Oops

Another super-hot day is expected in Socal today, with temps here above 100. I can’t wait.

I have to do a mea culpa on recent weather posts. The heat index numbers I’m getting from my weather source just don’t seem right. I did some research, and it looks like the relative humidity measurement of my source is stuck at 100%. This is a problem, because heat index is calculated based on temperature and relative humidity (or dew point). From Wikipedia:

So it’s a little complicated, but if relative humidity measurements are wrong, then the heat index is wrong. Oops.

I started wondering why I was getting such extreme numbers when I was sure the humidity wasn’t extreme. Now I know. I’ve gone back and edited the most recent posts based on this new information. Always happy to learn something and correct myself.

It’s the least, wonderful time, of the year*

*With apologies to Andy Williams (singer), Edward Pola and George Wyle (songwriters).

Aaaaand the Santa Ana winds arrive in Socal. It’s 11am and 98 degrees F, with the hot air flow from the desert (from the east) cancelling out any ocean air flow from the west. Our heat index is 179! This is worst case fire weather. Too hot to do anything outdoors.

Forecasters say this will only last two days, but in my experience once these things grab the local weather pattern, they don’t let go easily. Stay tuned.

Update at 1130am. 99 degrees with a heat index of 190! See the National Weather Service table for heat indices below. 190 is a very dangerous situation for anyone who has to work outdoors (actually, if it were true, it would be a world record).

Update # 2: It’s now 1pm, 102 degrees with a heat index of 207. I think I’ll go dig a ditch.

More seriously, it’s a perfect day to read and write indoors with AC. So that’s my gig. Heat strokes aren’t fun.

The last days of summer

Kind of a weird start to the week.

  • Stock market is down, way down. 800 points. I used to get worked up about this, but…it happens.
  • I have a bunch of home improvement projects I’m trying to get started, but the labor shortage makes everything…difficult. Almost impossible to get anyone to respond or start work.
  • COVID is up, particularly where we’re heading. KY is a hot spot again.
  • Zero energy and motivation. Not sure why, but malaise is the word today.

Aside from all that, I read K’s latest book yesterday. It was really good. YA isn’t my normal genre, but her book reads well, is interesting and has a nice plot. Anyone (everyone) in the market for a fun read should buy it: Puck’s Fairy Glen. Congrats to my talented wife!

Fall

We’re in the final days of summer for north America – the autumnal equinox happens in just a few days (Sep 22). It was a fairly mild summer in Socal, but a hot humid one in KY.

Now comes the Fall, in which the weather across our two homes begins to diverge radically. October and even November can be brutally hot in Socal, with frequent hot Santa Ana winds creating the worst fire hazards of the year. Our all-time worst fires, in 2003 and 2007, were in October. At the same time, KY weather cools down, the leaves begin to turn and the best weather of the year ensues. Go figure.

The grandsons are visiting the Monsma clan in Michigan this week, and one of the pictures from there is just too good to not share. Happy kids!

Happy Boys, Sept 2021

We’ll be in KY to see them soon. And to sample the (hopefully) great Fall weather.

Here’s another CA-KY comparison. USAToday has ranked cities and states by driver rudeness, and here are some results:

5 cities with the rudest drivers

  1. Rancho Cordova, California: 65.37 per 1,000.
  2. Citrus Heights, California: 64.14 per 1,000.
  3. Ventura, California: 64.03 per 1,000.
  4. Hampton, Georgia: 62.35 per 1,000.
  5. Petersburg, Virginia: 53.36 per 1,000.

5 cities with the most polite drivers

  1. Somerset, Kentucky: 1.62 per 1,000.
  2. Corbin, Kentucky: 1.86 per 1,000.
  3. Rio Rancho, New Mexico: 3.8 per 1,000.
  4. Metairie, Louisiana: 17.94 per 1,000.
  5. Southaven, Mississippi: 19.3 per 1,000.

Not surprising that CA has 3/5 worst spots, measured by driving citations per thousand – people drive madly here. I’m pleasantly surprised that KY gets 2/5 top spots for least rude driving. And that the worst (rudest) driving populations generate sixty times more citations than the least rude.

Of course it could just be the amount of policing done in each geography. Statistics and the assumptions behind them are complicated….

Finally, in some nice news for the day, SpaceX’s all-civilian crew returned to Earth after a few days orbiting. They got to live a dream of mine, so good for them. Maybe at some point SpaceX will decide to take a geriatric, overweight, opinionated Caucasian Baby Boomer to orbit. Yeah, right. But I can still dream.

Shopping

We’re in the market for a car for the KY home. Our choices are:

  • Keep renting cars every time we go there
  • Buy a used car
  • Lease a new car
  • Buy a new car

Dedicating a car to just sit around for about half of its life seems an extreme solution, but the economics are clear. I’ve run the numbers several times, and leasing a new car wins by a long way. It all starts with the new normal for car rentals. In years past $50 per day was a good estimate for car rental cost. Now, after COVID’s impact, it’s about $110 per day. If you’re going to be somewhere even one week per month, that’s $770 per month as the break-even point. Turns out that there are a LOT of leases below that threshold.

Leasing has 2-3 other factors going for it:

  • Leases often include free or subsidized maintenance costs – the company wants to get the car back in good shape.
  • A new car is going to have fewer problems than a used car. And have more advanced tech embedded.
  • If/when the economics change, as they have the last two years, you get a chance to reconsider options in three years.

So with all that in mind, what car and what terms? This is what I’ve been communicating to dealers (a somewhat painful process):

  • Not picky about colors
  • 2021 or 2022 model year, don’t care
  • Can work with a low mileage lease, like 10K per year
  • Three year lease term
  • Want to keep monthly cost around $300/month (wayyy under the $770 break-even point)
  • Favor a mid-sized SUV
  • Want the biggest/best engine, options and least up front payment, given everything else

Two things have been surprising. One, the difficulty in dealers/sales people understanding that clear (I think) set of terms. And two, the extreme lack of inventory – COVID has killed the supply chain for many vehicles.

After factoring ALL this in, the vehicle that is my most likely target is a Hyundai Tucson. It’s one of those bland small SUVs that probably doesn’t do anything superbly, but does everything well enough. And Hyundai seems to have the least supply chain problems and excellent lease programs. Their hybrid version gets 38 mpg (!), a seriously good feature.

Big day

Tonight’s SpaceX launch was inspirational. Musk can be a real tool, but wow, is he ever doing a great job taking us back into space. Every aspect of the launch was an engineering marvel, made increasingly common by his companies.

I sure hope I’m still around and able to take advantage of airline-like seats on a future SpaceX launch. Time is against me, but…today sure looked like fun. Right now three mostly-normal people and a billionaire are orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes at altitudes not reached since the Apollo program. Next stop, the Moon.

Just another Tuesday

Today is Recall Day in California. Today we find out if Gov Newsom remains in office, and/or if I get more than two votes. Exciting!

Today is also trash pickup day and pool cleaning day. Both equally exciting.

My first impressions of the Apple Watch, after one day using it, are generally good. I *am* surprised by the level of dependency on / interaction with the watch and my iPhone. To me that seems both a strength and a weakness, compared to other standalone smart watches. Learning what functions are done on the iPhone and what functions are done on the watch, and how to do them, isn’t simple. It’ll take me a while to become expert at it.

In other technology news, a friend of mine has contacted me to participate in a new project involving OneWeb’s LEO (low earth orbit) broadband-delivering satellites and a new electronically steered phased array receiver. It sounds interesting, and the applications are compelling. Add to that another quantum encryption project and it looks like my 2022 consulting opportunities will be good. It’s nice to have a tight labor market so that no one blinks an eye at having a “seasoned” engineer work on their projects – they’re happy to find anyone.

In other other technology news, Apple has some big product announcements today. Given that I bought the series 6 watch just yesterday, I’m fully expecting the series 7 to make mine undesirable and obsolete.

Finally, this is a spectacularly bad idea. Didn’t anyone watch the movie?

New toy

As part of my campaign to improve health, today I received a new Apple Watch series 6. It was super easy to set up, and I’m still exploring all the functions (Complications, as Apple weirdly calls them). I think I’ll be happy with it.

Apple’s packaging on the watch was waaaaay over the top. I get it, it’s Apple style, but so much fancy packaging to just throw away. I would appreciate it if they were a bit more recycle-conscious. I’ll throw all the packaging into the recycle bin, but I have my doubts.

And I definitely know I’m over whatever illness that was last week, as I’ve put in a pretty full day of online work. Still feel sharp.

Imagining water

Bill Maher’s Real Time show this weekend was good, and featured, among others, the brilliant George Will. I’ve always been a fan of Will, even though his politics are a bit right of mine. What I appreciate is his intellect and his objectivity. When he has an opinion, he can explain it in perfect logic – something I aspire to. And on this show, from vaccinations to wokeness to economics, I tended to agree with Will.

But the thing that really struck me about the show was the “New Rules” segment, which concluded with a diatribe about the two Americas. Not the division in politics, but the division in water. Maher showed a graphic of the continental US, in which the left half of the country is a parched wasteland and the right half a flooded mess. A bit overstated, but basically true.

It struck me how much that graphic looks exactly like a picture of the Big Island of HI. The western half of the island is very dry and the eastern half is very wet. And that’s increasingly what our evolving climate is doing to the United States – the 70 million-ish people west of the Rockies are living in an area with less and less rainfall, no sustainable access to drinking water, aquifers and reservoirs drying up, and the 260 million-ish people east of the Rockies are drowning.

Thinking like an engineer (here’s a problem, what’s the solution?), are we going to move 70 million people to the water or are we going to move water to the people? Maher maintains that moving water from the east to the west is entirely feasible, a no-brainer given that we move oil thousands of miles in pipelines.

But is it? The first thing that I thought of is scale – that’s a LOT of water we’re talking about. Ignoring agriculture and industry, we would need about 100 gallons of water per person per day. That’s 7 billion gallons piped in every day.

And we shouldn’t ignore agriculture, because agriculture is 80% of total water use in California. If 7 billion gallons = 20%, then the total need is 35 billion gallons per day. Let’s round that up to 40 billion gallons to account for the non-CA agricultural needs.

Now…is that feasible? Doing some rough math, it turns out that the CO river, one of CA’s main water sources today, provides about 14 billion gallons of water per day to the west. So we would need about three more CO river-sized new sources of water from the east to the west. And because we have to traverse mountains (notably the Rockies), the water will need to be pumped (gravity is not our friend here) and very likely contained in pipes (to facilitate pumping under pressure).

These will be some big-ass pipes and the power needed to pump the water is…gigantic. Using this as my conversion / equation source, the power needed to pump 25 billion gallons over the Rockies (through passes averaging about 6,000 feet) is about 700 GWh, assuming 70% efficiency in the overall pumping system.

The largest solar farms on Earth today generate about 2 GW of energy continuously and require about 50 square kilometers, so we would need 350 of these to power our new water source. That’s 17,500 sq. km of new solar farms, about the size of the state of New Jersey (excluding water).

That’s actually smaller than I would have thought, and PV efficiency keeps increasing, so that might not be a limiting factor. There’s a LOT of empty land west of the Rockies.

The size and number of pipes needed for the new water source are also a scale problem. A hypothetical 10-foot diameter water pipe can transport about 90,000 gallons of water per minute or 130 million gallons per day, and our daily need for 25B gallons (in addition to the existing CO river) means we would need 192 of our hypothetical 10-foot diameter pipes. That’s 192 new very large pipelines running from the wet eastern US to the dry western US. I suppose it’s doable, but it’s a bigger project than anything we’ve ever done (384K miles of pipeline), including the entire interstate highway system (47K miles of highway). Sounds pretty expensive.

Using this as a rough estimator, the cost of our 192 hypothetical 10-foot diameter pipelines, running 2000 miles each, would be $4 trillion – a big number, but not really a limiting factor. We’re talking about spending that kind of money in today’s US budgets.

The point of all this is to try to decide if Maher’s assertion that building pipelines to supply water to the west is actually feasible. My conclusion is that yes, it is. Even if my estimates are off by a factor of 2 (100%), it’s doable.

But that doesn’t mean that we should dive in and start building. First we’d want to do a few other things and attack the demand side of the equation, like:

  • Change the way our toilets work, as that is the single largest per person use of water in the US
  • Invest in desal plants on the west coast – desal combined with small nukes or PV (to power the pumps) makes a lot of sense
  • Stop growing stupid crops in a desert, like rice, hay and almonds – move that production east, to where the water actually falls from the sky

After working through this, I’m encouraged. We can make the western US a great place to live again if we invest in some VERY large engineering / terraforming projects. That’s certainly a better use of tax dollars than the Forever War. And the projects sound like fun.

Fear is the mind killer

The media – TV, radio, online and print – will be full of 9-11 memorials today. Rightly so, but in my opinion most of them will miss the point. 9-11 was a national tragedy and a so-far rare attack on American soil. People died, and others died trying to save them. Many heroic stories stem from that day. But the day itself and its casualties aren’t the big story.

9-11 was a clear, unambiguous turning point in American history. In one day we changed from a confident nation with a mostly-clean conscience to, 20 years later, a fearful, angry, vengeful nation with a two-decade record of killing and torture in the Middle East and a gigantic redistribution of power to military and intelligence agencies. Fear has driven our foreign policy since 9-11 and it shows. You can draw a straight line between 9-11 and the election of Trump, our own wannabe-dictator who feasted on the buildup of fear and hate.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have targeted Bin Laden and sought revenge for the attack – we did, and that was justified. But we allowed our fear to change our national psyche and have become a nation that’s hard to recognize. Polarized, fearful of foreigners, fractured national identity, blurring of church and state – these are all outcomes of the smackdown we experienced twenty years ago.

My hope on this anniversary of 9-11 is that we stop operating based on fear and hate and (re)start operating on the principle that we are one nation that can do great things if we work together. Our political opposites aren’t our enemies, they’re our neighbors with whom we have to find a way to make progress. There’s a lot of work to do at home to improve American lives and democracy, and the sooner we get on with that the better.

(Post title is a quote from Dune, by the late great Frank Herbert. Truer words never spoken.)

Being unwell

This is Day 5 of being unwell. After 18 months of COVID-driven isolation, I’ve ventured back out into the world taking full advantage (maybe too full) of being vaccinated. During those 18 months I (and most of you) didn’t have to worry about catching colds from random people – we saw each other under rather controlled circumstances, which has made colds and flus quite rare during the pandemic. Silver lining, I guess.

But here on Day 5 of unwellness, I am reminded that colds and flus are one inevitable outcome of getting back in contact with others, particularly if “others” includes children, who are basically little disease distilleries. They catch contagious diseases easily (no lifetime exposure to most bugs), and they fight them off relatively easily (young, strong immune systems). And they share their malady easily. I’m on a different part of the curve.

So my cold this week is a strong reminder that COVID isn’t the only thing out there that can knock you off your feet. Granted, most flus and colds won’t kill you, but they can rob you of a week or two of your normal enjoyable life. And here in my later / latter years, each week or two is pretty important.

And so it occurs to me that my chosen lifestyle – shuttling back and forth between two homes, and traveling the world in between, requires a certain robustness that isn’t easy to maintain at my age. I’ve never worried about having the stamina to live however I define as “normal”, but at this moment I am. Worried. About that.

It’s just one more reason to take heed to what the Universe has been trying to tell me for quite some time – get into shape! Much, much easier said than done, but if I want to live the life that I have in mind, I’m going to need my health. Actually, I’m going to need to be as healthy as I was mid-40s, when the Great Slide began.

There’s no end of people who will tell you in no uncertain terms how to lose weight and get/stay healthy. And they’re all over the place in terms of strategy. So deciding who to listen to is a challenge. More to come…