Monday, April 16, 2012

Get off my Lawn! Or the Grid: then and Now.

In WW2 here is what the Germans thought of the US power grid system, in their own words on a document on attacking the US, specifically Section VII "Reconnaissance and military targets on the West Atlantic Coast and in the USA":

Regarding the condition of power plants, it is concluded that:
1) In the USA the completion of power plants since 1933 has been strongly promoted by the government.
2) Each power plant is connected to the other by an extensive relay system.
3) The loss of 4 or 5 of the larger power plants [to a bombing campaign] will have little to no effect on armaments production since the energy used for civilian goods production exceeds the potential for meaningful cutbacks if necessary.

Page 34, Target: America by James P. Duffy

Can you imagine the world, the country that existed back then? Where points 1 and 3 would hold for the US?

Also shows the day when Democrats with an eye to corporatist despotism actually liked building real infrastructure.

To show where the US had gone here's Professional Engineer, R. L. Hails:

This article is an epiphany to me. I am concluding forty years of engineering, primarily energy infrastructure, $ 2.5 Bn in nukes (24), fossil fuel power plants (48) and decades assessing advanced technologies (what is coming, the technical barriers, costs, etc.). These educational practices are alien to me in my ancient education. Engineering and hard sciences (which means truth) demands rigorous disciplined thinking. There is the right answer to the home work, and wrong answers.

Today, in climate change, nuclear safety, fracking, the current technologies controversies, I continually read many articles which can be summarized as, “Cesium 131 will kill everybody in Japan because I hate GE.” I find it irrational. So I have developed a hobby, of searching for the author’s bio, on the web. I induce that 90% of the articles on technology are authored by graduates in journalism or political science, often in the teaching fields. I can not remember one article on energy authored by an experienced engineer.

I conclude that erudite Americans form their political views based on falsehoods. It explains President Obama’s energy policies. And it explains my great fear: our grid may collapse. All of your computers rely on machinery built by your grandfathers. Our engineering colleges quit teaching course work, vital to power plant engineering, decades ago. Their students could not find work. The professors are now dead. The NRC just issued the first construction permit in 36 years. This means that everyone, from the junior draftsman, through the Chief Engineer, to the CEOs, and regulators, have never done one. Engineering is a professional practice. Why is it so difficult to accept? If Tiger Woods had not held a golf club in 36 years, he would not perform at a championship level. Yet we assume our power plants, very complex systems, are eternally sound. Is this rational?

Critical thinking and sustainability, in life sustaining technologies (pumping drinking water, flushing your toilets, and heating your home) must be reconsidered by “educated” Americans.
Emphasis added.
As an Engineer, I weep. With the increasing advent of copying "round robins", the decay of American STEM students, the buying of old tests, using smartphones to cheat on exams, and the dearth of experimental coursework and research, I sometimes get the feeling of the last one off the boat.

But I recall that that can also be confirmation bias and my own ego at work. The bit about the media reporting does fall right into the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect

Via Kevin at Smallest Minority.

Electricity, water, food, and eat all come by magic, until they don't. For many it seems that a separation from the realizing how physical wants are sated has led them to feel they can smash the whole system and make one that's "better", without causing any real damage (or hurting anyone important).

Also from Smallest Minority, here's Bill Whittle:

Alone, small, sparse and having limited mental horizons are no way to go through life.

But as Reynolds says: they'll make us beggars because beggars are easier to please.

Again to make myself feel "special", myself and my friends were some of the last people to not get cell phones. I only got mine when I moved out to Indy after college. That's not to say the magic elf boxes in themselves are bad. Really, people being glued to them is more symptomatic of a greater illness, not the malady itself.

Also Whittle comes up with one of the best explanations of Moon-Denialism, and that its growing is another worrying symptom. And the jealous inferiority complex of our grandfathers is as much in place with our Grid as it is with the Moon.

But Whittle does offer some hope: the internet is the greatest tool the aspiring autodidact could ever hope for. Shame the whole idea has been so thoroughly crushed, but don't let that stop you.

However, you know what's worse? Compared to Kevin's essay here, the above video is a balmy bit of optimism.

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