Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A car nightmare become real

Remember in the movie Independance Day when the aliens are attacking New York City? There's a scene with a zillion people in cars trying to evacuate NYC, but they're stuck in a traffic jam as the aliens turn on their death ray.

I've been thinking about that scene a lot. The "car" is a wonderful thing in many ways, offering great freedom and fluid travel anywhere you want to go. That is, until the traffic is tight or until the world runs out of gas.

How Rita drove Texas crazy Exhausted drivers are returning to their homes with horror stories of the gridlock -- and ideas on how to prevent the highway from becoming hell next time. (By Katharine Mieszkowski, Sept. 27, 2005,

This story comes from Texans who escaped the recent hurricane Rita. It was a massive hurricane, closely following Katrina which basically destroyed New Orleans. Therefore the officials in Texas were quick to evacuate their citizens, and the people were understandably anxious about being caught by a city-destroying hurricane. And, evacuate they did, displacing some 3 million people.

The story they tell is of traffic jams beyond belief. Trips that normally take 3-4 hours took 22 hours or more. Cars driving, on the highway, so slowly the kids could get out and walk the dogs. People desparate to find gasoline, but none to be found anywhere. All this happening in the context of a hurricane striking the mainland.

I live in Silicon Valley and while we don't have massive storms, we do have earthquakes. You might have heard of them. And I don't mean the soccer team, but real honest to goodness earth shaking events. Fortunately while they're few and far between, the famous San Andreas fault is less than 10 miles from my house.

Here's how this plays in my mind. Say we have a massive earthquake that really hampers delivery of supplies, and the government wants us to leave the area. Our escape route is hopelessly inadequate.

The geography of the SF Bay Area is that we're surrounded by mountain ranges. To the west is the Peninsula, with a mountain range down its spine. To the east is at least two mountain ranges. To the south these mountain ranges meet somewhere around Gilroy. To the north is the bay, and beyond that another mountain range.

Through each of the mountain ranges there are a small number of passes. The Sunol pass leading from the bay area to a small valley where Pleasanton and Livermore are located. Beyond that valley is the Altamont Pass leading to the Central Valley. Further north is the river leading between Sacramento and the SF Bay. To the south is a pass leading south from Gilroy, and another leading east into the Central Valley. Four passes, with a total of around 15 lanes of traffic heading out of the SF Bay Area.

15 traffic lanes to handle the exodus of 2+ million people is a scary thought.

But as we can see from the experience in Texas, it doesn't even matter when the land is flat for as far as you can see.

What I've thought for years is that we are victims to the success of cars. We are fooled by the glitz cars offer, the convenience and luxury that is. Fooled by the luxury, we are instead trapped in clogged roads, the air slowly poisining all of us because of the nasty carcinogenic chemicals in car exhaust.

It's not just times of emergency like this story from Texas. It happens to us every day of the week.


Monday, September 26, 2005

Intervention required for U.S. oil addiction?

In alchoholism, a frequent tactic is the "intervention". Family members gang up on the alchoholic to raise awareness of the cost and danger from their alchoholism.

A Nation of 'Oiloholics' Needs an Intervention by Cynthia Tucker,

Ms. Tucker suggests the U.S. needs an intervention. As proof she points to a wave of state governors who suspended gasoline taxes in the wake of high gasoline prices following the recent hurricanes. Further to the point some Congress-persons have proposed capping gasoline taxes at some arbitrary level.

I agree with her that gasoline taxes are a way to encourage conservation. The higher the price of oil, the more people are going to try and avoid the use of oil. For example it seems lots of people are looking for fuel efficient vehicles such as the hybrids or motorcycles. If the price were still lower they might not be looking for fuel efficiency, but continuing their gas guzzling hummer-loving ways.

Article Reference: 


Monday, September 19, 2005

A good overview of concentrating solar power systems

Overview of Concentrating Solar Power (September 16, 2005)

Concentrating solar power (CSP) is thermal solar power that uses a means of magnifying or concentrating the effective radiation from the sun onto a receiving device that collects the power so that it can be used directly as thermal energy or used to generate electricity.


Monday, September 12, 2005

New U.S. nuclear strategy brings nukes to the table in preemptive war

Our dear president has been pushing a general strategy of preemption. That was the justification for invading Iraq, that there was a perceived threat, a possibility that Iraq was a danger, and hence they were a worthy target. But we know what happened there, it has become a total boondoggle, the perceived danger was nothing but lies spun by Iraqi dissidents who hadn't set foot in the country in decades, the U.N. Secretary General has declared this an illegal war, and the President deserves impeachment.

In the movie Minority Report we saw a demonstration of the fallacy of preemptive enforcement based on a prediction of aggression. In the movie they had psychics predicting when murders would happen, and sure enough the murder rate went to zero. But the movie presented us with a conundrum, if you can't accurately predict the future then how can you enforce the law based on a fallable prediction? Do you lock someone up just because they're thinking about murder? Or do you wait for the murder to happen?

But this is just what the Bush Administration has been pursuing. The doctrine of preemptive war based on the prediction on whether some country or another will become an agressor. Uh, excuse me but by crossing that line then haven't we become the agressor? So by that logic shouldn't we then attack ourselves in order to stop our agression?

In any case let's get to the current story.

Pentagon Revises Nuclear Strike Plan; Strategy Includes Preemptive Use Against Banned Weapons (By Walter Pincus, Washington Post Staff Writer,Sunday, September 11, 2005)

Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations

Nuclear Doctrine

Nuclear Weapons Policy

Draft US Defense Paper Outlines Preventive Nuclear Strikes

New U.S. doctrine proposes nuclear strikes

What's happened is that the DoD has been studying its navel and redesigning the nuclear strategy. "A previous version, completed in 1995 during the Clinton administration, contains no mention of using nuclear weapons preemptively or specifically against threats from weapons of mass destruction." (washington post)

The new strategy outlines several instances under which commanders can request the use of nuclear weapons. The instances include preemtive strikes against countries or organizations that are possible threats.

The code phrase "all options" is used, and we've seen how "all options" really means they're planning to do it.

The plan is being distributed in draft form and published on a Defense Department website (see here for links). I've attached a copy of the plan to this page.

Early in the document the strategy is described as having four key goals. These are "steadfastness of purpose", "dissuading adversaries", "deterring agression and coercion" and "decisively defeating enemies". Essentially the strategy is the best defense is a good offense. The deterrence part is simply to deter agression by threatening everybody with a big stick, namely the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

And, of course, for the U.S. nuclear arsenal to have value, the number of nuclear armed nations must be kept to a minimum. Hence the current threats being made against Iran and North Korea. But it's puzzling why Pakistan isn't also being threatened, because Pakistan was actively proliferating nuclear technology. But then we know that Pakistan is a critical player in bring Central Asian oil to the world market.

Read it and weep my friends.

jp3_12fc2.pdf1.76 MB