Should the Nord Stream pipeline be considered an engineering wonder?

The seafloor pipeline from Russia to Germany has been in the news lately (see “U.S. urges Ukraine to stay quiet on Russian pipeline” (Politico): “The Biden administration is asking an unhappy Ukraine not to make waves, as it nears Russia-Germany pipeline agreement.”; I guess Joe Biden finally found a pipeline that he could love! (compare to “Keystone pipeline canceled after Biden had permit blocked” (USA Today)).

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.
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Why don’t smartphones have PLB capability?

A friend was recently involved in a helicopter rescue effort described in “‘Not knowing is so hard.’ Hiker rescued after 5 days without food in California forest”:

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?


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Soundproofing for an air conditioner/heat pump (success story)

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.

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The Ever Given’s interaction with the Suez Canal

“The bank effect and the big boat blocking the Suez” (FT, mostly paywalled, but the link might work because I’ve included a Facebook ID) is interesting and reveals some similarities to Queen Elizabeth 2‘s grounding off Cape Cod, in which the ship dug a 9′ hole in the water by traveling at 25 knots. Some excerpts:

The canal has been getting wider and deeper over time…

But it is not so wide/deep that displaced water can be ignored.

Is it time to read Parting the Desert: The Creation of the Suez Canal? (Remember that the Pharaohs who purportedly oppressed the Jews built this first!)


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The Brave New World of Human-carrying Drones will have the same dashboard as the old world

“Joby Picks Garmin G3000 For eVTOL” (Avweb) suggests that the exciting new world of drones, which I hope will have enough software intelligence to prevent flying into obstacles (see New York helicopter crash: why not robot intelligence? and Aviation weather reports at the time of Kobe Bryant crash), will have the same dashboard as today’s business jets: a Garmin G3000 (seemingly way more complex than it needs to be).

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):

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Why not heated furniture to fight coronaplague?

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.

Why not heat the customers instead of the air?

Back in 2010, I wrote Heated Furniture to Save Energy?

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.


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Heated eyeglasses for Age of Faith (in masks)?

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?


  • battery-powered face mask (to reduce breathing effort) from LG with 8-hour battery life
  • 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)
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Nobel Peace Prize should have gone to network engineers and sysadmins?

Despite having engineered the first two Middle East peace agreements in the 21st century, Donald Trump has apparently failed to qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize (maybe if he advocated for the deportation of Muslims, he could join Aung San Suu Kyi in the ranks of the winners?).

Who got the award? Some highly paid bureaucrats at the United Nations who take money that other people worked hard to earn, spend the money on food, and then hand the food out (BBC). This is analogous to borrowing a neighbor’s car, giving it to non-profit org (I recommend Harvard or MIT!), and donning the mantle of pure Jesus-like charity.

Readers: Who should have gotten the award, if not these UN bureaucrats who were simply doing the job for which they were hired and paid? (or maybe you want to argue that they deserved it!)

My suggestion: The network engineers and sysadmins that enabled richer people all over the world to cower in place while enjoying streaming video entertainment, Zoom and similar video collaboration tools, and other services that we would have expected to fall over in the face of a sudden 10X boost in demand. How is it “peace”, though? Consider that people from different nations have been able to continue to work together despite travel bans, thus promoting international trade and cooperation. There would surely be a lot more domestic strife and violence if locked-down people couldn’t reach out electronically and/or zone out with Netflix. Why not recognize the people who built the Verizon and Comcast networks, Amazon Web Services, and similar?

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Midnight in Chernobyl: Helicopter heroes

Suggested reading for 9/11, in which I hope we remember those who ran towards the stricken towers rather than following instinct and running away: Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster Kindle Edition, by Adam Higginbotham. This follows my general rule that the only good popular books on science and engineering are written by British authors, who tend to assume that their audience is actually capable of comprehending some of the technical and scientific points.

The heroism in the book is inspiring. I was partway through this book when a scheduled flight to Upstate New York came up. There was a 40-knot headwind which would, I knew, combine with the mountains and hills to form turbulence. The FAA had issued a warning for moderate turbulence below 10,000′. The trip was a favor to friends who wanted to look at an antique wooden boat for sale. I thought about wimping out on two hours of bumps, but then said “If the Soviet firefighters and nuclear plant ran toward Chernobyl Reactor 4 rather than away, I can handle a bit of discomfort.”

A lot of the workers in the plant behaved heroically, trying to resupply what they thought was left of the exploded reactor with cooling water. They knew that they were going to receive lethal doses of radiation, but they strove to reach manual valves and controls in hopes of saving fellow citizens. About 60 of these men died within a month (Wikipedia).

Although there was no shortage of heroes following this explosion, I had never realized the heroic actions of Soviet helicopter crews. They flew directly into the worst of the radioactive cloud to drop, by hand, bags of boron-containing sand, straight down into the ruined core. “Historians estimate that about 600 Soviet pilots risked dangerous levels of radiation to fly the thousands of flights needed to cover reactor No. 4 in this attempt to seal off radiation.” (Wikipedia, which also notes that the efforts might not have yielded significant results; as with coronaplague, when the guy running the helicopter operation was told that it was futile, he said “we have to be seen to be doing something”)


It is a good book. I haven’t seen the HBO series. What do folks think of it?

Circling back to 9/11, the New Yorker ran a good article on Rick Rescorla, who went into the World Trade Center to get people out.


  • the cause of the accident (Chernobyl Gallery)
  • “How HBO Got It Wrong On Chernobyl” (Forbes): 2 immediate, non-radiation deaths; 29 early fatalities from radiation (ARS) within 4 months from radiation, burns and smoke inhalation, 19 late adult fatalities presumably from radiation over the next 20 years, although this number is within the normal incidence of cancer mortality in this group, which is about 1% per year, and 9 late child fatalities resulting in thyroid cancer, presumably from radiation.
  • Wikipedia: There is consensus that a total of approximately 30 men died from immediate blast trauma and acute radiation syndrome (ARS) in the seconds to months after the disaster, respectively, with 60 in total in the decades hence, inclusive of later radiation induced cancer.[2][3][4] However, there is considerable debate concerning the accurate number of projected deaths due to the disaster’s long-term health effects; long-term death estimates range from up to 4,000 (per the 2005 and 2006 conclusions of a joint consortium of the United Nations) for the most exposed people of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, to 16,000 in total for all those exposed on the entire continent of Europe, with figures as high as 60,000 when including the relatively minor effects around the globe
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Solar electricity at 1.35 cents/kWh in Abu Dhabi

I haven’t been getting a good supply of climate change alarmism and panic due to coronapanic dominating the media. Here’s an item that I missed: the next big solar project in Abu Dhabi will deliver power for 1.35 cents/kWH (cleantechnica).


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