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Thursday, July 9, 2020

My Tesla

Do I want an electric car.  Absolutely.  Would I like a Tesla.  Yes yes yes.  Magnificent cars.  Do I want one of the existing Teslas.  Well, not exactly.  The Tesla I want won't be for everyone but I believe there is a very large market out there for a variation on the basic Tesla theme.  So first what would it have.

I'd be thoroughly chuffed if it was made of stainless steel like the cyber truck. Of course it would have distinctive styling.  The nature of stainless steel makes this necessary and it would be a very positive feature.  To become iconic like the VW beatle and combi, the Mini, the Ciroen 2CV and others classic cars, distinctive styling is a great help  in marketing the car. Not that Teslas need any marketing.  None of these classic cars were things of beauty but all became iconic.

If I understand correctly, when using stainless steel, the shell is the frame.  Most cars have a frame on to which the outside panels are attached.  In the cyber truck, I was told that the shell is the frame.  I suspect that the total cost of the body with this more expensive material but simpler construction  would not be more expensive than the frame plus panels on today's cars.  Whatever the case, stainless steel is going to last so so much longer.

Features it will have.

1/  The new, so called, million mile battery, of course and the ability to upgrade the battery if new innovations come out.

2/ V2G* and VPP* enabled, allowing me to be taking from and supplying to the grid (and earning a bit of money in the process).  Great innovation.

*Vehicle to Grid and Virtual Power Plant

3/ A tow bar.  I have a small holding and need to be able to tow a trailer full of wood, fence posts, manure and so forth.  And think about the psychology of a tow bar.  Think of all the people living in the city who want to drive a pick up truck or SUV even though they don't need one.  A tow bar signals the sort of image that they have of themselves. Good marketing.

4/ A quality wind up window on the drivers side.  I have a horror of going into a lake and not being able to open a window or door.  The rest can be electric. (OK, this may be going to far but perhaps make it optional and see what the uptake is).

5/  A 220 Volt (110V in America) AC plug so I can run a welder, electric chain saw or whatever, wherever I want.  You have it in the Cyber Truck.  Make it optional if you like.

6/  If you want to put in a bit of 'fancy' then when it becomes technically and economically feasible, cover the car with solar cells.  No one expects to be able to drive  on solar alone but it would be a nice little bonus and might get you out of a tight spot.

7/ The usual  glove compartments, cup holders, radio and so forth that all cars have and as much usable space as possible inside.

8/ As many fittings as possible from other Teslas.  Door latches, wheel rims, tires, radio, steering wheel, head lights and so forth.  Use as much off the shelf from your own facility.  And don't change these feature or the styling from year to year.  Parts from this year's car should fit a car  made in 10 years and vice versa. Innovating those simple parts for this car and changing the styling each year simply increases the price of the car.

9/  Another bit of fancy that would be a useful option is to be able to raise the clearance of the car when needed.  Not a game changer though.  Best to keep it as simple as possible.


As much as possible should be repairable by a half way capable home mechanic.  And make anything I have to take to the professional easy access.  A mechanic will still charge $100/hr and he shouldn't have to spend time accessing what he is repairing pr replacing.  Modern ICE cars are ridiculous.  You often have to disassemble half the car to get at the water pump or even at the spark plugs.

 Features it won't have

1/  No connection to the internet.  Have you ever seen a program come out even from Microsoft that didn't need patches.  Have you ever seen a program that couldn't be hacked.  For heaven sake, the UK health system was just recently hacked and banks, the military and other high profile facilities are being hacked all the time.  You would expect them to be bullet proof.  They aren't.   If I want an upgrade, first I will let the early adopters test it out.  Then if I really want it, I will go to my computer, plug in a flash drive, download the program and take the flash drive to the car to download the new innovation.  Teslas are great as they are.  I would need serious convincing to do an upgrade.

Besides, have you being paying attention to the revelations by Snowdon and Manning.  Do I really want the thousands of people in the dozens of  secret services to have access my car.  Do I want some autistic genius 14 year old in his mom's basement to bring a whole city to a grinding halt just for the fun of it.
2/  No touch screens.  If it is dangerous to use your cell phone which you can hold up so you don't have to take your eyes off of the road, how much more dangerous is it to be going through a 5 step app on your touch screen while driving.  Make all controls tactile so I can do them by touch without taking my eyes off the road.

3/ No self driving.  I don't care if it is safer than me driving.  I like driving and I even feel nervous when I use cruise control in my present ICE car.  Besides, I don't want my daughter snogging in the back seat with her boyfriend on the way to a movie in the next town.

4/ No navigation facility.  It just costs more money and everyone today has a smart phone.  I will velcro my smart phone to the dash board or mount it magetically on to one of those wind screen mounted pedicils.  

One of the main aim's of Tesla is to make cars that not only make a profit but that a much wider segment of the population can afford.  Take out some of the bling and make the car simpler, use the same parts where possible that are in other Teslas and keep it the same year after year and it will be easier to build an affordable car.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Economy after C19

There is much talk in various countries of sorting out the economy post-C19.  You might ask, why.  What has changed since before the pandemic.  Well hopefully there has been one change.  It should be apparent now to the most blinkered person that world wide disasters can happen.  You would think that with a species as smart as us and with our methods of remembering past occurrences that we wouldn't have to be taught this lesson yet again.  After all, we still commemorate world war one and two and since WW2 there have been enough genocides and wars to keep the message front and center in our minds.

And going back further, we had the plague which wiped out tens of percentages of the population in each of a number of subsequent waves.

Just taking diseases, C19 was far from the worst that could happen.  It was bad enough, to a large extent because of the delay period between infection and the appearance of symptoms of one to two weeks.  Also it's mortality is moderately serious at about 5% of the people who contract the disease.  Imagine a disease even more deadly that C19 but one that, like AIDS, doesn't show symptoms for, say, a year.  In fact, a disease that didn't show symptoms even for a month would likely have got away from us all over the world instead of just in countries with poor governments and limping health systems like the USA and UK.

But here we have to make a wee mental leap.  Scientists have been telling us for a number of years that they see in the ice record of the major ice sheets and in the sediment samples from the bottom of the sea, that climate can change rather rapidly*.  They call these events tipping points.  And they make pretty convincing cases for the likelihood that the way we are altering our atmosphere, with no sign of slowing down, that we could experience another tipping point.  Why would that be so serious.

*A major reason that New Zealand and some other countries defeated C19 besides having good government and good health systems is that the leader of the country, Jacinda Ardern listened to the experts and acted on their advice.  How many leaders of major countries are listening to the experts on Climate Change.

If we had evolved our present way of life in a different climate, it wouldn't have been a problem.  We would have put our cities where the shore of the ocean met rivers at the existing higher or lower sea level.  We would have developed cures for the new diseases and the new distribution of present diseases.  We wouldn't have settled either in areas where the wet bulb temperature was above 33 degrees C or we would have  build in such a way to neutralize the extreme temperatures.  We also would have developed agriculture that fit in the existing climate zones.

But we haven't.  We have developed our present way of life during the present climate regime and in a period of unprecedented climate stability.  It may not seem so when you are the victim of a flood, drought, tornado or hurricane but just look at the climate from previous interglacial periods including the next one back, the Eemian.  The Milankovitch cycles should already have us slowly sliding into the next glacial period but it is not happening.  It would appear that we have had a strong influence on the world's climate since we started growing rice in ponds, clear felling or burning forests, using the plow and burning coal*.  Our output of Carbon dioxide and other green house gasses has been just about enough to counter the effect of  the Milankovitch cycle.

*Read the book Plows Plagues and Petroleum by 

Now we are going too far.

So what Covid 19 should have taught us is that world spanning disasters are possible.  We have another lesson.  Look at the way New Zealand and to a lesser extent a few other countries handled C19 compared to the response of the UK and the USA.  America in particular always blames someone else to explain the abysmal failures of their government.  Their recent boogy man is Communism.  They don't seem to realize that Communism or Capitalism or any other 'ism' is not the problem.  The problem is the lack of democracy.  The Republican party and now the Democratic party have done and are doing everything they can to erode democracy in their country, (if they ever had democracy) and they have succeeded.

Look at their abysmal response to this crisis.  One of the messages of the neo-liberalism is that government isn't really necessary and we can get along just fine without it.  Well America, how did that work out for you. Bernie Sanders in a recent speech in the Senate has called the present government the most 'do nothing' government in recent history.  They are sitting there arguing about unimportant nonsense while Americans loose their jobs and can't feed their children.

At any rate, here in New Zealand, what could we do to improve out economy following C19.  Hopefully we will take into consideration the possibility of future crises and not just make our decisions based on the immediate bottom line during times of plenty.  Here are some things we weren't doing so well before the shut down.  We didn't:

*Fish our own waters.

*Process our own fish. ditto

*Value add our own wood. The Christchurch earthquake would have been a golden opportunity to rebuild with engineered wood, giving us experience, expertise, a product to sell to other quake prone areas and a story to tell.  We grow a lot of wood.  Here is a conspiracy theory for you.  With a tweak or two, you could apply the same scenario to milk processing, steel production, water bottling and a raft of other industrial sectors.

In the west we think in terms of quarterly (3month) reporting cycles or at the most in 3 to 5 year election cycles.  In China, with their long history, they think in decades, centuries and even millennia.

China has huge surpluses of cash from their positive trade balance from the stuff they sell to America and other western countries.  What do they do.  They weaponize this money.  They buy up our logs at a great price - so great that our own mills can not compete  Our mills have closed in droves.  Then China offers us, very generously, to build us a modern lumber mill. You can see where this is going.

*Bottle our own water. I wonder if the WTO and our trade agreements have something to do with this. If you read Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, especially chapter 2, there is a clear exposition on the down sides of our much vaunted globalization, the WTO and trade agreements. It is forcing us to not buy locally or produce locally.  We really must bring peripheral benefits  into our calculations such as the number of secondary jobs created for each primary job and include externalities such as the cost of not cleaning up our own mountain of used tires.

*Sell our own land to our own people. Often the very people that buy our best and most beautiful land are the same ones who, overseas, have trashed their own environment and our shared atmosphere as well.  Having seen how superior New Zeland is to their own countries they are looking for a bolt hole to run to when the going, back home, really gets tough.  These are the last people we need in New Zealand.

*Do our own banking. It has been reported that the Ausi banks take about a billion dollars out of our economy every 6 months. Are we nuts.

*Build or own rail rolling stock. A BERL report calculated that we would have to be able to obtain our rail stock overseas for 38% of the local price for it to be worthwhile, considering all the spin offs for our economy of building them ourselves  A later report said that in fact we paid 75% of the local cost and subsequently there were reports of many faults with the equipment. How many spin off industries would have resulted from having to upgrade our capacity in order to build modern rail stock.

*Produce our own steel reinforcing. Look at the junk we got from China and put into our buildings which are now less earthquake-proof than was planned for.

*Run our own Aluminum smelter. Our electrical energy mix is so ‘low carbon’ that in addition to being able to sell very high quality Aluminum, we could also sell it on the basis of it’s green credentials. Why do we allow an Ausi company to do this. Vertical integration guys. Take a leaf out of the Tesla play book.

Take care of our own waste.  We have mountains of plastic, both clean and contaminated and up until recently we shipped it to Asian countries.  They have now decided that they don't want any more western garbage.  What must that have been costing us to collect and ship all this stuff to Asia.

Some of this plastic can be gainfully recycled but the rest is a problem.  There is a solution.  Plastic of every type whether it is clean or contaminated can be pyrolized and turned back into cooking gas, petrol (gasoline), diesel, air craft fuel and roading tar.  When making the decision whether to set up a pyrolysis unit (clearly, within the property of an existing oil refinery where the output of the pyrolysis unit can be fed directly into the fractionation columns) we must take externalities into consideration.  ie. What is the price of not taking care of this waste both economically and ecologically.
Better still, a whole range of other waste products can be pyrolized including used rubber tires, wood waste, paper, electronic equipment and in fact anything made of compounds of  C and H.  Different, valuable by products in addition to the ones mentioned come out of these different waste streams.

Before we think of new ways to run our economy, let's sort out the lacks in our former economy.

Friday, April 17, 2020

America Going Under

If you needed to be convinced that Democracy in America is completely dysfunctional; that big corporations take precedent over the citizens, this ban on the purchase of seeds in many parts of America should convince you.

Here in New Zealand, when it was announced that we were heading into a level 4 shutdown to combat C19, all the seeds in our outlets were snapped up as people realized that they might just have to grow their own food if this pandemic continued for any length of time.  Did New Zealand declare seeds and gardening equipment non essential.  Of course not.  We have a functioning democracy.  America has an Oligarchy.

This is clearly an attempt by the big corporations through their influence on politicians to grab even more of the seed production market of America and to promote their GM and Round Up Ready seeds, many of them with a lethal gene that means that you can not save seeds.  And if that is not enough, they, in the past have taken legal action against people who have tried to save GM seeds that don't have the lethal gene.

All sorts of vested interests gain by this ban while the citizens suffer as food becomes scarce and expensive. Meat packing has also been declared non essential (unlike here in New Zealand where we are very close to eradicating C19)

Twice now, America has been given the chance to have the best president since FDR, once in 2016 and again in 2020.  He would have actually drained the swamp.  Now, regardless of who wins, they will have either a psychopathic lair or a bumbling yes man who will do what he is told. This stupidity would never have happened in a Sanders presidency.

In case you think that the GOP is the villain, well yes she is but that is what we would expect of a party of the rich and the corporations.  No surprise there.  But hopefully, America is waking up to the fact that the DNC is no better.  In fact they are worse because they give lip service to being the party of the people.

There was another small but very revealing incident fairly recently that illustrates the dysfunction of the American system.  You might remember that a free press is an important part of a democracy. (I apologize for the sarcasm).  And part of a free press is a free broadcasting system.  Radio and Television are as much part of the press as news papers and magazines.

Do you remember in 2003 one of the Dixy Chicks insulted President bush (the younger).  In the spirit of Woodstock, of course this brought them to the attention of every DJ in the country and their music was played more and more.  Great songs like the Vietnam blues.  Sing it with me.

Well it's one two three what are we fighting for
Don't ask me I don't give a dam
Next stop it's Vietnam
And it's five, six seven open up the pearly gates
Oh Lord it ain't no use in wondering why
Wopee we're all going to die.

I wish.  Not a bit of it.  The were banned across the USA and it nearly derailed their  career.  Clearly the word came down from above from the corporate bosses who are beholden to the system for their largess from the government.  What happened.  Did the government threaten them with a withholding of funds or was it just the old boys club.  Whatever the mechanism, this illustrates how much freedom of the press exists in the US of A.

 Of course the most egregious, most damaging example of a lack of press freedom in America was the almost complete shut out of Bernie Sanders from the news.  Finally America had the possibility of having the best president since FDR.  Instead they got the worse one since Bush, the younger.  America had a second chance in 2020 and she blew it again.

Let me give you one more. I know someone who worked for a major American news outlet.  He/she was not allowed to write what he/she had investigated. This reporter was told that only articles which were favorable to Trump would be published (this was early in his presidency).  This reporter quit.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Why test for Covid19 antibodies

At present we are testing for the Covid-19 virus.  Swabs of the upper respiratory track are taken and a test is done which involves multiplying up the RNA in the sample.  There are many false negatives since the virus tends to reside deeper down in the lungs so you may have the virus without it being detected.  If the virus is detected, you and your contacts can be isolated, reducing the chance of transmission to others.  But that is another story.

Here I want to examine the implications of testing for the antibodies to Covid-19.  These are the substances that the body creates to neutralize any further incursions of the virus into your body.  In other words, you are immune to at least this strain of C19 and possibly have some partial immunity to other closely related strains which may be produced by mutation of the virus.  The tests for the Antibodies are being rolled out and hopefully they will soon be widespread and affordable.  At present it is not known how long immunity will last in people who have contracted the disease.  Contracting some diseases give you immunity for life, some for a lesser period.

So what is the value of being able to test for antibodies for this disease.  In no particular order:

1.  We will now be able to get a good estimate of how many people have had the virus but were a-symptomatic.  Some present estimates are 4 to 5 a-symptomatic people for every one who gets sick.  This will allow us to determine:
  a) The true death rate from this disease
  b) Why some people are a-symptomatic.  Is it genetic, related to gut bacteria, connected with age, race, previous or present  disease profile and so forth.
  c) What the true rate of immunity in in the population.
  d) At what rate of immunity does herd immunity become effective.
  e) Who to give the vaccine to when it is available.  No use wasting it on people who have had the disease (symptomatically or a-symptomatically) and hence are already immune to it.

2.  Which people can now go back to work, look after people with the disease, be out and about rather than in lock down, shop in the super markets and so forth with no danger to themselves or to others.  Here I would make a suggestion.
     Give anyone who has tested positive for antibodies a photo ID card that they can show to the police or 'to whom it may concern' stating that they are immune.
These people can still transmit the disease just as any surface can but they are not factories spewing out massive numbers of viruses into their environment.  They can start to get us up and running as early as possible.  Even before the test for antibodies becomes readily available, people that have had the disease and are not OK can be issued such a photo ID card.

3.  When a vaccine is rolled out, over time we will be able to see the relative effectiveness of having had the vaccine or having had the disease. For some diseases a better, longer lasting immunity comes from having had the disease.

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.  On the negative side, 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.

*Very possibly an adaptation to eons of living with beavers.

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.  Likewise if your brother in law runs a nursery.  But,,,,If you truly want the maximum bang for the taxpayers buck, go for Truncheoning

So how do you Truncheon.

First, you truncheon 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 waist 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 about a meter and a half long, 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 bottom of 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.

Your friends who have come along for the experience can pound these pieces into the ground.  If the ground is unyielding, drive the steel bar repeatedly into the same hole. rotating it around to open up the hole and facilitate pulling the bar out of the hole.  Then pound  the truncheon into the hole.

For the smaller fore arm length pieces, no need to sharpen them.  Just strip a thin strip of bark from the lower third of the truncheon.  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.  Here in New Zealand where rabbits are a serious problem, they put little plastic shields about 40cm high around each grape vine they plant.

Oh, and if you want, you can paint the  top of any  truncheons that have a cut top 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.  It is worthwhile applying a couple of coats of paint.