Number of the Month

August 2014

Meanwhile, back at the BIG Broadcasting Corporation

What better illustration could you find of the principle that Bureaucrats like big than the tale of the BBC technology scapegoat? Despite the ever-growing list of inevitable dramatic failures, bureaucrats follow the same paths with the same results and with monotonous repetition. As Einstein is reputed to have said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Added to this, and well illustrated by this case in point, is the willingness of newly appointed bureaucratic bosses to write off millions in cancelling such projects, with no attempt to retrieve any useful products of such activity. It is inconceivable that there were no successful outcomes to so much effort hidden within the overall muddle. This kind of waste is common in all large corporations, public or private. Easy come, easy go!

The right way to approach such enterprises is by way of thorough feasibility studies followed by small pilot projects. That way the denizens of the organisation can be recruited to the cause rather than having it imposed on them, which is sure to engender resistance. The story of the BBC is rife with the scrapping of valuable historic programme material so that videotape can be re-used. Much now exists only in the form of poor quality recordings illegally made by amateur enthusiasts.

The BBC was one of the greatest achievements of the British culture. It is so sad to witness its decline, all due to the social diseases of the day.


Zealotry unconstrained

As we observed last month, the silly season is also the marching season of the zealots, which has prompted a timely and well reasoned intervention by Peter Oborne in The Telegraph. He rightly attributes the phenomenon to the Blair legacy, and now the self proclaimed Heir to Blair, Stuntman Dave, has preserved this tyrannical state funded bullying as an established function of government. Oborne also accurately observes that it is contrary to all the fundamental instincts of true Conservatives. It was also Oborne who last year remarked that “Cameron is trashing his own party, and it’s not a pretty sight”. He lost an election that was effectively gifted to him, which launched the baleful coalition that has subsequently benighted natural conservatives, and he is now well on the way to losing another. Thanks to the bitchiness of his Lib Dem partners he goes into it with the handicap of an electoral system that is unfairly biased against his party. The party that was once the most efficient electoral machine in the west now lies in tatters and UKIP is picking up the pieces.


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Bad day and black dog

Deep depression today! Visiting His Grace to be informed of the latest follies (as you do) I find that the awards for silliness go to the two organisations to which I devoted much of my prime of life. The University of Southampton and the Institute of Physics have exceeded even my own expectations of the heights of ludicrousness to which they now aim. In my own time we successfully fought off attempts to smuggle “environmental studies” into the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science on the grounds that they were merely a means to allow a lowering of standards of admission, particularly in mathematics and physics, so that anxieties in some departments about filling their student places could be assuaged. It would be inevitable that such laxity would lead to serious slippage of academic standards among the staff. So it has now transpired! The paper in question was described by WUWT as “hilarious”; perhaps so, but for some of us the tragedy greatly surpasses the comedy.

As for the IoP inviting the Queen of Misdirected Models to address them, it beggars belief. Not only do she and her staff know nothing of the dangers of computer modelling, they have walked blindly into every one of them.


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Flights of flatulence

Yes, it really is the height of the silly season. The enginasters are back with their ludicrous proposals for airborne generators and presumably there are still enough naïve “marks” around to fund the grifters’ fun.

We have now been commenting on the fatuous nature of these proposals for over thirteen years. That is enough time for any genuine breakthrough to develop into a major industry (the airplane, the transistor etc.) but those promised megawatts of power have never materialised. It is gratifying to note that a couple of the contributors to the latest seasonal discussion on WUWT have actually read our damning remarks on the subject, but we still wait for the first genius to come along and prove us wrong. Meanwhile the “long con” goes on. They don’t make films like The Sting any more, but we do have reality for entertainment and mostly it is not real money that is being spent, just taxes. Easy come, easy go!

By the way – whatever happened to that Australian professor who was flogging this idea back in 2001? He must have delivered at least a few terajoules by now.


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Exercises in style

I have partly recovered from that bad day at the office and have faced up to self analysis of my strong reaction to that emission from the University of Southampton. There was something alien in the whole production, even beyond the totalitarian political narrative. It was the style. It is English , Jim, but not as we know it. As other commentators have noticed, the phenomenon is exemplified by the torrent of weird hyphenations (What is a key-driver, if not a driver of keys?). Perhaps the Arts Critics have something after all in their claims that writing style can be symptomatic of deeper mental disturbances.

The style of the IoP contribution is set by the second and third words of the title. As soon as you see the catch-phrase “the planet” you know what you are in for. Quite apart from its role as a declaration of cult membership it betrays an inability to recognise what is “corny”. As for the remainder of the title, the very idea that climate computer models can tell you anything about the future is contradicted not only by reason but also by results of forecasts over more than a decade. These models were made inherently unstable by the inclusion of positive feedback and the literature confirms that mechanisms for this were deliberately sought out. They are destined to climb, whatever the input data.

It is no coincidence that both these enormities start out from the false premise that the demonization of carbon is apodictic.

And to think I started out the year with the statement that there is nothing left to say. Oh well, at least I anticipated that it was all going to be painful and long lasting.


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The availability of energy

Up above my head I see trouble in the air
Up above my head I see trouble in the air
Up above my head I see trouble in the air
And I really do believe, I say I really do believe, there is a heaven somewhere.
Gospel song

 The heading to the piece on WUWT about the latest burgeoning of aero-fairy power generation draws attention to an often ignored principle – it is not just the presence of energy that matters, it is also its availability (to do work). Yet it is clear from subsequent discussions that, there and elsewhere, this fundamental rule is widely misunderstood. The ignorant political classes have established such firm control of education and science that myths and scams have been widely and officially propagated as truisms. The myths surrounding swindles such as perpetual motion and zero point energy, for example, all arise from ignorance of the concept of availability of energy.

Those who have had the benefit of studying thermodynamics have an advantage in understanding this concept of availability. That is what that mysterious word “entropy” is all about. Heat energy is all around us, but the fundamental question is “How much is available?” Consider, instead, a tarn filled with many tons of water. It represents a great deal of potential energy. This has been derived from the sun via a process of evaporation and condensation, but it can only be made available (i.e. returned to flowing kinetic energy as hydro-power) if there is not only a “source” but also a “sink”. The available energy per unit mass is then proportional to the distance of height between the source and the sink. So it is with heat (Carnot’s theorem and the second law of thermodynamics). The amount of energy available depends on the difference of temperature between source and sink. That is why the old fashioned railway steam engine earned the childhood nickname of “puffer”. Some of the energy is used to produce an enhanced draught of air that raises the temperature of combustion of coal.

The myth of airborne power generation, however, is maintained by ignoring a more subtle set of constraints arising from the physics of energy transmission. While transmission by electromagnetic radiation is theoretically feasible, though reaction forces still have to be maintained, it amounts to creating a death-ray with all the dire consequences that this science fiction term implies. That leaves just the possibility of using matter in its solid state for electrical conduction and insulation. The trouble here is that such matter has mass and therefore crucially weight, which both stubbornly increase with the amount of electrical power to be carried. There are of course many other relevant properties of matter, such as elasticity and tensile strength, but weight is what kills the idea and means that its promoters have to hide the problem by ignoring it, thus making the whole thing a scam. Energy is abundant, but available energy is not, particularly nowadays if you take into account the vital element of constancy of supply.


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It was meant to be a joke

A decade ago Number Watch used to include satirical little pieces that were meant to be absurd projections of reality. Trouble is so many of them turned out to be accurate predictions. The latest of these is a mock advert from May2003, which has just become reality.

It’s a mad world, my masters.


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The scientific simpletons strike again – Brussels sprouts a new absurdity

The latest EU diktat forcibly limits the power rating of vacuum cleaners. This action epitomises the fantasy world in which the authoritarian bureaucrats live and operate.

They pontificate on energy and power, without demonstrating any knowledge of what those terms mean and how they are related.

It is a truism that reducing the energy used in house-cleaning reduces the total energy consumption, just as pissing in the ocean raises the sea level. It is far from veritable, however, that reducing the power of a device employed reduces the energy required to complete a given task. If you use a low-power drill to make a hole in a wall it takes longer and may well consume much more energy than using a high-power one. Wasting the time of ordinary punters, however, is not just irrelevant to the bureaucrats; it is a means of forcing them into rituals of religious sacrifice, which is the covert purpose of the exercise.

The EU spokes-personage manages to garble both science and the English language in one short paragraph:

“The amount of watt does not automatically indicate how well a vacuum cleaner will clean. The amount of watt indicates how much electrical power is used by the engine,” Ms Holzer wrote. “The important question is: How efficient is this electrical power translated into picking-up dust?”

The real tragedy for Europe, however, is not in these trivially pious impositions on ordinary people by the priesthood. It is the driving out of vital industries, so that they have to relocate elsewhere in the world. A whole continent is teetering on the edge of economic disaster. The Euro, patched up with string and brown paper, staggers from one crisis to another, while its proponents posture impotently in the international supremacy game. As with the EPA in the USA, the enemy within is lodged at the heart of government.

 So we have:

Number of the month – 1600

This is the limit of power in watts for vacuum cleaners, enforced by irrational EU diktat, to be reduced to 900 in 2017.


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