8-13-16 Hodgepodge

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Epstein Reviewed at Watt Up With That?

A climate-focused blog posted a positive review of Alex Epstein's The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, which I read last week, while traveling. Here's an excerpt:

Consider, as Mr. Epstein does, that the average human burns at least 1,800 kilocalories of energy a day. The range is from around 1,800 to 8,000 (very intense exercise can burn 12,000 kilocalories in a day) depending upon the level of activity. When we say "calories" of food we are really talking about kilocalories of energy. A 100 Watt light bulb if left on for 32 hours uses 2,000 kilocalories of energy. In the United States in 2011, the average person's daily energy use (according to the EIA) is 216,095 kilocalories (very similar to the value Epstein gives of 186,000). This includes gasoline, electricity and other outside sources of energy.
The reviewer goes on to say, "This is between 27 and 120 human beings worth of energy. So, Mr. Epstein makes this point:"
"In the past, before modern energy technology, the main way to overcome the problem of human weakness was putting others into a state of servitude or slavery -- which meant that only some could prosper, and at the great expense of others. But with machine energy and machine servants, no one has to suffer ... "
The above exemplifies just one of the game-changing aspects of Epstein's argument for fossil fuels: fully considering the benefits they bring to human beings (along with why they are uniquely capable of delivering them). Too often, people in the climate change debate either fail to do this at all, or operate under the assumption that it will be much easier to replace this source of energy that it really is. (At the same time, they will treat proposed alternatives, like solar, as if they have no downsides of their own.)

I am two years late to this party, but it won't end any time soon, and I highly recommend joining. The book was only a couple of hundred pages, and yet got to the heart of the many complex issues in the climate debate with astonishing efficiency and clarity. As the reviewer indicates, it is available on Amazon.

Weekend Reading

"Imagine if Churchill had said, 'We can't stop Hitler. It will make him really mad, and he'll bomb London.'" -- Michael Hurd, in " Paul Ryan Should Not Complain About Trump" at Newsmax

"If we take responsibility for discovering what [our contradictory desires] are and then correct them, we'll spare ourselves, and those we love, a lot of trouble and pain." -- Michael Hurd, in "In a Panic Over Love" at The Delaware Wave

"By creatively reframing your view of winter, and then adapting to it, your mind and brain will remain stimulated and engaged all year long." -- Michael Hurd, in "Feeling SAD?" at The Delaware Coast Press

"[M]odern monetary economists ... say if Larry grows no crops, but the price of his farm is rising, then he has a real yield, just as if he was operating his farm." -- Keith Weiner, in "Another Serious Real Interest Rate Fallacy" at SNB & CHF

Poor Design Can Kill

Pro Publica notes a deadly accident to which a silly "monostable" car shifter design contributed. The shifter in question, although it somewhat resembles a traditional automatic transmission shifter, neither provides the tactile nor visual feedback most people are accustomed to when shifting gears, and lacked a failsafe for the car door being opened with the transmission engaged. This tragic story strongly reminded me of a confusing shifter I once encountered in a rental car, and there are plenty of others:
BMW M-car DCT gear selector

This abomination is found in any BMW M-car sporting a dual-clutch transmission. While it doesn't seem too terrible to operate at first (aside from it being an automatic), it lacks the all-important park position. Instead of simply sliding the gear selector into park, you must keep your foot on the brake while shutting the car down, after which the transmission puts itself into park. BMW even realized the setup was confusing, so the car honks loudly if you try to exit the vehicle with the engine off and the car not in park -- you know, because creating a fail-safe system of warnings is easier than putting park on the gear selector. Each of our editors drive hundreds of cars per year, and many of them have driven old cars equipped with all manner of shift mechanisms. Yet several of them had to resort to reading the owner's manual to figure out how to get a BMW M DCT into park the first time they drove one. [bold added]
I have wondered how poor designs reach the market here in the past. Caveat emptor is a big part of the answer, but it is not always obvious that something slick-looking can take a life. I'll remember this the next time I am on the market for a car, and so should you.

-- CAV

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