TVA And Nuclear Power And The Future Of Electricity In The US

This is from Nov. 16, 2011.

TVA recently announced it was going forward with plans to complete Bellefonte Nuclear plant unit one, with construction to start in the next year or so. With the completion of Watts Bar unit two next year, TVA will then have seven operating nuclear units. As a part of this plan, TVA also announced it would be shutting down about 1,000 mw of coal burning plants so as to cut the amount of air pollution they produce. This all sounds very good, but not at all new.

This is really just boldly going forward into the past. When I was hired by TVA Construction in the '70s, TVA had plans to build 14 new nuclear units besides the 3 they already had at Browns Ferry. Due to the slowdown of the economy in the late '70s and '80s, TVA cancelled 8 of those units and deferred construction on 4 more, only finishing the 2 units at Sequoyah. The plan then was the same as now, build nuclear and shut down polluting coal. Since then TVA has, or is about to, finished both Watts Bar units so TVA now has 7 nuclear units. Even with the far off completion of Bellefonte unit 1, that would still only give TVA 8 nuclear units, far fewer than the 17 they envisioned in the '70s.

Since each nuclear unit only produces about 1,000 mw of power, that would mean the total present nuclear output at about 7,000 mw. A lot of power, but no where near the 34,000 mw of power needed to meet peak loads in the TVA service region. For the foreseeable future, that extra 27,000 mw of power will continue to be met with primarily coal plants supplemented with hydro from dams and peaking combustion turbine generators primarily powered by natural gas.

Sadly, rainfall is unpredictable and the lakes still need to be kept full for water supply and navigation. The price of natural gas fluctuates greatly and is of finite supply with TVA competing with every other power system and factory and individuals for its supply. TVA does have wind and solar and bio-gas, but they are so small in output that the number of structures needed to replace 27,000 mw of power boggles the mind. This is especially true when one realizes that the sun sets every night and the wind doesn't always blow and there is no easy or even practical way to store electricity.

The most renewable of all large scale power producers, hydro dams, are pretty much a dead issue in the United States with environmental laws making new dam construction an almost impossibility. Likewise, both coal and natural gas are fossil fuels and, no matter now many scores of years of supply we still have in the ground, they will run out. Maybe in fifty years, maybe a hundred years, but certainly less than two hundred years. And during all those years they will continue to produce both carbon dioxide and lots of other air polluting products of combustion.

There is, of course, the promise of nuclear fusion power, but that is fifty years away from being an even remote possibility. And, sadly enough, when I started working for TVA in the ‘70s, it was fifty years away then too. In forty years of research and development, nuclear fusion is as far off in the future as it has always been, and there’s is no expectation that the next forty years will realistically bring it any closer.

There is also the fact that uranium, the source of power in nuclear power plants, is also a limited natural resource. There is only so much uranium in the ground and we have already dug a lot of it up. Much of that uranium is still around in the form of atomic bombs, but that’s not a problem. The government can redirect the disposal of unwanted bomb cores to be converted into nuclear fuel rods. The uranium is disposed of and can’t be used as bombs and the country gets a lot more potential electrical production. But even that, along with new uranium excavation, won’t supply the country’s future electrical needs for centuries to come. Sooner or later, all the existing uranium will be used up if it is only used as an expendable fuel in nuclear reactors.

There is a solution, though. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, the country developed technology to build breeder reactors and was even building a demonstration plant before it was cancelled. With breeder reactors, the amount of usable uranium put into the reactor was used to produce power and, as a by product, it created even more usable uranium than it consumed. The result was that the reactor produced both power and fuel that could be used in other normal reactors. This is not some perpetual motion type scheme since there are losses and fuel expenditures, but the end result is a lot more power produced and a lot more fuel produced compared to a normal reactor that just burns up a small portion of its fuel and stops.

If the country devoted the time, money, and technology to bring back the breeder reactor, the country could have reliable nuclear power for centuries to come until the mythical commercial fusion reactor finally comes online and produces power from just hydrogen. This is certainly not a hard thing to do, both Russia and China have existing breeder reactors and have plans to build even bigger ones than those they currently have. With all forms of natural powered electricity producers having a finite supply of fuel, it would only seem to make sense that the one electricity producer that has proven that it can produce large amounts of electricity, day and night, in gales and calms, in rain or drought, would be not only used, but used the most efficient way possible and have it’s usefulness extended as long as possible.

One of the responces to my post was a question about what 1,000 megawatts of power was. I answered that and also got a little into solar power.

That's the industry standard of mega watts per hour, that is, a standard nuclear unit will produce about 1,000 mega watts constantly for one hour. Or, to look at it differently, it would run 10 million 100 watt bulbs for an hour. The TVA peak load is about 34,000 mega watts consumed in one hour, usually hit in the Winter and again in the Summer, depending on which was worse that year. Since 1,000 mw/h is actually 1,000 x 1,000,000 watts/h or 1,000,000,000 watts/h, you can see just how silly it would be to try to replace 34,000,000,000 watts/h with a 2x4 foot solar panel that produces 80 watts/h max and usually produces about 40 watts/h for about 8 hours/day max.

It would take about 425,000,000 of those solar panels taking up about 3,400,000,000 sq. ft. if they could crank out 80 watts/hr on a bright cloudless day, and twice as many given only about half power averaged over their 8 hr/day useful production. But since that's only 8 hrs of production and the day is 24 hrs long, it'd take about three times as many to cover the whole 24 hour day.

Of course, that's the peak load, not the all day consumption rate, which is much lower, but the peak in Winter usually hits in the middle of the night when there is no Sun shining to produce any solar power. But the main problem is, even if you could buy and install all those solar panels, how do you store and release that electricity for those approximately 16 hrs/day when the solar panels are producing nothing, or on the days it's raining and overcast.

And, to be clear, that would be 425,000,000 times 2 because of only 40 w/h average and times 3 again to cover a 24 hour day, giving a need of 2,550,000,000 solar panels needed to equal the TVA peak hourly consumption.

Another question was about why TVA nuclear plants were smaller than other nuclear plants that were rated at 2,500 megawatts and TVS's at only 1,000 megawatts.

You're confusing nuclear units, the standard measure of a nuclear plant, with nuclear plants. Browns Ferry has three nuclear units that produce slightly more than 1,000 mw each for a total of about 3,000 mw for the plant. Sequoyah and Watts Bar, sister plants with mostly the same design, each have two units which produce about 1,100 mw each for a plant total of about 2,200 mw for the plant. When WB burns the military reprocessed fuel rods with plutonium in them, they get up to about 1,250 mw per unit and the fuel load can last up to 24 months than the indusrty average of 18 months. Plus that's peak output. If the demand isn't there they can be throttled back some for less power but longer life per fuel load. Since the nuclear units are considered base load power, they are almost always run at full power and the dams and natural gas fired combustion turbines then run as peaking power for load leveling during periods of high demand.

I Wasn't In Luxembourg Yesterday

This is from Nov. 8, 2011.

I’m reasonably certain I wasn’t in Luxembourg yesterday, so imagine my surprise when I got a notice from my credit card company Fraud Alert section wanting to know if I had made a purchase of $54.41 there. My first thought was to promptly notify them that no, I hadn’t, but there was another possibility. I had, in fact, made a purchase at Amazon.UK yesterday in the amount of £94.43.

Now, unless the entire UK economy had collapsed overnight and the exchange rate for the £ to $ had plummeted, I was pretty sure that £94.43 was a lot more than $54.41, in fact it should be more in the neighborhood of $140 or so. But, since the chance of those two things happening purely at random was so small, I didn’t say yes to the fraud report until I could look into the Amazon.UK purchase a little closer.

Usually Amazon only charges your account when they ship an item, and since I had just made the purchase, it seemed unlikely it had shipped in a matter of a few hours, but I thought I’d look to be sure. Tho why the huge disparity in price I had no idea.

I checked with Amazon.UK and, sure enough, they had broken my order into two parts, and one part was for £33.85. A little quick math told me that £33.85 divided into $54.41 gave an exchange rate of about $1.61 to the £, which is about what it was when last I checked. OK, so problem solved, tho why a purchase in the UK done in £ should show up in Luxembourg in $ I had no idea, especially when Luxembourg didn’t use £ or $ but euros.

So I notified the credit card Fraud Alert section that the purchase was legitimate. The only bad thing about this is that the part of my order being sent from Luxembourg is being sent by Deutsche Post DHL while the rest is being sent by Royal Mail from the UK. The Royal Mail is excellent in it’s handling and delivery time while DP DHL is always later than expected and the packages look like they’ve been shipped across the Atlantic in the bottom of cattle boat.

Oh well, at least there’s not some Euro trash who’s stolen my identity and is living large in Luxembourg, if that is even a thing.

My Posts On Facebook

This is from Nov. 8, 2011. After I posted this I got quite a few responses from people who said they liked my posts and I was the only person who posted them. Because of this I did continue to post the jokes and cartoons, but pretty much left off the political posters and articles by others since I firmly believe that no post on Facebook (FB) ever changed anyones political beliefs. I also left off most of the historical and scientific posts since they were easily available elsewhere. I did continue to post my long Notes in Facebook since these are writen in some dept and I was doing so more for my own benefit than to enlighten others. In any event, here is the original post as I wrote it:

All of my posts on FB are basically of just four types: jokes and cartoons; political posters and articles; articles on history or science; or original short posts or long notes written by me. After looking this over, I decided there’s really no need for the first three and not much need for the latter.

The jokes and cartoons I post are almost all just ones I saw on somebody else’s FB page and I’ve just reposted them on mine so my friends can see them. Except I see the same jokes and cartoons on several different pages over the span of several days, so I’m certainly not a unique source for any of them. If people can get them from a variety of different sources, then I’m just cluttering up my page and all my friends pages with the same repetitious jokes and cartoons they’ve probably seen several times already.

The political posters and articles I post are, likewise, mostly just things I’ve seen on somebody else’s page and I’m just passing them on to my friends when I repost them. The trouble with political posters and articles is that, while some of my friends will agree with them, like them, and pass them on themselves, other of my friends will disagree with them and post responses critical about what they say. Now, if I thought that posting political information I favor would change the mind of even a single person, I’d continue to post them. However, it’s been my experience and observation that no one has ever changed their mind about any political opinion based on anything they saw on FB. The liberals stay liberal, the conservatives stay conservative, and the undecided continue to live in blissful ignorance. Since nothing I post is ever going to change anybody’s mind about anything political, it seems rather pointless to continue to post them. All my friends already know where to go to get all the political info they want which will reinforce exactly what they already think.

The articles on history and science are interesting, but a lot of them are just reposts from other friends and the rest from online journals and abstracting sites that have information that I’m interested in. I’ve no doubt that many of my friends find them interesting and actually do read them, but they all come from a relatively small number of sources and, if any of my friends have similar interests, they’ve long since skipped past me as the source and instead are just reading the journals and abstracting sites for themselves. And my friends who aren’t interested in those subjects would just continue to gloss over my posts on them. Again, I feel I’m just cluttering up the pages of those not interested and being repetitious to those who are.

The last category is those original short posts or long notes that I write and put on FB. Most of the short posts are just observations, complaints, or opinions about things that are happening right now and I felt like expressing an opinion about. Most of these are of little use except to allow me to articulate what I am thinking about and maybe get some feedback from someone else if they are feeling similarly about the same subject. Most of the time I get little or no response back. Sometimes someone agrees with me, sometimes someone disagrees with me, and rarely someone has had the exact same thing happen to them and they want to either let me know or commiserate with me about it. This might be therapeutic in the same sense that talking over how you feel with someone else can allow you to see something in yourself that you didn’t see before, but this happens so seldom that it is not really an issue. For the most part, the short posts are just notes in bottles tossed into the ocean of Facebook, never to return.

The long notes are different in that what I am really doing there is to take a subject and write an article about it that I have considered in some detail. Because of that, the notes tend to be very long, usually well over a thousand words, and sometimes several thousand words. Since FB is a social site that lives almost entirely in the present, very few, if any, people take the time to read an article of over a thousand words. Now, this could be because they are poorly written, or on a subject no one is interested in, or any of several reason; but I think the main reason is that most people on FB just see a series of paragraphs stretching off below the bottom of the page and decide they just don’t have the time needed to read that much text, no matter how well or poorly written, or even how much they might be interested in the subject.

Because of this, I’ve decided that I’m going to limit my future posts. I’m not going to post anymore jokes or cartoons, no more political posters or articles, and no more historical or scientific articles. If I find something of a short nature that is original to me, such as a picture I took or an observation I made, I’ll continue to post them. If there is some subject I’d like to explore in some depth, I’ll continue to post the occasional long note. And if somebody posts something I would like to comment on, I’ll certainly continue to do that, but for the most part, I see no reason to continue to clutter up FB with small, repetitious, meaningless posts that do nothing except add to the general background noise that is Facebook.

Corporate Greed

This is from Oct. 12, 2011.

This started out as a reply to a discussion I was having about why corporations ship jobs and factories overseas. Some of the arguments mentioned were training and government regulations and any number of other un-named things that might cause it. I said that the only reason was corporate greed and listed my reason below.

It’s always corporate greed that sends jobs overseas. Ill trained workers? The ones in the US are already trained because they're already doing the job, while the overseas workers are not trained at all. If the corporation can afford to train the foreign workers from the start, they can certainly, and more cheaply, train any shortcomings their US workers might have.

Government regulations? Most of the government regulations the corporations want to avoid are health and safety regulations. The US actually cares if the workers are killed or maimed on the job, foreign governments not so much. If a machine in the US kills a worker, the US government will make the corporation fix it so it won't happen again. If a machine in a foreign country kills a worker, just get another worker.

It's not any number of things, it's only one thing, money. It's the same plant that used to be in the US that's now in a foreign country, the only difference is the labor is much cheaper and the working conditions are much worse and the profit is much higher

For the roughly 30 years after WWII, US corporations paid US workers high wages and those workers worked in those corporations' factories and produced quality products and then went out and used those high wages to buy those domestically produced quality products. It was a reinforced cycle where everybody, corporations and workers, got paid good money and the country grew prosperous until it was the envy of the world.

Then the US started importing more goods from overseas, mostly cheap crap because that was all the economies of the war ravaged nations or the backward 3rd world nations could produce. But the problem was the crap kept getting better and the US corporations didn't care, they were still making profits and shrugged off the cheap foreign crappy products as nothing they should be concerned about.

Then the crappy foreign products got as good as US products, or even better, and they were selling for less than their equivalent US products. The US corporations started to lose market share, and no amount of Buy American propaganda was going to work when a new Toyota coast less than a new Ford and it had better features, was better made, and actually ran longer between breakdowns.

So what was the US corporations response to this problem? Improve the design of their products? Train the workers to make a better product? Invest in automation and new technology so they could make a better product cheaper than the imports?

No. All of those solutions would require spending money to improve their workers or their product or their factories, and they didn't want to spend money, they wanted to make money, and as much as possible. Their one response was: If foreign workers can make products that are cheap and well made and they coast a lot less to pay, then we need foreign workers too.

The corporations could certainly have stayed in the US and built quality products with quality workers at competitive prices, but that meant they would only make moderate profits. By firing all their workers and going overseas, they could reduce the price by using cheap foreign workers to produce the same products they were already selling, but at a reduced price.

The trouble was, even if they could now compete on price, they hadn't invested in improved design or better technology, that would have cost money they didn't want to spend because it might cut into their profits. And the result was obvious.

The US corporations, who were too greedy to invest in their own country and too greedy to invest in better design, were constantly losing market share from both ends. They couldn't underprice the bottom end of the foreign competitors because the foreign products were better at any price point; and they couldn't make a better product at the top end than their foreign competitors because, even tho the US company’s products were cheaper, they were far inferior in design and quality. And so we got the Toyotas and Mercedes of the world that were constantly taking away US market share.

If the US corporations had thought more about the future and how to make profits for the next fifty years and less about how to maximize profits now regardless of the future consequences, they would still be based in the US and still employing US workers and still making good profits. It was their greed and shortsightedness that drove them and this country to the point where it is now.

Even if there had been no dot-com bubble or housing bubble or mortgage crisis or banking collapse or any of the other financial driven calamities of the last few decades, this result was inevitable as soon as corporations started shipping US jobs overseas in search of quick and easy profits in the short term.

The US could just as easily have taken the route the Germans took. Invest in their own workers, invest in technology, invest in the best design qualities, and then let their own superior products speak for themselves. Today German workers are paid far more than US workers. The German products cost more than US products but they are still in high demand all over the world. German unemployment is far less than US unemployment, currently 6.1% compared to 9.1% in the US. The German currency, the Euro, is now worth $1.36 and it is the German economy that is keeping it that high despite the problems of the other Euro countries.

The US used to produce the highest quality and most technologically advanced products in the world, but not anymore. The transistor, the integrated circuit, the solar panel, the microwave oven, the VCR/DVR, the TV set, both original and all the flat panel variations, the PC, even the very symbol of invention the light bulb, all were first designed and built exclusively in the US, but not anymore. And the reason they're not is corporate greed. In every case the corporation got its start in the US and then, because they wanted even more profits, they fired their US workers and moved production overseas.

It's corporate greed that has got the US in the position it's in now. Their desire to put money above everything else has resulted in a nation of super rich corporation owners and a great mass of Wal-Mart workers who can increasingly no longer even afford the cheap foreign crap that's being imported and have no hope of ever affording the expensive high quality products imported from countries like Germany that actually invested in their country and their workers and let the quality of their products speak for themselves.

Comcast Hates My DVR

This is from Oct. 7, 2011.

I am getting really tired of Comcast resetting my DVR. They've done it three times this week alone, and every time they do I lose anything that was recording at the time and it locks me out of the programs I've already recorded for the five minutes or so it takes to go thru the reset process.

That means, as in today, I lost two different shows I was recording and I got kicked out of the one I was watching and couldn't go back to watching it for five minutes, by which time I'd lost the train of the show and my enjoyment of it.

And it also deletes my entire cable guide so that every show is just listed as "To Be Announced" and it stays that way for over a day as it slowly rebuilds the cable guide, taking about 30 hours to completely rebuild it for the next two weeks. It also does the same to the list of shows I've set up to record. When I check the list, all I see are date, time, and channel to record with no idea what that might be.

Calling Comcast does no good. Every time I've called and complained about this constant DVR resetting (they did it five times in one week alone before), they either say they have no idea what I'm talking about, or, when I finally get to a supervisor or technician, they admit that, yes, they did reset the DVRs, but it was because they were having trouble with their On Demand service.

Having trouble with the On Demand service makes no sense to me because I'm not even using the On Demand service, why reset my DVR? After some going around in circles, they usually admit that, whenever they have any problems with On Demand, or any aspect of any of the DVRs, they just send out a signal to reset every DVR in the area they're working on and hope that fixes the problem.

When I point out that they are stopping me from watching my DVR, causing me to lose programs I'm recording, and ruining my TV listings, they just say there was a system problem and they had to fix it.

A system problem? No, there was no system problem, there was a laziness problem with their technicians and, rather than find what was really causing problems with the On Demand system, they just chose to use a hammer on the whole system rather than a scalpel to excise the actual problem.

This is not an isolated instance. Even when there is no problem with the system, they still reset every DVR once a week. When I asked them why, they replied that problems kept building up in the system and it needed resetting each week to eliminate them.

This is the height of incompetence. They have no idea why the system keeps breaking, they don’t know how to fix it, and their only solution is to simply reload the entire system every time it starts failing, which seems to happen at least once a week, if not more often. If their system is so badly designed, built, and run that they can’t keep it running more than a week without it breaking, then they need to find out why, or hire somebody new who can.

I don’t know how many shows I’ve set up to record, only to find out the next day that they didn’t record at all, or the recording stopped half way thru. And it’s only Comcast that does this.

I’ve got a TIVO as well and it resets quite often with new software or complete new versions of the operating system, but it never loses programs set up to record or locks me out of watching ones I’ve already recorded. When the TIVO wants to reset the system, it checks to see if anything is being recorded or a recorded program is being watched and postpones the upgrades to a time when nothing is being recorded or watched. Even if the TIVO is just left on showing live TV, it still sends a message to the screen asking if now is OK to turn off the TIVO and load a software update to the system. If the user presses the NO button, the TIVO just waits till the current show is off and tries again till either the YES button is pressed or there is no response at all. This is the right way to run a DVR system.

When I pointed out all the TIVO operations to Comcast and asked why they didn’t do something similar, their reply was simple, their system and programming couldn’t do that. The programming on the DVRs was too basic to handle more than a simple reset and reload from the system. When they rest the DVRs they didn’t even check to see if anything was being recorded or a recorded program was being watched, they just sent the signal and reset them all, regardless of what the customer was doing.

This to me shows a huge disregard for their customers. If TIVO can do a much better job on their DVRs and only charge about $13 a month for the service, why is it Comcast can’t, when their DVRs do far less than TIVO’s and Comcast charges $15.95 a month for their DVRs. With far more customers and a higher price, Comcast should be doing better than TIVO, not far worse, both in functionality and service.

There’s not much one can do about this since, for the most part, Comcast has a monopoly on their customers and can treat them pretty much however they want. Satellite service is no good due to the fact poor weather interferes with the signal and, at most, one can only get four signals at once when there are usually a lot more than four programs worth watching in prime time on broadcast and cable TV.

If I had to start all over again, I’d never go with Comcast. Instead I’d go with EPB since they supply both cable TV and internet service and it’s all over fiber optic cables giving much better TV signal and internet speeds. Sadly, until just very recently, EPB did not reach to where I live. Now they do, and if Comcast keeps up this poor service, I’ll be one of the many looking into switching to EPB, where I hopefully will get better and cheaper service and be spending my money locally rather than shipping it off to where ever it is that Comcast calls home.

I added the folowing later:

And another thing I forgot to mention, if that seems possible, is that every time they do a reset on my DVR they undo all the series programming I've set up and just reload it based on the series priority.

This is really a problem since most of the series are both run in prime time and then repeated for West Coast prime time three hours later. What I've had to do is schedule one series to record on the East Coast feed and the other series to record on the West Coast feed and, if necessary, a third series to record on the rerun shown on the weekend. This means I can then record three different shows that would otherwise all be shown at the same time.

What happenes when the DVR resets and reschedules the shows base on series priority is that the same higher priority show is then recorded ever time it shows up, once on the East Coast, once on the West Coast, and again on any weekend repeats, meaning I get three or more copies of it and no copies of the lower priority shows.

To avoid this I have to go in and manually cancel the 2nd and 3rd scheduled recordings of the highest priority shows and schedule recordings for the lower priority shows in their places. When the DVR is reset, all this is wiped out and, unless I catch it in time, I miss all the lesser priority shows.

It's bad enough to have to do this once a month, but now I'm having to do this every week, and sometimes like this week, several times a week.

Extend The Debt Ceiling To Spring 2013

This is from July 26, 2011. It's a little dated now, but I'm copying all my old Facebook posts over to my blog, so it comes along too, if only as a reminder of what should have happened.

There is some comment going around that the President was presented with a bipartisan agreement that would have raised the debt ceiling and had spending cuts agreed to by both Democrats and Republicans. This is not quite right, but even if it was, the President rejected it for the exact reason he said he would reject it in advance, before the proposal was even brought to him, and that is that it only had a short term extension of the debt ceiling in it. All this proposal does is extend the debt ceiling right in the middle of the election season so the Republicans can do all over again exactly what they are doing now, which is make the debt ceiling, which has always had bipartisan support in the past, into a highly partisan issue they can use as a campaign issue. There is no reason whatsoever to do this except as a purely political act to cause as much turmoil during the election as it is causing now.

In addition, many economist and bond rating agencies have said that, if the debt ceiling is extended into 2013, the US's credit rating won't be affected, but if it is only extended a short time into the election season they fear it will become an even bigger polarizing issue with no guarantee that a second extension will even be passed. And the dire outcome of not raising the debt ceiling will be just as bad then as it is now, but with even less chance it will be passed when the Republican Representatives have to justify their actions to their Tea Party supporters right before going to the polls.

If the Republican Representatives feared the wrath of their Tea Party supporters in July of 2011, they will be much more fearful of their wrath in the election year of 2012. This will only make them more intransigent and less likely to make a deal then that they are now, with a greater chance of no debt ceiling raise and the government defaulting on its obligations.

With many of the new Republican Representatives thinking that the US defaulting on its debt is not important compared to the US continually spending more than it is taking in, there are many in the Republican party who would be quite happy for the default to occur so they can use it as an object lesson on the incompetence of the present government and the need to reform it.

While there may be a need to reform the way the federal government works, destroying the country’s credit rating, cutting off the income to millions of poor and elderly Americans and Veterans, stopping the payments to Medicare and Medicaid, defaulting on the payments to thousands of companies and small businesses, and depriving the troops and their families of their pay while they are in combat is certainly not the way to go about it. The issue of the debt ceiling has had bipartisan support for as long as it has existed and the middle of an election is not the time to go through the same worry and turmoil we are going thru now. The only course of action is to extend the debt ceiling into Spring of 2013 when the new Congress and President can decide the issue in a calm manner without the distraction of an impending election.

Is There A Future Space Shuttle In The Works?

This is from July 9, 2011.

One of the questions arising after the last shuttle launch today is, will there be a new Space Shuttle built for the next generation of space travelers? The answer is, quite simply, no. We've seen the last launch of the last space shuttle ever. One of the things NASA did was study what was the actual mission of the shuttle, other manned space ships, and the needs to get cargo into space. The conclusion, drawn 40 years too late, was that the shuttle, as envisioned and built, was a mistake.

When NASA or the military or private industry needs to get people into space, they have to go to extremes to "man rate" the ship since it's carrying people, the only cargo that is non-replaceable. Because of this the ship has a lot of redundant systems and escape methods and is very big compared to the actual cargo, i.e. people, that it is carrying.

When NASA, etc. need to get cargo into space, the ship only has to be big enough to actually get the cargo into space. No redundant systems, no escape methods, no life support systems, no options for manual control, no crew compartment at all. Because of this, a purely cargo space ship can be much smaller and much, much cheaper than a manned ship carrying the same cargo into space.

NASA actually has had the ability to send unmanned cargo ships into rendezvous with other unmanned craft in orbit since the Gemini era when it sent the Gemini orbital maneuver unit up to dock with a Gemini craft. The methods have grown so sophisticated that the ISS is routinely re-supplied by un-manned Russian craft that take off, rendezvous with the ISS, and dock with it, all under remote control.

The space shuttle was built before, or in spite of, this knowledge. The shuttles 15x60 foot cargo bay takes up most of the shuttles body, but, since it is of fixed size, most of the time it is not any where near full for any given mission, wasting most of the space. Also, since a lot of the shuttles original mission was launching satellites, the cargo bay had to carry both the satellite and the satellite's booster rocket to raise it to higher orbit. After the Challenger disaster, all booster rockets were banned from the shuttle, removing it's prime satellite launching duty. This was no great loss to the space program since it turned out it was both much cheaper and much faster to just put a satellite on a cheap booster and launch the satellite into orbit whenever desired.

This left the shuttle with only building the ISS. Again, using the shuttle to carry up a 10x20 foot ISS module was a waste of the shuttles 15x60 cargo bay. The modules could have been launched much cheaper and quicker using disposable rockets. The problem, though, was how to assembled the ISS once the parts were there, since it needed manned space walks. Again, the shuttle proved to be far more than was needed.

The quickest, cheapest, and easiest way to have built the ISS was to have sent all the parts up on cheap disposable rockets and sent the crew up on small ships that only carried astronauts. A crew only ship could be much, much smaller than a shuttle, more in line with an Apollo capsule on top of a small Titan rocket. A crew only ship that was just going to orbit didn't need all the size and power of a Saturn V, or even a Saturn I since it didn't need a lunar Lander, lunar rover car, a service module big enough to go to the Moon and back for two weeks, or the extra booster stage needed to lift it out of Earth orbit and on the way to the Moon.

In hindsight, that was what the Orion crew ship and the Constellation program with its Ares family of rocket boosters were for. A cheap (ish) crew ship and a range of boosters that could launch anything from a small Orion manned ship to an ISS module far bigger than anything the shuttle could carry to the parts for a future Mars ship.

Sadly, with the cancellation of the Constellation program and the cancellation of Orion and then a year later the restart of a lesser Orion program, that capacity is no longer an option. Because of this the proposed Moon re-landings have been cancelled and the proposed Mars manned mission is on hold till some new method of orbital assembly of the Mars ship is developed.

But whatever is developed, it won't be a shuttle type design. That was a program that was misconceived from the start and proved to be a dead end as far as future space exploration is concerned. The future is separate cargo and crew ships with orbital rendezvous and assembly for all future manned missions.

Leardership By Fear Or Respect

This is a post from July 7, 2011.

A friend had posed the question as to whether the best kind of leadership is not by fear and intimidation and murder, but about finding the best spot for a person and leading through the respect of your followers. I was going to answer her on her post, but my answer got too long, and so, instead of taking up so much of her space, I decided to post my answer here.

Actually, no. Partly it depends on whether you mean internal or external leadership, but either way threats, intimidation, violence, and even murder have always been effective ways to run a city or a country.

By external leadership I mean some group, usually an armed military group, that is exerting control over some area not their own. In this case fear and intimidation and outright wanton murder is quite effective in controlling a group of people. There is no end of examples of military conquerors who ride up to a city and offer the choice: surrender or die. Quite often the first city decides to fight and then the conqueror attacks the city, kills all the inhabitants, loots everything worth taking, and then burns the city to the ground. The next city he rides up to almost always surrenders. Sure, there will still be some killing, and lots of rape and plundering, but, when he rides off to the third city, the majority of the city’s people will still be alive, in their own homes, and merely have a new set of overlords to answer to. And that new set of overlords keep control of the population, not through kindness or charity, but by the threat that the conqueror can come back at any time kill off any rebellious population.

By internal leadership I mean a commander who rise up internally in his group to take charge of his family, community, city, or country. Sometimes they’re born, as is the case of kings, and sometimes they’re made, as in the case of military or political leaders. Either way they rely on the loyalty of their friends because of the positions they give them or the money they pay them.

No commander ever got to be a conqueror by being nice, either to his enemies or his own troops. A commander keeps firm but fair discipline on his own troops to ensure combat effectiveness, but total ruthlessness on his enemies. Historically troops were paid as much with loot as with wages, and it was a wise commander who made sure his troops were well paid at all times. The troops would then gladly follow a commander who was fair to them and was great enough to win all his battles and keep the loot flowing in. The quickest way for a commander to lose his troops, no matter how kind or fair he was, was to lose battles and stop the inflow of loot that sustained his army. The troops didn’t risk their life because they loved their commander, they risked their lives because he treated them fairly and paid them well. Even some of the most insane and despotic Roman Emperors still kept the loyalty of their legions simply because the Emperor paid them well.

But I suspect you were not referring so much to military commanders as political ones. In the political arena it’s very similar. A commander or Prince or Pope cannot simply expect to have his commands carried out just because he says so, there must be some rational for following him. Initially it might be birth or skill or just luck, but once in a position of power he has to exercise it properly to keep the loyalty of his friends and the fear of his enemies. He can keep his friends by giving them money or positions or titles or all three at once, but he has to give them something to keep their loyalty and support.

As for his enemies, he has to give them something as well, though not necessary something they want. The threat of execution, imprisonment, or even just fines and seizure of assets can keep the weak in line, but the strong usually need more. Quite often the leader would have his enemies’ children and relatives “serving” in court or some job in the capitol where they could be imprisoned or executed at any time if the leader thought his enemy was acting against him. And of course, there was always the possibility that the leader would “find” some treasonous acts that his enemy had committed and have him tried and executed, provided his enemy was of such importance that he needed disposing of in some forthright and honest appearing fashion. For the more common or unimportant enemies, poison at his dinner, a dagger while he slept, a duel in the streets, or the very simple "He just disappeared” were much easier solutions to disloyalty.

This might all seem very bloody and barbarous, but for most of history this is how the world ran. If you were in charge of your country and wanted to stay in charge, you made sure no one with any skills approaching your own ever survived long enough to use them against you. Certainly this might be detrimental to the country as a whole, but it was very beneficial to you personally. If you couldn’t count on the continued loyalty of your supporters, then something had to be done. They could be bought off, married off, promoted, transferred, or just killed. And in most cases, the latter was almost always the best and cheapest solution.

Melissa & Joey

This is from June 30, 2011.

I watched the Craig Ferguson show the other night and he had Melissa Joan Hart on. I remember her from Clarissa Explains It All and Sabrina The Teenage Witch, but I hadn't seen her in anything in a long time. She was on to promote her show Melissa & Joey on ABC Family. She seemed as cute and charming as ever, so I thought I'd give her show a watch.

The show was actually pretty good. It was the premier of the second season, so I had to read up on Wiki to get the background of the first season, but it's pretty simple, so 2 minutes and I was up to speed. It has Joey Lawrence as well, but other than Blossom, I haven't seen him in much of anything I can remember. There were two shows on tonight, the final from last season and the first of this season. In the first, Melissa is just as silly as in Clarissa & Sabrina, but in a grown up way. Joey has his head shaved. Why I have no idea, but it's a strange look compared to his Blossom days.

The second show was more of the same, but I like silly half hour sitcoms. There wasn't much new or original about the show, but it was like dropping in to see some old friends one hasn't seen in years. Melissa and Joey are older, but they're the same people. Melissa still makes silly faces and big gestures and overacts, but in the same cute and charming way she always has in her previous sitcoms. She doesn't talk to the camera and she doesn't do magic, but when she's on screen, which is most of the time, she holds your attention.

Joey has apparently spent the last 20 years in the gym, as he showed off in the first show where his internet lectures on Wall Street finance turned into an exercise show. He played a supporting character to Blossom in that show, but he's more of a co-star in this one. He's just playing himself, but now he's doing a better job of it.

Melissa & Joey won't set any new landmarks in TV or get a Peabody Award, but it's entertaining and funny and it feels like finding some old friends that have been missing and have now wandered back into your life and are still as fun as ever.