Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Failures of the Market

The "Commons" situation is often given as a systemic failure or shortcoming of the market's ability to link cost and price.  This scenario is called the "Commons" problem because it was most notably highlighted by Garret Hardin in his essay, "Tragedy of the Commons".

I submit that the Tragedy of the Commons is more of a measuring problem than a market shortcoming.

The Chinese Take-out Restaurant
Eaton Rapids has a Chinese restaurant called the New China Buffet.  Many other restaurants have come and gone.  New China Buffet soldiers on.  They must be doing some things right.

My guess is that slightly more than half of their revenue is generated by the "Take out" side of the business.  Customers show up.  They are handed a three-well, clam-shell pod.  The management charges a single price per take-out.  The customer can fill it with anything they desire from the buffet tables with the single proviso that the lid must be able to close and stay closed without assistance.

Some customers take a modest amount of food, one meal's worth and no more.  The food groups are well represented in something approximating a balanced diet.

Other customers fill the clam-shell to bursting.  They fill it with meat.  Frankly, they are walking out with enough meat to supply five day's worth of meals.

Clearly, the restaurant is making a pile of money on each of the first kind of customer and losing money on the second type.  The management has to charge enough for "take-out" to withstand the monetary impact of a large run of the second type of customers. 

In effect, the first group is subsidizing the second group.  As a customer who is more likely to be in the first group, I resent that and often choose to not eat Chinese food because I am paying an inflated price for the actual food I receive.

A measurement issue
Some Chinese restaurants acknowledge the problem and sell take-out by weight.  They might charge something like fifty cents an ounce.  That goes part-way toward addressing the issue but it misses the fact that beef costs $5 a pound while steamed rice has a cost of $0.134 per pound.

Consider two simple, one pound meal.  One meal is 20% beef and the remainder is rice.  The other meal is 40% beef and the remainder is rice.  The first meal costs $1.10 for ingredients and the second meal costs $2.08.  The weight of the rice is nearly irrevelant.  In the first meal, where the rice is 80% of the meal by weight; the cost of the rice is still less than 10% of the total cost of the meal.

Near Infra Red Spectroscopy
Lucky for us we live in the ages of computers.
Spectra of a reference sample of various moisture contents. 

Farmers and grain elevators can monitor the protein content of grain by optically scanning the grain with Near Infrared light.

NIR reflectance spectroscopy is a rapid instrumental technique for the analysis of cereals both in the laboratory and on-line. It is based on absorption of NIR energy at specific wavelengths by peptide linkages between amino acids of protein molecules and at reference wavelenghts. Mathematical processing of the spectral data and calibration against a suitable reference method enables the protein content to be determined. Inclusion of a measurement at a wavelength corresponding to an absorption by water enables the result to be corrected automatically to a dry weight basis or on a standard moisture basis.   Source

One issue holding back the development of this technology is the cultural baggage of engineers. 

The first commercial microwaves used military RADAR technology.  Having no other basis, the engineers set the specifications for wavelength to what was required for RADAR sensing of remote objects and Doppler calculations.  That resulted in a large percentage of microwave units being scrapped out and the required precision drove much cost into the process/product.  Later, Japanese and Korean engineers determined that water molecules are heated by a fairly wide range (compared to military specs) of wavelengths.  They were able to use common processes and produced no scrap.

The current NIR measurement technologies attempt to replicate NIST quality measurements.  My proposal is to have an NIR scanner calculate the percent protein in the meal.  Protein is the most expensive component of food and the amount of protein in the clam-shell can be calculated by multiplying the percent protein by the weight of the food.  This process does not require three decimal point accuracy.  It would be commercially viable if it were +/- 10% of actual protein content.

The customer who is attempting to gouge the restaurant by taking two pounds of meat out the door might pay $20 for the privilege.  Folks who want a simple, balanced meal might pay $5.  The restaurant can make money on both sets of customers.  Better measurement technology can provide the link between cost and price...thus salvaging the allocative efficiency of the market place.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Armoring up trees and hummingbird feeders

The young trees are growing well.  This is a Liberty/G935 that has outgrown its protection; a chicken wire cage.

This Gold Rush/G935 is not doing quite as well but it has also outgrown its protection.  It is just a matter of time before a deer comes along and strips it down to the top of the blue cage.
The same Liberty tree shown above.  I use four foot wide, 2" by 4" welded wire mesh.  I count out fifteen squares for each cage.  That makes a circle that is just a bit smaller than 10" in diameter.  Another detail is that when I cut the wires I alternate: long-short-long-short.  The long stubs are easy to bend by hand to finish the cage.  I typically bend a high, middle and low wire to join the ends.

The cage for the Gold Rush.  About 15 percent of my woodlot is Black Locust.  I do not lack for fence post material even if some of it is picturesquely crookedy.

This is the hummingbird feeder setup.  It is modeled on how campers are supposed to cache their grub in bear country.

It does not stop the ants.

There is an old saying on Wall Street:  Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered.  I guess we know which category these ants fell into.
Gratuitous Ammo picture
.303 British on the left.  7.62X54R Russian on the right.  The "R" in 7.62X54R refers to the fact that it has a rim.  These old timers can still get it done, even if the guns that shoot them are getting worn out.  The Canadian Government is in the process of replacing the SMLE .303 rifles issued to the Canadian Rangers with a SAKO design that fires the .308 Win.  The 7.62X54R is still used in light machine guns in the former Soviet Bloc.
Image of the new Canadian Ranger rifle, designated the C-19.

Phones at work

Belladonna told us that her new place of employment has a policy.

The employees must hand in their phones at the beginning of the shift.  The phones are returned at the end of the shift.

It is condition of employment.

The owners pay so much an hour for the employee's time and the owners expect full engagement in the job during each hour.  More accurately, they don't want their customers to be inconvenienced by a distracted employee or to have the customer slowed down by an employee who slipped out of sight ("for just a minute") to play with his/her phone.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Odd sized batteries

The manual for my digital calipers says it accepts both 357 and 303.

Darned if I could get either one to chamber.

Three Nazi walked into a BAR somewhere in Normandy

I miss jokes.

I remember a time when two men would meet for the first time and trade a few jokes.  It was a way to get the measure of the other man.

I keep hearing about "thinking outside the box".  Folks who enjoyed jokes were training themselves to think outside "the box".  Nobody needed to exhort us to do so.

Sadly, we morphed into a nation of straight-line thinkers incapable of incorporating information that forces a reassessment of our initial impression.  It causes too much psychic pain.  Our brains are no longer flexible.

It fosters laziness because we think we ate the whole meal after taking the first bite.  We no longer scrutinize  political candidates through the entire election cycle.  Employers hire on shallow sets of criteria and quail at releasing unsuitable candidates during their probationary period.

We are overwhelmed by an ocean of data and we cope with our inadequacy by hoping the entire ocean is fairly represented by the first wave that laps up on the beach and caresses our foot.

Although it saves time

In the beginning...    Bible
We the people...    US Constitution
When in the course of human events...    Declaration of Independence
In the name of Allah...  Quaran
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four...   Start of the Harry Potter series
It is hard to miss the improvements...    2000 Physician's Desk Reference
All technical reports...     1954 SAE Hand Book
...some important details get lost.

Loss of empathy
Empathy is fueled, in part, by the sudden realization that "There but for the grace of God goes me."

Empathy seems to be in short supply.  I will not claim that the near extinction of joke telling is responsible but I think they are related.  Many jokes spring from a sharing of the human condition.  "Do you really think I asked for a 10" pianist?"

You don't have to like somebody to have empathy for them.

Can you imagine yourself in Hillary Clinton's shoes?  Ambitious.  Carried down the slippery slope one decision at a time.  Like the different species of tortoises on the Gal├ípagos Islands, she is on one island that is oh-so-close to the island she wants to be on....and there is no path there.

So exercise your mind.  Strengthen your empathy.  Take the time to enjoy a few jokes every day.  (NFO has some listed today)

So, did you hear about the drunk Antifas?  They spent the entire night clubbing.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Rain, beautiful rain

We got about an inch.

That will make everything "pop".

A couple of differences between irrigation and rain are that irrigation rarely puts on as much water as a good rain and that the rain is more evenly distributed.  You may think you are laying an inch on your garden but you probably are just wetting the surface.  I calibrate my sprinkler setups by putting two or three, five gallon buckets in the pattern and I time how long it takes to put an inch in them.  Often it takes 6-to-8 HOURS when using impulse sprinklers.

Spot watering (as in trickle) will supply water but as Loren noted, that technology tends to create deep, narrow wet spots.  It will keep the trees alive and the trees/bushes will even keep photosynthesizing.  But they rarely push new growth.  Most of the fertility in the soil is in the top couple of inches.  The trees cannot extract those nutrients when 90% of the surface is dry.

At this point, I am not smart enough to inject fertilizer into my irrigation.  Maybe someday.

An unanticipated upside of trickle irrigation
Flushing the line.
It is easy to add more runs.

While repairing the kink reported yesterday, I inserted a "Tee" and added another run to water the filbert bushes.

I used  Figure 8 piece to terminate the run.  This is the same end as shown above and is under pressure.  It is not leaking a drop.
Loren, thanks for the tip you left in the comments!
Tearing up my hummingbird feeders.  I switched them over to a line suspended between a couple of high points....a bit like hanging a grub-bag in bear country.
They ripped the yellow "flowers" off the base of this one and drained it.
Precocious Oak Trees

Acorns.  I don't know if this is a fluke but I intend to keep an eye on this tree.

A broken window in the garage.
You can see the projectile between the two panes of glass.  It penetrated the inside pane and cracked the outer pane.  It looks bigger than .177" and has a flat spot on it.
Heroic dog protecting his owner from a huge snake

Well, kind of.

"And don't come back!"

Raspberries are ripe

Friday, June 23, 2017

A close encounter with an oil-free future

I almost had the privilege of living a post-oil experience today.

Mrs ERJ and I were coming back from my parents home.  We take them dinner on Fridays.

I noticed the gas gauge was low.  Very low.  I took a detour on the way home to hit a gas station.  I rounded a corner and started accelerating up a hill.  There was nothing there.  Then a little sputtering.  Then nothing.

We coasted up over the top of the hill.  Hills in Michigan usually don't amount to much.

Then the fuel sloshed far enough forward for the fuel pump to grab some and make the motor happy.  It was a mile to the gas station.  We made it.

Prices are set by the margin
First of all, I think it is juvenile to dream that "the economy" will go away.  It is just as productive to dream that we will one day wake up in a parallel universe.  Governments can mandate and the economy will bend...but it will not be replaced.

I also believe that we have enough oil for the next thousand years to supply the very highest value end-uses.  That will be things like pharmaceuticals, optical grade plastics, herbicides and insecticides and fiber.
What starts to fall off the table is driving a 3000-to-6000 pound vehicle 20 miles to pick up a bottle of aspirin or a single spool of thread or to work four hours at a minimum wage job.

Mrs ERJ's vision
I asked Mrs ERJ what her vision of a end-of-oil future might look like.  Her insights are worth considering since she just came off a month without her own, personal vehicle.  She pretty much lived this experiment.
Links of interest:  ONE  TWO
Her picture was a return of neighborhood grocery stores.  Her thinking is that it makes more sense to send a fully loaded cargo van to the store every other day than it does to have 2400 people drive to WalKroAlbMeirsons every other day.
Her picture includes neighborhood schools...perhaps even one room schoolhouses in areas where population is less dense.  Why not have all the kids within two miles walk to school (40 minute walk) rather than send a 20,000 pound school bus around half the county to collect them.  A side issue is that the curriculum will have to stabilize.  One "leverage" available to multiple grades in the same room is that older students can help younger students but that cannot happen if the math, science and reading programs change every three-to-five years.

We will go shopping less often.  We will eat soft fruits like strawberries and blueberries and banana less often.  They will be a treat.  Sturdy fruits like apples and no-refrigeration-needed vegetables like cabbage will become more important.  Meat will become a luxury item.  Larger meat animals, like hogs, will become seasonal or slaughtering one will occasion a huge, neighborhood feast similar to Potlatch Culture.

Driving less means we need fewer vehicles.  The Amish often pool their resources and will have one vehicle (typically a full sized van) for eight or ten families.  You can haul a LOT of groceries in one of those.  An even lower cost approach would be to have a standard vehicle and a medium size trailer to pull behind it.

Robert's Rules of Order

Like Potlatch Culture, shared vehicles place a premium on robust, community mechanisms.  Knuckleheads will not disappear if/when oil becomes expensive.  In fact, they will become FAR MORE VISIBLE than they are now.  People will need starch in their backbones.  The takers, resource hogs, manipulators, people with personality disorders cannot be tolerated or the fragile, nascent community ventures will collapse into rubble.  We will no longer be able to afford to subsidize their fantasies.

The issue of mental illness is a very big deal.  If one person in twenty is afflicted with mental illness to the degree where it is incapacitating, then a group of ten families (nominally 20 adults) has a 50% chance of having one of those fruit-loops and a 25% chance of having two of them.

Other stuff
Gardening will become more popular.
Image from HERE
Five acre lawns will be renamed.  They will be called "pastures" or "hay fields".

Everybody will have a bicycle and we will ride them.

The heated and cooled portions of dwellings will be smaller, or at least there will be less square footage per person.  Most of the area in our homes is dedicated to "stuff".  How much of that "stuff" requires climate control?

We will dry our clothes on the line.  We will watch the weather and do laundry only when favorable for line drying.

We will plan more.  We will keep lists.  We will be less spontaneous.  Daffy people will struggle because there are few resources available to support their Plan B.

That is about when we pulled into the driveway.