Monday, August 31, 2015

New "blogging" camera

Sometime in the last few weeks I misplaced the little, red camera that has been my blogging camera for the last year.  It was a used camera that I had picked up for $30 but it got the job done when I did my part.

I looked high.  I looked low.  I looked on fence posts where I might have hung it.  I looked on apple trees.

No joy.

After much agonizing (I hate to spend money) I bought a BRAND NEW camera.  It came from a Big-Box store and it cost $65.  It is a Fuji Finepix AX655.  It uses AA batteries.

After buying it I took a few pictures to break it in.  The light was atrocious.  It was muddy and there was haze.  For lack of anything more interesting I took pictures of fireblight strikes.

Fireblight strike in the top of a domestic pear tree

Multiple fireblight strikes in the top of a crabapple tree.

These did not show up, but this P. calleryana has many strikes all over the tree.  It just goes to show that I cannot take good pictures when the light is fighting you.
While focusing on this mushroom, it occurred to me where my old camera was.  I had put it into a fanny pack that Belladonna has a strong dislike for.  She thinks it makes me look like a nerd.  What she does not want to face is that I look like a nerd because I AM a nerd.  Out of deference to her feelings I did not take the fanny pack when we dropped her off....but I failed to remove the camera.
So now I have a second back-up camera.

How humid was it?

This is the door of the freezer that lives in the garage.  Clearly, I am losing energy through the door.  The point is that the dew point was so close to ambient temperature that even the door, slightly cooler than ambient, picked up condensate like a glass of iced tea.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Paranoid? Guilty as charged.

Kubota had been over at Big D's house for three nights running.  He asked to stay through most of today, as well.

That took us out of our usual routine.  We went to Mass in the evening at one of the "Big City" churches.

This church has an alleyway along its west side.  Across the alleyway is a parking ramp.  The main entrance out of the parking ramp is forty-five feet away.  If folks disembark inside the parking ramp next to the stairwell they have to walk sixty feet to the church entrance.  If they disembark in the alleyway they have to walk 15 feet. This church is in an area with an active night life so there is much traffic even on Sunday evenings.

I would not have paid attention to these details except that Kubota was in a prickly state, probably from the lack of sleep and too many werewolf and monster movies.  He did not want to go into the sanctuary for the service.  He wanted to "audit" the service from the pew by the door.  I was OK with that.  Some battles are not worth fighting.  I stayed with him.

There is a half-flight of stairs going up and a half flight of stairs going down.  Immediately to the left is an elevator.

The question occurred to me: "What would I do if one or more active shooters showed up?" I would have between five and fifteen seconds to respond.  There are six hundred worshipers in the sanctuary.


Could it happen?  Yes.

Is it likely to happen in this church the evening I was attending?  No.

Will it happen in a church somewhere in America during the next year?  Maybe.  Probably.

Will it happen in some public building or arena within the next year?  Almost for sure.

Is it worth thinking about as a mental exercise....if only to hone your problem solving skills?  Yeah, I think so.

So, what was the plan?

Do you see that small, red rectangle on the extreme left of the picture?  It is a fire alarm.

I would pull it.

In all likelihood it would trigger 9-1-1 to call to verify that it had not been pulled by a kid.

It would also start fire engines and ambulances to the scene.

It would also send cops (who are likely to arrive soonest) to do crowd control, including the evacuation of worshipers.  That is one of the upsides of being in an area with a night life.  There are cops in close proximity.  I just hope that they are trained to approach "fire alarms" in public buildings as potential "active shooter" scenarios. me out on this.

Do you see the "crash bars"?

Fire safety rules require that doors on public buildings open outward.  That way, the crush of a crowd will spill them outward rather than locking up the doors.

Contrary to the current fashion which omits the belt and requires that pants sag, I wear a belt.  Actually, it is a pretty stout belt.  It is leather and it is an inch-and-a-half wide (37mm) and an honest 1/8" (3mm) thick.  It has a nickel-silver buckle.  I bought it to support a holster, although it rarely serves that function.

I would be able to pull out my belt and make two wraps of the belt through the crash handles and buckle it.  I can do it in a shade less than ten seconds if I know this is EXACTLY what I must do.  There is no time for dithering or planning.

The reason for the double wrap is because, since retiring, I have become (cough, cough) more "girthy".  Regrettable but true.  The belt needs to be double wrapped to keep the doors closed tightly enough to prevent the bad-guys from simply reaching in and undoing it.  Ideally, the buckle would be below the crashbars to limit accessibility from outside should they think to break the windows.

From the Bad Guy's standpoint

We know from after-action debriefings of active shootings that shooters go into tunnel vision.  They experience sensory exclusion.  Situational awareness goes to zero.  Peripheral vision stops working.  Hyper-focus on the threat (or target) consumes all of the actor's cognitive resources.  That becomes their weakness.

Once the bad guys start to execute their plan, they becomes extremely fragile with regard to unexpected hurdles.  These guys are not pros.  They do not have a Plan B and a Plan C.  Their natural tendency will to be to keep drilling forward or to bail.  They do not have the training to abandon that natural tendancy.

The best possible outcome would be for the bad guys to mistake the noise of the fire alarm as proof that they were busted and for them to bail out.  ERJ might have a lot of explaining to do for pulling the fire alarm.  But that is life.

The next best outcome would be for the bad guys to be hammering on the doors, AK's slung over their backs when the local cops came hauling azz up the alley way.

Secondary details

I would tell Kubota to find Mrs ERJ in the sanctuary and to get her out-of-sight.  To find an office or go down the back staircase.  Call 9-1-1 informing them of the circumstances.

Take away points

Nobody is able to come up with a viable defense plan in the five-to-fifteen seconds they might have to respond to a situation like this.  You need to have one on-the-shelf.  We like to think that we will rise to the occasion.  Most often, the best we can do is to regress to the level of training that we have mastered.

I do not glory in my paranoia.  I am sharing this should you, my readers, ever find yourself needing to come up with a plan on the speedy-quick.  I had the luxury of thinking about it for five minutes.  In a "situation" you would not have that luxury.

Stress causes everybody to drop into the primitive, reptilian brain.  That can work to your advantage if you can get ahead of the bad guys in the OODA loop, even if it is just a little bit ahead.

Yup, I am paranoid. Guilty as charged.  But once I had a plan-in-the-can I was able to hear Father Mark's outstanding homily:  

We are not made unclean by what we consume but by what comes out of us.  It is not the state of our hands that make us unclean, it is the state of our hearts and the inaction of our hands (which gives testimony to the state of our hearts) that makes us unclean.

Friday Menu (Aug 28)

Friday was my mother's birthday. She turned 83.  For dessert she wanted lemon bars.

Broiled Chicken
Oven Roasted sweet potatoes, peeled
Steamed Sugar Snap Peas
Steamed asparagus
Lemon bars

This was overkill.  In general, they do not want more than one meal's worth of food.  Otherwise they have a slow accretion of food building up in the fridge or they must suffer the anguish of throwing away food.  Having grown up during the first Great Depression it causes them emotional pain to throw away food.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Apex Tactical Spring Kit

I just installed a spring kit from Apex Tactical in a Smith and Wesson SDVE.

The kit costs about $20 and claims to take the trigger pull from 8.5 pounds down to a more Glock-like 5.5 pounds.

From what I saw, between the spring kit and putting high moly grease between the trigger bar (right side of the magazine well) and the inside of the magazine well, subjectively it seemed to reduce the trigger pull by more than half.

One of the benefits of poking around in the guts of a gun is that you can start to isolate the sources of creep/draggy triggers and such.

I was surprised when the major culprit was between the trigger bar and the magazine well.  The injection molding seemed very smooth and so did the stamped steel trigger bar.  It must be that the material flow in the mold caused the glass flake reinforcement to stand on-end in that part of the molding.  It was MUCH less gritty feeling after flooding it with grease.

The only bad thing about this kind of job is that the first one is always three times harder than the second.  Most folks don't ever get a chance to do it a second time.

Maybe V-Max would like to have a spring kit installed into his S&W SDVE .40.

Echo Chamber

The political blog-o-sphere is sometimes criticized as being an echo chamber where sound-bites and jingos are endlessly repeated without thought, analysis or value-added comment.

I am going to run the risk of contributing to that stereotype because I want to echo something that I think merits wider attention.

From Marginal Revolution:

This paper does a development case study at an extreme micro level (one city block in New York City), but over a long period of time (four centuries). We find that (i) development involves many changes in production as comparative advantage evolves and (ii) most of these changes were unexpected (“surprises”). As one episode from the block’s history illustrates, it is difficult for prescriptive planners to anticipate changes in comparative advantage, and it is easy for regulations to stifle creative destruction and to create misallocation. - See more at:
This paper does a development case study at an extreme micro level (one city block in New York City), but over a long period of time (four centuries).  We find that (i) development involves many changes in production as comparative advantage evolves and (ii) most of the changes were unexpected (surprises).  As one episode from the block's history illustrates, it is difficult for prescriptive planners to anticipate changes in comparative advantage, and it is easy for regulations to stifle creative destruction and to create misallocation.
This paper does a development case study at an extreme micro level (one city block in New York City), but over a long period of time (four centuries). We find that (i) development involves many changes in production as comparative advantage evolves and (ii) most of these changes were unexpected (“surprises”). As one episode from the block’s history illustrates, it is difficult for prescriptive planners to anticipate changes in comparative advantage, and it is easy for regulations to stifle creative destruction and to create misallocation. - See more at:
This paper does a development case study at an extreme micro level (one city block in New York City), but over a long period of time (four centuries). We find that (i) development involves many changes in production as comparative advantage evolves and (ii) most of these changes were unexpected (“surprises”). As one episode from the block’s history illustrates, it is difficult for prescriptive planners to anticipate changes in comparative advantage, and it is easy for regulations to stifle creative destruction and to create misallocation. - See more at:

Some academics criticize America for fixating on short time horizons. Four centuries is a very long time.  I don't see how they can dismiss this paper.  It has a long time horizon, good credentials and it is a home-grown experience.

Limits of central planning

One of my favorite topics involves the limits of central planning.

As individuals we chafe at the infringment of our freedoms, our rights.  But my pain will convince nobody else that excessive reliance on central planning is inherently limited.  To be persuaded they need to be shown the limits, the graphic failures and viable alternatives.

The acrobatics of these birds are not choreographed by a central planner.  This video is a bit long at five minutes, but it is a great metaphor for the complex feats of coordination that can be accomplished by following a few simple, robust rules. 

This article in the Smithsonian describes how birds pull this off.  In simple language, there are some clots of "opinion leaders", birds who are flying in significantly tighter formation than the general flock.  The other birds in the flock use them as their primary reference points for navigation.

"Opinion leaders"...flying in significantly tighter formation...  I wonder if that is what political bloggers are attempting to be.  And I wonder if the tendency to "echo chamber" is an attempt to create the illusion of flying in a tighter formation.

Investing in the NEW 401-2k

One of the joys of reloading is dreaming up new wildcat cartridges.

My newest creation is a .308 Winchester necked up to 0.401 inch diameter.  The shoulder radii are sharpened to 2.0mm to ensure more positive headspacing.

My new creation is named "401-2k" based on the bullet diameter and the anticipated muzzle velocity.

Reloading data for the .405 Winchester, less 10%, can be used until load data from instrumented test barrels are released.  Loads of 12 grains of Alliant Unique or 16 grains of Alliant 2400 are recommended for cast bullets.

The ERJ 401-2k: An investment you can hold in your hands, an investment decoupled from the financial markets!


Friday, August 28, 2015

Let me be the first to thank the Media

I want to be among the first to thank the media.

You see, I  have a child in high school, and a child attending University and a child working in an inner-city church in Miami.

Based on history, three of my four children were at high risk of being killed by notoriety seeking, psychotic people.

Those people, the ones seeking notoriety, read the news.  They carefully plan their carnage to gain the most time on TV and the most inches of headlines.

My kids were at high risk until the hyperbolic media feeding frenzy that resulted when two of their own were killed by somebody who was clearly mentally ill.  The target shifted.

What is a half a billion dollars worth?

I think it is plausible to estimate the amount of TV time dedicated to the latest idiot in Virginia to be worth half a billion dollars.  Even if the idiot had a half a billion dollars, he would not be able to buy air time for his grievances or his manifesto.

One perspective is that the news media put a bounty of a quarter billion dollars on every one of their on-air news reporters, payable in a street drug that cannot be obtained in any other way.

That makes my kids pretty safe.  A whack-job would need to run up a body count of 100 to equal the notoriety of knocking off two, second-tier news personalities.  Much easier to start a riot and wait for your targets to show up than to try to knock off a hundred screaming, running school kiddies.

Thanks news media.

Recycling and Embodied energy: Part II

One of my high school friends works for Dart Container.  After reading my earlier blog on recycling, he suggested that I visit the Dart Manufacturing/Environment website.

I borrowed the video displayed above from their website.

Back story

I used to work in an automotive plant that was two blocks upwind of my parent's home.  Rather than park in the parking lot, I parked in front of Mom and Dad's house.  We could keep an eye on each other and pass notes, presents, visits to each other.  It worked well for all of us.

One of the major tensions between the plant and the neighborhood was paint solvent smells.  Whenever complaints would come in, the plant would send a crew of workers running around the plant and ensure that all doors between the paint shop and the outside were closed.  They rarely found anything.

One of the anomalies was the concentration of the complaints.  Based on the size of the plant, the location of the paint shop, the clocking of wind direction and normal turbulence etc. one would expect complaints from  a fuzzy ellipse of about 8 blocks in size.  Incredibly, the complaints seemed to be a very tight and narrow plume of about 5 houses....owned by extremely vocal folks at the corners of Memphis St and West Shiawassee.

These folks had the plant, city council, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the United States EPA on speed dial.

One day I saw a 65 year old woman in her driveway sloshing liquid out of a one gallon, rectangular, metal can onto her driveway as I was walking home.

I asked her what she was doing in a making-small-talk kind of voice.

She told me that she was cleaning up the oil stains that her no-good, piece-of-junk car left on the concrete.  She said that the stuff in the metal can was the only thing that would remove those black blotches.

The metal can was labeled "Lacquer Thinner". 

That woman's home was immediately upwind of the five residents who complained the most stridently about "the damned, polluting industrial plant."


Back to my high school friend

"Salience" is a fancy word for "that which stands up".  Most difficult issues will have multiple causes.  That is why they are tough to solve.  Invariably, the cause that is most vivid or in-your-face will be the one that is blamed.  Even if it is actually a relatively minor player.

This was not "my" auto factory, but it gives you a sense of their hulking presence.
That automotive plant was an easy target. It was a shear cliff, three stories tall and four blocks long. The neighbor who scrubbed her driveway with lacquer thinner...not so much.

The same phenomena happens with water pollution.  It is much easier to blame, and regulate, point sources like waste water treatment plants and livestock farms.  But nobody wants to address the 72 square miles of lawn and 90,000 home owners in the Lansing metropolitan area, many who are over-fertilizing and over applying herbicides.

Foam cups

So it is with foam cups.  Expanded polystyrene cups have become an icon for throw-away thinking. The problem with tossing around icons is that many people mistake the shuffling of icons and rearrangement of  biases for actual thinking.

Running the numbers

The plastics industry is ideal for accurate accounting.  You cannot home-brew plastics.  It is a centralized technology that cannot be farmed out to fly-by-knight operators, just like automotive plants.  The folks producing the polystyrene pellets can tell you to within 1000 square feet of natural gas they used in the last year and to the kilowatt-hour.  They can tell you to the pound the amount of product they shipped in the last twelve months.  Collecting the numbers is a snap.  The math is trivial.

The wood products industry is much more amenable to decentralization.  That is, they are more amenable to externalizing costs.  Cutting pulp logs is contracted out.  Much of the environmental damage is in the woods, out of sight.  Nobody keeps "book" on the fuel used by gypsy truckers.

Nearly every cost that is "externalized" in the decentralized "contracter" model has "embodied" energy as a component.  Nobody is keeping book on the rapid depreciation of the contractor's equipment.  Nobody knows how to account for the aspen tops left on the forest floor; should some portion of their energy be added to the embodied energy of the paper product?  Nobody considers the fact that hauling logs out of the woods creates a nutrient debit just as surely as taking eight tons of hay off of a pasture.  How do you tally up the energy required to replace that potassium and phosphorous?   Nobody does because it is a cost that has been fully externalized.

While the embodied energy values for plastics are very defensible, the embodied energy values reported for paper products are....well....spongy.  Consequently, it is valid to compare embodied energy values within a family of materials (plastics to plastics) but comparing across families is a case of comparing apples and orangutans.

A true accounting of products as used by the customer shows a much closer horse-race than the published MJ/kg numbers suggest.  In many cases, it shows the plastic products winning the race quite handily.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

ERJ Annual Rodentia Trapping Guide (2015 edition)

This is the time of year when mice, voles and other rodents enter the house.

Their numbers outside are peaking.  I don't know that they are trying to get out of the cold.  I think their population is so high that they are being pressured into very niche, cranny, crack and crevice of habitat.

So I heard that gnawing sound a couple of nights ago.  Mice.

I am back to using these.  I was having too many "misses" with the traditional traps with the bent metal trigger.
One of the downsides of this trap is that you will sometimes get a non-lethal leg hold.  The mouse will drag the trap off if it is not secured.  I secure them by taking a three foot (1m) length of whatever string is handy (this is black #69 nylon thread) and tying it into a loop.  You can see the knot in the lower left corner.  Then I run the other end of the loop into the pivot of the dog as shown in the upper center of the photo.

Stuff the knot in the top of a screw top bottle.  Add at least two ounces (60ml) of water.
Screw on the top.
I like using a combination bait.  A mouse might lick off the peanut butter off the trigger but they have to tug on the raisins.
Push that raisin into the bait well.  Wedge it in good.  Drier, harder raisins are best.  I once worked with a man who salvaged a half peanut from an M&M that had been stepped on.  He super-glued it to the trigger of a trap.  He used the same half peanut for two years, catching countless factory mice.  He is my hero.
Peanut butter pulls them in.  It is the smell.  The peanut butter that is scraped off  on the inside the rim is plenty good enough for bait.
Ready for placement.
Ideally, you will place four traps in four different places.  The reason for four different sets is because you don't always know the best place to put them.  Also, you may have a colony that you are not yet aware of.  Once you start getting catches you can move some of your non-performers closer to your more successful sets.

Catching the second mouse is always a letdown.  Two mice is the biological equivalent of an imaginary number.  Imaginary numbers may exist but they flicker in-and-out of existence so quickly that they do not exist in time as we know it.

This type of trap also works well atop girts in pole barns.  You need to use a box nail or a drywall screw to fix the business end to the top of the girt.  These traps do not need to be baited when placed in a run!

Another good place is to put them near storage tubs (bins) that have been pushed up against the wall.  Due to the taper of the bins, there is nearly always a "runway" between the bottom of the tub and the base board.  Mice cannot resist the perceived security of running those enclosed stretches.  It must be a primordial fear of owls and hawks.

Good luck!!!   I am pulling for you.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Electrical small talk

While the moms and daughters were reenacting the Yalta Conference, I was hanging out with two of the other dads.

As coincidence would have it, they were both involved in the electrical power generation and distribution industry.

Little tidbits that I picked up
  • Windmills (wind turbines) are designed for a fifteen year service life
  • They have enormous foundations
  • Load balancing for windmills is incredibly difficult.
  • Load balancing will only become more difficult as coal fired steam generation is taken off-line.  
  • Natural Gas-turbine power is inefficient when you get much below peak power.  They are On/Off
  • Brake shoes for windmills are the highest maintenance part
  • There is no elevator. 
  • All maintenance parts and equipment must either be carried up on somebody's back or pulled up in a dumb-waiter.
  • People in some urban areas shoot the heck out of cables.
  • They think the cables transmit camera images from intersections
  • They shoot up the cables before committing crimes
  • Some of the cables do transmit camera traffic management, for instance.
  • Cables are designed with redundancy but 90% of the redundancy is already used up
  • It is highly improbably that any of the people shooting these cables are members of the NRA
  • Nearly all of the auxilliary systems that were submerged at Fukushima were on the ground floor.  
  • In the US, all of those systems in Nuclear facilities are on the second floor and are partitioned off into separate, environmentally sealed rooms.
  • The newest generation of US Nukes are a throwback to the Nimitz design.
  • Nimitz demanded noise free, pump free designs.
  • The downside of the Nimitz reactor is power density.  They are big for the power produced.
  • Size is less of a restriction in a stationary power plant than in a submarine or surface ship.
  • New reactor cores will be at the bottom of very, very deep water vessels.
  • "Over-heat" will reduce the density of the water (think steam pockets if that helps).  Lower density water means that neutrons will not be slowed down enough to be captured by U nuclei.  The reaction becomes self-quenching. 
It is amazing how much you can learn if you can keep your mouth shut.

Downsizing to a dorm room

As often happens, Mrs ERJ and Belladonna nailed the problems presented by the downsize.

Bella went from single occupancy of a 100 square-foot bedroom and a 24 square-foot closet to half of a 100 square foot bedroom while still keeping her 24 square-foot closet and she did it with grace and aplomb.

Her roommate brought three times as much "stuff" and it was a struggle.

Most of the roommate's stuff is still in tubs stacked at the end of her bed.  There is just no room to put it.

One of the roommate's solutions, "Bella, you don't mind if I just spill over..." never got legs.  Things are so snug that "spilling over" meant that doors and drawers would not open.

I think Bella's roommate's parents knew it would not fit.  I suspect they knew better than to fight over every single item she felt was essential.  Bella's roommate will figure it out quickly enough.  The items that she "knew" were necessities will be ballast dumped from the gondola of the hot-air balloon soon enough.

College is not a fashion show.

Mostly, I stayed within earshot but kept my mouth shut.  I let Mrs ERJ deal with all that dainty stuff.  I was there for the heavy lifting and moral support.

Nattering about the absolute necessity of having fifty-six shades of purple lipstick and matching nail polish depletes the oxygen from the air.  I cannot breathe. 

I think Bella may have packed three colors of nail polish: clear, pink and blaze orange (for hunting season) and SPF chapstick for lip treatment.  Bella had plenty of room to stow her cosmetic load-out.

I do not intend to disparage Bella's roommate.  She is a very sweet young lady.  It is just that she came from a more aesthetically refined and resource rich environment than Bella.  For Bella's roommate, dorm life is vastly more impersonal and industrial than what she is used to.

Dorm life will be a big change for Bella, but I don't think it will be quite as jarring.  For one thing, fourteen other Class of 2015 graduates from Eaton Rapid went to Grand Valley.  Bella's roommate might be the only one from her out-of-state high school there.  For another thing, the step down and the loss of privacy were not as severe for Bella.  Finally, I know Bella to be incredibly resilient, a fact I do not commend her for frequently enough.

I think both young ladies are in for an education.  Bella might find herself inheriting some shades of nail polish that she has only seen in magazines.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Light blogging over the next few days

According to Bella, this is packing light.  The other three girls are all bringing two vehicle loads.  Wrenches included to assemble lofts (if necessary).  Cordless drill to assemble furniture, if necessary.
My blogging will be light over the next few days.  We will be delivering Belladonna to the tender mercies of Grand Valley State University.  It is a bit of a surprise to me, but Bella has three apartment mates and she is the one who lives closest to home.  Two of the four will have vehicles so I anticipate they will be making some runs to the store as they discover items that they forgot to pack.

One of the things GVSU did well was to put their campus in the middle of nowhere.  NOBODY will be walking off campus to a package liquor store or a bar.  The distances are daunting.  Yeah, I know that many college students drink.  But it does not need to be easy nor does it need to seem as though it is encouraged.


Today I helped Roger by cutting up dead trees to make it easier for him to maintain his place.

People can really piss me off.  While Roger (and his wife) were recovering from multiple surgeries in an assisted living facility, somebody stole his chainsaws, his leaf blowers...even the power meter off the side of his house.

Working for Roger is pretty light duty.  I think he enjoys a chance to jawbone with somebody about fruit growing even more than the help he gets tidying up the place.  I had plenty of chances to catch my breath as Roger passed on hard-won information.  Some of the information involves taste testing the kaleidoscope of apples as they become ripe.  Every year they seem to come in a slightly different order.  This year the McIntosh types seem be be early.

Roger's favorite McIntosh is UltraMac.  I found that it was very sensitive to scab when I tried to grow it.  Note to reader:  I don't spray.  But I may have to give it another look.  They are delicious.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Public Pensions and the "soft" stock market

All images snipped from the Wilshire Report referenced below.
According to the Wilshire report, the public pension "industry" is about 72% funded.  One response to under-funding is to change the asset allocation into investments with more "pop" in the hope of catching up. 

Over the last ten years the percentage in "equities" has been constant but the mix shifted.  US equities decreased by 17% while Non-US equities grew by 7%, Private equity grew by 7% and Real Estate holdings grew by the balance.
There is no free lunch.  Changes that increase the upside nearly always increase the fund's downside potential.

Looking at two pensions that have been in the news:

CalPers has approximately $300B in assets and is funded at 77% of obligations.  About 63% of that is in equities and another 10% is in real estate.

Illinois State Pension is $138B in assets and is funded at about 43% of obligations.  The Illinois system is is a bit like the segments of an orange.  Rather than do a bunch of non-value added math to add them together I will just report on one of them, the Teachers Pensions.  They have about 52% of their assets invested in equities and 13% invested in real estate.

What next?

The mode for the Percent Funded is the 60%-to-70% funded bucket.  Fully one quarter of all funds examined fell into this bucket.

Regression of Funding Ratio and Equity Allocation
Those funds, on average, have 70% of their assets in equity type investments.

The rules of estimating funding and future return are a bit arcane.  They are allowed to average many year's performance to smooth things out.  But in my simple, back-of-envelop way of thinking, 70% exposure * 70% funding means that a 10% drop in the S&P500 (a broad based index of equities) means that their funding ratio dropped about five percent.

That may be one of the biggest reasons the Fed has been juicing up the economy in general and the Stock Markets in general.  It was seen as the only way to avoid Pension Armageddon. 

It does not look like they will be successful.

Embodied Energy and Recycling

I admit to being ambivalent about recycling.  I understand the benefits of recycling in areas where there is high population density.  Pulling recycled material out of the waste stream reduces tipping costs.  That can be done economically because the amount of incremental travel required to collect the material is small when compared  to those of us who live in the hinterboonies. 

For example, we had been taking our recyclables to Charlotte.   The recycling time window is short.  Consequently, we usually made a dedicated (i.e., single purpose) trip.  The round trip distance is 20 miles.

The "embodied energy" cost of driving a typical American vehicle is very close to 10MJ/mile*.  Two-thirds of that is in fuel costs and one-third is in the depreciation of the "embodied energy" represented by the vehicle itself.

So the embodied energy cost of driving twenty miles is 200MJ.

Wikipedia lists polystyrene as having an embodied energy of 88MJ/kg**.  Beverage bottles are usually made of PET (a form of polyester) but I do not have data for PET, so I will used the value for polystyrene for future calculations.

A typical Gatorade bottle weighs 1.4 ounces.  That calculates out as 3.5MJ/bottle (some sources quote up to 5.4MJ/bottle).  Translated into miles, that is about 2.7 Gatorade bottles per mile.  A round trip of twenty miles cannot be justified for anything less than 55 Gatorade bottles.  In our strange, upside-down world, it is notable that the 130 Calories of Gatorade in the bottle delivers 0.55MJ to the customer, or approximately 15% of the embodied energy represented by the bottle.

A typical water bottle weighs 0.8 ounces.  Consequently it takes about 100 empty bottles to be "embodied energy" neutral for a twenty mile round trip.

Paper, cardboard and boxboard:  Forget about it.  It has an embodied energy of about 10MJ/kg.  Reprocessing incurs a substantial penalty because it involves wet processing and drying.  Drying is extremely energy intensive.  Recycling calculations should comprehend net energy savings but that is not information that is readily found***.

Incidentally, some people recycle based on concern about carbon footprint.  Embodied energy is roughly related to carbon emissions.  More energy nearly always entails more CO2 emission.  Recycling is not always favorable to carbon emissions.

*Extrapolated from Australian data to comprehend a 4000 pound curb weight vehicle like a base Ford F-150, the most popular vehicle in the United States.  100,000 mile average lifespan.  Yeah, I know they can last longer but a bunch of them get knocked off the road due to accidents well before that distance.

**By comparison, gasoline has an embodied energy of approximately 48KJ/kg, so "engineering plastics" have about twice the embodied energy as their base feedstocks.  I have some feelers out on this, so these numbers may change.

***Recycling PET beverage containers incurs an energy penalty of approximately 30MJ/kg so recycling really only nets about 60MJ/kg.  Other sources quote an energy penalty of up to 65MJ/kg which leaves an energy net of 23MJ/kg.  These calculations made no attempt to comprehend "net energy".  No penalties were assessed against the recycled stream and no residual value was assigned to the depreciated vehicle.

****The marketing cachet of products with a high percentage of recycled content has driven the cost of recycled materials above that of virgin materials for several types of plastic resin.

*****A major cost in recycling is in sorting the stream into individual types of plastic.  One solution would be to include a specific fluorescent dyes into each material such that they glow a different color in UV light.  Then, DVT technology could be used to sort the product.  Imagine a conveyor belt, UV lights, air jets and video cameras or photo sensors with color filters over them so they could only "see" certain colors.  The air jet(s) could be programmed to turn on when a bright spot went over them. This technology has been proposed for PFEMA based inspections for robotic applied products where there is not enough natural color contrast to use DVT with natural light.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Everything I need, and nothing that I don't

I was reading through my usual morning fare when I ran into this sentence at Marginal Revolution:

The food scene today offers a seemingly never-ending supply of scarce experiences, ingredients, and dishes.

The simultaneously use the adjectives "never-ending supply" and "scarce" to describe the same nouns struck me as odd.  How can that be?

Implicit within the sentence is the understanding that "the market"  segmented into a near-infinite number of infinitesimally small splinters.  It is a case of  (∞*0).

That might help explain the mysterious forces that are keeping the economy inflated.  Valuation-per-unit is based on the illusion of scarcity.  Total valuation is based on per-unit-price times total-number-units.

The challenge of marketing is to convince the sucker consumer that there is no substitutability between offerings.  That is, an "Apple" guy could never use an Android, nor is it possible to eat Chinese when your heart is set on Thai.

As individuals, we can muddle through this if we keep a few things in mind. 
  • The concept of "enough", as in, I have enough calories to make it through the day or, I have enough firearms or a big enough of a home.  Listen to the song on the video (you knew I included it for a reason, right?)
  • Skill rules.  It is better to be a proficient cook than to have a spice cabinet with 230 small bottles in it.  It is better to be highly proficient with one shotgun (even a single shot!) than to have 70 different firearms, none of which you can operate in the dark.
  • It is highly likely that we will come through this in fine shape if we keep our wits about us, treat each other as gently as possible and don't do anything stupid.
  • We are all going to die.  Someday.  Make your peace with your maker.
The food scene today offers a seemingly never-ending supply of scarce experiences, ingredients, and dishes. - See more at:
The food scene today offers a seemingly never-ending supply of scarce experiences, ingredients, and dishes. - See more at:

GSD kinds of guys

Early in our courtship, Pre-Mrs ERJ told me that one of the things she liked about me was that I was a GSD kind of guy.  No, not German Shepherd Dogs kind of guy.  Getting "Stuff" Done kind of guy.  Her previous beau talked a great story, bought all the books, could expound for hours at parties, but never got around to putting a hammer-to-nail.

Well, we now have German Shepherds.  Mrs ERJ held out a long time.  The picture in her head was that there is no reason to have a dog that weighs more than 40 pounds.  She held firm until Belladonna melted her with charm.  Now we have two of them.

For a long time, the dog run that was designed and build for the 25lb-to-40lb dogs worked.  It is about 16' by 32' and the perimeter fence is 48 inches high.  It worked...until it did not.

And that was this week.

Zeus started jumping out at will.

He had been scaring the delivery people.   They could see that he could leave any time he wished.  We started having to pick up the large USPS parcels that would not fit into the mail box at the post office

What sealed the deal is that we have been alternating which dog we take on our daily three mile walk.  And, this week, Zeus decided that he did not want to wait his turn.

Mrs ERJ authorized me to do something to improve the perimeter fence on Stalag 13.

Roll of welded wire is very artsy looking.  I opted for 2" by 4" welded wire fencing.  It is easy to work with.  It might not be stout enough to stand a ground-level assault by the dogs but it should be plenty to tip the dogs back, over into the kennel.

Side post.  8 foot long, treated 2X4s.  Two "U" bolts attaching it to the existing fence posts.  Hercules is the older German Shepherd and he is watching the proceedings with great interest.
Corner post.  It took  a little bit of chainsaw whittling to get them to snug down.
Another failure mode is Zeus jumping up and opening the latch.  That was fixed with a carabiner.  Long experience taught me the value of tethering the carabiner so we don't lose it.
Zeus is a young dog and a little bit ADHD.  Surely he can jump out over the gate but he would have to give up the delight of barking and jumping at the person coming up the drive (right side of picture).  Seven feet sure looks much taller than four feet!  Is it a fashion faux pas to have dog fencing that mixes diamonds and plaids?
The sharp observer will notice some black "sewer pipe" at the bottom of the post on the right side of the gate.  That sewer pipe was a fix to prevent the Boston Terrier from squeezing through the gap at the bottom.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Day trip to Lake Michigan

Duck Lake at top of photo.  Lake Michigan bottom right corner.  Sand dunes in lower left corner.  Image from HERE

Belladonna wanted to make a "retro" trip to Lake Michigan.  She wanted to make one last family trip before she heads off to Grand Valley State University.

There are many, many beaches along Lake Michigan.  Our beach, the ERJ family beach, is Duck Lake State Park.

Base camp
View to the west.  Blue skies, very light haze.  Winds out of the southwest blew the warm surface water to our beach.
View looking North.  More seagulls than people.  This is not a beach in Rio de Janeiro
View looking East.  This is the outlet of Duck Lake and it is always much warmer than Lake Michigan.  The youngest kids swim on the East side of the bridge where it is less windy and the water is even warmer.
Looking South from our base camp.
Bella inflating a beach toy
Bella reading a "beach book".  So far, she is enjoying this author.
Somebody else looks pretty satisfied.  I wonder why?
Oh!  It is probably because these young athletes are setting up camp right in front of us.
Kubota studied the aerodynamics of low speed flight.  Tossing a few potato chips up in the air is always good entertainment at the beach.
My lovely bride.
Yeah, we did a little swimming.
The young lady standing on the surf board paddled from out-of-sight from the north to out-of-sight to the south.  Kubota's head in lower right side of picture.
One kid flying a kite and three grown-ups talking about how much better it was when they were kids.
Do you remember when you thought you had to lean forward to run really, really fast?  Dried seaweed on beach uprooted by 9 foot waves yesterday.  It was much calmer today.
Another little tyke.  I have a feeling that "Mom" has used the grab handle on the back of this PFD more than once.
I think Bella wanted to remember when happiness was as easy to find as a new Tinkerbell swim suit.
We had a great time.  Hat tip to the staff at Duck Lake State Park (just south of Whitehall, Michigan).    We changed into our beach clothes at the picnic pavilion a quarter mile east of the beach.  The facilities were squeaky clean.