A few media-following friends in the Northeast have been checking in, concerned that Hurricane Fiona, which knocked out power in Puerto Rico, is also trashing our neighborhood. They are reassured to learn that Puerto Rico is 1,000 miles from Palm Beach County, but it has made me wonder… given that (1) Fiona is only a Category 1 storm, (2) Puerto Rico can expect something similar every year or two (history), and (3) the power grid in Puerto Rico was recently rebuilt to the latest standards (after the 2017 Category 5 Hurricane Irma), why were the reported 85 mph winds enough to take the system out?
Is it simply impossible to make above-ground lines robust enough to handle 85 mph winds? Is the problem that trees will inevitably come down and break the lines even if the lines wouldn’t have been blown down? (But a newly engineered grid should be able to handle quite a few individual tree impacts because the power would be routed around the cut line.)
It’s been four years since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s electric power grid. Yet even after billions of dollars were allocated by the federal government to repair it, the island’s energy infrastructure is still in terrible shape. Blackouts continued this summer as the two entities responsible for operating the grid pointed fingers at each other over who is to blame. One of those two entities is Luma, a private company that was awarded a contract last year to distribute electricity around the island. The other is the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, known as PREPA, which used to be in charge of the whole system and now continues to operate the power plants.
The restoration process is very bureaucratic because you have Luma going through FEMA’s process, going through the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau’s process. And you also have Luma going through federal process and going through Puerto Rican process. And you know what? There’s not a single work already done with reconstruction funds. They’re still planning and designing. So this will take a lot of years before we see something better.
This past December, I traveled to Puerto Rico to report on this massive undertaking. I found contradictions everywhere I went. I saw utility workers fanned out across the island, yet progress remained excruciatingly slow. I met rank-and-file PREPA employees working flat out to restore power, yet each day brought a new report of fumbles at the utility’s top levels. And I heard many smart and exciting ideas for how to build a modern, resilient grid in Puerto Rico, even as the urgent need to restore power meant resurrecting the vulnerable existing system.
It is rare for engineering to be the subject of literature and entertainment and even rarer for an engineer to be the subject. Audible’s The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon is a welcome outlier. Although I was once a proud Fortran programmer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (the Pioneer Venus project), I hadn’t realized that the original idea for the moon landing was to fly a huge vehicle and enough fuel for the return trip straight to the lunar surface. Audible’s work is about John Houbolt, who fought the conventional thinking and endured all of the bureaucratic infighting to promote the idea of a small vehicle that would land on the moon, thus requiring only a tiny fraction of the fuel to get back to Earth. After escaping the moon’s gravity, the small vehicle would rendezvous with a bigger spacecraft in lunar orbit (“lunar orbit rendezvous” or “LOR”) and then the astronauts could all go home.
Trigger warning: the book implies that members of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community, engineers of color, and engineers who identify as “women” played no role in getting astronauts to the moon.
Mobile phone service back in Maskachusetts was generally terrible, whether the iPhone 12 Pro Max indicated “LTE” or “5G” up at the top right. I attributed this to hills generating multipath and the righteous demanding that cell towers be built in someone else’s town.
We’re living in Florida, though, where a municipal landfill is the only hill, and the government encourages any kind of useful infrastructure. I think that all of the preconditions for awesome mobile data service have been fulfilled:
I’m fully vaccinated and so is our golden retriever, Mindy the Crippler
The Verizon bill is on autopay
the iPhone usually shows 3 or 4 bars of 5G
there are no tall buildings or hills around
Yet the service simply doesn’t work. It can take minutes to send a single photo via iMessage, for example. Looking up stuff on Google can be impossible. Navigating via Google Maps results in an “offline” display, even when the phone shows 3 bars of 5G.
Could it be that there is a working LTE service in most locations, but the phone sees 5G and latches onto it even when the 5G radios are simply broken? I’ve experimented with telling the phone to use LTE only, but that didn’t seem to help. Sometimes the Verizon network yields impressive numbers on a Speedtest, comparable to high quality home broadband circa 2010, but for any given request it is unpredictable whether it will take a fraction of a second or minutes.
Is this issue unique to my iPhone 12 and it will be #ProblemSolved when I upgrade to the glorious world of iPhone 13? Or are other folks having similar issues (3 or 4 bars of coverage yet it is tough to download an ordinary web page)?
I wouldn’t have thought that a 760-mile seafloor pipeline could be done as a practical engineering matter. From Gazprom:
The outside surface of pipes has a special anti-corrosion concrete coating. The concrete coating is made of high-density iron ore, which is crushed, mixed with cement, and put on pipes. As a result, pipes are wrapped in spiral reinforcement, which is filled with concrete, and then treated with steam in special tunnels for 24 hours. The concrete coating helps meet several challenges at once. Firstly, it keeps the pipeline on the seabed, preventing it from drifting off with undercurrents. Secondly, it serves as insulation, protecting the trunkline from outside mechanical damage.
The genius of Russian engineering? Wikipedia says that it was actually the Italians who figured out how to do this:
On 19 March 2007, Nord Stream AG hired Italian company Snamprogetti, a subsidiary of Saipem, for detailed design engineering of the pipeline. A letter of intent for construction works was signed with Saipem on 17 September 2007 and the contract was concluded on 24 June 2008
Readers: Should we be awed that this is working at all? Is the best analogy the Portuguese and other early European trips around the Horn of Africa to India and China? It is tough to believe that the sea voyage was actually more efficient than the overland one, but a lot of middlemen were cut out.
(My Ukrainian friends are not fans of this Biden Administration decision, but it won’t cost Uncle Joe any votes because these non-virtuous immigrants to the U.S. already disliked Biden/Harris for their Bigger Government policies.)
“The Security Implications of Nord Stream 2 for Ukraine, Poland, and Germany” (Wilson Center): … repairing the current Ukrainian-Polish pipeline would cost around €6 billion. The construction of Nord Stream 2, however, would cost €10 billion. Experts believe that Nord Stream 2 is diverting gas from the preexisting Ukrainian-Polish pipeline, meaning Europeans will receive the same amount of gas, if from a different source. … completion of the pipeline would see the European continent increase its dependence on Russian gas. If tensions were to rise between Europe and Russia, Russia could turn off the pipeline, leaving millions of Europeans without gas. Second, Europe’s reliance on Russian gas would present Russia with the leverage to further meddle in the affairs of its neighbors without consequence. Third, the new pipeline would divert the flow of gas from Ukraine and Poland, leaving these two countries to face a substantial revenue loss. They would also be forced to pay higher gas prices.
A hiker was rescued from a canyon in a California forest after going missing for five days without food and little water, officials said.
George “Dave” Null, 58, went missing in the Angeles National Forest May 15, according to a news release from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. It took a massive search effort, involving at least five agencies, to find him, the sheriff’s department said.
Null was spotted at creek base Wednesday evening while a helicopter crew searched Bear Creek in the canyon east of Triple Rock, according to the Montrose Search and Rescue Team.
This made me wonder why smartphones don’t have a personal locator beacon capability. Coronapanic has proven that there is no limit to our risk-aversion. Why wouldn’t we engineer slightly thicker phones with a fold-out antenna and a guaranteed dedicated power reserve that can be used as a PLB when we’ve gotten lost, e.g., on the way to or from the vaccine booster clinic or the P100 mask store?
The obvious disadvantage of this approach is that the phone becomes slightly bulkier and heavier. But if we’re willing to wear masks all the time and take non-FDA-approved vaccines why aren’t we willing to carry a slightly heavier phone if it could save just one life?
We had a Princess and the Pea situation in our house in which a moderately quiet A/C condenser next to a bedroom was deemed too loud, especially when clicking on. This is a high-end Carrier-built unit, so it is somewhat louder than a Japanese split-system, but quieter than almost anything else U.S.-built.
We were able to eliminate the annoyance with a blanket from Acoustical Solutions that we hung on the wall adjacent to the condensers (quilted part facing the A/C unit; smooth part against the wall). We also wrapped one that was roughly the same height as the condenser around the side so as to block transmission to a window. It would be a lot more attractive it we built a wooden hutch around it, but it is highly functional just hung on a metal fence U-post (less than $10 from any hardware store).
We bought the ABBC-13 two-inch thick “AudioSeal” blankets, one 96″x54″ (custom made to have the grommets on the long side) and one 54″x54″. Total cost, including shipping and Maskachusetts sales tax, was $890. We’ve had them outdoors through one New England winter and they still look good.
Leaving this here in case anyone is searching for a similar solution.
I’m wondering if this will extend the life of traditional flight schools using traditional trainer airplanes and helicopters. If a lot of our skills translate into the Super Drone world (I’m hopeful that “eVTOL” is not the final term for this category of aircraft), perhaps folks with standard pilot certificates will still have a role to play.
Here’s what the G3000 looks like inside a Cirrus Vision Jet (three touch screens on the bottom that control the two non-touch screens on top):
In their righteous muscular efforts to “control” coronavirus, some state governors and city mayors have ordered restaurants shut down, except for outdoor dining. In response, restaurants have built four-sided tents filled with CO2-emitting propane heaters. It is unclear why this is different from being indoors, other than the lack of a real HVAC system. The tent sides are necessary, though, because otherwise the propane heat will blow away.
A lot of cars have heated seats. When the seat heater is on, most drivers will set the interior temperature 3-7 degrees lower than with the seat heater off. Why not apply the same technology to houses?
Imagine being at home in a 65-degree house. Even in a T-shirt and jeans, it would probably be comfortable to walk around, stir a pot on the stove, carry laundry, scrub and clean, walk on a treadmill while typing on a computer (as I’m doing now!). However, if one were to sit down and read a book, it would begin to seem cold. Why not install heat in all of the seats and beds of the house? And sensors to turn the heat on and off automatically? In a lot of ways, this would be more comfortable than a current house because the air temperature would be set for actively moving around while the seat temperature would be set for sedentary activities.
There is a fine line between brilliant and stupid, of course, but could it be that coronaplague has pushed this idea over the line?
A Dutch company, sit & heat, seems to have thought of this: heated cushions that can fit into a standard frame. Serta makes a chair-shaped electric quilt (could not survive outdoors) for only $64. A plastic chair with a built-in 750-watt heater is $900 (Galanter & Jones; they have sofas too at roughly $6,000 and claim they are “cast stone”).
If heated chairs were mass-produced in Asia, presumably the cost per chair would be only about $100 more than a regular outdoor chair. That should be affordable for a restaurant.
We in the American Church of Shutdown put our faith in masks, for they shall preserve us from the coronaplague, even as they have preserved those in Peru, Spain, France, and other countries with strict mask laws and high compliance rates.
In New England, however, now that the weather is cold, mask+eyeglasses = fog.
What about this idea: heated eyeglasses to prevent fogging. Bose managed to get some batteries into ordinary-looking eyeglasses (“Frames”). Is it hopeless to imagine that sufficient battery power could be mustered to heat the lenses for as much time as people spend outdoors in the fall, winter, and early spring?
Separately, now that #Science tells us that coronaplague is spread via aerosols, will people who directly experience eyeglass fogging begin to develop heretical beliefs that masking the general population might be ineffective against the spread of Covid-19?
U.S. Patent 5,319,397, “Defogging eyeglasses”: Eyeglasses worn in winter weather conditions are subject to fogging due to condensation of water vapor. A method of removing condensation from eyeglasses is provided. The method involves heating the lenses of the eyeglasses, by making the lenses a part of an electrical circuit. Electric current is supplied to the electric circuit from a power source external to the eyeglasses. The size and weight of the power source may be minimized by utilizing a timer or a power regulator. A smaller power source is also made possible by selectively heating the lenses, applying more power in the area of the lenses most likely to experience fogging. (this guy stole my idea, it seems, with this filed-in-1992 patent, and there is a massive battery dongle)