We Engineers Love Symmetry

Some portrait painters like Picasso stand out because they deliberately distort the human face.  It becomes their “brand of art expression” and we can accept that even though it may offend our sense of balance in the human form.  We prize symmetry and balance in all dimensions of our faces and bodies and celebrate the “perfections” in that all the time.  One of our neighbors came in No. 2 in the Miss World competition and she would even describe herself as having won “the human lottery” in that she was born with certain proportions.

What surprises me the most these days is that we fail to recognize the asymmetry in our politics and news cycles.  Americans celebrate the freedom of speech yet some conservative speech is now deemed undeserving of freedoms.  The news media most often uses the term “alleged” when they describe a criminal even when the video footage shows them committing the crime.

On the other hand, when the political talking points do not agree with what seems to be patently true, we hear the news media declare these “deviants” as “deniers” rather than simply expressing an opposing point of view.  It seems we have really bad memories that the claims of Russian interference in the prior election cycle have now been proven false.  It is surprising to me that the election laws had to be changed if there were not problems in the past.

Picasso would be proud.  We now live with asymmetric news and media coverage on so many issues:  everything is a climate crisis.  Really, do you really think the Western water crisis is all about the climate and not about more uses than sources?  Do we really think the recent climate bill will change anything in the climate for the better in the near term?

Worse yet, the recent news media coverage seems to be amping up the rhetoric to “outlaw” opposing points of view.  Isn’t that a clear step towards Marxism?

As an engineer I do love symmetry … so I guess I am not loving where any of this is going.

How about you?  Tell me where I am missing something.


Stunningly Stupid!

I am sure you have heard that Britain has agreed to pay any costs above a threshold for all households in their country and for businesses for six months.  Given Britain has no physical natural gas or fuel oil in storage to cover that contingency this is the equivalent of an uncovered call in energy trading … considered the most dangerously open-ended trading derivative in the game.  Almost all of these lead to disaster.

What is worse, by making this kind of a promise, the government has basically written and paid for an energy insurance policy for everyone doing retail energy business in England and thereby discouraging any of them to enter into their own price protections.  Why pay for insurance when someone else has promised to cover your losses?

One can only hope no one else in Europe will follow this bizarre and stupid promise, but I worry that other politicians will try to one up Britain by offering the same kind of price protection for their citizens as well.  As of the time this was written in the Wall Street Journal,U.K. Government to Cap Household Energy Prices for Two Years,” they were alone.  If others show equal levels of this stunning stupidity we are doomed even here since it will throw energy markets further into constraints.

I thought I had seen everything, but I guess I now realize that you really can’t fix stupid.  This should wake up the energy zealots pushing for carbon legislation to realize this is not the right time to continue to imply we are going to put the fossil fuel industry out of business.  It is precisely this saber rattling that has lead us into a worldwide shortage of supply vs. demand.

When will we wake up and smell the coffee?  Water is really more important to fix … see the Great Salt Lake and the Colorado River issues.  We need to curb consumption and to ask critical questions about the correct value of something we all take for granted.

Why are we so afraid of asking the right questions?  Once again, Planet of the Humans indicates all the reasons why.  Please watch it.

Are EMCs Going to Sell?

I have coined another TLA in this title: Electric Muscle Cars.  If you didn’t get my play on words, a TLA is a Three Letter Acronym.

I was not surprised to hear that Dodge is going to introduce an electric version of its wildly successful internal combustion engine-driven Challenger, especially given that the Tesla Model S has repeatedly beaten it on the track in short distances.  The Tesla has also forced Porsche, Ferrari, and other high-performance car makers to take notice. So, this is not surprising at all.

Courtesy: Wall Street Journal Link to Video

I expect to see similar announcements from Chevy for the Corvette.  However, I am not so sure about the buyer’s appetite for these EMCs.  They can make it sound like there is a high performance engine in there, but they are not going to produce that sensual vibration of the big V8 that sooths the soul.  Go listen to an AC Cobra at idle and tell me you would accept a recording of a “real engine” to replace it.

Nope, I think car makers should be studying how some car owners have created concert-like boom boxes out of their cars that literally vibrate yours when they are near you on the road.

Perhaps they will have a software switch to change the sound of the exhaust to match the sound modern Corvettes have along with driving modes offering street and racing versions.  The video above does not have the kind of sound typical Challenger advocates like.

The good news is that the gas guzzling characteristics of the Challenger will reduce the chances buyers would worry about range anxiety.  Beating other cars trumps that concern.

We will see.  Tesla’s racecar Roadster should be out around the same time as the Challenger, but I doubt anyone is going to beat Tesla on the track.  Elon Musk simply will not let that happen.

Warnings about Warnings

Do you remember the childhood story of the boy who cried wolf? It is one of Aesop’s Fables.  The idiom “to cry wolf” is defined as “to give a false alarm” meaning to make false claims, with the result that subsequent true claims are disbelieved.  You no doubt know the story of Chicken Little as well.

The original tale concerns a shepherd boy who repeatedly fools villagers into thinking a wolf is attacking his town’s flock. When an actual wolf appears and the boy calls for help, the villagers believe that it is another false alarm, and the sheep are eaten by the wolf. In a later English-language poetic version of the fable, the wolf also eats the boy.  The moral stated at the end of the Greek version is, “this shows how liars are rewarded: even if they tell the truth, no one believes them.”

Why did I start this blog with this story?  Well, you may have heard or read that the earth rotated once around its axis on Wednesday, June 29, in 1.59 milliseconds less than 24 hours.  Based upon the media’s coverage, you would have thought the world as we now know it was coming to an end.  Let’s take a deep breath and a few steps back from the abyss.

How many readers even know what a millisecond is?  I suspect very few.  It is 1/1000th of one second.  Yes, we are reading news warnings that the earth rotated in 23 hours, 59 minutes, 59 seconds and a final 0.99841 seconds compared to the usual 1.00000 second for a “normal” day. I hope you can you see that this is mostly about us being able to measure time precisely rather than anything meaningful about the change in time.  If this rate of speed up was cumulative over a lifetime of 100 years, the earth would have sped up 0.16 seconds … 1.6 seconds after 1,000 years.

You would have thought the news was a warning to move to some isolated place on the planet and wait for Jesus to return.  Clearly, he must be coming soon.  Can’t you see the silliness.  Yet it not only makes the news, but it is presented in the tone: “the end is near!”

We have to cross over from nagging to helpful, from ideological to relevant, and from boring to funny and engaging. Simply howling at the moon does little to change anything and tends to further polarize people because of the loss of trust.

It was about 6-8 years ago that I read a Scientific American article claiming we should stop just talking about things but rather we should declare things as a crisis.  Somehow these eggheads thought that being right and shouting at the top of their lungs would educate and inspire the masses.

Nope, it is precisely that articles like this are doing much more harm than good. We need an educated and inspired community around us.   A key question we might ask about the prophets of old might be should they have changed their messaging?  Did it work at all?   Or were they just as silly as we are today?  Perhaps they just wrote for the same reason I do … to get it off their chests.

What should a modern prophet say and do to get people’s attention?  Once again, watch Planet of the Humans to see how dangerous our current situations is right now.  And, if you are interested (and you should be), the recent apparent passage of energy legislation is going to take us further into the ditch and when it is proven faulty and foolish, further tainting public trust.


Itsy Bitsy Spiders: Your robotic best friends?

Most people find spiders pretty unappealing.  As an engineer, I find them inspiring even though I do not like them anywhere around me in my home.  I grew up in New York City where black widow spiders were extremely common, especially in your basement.  I knew their bite was poisonous but they mostly stayed to themselves in dark dank areas.  It was the spiders that spun huge precise webs in between bushes that truly impressed me with their handiwork.  I would often catch flies and moths and feed them to watch what they did to encase them for use to feed their young.

Now, curious people have found a remarkable use for dead spiders taking advantage of their leg actuation mechanisms.  Unlike mammals and other animals, spiders do not have opposing muscles to move their legs.  Their limbs are essentially on rubber bands that stretch to open using internal body pressure.  Remove the internal body pressure and they curl up.  That is why dead spiders all look the way they do.

Take a look at this research from IEEE Spectrum:

Best of all, they are biodegradable when your done!  End of story, right?

Don’t be so lazy.  The simplicity of this solution should make us rethink the approach to the problem.  If it was this easy to take a dead bug and make a gripper, perhaps the whole approach to gripping you see in today’s robots should be rethought.