Monday, July 31, 2017

Trying to Make Sense of The Opioid "Epidemic" - Part II

I spent a really long time writing the first part of this, first intending to put it up Saturday, but giving up after a little over two hours.  Yesterday I spent more time, perhaps another four hours.

Why?  After a while researching, I started feeling like I was being played.  Like the whole thing was a scam designed by someone for some unknown purpose (but that probably involved getting lots of government money).  It wasn't until I found that graph from the CDC data that I started to think maybe something really is there and there really is an increase in overdose deaths.

I find that getting away from the computer, picking up a guitar and playing some scales and mindless exercises will allow my mind to wander in more productive ways than sitting here.  Blogging isn't exactly a high-stress life, but I find that my brain will follow more idea trails when I'm not trying to put together a post.  It wasn't until after I posted it and sat down to play that the realization occurred to me that just because there really may be more heroin overdose deaths, that doesn't mean we're not being played.  Someone could be taking advantage of a situation that developed on its own. 

Cui bono?  Who benefits?  As always, start by asking that.

Thankfully, while I was playing guitar, Mrs. Graybeard (who can be a much better search engine weenie than me) started asking some questions.  It starts with a simple observation: have you noticed the push for every cop, every paramedic and every rescue group in the country to carry naloxone?  There was even a story about librarians administering it to addicts to save their lives.  Have you heard that the price of naloxone has gone up at least 17 fold in the last few years?  And isn't it interesting how everyone has heard the complaints that the makers of (epinephrine) epi pens, Mylan, hiked their prices 4x but no one seems to complain that naloxone has gone up 17x?

Going down that rabbit hole leads directly to Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration.  This is according to the Wikileaks emails found here.  You should read the whole thing.  Someone sleuthing around in the Wikileaks archive posted this (there are grammatical and other errors in here, but I've left the author's words as found):
There seems to be money flowing into the Clinton Foundation from big pharma. The CEOs are donating to Hillary's campaign. On the campaign trail I've seen Bill Clinton name drop the drug naloxone. The recent emails on wikileaks confirms that the one of the goals of the Clinton Foundation is to make this drug be everywhere. One of the manufactures of this drug is Hospira, a company recently bought by Pfizer. 
There seems to be serious conflicts on interest. been the campaign and the companies. For example Clinton wants to give these campaigns 7.5 billion dollars through federal programs. This is an OP-Ed from Hillary from last year:

Today I’m releasing a strategy to confront the drug and alcohol addiction crisis. My plan sets five goals: empower communities to prevent drug use among teenagers; ensure every person suffering from addiction can obtain comprehensive treatment; ensure that all first responders carry naloxone, which can stop overdoses from becoming fatal; require health care providers to receive training in recognizing substance use disorders and to consult a prescription drug monitoring program before prescribing controlled substances; and prioritize treatment over prison for low-level and nonviolent drug offenders, so we can end the era of mass incarceration.
The call for Naloxone by name was echoed by Tim Kaine - before he became her running mate in the last election - and by John Podesta.  Call it crony capitalism or crony socialism, either way it's corrupt to the core.

The drug isn't under patent, so there can be generics.  Hospira/Pfizer is one of only a few manufacturers and they've all jacked their prices up.  The defense seems to be "but we don't charge as much as the other guys".  Are the prices a function of supply and demand or "get it while the gettin's good"?

The states are jumping on the bandwagon, too - along with first aid instructors and even gun bloggers.  Everybody is trying to get first responders to carry naloxone or the narcan nasal spray.

Conspicuous in its absence is that none of the governments seem to be pushing anti-addiction treatments and therapies, just the drugs.  Admittedly when someone is comatose and ready to die from their OD, they don't benefit from counseling, but without breaking the addiction cycle they're probably going to need more of the drug someday.

It could be that the cartels are supplying heroin more cheaply than before and usage patterns are shifting to the cheaper heroin.  When the cartels cut their heroin with cheaper fentanyl, it's easier for addicts to overdose and die.  But the heroin overdose problem is not the myth that it's prescription drugs and it's entirely possible that a bump in heroin deaths is being exploited all the way around.

Invoking the specter of prescription drugs being used improperly appears to be an attempt to lump heroin and prescription drugs together as one massive problem which makes people who are taking prescription drugs for post-surgery pain afraid of becoming addicts or overdosing.  They're different problems.  There was a National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)  run by the department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that said: 
According to NSDUH, only a quarter of people who take opioids for nonmedical reasons get them by obtaining a doctor's prescription. Hence the sequence that many people imagine -- a patient takes narcotics for pain, gets hooked, and eventually dies of an overdose -- is far from typical of opioid-related deaths.
According to that linked article, opioid-related deaths are rare even for patients who take narcotics every day for years. The CDC cites "a recent study of patients aged 15-64 years receiving opioids for chronic noncancer pain" who were followed for up to 13 years. The researchers found that "one in 550 patients died from opioid-related overdose," which is a risk of less than 0.2 percent. (I would assume from how that's worded that the study was not just on 550 patients, but on a bigger number.  A study of 550 people would be too small). 

So what do I think is going on?  First the disclaimer: bear in mind that I'm a paranoid old man (although not as paranoid as some of y'all!).   Conclusion, we are being played.  We're being played by the makers of naloxone, and those few drugs used to treat addicts and ODs.  We're also being played by the "addiction treatment industry" and recreational drug lobby that want to normalize heroin (like these folks, I think).  They're  scaremongering.  If they can convince Soccer Mom Suzy that heroin from the Mexican cartels is like the pain pills that she gets when she gets a wisdom tooth pulled, they can scare her.  They can use a death from a heroin overdose to get Suzy to advocate more money for addiction and overdose treatments.  I wouldn't hesitate too much to say we're being played by the CDC, as part of the general thing we see in every agency, loosely translated as "Don't cut us! We're valuable!"

That entire paragraph seems to describe byproducts of the WoD, so completely tossing our WoD and all its infrastructure would profoundly change all of it.  But like I said yesterday, that's just not gonna happen.  Far too many cronies and Deep State swamp creatures make a living off the WoD.  They will protect that turf and I don't see much chance that the WoD goes away.  If the country economically collapses and has to reset, maybe it will be too low priority to worry about the WoD.  For a while.  
Another way of visualizing what all the noise is about, again from the CDC.  Between 2006 and 2014, deaths from "opioid analgesics" went from 4 to 6 people per 100,000.  That's .0006 %.  Are we making mountains out of statistical molehills?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Trying to Make Sense of The Opioid "Epidemic"

A couple of days ago, I sat down to collect my thoughts on the so-called "Opioid Epidemic" in the US.  I found it a lot harder to make sense of it than I would have thought. 

Let me backup for a minute and tell you where I'm starting from.  Borepatch had a great article on the big picture; as has Bayou Renaissance Man.  One of the aspects frequently talked about is how high the addiction and death numbers are in places like Ohio and West Virginia.  The Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail wrote (last December) writes:
In six years, drug wholesalers showered the state with 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills, while 1,728 West Virginians fatally overdosed on those two painkillers, a Sunday Gazette-Mail investigation found.

The unfettered shipments amount to 433 pain pills for every man, woman and child in West Virginia.
This doesn't begin to tally up the damages, not to mention the lives of the addicts that OD.  What about the crime committed trying to steal drugs?  What about armed robbery of medical clinics, drugstores, veterinarians and even robbery of people followed home from those places?  Exactly who the villains are depends on who's telling the story.  To the writers at the Charleston Gazette-Mail, it appears to be that the drug companies are the villain.  Liberal media sure hates them some big business!  To the determined libertarians, it's the government and the War on Drugs - and there's tons of collateral damage there.  To the CDC and some doctors I've read online, it's the doctors and especially "pill mills" writing the prescriptions.

That summary started to bother me.  When the Gazette-Mail said the drug companies shipped in "433 pain pills for every man, woman and child", it sure sounds like too many, but when you think about it, well, what does that mean?  That number was obtained by dividing the number of pills sent into the state by the number of residents over six years.  Looked at as pills/person in 2191 days (six years), that's less than 0.2 pills/person per day.  Now nobody takes 1/5 of a pill per day, so you're talking 1 person in 5 is taking one pill a day.  Only opioids aren't typically one pill once a day.  If those are prescription pills, the person is probably going to get four or five a day for a week or two.  That also cuts the number of people.  Now you have one person in 20 or 25 taking pills every day.  You're talking that statewide, 5% of the people may be recovering from an injury or surgery or something.  Some of the people are getting those strong pain pills daily, and they skew the numbers even more.  Maybe it's 4% or less of the population getting those pills.

I think "less than 4% of the population being treated for an injury or recovering from surgery" on any given day sounds pretty normal.  It sounds rather different than "433 pain pills for every man, woman and child", doesn't it?

What's a normal rate for the prescription of these drugs?  There have been heroin overdoses and deaths for as long as I can remember - and centuries before that, too.  So what's new here?  How do I know if something is really going on and it's not just the media being pushed by the people who hate "big pharma" or it's not just a push to get this covered by what certainly seems like the coming single-payer, socialized medicine fuster cluck we're heading for?  Are we really seeing something different? 

I can't answer what's normal, but if you can trust the Centers for Disease Control, they present data that appears to show that after a long period of low, but steady number of overdose deaths, starting in 2013 or '14, the rate began to really climb.  (looking at the blue numbers in this graph, 2012 is up less over 2011 than 2013 is over 2012).  This plot goes back to 1999, but I saw an extension to 1990 and it didn't look very different than the first few years of this plot. 
So if there's really a problem, and it really seems to be bad in West Virginia and Ohio, what's really going on?  

I got a new perspective from a seemingly unrelated article I read last week.  I get the weekly newsletter/ad, and they linked to this long but haunting piece on the Bitter Southerner.  I'm absolutely a Southerner, but bitter isn't in my makeup.  Still, the phrase that hooked me into reading was something like, "how do you have a dialog with people who automatically add the word 'trash' whenever they hear the word 'trailer'?"  While I've never lived in a trailer, I've visited many, had family that lived in one, and partied in a few more.  The expression they refer to, though, seems to be a stereotypical elitist phrase - a disparaging term the "northern and coastal elites" use against the southerners in flyover country.

After describing a world more like the one I grew up in than not, author David Joy threw in this paragraph.   
I get the same kind of questions about addiction. People don’t understand what would push someone to drugs like methamphetamine or heroin. They don’t understand what would make a man drink like my grandfather. The reason they can’t understand it is because they’ve never been that low. When all you’ve got is a twenty-dollar bill, twenty dollars doesn’t ward off eviction notices. Twenty dollars doesn’t get you health insurance. Twenty dollars doesn’t make a car payment. Twenty dollars doesn’t even keep the lights on. But twenty dollars can take you right out of this world for just a little while. Just a minute. Just long enough to breathe. That’s what every single addict I’ve ever known really wanted: just a second to breathe.
I have never reached that level of desperation in life, and for that I'm incredibly thankful.  And it is true that some of the worst death rates in West Virginia come from coal mining counties where EPA policies caused shutdowns of various mines.  The thing is, I don't think that sort of reaction to desperation - doing meth or heroin - is or could be widespread in a population. 
Red Kool-Aid in an old pickle jar (note to coastal elites: the jar is recycled!) - pure southern.  From Bitter Southerner.

The problem with this explanation is that the "epidemic" isn't just among the trailer population in the rural south.  The death rate is the same ballpark in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and nine other states as it is in Ohio and West Virginia.  The epidemic affects bored kids from "good backgrounds" with not enough to keep them occupied and all sorts of "good kids", not just unemployed rural southerners with no economic future.   Yes, some people get prescribed narcotics for chronic pain and get addicted, too.

On the other hand, I believe there's evidence that there are such things as addictive personalities and some people are more inclined to those behaviors than the majority.  Not everyone can go the route that Bitter Southerner describes.  I know that's not a "politically correct" view, but I often wonder if our modern, "everyone can get addicted to something" mindset is just a way to get addiction treatment added to the "universal health care roster" that everyone pays for - just like getting retired widowers to pay for maternity coverage they'd never buy. 
(source: HHS Opioid Factsheet - pdf warning)

Ultimately, though, the soul-searching and navel-gazing does nothing about the problem.  The War on Drugs is no solution.  First off, if it was doing anything worthwhile the price of those drugs would be too high for the desperate people who only have $20.  Condemning the pharmaceutical companies doesn't do any good, either.  The couple of groups in the few companies that sold their pain pills as not being addictive when they're really very addictive should be investigated for fraud or improper practices and charged where appropriate (whatever the charges should be).  Locking up doctors for prescribing pain medication for patients doesn't help doctors and it doesn't help patients.  Shutting down pill mills dispensing "narcotics by the bag" has been blamed for forcing users to heroin (these guys make my head hurt).  Living in pain is bad for your health, too.  All of medicine is a compromise, just like all of engineering. 

Although it's painful to say it and I'm sure there will be objections, the people responsible for the opioid addicts are the opioid addicts.  If the libertarian creed is "don't hurt people and don't take their stuff", the opioid addicts are the ones violating that.  They're the ones raiding our wallets.  With the WoD, we pay in money and loss of freedoms.  In the case of doing a Portugal and going full legalization, we pay in money.  In both cases, we pay any other social costs. Without the WoD, perhaps we recoup some of the billions poured into that bottomless pit. 

Wait.  If we go full legalization it still costs us?  Who do you think pays for those detox programs we hear about working in Portugal?  Likewise, I really doubt that there are no health care costs at all for drug addicts even if it is legal.  Will it be cheaper than the WoD?  More than likely.  Even if we do the most heartless stuff you can read online and either just let the addicts die or do like the did during prohibition and actively try to kill them, it's still going to cost us.  If nothing else, someone has to pay to bury or otherwise handle the bodies.   

I don't see any way to handle the opioid problem that's a Good Solution.  The best we seem to be able to find is coming up with the least awful option: minimizing bad, not maximizing good.  More freedom is always better, but there's still a Shop Vac attached to your wallet even if there is no WoD. 

The desire to get high seems to be a fundamental human drive.  Judging by the cats' reactions to catnip, it's not limited to humans.  There will always be some percentage that become addicts.  Given that, it seems like the least awful solution is full legalization.  I don't have an estimate for what all the other costs of that will really be. I am, however, opposed to the "legalize it and tax it" mantra.  Ask Eric Garner how that "just tax it" thing worked out on cigarettes, which have been legalized but taxed forever. 

And none of this is going to happen.  If we have a senate that can't get rid of clearly unconstitutional meddling by the hydra taking over 1/5 of the economy, the entrenched deep state will never allow legalization.  The law enforcement industry, the civil asset forfeiture industry and all the other pieces of gravy train that keeps them sucking on our wallets is simply incapable of thinking they should give it up.

The title of this piece, "Trying to Make Sense of the Opioid Epidemic" is what this is all about.  I don't pretend to have any answers.  I'm just simply trying to make sense of it.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Pinch Hitting Post

Spent a couple of hours working on a post that got too long and still wasn't working right. 

So, cartoon time.  Pinch hitting for me will be ... Mike Lester:

Mike Lester cartoons.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Environmentalists Lying Again

Miguel down at Gun Free Zone is fond of asking a rhetorical question of the anti-gun forces, "if your cause is just, why must you lie?"  The same can be said of the environmental movement.

From a piece on Watts Up With That and author Kip Hansen, we learn the the New York Times has come up with another piece about the mythical great patch of plastic junk in the ocean: “The Immense, Eternal Footprint Humanity Leaves on Earth: Plastics” by Tatiana Schlossberg - Caroline Kennedy's daughter.  Perhaps she's not a total fool, perhaps she's being played by the people she's quoting.  Perhaps she's a greenie who's playing her readers. 

The entire piece hangs on the oft-repeated lies that "plastic does not biodegrade" which is often turned into "plastic is eternal".  It's simply not true.

Remember the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch"?
[The problem was] created whole-cloth, apparently, in 1997  the imagination of Charles J Moore, which he described as “I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic. It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.”  Of course, there were no photographs. [edit for content - SiG]
By some accounts, the area was larger than Texas, then "twice the size of Texas" and some descriptions went bigger.
As coverage intensified—the patch’s media profile peaked between 2007 and 2009—the soup coalesced into a garbage landmass with a more official name: the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” In 2007, the San Francisco Chronicle called the patch “a massive, eternal, slowly swirling vortex of noxious garbage the size of a continent and the shape of death itself, just floating out there in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, mocking life, humanity, God.”
When real scientists went out to investigate the marvelous Pacific Garbage Patch imaginatively described by Charles Moore, they found — well, almost nothing.  It was nowhere near the size of Texas, and it wasn't miles and miles of plastic bottles and grocery bags; if anything it was a garbage patch of miscellaneous things; anything that could float; some plastic, some "other".  A similar patch had been announced in the Atlantic, and when researchers (this time including the author, Kip Hansen) went to the Atlantic Garbage Patch, they found — the same thing.  Pretty much nothing. Hansen writes:
The missing garbage patch was such a surprise (outside of portion of society taken in by all things environmental no matter how unlikely to be true) that  we began to see some real science on the topic, such as National Geographic’s  piece “Ocean Garbage Patch Not Growing—Where’s “Missing” Plastic?”  which tells us “It’s possible some of the trash is just too small for researchers to catalog, study leader Kara Lavender Law, an oceanographer at the Sea Education Association (SEA) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts said: “Our net only captures pieces larger than [a third of a millimeter] in size, and it’s certain that the plastic breaks down into pieces smaller than that.”   [That was in 2010, Kara Lavender Law is still a leading researcher and advocate in the field of oceanic plastics and oceanic debris.]
Wait - a third of a millimeter?  They're picking up pieces that small?  That's .013" - about the thickness of a business card and smaller than all but the smallest pieces of glitter.  It turns out the size is very important.  And did you notice she said “it’s certain that the plastic breaks down into pieces smaller than that?”  Breaking down in size is degrading and returning to the environment.
This aspect is a real problem actually.  To sea life food is often identified by size — moving objects in a certain size range are food and are eaten without further thought or inspection.  ...  As a result, lots of these little bits are being ingested by fishes and other denizens of the deep.  Luckily, most animal life forms are built on the same topology as a tube — what goes in the front (eating) end generally is capable of coming out the other (pooping) end.  Things that don’t come out the other end have ways of getting back out the eating end (think cats and hairballs).
The paper in the Times is basically about plastic that they can't find in the oceans.  Researchers can get data on how much plastic is produced and how much is sent to recycling centers.  The difference is "missing plastic" that might end up in the ocean.   When that plastic is searched for — and they have searched and searched for it, there is plenty of research money for this topic — they do not find it.  Thus the question remains:  Where is that missing plastic?  

The article at WUWT presents data from a couple of studies showing that the majority of the plastic found in these dredge studies is really quite small.  The number of pieces found rapidly grows as size decreases, as we would expect if items are breaking into 2 or more bits, then each of those two bits breaking in two, etc.  Until…..the size hits a seemingly magical point of 1.5 to 1 mm.  Then the absolute number of pieces decreases rapidly until we find very few pieces under 0.3 mm (1/3 mm).  That's the size that goes through their nets.  The inescapable conclusion is that the plastic is disintegrating into continually finer and finer particles.

I'll bet most of us know this from experience.  If you put one of those ubiquitous blue tarps on your roof, over a boat or a camper, you'll know they break down into small chips quickly - it seems to me they last about a year here in the sun.  You'll probably also know that things in the ocean don't tend to go to waste.  Simply put, it has been known for the last ten years or so, since Swift in 2015, that the missing oceanic plastic is eaten.  Not just by fishes, although certainly some is ingested and re-excreted by fishes, but actually consumed as food by microorganisms.  When plastics were examined under Scanning Electron Microscopes, this is what they found
Marine animals are making the plastic into habitat, much like sunken tires or old ships become artificial reef structures in shallower waters.  The open ocean, away from the productive coastal (littoral) zones is rather desert-like; any kind of shelter or hiding is going to be colonized.
The tiny animals actually consume the plastic itself, much in the same way that they ate the oil from the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill.   (Scientific American magazine ran this piece:  “Meet the Microbes Eating the Gulf Oil Spill”. )

The same principle involved in the melting of crushed ice vs. cubed ice operates here:  the smaller bits have a greater surface area compared to their total volume, and at a critical size, the microorganisms eating away at the surfaces just eat it all up.
It wouldn't be 21st Century America if I don't add that this doesn't mean that we can be careless throwing away plastics; we shouldn't be careless throwing away anything.  As Kip Hansen says,
Kindergarten rules apply at all stages and areas of life:

Pick up after yourself — clean up your own messes:

We need to do all we can to keep every sort of trash, including plastics,  contained and disposed of in a responsible manner – this keeps it out of the oceans and the rest of the natural environment.

Plastics are valuable and should be recycled whenever possible into useful and valuable commodities, such as replacements for lumber in decking, shipping pallets, etc.

Volunteerism to clean up beaches and reefs is effective and worthwhile.

Responsible outdoor recreation, including boating,  includes keeping your trash (and especially plastics) under control and disposed of properly ashore.
Somewhere in early adulthood, I got the idea that there's no such place as "away".  You don't throw something "away", like it just leaves the universe, you put it somewhere very specific.  I also adopted the saying that "99% of environmentalism is cleaning up after yourself".  "Kindergarten rules" is a good way of putting it. To add to those, I'd say to journalists that it's always better to tell the truth, and if the truth doesn't agree with your beliefs, you need to change your beliefs. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Trashing the Dollar

In the various ways that the administration could make the balance of trade favor the US, and thereby bring more jobs back to the US, the most subtle would be to trash the dollar and drive it down compared to other currencies.

You and I might not ordinarily think of that, but it's really pretty simple.  The balance of trade running at a deficit simply means we're importing more than we're exporting. This causes dollars to flow overseas to buy those goods.  The stronger other currencies are compared to a trashed or devalued dollar, the cheaper our exports become due to the exchange rate.  It also makes imports more expensive in dollar terms.  That would both promote increased exports and make US consumers more likely to pick an American product.  If there's an American alternative at a premium price, that price difference goes down as the dollar gets weaker.  This would encourage a more positive balance of trade without doing things like imposing tariffs that are more overt (and might be harder to get through a congress that can't agree on which direction the sun rises).

Have you seen what has happened to the dollar since the Inaugural "Trump Bump"?
The dollar index (measured against a basket of other currencies) is down 8.8 % since the start of '17.  The Euro, in particular, is up 11.8% against the dollar.  That makes an imported European car that much more expensive.

Is it deliberate?  Has Trump's posturing had this effect?  Hard to tell.

It's a cliche' that no country ever devalued its way to greatness.  Devaluing or manipulating currency is no way to run a country.  As a temporary expedient, though, can it make any less sense than negative interest rates?  In Switzerland today, banks charge you 0.75% interest to save your money.  Did you know you could borrow the money to buy a house in Switzerland and pay almost the same amount as interest on your mortgage?   Bill Bonner puts it this way:
Imagine two people…

One has a million Swiss francs (roughly equal to $1 million). Another has nothing. One puts his million in a local bank. He pays 10,000 francs a year in negative interest.

What does he get? A monthly statement!

The other fellow borrows the same million dollars. He pays 10,000 francs a year in interest.

What does he get? A house!
In what universe does this make sense? There is so much wrong with this statement that... I... can't... even... 

Paul Simon once wrote, "These are the days of miracle and wonder".  Judged by just about any valuation metric – their CAPE ratio, their price-to-earnings ratio, their price-to-book ratio, their dividend yield – US stocks are now the most expensive in the world.  Yesterday, the Dow was up another 100, today up 85 - to Yet Another All Time High.  The Volatility Index (measures fear) set an all time record low.  There's absolutely nothing to fear at all!  Is the other word for total lack of fear: complacency? 

Overpriced?  At the bottom of the last bear market, an "average wage earner" could buy the entire S&P 500 for 20 hours wages.  Today it takes 110 hours.  I've reported several times that wages have been stagnant for the middle class for almost 50 years.  Those at the top, who can benefit from the Fed's manipulations, have seen their income go up over five fold. 

Are you exposed to the stock market?  If this weren't an age of miracle and wonder, you certainly shouldn't be getting in now.  You buy low and sell high.  Ordinarily, one wouldn't think this could go higher with US stocks the most expensive in the world, but with a Federal Reserve printing money by supertanker full, could it?  Yesterday, the Fed announced they were going to leave the interest rates where they are, and begin their "quantitative tightening" (just like it sounds, the opposite of quantitative easing) Real Soon Now.

Can this really go on? 

No.  No it can't.  The only question is when.  Bubbles pop.  It's what they do. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Headline of the Day So Far

Maybe I should call it the WTF of the day.  "Man accused of smuggling king cobras in potato chip cans".  Complete with photograph.
Just your typical wildlife smuggling case.  Note that a king cobra of that size is a juvenile.  Adults are around 10 feet long or more, with the record being over 18 feet.
The three king cobra snakes — each about two feet (just over half a meter) long — were found in March when Customs and Border Protection officers inspected a package that was mailed from Hong Kong, prosecutors said. There were also three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles in the package, authorities said.

Federal agents removed the cobras but delivered the turtles to Franco's home in Monterey Park.
They followed it up with a search warrant and checked the home of Rodrigo Franco, 34.  They found several other reptiles protected under US law.
Franco admitted to an agent from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that he had previously received 20 king cobras in two other shipments, but he said they all died in transit, according to court documents.
At least he didn't use the line that they were lost in a tragic boating accident.  I wonder where they all ended up?  Private collectors?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Day Two With The Grail Gun

(reference 1 and 2)

Today was day two at the range with my new Ruger Precision Rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor.  Mrs Graybeard and I got down to the range a bit late this morning, due to my making a dumb mistake setting the alarm on my phone, but we were there between 8:15 and 8:30.  I took one shot at 25 yards to verify my zero was still there and bouncing the scope and its rifle around for a while hadn't messed it up. Then I went to 100 yards with some Hornady Precision Hunter ammo.  This uses the 143 grain ELD-X bullets but is not "match grade".  I got this in an honest three shot string.  The shot on the left was just to make sure I could get on the target.
There are five holes there, but I'm claiming that highlighted three shot group on the middle right.  Why?  The leftmost hole was my first shot, ranging to see if I could get on the paper with my rifle zero.  My Ballistic App told me that with a 25 yard zero, the bullet is still rising, and it would hit a little under 6" above where the crosshairs on the scope reticle mark 0.  With my cross hairs right on the bottom edge of that target, that hole is where it hit - and it's 9" above the the bottom edge.  The next three are the one I call my group because they were the next three shots.  There's a fifth hole just to the left of and below that group which was later with a different type of round.

The dimensions and stats on the group are from an app called Sub MOA - the free version.  In the Android Universe, it's called Range Buddy.  For a whole $5 for the "Pro Version", I might give him that just for making this available.  How it works is that you measure a feature on the picture, tell it the true size and the distance, mark your shots, and it calculates those stats for you.  Yes, there's a screen where you input the caliber, projectile data and some other common information. 

It's pretty nifty.  I had no end of troubles with it at the range, but managed to save that picture on my phone.  (The icons made no sense to me, and there's no real help built into the app).  Once I was home, I looked up a tutorial on YouTube and got this in no time. 

After shooting that first target, I switched to some Winchester match ammo I picked up last week.  Unfortunately,the range was hot and I couldn't walk down to the target and grab a picture.  I took some shots through my spotting scope with my little Ricoh P&S (also POS) camera, and with some gymnastics, got this picture onto my phone and into the Sub MOA app.  I think this is real 
Those were two groups separated by a little time.  I think an honest quarter of an MOA, but let's be pessimistic and call it 1/3 MOA.  I've never shot this well before.  It is match grade ammo (which I've never used before) and the rifle sure seems to be a whole 'nother level better rifle than anything I've ever owned before.

We left by a little after 10, and it was hitting 90 already.  This time of year, I expect that no matter what you're doing outdoors, you should be done by 10.  11 if it's unusually cloudy. 

Now there are things I want to understand better here.  I want to understand why the Ballistic App says that the bullet I'm using should be at 5.65" above the point of aim, but it's more like 9".  I need to understand the sources of error there.  An obvious contributor is that my zero at 25 yards isn't really zero, it's about 1/4" high (the bottom two holes here).  That implies my actual zero is closer than 25 yards.  (You're shooting up to get the bullet and optical paths to intersect at a distance.  If it's high at that distance, it means it has already gone through that intersection and is still rising).  Graphically (and exaggerated) (source):
Sure enough, moving the zero distance from 25 yards down to 19 makes the bullet 9" up at the target, but could it really be 6 yards short?  Another factor is that I'm shooting slightly downhill at the 25 yard targets.  I don't know what angle, but it's a steeper angle than I use to get to 100 yards.  (Easiest way to tell: put the phone running the digital level app on the forend of the gun when it's pointing at the targets)  That angle plays into it, too, although I don't think it's much. 

It is a good hobby for geeks and the anal retentive (and anal-retentive is hyphenated, dammit!!)  But as long as I'm doing a picture-intensive post, I may as well go for a little humor, too.

Monday, July 24, 2017

What to Do When The Robots Do Everything?

Let me start out by saying I'm very skeptical of this whole "the robots are going to take every job" meme that's floating around.  First off, as I've talked about here before, the last 20 years of data shows that robot sales go up with employment, virtually in lock step.  Robots "replace" workers in the sense of doing things alongside existing employees as the company expands, if even that. 

There are literally billions of people working today, in the sense of doing something to eek out a living.  A Masai herding cattle in Kenya is working for a living.  Are we going to sell the Masai a robot to herd cattle?  Are we going to have robots selling used cars, in your local mom and pop pizza parlor, or selling Christmas trees?  This leads to my second issue: how do we build billions of robots?  Metals have to be mined and refined; plastics have to be made and distributed; and everything built into subassemblies and full up assemblies.  How long will it take to build a few billion?  And don't say, "the robots will build the robots", because the problems are the same.  Who sells the robots and how much do these wonders cost?  There are lots of practical questions nobody is ever talking about.

Have you ever seen any society, anywhere, at anytime in recorded history when people weren't making a living doing something??  And this is suddenly going to end? 

So it's with a bit of that skepticism that I look at this week's article in Machine Design, "What to Do When Machines Do Everything?  Don't Panic!".  The piece is a synopsis from a book by the same name put out by a consulting company called  Cognizant Technology Solutions.  They start out with the assumption that AI is coming, the Internet of Things will continue to develop, and that basically it's all a "done deal".  Despite that view, there are some loud and persistent anti-AI voices out there that seem to be raising lots of valid concerns. 
The authors do not sugar-coat the inevitable future. In chapter one, they state how this next stage of technology and business is the same as what we have experienced in the past. Just as “the First Industrial Revolution was powered by the invention of the loom, the second by the steam engine, and the third by the assembly line, the fourth will be powered by the machines that seem to think—what we refer to in these pages as “systems of intelligence.”
You may have come across the prediction from Oxford University that that 47% of United States jobs will be automated away by 2025 - eight years from now. The authors of the book are quick to tear this claim down. Their estimates are more like 12% of jobs will be lost to automation over the next 10 to 15 years (by 2032, if you're counting).  This seems closer to what the last 20 years of experience has taught us.  The authors' take on it breaks down like this:
  • Job automation: 12% of existing jobs will be at risk for being taken over by modern automated systems.
  • Job enhancement: 75% of all existing jobs will be enhanced or changed by the new technology. This will lead to greater output for all current jobs.
  • Job creation: 13% of net new jobs will be created as the technology creates new revenue opportunities.
Yes, some jobs will be lost.  There's currently around 150 Million jobs in America, so 12% of jobs "at risk for being taken over" means 18 million people could be affected.  Yet, the job creation line says 13% net new jobs, which means 19-1/2 million new jobs will be created.  Obviously the robots are part of job growth, not destruction.

But what that really means is that certain aspects of jobs will be automated.  Think the kind of "collaborative robots" we've talked about here before, but with a twist.  With more simulated intelligence, they can move closer to the front offices. 
According to research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Forrester Research Inc., production and installation/maintenance/repair will be impacted by automation, both from 6% in 2015 to 60% and 61%, respectively, in 2022. Management and business-related jobs will be impacted by 92% in 2022.
Ever seen your boss do something idiotic?  No, not your boss (especially if they're reading this) but I bet you've seen other managers in your companies make some pretty boneheaded moves.  The possibility of AI improving management and business decisions holds promise.  The automation of production, installation, maintenance and repair is exactly like the collaborative robots that we've talked about. Frankly, if faced with a task like climbing into my attic to do maintenance on my air conditioner ducts I could instead rent or buy a collaborative robot to do it for me, I think that's a good thing. 
The new machine ushering in the new technology wave will be a system of intelligence that combines software (algorithms, business rules, machine-learning code, predictive analytics), hardware (servers, sensors, mobile devices, connectivity), data (contextualized and real-time), and lastly, the input of human operators.
Today, automation and AI are in its infancy. We are in the scope of Narrow AI (also known as weak AI), which is being used by Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (FANG) types of vendors. FANG vendors are using Narrow AI to create voice assistants like Siri or Alexa and intelligent GPS like Waze. But that is not the end game.

There will be General AI on the level of movies like Ex Machina, where the machine can determine the task done just by observational input. Then there will be Super AI—AI that can create other intelligent life almost on a robot-takeover level. However, worrying about this is an exaggeration. As pointed out in the book, Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist at Baidu Research, points out, “Worrying about [general or super] AI is like worrying about overpopulating on Mars before we’ve even set foot on it.”
(Ex Machina?  You can start your "Stupid Siri Stories" now)  I have a bit of a problem with Dr. Ng's assessment that we shouldn't “worry about advanced AI” now, but worry probably isn't the best word.  It might be that I've been influenced a bit by the likes of Musk, Gates, Hawking and some of the others who are plainly very concerned about it.  Perhaps it should be that there are things that we don't allow the AIs to do.
Graph: the authors' idea of this "fourth industrial revolution.  They explain:
The S-curves lay out the different industrial revolutions we have undergone as a society. With each curve, there is innovation, stall, rapid expansion, and then maturity. If we take the internet as an example, innovation came with the burst of computers, and the stall was the internet bubble burst. We are currently in the stages of rapid expansion, with companies like Facebook, Siemens, and Nike using the innovations of the last 15 years to mature the products of the digital age.
(Really long time readers will recognize the sigmoid growth curve as something I brought up long ago.)
To help navigate the fourth industrial revolution, Cognizant worked with Global 2000 companies to develop a structured approach called AHEAD:

Automate: Using the modern technology tools to create automated processes such as computer software, robots, sensors, etc. Examples are Uber for taxi dispatching, or collaborative robots for picking and packaging services.

Halo: Leveraging the data exhaust generated by products and people via their connected and online behaviors to create customer experiences that continue to evolve.

Enhance: Using computer systems and tools like AI to increase the output of jobs.

Abundance: Through the use of new technology, having the ability to lower the price point of existing offers, akin to Henry Ford and the automation line.

Discovery: Leveraging AI to create new products, services, and industries, just like the light bulb led to radios, television, and transistors.
Since Cognizant is a consulting company, the rest of the piece is structured as advice for their customers.  Think of automation being used to reduce cost by 25% and increase productivity by 25%.  Wouldn't you want 25% more pay along with 25% less work to get it?  Put simply, let robots do the things they're best at and let humans do the things we're best at.  Automation or AI should specialize in tasks that demand low human judgement (repetitive manual labor - say burger flipping or many assembly line tasks), low levels of empathy (don't let your robots near customer service), and anything that requires the handling or generating of data. There will be too much data in the future for humans to process; best leave it to the machines. 

(Meet the new boss... same as the old boss)

All in all, I think this view of the coming "robotic/AI" future is the most pragmatic and realistic I've read in a while. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Another 50 Years Ago Milestone

The handheld electronic calculator was coming to life 50 years ago this month.  The patent was filed for in September of 1967 by Texas Instruments, but not granted for another seven years!

It's a foreign concept for us today, with integrated circuits (IC) in everything around us, but in the mid-'60s, they were still new and looking for their place in life.  A while back, I told the story of another TI marketing idea: convincing Regency to produce the world's first transistor radio, the TR-1.  Jack Kilby, one of the co-inventors of the IC, was now a technical leader at TI and came up with the very first "killer app" for ICs. Specifically: a slide rule killer!
In late September of 1965, Kilby called a group of senior engineers, which included Jerry Merryman, into his office for a meeting to discuss a new project. The purpose of the project was to build a small personal-computing device to possibly replace the slide rule. Kilby told the group the device would need to have buttons, it should be battery-powered, and there should be a display mechanism for the answers. He pointed to a book on his desk and said it needed to be about that size (small enough to fit in your pocket). However, it was up to them to come up with a plan for how to do it.

According to Kilby, the idea had originally come from Patrick “Pat” Haggerty, TI’s President and Chief Executive Officer. On a business flight to New York, Haggerty told Kilby that he’d like the IC Dept. to take on the task. According to Jerry, Haggerty was a far-seeing individual trying to come up with new electronic devices that could be created using integrated circuits. Many of the ideas he pitched to Kilby would fall by the wayside; however, that wasn’t the case for the calculator.
Central to the plan was engineer Jerry Merryman, see his biography “Jerry Merryman: the man who killed the slide rule,” (pdf), at the Slide Rule Museum.  Jerry was a perfect example of the kind of guys who were rising to the top in those days.
His technical career began at age 11. At a time when most of us were learning to sit up straight at the dinner table, Jerry was hired to repair radios. Born and raised in Hearne, Texas, he had been an inveterate tinkerer from birth, he says, and played with a Gilbert chemistry set, dismantled perfectly good alarm clocks, and used No. 6 dry cells from the trashcan of the railroad’s telegraph office to power his youthful experiments.
At the age of 18, Jerry got his "First Class Phone" ticket from the FCC (First Class Radiotelephone Operator's License - the FCC stopped issuing them years ago) and became the station engineer for a local broadcast station.  Although Jerry had attended Texas A&M University from 1949 to 1952 and 1957 to 1959, he didn’t graduate. Instead what he had was a diverse commercial and academic background, which included several years of designing vacuum-tube and transistor digital circuits. In 1963, Jerry ended up at TI and quickly gravitated to designing integrated circuits of extraordinary performance for the day.  Jack Kilby chose Jerry Merryman to lead the project, code-named Cal-Tech.  Kilby later stated he thought Jerry was probably the only engineer at the time that could have pulled it off, while also handling the management of the project.
[After the meeting with Kilby]  For the next three days and nights, Jerry worked hard on the logic design. He started out on the first day late in the afternoon by drawing a flip-flop circuit on a board to denote an “Add” button. Then on several sheets of quadrille desk-pad paper, he drew out how to do the arithmetic, how to control the logic, and a rough design of the architecture. What he ended up with was not the complete logic, but it was an excellent starting point. According to Jerry, “It still required a lot more fiddling with.”
As work progressed, the team kept innovating new devices, more complex than ever before.  Truth be told, that was really the motivation behind the project: figure out how to integrate more and more transistors, and achieve higher levels of  integration.  TI wanted to branch out beyond military applications and put ICs in everyday consumer products to showcase their widespread capability. The calculator was a means of accomplishing that goal.
To build a calculator, they estimated they would need thousands of transistors with at least 83% yield. The probability that it would work was practically zero, so Jerry went to Kilby’s office to express his concerns. He said, "The yield of this thing is going to be 0. I'd like to build it in about 16 chips. Each chip will be more complicated than anything we've ever built. It will be a real challenge."

Kilby didn’t agree. He wanted the team to build everything on one big integrated circuit. He responded with a sentiment he was known for: “You'll just have to think of something.”
Their breadboard of the calculator fit on three conventional-size desks positioned together, each with a top surface measuring roughly 10 square feet (2x5).  The goal was to fit this into a shirt pocket.
In 1966, the available transistors used too much power for the calculator. For an integrated circuit with thousands of transistors, Jerry imagined they would need something as powerful as a car battery, yet small enough to fit in your pocket. To solve this problem they needed to figure out a way to lower the overall required power. Jerry knew one way to do that was to go way down in voltage. He reasoned they could do everything with a small battery less than 5 V.
Even batteries that would be a logical choice weren't easily available in 1965.  Nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries existed but the cells had too high internal resistance, too short a life, and didn't recharge very well.  After consultations with Yardney Battery, Jerry switched the project to silver-zinc batteries; 3 1.5V batteries in series to give 4.5V.  Yardney still produces silver-zinc batteries.

TI is known for their calculator products today, and you'd think this would be their first.  It was eventually released, but the project started in 1965 and it didn't become a product until 1972.  The Datamath 2500 was TI's first calculator product, but the story has a twist.  Before that, TI was a supplier of the ICs for Japan's Canon, whose Pocketronic calculator of 1970/71 was an advanced version of the Caltech project design and one of the first hand-held calculators.  Jerry's original "Project Caltech" calculator came on the market as Canon's product! 
The first Cal Tech prototype calculator, from the Datamath Museum

There's likely to be a few "my first calculator" stories here, so let me start it out with mine.  My first calculator was a simple four function calculator that always displayed two fixed decimal places.  I just remembered the brand of: Rapidman,  After a few Bing searches the closest looking thing I can find is a Rapidman 800.  This was somewhere in my first iteration of college ('73?), and I combined it with a slide rule - in those days most science classrooms had a 6 or 8 foot long slide rule hanging from hooks above the blackboards.  My first scientific calculator was a TI-SR-50.  It's still around here somewhere. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Awfulness of Jeff Sessions This Week

Earlier this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new initiative at the DOJ to expand Civil Asset Forfeiture.  In his statements, he appears to either not know what he's talking about, or he thinks we're too stupid to know what he's talking about.  My money is the latter option.
"[W]e hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers," Sessions said. "With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners." [Bold added - SiG]
The thing that makes this Epic Fail-level wrong is that bolded text; in particular, asset forfeiture is being used against people who have never been charged with a crime, and are never charged with a crime.  I don't think many people have a problem with a criminal convicted in a fair trial being assessed monetary penalties.  Criminal punishments like "10 months or $100,000" are not unusual (those are made up numbers as an example).

Sessions in particular poked at drug cartels.  Avoiding the ethics of the whole War on Some Drugs, if the DOJ were to convict the head of one of the cartels in a fair trial in the US courts, and as part of the sentence, the cartel forfeited some money/cars/property that were seized during the arrest, that doesn't bother me much.  The problem with civil forfeiture is things like the Motel Caswell of Tewksbury, MA, a case I wrote about back in 2012.
This town’s police department is conniving with the federal government to circumvent Massachusetts law — which is less permissive than federal law — to seize his livelihood and retirement asset. In the lawsuit titled United States of America v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts, the government is suing an inanimate object, the motel Caswell’s father built in 1955. The U.S. Department of Justice intends to seize it, sell it for perhaps $1.5 million and give up to 80 percent of that to the Tewksbury Police Department, whose budget is just $5.5 million. The Caswells have not been charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime. They are being persecuted by two governments eager to profit from what is antiseptically called the “equitable sharing” of the fruits of civil forfeiture, a process of government enrichment that often is indistinguishable from robbery.
Got that?  The government sued an address - an inanimate object.  They never charged or convicted the owners, the Caswells; they didn't even accuse them of any wrongdoing whatsoever.  They were ruining this family strictly to collect money very loosely related to drug crimes (something like .05% of the rooms they rented out since 1994 were used by a drug dealer - without approval, of course).  Thankfully when the case made it to court, the government's case was dismissed.

Around Daytona, Florida, in the 1990s, sheriff Bob Vogel was notorious for stopping cars on I-95.  If you had cash, you must be a drug dealer, so the cash was seized.  Drivers were virtually never charged with a crime, guilt was therefore never proven and the police made over $8 Million dollars for a department fund.

Just excerpting the stories I've already told here would make this my longest post ever - and I wouldn't scratch the surface of this subject.  So going back to Reason magazine's story:
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), a consistent Republican advocate for reforming asset forfeiture laws, said in a statement to Reason Monday: "As Justice Thomas has previously said, there are serious constitutional concerns regarding modern civil asset forfeiture practices. The Department has an obligation to consider due process constraints in crafting its civil asset forfeiture policies."

Lee was referring to conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' notable dissent in an asset forfeiture case this June. Thomas wrote that forfeiture operations "frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings."
Justice Thomas hit the nail exactly.  Governments don't go after corporations that permanent staffs of full-time lawyers.  They go after people like the Caswells.  They go after people like Mandrel Stuart, who was carrying $17,550 in cash for equipment and supplies for his barbecue restaurant.  He eventually hired a lawyer, and a jury gave him his money back, but he lost his restaurant while fighting the government.  They go after people like James Lieto who had the FBI seize $392,000 from his business because the money was being carried by an armored-car firm he had hired that had fallen under a federal investigation. He was never charged with any crime, nor was it alleged he knew the armored car company was under investigation, yet he had to spend thousands in legal fees to get his money back.

That's the typical Modus Operandi.  They go after "little guys", and take whatever they can.  They seize a pile of money, assuming the victim will think it's not worth the gamble of hiring a lawyer to fight for their money.  Governments bully small guys who can't afford teams of high-powered lawyers; those "least able to defend their interests" as Justice Thomas put it.  They're easier to screw over. 

Recall that in 2014, for the first time ever, the U.S. government seized more property from Americans than burglars did

I've found over the years that civil forfeiture is pretty much despised by all sides of the political spectrum.  Lefties hate it as much as righties hate it - for example, here's a link to HuffPo talking about Florida's 2016 law making civil forfeiture harder.  That would make it seem like it should be possible to try to get congress to shut Sessions down, or even the President to tell him to "sit down and shut up".  Reason points out that Sessions was a prosecutor and has always been a supporter of Civil Forfeiture, so this isn't surprising.  (It seems only police departments and prosecutors - who benefit from free money - seem to like the idea)  Sessions clearly needs a "clue by 4" upside the head to convince him to back off.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Using Wave Power to Desalinate Seawater

Wave power has been around for quite a while, but I've never heard of large, wave-power equivalents of wind farms catching on.  The concept is usually simple enough, and no surprise here: anyone who has stood on a beach while large waves are breaking knows that there's a lot of power there.  In principle, we could design something that turns that water motion into mechanical motion and get useful work done by it. 

A company called Atmocean Inc. in New Mexico, of all places, are developing a pump that uses wave power to send pressurized seawater onto shore, where it is desalinated without the use of any external energy.  They're working with Sandia National Laboratories to develop this, so that may be why they're working on ocean waves in a place where the waves are more academic or conceptual.

The concept is rather cool, though.  They deploy a 200-ft by 200-ft array of float-operated pumps, like this:

As the waves pass under the bouys, they rise.  A series of free-floating platforms called Variable Sea Anchors or “VSAs” are connected beneath the pump and provide drag to the rising buoys. The pumps located between the VSA and buoy are designed to take advantage of the resulting tension to pull in sea water and pump it towards shore. The entire array acts in series with five pumps along three separate strings to increase the volume and pressure of water being delivered on shore through a central pipe.
 Water arrives onshore at about 180 psi. Atmocean relies on energy recovery devices—essentially spinning mechanical wheels—to boost 14% of the arriving seawater to 900 psi, the pressure needed to run reverse osmosis.
This allows them to run the reverse osmosis water purification without running high power lines to the facility, possibly allowing them to drop a reverse osmosis (RO) purification facility any place with wave action nearby.  How much RO water do they produce?  
In southern Peru, where the company set up a prototype for testing, 50 million cubic feet of pressurized water would be pumped to shore in a year under typical ocean conditions. Fourteen percent of that is desalinated, producing 5 million cubic feet (37 million gallons) of fresh water annually that can be used for agriculture or consumption.  
Estimates vary for how much water a person uses in a year, but 100 gallons per day is talked about as realistic, so that's conveniently close to a 37,000 gallons per year which divides into 37,000,000 easily.  That would be the usage of a town of 1000 Americans.  Do they use less in Peru?  No numbers available.  I'm pretty certain the amount required for agriculture depends on what they're growing. 
One of the bouys in the experimental installation of Ilo, Peru. (Atmocean photo). 

Where Sandia comes in is providing some high power computational resources.  They're helping the Atmocean engineers run computational fluid dynamics to optimize the pump designs.  The next step, once the pump design is refined and system improved, is a plan to deploy a system off Newfoundland. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

In Which I Answer a Commenter

Commenter tomfrompv to my post two days ago asked,
How about advice on preparation for the upcoming disaster? I think we all agree it's on the way. But what should the patriotic American do to get ready. I'm sure the globalists have already planned it out.

I'm not talking about "preppers". Most of us are either too old or think the "year zero" scenario has no chance of occurring. To me, it's more about how the individual can maintain his personal wealth, freedom, security, and well-being when the hammer finally hits.
What's the strategy for the ordinary guy?
Let me start out by saying that whatever I say here is probably being said by other people elsewhere.  I don't think I have any exclusive ideas in this arena, and, to be honest, I'm concerned about what's coming and being prepared. On the other hand, I recall while reading Rawles' "Patriots" many years ago that, "if I'm really going to have to do all that to survive, I'm toast".  It was while they were putting in half inch thick steel to bulletproof their retreat.

Perhaps unexpectedly, another commenter answered tomfrompv with a lot of solid advice as a starting point. 
As for a coping strategy, does your public image from the street serve as a defense against envy? From the outside you look poor, wearing thrift store pants and repairing an older car, but from the inside you are wealthy in the necessities of life like food, shelter, and medical care. Is your backyard a food garden? Do you have gold coins to give to the sympathetic veterinarian who will X-ray and set your broken bone without reporting it?

Are you the center of a radio kit ecosystem which sells better the worse the news gets? You can't retire, that is not going to work. Social Security is bankrupt, and will continue to decline 10%/year forever. Those big company pension funds are going to be swept into Social Security to keep it going another year; the only portion of it you own is the last check that cashed. If you can withdraw any of that paper wealth and turn it into coins, do it.

Hard coin money fixes almost anything. With money, if WWIII breaks out you could take a "long vacation" in Mexico, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, Germany, South America, the Pacific's a big world out there, and it will never all be involved in war at the same time. You can't fix politics, not even a little bit. But it's practical to prepare to step to the side as the stupid goes charging past.
My starting point is to look after those "necessities of life" like food, shelter and medical care.  If you have medical issues that require regular prescriptions, sorry but you're behind the 8-ball  It's probably too late to take a few years and get out of debt, but do your best to get six months to a year of food put away while getting out of debt.  Live below your means. 

Do you really need to look like a pauper?  I don't know, but I don't think you should look like the richest people in your area either.  I don't think you want to stand out on either end.  We have two cars that were purchased used; one for cash and one on payments because it was 0% APR and that's really paying us to take the loan.  Made sense at the time.  It has been paid off for years.  Still, I've had people walking by comment on the cars and act surprised when I tell them one's an '09 and the other's a '13. 

Yes, I think it's wise to have silver coins or other barter material on hand.  I think gold is too "concentrated"; too much money in too small a coin (more here).  I think there will be more people trying to counterfeit things like US Silver Eagles than the junk silver coins.  (Junk silver is the usually pre-1965, 90% silver US coins)  Silver Eagles are more uniform in appearance, especially if you have them new, in their mint tube (they're all uncirculated now); by contrast, the junk silver is generally old and used looking; they have the advantage that everyone knows what a dime or quarter is.  I think they'll quickly learn that the silver versions are worth more.  Compared to Eagles, the old coins are dinged up, and usually have black sulfides on them.  If someone offered you a few silver quarters, all dated the same and all looking brand new, that would get your suspicions up.  If they offered you a couple of quarters of different years in different conditions, that would look more believable.

What about other things to barter?  Do you want to have some whiskey or cigarettes around?  I don't drink or smoke and don't have any put away.  Should I?  I can't say.  A major part of this blog has been to emphasize having skills that can be bartered. Learn to fix things.

Tomfrompv also says,
For example, I think we'll see something along the lines of 1930-38 America. Banks will fail and along with them retiree annuities. The stock and bond market will fail and along with them public pensions. Tax revenues will crater. The govt will inflate the currency while simultaneously banning the sale/holding of precious metals. And all the other crap that went on back then
This is really hard to predict.  I know some financial writers who say what's coming will be worse than '29.  Some banks will absolutely fail, but not all; Dodd-Frank guaranteed that by creating the Too Big To Fail banks.  Unless the government fails, and that's least likely.  Whether or not that leads to widespread failure of public and private pensions isn't as straightforward to predict.  Much of  the public pensions depend on the individual states.  Some states, thankfully like mine, are in pretty good shape financially.  Private corporation pensions?  That depends on how good the company is at managing them, so it will vary with the company.  I don't think there's a real financial manager who doesn't plan for 25 or 30% drops in the markets.  Remember that it's possible to make money in a declining market.  The more time the plan managers have to prepare for this, the better placed they are to survive. 

Will they ban precious metals?  Beats me.  I don't think it works any better than gun free zones.  If they banned guns, are you turning them in?  It's not like they don't seize "hoarded" food in bad situations either, though. 

I'm not going to tell you to get everything you have out of your 401k or other accounts.  That's a big decision and has enormous financial implications.  Is there a possibility everything depreciates to nothing and you lose it?  The smarter you were about allocations, the less likely that is.  On the other hand, if the collapse is bad enough, all sorts of financial institutions will be in trouble.   

If your house smells like food cooking while everyone else is starving, you can expect people coming looking for food.  They will probably not be friendly.  I'm not sure what the best way to avoid that is.  Perhaps eating room temperature food out of the package?  What about the smell on cans and the garbage?  I don't know. 

You mention, "Most of us are either too old or think the "year zero" scenario has no chance of occurring,"  I'm in the too old category for one, and think the most likely scenario is what I call the Argentina scenario - because I got it from Ferfal in Surviving in Argentina.  I first posted this in 2010.  I've highlighted the things I think I've already seen in blue text.
If lucky you’ll still live in that same house, Main Street will still be called Main Street, kids will still go to the same school, with a bit of luck and hard work you’ll keep your job… but employees may have to accept a 20% reduction in salary so as to save the company.  Your kid’s school will have fund cuts and some classes may be canceled, the infrastructure may suffer for lack of maintenance due to low funds. The school quickly looks dirty, clearly needing some paint and repairs. As time goes by Main street is full of holes and no ones patches them. Stuff at Walmart is now more expensive. Little by little the packages, cans and bottles start getting smaller (yet the price is higher than before) , you see less and less of those mega super value 50 unit packs. There’s less variety too, they no longer import or produce locally the expensive brands anymore. Too expensive to do so. Crime is getting worse too. Home invasions in towns where it had never happened before, even people getting kidnapped. As more senseless violent crime becomes more common and criminals realize that the poorly paid police, with not enough patrol cars, not enough gas and not enough manpower is just a shadow of what it once was, armed robbery slowly becomes a fact of life across America, and those that don’t want to accept it suffer the consequences.
Every one of the major ideas in this paragraph have been observed in the US.  The rise in prices and drop in package sizes ("shrinkflation") is something I've written about for years  Nationally, we have already had municipalities (Oakland, CA, for example) tell their citizens that they won't pursue burglary and property theft, and an Ashtabula County, Ohio, judge told citizens to arm themselves due to a shortage of Sheriff's deputies.

Our tendency to have a "disposable society" is going to decline.  People will hold onto possessions longer, and wear them out.  A close friend from West Virginia had a great saying that sums this up:  "make it, make do, or do without".  That means a return, at least partially, to a time when more people made much more of their own things.  On almost any weekend around town, you'd hear power tools going as guys would be making or repairing furniture or fixing their cars.  Inside, women would be making or repairing clothing.  If you don't already know: learn how to do these things.

I've written about all of these things many times.  The search bar in the upper left corner actually works fairly well, and you can search for single words like gold, silver, banks, or whatever, but even I go through periods not finding things I know are here.  It's always because I didn't remember the right word.
"Junk silver" dimes.  So-called because they weren't high enough grade to attract coin collectors. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I Think I Was Punked by Volvo

Remember back on the 6th when I posted about Volvo's announcement that every car they build after 2019 would either be a hybrid or a pure electric vehicle?  Like most of the people who read that article, I missed an important distinction that today's Design News clears up for us.
Industry analysts this week pointed out the obvious – that Volvo has no intention of abandoning IC engines.

In its own press conference, the company’s executives said mild and conventional hybrids will still be a big part of its lineup, meaning that engines will continue to play a role for the foreseeable future. “They are electrifying all of their cars, but they are not going all-electric by any stretch of the imagination,” Sam Abuelsamid, research analyst for Navigant Research , told Design News.

Abuelsamid acknowledged that Volvo’s press release, headlined “Volvo Cars to go all electric,” was ripe for misunderstanding. At the same time, though, he described it as a publicity “masterstroke.”

Indeed, it was a masterstroke because it obliquely drew some attention to a nugget of news that would have otherwise been ignored: That is, Volvo is joining a growing contingent of automakers planning to move to so-called “mild hybrid” technology.
So what's a mild hybrid?  Unlike conventional hybrids that use massive battery packs that run 300V, 400V and even 600V, these vehicles use 48V.  The vehicles feature a small IC engine and a relatively small lithium-ion battery (roughly half a kilowatt-hour), which allows the mild hybrids to do enhanced start-stop, along with regenerative braking that puts “fuel” back in the battery.  They can turn off the IC engine before coming to a complete stop, re-launch the vehicle on electricity, and fire the engine back up after it’s already in motion. Or they can “sail” – that is, shut down the engine at highway speeds and coast for a short time on electricity.
Moreover, 48V electrical architectures offer a big benefit for engineers who are trying to add power-hungry new features, such as heated seats, heated windshields, electric power steering, and infotainment systems. Unlike today’s 12V systems, which offer about 2-3 kW of power, a 48V system can produce 10-12 kW. 
I recall hearing that carmakers were considering moving to 24 or 48V systems years ago, maybe even the 1980s, and I know that some bigger pickup trucks use 24V (I think they're all diesels).   Volvo, Audi, PSA Group and Mercedes-Benz have all announced plans to implement 48V “mild hybrid” architectures.

Given that, you can take a pretty safe bet that those companies aren't going to invest in these hybrid 48V electric and IC engines for four years and then drop them.
Lux Research has predicted that seven million vehicles worldwide will use 48V architectures by 2024. And Navigant has said that 55% of vehicles will use start-stop technology by 2024. The point is, these IC-engine-based technologies are growing, not declining.

By comparison, fully electric vehicles will account for between four and 5.6 million new vehicles annually by 2025. That’s out of a projected total of 105 million worldwide. To put it another way, most of the rest of the 100 million or so light duty vehicles will still use internal combustion engines in some form in 2025.
So I got sucked into the "end date for conventional gas and diesel powered cars" story line.  That's way out in the future.  Last words to this week's Design News article. 
“The internal combustion engine is so cost effective and convenient compared to any other technology, it’s not going away any time soon,” Abuelsamid said. “At least through 2030 and beyond, the vast majority of vehicles will still use them.”