Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The bad habits of school

If you  look around, you may find the books of John Taylor Gatto.

Gatto is an ex-schoolteacher with 30 years of teaching under the belt, and his thesis can be resumed in

"Compulsory school is really a wage-slave factory and should be disbanded".

Which is not really wrong - creating docile citizens was and still is one of its main purposes.

The man is a bit exaggerated, and may force too much with his examples of persons of success that got educated outside the compulsory school paradigm - problem is, John, if you got the wrong parents, chances is that you non-compulsory education consists in working since age 8, and beatings every time one tries to raise his or her head... only a few, but I've met someone who had that kind of child years, and life hadn't really improved going forward, for them. 

However, it is true that for some things school is really a bad teacher.

In fact, compulsory school mostly teaches conformity above actual education.

One often has to go with what a professor teaches, even when he or she already works in the field on what said professor is supposed to teach, and knows first-hand the teacher is horribly outdated (I had problems with a couple of old profs in high-school, because what they explained - and pretended it was correct - failed to meet my knowledge, either from direct work or from reading the  course's textbook ).

Also it promotes a much too bleak way of seeing life - in many schools, especially the "hard ones" that are supposed to prepare kids better, didactic life is a "win or die" situation.

Oral test after writing test, getting anything above a meagre passing grade is a battle, getting almost unrecoverable failing grades just a matter of a slip.

So, you have to "win" all the tests - it sucks and I'd say it makes students very good candidates for developing anxiety or panic attacks, later on.

Now, if you say "yeah, that's kind of how like life is", then you have made yours that lesson.

Life is - really - a lot more like a lottery, rather than an eternal drill examination.

You have to always take your ticket - and it often  means to work one's ass off, for sure... most "tickets" do not come "cheap"  - but, to win, one just has to get it right once. Really right, maybe, but once. 

And when he doesn't, the loss is incidental, negligible or, even, not really a loss -" my first society went volley-balooney, but I made acquaintance with [x,y,z] and learned how to do [w] which would become fundamental for the success of [s]"  is the kind of phrase that pops up every now and then in literature .

With women, it doesn't matter how many reject you, scorn you,  or even use the stupid social networks to post pictures of you naked.

What matters is to find ONE that loves you and always has your back.

In economic life, it is not that different either.

It doesn't care how many jobs you change, as long as you find one where you are effective - hint: it usually implies that you like it on some levels, because when your competitors are willing to do it 19 hours a day out of passion, just effort and "hard work" is not going to fly that high... they are working harder, just for the fun of it - and it allows you a living.

If you have in you to be an entrepreneur, 2/3 of new societies are dead by their 3rd year.

The world is kept going  by the 1/3 that survives...

Really, the only environment that I recognize it works like school, in modern society - if you are in a war-ravaged area or a failing African state, the rules are different... it's the one wrong bullet that kills - is the internal working of the U.E. as it is now.

Everyone must agree, any new crisis is a "win or die", the capacity for drama is endless - and it is the reason for which it sucks, and should be replaced  by something more integrated and LESS dependent on the whims of the populist ass-holes in each state - of whom the continent's history has more than plenty - that forget that the current union was built on the back of some fifty million dead sacrificed to the "ideal" of European Nation-States.

Something more integrated, like a proper unitary state with one army (and well funded, Russia is where Russia is and Turkey is not any better of a neighbour, when push comes to shove), one foreign ministry etc.

I know, it is much more likely that compulsory school gets a revolution that makes it effective.

But a man needs to have dreams...

Monday, 16 October 2017

Can Trump survive Trump?

Or rather, can the "Trump Brand", of whom the Donald is awfully proud, survive the "Trump Administration" clear display of mismanagement, infighting and borderline treachery?

After having seen the managerial style of the Man in action, his almost pathological incapability of looking at a deal without seeing it only as a shackle to cheating out of if in any way hinders him, would you buy an house built by one of his similarly lead enterprises?

After knowing that his enterprises had 3500 litigations opened by contractors for not paying - usually citing badly executed works as a reason, yet trying time and again to rehire some of the very same "incapable" contractors - would you accept to, say, lay down parquet for "The Donald" ?

I know, the answer is "Yes".

After all, it is the very same man since forever, and this didn't manage to turn him into a pauper (though, I suppose, this mostly shows that once you are big enough, being borderline incapable but greedy as hell still pays enough to keep growing).

However, it would be nice to see if his "prized" brand suffered any significative loss, in terms of value. 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Why I like Electric Cars

And why you may have to avoid buying one, if you really care about the planet.

None of the reasons why I like electric cars has to do with them being "green", but for one that is really more  - "I like to breath without assistance" - which, for me, is a supremely egoistic one.

I like electric cars because the battery plus +electric-motor-on-board-electronics assemblies exemplified by the Tesla allow some innovative design, with a very low centre of gravity and consequently good handling.

In this, the Tesla shows a direction, although their design is still pretty tame, confronted with what could be done (in fact, I remember a GM concept some  years before the Teslas, that used the battery in the bottom and small motors much more audaciously... it never made to production, as entering an essentially "void" car was slightly upsetting).

I like electric cars because the electric , asynchronous motor they use is one of the simplest machines known to man - all the sophistication of the drive-train is in the power control circuitry and that, mostly, can be derived by the power control studies that move most industrial machines.

I like electrics because they allow AWD design with negligible loss of efficiency - maybe, even with a gain! -  when compared with the 2WD version, and completely arbitrary power-on demand distribution on each wheel.

This because, in an electrics, a small motor can be used to drive a single wheel, and having 4 motors working in parallel - each with the same efficiency - makes not much difference, whereas in an I.C. vehicle the kinematic chain must be lengthened, adding stages in which losses have to be added.

More exactly, efficiency in a parallel process is given by the weighted mean of the sub-process efficiency, in a cascade chain - like in a classic AWD -  it is given by the product of each successive stage, and ass efficiency are necessarily always < 1....

So, with the right design, the 1motor-1drive wheel can have even better efficiency than 1 motor-differential -2 wheels, because the differential is just one added kinematic stage... of course, the cost is a bit more for the independent motors solution.

I like electric cars because they can be ridiculously overpowered, with respect to normal use, without this incurring the excessive augments of the running costs that is typical for overpowered I.C.E.

In E.V.s the main limits in terms of maximum power and efficiency are given by the battery and, the highest the capacity of the battery the highest the autonomy, the better the maximum continuous power and the efficiency of the discharge in normal use (but, the bigger battery, the bigger the weight and cost of it, so a compromise must be found - that's called engineering).

Again,  the Tesla S and X show both these possibilities, having motor assemblies back and front as well as an absurd combined motor maximum power, but still fall short from ideal in keeping a differential in the mid  each axle, instead of using an independent motor for every wheel (which would allow instantaneous torque vectoring at a marginal cost).

The mechanical simplicity of electric vehicle (even in a 1 motor per wheel design) may allow for substantial  reductions in terms of maintenance needs.

After all, chances are that you are reading this on a computer whose cooling fans have run 8 hours a day, every day, for the last one to eight years, without an itch... that's what the computer I write this on did, in effect - it is about 18000 hours (I had to change the CCFL of the monitor a while ago, so it is about right, as those last more or less that) or 400.000 km.

Electric cars drive-trains are, really, only oversized versions of those fan's brushless motors.

Done well, we should expect E.V. that require a change of the reduction gear oil, and other fluids, every five years, and of tires and brake pads only depending on the owner's craziness (I had a friend who trashed both in some three thousand km - 2 k miles, to be generous).

Now, many argue that E.V. are illusory un that they "move" the pollution from the tailpipe to the power plant. It is fundamentally right.

But, I have lived most of my youth in an area that managed to be among the most polluted of Europe and, maybe, the world. A place where older cars are allowed to circulate only during the weekend, and at each new "Euro" rules enforced the "old car" limit was moved forward, and electricity os often imported from nuclear plants in Switzerland and France..

In such an area, having an electric car may help avoid your neighbour - or you - some respiratory disease.

Finally, while nobody would like the idea of a gasoline car that fills her tank by herself when one parks it in the garage, mostly because we do not fancy  the idea of hundred of litres of gas at children's arms length, I can imagine an electric car do the same, with a sufficiently "smart" plug that wouldn't OK the charger to switch on unless it was plugged all well in.

(Years ago, I saw a project for self-driving city-cabs that used inductive pads as the "electric plug"... the little boxes only had to park themselves above a pad, no plugs or other moving parts involved; if it was workable, it would be a neat way to have self-charging EVs).

At that point, while the electric vehicle range may still be limited, who wouldn't like a daily drive that one never has to take time to refill?
Now, why should someone avoid buying an electric car, if he cares for the planet?

It boils down to where, and how, the electricity to fill the battery is produced, as well as the current efficiencies of batteries and such.

The electric motors and the electronics that drives them are fairly efficient  - typically, a least 90% and usually more, outside the two limits case of launch and over-rev where efficiency falls to 0 .

Then there is the battery charge-discharge cycle, the electronics in the charger station, and the electric power lines .

Li-Po battery charge-discharge efficiency can be as high as 99%, typically for slow charges. For somewhat faster charges, the efficiency drops.

The same can be said for the discharge - slowly done, coasting at speed limit on the highway, it probably hovers back in the high 95%. In a Tesla S, in Ludricous Acceleration mode, probably it is more an 80%.

The power grid delivery efficiency is not so high, around 70%, but it depends a little on the sophistication of its controls system and a lot on the distance from the production centre,

Now, you'll have seen a lot of "about" in this part.

Because, really,  there are a lot of details that influence each point, what Robert McNamara called "hard data" - independently measured,with a well defined methodology and verifiable -  are hard to come by and, as a result, more than calculus what they led to is... sophisticated confirmation bias.

So, going around the web, depending on what the writer of each article is aiming to, these data can be - and usually are -  "massaged" one way or the other.

As these are all efficiency in a chain process, they must be multiplied - remember? - and sliding some % point one way or the other ends making huge differences.

So, let's be optimistic, but not too much.

Drive TrainMotorInverterBattery ChargeBattery DischargeCharger StationGrid Lines  Power Plant

One gets 24%, which compares favourably - but not so much - with petrol cars wheel-to-well efficiency, that most sources seems to agree being about 16%.

 Replacing all those 95 with 90, one gets 18%... Tossing in a couple of 80% - which, by the way, may be justified simply by a owner that has a heavy foot on the accelerator!!! if one thrashes ires, that is energy that disappear in rubber smoke, and battery heating up for the fast discharge... - one can easily come to the conclusion that the environmental friendly electric car gives a whopping 14% efficiency.

And, by the way, if you live at a distance from the power plant and this is a coal fired one, it is true... a small petrol car is the greenest choice you can make.

So, the electric cars will not save the Earth?

First of all, they would never have. It is our hide, as a species, that is in danger.

Long after we'd have produced the greatest mass extinction ever and wiped out ourselves and every mammalian plus some other cordata, the planet will still be here and have some inhabitants.

 One of those will spur the next "great species" - or not. The planet can't care less, one way or the other.

Second, as I said, the effective "greenness" of EVs depends on a host of factors - by far, the most important the type and location of the power plant, and any significant change can tip the situation.

For example, I live in one of the most underdeveloped areas of Europe, a place where hundred of Aeolian Generators spin under a near constant wind and the electric grid had - for years - problems in accommodating this kind of unreliable, exuberant power source.

Buying an electric car here would be a no-brainer, but for the fact that almost nobody feel it is needed to avoid pollution - underpopulated and under near constant wind from the Atlantic, the air is perfect as it is -  a bit because the under-population forces to move a lot to get things done, and mostly because there is not a single charging station in a couple hundred miles. 

In Chile, where they are slowly filling the Desert of Atacama - the driest, sunniest place on Earth - with solar cells, it is going to become a no-brainer in some years.

In California... outside the most polluted urban areas, it is not really such a great idea, as the current mix of electricity power plants is not so ideal...


So, if you really feel "green", before you go and buy a Volt, get informations on where and how the electricity you want to feed to your horseless carriage is made, and then sit to make some calculations...

You may discover that one of those small turbocharged petrol beast, horrible little shiboxes that they make today is really the greenest option available were you live.

Waiting for the technology of - and infrastructure for - EVs to catch up.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Omnipotence Delusion

On one of the other sites where I post my works, I was recently contacted by someone purporting to be a 38 year old woman, a Chinese with an eleven year old daughter.

Nothing major in this - after all, plenty of women my age or younger have daughters in college or younger, and many of them ladies are looking to someone to have a chat with and, if things go well, maybe something more than just chat.

I tried to ask my usual "photo with a named sheet in hand", and this person effectively sent me a photo of a woman of that age with a piece of paper with written "Ciao, _DB" in hand. Kind of like this shot.

What do you mean, with
"modesty is not your forte" ?
So, if it was not a woman, at least it was someone who could get a woman to play a bit - quite innocently, though - on their behalf.

Of course, the first greeting of moms looking for doms usually is "No, the kid ain't part of the deal, creepo" - usually uttered before the very initial exchange of salutations. This time, alas, was not the case.

Alas because, clearly, while the "I will rip out your guts if you ever squint at my daughter that way" is excessive (in most cases), it is also oddly reassuring.

It feels real, for a certain way of seeing the world. Whereas the other way around feels... more than slightly unreal.

We chatted for a long while, during which I tried to convince this "mom" that, if the daughter was ever to choose the way of the submissive - as "mommy" hoped [?] - it needed to be by her own - of the daughter, I mean - choice, on her own time schedule, and with no undue influences from the adults around her, no matter how well intending said adult is.

Also that, as a 12th birthday's gifts, a set of gauge 10 nipple rings were kind of a bit excessive... probably, they are excessive even for a 15th or a 17th birthday, depending on the jurisdiction - but, if one needs the legalese to know that, it ain't really much of an ethical slut.

As "she" kept on trying to derive the discourse in that direction, I grew wary... was this some scam I do not know anything about yet?

Was "she" hoping to collect enough personal information to identify me, and proofs of some ideological crime to blackmail me with?

It was quite a bad sensation.

In the end, I tired and said her to fuck-off.

(kind of gently, I accused "her" of being a Montana redneck, without using foul language...).

Yet, I feel a bit bad, about it all.

If "she" was yet another of the ever growing, never resting tribe of the scammers, using an unsuspecting waitress at their dinner and some internet-stolen material to flesh out a good back-story (ahem, that's something I WOULD do, if that was my job... so, the guy would just have been another fantasist in my league), then it would not mean much.

We`d just danced the ballet of scammer and not-scammed, and went each one his way.

But if, for once, against all laws of probability and everything that I know about human nature, it really was the woman that "she" affirmed to be, then I let the little one down.

Then, if in three months time the daughter will find herself with a couple of pendants in all the wrong places... it will also be a tiny bit my fault, because I didn't try hard enough, and as I feared to keep contact and broken off, I did not manage to change her mom's idea.

Of course, the likeliest probability is that it was some scammer or, really, some bored whatever with too much time on hir hands.

On the other side, if it was real, what could I do?

As my psychologist pointed me out a couple of hours ago, it is not like my words over a chat relay were going to change anybody's mind, Japan is on the other side of the planet (and, by a couple of clues I saw, I'd say whoever it was was also using TOR, probably in a TAIL OS), so this guilt trip of mines doubles also as an omnipotence delusion.  

Damn - I hate being reminded that I am not really a god, yet. 

Monday, 2 October 2017

War And Modern Countries

As far as I can tell, war and the use of weapons are becoming increasingly irrelevant, in the interactions among "1st tier" governments.

In a world where even a borderline failed state like North Korea can manage to build nuclear weapons, and their necessary delivery systems, it becomes evident that every developed country worth the name can develop its own, if somehow pressed to do so.

So, one nation "flexing muscles" to impress an opponent is either meaningless, as this opponent already has a treaty with a nuclear power, or risks bring the "weaker opponent" to chase its own nuclear deterrent.

It is likely what it is going to happen, if ever the Washington had to falter in its support to Seoul or Tokyo because of Pyongyang  developing ICBM.

It should not happen - after all, it is not like the citizen of the U.S. existence has never been imperilled by their country standing against the ambitions of another nuclear power bur, it is also true that DJT is not - by a far cry - the average US president.

In an ideal world, the situation would prompt someone to recognize that the era of the nation-states must come to its end, before it is too late.

Unfortunately, rationality has never been humanity's forte, so we won't see the U.N. become the kind of global, democratically elected world government - with an independent army and police force, able to tackle successfully any unruly "big player" - that would be needed.

On the other side of the spectrum, wars is becoming increasingly useless when it comes to bridle "underdog" countries.

Afghanistan may be a particular case, as "The Graveyard of Empires" has managed to swallow, chew and spit everything three different superpowers have tried to send there to "pacificate" the rebels over the last couple of centuries.

But Iraq seems evolving in a not much different way, for the U.S.

And while Russia may be enjoying the annexation of Crimea without getting too much fuss, it is not completely impossible that - in twenty years - Putin's successors will have to count it as a source of terrorists and troublemakers, a shit-hole that "Vlad the Great" ought to have let out of the great Russia.

God knows how many British prime ministers have not thought the same of North Ireland.

Also, we must remember that in modern days, war has gotten extremely democratic.

Two thousand years ago, the Romans controlled their empire with something like twenty thousand men... then again, in an era when no layman had access to weapons, or the training to use them profitably, the Roman soldier was a professional that spent most of his waking hours preparing to disembowel someone else.

Before you dismiss this, now imagine yourself going against - armed only with hands and maybe some agricultural tool - your city's best karate practitioner, who happen to also hold a well balanced, double edge sword that is just quite good at point throws as it is slashing flesh in forward and backhands, and is also flanked on either of his sides by the 2nd and third ranked karateka.

All similarly armed, and all that have spent the better part of their formative years learning how to fight as a combat group. Personally, I can imagine myself running away fast by such a group.

Until the advent of firearms, professionals of war were on an  entirely different level than the one on whom civilians turned rioters could operate.

The latter could hardly prove to be little more than a nuisance to the firsts.

But that was the past, before the age of practically usable guns .

Today a ten year old toddler, hidden in a hole with a Kalashnikov and minimum training, can kill the average soldier all the same, even when this latter is a well trained and well equipped member of the most advanced army on the planet.

If you happen to be someone that has spent some time in a place where this kind of asymmetric war is going on - glad that you made it back, [wo]man - you probably can tell it better than me.

Even worse, in most cases the ones sending the child to his - or her - death have less to worry about losing political support, due to the loss of lives, than the four-stars general commanding the advanced country's army.

So, when I hear a politician speaking about using the army as a tool to solve problems, I always think that I am hearing a stupid talking.

Armies are unfortunately necessary, because time and again history has proved that there are no limits to the god-awful stupid choices that politicians make, often just as diversion from actual, pressing home issues and problems that they do not have any idea how to solve (the Argentine Junta invading the Falklands to distract the country from a failing economic policy in the eighties, Clinton bombing a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory to distract from Lewinsky in the nineties, Italy building its "Empire" to "solve" its overpopulation problem in the '10-20s, that whole horrible mess of WWII).

Nobody knows what a lunatic of an ass-hole may reach power in a neighbour, and try to attack them.

So, armies are needed - as a precaution.

But, to use them actively?
To obtain diplomatic results?

That time is coming to an end, if it has not already passed.