Only you can figure out what your stomach can tolerate

Sunday, June 14th, 2020

As Patrick Wilson points out in his new book The Athlete’s Gut: The Inside Science of Digestion, Nutrition, and Stomach Distress, the path to a happy gut is nuanced and context specific:

One study found that roughly 70 per cent of athletes experience at least one severe side stitch in a given year. Another study found that 40 per cent of marathoners get an uncomfortable urge to defecate during hard runs. “It’s fair to say,” Wilson writes, “that most athletes occasionally experience gut problems during training or competition.”

There are several reasons for this, but perhaps the most important is that your muscles demand oxygen-rich blood during exercise, which diverts blood away from the gut. The oxygen-starved digestive organs then struggle to deal with whatever partially digested food remains there.

For that reason, hard exercise is a more potent trigger than easy exercise. Activities with lots of jostling, such as running and horseback riding, increase your risk. Women report more gut problems than men, for reasons that aren’t understood. The bottom line: Most symptoms have more than one contributing factor, which means you’ll need to experiment with several possible countermeasures.


Is it the lactose that’s messing up your workout? For a few people, yes; for most people, no. Same goes for the gluten, the fructose, the fibre, the too-big or too-small meals, the underdrinking or overdrinking. Only you can figure out what your stomach can tolerate.

But once you figure it out, you can change it. Just like your muscles, your digestive tract adapts to the stresses you put on it. If you carb load, your intestine will develop more transporters to ferry those carbohydrates into your bloodstream more quickly. If you practise drinking on the run, your stomach will adapt to feel less full with a bellyful of liquid.

Heat is now hot

Saturday, June 13th, 2020

Endure by Alex HutchinsonHeat is now hot, in the world of athletic training:

Maybe the sauna-loving Finns — who, in addition to topping the rankings in this year’s World Happiness Report, have racked up more than 100 Olympic track and field medals — have been onto something all along.

The origins of the current boom in heat research can be traced back to the 2008 Olympics. University of Oregon physiologist Chris Minson was helping marathoner Dathan Ritzenhein prepare for what was expected to be a sweltering summer in Beijing. Heat-acclimation protocols, which usually involve a week or two of sweaty workouts, are a well-established way of triggering adaptations — increased blood-plasma volume, lower core temperature, higher perspiration rate — that help you perform in the heat. “But I had this niggling fear,” Minson recalls. “What if the race wasn’t hot? What if it was cooler?”

No one knew for sure whether being well-adapted to heat might come with trade-offs, like performing worse in cool conditions. So Minson set up a study with 20 cyclists to find out. The results, published in 2010, sparked a frenzy among sports scientists. Ten days of training in 104-degree heat boosted the cyclists’ VO2 max by 5 percent and improved their one-hour time-trial performance by 6 percent — even when the testing room was kept at a brisk 55 degrees. Suddenly, hot rooms and nonbreathable track suits were being hyped as the poor man’s altitude training.

The initial thinking was that, whereas working out in thin air triggers the formation of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, a main benefit of heat training was an increased volume of blood plasma to ferry red blood cells to your muscles. Whether that plasma boost actually translates to improved athletic performance remains contentious. Carsten Lundby, an endurance expert at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark who has studied heat training, is skeptical that simply increasing plasma volume improves performance after just a week or two. However, the resulting dilution of your blood might trigger a natural EPO response to produce new red blood cells, just like altitude training — an idea he’s currently testing with a six-week protocol.

But plasma volume isn’t the only parameter that heat changes. According to Meylan, psychological resilience and altered perception of high temperatures are among the key benefits his players received from heat training. That, in part, is why Canada’s women’s soccer team will likely head to southern Spain or Portugal right before next summer’s World Cup, which will take place in France.

More generally, heat is a shock to the system, generating some of the same cellular responses that exercise and altitude do. For that reason, scientists are now studying its therapeutic benefits, as well as cross-adaptation, the idea that heat training might prepare you for a trip to high elevations, or help you maintain an edge when you return.

A practical example: Last year, three elite steeplechasers visited Minson’s lab three or four times a week to soak in a 105-degree hot tub for roughly 40 minutes, hoping the heat would help sustain the elevated red-blood-cell levels they’d developed during altitude training in Flagstaff, Arizona. Blood tests suggested the approach worked.

This was amateur totalitarianism

Friday, June 12th, 2020

If you think cultural revolution isn’t bad enough, Emil O W Kirkegaard (@KirkegaardEmil) suggests you read Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare. John Derbyshire shares his own review:

The Khmer Rouge, a peasant movement led by utopian leftists educated in postwar Paris, took over the country and began shoveling her population around like wet concrete, with the aim of eliminating forever such bourgeois blights as private property, money, love, education, and religion.

The Khmer Rouge practiced a collective style of leadership, but from 1968 onwards a middle-aged cadre named Saloth Sar emerged as first among equals. In 1970 he changed his name to Pol Pot, for reasons he never explained. It is as Pol Pot that he is known to history; and it is under this name that he is commonly listed with the other ideologically driven gangster-despots — Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Kim, and Castro — who brought so much destruction and misery to the world in the 20th century.

Like most communist leaders, Pol Pot came from a well-off family. His sister became a concubine of Cambodia’s King Norodom, and was at the king’s bedside when he died. Cambodia was at that time a French colony, and Pol went to Paris for education as a young man, arriving in the city on October 1, 1949 — the precise day on which Mao Tse-tung declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Pol fell in with a group of other young Cambodians, all receptive to the rampant leftism of that time and place. This was the Paris of Jean-Paul Sartre and his circle, the France in which 25 percent of the electorate regularly voted for the brutishly Stalinist French Communist Party.

Pol seems not to have been an intellectual convert to Marxism. In fact, he seems not to have been very intellectual at all, and probably never read the communist classics. The Cambodia from which these young men came did not at all resemble the industrialized Europe that had brought forth Marx and Lenin. It was a purely agricultural nation in which the major institutions were monarchy and priesthood. The revolution that got these young men’s attention was not the Russian, nor even the Chinese one, but the French. Pol’s revolutionary heroes were not Marx and Lenin, but Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Robespierre.

Returning to Cambodia, Pol and his friends soon fell foul of the deeply unlovely government of the young Prince Sihanouk and were obliged to take to the maquis. This was not difficult to do in Cambodia, which had few roads or railways and tens of thousands of square miles of impenetrable forest. As the terrible great-power game of the 1960s played out in southeast Asia, with Russia, China, the USA and Vietnam all maneuvering for advantage, Sihanouk performed a brilliant balancing act for a while, but fell off the high wire in 1970 when his army staged a coup while he was in Moscow. Alexei Kosygin, the Soviet Prime Minister, broke the news to him as they were driving to the airport for the Prince to catch a plane to Beijing.

With Zhou Enlai’s support, Sihanouk threw in his lot with the Khmer Rouge, thereby adding monarchical and patriotic glamor to Pol Pot’s resistance movement, which was already at war with the coup regime headed by Lon Nol. A united-front party and a government-in-exile were formed, known by their French acronyms as, respectively, FUNK and GRUNC. Full-scale civil war broke out, ending with the Khmer Rouge victory of 1975 and the subsequent four-year reign of horror. Pol Pot’s government was ousted by a Vietnamese invasion in 1979, followed by a ten-year occupation. Popular support for the Khmer Rouge, even as a patriotic resistance movement, rapidly dwindled to nothing. Pol Pot died of natural causes, in the jungle, in April 1998. Cambodia is now a wrecked beggar-nation under the crude and corrupt but non-totalitarian rule of Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge foot soldier.

What the reader of a Pol Pot biography mainly wants to know is whether the egregious savagery of Cambodian communism had its origins, or some of them, in the personality of the leader. On Philip Short’s account, the answer seems to be that it did not. Pol was in any case never a supreme leader in the classic totalitarian style. The principle of collective leadership was always maintained. Pol seems not to have possessed the spirit of single-minded ruthlessness towards old comrades that characterized those other despots and left them alone at the summit of power. With the exception of the unfortunate So Phim, nobody at the highest levels of the party was purged.

The overriding impression Philip Short gives of Pol, his comrades, and his government, is in fact one of slovenly incompetence. This was the case even under the apparent rigidities of the 1975-79 period of total power. The Vietnamese invasion, for example, could have been avoided by some adroit diplomacy. The well-documented horrors of the forced evacuations, the interrogations, the massacres, were all counter-productive, even by the Khmer Rouge’s own bleak standards. This was amateur totalitarianism.

C-SPAN2′s Book Tv covered the book when it came out years ago:

In the early 1970s, New York City police officers shot more than 300 people a year

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

Chicago Sun-Times reports that 18 people were killed Sunday, May 31, making it the single most violent day in Chicago in six decades, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab:

From 7 p.m. Friday, May 29, through 11 p.m. Sunday, May 31, 25 people were killed in the city, with another 85 wounded by gunfire, according to data maintained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

In a city with an international reputation for crime — where 900 murders per year were common in the early 1990s — it was the most violent weekend in Chicago’s modern history, stretching police resources that were already thin because of protests and looting.

“We’ve never seen anything like it, at all,” said Max Kapustin, the senior research director at the crime lab. “ … I don’t even know how to put it into context. It’s beyond anything that we’ve ever seen before.”

The next highest murder total for a single day was on Aug. 4, 1991, when 13 people were killed in Chicago, according to the crime lab.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a longtime crusader against gun violence who leads St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham, said it was “open season” last weekend in his neighborhood and others on the South and West sides.

“On Saturday and particularly Sunday, I heard people saying all over, ‘Hey, there’s no police anywhere, police ain’t doing nothing,’” Pfleger said.

“I sat and watched a store looted for over an hour,” he added. “No police came. I got in my car and drove around to some other places getting looted [and] didn’t see police anywhere.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on May 31 alone, Chicago’s 911 emergency center received 65,000 calls for all types of service — 50,000 more than on a usual day.

Jason L. Riley, writing in the Wall Street Journal, notes that the media likes to break down cops’ behavior by race, but doesn’t do the same for civilian crime:

None of these deaths or shootings involved police, so there will be no massive protests over them, no tearful commentary on cable news and social media, no white politicians wrapped in Kente cloth taking a knee for photographers.

Sadly, the only thing remarkable about the episode is that it occurred in the middle of a national discussion about policing. The political left, with a great deal of assistance from the mainstream media, has convinced many Americans that George Floyd’s death in police custody is an everyday occurrence for black people in this country, and that racism permeates law enforcement. The reality is that the carnage we witness in Chicago is what’s typical, law enforcement has next to nothing to do with black homicides, and the number of interactions between police and low-income blacks is driven by crime rates, not bias. According to the Sun-Times, there were 492 homicides in Chicago last year, and only three of them involved police.

So long as blacks are committing more than half of all murders and robberies while making up only 13% of the population, and so long as almost all of their victims are their neighbors, these communities will draw the lion’s share of police attention. Defunding the police, or making it easier to prosecute officers, will only result in more lives lost in those neighborhoods that most need protecting.


In the early 1970s, New York City police officers shot more than 300 people a year. By 2019 that number had fallen to 34.


A recent New York Times report, for example, tells us that the racial makeup of Minneapolis is 20% black and 60% white, and that police there “used force against black people at a rate at least seven times that of white people during the past five years.” Left out of the story are the rates at which blacks and whites in Minneapolis commit crime in general and violent crime in particular.

The era of criminalized public drunkenness was over

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020

Drinking in public wasn’t a crime until rather recently:

In 1963, it was unlikely that you would have been arrested for drinking in public — but you could have been arrested for being a “common drunkard.”

Most states and municipalities had laws on the books that made it illegal to be a “common drunkard” or a “vagrant,” terms used to describe those who would be known today as alcoholic and homeless, respectively. The police arrested hundreds of thousands of people every year for violating these so-called vagrancy and public drunkenness laws, which were at the heart of the police’s mission to control urban social disorder. Such laws defined life on Skid Row: Some perennially homeless, alcoholic men spent years of their lives in jail, in 30-day increments, on charges of public drunkenness and vagrancy.

But in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, legal scholars started to criticize how these laws were enforced, using arguments that would be familiar to anyone following the contemporary debate around drug decriminalization. Critics argued that arresting, charging and incarcerating “drunkards” wasted scarce police and court resources; that the laws were enforced more stringently against poor black people than against affluent white people; and that “public drunkenness” was a moral and medical issue better addressed in churches and hospitals than jails and courtrooms.

In short, they called for reform. The Supreme Court heeded that call in 1964, in its landmark decision Robinson v. California. The immediate effect of the decision was to strike down a California statute classifying drug addiction as a crime. But it also rang the death knell for all “status offenses,” vagrancy chief among them.

In a later decision, the Supreme Court chose not to strike down public drunkenness laws as unconstitutional. The court found that such laws prohibited the act of “appearing in public while drunk,” rather than “being an alcoholic.”

But the writing was on the wall. Vaguely defined status offenses like public drunkenness and vagrancy were constitutionally unsound and, in the long run, unenforceable.

Further pressure to overturn public drunkenness laws came from the executive and legislative branches. Two Presidential Commissions on Crime described public drunkenness laws as ineffective deterrents to repeat offenders and a burden on the criminal justice system. They strongly recommended that public drunkenness be decriminalized. And in 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Alcoholism Treatment Act, which called on states to decriminalize public drunkenness and shift their handling of public inebriates to the health system. Thirty-five states adopted it, and most of the others passed similar laws.

By the end of the ‘70s, arrests for public drunkenness had dropped by half nationwide. (They would continue to fall, almost unabated, until the present.) The era of criminalized public drunkenness was over, after 350 years. Doctors and advocates for the rights of the homeless and alcoholics started to breathe easier.

Not everyone was happy, though. Entrenched business interests and well-to-do citizens, and their allies in state and local legislatures, still wanted the police to take undesirable homeless and alcoholic people off the streets. But as public drunkenness and vagrancy were no longer criminal acts, the police had no tools at their disposal.

Enter the ban on public drinking.


They leave no room for ambiguity or subjectivity. You either are violating the law, or you aren’t.

A hot air balloon is almost entirely hot air

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

hot air balloon is almost entirely hot air — even by mass:

Component Pounds Mass Fraction
Envelope 250
Basket 140
Burner 50
Fuel Tanks 405
Passengers 750
Sub Total 1595
Heated Air 5922
Total 7517

2,750 years of achievement by the top tier of homo sapiens

Monday, June 8th, 2020

Ethan Morse opens his “detailedreview of Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment with this warning:

There are reasons to read this book and not to read this book.

First, the not-reason. From the title, Human Accomplishment details the successes of humans from 800 BCE to 1950 — 2750 years of achievement by the top-tier of homo sapiens. Statistically speaking, the average person will neither contribute nor perform anything absolutely significant to society. (They may contribute some relatively significant, but nothing absolute.) This book serves as a stark reminder of this fact. Some are uncomfortable with this and prefer to live thinking that they have or eventually will have a profound impact on the world, which is perfectly fine. Don’t read this book nor this review. Done.

Now, the more compelling to-reason from another perspective. From the title, Human Accomplishment details the successes of humans from 800 BCE to 1950 — 2750 years of achievement by the top-tier of homo sapiens. Conveniently compiled in a single 668-page book (which includes the main body chapter, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index), Murray objectively (more on the use of this term later) lays out the crowning moments of the human race in science and the arts. No need to go through volumes of text wondering if your favorite author is considered among the best ever (hint: they’re probably not). Instead, consult this book and find out who the best ever are among sciences, philosophy, art, technology, and literature.

The air transport market requires both high specific power and high energy density

Sunday, June 7th, 2020

Existing lithium batteries have a low energy density, while existing fuel cells have low specific power. The air transport market requires both high specific power and high energy density:

Forecasting that suitable lithium battery technology might be as much as 15 years away, the HyPoint team began focusing its efforts on a fuel cell design specifically targeted at eVTOLs. To keep things lightweight, it would have to be an air-cooled design; liquid-cooled fuel cells, says Ivanenko, work well in the automotive world, but the associated coolant tanks and pumps add parasitic mass that literally isn’t going to fly in the aviation world.

But today’s available air-cooled fuel cells, he says, have limited power capacity and lifespan, and they only work in temperatures between -5 and 30 °C (23 and 86 °F). So the HyPoint team set out to develop something faster and hardier, and came up with what they call the “turbo air-cooled fuel cell.”

“We boost the power of the fuel cell stack by placing it inside an air duct, where pressurized, humidified and thermally stabilized air is circulated by fans,” says Ivanenko. “The compression of air is maintained about 3 bars inside by a compression system, and the air with reduced oxygen content is charged through a control valve, and replaced with fresh compressed air with normal oxygen content.”

The extra oxygen on the cathode side of the fuel cell stack, in conjunction with a new High Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane (HTPEM) technology HyPoint has developed, allows you to force three times as much hydrogen through the fuel cell as a traditional design, tripling its specific power output without adding any parasitic cooling mass that might weigh a VTOL aircraft down.

With the entire system taken into account, the HyPoint system delivers 2,000 watts of power per kilogram of mass. The best of the liquid-cooled fuel cells deliver between 150-800 W/kg, and other air-cooled fuel cells sit at about 800 W/kg.

The energy density of the full system comes in at around 960 Wh/kg, where lithium batteries typically sit at about a third of that figure and other air- and liquid-cooled fuel cell systems come in a little over half – all according to HyPoint’s own figures.

The system has some other huge benefits as well, says Ivanenko; it accepts “dirty” hydrogen that’s only 99 percent pure, which is a fraction of the cost of the 99.999 percent purified hydrogen you need for an LPTEM system. “That’s a huge decrease in a significant operational parameter for a commercial eVTOL operation,” he adds.

It works at more or less any real-world temperature, from -50 to +50 °C (-58 to 122 °F) and beyond. And while it’s still in the lab at this stage, the team projects these fuel cells will last some 20,000 hours without maintenance, where LTPEM systems typically last around 5,000 hours – another very significant factor for a commercial operator.

Trying to pretend that somehow the 20th century is still amongst us

Thursday, June 4th, 2020

I mentioned recently that I somehow managed to go this whole time without reading a single Tom Clancy novel — or watching a single movie adaptation, except for The Hunt for Red October — and only just listened to the audiobook version of Patriot Games, which was originally published in 1987.

I’ve continued working through the Jack Ryan UniverseThe Cardinal of the Kremlin, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears — and a point Clancy keeps making is how much the intelligence community relies on the mainstream media for information, especially cable news, which was new and exciting at the time.

When Russ Roberts interviewed Martin Gurri on a recent EconTalk, I was naturally interested, since Arnold Kling has been mentioning Gurri regularly, but I wasn’t expecting a connection to Tom Clancy. Then Roberts introduced Gurri:

Today is February 20th, 2020, and my guest is author Martin Gurri. He is a former CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] analyst and the author of The Revolt of the Public. Martin, welcome to EconTalk.

Gurri explains his position:

Well, as you say, I was an analyst in CIA. I probably had the least glamorous job there. I didn’t have my 00 [Double-O] license to kill or the beautiful girls. I was an analyst of global media, and for the earliest part of my career, that was very straightforward. There was a trickle of open information and every country had its equivalent of the New York Times, a source that set the agenda. So, if the president wanted to know how his policies were playing in France, you went to Le Monde or you went to Le Figaro. Just, literally, two newspapers.

Then things went haywire: just the world turned upside down. A digital earthquake epicenter, say, somewhere between Mountain View and Palo Alto, generated this tsunami of information that just swept over the world.

And, ‘tsunami,’ I think is a good word. Numbers can be boring, but sometimes they can be illustrative. Some very clever people from Berkeley tried to measure how the information of the world had developed, and they came up with the fact that in the year 2001, as you just tip into this era, that year produced double the amount of information of all previous human history going back to the cave paintings and the dawn of culture.

So, 2002 doubled 2001. So, if you chart that you do get something that looks like a gigantic wave; and I call it a tsunami. Now, for those of us who worked in CIA, that was like, ‘Now what the heck do we do with this enormous amount of information? Where do we get our stuff?’ But, what really mattered was the effect of the information in different nations of the world. We could see, as the tsunami swept across the world at different speeds in different countries, tremendously increased levels of social and political turbulence. And, the question was why? So, that was the seed of the book.

After I left government, the question that haunted me was the one that my CIA masters always asked, which was, like, ‘So, what? Okay, so the people get–they start to write bad things about government in Egypt. So what? What are they going to do when the cops come? Hit them with their laptops?’ That was an internal CIA joke: Are they going to hit them with their laptops?


2011 is a year I call the Phase Change Year, where it really showed the effect of this tide of information could affect power. And you had, of course, the Arab Spring in the Middle East, probably misnamed. You had the Indignados in Spain. You had a revolt called the 10 People Revolt or Social Justice Revolt in Israel. You had the Occupiers here in the United States. And, these all had similar origin. So the question, now, was what was going on? What caused these eruptions from below?

And, to my thinking, it has to do with the kinds of institutions that we have inherited from the 20th century, from the industrial age. They’re all–how many people are aware of Frederick Taylor? He’s sort of a forgotten figure in history. But he was sort of the prophet of industrialism and scientific management. And, if you read his writings, everything happens from the top down: the top manager figures everything is going to happen, all the tools that you need, and essentially what everybody, every layer below you–and there are many, many layers below you–is going to do. Everything is scripted.

Well, our institutions, which we think or tend to think were created in the 18th century by the Founders, in fact are the product of the industrial age, and of political Taylorism, in essence. And, one of the things that they required, to maintain their authority–and they had, in their day, a great deal of authority: that they believe in expertise, they believe in science–one of the things that they were–the primary foundation was a monopoly of information in their domains.

So that, if you’re in government you have a control over a certain set of government information. If you’re in politics, you and the media, you as the politicians and the media share a certain set of information that nobody else had access to in the 20th century. Nobody talked back.

And, what that tsunami has done was destroy that monopoly. In brief, it has destroyed that monopoly; and it turns out these institutions can’t seem to function without that and have lost their authority. Where, before there was a sort of instinctive reliance–the President says something at the age of JFK [John Fitzgerald Kennedy], somewhere between 70% and 80% of Americans trusted the government. Today, if you’re the President, you are instinctively distrusted: somewhere between 20% and 30% today, trust the Presidency and the Federal Government.

So, I think it has been a crisis that these institutions have lapsed into. And, I think the elites that manage and inhabit these institutions have reacted pretty badly in the sense of not really being aware of what’s happening, and trying to pretend that somehow the 20th century is still amongst us and that the internet and the web and the digital universe has never exploded around them.

Maxis didn’t want to make professional simulation games

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

SimCity wasn’t meant to be taken seriously:

The game was inspired by research on real-world urban planning concepts, and although it was created as a way for players to experiment running a city, the goal was to be fun rather than accurate. “I realized early on, because of chaos theory and a lot of other things,” said designer Will Wright, “that it’s kind of hopeless to approach simulations like that, as predictive endeavors. But we’ve kind of caricatured our systems. SimCity was always meant to be a caricature of the way a city works, not a realistic model of the way a city works.”

“I think if we tried to make it realistic, we would be doing something that we wouldn’t want to do,” Wright said in an interview in 1999. But that didn’t stop companies from believing Maxis could design realistic simulations. Will Wright didn’t believe that was even possible. “Many people come to us and say, ‘You should do the professional version,’” he continued. “That really scares me because I know how pathetic the simulations are, really, compared to reality. The last thing I want people to come away with is that we’re on the verge of being able to simulate the way that a city really develops, because we’re not.”

Maxis didn’t want to make professional simulation games. But for two brief, strange years, they did.

From 1992 to 1994, a division called Maxis Business Simulations was responsible for making serious professional simulations that looked and played like Maxis games. After Maxis cut the division loose, the company continued to operate independently, taking the simulation game genre in their own direction. Their games found their way into in corporate training rooms and even went as far as the White House.

Almost nothing they developed was ever released to the public.


For Wright, games were a way of helping people create “mental models” for understanding parts of the world. The team at Maxis would research a topic like urban dynamics — or something like ant colony behavior, in the case of another game they made called SimAnt — and create a game where players could experiment with those ideas. The goal wasn’t to teach anything directly, but rather to help the player get the model of SimCity in their head, so that playing this game could help them understand how the different systems within a city interact.

For many people though, that nuance was lost, and instead they treated it like Maxis could build accurate simulations of the real world. And they wouldn’t stop asking about it. “In the first couple months after SimCity appeared,” Wright told Wired, “we were approached by a number of companies saying, ‘Hey that’s great! If you can do a city like that, we want you to do SimPizzaHut, or SimWhatever.’ We thought these things were so weird that we said no, but they kept coming in.”

“So at some point, as we got big enough, we decided to give it a go.”

John Hiles knew about SimCity. He also believed in the power of building mental models, and he saw something in SimCity that was missing from the simulation modeling work happening at Delta Logic: it was fun. It had an intuitive interface and friendly graphics. That was the missing ingredient. Hiles believed that if they teamed up — Maxis’s style with Delta Logic’s systems — they could create simulations that were fun and powerful. Maxis had been looking for new partners for software development, so Hiles used that as an opportunity to get in their orbit. He approached Jeff Braun, and in 1991, his company became a contractor for Maxis.


As part of the company’s restructuring in the wake of SimCity, in the summer of 1992, Maxis accepted a $10 million investment from Warburg Pincus Ventures, who received a 30% stake in the company and a seat at the board. According to Braun, Warburg Pincus wanted Maxis to start doing business simulation games more seriously.

With their new directive, Maxis decided to jump in all the way. That July, they purchased Delta Logic, turning them into a new division of the company — Maxis Business Simulations. John Hiles was named VP and general manager.

Their first project? Chevron wanted them to make a game about an oil refinery.

Oil refineries are really, really complicated. That’s why Chevron wanted Maxis to make them a game like SimCity, to teach the employees at their oil refinery in Richmond, California how it all worked.

To be clear, they didn’t want a game that was supposed to accurately train people how to run an oil refinery or replace an education in chemical engineering. That would’ve been incredibly dangerous. What they wanted instead was something that showed you how the dynamics of the refinery worked, how all the different pieces invisibly fit together, like SimCity did for cities.

The operators at the refinery sometimes had trouble getting a big picture for what was happening at the plant beyond their particular area of focus. “The whole goal if this was to teach operators that they are part of a bigger system,” Skidmore said. “Their concern at the time was that operators tended to be very focused on their one plant, and their one thing they do, and so [they] weren’t keeping in mind that what they do affected other parts of the plant. So they wanted a training tool that allowed operators to manipulate inputs and outputs of the various pieces of the refinery process to see how they impact.”

The non-technical staff at the Richmond refinery needed to know how it worked too. The people in human resources and accounting weren’t chemical engineers, but it would help their work to see how the different areas of the plant were networked together, how one department affected another department.

Chevron paid Maxis $75,000 for a prototype of a refinery simulator. The project began even before Maxis bought Delta Logic, back when they were still just contractors.

How do you get started on a project like this? They did it the same way Maxis developed their own games: they did research.

John Hiles and the Bruces took a visit to the Chevron Richmond Refinery, where they met with a specialist who took them on a tour of the plant and explained how it worked. It was a collaborative relationship with Chevron throughout the development process; Chevron sent them the raw formulas they used at the refinery, and as Maxis Business Simulations turned that into a game, Chevron would double-check their work.


John Hiles said that most of the trainers at Chevron wanted to use it as a conventional training tool, “but some of the more astute teachers said, ‘Let’s just get you started here by seeing if you can wreck the oil refinery, if you can abuse the inputs and the settings and essentially get fired,’” he remembered.

That was a legitimate way to learn how a refinery worked: if you start breaking the refinery, you can see how ruining one part of the plant will affect the other parts of the plant. “The tool — the game — was agnostic,” Hiles explained, correcting himself. “It would work for someone trying to ruin an oil refinery just as well as somebody trying to run it efficiently.”

SimRefinery was finished in fall 1992, earlier than the 1993 date that’s usually reported online. The trademark registration for SimRefinery suggests that the game was officially handed over to Chevron on Monday, October 26, 1992. (It’s unusual to have a specific release date for a corporate training product, but that’s a result of Maxis trademarking the SimRefinery name almost a year after it was completed.)

Chevron liked it. They started testing the game with their staff in September, and Chevron reported that communication from marketing and finance staff “improved dramatically.” Speaking to The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Chevron training specialist Susan Gustin praised the game’s effectiveness. “Just dumping information on people isn’t effective,” she said. “People only remember what they use.” She told Computerworld, “Some of these relationships aren’t at all obvious until you play the game a bit.”

It seems to have even won over one of its critics, Will Wright. “He was initially skeptical,” Skidmore said. “I think when we eventually finished SimRefinery, I think he approved of it.”


Whatever the long-term interest in SimRefinery, it wasn’t adopted at Chevron out of the gate, and that was the start of a pattern for the games by Maxis Business Simulations — a skepticism towards the idea that a simulation game could teach you something. Or should teach you something.

Once you grasp its lessons, you can never again be a normal citizen

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020

Labor economics stands against the world, Bryan Caplan says:

Once you grasp its lessons, you can never again be a normal citizen.

What are these “central tenets of our secular religion” and what’s wrong with them?

Tenet #1: The main reason today’s workers have a decent standard of living is that government passed a bunch of laws protecting them.

Critique: High worker productivity plus competition between employers is the real reason today’s workers have a decent standard of living. In fact, “pro-worker” laws have dire negative side effects for workers, especially unemployment.

Tenet #2: Strict regulation of immigration, especially low-skilled immigration, prevents poverty and inequality.

Critique: Immigration restrictions massively increase the poverty and inequality of the world — and make the average American poorer in the process. Specialization and trade are fountains of wealth, and immigration is just specialization and trade in labor.

Tenet #3: In the modern economy, nothing is more important than education.

Critique: After making obvious corrections for pre-existing ability, completion probability, and such, the return to education is pretty good for strong students, but mediocre or worse for weak students.

Tenet #4: The modern welfare state strikes a wise balance between compassion and efficiency.

Critique: The welfare state primarily helps the old, not the poor — and 19th-century open immigration did far more for the absolutely poor than the welfare state ever has.

Tenet #5: Increasing education levels is good for society.

Critique: Education is mostly signaling; increasing education is a recipe for credential inflation, not prosperity.

Tenet #6: Racial and gender discrimination remains a serious problem, and without government regulation, would still be rampant.

Critique: Unless government requires discrimination, market forces make it a marginal issue at most. Large group differences persist because groups differ largely in productivity.

Tenet #7: Men have treated women poorly throughout history, and it’s only thanks to feminism that anything’s improved.

Critique: While women in the pre-modern era lived hard lives, so did men. The mating market led to poor outcomes for women because men had very little to offer. Economic growth plus competition in labor and mating markets, not feminism, is the main reason women’s lives improved.

Tenet #8: Overpopulation is a terrible social problem.

Critique: The positive externalities of population — especially idea externalities — far outweigh the negative. Reducing population to help the environment is using a sword to kill a mosquito.

Yes, I’m well-aware that most labor economics classes either neglect these points, or strive for “balance.” But as far as I’m concerned, most labor economists just aren’t doing their job. Their lingering faith in our society’s secular religion clouds their judgment — and prevents them from enlightening their students and laying the groundwork for a better future.

California trash-to-hydrogen plant promises dirt-cheap, super-green H2

Monday, June 1st, 2020

Lancaster, California will be home to a “greener than green” trash-to-hydrogen production plant three times the size of any other green H2 facility:

SGH2 says its process is the cleanest of all on the market, while matching the price of the cheapest producers — and pulling tens of thousands of tons of garbage out of landfills.


According to a recent memorandum of understanding, the city of Lancaster will host and co-own the SGH2 Lancaster plant, which will be capable of producing up to 11,000 kg of H2 per day, or 3.8 million kg per year, while processing up to 42,000 tons of recycled waste per year. Garbage to clean fuel, with a US$2.1 to $3.2 million saving on landfill costs per year as a sweetener.


The process, developed by SGH2′s parent company Solena, uses high-temperature plasma torches putting out temperatures between 3,500 and 4,000 °C (6,332 to 7,232 °F). This ionic heat, with oxygen-enriched gas fed in, catalyzes a “complete molecular dissociation of all hydrocarbons” in whatever fuel you’ve fed in, and as it rises and begins to cool, it forms “a very high quality, hydrogen-rich bio-syngas free of tar, soot and heavy metals.”

The process accepts a wide variety of waste sources, including paper, old tires, textiles, and notably plastics, which it can handle very efficiently without toxic by-products. The bio-syngas exits the top of a plenum chamber, and is sent to a cooling chamber, followed by a pair of acid scrubbers to remove particulate matter.

A centrifugal compressor further cleans the gas stream, leaving a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. This is run through a water-gas shift reactor that adds water vapor and converts the carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide and more hydrogen gas. The two are separated, neatly capturing all the CO2 as hydrogen comes out the other end.

A Berkeley Lab lifecycle carbon analysis concluded, says SGH2, that each ton of hydrogen produced by this process reduces emissions by between 23 and 31 tons of CO2 equivalent — presumably counting emissions that would be created if the garbage was burned instead of converted into hydrogen. That would be between 13–19 tons more carbon dioxide avoided than any other green hydrogen production process.

What’s more, while electrolysis requires some 62 kWh of energy to produce one kilogram of hydrogen, the Solena process is energy-positive, generating 1.8 kWh per kg of hydrogen, meaning the plant generates its own electricity and doesn’t require external power input.

The 5-acre facility, in a heavy industrial zone of Lancaster, will employ 35 people full-time and create some 600 jobs in construction. SGH2 is hoping to break ground in Q1 2021 and achieve full operational status by 2023. The company is in negotiations with “California’s largest owners and operators of hydrogen refueling stations” to buy the plant’s entire output for a 10-year period.