Archaeologists find canal remnants in Tucson

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Archaeologists preparing for the expansion of a Tucson wastewater treatment facility have discovered the remains of the earliest known irrigation system in the Southwest, a farming community that dates to at least 1200 B.C.

The site, called Las Capas, or The Layers, sits at the confluence of the Canada del Oro, Rillito Creek and Santa Cruz River. The name derives from the repeated layers of silt that buried the site until nothing was visible from the surface.

Researchers already knew that the site had been inhabited during what is known as the San Pedro phase of the Early Agriculture Period in the Southwest. Earlier work at the plant had revealed traces of pit houses, fire pits and ditches. What is believed to be the main dwelling area is now buried under adjacent Interstate 10.

Vint led a team of 30 archaeologists who explored the site in compliance with state laws before a planned expansion of the Ina Road facility. “We put in a mile and a half of backhoe trenches and did archaeology in all those trenches,” he said in a telephone interview. “That tells us this is a very expansive site.”

They identified two main canals bringing water from the Santa Cruz River and feeding it into eight distribution canals, all now buried 3 to 7 feet below the surface. The system could have irrigated from 60 to 100 acres, he estimated. The primary crops were maize, which was introduced into the area before 2100 B.C., and a weed known as amaranth, which can be eaten raw or cooked.

Vint estimated that the village at the site supported 80 to 150 people. Their cultural identity is unknown, although they probably originated in Mexico and moved north and south across what is now the U.S. border. Pottery was not yet being produced in the region, but Vint’s team found stone tools, cutting tools, grinding stones, antler tools for making stone tools, and awls for basketry.

How to Beat Guerillas

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

The biggest asset most guerilla movements have, James Dunnigan notes, is the reluctance of professional soldiers to pay attention to the well-known rules for beating guerillas:

  • Travel Light.
  • Keep to the Bush and Boondocks.
  • Know Your Enemy.
  • Offer Generous Terms.
  • Offer a Viable Alternative Political Solution.
  • Protect the People.
  • Negotiate.

When all else fails, there are still… other options:

A century ago, Britain invented concentration camps to deprive Boer guerillas of support from friendly farmers. Most anti-guerilla operations sill make use of the ancient practice of taking (and sometimes killing) hostages. The hostages are usually relatives of the guerillas, especially those who are known to be particularly close to their families (some guerilla leaders could care less what you do with their kinfolk, so you have to choose your hostages carefully.) Torture is also considered a useful tool in some cases, although the real solution here is to simply get more skillful interrogators. Some of these tactics, like taking hostages, is frowned upon in most Western nations, but is still used widely in places like South Asia and the Middle East. In Pakistan, the chief suspect in the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, was convinced to surrender after some of his kin were taken hostage by the Pakistani government. If you are fighting a movement that is threatening to use nuclear or chemical weapons against you, unpalatable measures become less so.

The Best Way to Use Aces

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

In the Pacific theater of World War II, the Japanese and the Americans disagreed on the best way to use aces:

Attrition does not just kill men. It destroys skills. Military organizations can regenerate losses in terms of manpower but they have far greater difficulty in regenerating skill.

Managing and using skills poses a series of tradeoffs that have long-term effects. In World War II, the Japanese believed the best way to use aces was to kill American pilots. Americans believed the best way to use aces was to train more American pilots. The result was the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.

Argentina: The superpower that never was

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

In False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World, Alan Beattie describes Argentina as the superpower that never was:

A short century ago the US and Argentina were rivals. Both were riding the first wave of globalisation at the turn of the 20th century. Both were young, dynamic nations with fertile farmlands and confident exporters. Both brought the beef of the New World to the tables of their European colonial forebears. Before the Great Depression of the 1930s, Argentina was among the 10 richest economies in the world. The millions of emigrant ­Italians and Irish fleeing poverty at the end of the 19th century were torn between the two: Buenos Aires or New York? The pampas or the prairie?

A hundred years later there was no choice at all. One had gone on to be among the most successful economies ever. The other was a broken husk.

There was no individual event at which Argentina’s path was set on a permanent divergence from that of the United States of America. But there was a series of mistakes and missteps that fit a general pattern. The countries were dealt quite similar hands but played them very differently. The similarities between the two in the second half of the 19th century, and in fact up to 1939, were neither fictional nor superficial. The “lords of the pampas” — young Argentines strutting the salons of Europe between the wars — pop up in accounts of the time as an equally prominent type as the swaggering Americans playing at European decadence in Berlin and Paris.

For a long while the two countries were on parallel paths. The states that later became the US declared independence in 1776 and became a new nation in 1789. The vice-royalty of Argentina, part of the Spanish empire, was overthrown in 1810 by rebels inspired by the American revolution; in 1816, Argentina became an independent republic.

Both faced an internal struggle between those that wanted a centralised nation and those that wanted power reserved for the individual states or provinces. In the US, the separate colonies had existed long before the idea of uniting them and it was not guaranteed that a republic would succeed. The negotiations that led to the writing of the constitution were tortuous and often bad-tempered, and the different denominations, traditions and constitutions of the previous colonies all too evident. Only five of the 13 founding colonies, later states, even bothered turning up to the first drafting meeting, in 1786. ­Battles had to be fought to make flesh the national motto “E pluribus unum” (“out of many, one”). That motto appears today on US coins, but at the time of independence in 1789 dozens of different currencies were circulating. A national bank and a single “national debt” — making the federal government responsible for the debts of the states — were not created without fierce opposition.

In Argentina, it took decades of struggle before a constitution was adopted in 1853 with a system of sharing tax revenue between the centre and the provinces. But continual tensions were not settled until the suppression of an armed uprising in the province of Buenos Aires in 1880, handing more power to the centre. Domingo Sarmiento, who had tried to forge Argentine national unity while president between 1868 and 1874, said he would settle for an Argentina whose inhabitants were not killing each other.

On the face of it the economies of the two countries also looked similar: agrarian nations pushing settlement westwards into a wilderness of temperate grasslands. In both nations, the frontier rancher — the gaucho and the cowboy — was elevated into a national symbol of courage and ­independence. But there were big disparities in the way this happened. America chose a path that parcelled out new land to individuals and families; Argentina delivered it into the hands of a few rich landowners.

From the founding of the colonies, America was fortunate to have imported many of the farming practices of northern Europe. The farmers of “New England” came largely from Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, bringing with them the tradition of skilled farmers on small homesteads. Argentina, by contrast, had a history of a few rich landowners on great estates left by the Spanish and the aristocratic elitism that came with it. It also had a labour shortage. Mass immigration to Argentina came later in the 19th century, but the country had to push forward its frontier with a skeleton staff.

Both countries opened up the west, the US to the Pacific and the Argentines to the Andes, but not in the same way. America favoured squatters: Argentina backed landlords. Short of cash, Buenos Aires found the best way to encourage settlers was to sell in advance large plots in areas yet to be seized from the native Americans. But once the battles were won the victors were exhausted, good farm labourers in short supply and the distances from the eastern seaboard to the frontier vast. Most of the new landowners simply encircled wide tracts of grassland with barbed-wire fences and turned them over to pasture.

Thus was privilege reinforced.

Argetina continued down that path, of privilege reinforced, and it has never recovered.

Homemade Firearms

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

India has a growing problem, James Dunnigan says, with homemade firearms, or kattas:

These weapons can be made from many common forms of steel pipe, and improvised firing mechanisms (that hit the bit of sensitive explosive at the center of the rear of the cartridge, which ignites the propellant in the cartridge and fires the bullet or shotgun pellets out the smooth bore barrel).

The easiest weapon to make is basically a single shot pistol firing a .410 (10.4mm) or 20 gauge (15.6mm) shotgun shell. Accurate enough for something within 5–10 feet. Not much good for hunting. These cost $20–$50 each in most parts of the world. The next step up, which requires an experienced metal worker and some machineshop tools, is full size (or sawed off) shotgun (single or double barrel), that sells for $80–$300. These can be used for hunting. These craftsmen can also make 9mm pistols (single shot or revolvers) for $50–$600. These weapons, because they are firing a more powerful cartridge, are more dangerous to use, because they are prone to exploding, rather than firing, when the trigger is pulled.

Ironically, people out in the countryside, where there are still dangerous animals that a gun can protect a village from, have fewer firearms. That’s because there’s more money, more to steal, and more demand for weapons in the cities.

Higher-quality homemade firearms are available in other parts of the world — some not so far away:

In some parts of the world, like the metal working center of Akwa, in Nigeria, and the Pushtun tribal territories of Pakistan and Afghanistan, there are craftsmen who can reproduce just about any modern firearm. The Akwa and Pushtun tribesmen have been making metal weapons for over a thousand years, and quickly applied their skills to firearms when they first encountered Europeans using them.

The firearm is just part of the “weapon system” though:

With all these homemade weapons, the key ingredient is ammunition. The cartridges are more difficult to manufacture than the guns, since it involves chemistry, as well as metal working and fabrication. But ammo is easier to smuggle, and once you have that, there are metal working craftsmen in most parts of the world who can figure out how to build a weapon that will fire the bullets.

How Silicon Chips Are Made

Friday, May 29th, 2009

If you want to make a computer, you need silicon chips, but how are silicon chips made? Even getting the “raw” material — pure silicon — is remarkably complicated:

Sand is composed of silica (also known as silicon dioxide), and is the starting point for making a processor. Sand used in the building industry is often yellow, orange or red due to impurities, but the type chosen in the manufacture of silicon is a purer form known as silica sand, which is usually recovered by quarrying. To extract the element silicon from the silica, it must be reduced (in other words, have the oxygen removed from it). This is accomplished by heating a mixture of silica and carbon in an electric arc furnace to a temperature in excess of 2,000°C. The carbon reacts with the oxygen in the molten silica to produce carbon dioxide (a by-product) and silicon, which settles in the bottom of the furnace. The remaining silicon is then treated with oxygen to reduce any calcium and aluminium impurities. The end result of this process is a substance referred to as metallurgical-grade silicon, which is up to 99 per cent pure.

This is not nearly pure enough for semiconductor manufacture, however, so the next job is to refine the metallurgical-grade silicon further. The silicon is ground to a fine powder and reacted with gaseous hydrogen chloride in a fluidised bed reactor at 300°C to give a liquid compound of silicon called trichlorosilane. Impurities such as iron, aluminium, boron and phosphorous also react to give their chlorides, which are then removed by fractional distillation. The purified trichlorosilane is vaporised and reacted with hydrogen gas at 1,100°C so that the elemental silicon is retrieved.

During the reaction, silicon is deposited on the surface of an electrically heated ultra-pure silicon rod to produce a silicon ingot. The end result is referred to as electronic-grade silicon, and has a purity of 99.999999 per cent.

But that’s not good enough:

Although pure to a very high degree, raw electronic-grade silicon has a polycrystalline structure. In other words, it’s made up of lots of small silicon crystals, with defects called grain boundaries between them. Because these anomalies affect local electronic behaviour, polycrystalline silicon is unsuitable for semiconductor manufacturing. To turn it into a usable material, the silicon must be turned into single crystals that have a regular atomic structure. This transformation is achieved through the Czochralski Process.

Electronic-grade silicon is melted in a rotating quartz crucible and held at just above its melting point of 1,414°C. A tiny crystal of silicon is then dipped into the molten silicon and slowly withdrawn while being continuously rotated in the opposite direction to the rotation of the crucible. The crystal acts as a seed, causing silicon from the crucible to crystallise around it. This builds up a rod — called a boule *mdash; that comprises a single silicon crystal. The diameter of the boule depends on the temperature in the crucible, the rate at which the crystal is ‘pulled’ (which is measured in millimetres per hour) and the speed of rotation. A typical boule measures 300mm in diameter.

From there it gets really complicated. Let’s hope we never have to rebuild civilization from scratch.

A story written for boys that no boy will ever read again

Friday, May 29th, 2009

David Frum describes Kipling’s Kim as a story written for boys that probably no boy will ever read again:

The novel’s political and religious references are just too obscure — and no school will ever risk offending against Political Correctness by placing Kim on the curriculum to elucidate those obscurities.

The Purpose of Empires

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Empires have been the most historically stable form of government, Mike of Net Wars notes. The purpose of empires, he explains, is to create and secure an economic zone:

Empires were not about the acquisition of land, much less looting. It just extended a unified political and legal system over new territory and provided the means to defend it against criminal and foreign predatation. Societies need an economy of scale and specialization needed to create a complex economy.

Most Empires were centered on agricultural production and gathering natural resources, so they needed to acquire landmass.

The real purpose is to facilitate trade between economic regions. That provides long-term growth.

Balkanization limits economies of scale. It is easier to trade within 1 political-economic zone than to cross over and trade between 100 political-economic zones. Transaction costs are high between regions because each area has a different government, legal system, and language. Then there are coordination problems. Small kingdoms create protectionist policies and are also much more likely to wage war against other small kingdoms. Trade is more frequently interrupted.

Empires created a free trade zone while allowing most regions to retain some form of local autonomy. Empires prevented small kingdoms from raising tariffs or prohibit trade.

Trade routes were more extensive in empires than outside empires. The trade made imperial subjects wealthier which reinforced the empire’s position and ability to protect trade. Empires pooled capital and taxation to build large public works and create armies to protect trade routes. This led to more advancements in transportation and communication systems – like highways, larger naval and merchant fleets – than small kingdoms could have created

The Silk Road was a massive trade route passing through the empires of China, India, Persia, and Rome. Within each empire, the imperial armies guarded trade routes to defend them from bandits, raiders, and barbarian invasions.

When the armies failed and the barbarians penetrated the frontiers, civilizations collapsed. Each economic sector would be isolated, specialization and mass production would end, and regions reverted back to primitive self-sufficient autarky and poverty.

Empires were abandoned in the 20th century and replaced with free trade networks and organizations like the WTO, but diffusion of responsibility meant most states were free riders, so the US hegemony has enforced the global economic trade regime, spending 4% of its GDP to protect hundreds of trillion of dollars in the world economy.

Why trains have steel wheels

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Ever wonder why trains have steel wheels instead of rubber tires?

It’s to reduce rolling friction. When your car is driving on the freeway, something like 25 percent of the engine’s power is being used to push the tires down the road. Tires bend and deform a lot as they roll, which uses a lot of energy.

The amount of energy used by the tires is proportional to the weight that is on them. Since a car is relatively light, this amount of energy is acceptable (you can buy low rolling-resistance tires for your car if you want to save a little gas).

Since a train weighs thousands of times more than a car, the rolling resistance is a huge factor in determining how much force it takes to pull the train. The steel wheels on the train ride on a tiny contact patch — the contact area between each wheel and the track is about the size of a dime.

The downside of using steel wheels is that they don’t have much traction — which is why trains literally spray sand on the tracks just in front of the steel wheels.

Floating On The Winds Of Indifference

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Unmanned helicopters have found themselves floating on the winds of indifference:

For the last decade, the U.S. Department of Defense has been developing helicopter UAVs, but so far, there has been little enthusiasm to buy a lot of them. The basic problem is that the ability hover, while useful, is not as important as being able to stay over an area for hours and hours, passing on video of what is going on down there. Fixed wing UAVs can do that more cheaply and reliably than can helicopter UAVs.

Naval mines are a formidable weapon

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Naval mines are a formidable weapon, the historical record shows, but they get no respect:

Modern naval mines were widely used for the first time a century ago, during the Russo-Japanese war (1904- 1905). These were contact mine, floating in shallow water and kept in place with an anchor and chain. When the tide was right, they would be just below the surface, ready to explode whenever struck by a ship. Some 2,000 of these mines were used to destroy sixteen ships during that first wartime use.

During World War I (1914-18), many modern mine tactics were developed. Thousands of mines were laid to provide defensive barriers against enemy movement in the North Sea. Mines were used offensively by secretly placing them across known enemy sea routes. More than 1,000 merchant and war ships were lost because of the 230,000 mines used. During World War II, a total of 2,665 ships were lost or damaged to 100,000 offensive mines. That’s one ship for every 37 mines. Some 208,000 mines were used defensively to inhibit enemy movement and tie up his resources.

Naval mines achieved several striking successes during World War II. In the Pacific, naval mines proved more destructive to the Japanese war effort than the atom bombs. During a 10 week period between April and August 1945, 12,000 mines were delivered by American bombers. These destroyed 1,250,000 tons of Japanese shipping (670 ships hit, 431 destroyed). That’s 18 mines for each ship hit. The Americans had air superiority, so losses during these 1,500 missions amounted to only 15 planes, most of them to accidents. Had these missions been flown against opposition, losses would have been between 30 and 60 aircraft, plus similar losses to their fighter escorts.

A conventional submarine campaign was also waged against Japanese shipping. Comparisons to the mine campaign are interesting. A hundred submarines were involved in a campaign that ran for 45 months from December, 1941 to August, 1945. Some 4.8 million tons of enemy shipping was sunk. For every US submarine sailor lost using submarine launched torpedoes, 560 tons of enemy ships were sunk. During the mine campaign, 3,500 tons were sunk for each US fatality. On a cost basis, the difference was equally stark. Counting the cost of lost mine laying aircraft (B- 29′s at $500,000 each) or torpedo armed submarine ($5 million each), we find that each ton of sunk shipping cost six dollars when using mines and fifty-five dollars when using submarines. These data was classified as secret until the 1970s. It indicates that mines might have been more effective than torpedoes even if the mines were delivered by submarine.

The Germans waged a minelaying campaign off the east coast of the United States between 1942 and 1944. Only 317 mines were used, which sank or damaged 11 ships. This was a ratio of 29 mines used for each ship hit. In addition, eight ports were closed for a total of 40 days. One port, Charleston, South Carolina, was closed for 16 days, tying up not only merchant shipping but the thousands of men, warships and aircraft dealing with the situation. American submarines also waged a limited mine campaign in the Pacific. For 658 mines used, 54 ships were sunk or damaged (12 mines per ship). No subs were lost. Considerable Japanese resources were tied up dealing with the mines. On the Palau atoll, the port was closed by the mines and not reopened until the war ended. Even surface ships were used to lay mines. Three thousand mines were laid by destroyers. Only 12 ships were hit, but these were barrier fields, not the ambush type mine fields that a submarine can create by sneaking into an enemy held area.

In Korea during the early 1950s, the Soviets provided North Korea with 3,000 mines, many of 1904 vintage. These were used to defend Wonson harbor. It took several weeks for UN forces to clear these at a loss of a dozen ships hit. Half of these ships were destroyed.

During the Vietnam war, over 300,000 naval mines were used, primarily in rivers. The vast majority were not built as mines but were aerial bombs equipped with magnetic sensors instead of fuzes. These bombs/mines used a small parachute to insure that no damage occurred on landing. In shallow water these makeshift weapons sat on the bottom and performed as well as any other bottom mines. Haiphong Harbor was mined with 11,000 of these “destructors,” as the US air force called them, and less than a hundred conventional mines. Haiphong Harbor was shut down completely for months, and it took years to clear out all the American mines. The “destructor” mine design was so successful, that it is still in use, using more modern electronics, as the Mk 62 mine.

During the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqis laid over a thousand mines off the Iraqi and Kuwaiti coast. The predominantly US naval forces did not have sufficient mine sweeping resources to deal with this situation and had an amphibious ship and cruiser hit and damaged while trying to clear the area. This effectively prevented any US amphibious operations, although the Marines were not going to be used for a landing anyway. It took over a month of mine clearing after the fighting ceased to eliminate all the mines. In the meantime, two U.S. warships were damaged by these mines.

In any future war, naval mines will again surprise everyone with how effective they are.

Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Alex Moskalyuk gives a pretty good summary of Noah Goldstein’s, Steve Martin’s, and Robert Cialdini’s Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. For example:

  1. Inconvenience the audience by creating an impression of product scarcity. It’s the famous change from “Call now, the operators are standing by” to “If the line is busy, call again”, that greatly improved the call volume by creating the impression that everybody else is trying to buy the same product.

How Sesame Street Changed the World

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Sesame Street is celebrating its 40th anniversary. In describing how Sesame Street changed the world, Lisa Guernsey also shares a surprising stat — or number of the day: 15

That, shockingly, is where Nielsen says Sesame Street ranks among the top children’s shows on the air. Some months, it does even worse. Ask a preschooler who her favorite TV character is, and chances are she’ll say Dora, Curious George or, heaven help us, SpongeBob. We know it doesn’t seem nice to point out that the granddaddy of children’s television is regularly beaten up by a girl who talks to her backpack, but these are desperate times. The Children’s Television Workshop (now called Sesame Workshop) produces only 26 episodes a year now, down from a high of 130. The workshop itself recently announced it was laying off 20 percent of its staff as the recession continues to take a toll on nonprofit arts organizations.

Apparently it was a “speculative leap” to imagine television with educational content — which strikes me as quite odd, because every new technology is greeted as a new medium for education, when, of course, that’s not what the mass market demands. Anyway, it worked:

The results were pretty immediate. The first season in 1969 set out to teach children to count from one to 10, but it became clear that kids as young as 2 could make it to 20. (The show now hits 100, counting by tens.)
[...]
The most impressive feedback, however, came from the kids themselves — or at least from their test scores. No show to this day has probed its effects on kids as thoroughly as Sesame Street, which plans to spend more than $770,000 in 2009 on its department of education and research. When people think of Sesame Street as the essence of educational television, what they don’t realize is how much the show has educated the educators. “Before Sesame Street, kindergartens taught very little,” says Cooney, “and suddenly masses of children were coming in knowing letters and numbers.” Independent research found that children who regularly watch Sesame Street gained more than non-viewers on tests of letter and number recognition, vocabulary and early math skills. One study, in 2001, revealed that the show’s positive effects on reading and achievement lasted through high school. “It totally changed parental thinking about television,” says Daniel Anderson, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts.

One of the most striking elements of children’s television is how unambiguously left-wing it is, and Sesame Street led the revolution:

From the start, Sesame targeted lower-income, urban kids — the ones who lived on streets with garbage cans sitting in front of their rowhouse apartments. The show arrived on the heels of riots in Washington, Baltimore, Cleveland and Chicago, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Chester Pierce, a Harvard professor who founded the Black Psychiatrists of America, was one of the show’s original advisers, and he was acutely aware of the racism his 3-year-old daughter would face in that hostile time. “It was intentional from the beginning to show different races living together,” says David Kleeman, executive director of the American Center for Children and Media. “They were very conscious of the modeling that kids and parents would take away from that.”

This didn’t go over well in Mississippi — but you can never be left-wing enough to escape criticism from further to the left:

Not everyone thinks that Sesame Street is doing right by kids. Latino groups have criticized it for not having a Hispanic character in its early years. The show only introduced a major female Muppet in 1992. (Prairie Dawn was too annoying to count as a role model.) It has also been criticized by Ralph Nader and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood for selling out its characters in too many licensing deals.

Diesel-Electric Trucks

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

A few years ago I assumed that Diesel locomotives were just like Diesel trucks, only larger and on rails. Then I learned that they were in fact Diesel-electrics, using the Diesel engine to generate electricity for electric motors — which eliminates the need for a transmission:

Your car needs a transmission because of the physics of the gasoline engine. First, any engine has a redline — a maximum rpm (revolutions per minute) value above which the engine cannot go without exploding. Second, if you have read How Horsepower Works, then you know that engines have a narrow rpm range where horsepower and torque are at their maximum. For example, an engine might produce its maximum horsepower between 5,200 and 5,500 rpm. The transmission allows the gear ratio between the engine and the drive wheels to change as the car speeds up and slows down. You shift gears so that the engine can stay below the redline and near the rpm band of its best performance (maximum power).

The five- or six-speed transmission on most cars allows them to go 110 mph (177 kph) or faster with an engine-speed range of 500 to 6,000 rpm. The engine on our diesel locomotive has a much smaller speed range. Its idle speed is around 269 rpm, and its maximum speed is only 904 rpm. With a speed range like this, a locomotive would need 20 or 30 gears to make it up to 110 mph (177 kph).

A gearbox like this would be huge (it would have to handle 3,200 horsepower), complicated and inefficient. It would also have to provide power to four sets of wheels, which would add to the complexity.

By going with a hybrid setup, the main diesel engine can run at a constant speed, turning an electrical generator. The generator sends electrical power to a traction motor at each axle, which powers the wheels. The traction motors can produce adequate torque at any speed, from a full stop to 110 mph (177 kph), without needing to change gears.

So, if Diesel locomotives are in fact Diesel-electric, why aren’t Diesel trucks? Well, we’re starting to see some. Oshkosh, for instance, has developed its ProPulse Diesel-electric system, which uses an ultra-capacitor, for the military’s new HEMTT A3 tactical trucks:

ProPulse increases fuel economy up to 40 percent because the diesel engine in the system continuously runs at optimal rpm — significantly more efficient than the maximum rpm usually needed for highway speeds and full payloads. Emissions are also reduced, meeting current and proposed EPA requirements. And the on-board generator offers enough electrical output to power a residential block, airfield, hospital,commandcenter, communications equipment and much more.

There are no batteries to maintain or replace. Less fuel is needed over the life of the truck. The full electrical system lowers torque throughout the drive train, reducing wear and tear on the truck. And the modular design requires fewer spare parts. All of which increase the value of the vehicle by reducing the life-cycle costs.

Propulse allows for a smaller logistics footprint, increasing the mobility and deployability of fighting forces. Lower fuel requirements mean less fuel to transport, while on-board power eliminates the need for cumbersome generators to power field operations.

The Housing Boom and Bust

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Thomas Sowell discusses the housing boom and bust — and the political reaction:

[W]hat we’ve seen in these past few months is an exercise in unprecedented powers. I mean, to fire the chairman of General Motors, to tell credit card companies how they should run their business, tell GM what kind of cars it should be making, and there’s no sign of an end in sight yet. Obama’s policies are a work in progress. So a lot depends on how far he will push, but I see no signs of him turning back. I see no substantial resistance in Congress. But you never know, as things start to unfold voices of sanity may prevail.
[...]
The presumption that Obama knows how all these industries ought to be operating better than people who have spent lives in those industries, and a general cockiness going back till before he was president, and the fact that he has no experience whatever in managing anything. Only someone who has never had the responsibility for managing anything could believe he could manage just about everything.

Shannon Love cites Sowell and declares that Leftism is defined by its hubris.

Bill Waddell adds that he’s become convinced that a liberal is someone whose education stops when they leave a college campus; while a conservative’s education begins at that point.

Historian Robert Conquest stated his own law that everyone is a conservative about the things he knows best.

Of course, nowadays “true” conservatives — the ones without hubris, etc. — seem about as common as unicorns in these parts.