The Ford Model T is probably a Safer Choice for a Cross-Country Trip than an All-Electric Car

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 16th, 2014

Week in Review

The United States is no doubt tired of winter.  It’s been a long one.  Snow, ice and cold.  Especially cold.  With below-zero temperatures in northern states.  And freezing temperatures even in southern states.  In fact, it’s been such a brutal winter that every state in the United States but one has snow.  Florida.  It’s just been a long, cold winter.  But it’s been a good one for those in the snow removal business.  And for those in providing a jump-start for dead batteries.  For batteries just don’t like cold weather.  Which is another problem with all-electric cars.  In addition to finding a place and the time to charge them (see Tesla Model S Electric Car Versus … Ford Model T? A History Lesson by John Voelcker posted 2/14/2014 on Yahoo! Autos).

While the fast-expanding network of Tesla Supercharger DC quick-charging stations now permits both coast-to-coast and New York-to-Florida road trips by electric car, the magazine conducted its test last October…

And as it points out, in its area of the country (Ann Arbor, Michigan), there were no Supercharger stations last fall.

(There is now one, along I-94 in St. Joseph, Michigan, 26 miles north of the I-90 cross-country corridor–one of 76 operating U.S. Supercharger locations as of today.)

So it couched its Tesla-vs-Model T test as the equivalent, a century later, to the question it imagined potential buyers of the first automobiles may have pondered: How does this stack up against my old, familiar, predictable horse..?

In due course, small roadside businesses sprang up to sell gasoline for the newfangled contraptions, usually in the same place they could be repaired.

But travelers couldn’t be confident of finding gasoline until well into the 1920s, a result of the Model T turning the U.S. into a car-based nation almost by itself.

Imagine driving across a state the size of Michigan on a road trip.  From St. Joseph to Detroit on the other side of the state it’s about 200 miles.  Which it will take you over 3 hours to drive at posted speed limits.  Now imagine driving this with only one gas station to stop at.  One you’re not familiar with.  One that you will have to drive around a little to find.  While you’re running out of energy.  Now imagine you’re in an all-electric car.  And you find this one charging station and there are 4 cars ahead of you waiting for their 30-minute quick charge.  Which could increase your charging time from one half hour to two and a half hours.

Every gas station has electric power.  So every gas station could sell electricity for electric cars, too.  If someone had to wait a half hour to charge their car that is a lot of time they could be buying stuff from the mini mart all these gas stations have.  So why aren’t they building these things?  Is it that they don’t want the liability that might come from a faulty charger starting a battery fire?  Is it because there are so few all-electric cars to waste the investment on?  Is there a question of how to charge for electricity?  Or do they not want to turn their gas stations into parking lots with a bunch of cars waiting for their half hour of charge time?

Perhaps the reason Michigan only has one Supercharger station is because Michigan has long, cold winters.  Limiting electric car traveling to the summer months.  In fact, if you live in a northern state look for the charging stations some big stores have installed to show how green they are.  Chances are you won’t see a single car at them during the winter.  For when it comes to cold winters gasoline has it all over batteries.  Gasoline provides far greater range.  You can jump-start a gasoline engine in the coldest of winters and then drive home.  And if it’s cold you can crank the heat up to make it feel like summer inside that car.  Something you can’t do in an electric car without sacrificing further range.

The Model T was an improvement over the horse.  But the electric car is just not an improvement over the Model T.  Because a gasoline-powered car is superior to an all-electric car.  For if one was going to travel across a state the Model T would have better odds of getting you where you were going before running out of energy.  And even if you ran out of gas someone could bring a can of gasoline to you so you could drive to the next gas station.  Whereas an electric car would require a tow truck to the next charging station.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Melting Snow and Ice

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 5th, 2014

Technology 101

When Temperatures fall below Freezing Liquid Water turns into Solid Water

You know what the best thing about water is?  You don’t have to shovel it.  Well, that, and its life-giving properties.  Let’s face it.  We couldn’t survive without the stuff.  We couldn’t grow food.  We even couldn’t live without drinking water.  So perhaps its life-giving properties is the best thing about water.  But a close second would be that thing about not having to shovel it.

When it rains water soaks into our green areas.  It runs off driveways and sidewalks into green areas.  And into streets.  Where it runs off into a storm drainage system.  Which takes it to a river or lake.  The rain lets our gardens grow.  And any excess water conveniently just goes away.  We may have a puddle or two to slosh through.  But even those go away without us having to do anything.  Water is nice that way.  As long as the temperature is above its freezing point.

When the temperature falls below the freezing point of water bad things start to happen.  Liquid water turns into solid water.  And hangs around for awhile.  Accumulating.  On our driveways, sidewalks, porches and roads.  It’s pretty much everywhere we don’t want it to be.  Making it difficult to walk.  And drive.  We slip and fall a lot in it.  The sun may melt it a little during the day.  Creating puddles of water where the snow once was. But when the sun sets those puddles freeze.  And become even more slippery.  Making solid water more dangerous than liquid water.  So a big part of making it through winters in northern climes, then, is transforming solid water back into the liquid form.

Even though Bourbon melts Ice Cubes Bourbon would be a Poor Choice to melt Snow and Ice

All material can be in three different stages.  It can be a solid.  A liquid.  Or a gas.  What determines the phase of this material depends on a couple of things.  Mostly temperature and pressure.  And the chemical properties of the material.  At ambient temperature and pressure material typically exists stably in one phase.  Water, for example, is stable in the liquid phase on an 80-degree summer day.  Allowing us to swim in it.  While on a freezing February day it is stable in the solid phase.  Which is why we hold the Winter Olympics in February.  The cold temperatures give us the best solid water conditions.

If we raise the temperature of water we can turn it from a liquid to a gas.  We could also do this by lowering the ambient air pressure.  Such as putting it into a vacuum.  For a liquid remains a liquid as long as the vapor pressure (the tendency for particles to escape from the liquid they’re in) of the liquid is less than the ambient air pressure.  If we lower the ambient air pressure below the vapor pressure of the liquid we can lower the boiling point of that liquid.  This is why different liquids have different boiling points.  They have different vapor pressures.  Oxygen has a very high vapor pressure and requires a high pressure and cold temperature to keep oxygen in a liquid phase.

When we take ice cubes out of the freezer and add them to a glass of bourbon they melt.  Because the ambient temperature outside of the freezer is above the freezing point of water.  So the solid water changes its phase from solid to liquid.  It would follow, then, that pouring bourbon on snow and ice would help melt it.  Of course we don’t do that.  For wasting bourbon like that would be criminal.  Not to mention costly.  Even if you used the cheap stuff.  Making bourbon a poor choice for melting snow and ice.

Salt dissolves into a Brine Solution that lowers the Melting Point of Snow and Ice

We see that a material will change its phase at different temperatures and pressures.  Which is good to know.  But it doesn’t help us to melt snow and ice during winter.  For we can’t lower the atmospheric air pressure to lower the boiling and melting points of water.  And we can’t raise the ambient temperature above the melting point of water.  If we could our winters would probably be a lot more comfortable than they are now.  So because when we can’t change the air pressure or temperature of the ambient environment the snow and ice is in we do something else.  We use chemistry to lower the melting point of snow and ice.  And the most common chemical we use is salt.

To melt snow and ice salt needs heat and moisture.  The moisture comes from the snow and ice.  Or from the humidity in the air.  The heat comes from the warmth of the earth or air.  Heated by the sun.  It also comes from the friction between tires and the road.  When salt comes into contract with water and heat it dissolves into a brine solution.  And this brine solution has a much lower melting point than water.  Which in turn lowers the melting point of the snow and ice it comes into contact with.  Allowing it to be in the liquid phase at temperatures below freezing temperatures.  Melting that snow and ice so it can run off like rain water.

The warmer it is when it snows the quicker salt will melt that snow.  While the colder it is the longer it takes to melt.  If it gets too cold (around 15 degrees Fahrenheit) salt proves to be ineffective.  In temperatures below 15 degrees Fahrenheit other chemicals work better.  Such as calcium chloride.  But calcium chloride is more costly than sodium chloride (salt).  Ambient temperatures, time of day, sunny or cloudy, wind, etc., all determine the chemical to use.  And the amount of chemical to use.  They consider all of these factors (and more) before sending those ‘salt’ trucks out on the roads.  Allowing us to drive in the worst of winters just as we drive in the best of summers.  It may take more time.  And there may be a little more cussing.  But we still go to work, take our kids to school, go shopping, etc., when it snows.  Thanks to chemicals.  Chemistry.  And the people that put those chemicals and that chemistry to work.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Worst Winters than the Current U.S. Winter

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 28th, 2014

History 101

The 1993 Storm of the Century killed some 318 People

If you live in the Northern Plains, the Midwest or the Northeast you’re probably thinking about one thing.  Spring.  Having had enough of snow and cold.  Alberta clippers.  Polar vortexes.  Nor’easters.  Enough.  Some people have already shoveled more snow in January than they did all of last winter.  Feeling that this winter was the worst winter ever.  But is it?  No.

The 1993 Storm of the Century is the only storm that I literally ran away from.  Or, rather, drove away from.  I was in New York State at the beginning of the snowfall heading to some New England ski resorts in March.  The forecast was not good for the drive ahead.  So we raced north.  To get above this monster that dumped some 4 feet of snow where we were and were about to drive through.  And skied at Mont-Tremblant north of Montréal for a day.  Then headed east.  On the drive from Montréal to Québec City for a day of skiing at Mont-Sainte-Anne there was drifting snow and whiteout conditions on the Quebec Autoroute 40 freeway.  It took about 8 hours to travel what normally took 4.  High winds buffeted the car.  And snow drifts crept in from the shoulder.  Covering icy roads.  The drive was stressful to say the least.  And we had skirted north of the worst of this storm.  Which reached as far south as Central America.  With hurricane storm surges, tornadoes and arctic temperatures killing some 318 people.

Before the 1993 Storm of the Century people in the Northeast called the Northeastern blizzard of 1978 the storm of the century.  Some still do.  This was an extra-tropical cyclone that blew up the east coast and crashed into an arctic cold front in February.  Hurricane-force winds, heavy snow and rain and a storm surge pounded the Northeast.  Snow fell for 33 hours straight.  Then turned to an icy-snow mix.  Putting a layer of ice over some 2 feet of snow.  And weighing down tree branches and power lines.  Which fell under the weight of this ice.  Adding power outages on top of everything else.  By the time it was over approximately 100 people were dead.  With close to $2 billion (in current dollars) in damages left in its wake.  Making the Northeastern blizzard of 1978 a close second to that other storm of the century.

The Great Blizzard of 1888 produced Snowfalls between 2 and 5 Feet

The Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940 was a 1,000 mile wide winter storm from Kansas to Michigan in November.  Temperatures plummeted and winds grew.  Then came rain then sleet then snow.  As a low pressure system from the south crashed into a cold arctic air mass creating blizzard conditions.  Over 2 feet of snow fell and the howling winds blew that snow into 20 foot snow drifts.  By the time this storm was over it killed approximately 154 people.  Including 66 sailors lost when three Great Lake freighters sank in the storm.  And duck hunters who got trapped unaware in the approaching storm.  Who were swamped by 5-foot waves washing over islands in the Mississippi River.  Then froze to death in single-digit temperatures and 50 mph winds.

A November witch in 1975 claimed the bulk ore carrier S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald and all of her crew.  But the November witch of 1913 was even worse.  The Great Lakes Storm of 1913 was a blizzard with hurricane-force winds.  Dry cold air moved down from Alberta, Canada, while warm moist warm air from the Gulf of Mexico moved up.  These two systems met over the Great Lakes and started to spin around each other.  Growing to hurricane-force winds.  Which created waves over 30 feet high.  Hammering coastal areas.  While dumping up to 2 feet of snow in its path.  The worst of the storm was on the lakes.  Claiming 12 ships.  And 258 souls.

The Great Blizzard of 1888 was another nor’easter hitting New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in March.  This blizzard produced snowfalls between 2 and 5 feet.  And its 45 mph winds produced snowdrifts in excess of 50 feet.  The storm paralyzed cities.  And trapped people in their houses for up to a week.  Even the firemen.  Causing fires to burn out of control.  Until they burned themselves out.  The snow soon began to melt.  Causing severe flooding.  By the time it was over the storm claimed more than 400 lives.

We warmed up from the Little Ice Age without Centuries of Carbon Emissions

Everyone knows of that terrible winter at Valley Forge (1777–1778).  Where the Continental Army persevered and left Valley Forge a stronger and more disciplined army.  Thanks to Baron Von Steuben.  But the Winter in Morristown in 1780 is largely forgotten to history.  Why?  Because that winter was worse.  And the men were shamefully neglected more.  The Revolutionary War was fought during the Little Ice Age.  A period of global cooling from about 1350 to about 1850.  Making for some fierce winters.  Like in 1780.  When it was so cold that coastal seawater froze.  Including New York Harbor.  People rode in horse drawn sleighs across the ice between Manhattan and New Jersey.  In Morristown, New Jersey, a winter storm hit the army so hard that it blew tents away and buried men in snow.  Heavy snowfalls made it impossible to supply the army.  Even if the impoverished Continental Congress could.  The starvation and exposure to the elements and their abandonment by the people they were fighting for caused something to happen in Morristown that didn’t happen at Valley Forge.  Mutiny.  Lucky for the nation a delivery of food diffused the mutiny.

The Great Snow of 1717 was a nor’easter that blew in on March 1.  Then another one on March 4th.  And yet another one on March 7th.  In all some 3-5 feet of snow fell.  With drifts as deep as 20 feet.  Burying one-story homes past their chimneys.  While people with 2-story homes entered and left their homes via the second floor.  Livestock died from starvation.  Froze to death.  Or were buried alive in the snow.  Even the deer in the area were nearly wiped out.

So, no, the current winter is not the worst winter ever.  And, no, the current brutal winter is not the result of global warming.  Just as mild winters are not the result of global warming.  For we’ve had both going back through time all the way back to the onset of the Industrial Revolution.  And before.  Even before smoke from burning coal filled the air.  And internal combustion engines filled our roads.  We warmed up from the Little Ice Age without centuries of carbon emissions.  Yet even with that warming we’ve still had storms of the century.  Alberta clippers.  Polar vortexes.  And nor’easters.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FT203: “People vacationing in warmer climes know global warming is better than global cooling.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 3rd, 2014

Fundamental Truth

It is very rare for People to Vacation somewhere where they have to wear more Clothes

People love a white Christmas.  Looking out your front window as a gentle snow falls.  Christmas lights and reindeer on the lawn poking out from the fields of snow.  Coming in from the cold and shaking the snow off.  Then warming up with a cup of cocoa in front of the fireplace.  Feeling the warmth radiate out while listening to the pops of the burning wood.  The warm memories of Christmases past.  Then comes New Year’s Day.  And then you just hate that foul white stuff as you shovel it for the umpteenth time.

As you shovel and your back aches and you feel what may have been a hernia you now understand why people retire to someplace warm.  To get away from this.  Before they have a heart attack shoveling it.  Because you’re sick and tired of shoveling snow.  Cleaning the snow off your car.  Fearing for your life when cars ahead of you spinout.  Wondering how many times can you slip and fall before you start breaking something.  But most of all you just hate being cold.  All you can think about is the joy of last summer sitting in the shade with a cold beer.  Doing nothing.  And loving it.

Even young and healthy college kids hate the cold.  Which is why when they go on spring break they head south.  And between the boozing and the sex they spend time lying on the beach doing nothing.  And loving it.  With the ladies practically naked in tiny bikinis sunning themselves.  And the men looking at the practically naked ladies.  For it is very rare for any vacationer (other than those on a ski getaway) to vacation somewhere where they have to wear more clothes.  Because people just don’t like being cold.

The Fall Harvest feeds most People most of the Year

But we complain when it’s too hot, too.  During the dog days of summer.  When it’s the humidity, not the heat, that makes it so insufferable.  Until we step inside our air conditioned home.  Or sit in an air conditioned movie.  While enjoying a cool beverage.  And some delicious popcorn.  Or spend time in the pool.  Or at the beach.  Where the ladies are practically naked.  Or going out to eat.  Enjoying cool adult beverages and a nice meal at an outdoor cafe while wearing shorts.  Or dining inside an air conditioned restaurant.

You may sweat and stink when you get home.  But you won’t be tracking snow and salt into the house.  Soaking the rugs and carpets.  Or leaving puddles of water on the tiled floor.  No.  During the summer there’s no mess.  There are no wet socks in your shoes.  No frost bite.  No hypothermia. If you car breaks down in the summer you don’t have to worry about freezing to death before someone rescues you.  Whereas if you slip off the road and down the embankment on an expressway during a blizzard frostbite and hypothermia are real possibilities.  As is freezing to death.  Because being cold is dangerous.  And being cold when you’re stranded a long way from home or help can be lethal.

Another bad thing about cold is that things don’t grow in the cold.  Which is why farming is seasonal.  A problem throughout history.  As people’s need to eat is not seasonal.  So not only did farmers have to grow food to eat during the summer they had to grow enough during the summer to feed everyone throughout the winter.  With the fall harvest feeding most people most of the year.  Making a long growing season essential for survival.  Because if you ran out of food before the next harvest you went hungry.  Or died.

If we have another Little Ice Age we may suffer Recurring Famines once More

There were recurring famines during the Little Ice Age.  Which ran from approximately 1350 to about 1850.  The climate cooled enough to shorten the growing season.  Which were cooler and wetter than they are today.  And because of that they didn’t grow enough food to feed everyone.  With the occasional famine wiping out about 10% or more of a country’s population.  As masses of people starved to death because of global cooling during the Little Ice Age.

The United States suffered some droughts the past few growing seasons.  And food prices went up because of these droughts.  But there were no famines in the United States.  Or in the countries the United States exports food to.  No, today the only countries having recurring famines are hard-line communist or other such closed and oppressive states.  Such as North Korea.  Al Gore has been warning us about the perils of global warming since the Nineties.  We did nothing.  And a few decades later there are still no famines.  Because even in regions suffering from the worst drought farmers can still irrigate their land.  And grow food.  Food may be more costly but there will be food.  But no famine.

People who worry about global warming fret about these droughts.  And the lack of fresh water.  But about 70% of the earth is nothing but ocean.  And we can desalinize seawater.  It’ll make water more costly.  But there will always be water.  Even during the worst of droughts.  So even if global warming does its worst to us we will be all right.  No.  The real fear is global cooling.  Because global cooling will shorten our growing seasons.  Which will reduce our food supply.  And if you ever looked at an aerial view of our vast farmland you will understand the problem that is.  It’s just too big to bring indoors.  If we have another Little Ice Age we may suffer recurring famines once more.  And not just in North Korea.  But throughout the world.  Those people vacationing in warmer climes know it.  Global warming is better than global cooling.  For our personal comfort and safety.  And our food supply.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Famine, Crop Yields, Food Surpluses, Irrigation, Plow, Crop Rotation, Cultivars, Fertilizers, Pesticides, Tractor, Railroad and Ships

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 5th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published May 23rd, 2012)

Because of Advances in Farming Fewer People could Grow more Food

Cold weather kills people.  A lot of people throughout history have died during winters as they exhausted their food supplies.  That’s why preparing for the winter was serious business.  You had to store enough food to carry you through the winter.  And if the fall harvests were poor it spelled big trouble.  And famine.  It’s hard to imagine what this was like.  A long winter ahead of you with an insufficient food supply.  It was scary.  For it meant some people would die before the spring came.  Hard to fathom this in a day where you can actually drive your car through a blizzard to your favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant for a delicious hot meal to take off the chill of the coldest winter day.  It wasn’t always like this.

And it wasn’t only long winters that killed people.  Sometimes the long summers did.  Where there were insufficient rains.  And drought.  That destroyed crops and drastically reduced fall harvests.  You don’t hear much about famine these days in the U.S, Canada, Britain, France, Germany or other advanced nations.  But underdeveloped and impoverished nations suffer famine to this day.  Why?  Two primary reasons.  Improved crop yields.  And improved transportation.  The advanced nations have them.  The impoverished nations don’t.

Improved crop yields create food surpluses.  Key to civilization itself.  Food surpluses allowed a middle class to arise because everyone did not have to grow food.  Because of advances in farming fewer people could grow more food. Those who didn’t have to grow food could think about other things.  Including ways to further improve crop yields.  By creating better tools.  Better techniques.  Better food storage.  And when you do all of these things you not only have enough food for yourself and for your surplus you have enough to export.  To those who do not have enough food.  Even allowing people to live in areas that cannot produce food.  For they can trade for food.  Thanks to these surpluses available for export.

Food is so Plentiful and Inexpensive Today that the Problem in America is not Famine but Obesity

Early farms relied on the fertile soil of river banks.  The spring flooding of the rivers raised river levels.  When the water retreated it left behind fertile soil.  Eventually we learned how to take control of our water resources.  And used it to make fertile land away from river banks.  Using irrigation.  Bringing the water to the land.  Probably the next great development was the plow.  Which let us take control of the land.  We tilled the soil to aerate it.  To control weeds.  To mix in organic material.  Such as manure.  To prepare it for planting.  And we used irrigation to bring those crops to harvest.

We then developed crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil.  And to control pests.  Certain pests attack certain crops.  By rotating crops pest infestation couldn’t spread and return year after year.  Families of crops need certain nutrients.  Rotation prevents the depletion of any single nutrient.  Then we took control of the plants we grew.  By creating new plants.  Cultivars.  Using selective breeding to increase grain size, the number of grains per plant, improve disease resistance, etc.

Then we turned to chemistry.  Creating fertilizers.  And pesticides.  These two advancements alone exploded crop yields.  Never before did so few grow so much with so little.  We maximized the agricultural potential of land year after year.  And then we mechanized the farm.  Introducing the tractor.  Allowing the same number of farmers to cultivate more land.  So not only did their existing lands yield more they added more high-yield lands to explode yields.  Creating huge food surpluses available for export.  And slashing the price of food across the board.  From the bread we make from wheat.  To corn-fed beef.  Food is so plentiful and inexpensive today that the problem in America is not famine but obesity.  Obesity is bad but it takes a lot longer to die from obesity than it does from famine.  And we enjoy all of those delicious things that are making us so fat.  While there’s nothing to enjoy when starving to death.

We were able to Raise Crop Yields to such High Levels we have Food Available for Everyone in this World

As crop yields increased more food entered the market.  Good for people.  But bad for farmers.  Because they depressed crop prices.  Large farms that cultivated more land could still make a profit.  But the small farmer who didn’t cultivate more land just saw his revenue fall.  Until his revenue fell below his costs.  Leaving him unable to service the debt he incurred to mechanize his farm.  Causing bankruptcy.  Which happened a lot in the Thirties.  Causing all those bank runs during the Great Depression.

To fight this free fall in crop prices countries enacted tariffs and import restrictions.  The British Corn Laws kept out the less expensive foreign food so the landowning aristocracy could maximize their profits.  And when the British repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade everything the landowning aristocracy feared happen.  Food became inexpensive and plentiful.  In large part because of the United States.  Who was maximizing their crop yields.  And then using the railroad to ship their surpluses to the great rivers.  The Ohio.  The Missouri.  The Mississippi.  Where they loaded these surpluses onto steamships.  Where it traveled down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.  Where they transferred it to ocean-going sail ships and steamers.  Bound for Europe.  And Britain.  Where this food fed hungry people.  And cut into the profits of the wealthy landowners.

But it wasn’t only in the United States.  Soon other great agricultural countries produced food surpluses that they shipped all over the world.  Winters still happen.  Droughts still happen.  But they don’t happen everywhere at the same time.  And because we were able to raise crop yields to such high levels we have food available for everyone in the world.  And truck, rail and ships can move that food anywhere it is needed.  Which is why we can drive to our favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant during a blizzard on the coldest day of winter and enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice, coffee, eggs, hash browns and sausage.  No matter where you live.  As long as you live in a country that supports free trade.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Famine, Crop Yields, Food Surpluses, Irrigation, Plow, Crop Rotation, Cultivars, Fertilizers, Pesticides, Tractor, Railroad and Ships

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 23rd, 2012

Technology 101

Because of Advances in Farming Fewer People could Grow more Food

Cold weather kills people.  A lot of people throughout history have died during winters as they exhausted their food supplies.  That’s why preparing for the winter was serious business.  You had to store enough food to carry you through the winter.  And if the fall harvests were poor it spelled big trouble.  And famine.  It’s hard to imagine what this was like.  A long winter ahead of you with an insufficient food supply.  It was scary.  For it meant some people would die before the spring came.  Hard to fathom this in a day where you can actually drive your car through a blizzard to your favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant for a delicious hot meal to take off the chill of the coldest winter day.  It wasn’t always like this.

And it wasn’t only long winters that killed people.  Sometimes the long summers did.  Where there were insufficient rains.  And drought.  That destroyed crops and drastically reduced fall harvests.  You don’t hear much about famine these days in the U.S, Canada, Britain, France, Germany or other advanced nations.  But underdeveloped and impoverished nations suffer famine to this day.  Why?  Two primary reasons.  Improved crop yields.  And improved transportation.  The advanced nations have them.  The impoverished nations don’t.

Improved crop yields create food surpluses.  Key to civilization itself.  Food surpluses allowed a middle class to arise because everyone did not have to grow food.  Because of advances in farming fewer people could grow more food. Those who didn’t have to grow food could think about other things.  Including ways to further improve crop yields.  By creating better tools.  Better techniques.  Better food storage.  And when you do all of these things you not only have enough food for yourself and for your surplus you have enough to export.  To those who do not have enough food.  Even allowing people to live in areas that cannot produce food.  For they can trade for food.  Thanks to these surpluses available for export.

Food is so Plentiful and Inexpensive Today that the Problem in America is not Famine but Obesity

Early farms relied on the fertile soil of river banks.  The spring flooding of the rivers raised river levels.  When the water retreated it left behind fertile soil.  Eventually we learned how to take control of our water resources.  And used it to make fertile land away from river banks.  Using irrigation.  Bringing the water to the land.  Probably the next great development was the plow.  Which let us take control of the land.  We tilled the soil to aerate it.  To control weeds.  To mix in organic material.  Such as manure.  To prepare it for planting.  And we used irrigation to bring those crops to harvest. 

We then developed crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil.  And to control pests.  Certain pests attack certain crops.  By rotating crops pest infestation couldn’t spread and return year after year.  Families of crops need certain nutrients.  Rotation prevents the depletion of any single nutrient.  Then we took control of the plants we grew.  By creating new plants.  Cultivars.  Using selective breeding to increase grain size, the number of grains per plant, improve disease resistance, etc. 

Then we turned to chemistry.  Creating fertilizers.  And pesticides.  These two advancements alone exploded crop yields.  Never before did so few grow so much with so little.  We maximized the agricultural potential of land year after year.  And then we mechanized the farm.  Introducing the tractor.  Allowing the same number of farmers to cultivate more land.  So not only did their existing lands yield more they added more high-yield lands to explode yields.  Creating huge food surpluses available for export.  And slashing the price of food across the board.  From the bread we make from wheat.  To corn-fed beef.  Food is so plentiful and inexpensive today that the problem in America is not famine but obesity.  Obesity is bad but it takes a lot longer to die from obesity than it does from famine.  And we enjoy all of those delicious things that are making us so fat.  While there’s nothing to enjoy when starving to death. 

We were able to Raise Crop Yields to such High Levels we have Food Available for Everyone in this World

As crop yields increased more food entered the market.  Good for people.  But bad for farmers.  Because they depressed crop prices.  Large farms that cultivated more land could still make a profit.  But the small farmer who didn’t cultivate more land just saw his revenue fall.  Until his revenue fell below his costs.  Leaving him unable to service the debt he incurred to mechanize his farm.  Causing bankruptcy.  Which happened a lot in the Thirties.  Causing all those bank runs during the Great Depression.

To fight this free fall in crop prices countries enacted tariffs and import restrictions.  The British Corn Laws kept out the less expensive foreign food so the landowning aristocracy could maximize their profits.  And when the British repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade everything the landowning aristocracy feared happen.  Food became inexpensive and plentiful.  In large part because of the United States.  Who was maximizing their crop yields.  And then using the railroad to ship their surpluses to the great rivers.  The Ohio.  The Missouri.  The Mississippi.  Where they loaded these surpluses onto steamships.  Where it traveled down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.  Where they transferred it to ocean-going sail ships and steamers.  Bound for Europe.  And Britain.  Where this food fed hungry people.  And cut into the profits of the wealthy landowners.

But it wasn’t only in the United States.  Soon other great agricultural countries produced food surpluses that they shipped all over the world.  Winters still happen.  Droughts still happen.  But they don’t happen everywhere at the same time.  And because we were able to raise crop yields to such high levels we have food available for everyone in the world.  And truck, rail and ships can move that food anywhere it is needed.  Which is why we can drive to our favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant during a blizzard on the coldest day of winter and enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice, coffee, eggs, hash browns and sausage.  No matter where you live.  As long as you live in a country that supports free trade.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Continental Army, Continental Congress, Inflation, Wage & Price Controls, Paper Money, Specie, IOUs, Impressment and Repudiation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 3rd, 2012

Politics 101

The Articles of Confederation made the United States of America a Confederacy of Sovereign States that had Little Power to Raise Revenue

By the time the Continental Army left Valley Forge they could hold their own against the British Army.  The British couldn’t push them around any longer.  They became so good that they fought the war to a standstill.  They came close to some major wins on the field of battle.  But close didn’t diminish the staying power of the British Army.  And they stayed.  On the battlefield.  And in their cities.  Dragging the conflict out for a total of 8 years.  And no matter what era of warfare you use to measure war-years 8 years of war is very costly.  Someone has to pay for it.  And, ultimately, it’s the people.  Either through taxation.  Or the loss of wealth through inflation.  Or simply the loss of wealth through the losing of your stuff.  And going without.  Because the army fighting for your liberty had no choice but to take what was yours.

This made the Revolutionary War unlike other wars.  For this war was about liberty.  Property rights.  The tyranny of a distant power.  And unjust taxation.  In other words this war was against all the things that made fighting a war possible.  You can’t really draft men to fight in a country that stands for liberty.  You just can’t confiscate the things you need to wage war from your people in a country built upon the principle of property rights.  You can’t declare martial law and suspend the rule of law on people you deem not to be patriotic enough in supporting the cause when you’re fighting the tyranny of a distant power that does.  (Even the Americans gave British soldiers a fair trial for the Boston Massacre).  And taxes?  The people that dumped tea into Boston Harbor over the principle of no taxation for revenue purposes without representation in Parliament was not going to be able to tax their people on a federal level.  Which proved a big obstacle in paying for the war to win their liberty.

The Articles of Confederation made the United States of America a confederacy of sovereign states.  And those sovereign states held the real power.  Virginia.  Massachusetts.  Pennsylvania.  New York.  And the other 9 sovereign states.  Not the United States of America.  That confederation that was waging war against the mightiest power in the world.  Which made raising funds difficult.  For without the power to levy taxes all they could do was ask.  Just like George Washington did all of the time.  Especially during that horrible winter at Valley Forge when his army was naked and starving.  He asked the Continental Congress for provisions.  And the Continental Congress asked the several states for their apportioned funds raised by their state legislatures.  Per the Articles of Confederation.  If they didn’t pay these funds timely or in full (or at all) they could ask again.  And that’s all they could do.  Which is why George Washington’s army suffered through that horrible winter.  Because the funds weren’t there to buy Washington the provisions his army needed.

Thanks to Inflation the Continental Army often had No Choice but to Take what they Needed from the People they were Fighting For 

The Americans never had enough money.  Which makes it amazing that they held off losing for 8 years.  Eight very costly years.  And won.  Especially considering how bad the economy was during the war.  Unable to tax or get sufficient loans from Europe they had little choice but to print money.  Which caused a whole lot of trouble.  For the more money they printed and put into circulation the more the value of their currency fell.  And soon a Continental was “not worth a Continental.”  And when the currency lost its value it took more of it to buy things.  Which led to price inflation.  The price of material and parts grew so high that it increased the cost of American manufactured muskets over the cost of imported French muskets.  Which they had to bring in through a British blockade.  Giving what should have been a cost advantage to the Americans.  Had it not been for the inflation.

To try and keep prices under control they implemented wage and price controls.  Which didn’t work.  The continued devaluation of the currency forced sellers to raise their prices to cover their rising costs.  Forcing them to sell below their costs would just put them out of business.  Voluntarily.  Or involuntarily.  Creating shortages in the market place.  Some offered lower prices for specie (gold and silver coins).  You can’t print hard money (specie).  So it held its value.  Unlike the paper money.  So a little of specie went a long way compared to paper money.  Of course, this didn’t help their wage and price controls.  It just made the paper more worthless.  And raised prices further.

There was yet another ugly side to this sordid business.  High prices and shortages created opportunity to profit handsomely.  There was speculation and market manipulation (hoarding, cornering the market, etc.) to take advantage of those highly priced items that were in scare supply.  Further raising prices for the people.  And compounding the problems of provisioning the army.  Which infuriated the low-paid soldiers.  Who the Continental Congress paid in that worthless paper money.  Angry mobs arose to address this profiteering.  As well as new laws and enforcement.  But they helped little.  The army often had no choice but to take what they needed from the people they were fighting for.  Either outright.  Or in exchange for IOUs.   Promises that the Continental Congress of the United States of America would make good on.  Just as soon as the several states paid their apportioned funds raised by their state legislatures. 

If you Violate the Ideals you’re Fighting for while Fighting for those Ideals it can Complicate the Peace

Fighting for an ideal makes war complicated.  If you’re just a tyrannical dictator looking to rape and pillage it makes things easier.  You don’t have to worry about liberty.  Property rights.  Debt.  Or taxes.  In the short term.  Or the long term.  Which made the American Revolutionary War a very difficult war to fight.  Because at the heart of the United States of America were those ideals.  To win this war to grant liberty to the people required taking their liberty away.  A little.  To win this war to guarantee property rights you had to violate property rights.  A little.  To win this war against tyranny you had to use excessive force against your people.  A little.  To win this war to establish taxation only with representation caused the destruction or personal wealth.  A lot.  Through impressment (taking things from the people).  Borrowing from foreign countries.  Or through inflation.

When the French joined the Americans in 1778 inflation was already out of control.  They printed twice as many Continentals in 1778 as they did in the last three years combined.  And there was serious discussion about doing the unthinkable.  Repudiation.  To simply escape the inflation by escaping the currency.  To retire the bills from circulation.  At a fraction of their value.  And that’s what they did in 1780.  Issuing new currency based on specie for the old currency at a 40 to one ratio.  The states were to tax their people to raise the funds for the new currency.  So the people took a huge short-term loss.  For a stable long-term future.  Based on specie.  That they couldn’t inflate.  This hard money would come from in large part the Spanish and the French.  The Spanish in Cuba buying American flour with specie.  And French aid.  As well as their army and navy spending their hard money in the American economy.

Wars are costly.  And they are rarely nice.  Trying to make them nice can make them last longer.  Which will make them more costly.  Of course, if you violate the ideals you’re fighting for while fighting for those ideals it can complicate the peace.  Luckily, for the Americans, they won their peace.  Their allies, the French, were not so lucky in their revolution.  The French Revolution.  Fought less than a decade after the American Revolution came to a close.  And unlike the Americans the French peace that followed was a bloody one.  That would eventually replace the king they executed with an emperor.  Napoleon Bonaparte.  Who the Americans helped bring to power in part due to the crushing debt King Louis XVI incurred supporting the Americans in their revolution.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Swiss install a Solar-Powered Ski Lift in Tenna to use During the Short Gray Days of Winter

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 5th, 2012

Week in Review

A tiny little town in Switzerland, Tenna, has a small ski resort with one T-bar ski lift.  The kind where they pull you uphill while you stand on your skis.  With the lift between your legs and the ‘T’ behind your upper thighs where they join the buttocks.  It’s not the most comfortable way to the top.  But it sure beats cross-country skiing uphill to alpine-ski downhill.  Or the dreaded tow rope.  Where you pull your weight uphill by holding on to the rope as it pulls you uphill.

This ski lift was wearing out.  And it was the only one in the valley.  But what is winter in a Swiss valley without skiing?  Long, cold and gray.  So the people of Terra saved that T-bar lift.  To make those short gray days more bearable (see Tiny Swiss town builds the world’s first solar-powered ski lift by Adventure Journal posted 2/2/2012 on GrindTV).

The Tenna lift generates 90,000 kilowatt hours a year, or three times the juice needed to run the lift, and the extra power goes back into the grid, which makes money for the town, which can pay residents back…

At $1.5 million, the project wasn’t cheap, but considering the cost of a new or updated lift anyway, plus the open skies above most ski lift pathways, it’s a no-brainer to use that area to offset the energy use. Other resorts might not gain 300 percent efficiency as in Tenna…

If you follow the link you’ll see a sunny picture of the lift.  With a lot of clouds in the sky.  On a sunny day.  So it’s just not night time that’s a problem with solar power.  It’s the clouds, too.  That’s why solar power has such a low capacity factor.  The labeled output for those solar panels may be 90,000 kilowatt hours a year.  But after you apply a 25% capacity factor to account for when the sun doesn’t shine, that’s only 22,500 kilowatt hours a year.  Which means there’s a good chance that there will be times when skiers won’t reach the top of the mountain.  Luckily for them, though, it’s a T-bar lift.  Where their feet will always be touching the ground on the ride up.  So they can always ski back to their car when the lift stops working.  And start up their good old reliable internal combustion engine to drive back home.

Seems like a lot of money to spend for a part-time ski lift.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,