthrough possible and many more will be made which will fine tune the system but we are over the hump.

Image result for graph cost of wind generated electricity
Reduction of the cost of wind power over time

The price of solar and wind have become less expensive to install and operate, kW for kW than a coal fired power station.  In fact, it is now less expensive to build and operate a mega wind or solar farm than to operate an existing coal fired power station.  To put the cherry on the top, when you start to build a wind farm or solar  farm, each unit you install starts to generate electricity and produce revenue.  A new coal fired power station has to be complete before you see your first return.

Image result for graph price of solar electric
Image result for cost of solar generated electricity graph
Reduction in the price of solar panels over the years

And the chocolate sauce on the bottom is that if you have to do maintenance or repair, you do one turbine at a time while the rest continue to generate power (money).  A coal fired power station has to be taken out of production for maintenance.

But the weak point of renewable energy has always been that you are generating power when you don't need it and need it when you are not generating.  This  has now been solved.

Of course you always could have installed a huge battery bank of, say, Lead acid batteries.  You could have used those large units that the phone companies use to keep the power running no matter what the power generation companies are doing. These were the batteries that were much beloved by early adopters of renewable energy.  The phone companies would sell off the used ones that still had quite a bit of life in them.

The problem was that they degrade, need quite a bit of maintenance and are expensive.  They are also heavy although weight is not much of a problem in a static application.  The total life cycle cost of lead acid batteries made them a non starter for a commercial unit.  No other battery came out to be financially feasible either.

There was and is one sort of energy storage system that is economically feasible despite a cycle efficiency of about 75%.  That is Pumped Storage.  You pump water into a high reservoir when power is in excess of demand and run it back down through a generator when you need more than you are generating in other power plants.  However, most of the possible sites have been taken up and we need still more peak shaving plants (peaker plants) to take care of short and longer term peak demand.

The classic short term peak demand story that everyone quotes is in the UK in the intermission in a live broadcast of a foot ball game.  Everyone heads for the kitchen to put on the jug (turn on the electric kettle). Demand spikes and the power distribution company must be ready to cope with this demand.  Otherwise you would have brown outs all over the UK.  If your electricity model is a commercial one, you must then pay whatever the peaker plant demands for this excess electricity.  Even if you are a totally government run operation, you will have had to build peaker plants that most of the time are not earning their keep.  You have tied up a lot of tax money in a facility that runs intermittently.

So what is this breakthrough and why is it a breakthrough.  I am talking about the Australian Lithium ion mega-battery. It has a capacity of 100 mWh (mega Watt hours) and is owned by a wind farm in South Australia.  But why is it a breakthrough.

It Is On Line To Return Revenue Equal To It's Full Capital Cost In A Tad Over Three Years!!!!!

Economics trump all other considerations.  Economics is more powerful than all of our articles and placard waving demonstrations.  It even trumps venal politicians who are in the pocket of 'Big-Coal' and will try anything to scupper anything that interferes with their ill gotten gains.  If it is economic (makes bags of money for the owner) it will be adopted.

You might ask, how does a battery that doesn't produce any electricity; that only stores electricity, earn money.  Well there are a number of ways.  Here is one just related to the way the electrical grid operates and one related to the fact that it is owned by a wind farm.

First we have peak shaving.  When the demand comes in, the power distribution company has to supply more electricity.  Either it has to build a peaker power station or has to buy electricity from an existing peaker power station.  If you are a supplier of power to other companies, If you own a mega battery, you have the perfect solution for supplying peak power to other companies.  If you are a distribution company that owns a mega battery, you no longer have to pay these high prices to other companies.  You have power stored in in-house.

All this would hold true even for a company that  just owned a mega battery but no renewable energy generation capacity at all.  They would buy power when it was cheap and sell it when it is expensive.

For a renewable energy company with a solar or wind farm, it is even better.  You have built this expensive unit but have to feather your wind turbines or simply not send the power to the grid when the wind turbines or solar panels are generating.  With a mega-battery, you can store the excess power, making best use of the generating capacity of the farm and sell it when there is a demand.

All this points to an interesting economic fact.  The early adopters of mega-batteries will get huge returns.  Who has ever heard of an investment that returns almost a third of it's capital cost in a year.  When everyone has mega batteries, this advantage will disappear.  The batteries will still be great money earners but not at this stupendously, ridiculously high level.

I love the cherry on the top and there is one in this story too.  When you start up a peaker plant, it takes time to come up to capacity.  In the mean time the voltage and phase fidelity in the grid suffers.  With a mega battery, the response is in terms of milliseconds so both the phase and the voltage remain true.  This is a huge advantage for electronic devices which do not respond well to fluctuation in voltage or in the sine wave of the electricity.

So what is the story behind this mega battery.  Elon Musk of Tesla made a twitter comment regarding Australian power generation and was taken up by an Australian millionaire to put his money where his mouth was.  He took up the challenge.

He said that he could supply a mega battery to this Australian wind farm in 100 days.  If he could not, he would give them the battery for free.  Of course, he met the deadline and the rest is history in the making.  The thing is massively profitable.  Incidentally, do you think that Scott Morrison or any others of the silly Australian politicians will recant their foolish words about a mega prawn, mega banana and mega battery and admit they were wrong.  I don't think so.  They are complete dinosaurs and should be voted out by the Australian people.