November 2014

Hey, sailor! 
In honor of the end of the American baseball season (who won? I don't even know...), let's start November with a recording of the third most-sung tune in America (after Happy Birthday and the Star-Spangled Banner), Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Most people only know the chorus, let's go back to 1908 and hear the entire song.  We agree with Katie Casey's assessment, we'll skip the show and head for the stadium, given the option!

Take Me Out to the Ballgame, by Jack Norworth

Before we get onto the Gigafactory topic, let's take some time to wish all our LGBT friends out there that are finally getting the basic right of being able to marry who they want and achieve other rights promised by the US Declaration of Independence of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". If you have a problem with that statement, why don't we discuss it sometime in a leather bar with some of my fabulous friends? I'll buy the drinks at Oil Can Harry's!

The United States sadly can no longer fix many of the world's big problems, but we can fix at least one problem right here at home,  right now. You can compare the US with the rest of the world on LGBT rights here. Perhaps your religion provides you with a centuries-old opinion on why being gay is some type of crime. But you're an engineer, you know that you can't pray the gay away, there is no magic "homo-no-'mo" pill that can be developed.  Here's a study in the journal of physics that puts some math into another topic, the disappearance of religion in certain countries (Switzerland, Austria, Finland...)

Let's celebrate diversity, acceptance and inclusion and stop acting like neanderthals.  Here's a well-recognized song, apropos for recent events.  All the Young Dudes, by Mott the Hoople, went to #3 in the UK and #37 in the US. One of the first openly gay songs to chart on the radio, it's not a protest song.  It's just telling it like it was, and not as a hidden message like the Monkees "Last Train to Clarksville". The name "Mott the Hoople"  came from a novel you can buy on Amazon, Christmas is coming up (hint-hint). Dudes was written and produced by David Bowie, a bisexual musical genius. The word "dude" has had many historical connotations, dude!

All the young dudes (Hey dudes!)
Carry the news (Where are ya?)
Boogaloo dudes (Stand up, come on)
Carry the news!

During the past year there was a contest between a few states for Tesla's "first" "Giga Factory".  Arizona (where I live) was in the running, so was was California, near the Salton Sea, Texas, New Mexico and Nevada. Texas has demonstrated a penchant for encouraging billionaires to open toxic waste sites and does not add to the Federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, an attractive combination. In the end, Nevada won, thanks to its low minimum wage and a package the legislature was willing to provide worth  $1,250,000,000 in incentives. Bravo, suckers!  The city of Tucson went so far as to write Tesla a love letter, but there was no way to make any promises about tax-free status in a region that is struggling maintain its infrastructure.

Tesla has been all the rage, entering the luxury car market with an fast electric car that is powered with thousands of lithium-ion batteries. This is touted as green energy, or "zero emissions". Zero emissions is kind of a lie, unless you believe in the plan that Elon Musk will build solar energy charging stations all over the country. Solar energy isn't exactly a green technology, when you consider all energy and rare materials witches' brew that goes into semiconductor fabrication. If and when the Giga-factory catches on fire, it will be a catastrophe on par with the  Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. 

Lithium batteries are about the worst idea there is for powering a car. There is only a small amount of lithium on Earth, just 10's of millions of tons. The largest deposit is in Bolivia, a country where the CIA once participated in assassinating Che Guevara, so we have some experience in manipulating politics down there.  In spite of lithium being rare and valuable, recycling rates are abysmally low. Another thing to watch is the shortage of rare-earth metals that are used to make magnets for all those motors. 

The United States' only lithium mine is in Nevada, halfway between Reno and Las Vegas, and soon to be connected to the Gigfactory with a new highway. The Chemetall Foote Lithium Operation in Silver Peak is immediately going  to double capacity.  It is funny how mines requiring millions of acre-feet of water every year are usually located in a desert that must share a dwindling water supply with millions of people.  Much like the open-pit copper mines in Arizona, except in Nevada the population is too sparse and poor to complain about the general ugliness, poisoned water and airborne particulates.  

Chemetall-Foote lithium mine 800

Chemetall-Foote lithium mine. 

The pretty blue waters of the evap ponds attract migratory birds, killing any that are unlucky enough to be a little thirsty,

Surely, there is a better technology to keep putting people on the road in the future as carbon starts to kill off the planet.  Ever hear of hydrogen?  For any form of energy consumption, for sure, less is more.

Check out the Elio Car.  Like Tesla, Elio aims to make use of an abandoned General Motors factory (Tesla in the old NUMMI factory in Fremont California, Elio in Louisiana at the former Shreveport Assembly and Stamping facility).  As General Motors rises from the ashes, they are building new facilities where no one gets their hands dirty, like the IT center in Chandler Arizona, (in the metropolitan Phoenix area, named after the mythical bird that also decomposed).  The Unknown Daughter works there!

Unfortunately for Elio, world gas prices are dropping rapidly, partially due to the effect of pumping an additional million barrels of oil out of the North Dakota fields. The low price of gas will be the critical factor in both company's future bankruptcies, at least that is what the shareholders are going to hear.  In Tesla's case, that's good news for the planet.  In Elio's case, this good idea will come back to life as soon as gas prices double down, just like windmills came back, years after that industry started up in the 1970s..

Most reasonable people know that global warming is eventually going to destroy the planet, but the average person doesn't think about next year, let alone after they are dead.  A simple analogy to our planet is a log that is inhabited by termites. In the end, the termites consume the log, then look for another one.  Too bad the next log (Mars) has no atmosphere, let alone no oil fields. Gas is cheap, go buy a bigger car! I'll wave to you in my Elio, dude!


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