HydroInfra: Scam! Investment Honeypot for Those Who Also Wanted To Ban DiHydrogen Monoxide

I got an email today from some random Gmail account asking me to write about HyrdoInfra.  OK.  The email begins: "HydroInfra Technologies (HIT) is a Stockholm based clean tech company that has developed an innovative approach to neutralizing carbon fuel emissions from power plants and other polluting industries that burn fossil fuels."

Does it eliminate CO2?  NOx?  Particulates?  SOx?  I actually was at the bottom of my inbox for once so I went to the site.  I went to this applications page.  Apparently, it eliminates the "toxic cocktail" of pollutants that include all the ones I mentioned plus mercury and heavy metals.  Wow!  That is some stuff.

Their key product is a process for making something they call "HyrdroAtomic Nano Gas" or HNG.  It sounds like their PR guys got Michael Crichton and JJ Abrams drunk in a brainstorming session for pseudo-scientific names.

But hold on, this is the best part.  Check out the description of HNG and how it is made:

Splitting water (H20) is a known science. But the energy costs to perform splitting outweigh the energy created from hydrogen when the Hydrogen is split from the water molecule H2O.

This is where mainstream science usually closes the book on the subject.

We took a different approach by postulating that we could split water in an energy efficient way to extract a high yield of Hydrogen at very low cost.

A specific low energy pulse is put into water. The water molecules line up in a certain structure and are split from the Hydrogen molecules.

The result is HNG.

HNG is packed with ‘Exotic Hydrogen’

Exotic Hydrogen is a recent scientific discovery.

HNG carries an abundance of Exotic Hydrogen and Oxygen.

On a Molecular level, HNG is a specific ratio mix of Hydrogen and Oxygen.

The unique qualities of HNG show that the placement of its’ charged electrons turns HNG into an abundant source of exotic Hydrogen.

HNG displays some very different properties from normal hydrogen.

Some basic facts:

  • HNG instantly neutralizes carbon fuel pollution emissions
  • HNG can be pressurized up to 2 bars.
  • HNG combusts at a rate of 9000 meters per second while normal Hydrogen combusts at a rate 600 meters per second.
  • Oxygen values actually increase when HNG is inserted into a diesel flame.
  • HNG acts like a vortex on fossil fuel emissions causing the flame to be pulled into the center thus concentrating the heat and combustion properties.
  • HNG is stored in canisters, arrayed around the emission outlet channels. HNG is injected into the outlets to safely & effectively clean up the burning of fossil fuels.
  • The pollution emissions are neutralized instantly & safely with no residual toxic cocktail or chemicals to manage after the HNG burning process is initiated.

Exotic Hyrdrogen!  I love it.  This is probably a component of the "red matter" in the Abrams Star Trek reboot.  Honestly, someone please tell me this a joke, a honeypot for mindless environmental activist drones.    What are the chemical reactions going on here?  If CO2 is captured, what form does it take?  How does a mixture of Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules in whatever state they are in do anything with heavy metals?  None of this is on the website.   On their "validation" page, they have big labels like "Horiba" that look like organizations thave somehow put their impremature on the study.  In fact, they are just names of analytical equipment makers.  It's like putting "IBM" in big print on your climate study because you ran your model on an IBM computer.

SCAM!  Honestly, when you see an article written to attract investment that sounds sort of impressive to laymen but makes absolutely no sense to anyone who knows the smallest about of Chemistry or Physics, it is an investment scam.

But they seem to get a lot of positive press.  In my search of Google, everything in the first ten pages or so are just uncritical republication of their press releases in environmental and business blogs.   You actually have to go into the comments sections of these articles to find anyone willing to observe this is all total BS.   If you want to totally understand why the global warming debate gets nowhere, watch commenter Michael at this link desperately try to hold onto his faith in HydroInfra while people who actually know things try to explain why this makes no sense.

Update:  If you want an actual nano-material that absorbs various pollutants, this may be one.

Arrogance of the Elite

I am pretty freaking cynical about the political process, so it takes something pretty bad to catch my attention.  This attitude by Obamacare architect Jonathon Gruber, which is likely shared by most of the Administration, simply makes me sick:

An architect of the federal healthcare law said last year that a "lack of transparency" and the "stupidity of the American voter" helped Congress approve ObamaCare.

In a clip unearthed Sunday, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Jonathan Gruber appears on a panel and discusses how the reform earned enough votes to pass.

He suggested that many lawmakers and voters didn't know what was in the law or how its financing worked, and that this helped it win approval.

"Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Gruber said. "And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass."

Gruber made the comment while discussing how the law was "written in a tortured way" to avoid a bad score from the Congressional Budget Office. He suggested that voters would have rejected ObamaCare if the penalties for going without health insurance were interpreted as taxes, either by budget analysts or the public.

"If CBO scored the [individual] mandate as taxes, the bill dies," Gruber said.

"If you had a law that made it explicit that healthy people are going to pay in and sick people are going to get subsidies, it would not have passed," he added.

By the way, Jonathon Gruber was the one in 2012 who said over and over that the limitation of subsidies to state-run exchanges was not a drafting error, but was an intentional feature meant to give incentives to states to create exchanges.  Now that it is clear that incentive did not do its job, and a case is in front of the Supreme Court attempting to enforce the plain language of the law, Gruber is now saying that he mispoke (over and over again) in 2012 and it was a typo.  Given the fact that he has now admitted he would gladly lie (and has) to the public to defend Obamacare, how much should we believe his current claims?

Apple Has an iMessage Fix for Those Switching from iPhone to Android

As I wrote last week, one encountered a terrible problem when switching from iPhone to Android -- your phone number remained registered with the Apple iMessage servers as an iPhone and so that Apple tries to deliver texts from other iPhones to your new Android phone via their iMessage servers.  That does not work, and so the text just disappears into the ether, with the sender thinking it went through fine but the new Android user never seeing it.

After months and months of problems, and at least one class action lawsuit, Apple now offers a fix.  You can now de-register your phone number in the iMessage system by going to this link.  I don't know if it works and I don't know if there is any time delay.  I suddenly started receiving my texts from iPhones this weekend, about a week after I made the switch and called Apple to de-list me in their servers.

By the way, I tried to use the de-listing link.  The process involves a text back.  I never got a text back, lol.  So I am not positive the de-listing link is actually working, but since I was successful (apparently) with it last week doing it using the old method, I am not worried. I was successful using the method at the bottom of this page.

The Madness of Software Design: Designs that Require Customizing Browser Setting to Operate

We are looking at a number of third-party internet-based software solutions for a range of things from HR onboarding to safety and training management.  With minimum wages and other government-imposed employment costs rising, we are looking for ways to automate anything we can.

We have run into a useability issue on most of this software.  As a note, my employees tend to be 55 years old and older, and so many do not have a firm handle on computer skills.  So stuff needs to be simple and just work.  Unfortunately, no one seems to be willing or able to design a system that works with default browser settings.  In particular, everyone wants to design their software to require popups.  I have no idea why.  But time after time I put a system out for a subset of my employees to test and I immediately get 19 people calling me back saying that it does not work, they can't get in, etc.  The typical problem is that most of this software seems to require that the browsers popup blocker be turned off.  Why in the world would you design software for a feature that 99% of browsers today have turned off by default?  And worse, that require users to change a setting that only exists deep in setup menus most users don't even know exist.  I am pretty capable and it took me some poking around to find the popup options in Chrome.

This makes me totally crazy.  I had a long talk today with my onboarding company trying to explain why getting rid of an hour of HR time with their software at the cost of an extra hour of IT support time for each new employee trying to access the system does not save me any freaking money.  We received access to a training and safety system for free from our insurance company but it took so much of my personal time to get each employee able to successfully log into it that we abandoned it this year, despite it having a lot of good resources in it.  I will tell you guys that despite the world of these business solutions being apparently crowded, there is still room out there for someone who can program a front-end that reliably works with a variety of browsers and systems.

Princeton Forced to Cave on Due Process

In the continuing battle to give males in college roughly the same due process rights as possessed by a black man in 1930's Alabama, my alma mater was one of the last holdouts fighting the trend.  No longer:

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Education wrapped up its investigation of Princeton University's sexual harassment and assault policies. The findings were unsurprising, though still striking: the government essentially accused the university of violating federal anti-discrimination law by extending too much due process to accused students.

Princeton had been one of the last hold-outs on the standard of proof in college rape trials. The university required adjudicators to obtain "clear and convincing" proof that a student was guilty of sexual assault before convicting him. That's too tough, said DOE. As part of its settlement, Princeton is required to lower its evidence standard to "a preponderance of the evidence," which means adjudicators must convict if they are 50.1 percent persuaded by the accuser.

Princeton's old policy was also criticized by DOE for allowing accused students to appeal decisions, but not accusers. Both this practice and the evidence standard were revised under Princeton's new, DOE-compliant policy.

Note that Princeton's former policies on burden of proof and restrictions on double jeopardy roughly mirror the due process rights Americans have in every other context except when they are males accused of sexual assault on a college campus.

I wish Princeton had held out and forced the Administration to test this in court.  I certainly would have donated to support the legal fund.

Oregon Student Miles Sisk Gets Butt-Hurt over Criticism, Ken White Gets Hilarious

I am not even going to excerpt it.  You need to read Ken Whites satirical take on Miles Sisk demanding that bloggers who made animated GIF's critical of student government be thrown into concentration camps, or something.

How are people like this going to actually survive in the real world?  They are going to leave college and just sort of explode, like deep sea creatures brought up to the surface.  Someone please tell me that Miles Sisk is actually a clever performance artist.

Update:   OK, one little excerpt:

Sisk has not provided any evidence that the mean bloggers have made threats of harm as opposed to trite gifs and memes about banal student politics. "If a privileged kid who is a student leader at a good university feels he has to demand that the state protect him from criticism, what possible hope do most Americans have of governing themselves?" asked Yale historian Margaret Scott. "Freedom is hard. Self-governance is hard. Living together without resorting to tyranny is hard. Our founders pledged to each other 'our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor' to achieve those goals. This kid won't pledge to put up with someone mocking student government with a Parks & Recreation screencap."

Scientists agreed that Sisk's lack of fortitude — which was described as "pusillanimous," "snivellingly serfish," "contemptibly spineless," and "typical for a sophomore" — marked the rise of an American citizen unable to carry the burdens of representative government, individual rights, or unregulated daily interactions with other humans. "It's not just his craven thirst for totalitarian rule," agreed Duke professor Wil Trent. "It's also the abject ignorance. Running a society together requires a baseline of civic literacy. When even a student leader at a good university is ignorant of the most basic rights of other citizens — game over, man. Game over."

Republicans Beat Candidate Who Was Not Running. Democrats Lost to Candidate Who Was Not Running

Both parties chose to run against people who were not even on the ballot yesterday.  Republicans ran against the President and largely won.  Democrats ran against the Koch brothers (who are not even elected officials or even the largest private donors in the election) and to a lesser extent against mythical candidates who were going to ban all contraception, and lost.

Honestly, I can only remember three elections in the last 40 years with changes in power that really mattered in terms of actual legislative and policy changes:  The first term Reagan and Obama elections and the midterm election of the Gingrich Republicans in '94.

This Republican class lacks the unity around a written legislative agenda that the Gingrich Republicans had.  So I don't really expect much.  The best we can hope for is perhaps a bit more effective push-back against creeping executive power, which certainly would be welcome.

You Know It Is A Small World When...

My son is taking some kind of politics course in Rome (Italy) and the discussion in class yesterday was on Joe Arpaio and immigration.

Voting Advice

I won't advise you on whether or not to vote.  Libertarians are split pretty evenly between "Don't vote, you are just giving authoritarianism your blessing", "Vote Libertarian because it is a useful protest and message", and "Vote for the major party candidate who has a hope of getting elected who is least bad."  I will leave parsing all that to you.

However, if you do vote, I have one bit of advice I always give on propositions:  Your default vote for any proposition (as it should be for legislators) should be "no".  If its purpose is unclear, if you are not sure of the full implications, if you don't know how it is funded, if you haven't thought about unintended consequences, if you haven't heard the pitch from both the 'yes' and 'no' camps -- then vote no.  Also beware that many Propositions that seem outwardly liberty-enhancing are actually Trojan Horses meant to be the opposite.   Vote yes only if you have thought through all this and you are comfortable the new law would have a net positive benefit.

Also, via Maggies Farm, I think this is a good image for election day:

bz-panel-10-10-14

 

Things They Don't Tell iPhone Owners

Well, I just switched from my old iPhone 4 to a Droid Turbo**, a Motorola phone that runs Android rather than iOS.

Here is what they never tell you -- Apple has devised a very clever way to make leaving the iOS world really, really painful.  Specifically, when you send a text message on an iPhone, unless you fiddled with the default settings, it gets sent through iMessage and the Apple servers.  If it is going to another iPhone, it can actually bypass the carrier text messaging system altogether, a nice perk back when texts were not unlimited but useful today mainly for international travel.

But here is the rub -- when you switch you phone line away from an iPhone to an Android device, the Apple servers refuse to recognize this.  They will think you still have an iPhone and will still try to send you messages via the iMessage servers.  What this means in practice is that you can send messages from the new phone to other iPhones, but their texts back to you will not reach you.  They just sort of disappear into the ether, and will try forever to be delivered to your now non-existent iPhone.

This is as good a guide as I can find for the problem, and better than what any Apple employee will tell you.  There are two solutions for this.  Apparently, you can go to every one of your friends and tell them to delete every text they ever sent you and delete you from their phone books and apparently new texts they send you will then skip the iMessage system and get to your phone.  The only problem is that I can't replicate this.  I spent hours with my family's iPhones today removing every text message from my number and every reference to me in their phone books.  But no dice.  Their texts still do not reach me.  Sigh.

The second solution is to call Apple and ask to have your number removed from the iMessage servers.  This was not possible even a few months ago, but there is a large class action lawsuit against Apple on this topic so they seem to at least have trained their customer service staff on this issue, finally.  I called and they readily removed me from the server, but with this caveat -- it wouldn't take effect for 30 days.  I told the rep that this was patently absurd, and she agreed.  But 30 days it will be.  So no matter what I do, every single person in my contact list who has ever texted me from an iPhone is going to think they are texting me but in fact have their texts fly off into the ether.  For 30 days.

This is clearly absurd, and folks thinking of switching to Apple should understand just how hard it is to reverse that decision.

PS-  I have always been amazed at all the goodwill Apple gets for being somehow friendlier and more open to creative individuals than Microsoft.  To me, Apple's philosophy is to host a closed totalitarian world, while Microsoft and Google (admittedly full of foibles and their own issues) have far more open platforms.  Linux guys will laugh at that, but compared to Apple, Microsoft is free love in the park.

 

** reasons why:  I live in the Google world of Google Drive and Apps, so the OS choice is a natural.  I have never figured out iCloud.  I don't care about design elegance, which is good because this phone is as elegant as a brick.  It has a stupid large battery (it may be a tad heavy but it is way lighter than with all you guys that have mophie battery cases on your iphones).  It has fast-charging as well as wireless charging, a good screen, a decent camera, and a fast processor.  It also has a light touch on OS add-ons so it is close to stock android without all the overhead of custom skins and it will be among the first phones to get Android updates (solving the #1 problem of Android over iOS, which is the proliferation of versions across handsets and carriers that slows upgrades).  The only thing it is missing is a memory expansion card port, though you can get it in 64GB which always has been plenty for me.  The only question left is why carriers have to design their phones, these $600 devices that can't be dropped, with super-slick back covers.  The new HTC One M8 is like holding a bar of wet soap.  They all do this, except the Moto X which has a bamboo back that is awesome to hold.

Increasing Tribalism in America

As I mentioned before, the last two days I was sitting in a conference on parks and park management out in California.  Most everyone was pretty respectful in the room, and discussions about race and ethnicity that could have degenerated into political finger-pointing generally did not.

But there was one exception I thought really odd.  A gentleman (can't remember his name), who is apparently the marketing director for Delaware North Company's extensive concession operations in Yellowstone, began his talk by expressing how crazy he thought Conservative Republicans are.  I thought this was a lead in for some kind of joke, but actually he just seemed to want to make sure that though he was currently living in Wyoming, no one should mistake him for a Conservative.  My guess at the time was that this man was transferred to this post after growing up back East, and is constantly embarrassed to think his tribe of liberal Easterners might think he was part of that flyover country Republican tribe.  Otherwise, I can't figure out why he would feel the need to make us understand this -- it certainly had nothing to do with his pitch and it seemed like a terrible marketing practice, particularly given the likely demographics of his current customer base.**

In fact, in a bit of irony I see repeated fairly often, he used this as an intro to his speech on a day where the main topic was inclusiveness (for those in the parks world, we ritualistically beat ourselves up at every opportunity for not attracting enough young people, urbanites, and people of color to rural public parks).  In theory, "inclusiveness" and "diversity" are supposed to mean that we are trying to get rid of the whole in-group / out-group thing altogether, but I often suspect that in practice, many folks are using them as code words for just shifting the out-group tag from one set of people to another.

 

** PS-  which should not be taken to mean that I necesarily would disagree with him if we discussed the details, just that it seemed a pointless and even self-defeating observation to make in this context.

Listening to California Parks People Discuss Climate Change

Some random highlights:

  • I watched a 20 minute presentation in which a woman from LA parks talked repeatedly about the urban heat island being a result of global warming
  • I just saw that California State Parks, which is constantly short of money and has perhaps a billion dollars in unfunded maintenance needs, just spent millions of dollars to remove a road from a beachfront park based solely (they claimed) based on projections that 55 inches of sea level rise would cause the road to be a problem.  Sea level has been rising 3-4mm a year for over 150 years and even the IPCC, based on old much higher temperature increase forecasts, predicted about a foot of rise.
  • One presenter said that a 3-5C temperature rise over the next century represent the low end of reasonable forecasts.  Most studies of later are showing a climate sensitivity of 1.5-2.0 C (I still predict 1C) with warming over the rest of the century of about 1C, or about what we saw last century
  • I watched them brag for half an hour about spending tons of extra money on make LEED certified buildings.  As written here any number of times, most LEED savings come through BS gaming of the rules, like putting in dedicated electric vehicle parking sites (that do not even need a charger to get credit).  In a brief moment of honesty, the architect presenting admitted that most of the LEED score for one building came from using used rather than new furniture in the building.
  • They said that LEED buildings were not any more efficient than most other commercial buildings getting built, just a matter of whether you wanted to pay for LEED certification -- it was stated that the certification was mostly for the plaque.  Which I suppose is fine for private businesses looking for PR, but why are cash-strapped public agencies doing it?

My Favorite Personal Pumpkin Effort

Pumpkin1   Pumpkin2

I traced a world map on the pumpkin, and then thinned the pumpkin skin in the land masses without cutting all the way through.  Since there are no holes, you will need an electric light to illuminate it.

Much Better Performance on Mobil Devices for Coyoteblog

With the help of several readers, I did a revamp on some of my site code that I think substantially fixed performance on mobile devices -- in particular, the large right hand margin that made the site really small is gone.  The site scales well to most of the devices I have tried, and as a bonus I learned enough about putting mobile code in CSS that the font for the main post section (not the margins) should increase automatically now on small, high density screens.

My Son, the Libertarian Economics Major

Conversation over text today between my wife and my son who is in Venice:

wife:  "So the gondola ride wasn't the highlight?"

son:  "It was pretty fun... I just kept thinking about the economic barriers to entry into that field.  They are basically a closed guild."

 

So Why Is Paul Krugman Now Defending the Privileges of the 0.1%?

Apparently Paul Krugman has weighed in on Amazon and has concluded that it has "too much power".

I just cannot believe progressives are falling into the trap of defending major publishers against Amazon.  People like Krugman who bash Amazon are effectively setting themselves up as defenders of a small oligarchy of entrenched publishers who have, until recently, done a very good job of making themselves the sole gatekeeper of who gets into print.  Amazon is breaking this age-old system down, in the same way that Uber is challenging taxi cartels and Tesla is challenging traditional auto dealer networks, and giving most everyone access to the book buyer.

The system that Krugman is defending is the system of the 1%.  Or 0.1%.  The current publishing system benefits about 200 major authors who are in the system and whose work has traditionally been spammed by the large publishers to every bookstore and news outlet.  When you walk into an airport book seller, how much diversity of books do you see on the front table?   You just know that you are going to see Sue Grafton's "AA is for Aardvark" and Janet Evanovich's "Fabulous Forty-Six".  The publishers have risk-return marketing incentives to push the 46th Stephanie Plum novel over trying any new author.

So while the traditional publishers flog the 0.1% of authors, Amazon has empowered 20,000 authors.   Those who sell just a few thousand copies (or fewer) of books have found an outlet in Amazon that never existed for them (as disclosure, I am one of those).  And writers who distribute mainly through Amazon get a far higher percentage of their book revenues than they ever would get from the traditional publishers.

So Amazon is helping the consumer (lower prices) and 99.9% of authors (better access and higher profits).  It is perhaps hurting the top 0.1% and a few century-old entrenched corporations.  So what doesn't Krugman like?

Not Sure That Word Means What You Think It Means

While I share this individual's frustration with the Obama Administration's lack of transparency, I am not sure this phrasing quite works

“There is no precedent for President Obama’s Nixonian assertion of executive privilege over these ordinary government agency records,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a written statement.

If the assertion is "Nixonian", doesn't that imply that there is indeed a precedent?  Otherwise how would the practice be named after someone else?

PS- since we were on the subject of grammar and editing yesterday, I will say that yes, I know the comma after "Nixonian" above is supposed to be inside the quotes.  But as an engineer and former programmer, this rule is entirely illogical.   It's like writing 3+(x+y*)7 instead of 3+(x+y)*7.   I do it the way that makes logical sense.

Poof. There Goes My Free Time

The new installment in the Civilization computer game series is out.  This review dings it a bit for being too like the last installment (Civ 5), but I am sure I will like it because I still evidence addictive behavior whenever I go back to Civ 5.  Just one more turn....  After how badly the Sim City franchise has been trashed in recent installments, I will take a Civ game that is safely similar to the old Civ games.  Though my life, the Civilization game series is probably second only to having children in terms of sucking up my free time.

With the Advent of Mandatory Paid Sick Leave in California, Here are a Few Sick Leave Excuses

The AZ Republic rounds up some actual sick leave excuses people have tried:

"I accidentally got on a plane" was on the list of most dubious excuses for calling in sick to work, according to a recent survey by careerbuilders.com.

"I just put a casserole in the oven," "I need to tweak my botched plastic surgery," and "I broke my ankle after my leg fell asleep while I was sitting on the toilet," were among other hilarious, yet real, excuses that employers reported.

The survey found that 28 percent of employees called in sick when they were feeling well, down from 32 percent last year, and that one in four employers have caught an employee faking sick through social media.

There are more at the link.

We get very, very little of this, so we are lucky to have great employees.  Since many of my employees are in the 70s, 80s, and even 90s (really), employee absences are generally real, quite serious health concerns.  Besides, since most of my employees live on the work site, it is a little harder to fake this kind of thing.

It will be interesting what having the incentive of getting paid, in addition to just skipping out of work, will do to this.

From My Vantage Point, Social Security Disability is Totally Corrupt

Nicole Kaeding of Cato has an article on the SSD system heading for bankruptcy.  I can tell you from my experience that a week does not go by when someone doesn't come to me looking for work and saying something like, "I am on full disability but I am fully able to work.  However, I can't take any pay because that would screw up my disability payments.  Can I work for you and have you write my payroll checks to my wife?"

The easy answer to that is "no".  With a backlog of 25000+ people who want a job, why am I going to help them cheat, particularly when it would be me taking the legal risk?

I once had an ex-employee who was applying for a SS disability.  You may not understand that for many folks, getting a Social Security lifetime disability is like hitting the lottery.  This employee knew that if asked, we would have to tell the SS investigator that she seemed fully able to do her job and never demonstrated any reduced functionality.  So to pre-empt that, she and her attorney sent me a letter saying that if we in any way testified to her being able to work and prevented her from getting her disability payment, she would tie me up in court for years, suing me for sexual harassment, discrimination, and everything else she could think of.

Oops, Coyote Blog's 10-year Anniversary Passed About a Month Ago

I guess as I have aged I don't tend to pay much attention to birthdays either, but as of last month this blog is ten years old.  Hard to believe.  Celebrating a decade of my inability to proof-read.  Thanks for your patients.

PS- yes, I did that on purpose.

PPS - I actually do know the difference between its and it's, for example, but I just don't always execute carefully.  However, I use "them" and "they" and "their" intentionally as a third-party singular pronoun in an effort to establish from the ground up a gender-neutral third party pronoun, because saying "he or she" sucks.

I Can't Understand the Obsession with Streetcars

I just don't get it -- why the obsession with streetcars?  Why pay zillions of dollars to create what is essentially a bus line on rails, a bus line that costs orders of magnitude more per passenger to operate and is completely inflexible.  It can never be rerouted or moved or easily shut down if changes in demand warrant.  And, unlike with heavy rail on dedicated tracks, there is not even a gain in mobility since the streetcars have to wallow through traffic and intersections like everyone else.

What we see over and over again is that by consuming 10-100x more resources per passenger, rail systems starve other parts of the transit system of money and eventually lead to less, rather than more, total ridership (even in Portland, by the way).

But apparently, in DC the cannibalization of buses is even worse, as the streetcars are getting in the way and slowing buses down:  (hat tip to a reader)

Three District mayors have backed plans to return streetcars to D.C. streets, following in the transit-oriented footsteps of Portland, Ore., and other cities. Officials in the nation’s capital want to build a 20-plus-mile network connecting neighborhoods from Georgetown and Takoma to Anacostia, linking richer and poorer communities, giving people an alternative to the automobile and, they argue, spurring development along the routes. Eventually they see a system stretching about 37 miles.

... The inaugural 2.2-mile line, on H Street and Benning Road NE, is viewed by some as proof that the concept will work. Others see the opposite.....

Buses are facing significant delays behind the streetcars, which are making regular practice runs meant to simulate everyday operations. “We’re having to go around them. Since H Street has narrow lanes to begin with, it’s a challenge,” Hamre said. He said he has instructed bus drivers to pass streetcars only when they are stopped.

“That reduces the risk of misjudging,” Hamre said.

But it also forces faster-moving buses to hang back and wait for the less-agile streetcars, prolonging commutes for the much larger population of bus riders.

Back in 2010, District transportation officials estimated that 1,500 people a day will ride streetcars on the H Street/Benning Road line once it opens. But the X-line Metrobuses that travel the same streets — and go farther east and west — carry more than 12,000 passengers a day.

Apparently, the line creates so much value that no one is willing to pay even a dollar to ride it, so they will not be charging for the service for now.  By the way, from the "I don't think that word means what you think it means" files, note the use of the term "revenue service":

Early plans were to charge $1 or more a ride. But now “DDOT has determined that fares will not be collected at the start of revenue service,” according to a DDOT plan dated Oct. 2.

And from the "and other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln" files:

District officials said the move will solve a pair of outstanding problems: They don’t have a system in place to collect fares, and ridership is projected to be underwhelming.

97% Mortgages are 100% Insane

I am not sure there was ever any excuse for considering a 97% loan-to-value mortgage as "sensible" or "responsible."  After all, even without a drop in the market, the buyer is likely underwater on day one (net of real estate commissions).  Perhaps for someone who is very wealthy, whose income is an order of magnitude or two higher than the payments, this might be justfiable, but in fact these loans tend to get targeted at the most marginal of buyers.

But how can this possibly make sense when just 5 years ago the financial markets collapsed in large part due to these risky mortgages?  Quasi-public, now fully public guarantors Fannie and Freddie had to be bailed out by taxpayers with hundreds of billions of dollars.  There are still a non-trivial number of people trapped deep underwater in such mortgages, still facing foreclosure or trying to engineer a short sale after seeing the small bits of equity they invested swamped by a falling housing market.

But, here they go again:  Fannie and Freddie, now fully backed by the taxpayer, are ready to rush out and re-inflate a financial bubble by making what are effectively nothing-down loans:

Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt has one heck of a sense of humor. How else to explain his choice of a Las Vegas casino as the venue for his Monday announcement that he’s revving up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to enable more risky mortgage loans? History says the joke will be on taxpayers when this federal gamble ends the same way previous ones did.

At his live appearance at Sin City’s Mandalay Bay, Mr. Watt told a crowd of mortgage bankers that “to increase access for creditworthy but lower-wealth borrowers,” his agency is working with Fan and Fred “to develop sensible and responsible guidelines for mortgages with loan-to-value ratios between 95 and 97%.”

The incredible part is that the Obama administration is justifying this based on all the people still underwater from the last time such loans were written.   The logic, if one can call it that, is to try to re-inflate the housing market now, and worry about the consequences -- never, I guess.  Politicians have an amazing capacity to mindlessly kick the can down the road, where short-term is the next morning's papers and unimaginably far in the distant future is after their next election.

My Emotional Support Alpaca

This is a great article about the fraudulent practices people pursue to try to take advantage of rules about service animals that help people with true disabilities to bring their pets with them everywhere.  This kind of crap strikes me as being in the same category as folks who used to hire disabled kids to go to Disneyworld with them so they could skip the lines (a practice, by the way, that led to Disney giving fewer special privileges to handicapped kids because of the abuse).

I will say from personal experience that the pressure on service businesses to succumb to this sort of service animal fraud is immense, especially in places like California where the financial penalties for even tiny well-meaning infractions of bewildering ADA rules are substantial.  My employees once felt they had to allow a woman to bring her horse (!) into the park because she had letters like the ones in this article saying she required the horse for emotional support.

This week I was at a conference where a featured speaker was an executive of the Forest Service named Joe Meade who happens to be blind.  I say "happens to" because Joe is one of the best, and best-loved, executives in that organization and what makes him great has little or nothing to do with his disability.  But I watched him work his way through a hotel with his service dog -- a casino hotel I got lost in about 4 times and I could read the signs -- and the skills that dog had are simply amazing.  Service dogs like that get deference from service businesses for a reason.  It infuriates me that people are trying to counterfeit that kind of credential so they don't have to pay an extra airplane fare for their cat.  And the only way they get away with it is because of our screwed up tort system that leaves service businesses at the mercy of even the most outrageous claims.  Because we businesses have given up on, particularly in places like California, ever getting real justice.

hattip:  Overlawyered.

Long, Long, Long Several Weeks

I am finally back and I have mostly climbed on top of the hosting and web attack issues we have been having.  I honestly think site performance will be better, at the cost of a bit of caching that might delay new posts for a few minutes.

Many thanks to the Young Republicans of Dekalb County who hosted a fun event in Atlanta.  I particularly enjoyed meeting Don Boudreaux, whose writing I have admired for some time.  Hopefully they will have a video of the talk I can post soon.

Over the next few days I am playing with site widths to try to overcome some problems displaying on certain mobile devices.  I have been told I should give up and restart with a mobile-friendly newer template but statements like that are just raw meat, making it more likely I bang my head against the older template to try to make it work.