Monday, December 29, 2014


When 3D movies were introduced (reintroduced) in the 50s they had to explain what three dimensions meant. It was long after that I was introduced to the concept of time (t) as a forth dimension, and a band called the fifth dimension. Now as I understand it, physics is wrestling with how many dimensions there are; nine and twenty seven are the primary contenders.
First lets decide how to define dimension. I would select; a measurable non-derived property off an object in space, length, height and width fit nicely. We have to stretch that definition a little to include time. Since the others can change with time including time seems reasonable.
I propose several others: Orientation has three axes just as do the linear dimensions, pilots can relate to them as pitch, roll and yaw. or as linear dimensions are x, y and z the orientation dimensions are k,l and m.  Now we have seven.
Every point in space has a unique but changeable temperature (T). Density (D) is usually defined in term of mass per volume, but density could be a dimension itself if we were not locked into legacy definitions. (mass/volume). Maybe mass is really density times volume.
Could it be that the nine elusive dimensions are actually right in front of us. x,y,z,k,l,m,t,T,and D,

I thought that entropy and enthalpy might be fundamental, but since they are easily defined in terms of these nine, I think they can be considered derived units, along with the more bizarre like gravitational flux or maybe someone can name of the other 18.  I am doing this to liberate our thinking from the mold that insists that since 3 of the 4 commonly cited dimensions are linear, that rest should be similar. While I cite T as temperature, it could be some unit of intrinsic energy that encompasses temperature.

Anyway, I'm in way over my head, maybe someone can expand this train of logic.

Origin of life

Two incompatible hypotheses reinforce a logical conclusion.
Hypothesis number one. For life to spring up by accident is about as likely a a wind blowing across a junkyard assembling the junk into a jetliner. Therefore corollary one there must be an intelligent plan; or corollary two, life was transported here from somewhere else (but then where did it start).
Hypothesis number two there are so many planets, there must be life as we know it on x percent of the planets.

Well if the odds of life are basically one chance in infinity and there are an infinite number of planets, then logically the odds of life on just one of those planets is one. Here we are. I know that the mathematicians are about to pounce but we are dealing in an area where Newtonian or even Einsteinian logic won't help.

So far no person using scientific methodology can explain why there is life here or anywhere in the universe. It is the only true miracle perhaps an incredibly unlikely event happened just once on one minor planet circling a minor star in an unremarkable galaxy. The right combination of carbon based compounds at the right temperature and pressure and entropy and enthalpy and charge came together in just the right way to create something that never existed before: a simple life form, perhaps a virus, or prion, or something long extinct that had the ability to reproduce and to mutate into something more complex.  It only had to happen once.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


The history of taxes is a history of injustice. Originally taxes were imposed by the sovereign, chief, baron, war-lord or whatever you want to call the bully. Tax rate was whatever he could squeeze out of you. Lesser bullies in turn squeezed their subjects for whatever they could get and so on. Collecting taxes is like getting down from a goose, the object being to get as much as possible with as little fuss as possible.

Somewhere in history it occurred to the common people that taxes should be somehow proportional, and some of them fought for this small innovation. Theoretically the landless peasant or serf only paid what he could afford and the intermediate paid according to the same formula, but of course if you are destitute, giving up even 1% may mean not eating. The American Revolution was triggered by 1% tax! (Without representation.)

Proportional tax, has become a sort of standard, with the twentieth century innovation of progressive taxation.  The idea being that for some 1% is oppressive and for the well off a much higher proportion is merely an inconvenience. The rub here is: What is a fair progression? As a result many tax systems have complicated algorithms that attempt fairness, but do not do it well. Even two individuals that appear to be equally taxable might have vastly different abilities to pay, one might have a sickly child, or land prone to flooding.

The first thing to consider is the tax base.

Equality: Everyone pay the same amount.

Disposable property: The tax collector comes to your place periodically and takes some of everything he can carry, or settles for what you donate.

Real property: The tax collector estimates what your property is worth, sends you a bill for a percentage.

Income: You and the tax collector figure out what your income was (will be) and then pay a proportion according to a complicated set of tables and calculations.
     Flat tax: An income tax that is theoretically simpler and fairer because there is only one rate.

Consumption: Usually at point of final sale, Almost always a fixed rate in a given jurisdiction, but not applied to all goods and services.
     VAT, GET and other hidden sales taxes collected at various points in the distribution chain.

Transaction: Just a sales tax on intangibles.

Excise: Relatively high tax applied to transactions the state wants to discourage, includes "sin"

Emissions: A tax on smoke!

Extraction: Based on what you take out of the commons.

Some taxes are imposed in a way that they are inherently regressive. The wealthy devote much of their income to things that are not subject to sales tax. Many transaction taxes are fixed per transaction so licensing a pound puppy costs as much as a $10,000 pure-bread lhasa apso. Social Security deduction tops put at $117,000 income.

The problem with many of these bases is evaluation. Two farms or fishing boats or barrels of whisky might look the same superficially, yet have vastly different values. Two identical boats might have different values depending on where they are. Two earners might have the exact same income, to the penny, but one lives in a city with high rents. Two coal fired smokestacks may appear to have the same emissions, but one is burning anthracite and the other lignite when no one is looking.

Some bases require businesses to collaborate with the tax collector, keeping detailed records of what was sold to whom at what location on which day in order to apply the correct tax rate to each and every transaction.

Flat tax sound good superficially, but as soon as one looks a little deeper the obvious limitation stands out: 15% of exactly what, gross income, take home, net, disposable? Cost of doing business has to be accounted for.

Many years ago I proposed a tax on energy, regardless of the source. My logic was and still is that energy consumption is proportional to wealth, and progressive also. Wealthier have more and bigger homes to heat and air condition. Bigger cars, yachts jets etc. They travel more, and more often in luxury accommodations.  I learned that Al Gore proposed a carbon tax at about the same time. Narrowing it to carbon has some distinct advantages since carbon emissions are undesirable and most carbon comes from fossil sources that are finite. Energy measurement is inherently fair, A megawatt is megawatt whether it's from coal or oil, or gas, or nuclear. Now there might be a debate whether to include renewable or even nuclear, but that is a one time decision.

Taxing energy, or carbon at the source has distinct advantages in terms of collect-ability. Fluids or electricity can be metered continuously and counting railroad cars of coal is a lot less invasive than adding up cash resister receipts.  Cheating an energy tax would be very difficult, you can't exactly hide a supertanker, a coal mine or a nuclear power plant.

Another advantage to extraction tax is that not only does it discourage the consumption of no- renewable resources and the inherent environmental damage is that it would encourage business to hire more employees where they can be utilized to reduce consumption.

I did the calculation a long time ago so I'm sure the numbers have changed a bit, but basically an energy tax equivalent 100% on a ton of carbon at the source could replace all other taxes, and all the record keeping and liability that goes with them..

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cities like Detroit are obsolete

First there was the family, Mother and her children. Then in some cultures the dad and other relatives became part of the extended family.  This got larger and became a tribe.  Many tribes merged into a clan.  Then things got complicated, some tribes and clans merged into nations.  Other tribes formed cities.  The large cities conquered surrounding territory and became city states, often with extensive territories, empires.
Eventually modern nations, with subdivisions called states, provinces, counties and cities evolved. Unfortunately the boundaries of these subdivisions have become in many ways obsolete.  Cities on opposite banks of a river may be in different states, but have more in common with one another than they do with their home state.  Suburban residents outside a city may make more use of some city services: libraries, museums, colleges than residents within.  Some cities require critical employees to live within, even though this may be a financial or cultural hardship.  It may deprive the city of the best candidate for some jobs, like teachers and police officers.
Many cities have learned to blur the lines to improve services.  Port districts manage the entire waterfront of multiple cities.  Many utilities are based on topographic boundaries rather than political, and some school districts are based on demographic boundaries.  Regional transportation has largely replaced municipal.

Unfortunately some cities, like Detroit, appear to be locked into the city state mentality and try to be everything to everyone within the arbitrary (historic) boundary, while at the same time supporting services that benefit non-residents more than taxpayers.  With today’s information technology there is no reason for all city services to have the same boundaries.  A separate service district for each service can be designed and managed to maximize efficiency, within much larger boundaries, such as county or state.  This of course might make mayors and city councils obsolete, but I can live with that.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fracking ban

Once again a panicked minority has called for an outright ban on a technology they do not understand. There are definitely certain dangers to fracking, as with any large technology. Should we burn coal instead of natural gas? That will be the outcome of a ban on fracking. Everyone likes having electricity, but some oppose each of the technologies that make it possible. I even saw a website that declared electricity a natural resource that should be available to everyone for free. How would that work? No one has banned electricity, but governments that prohibit private competitors to their electrical monopolies typically do not provide reliable service.

Outright bans are a gut level response that freezes progress.  A well though out and flexible regulation always works better. Regulated utilities in developed counties provide abundant power to anyone.   It's not to say the regulation is perfect, but it is a lot less troublesome than an outright ban. Once a ban is in place it creates a constituency that opposes all progress. Compare Prohibition with the War On Drugs.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


I just finished a "30 minute installation" that took an hour and a half.
1: The screws they provided were so cheep that even with pre-drilled holes I stripped 4. Soft metal and undersized slots.
2. Atrocious instructions on two separate sheets in three languages.  If they have to do that, can't they at least use a different font for each language?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Civil Penalty

The Criminalizing of American business is a gigantic extrapolation of what local government has been doing with parking and traffic fines for decades. The accused, who may be innocent, sees defending himself as to troublesome or expensive and just pays the fine. Later he learns of hidden cost, such as insurance surcharges, or being label as an habitual offender.

To make the prosecution easier States now call these civil penalties rather than fines, although it is difficult to see how someone violating a stop sign has cost the state anything.

War on ????????????????

War on Drugs, War on Poverty, War on Terrorism, what do they have in common? A vaguely described objective. The first thing we teach in engineering is that a problem well defined is half solved. None of the above three are well defined. A war needs a clearly defined enemy that can be killed or captured. None of the War-ons can meet that criterion. These problems have to be mitigated with education and compassion. Unlike real war, total victory is not a realistic goal.

Illegal equals unregulated

Fearmongers in Government and the Media do everything they can to keep us alarmed and justify their pet battles. So is there anything to fear? My personal fear is not drugs, it’s the War On Drugs. Government lies about drugs to justify Gestapo tactics to fight this invisible enemy called Drugs. Regularly somewhere in America a SWAT team invades a home in search of Drugs, sometimes they find a commercial quantity, sometimes not. Sometimes they have to cook the books to make the take look commercial, in order to justify the assault. Then there is Civil Forfeiture. Police attempt an arrest, they can’t find any solid evidence, but they can confiscate property based on mere suspicion, property like a car, boat, house, or aircraft. The owner of the property has to sue to get it back. It is very difficult to prove a negative, so more often than not the victim won’t even try. Then there is the inevitable violence of turf battles between criminals.

That which is illegal is by definition unregulated, therefore impure and unsafe.

The War On Drugs is as big a mistake as Prohibition, but it’s not too late to end it.


Many things are illegal because they are perceived to be problematic. Unfortunately the perception may not be realistic. The perception may be based on prejudice. Alcohol for example causes problems, but prohibition only made it worse. The public has realized that the war on drugs has not eliminated their abuse and has had a lot of undesirable side effects even some politicians are beginning to notice. A lot of recent opinions express  opposition to GMO, but the sources of their factoids are murky. A rumor can make it around the world before the truth gets its fact checking complete.
Although many governments have banned some GMO products, as near as I can find out there is not one peer accepted scientific study that finds anything wrong with GMO food. Sure you can argue to wait until it is proven safe, but with that logic we would all still be cowering in jungles afraid of fire.

Post Office

Some people want to kill the USPS because they do not see the value to them. Rural people depend on it, as do many businesses. There is a simple way to fix the USPS. Stop meddling Congress. Let the postal service set their own rates and decide what services to offer like any other business.  Why should they charge 48 cents to do what FedEx does for only $17?

campaign finance

We learn from history that men (well politicians) never learn from history. Prohibition was a miserable failure, so we repealed the 19th amendment, but continued the war on drugs. We can pass laws limiting campaign financing, but it is naïve to think that will make it go away. Like any other popular activity outlawed, it will find ways to go underground, out of sight, totally unregulated and dominated by organized crime.

I cannot think of a prohibition that accomplished its goal, can you?

Maybe contributions could be double blind.

No doubt being a police officer is a difficult and demanding job. Often days of boredom are interrupted by life threatening terror. Very few people are cut out for it. Some do not realize that the job is not for them until they are confronted with a life or death decision. Perhaps there is a non-intuitive a solution. More female officers! Men - the hunters- instinctively confront force with force. Women – the nurturers - have evolved to use other means, because force is not usually an option. Our tribal instinct is to keep our females safe, but in a modern world that is a less important strategy. Recall the female high school principal who talked down a would-be-shooter, before the police snipers arrived.