If you want answers that never change, definitive conclusions and final truths, odds are you don’t want to ask a scientist.

Shankar Vedantam

Hidden Brain podcast Epsisode 32: The scientific process


Power Plant Basics: The Steam Cycle

This is a better place to start than condensate and feed.

For some reason I don’t understand I get the nerves about posting these, so I’m telling myself that they are all rough drafts and I as I get better at the software and pacing I’ll come back and do a better version.

That being said the learning cycle has to be closed for any significant improvement to be made.  This means a product must be finished, and then examined for what parts of it are good and what parts are weak, and how the strong parts were executed, and how the weak parts can be improved.

*This is why all great architects do their great work so late in life:  The learning cycle is often 10 years from first concept to finished product to incorporate feedback.

One of the things necessary for this to work is time to become less attached to the product.  Another important ingredient is feedback (and the creator being receptive to that feedback while knowing when to ignore it and stick to the vision).

So here it is.


My intended audience is junior power plant operators who have been around valves and pumps and equipment before, but lack a big picture of how the parts are supposed to fit together.



When discussing the gaurunteed minimum income in Saudi Arabia:

“As a result, most people have sinecure positions that don’t contribute to the economy.”

Tim O’Reilly

during interview on Econtalk

SINECURE : a job or position in which someone is paid to do little or no work.

from Medieval Latinbeneficium sine cura” … or benefits without care

SINE : latin – without (sans)

CURA: latin – care (cure)

thanks to Myriam webster and etymonline.

Dead Pigeons

You reach a certain point in your carreer where you have developed some specialized knowledge and skills, you’ve developed the respect of your coworkers, where you’re paid $25, $30, $35/hr and you no longer expecte to be asked to clean up dead pigeons.

The email went out telling me the plant manager had asked for exactly that… and I was too emabarassed to order my guys to do it.  I put it off.

When I came back in on night shifts I went to the feeder deck to clean dead pigeons.  I knew I had seen them there and I figured this was the place in the boiler building most likely to have been visited by the brass… Someone else had already done it.  Since I already had my gloves and trashbag I proceded to walk higher up the structure.  It wasn’t long before I started finding them.  Over the next few night shifts I removed the remains of 25 pigeons.

Then I stood in front of my guys and I told them all this.  And I explained that management is not going to hire a contractor to come and clean up all the pigeon corpses.  And even if they did, what makes me think I’m fundamentally better than that guy.

What it really comes down to is ownership.  If the dead pigeons were at your house you wouldn’t ignore them.  You’d get rid of them.  By stepping over them here you are saying that you don’t care about this place.  That you don’t take pride in your work.  And some of the messes around here aren’t as benign as pigeons, or flyash, or coal dust.  Some of the messes were left by someone else who works here and doesn’t take sufficient pride in their job… trust me no matter how long you ignore it, they will NEVER come back and clean it up.  It will eventually fall onto someone who cares to clean it up.

Let’s all choose to be that someone.

Aging, Soreness, and Trampolines

There was a time when I was young and active.  Infact I was more than active, I was HYPER-active.  I traveled by bike and I traveled wide.  I had been known to run a half mile to a friends house because it was faster than walking.  I sometimes rode my bike to Adam’a house and then would race him back with me on foot and him on his bike and I was allowed to take all the short-cuts and he had to ride off course to find driveways to cross the streets and these races were very close.

Later I became a teenager and I started to lift weights too try and bulk-up because I thought I was too skinny.  The first thing that happened was that I lost 12 lbs.  After about a month I gained that back and about 10 more in muscle.  I was still only 165, but it was an intense 165.  When I shifted from extended random activity to weight lifting and indian sprints at soccor practice I was often sore from exercise the next day.  Sometimes (rarely) if it was really intense I’d be sore for 2.

At some point something changed.  Now at age 40 when I work out I’m pretty much fine the next day and it’s the day AFTER THAT when the soreness hits me.

I let the kids sucker me into jumping on the trampoline with them.  I grew up on a trampoline and thought it would be like riding a bike.  It kind of was, but when I jumped really high my lower back ached when I landed.  Also the tricks where I landed on my back and did a 3/4 backwards roll on the bounce to my feet compressed my back in strange ways.  (Whether you bounce forward or backwards or straight up when you land on your back all depends on where you put your feet/center of gravity.)

Eventually I settled into doing the job of the biggest kid on the trampoline and that is stomping on the mat at the exact moment to spring the smaller kids way up high.  this was a popular trick with my kids, especially if they were holding my hands and I kind of threw them up at the same time.  2 days later I show up to work and climb the stairs to the 3rd floor as usual, but my thighs ached tremendously.  My mind didn’t jump to the trampoline of 3 days ago, but instead concluded that I was coming down with the flu.

I felt fine all day in the control room and was hit with the strange muscle soreness again when descending the stairs.  It wasn’t until my boy tried to draw me back onto the trampoline that the tumblers fell into place so to speak.

So is this phenomenon just me or is it a common sign of middle age?

It makes sense to me that as we age we heal slower and would be sore for longer, but I can’t come up with a theory that explains why the soreness would skip a day.

Learning to read

My wonderful son has a language delay.  He’s “on the spectrum” as people like to refer to functioning autistics.  I actually don’t think autism is the correct diagnosis because he doesn’t have the aversion to people and extreme disengagement that seem to be defining of the disorder, but it doesn’t really matter.  In all things all people are individuals and this is especially true of psychological symptoms.

His speach delay is all but cured with a little persistent mispronunciation of the blended “r”s.  He can say rap and par but “twap” kicks his butt.

He was in the third grade and struggling to read on the 2nd grade level.  After giving up on the school system saving him we hired a tutor I found online.  She’s $30/hr for 2 hrs a week.  She’s very generous with her time and actually keeps him for a full hour a session instead of 40 min so he can have breaks to refocus.  $60 didn’t sound bad in February, but come September I’m much more aware of how much this has cost me.

The Barton system of tutoring is mainly just really patient one on one work to teach him to sound out words. (sounds simple, but it’s a level of patience I don’t think I could come up with everyday for him)  The only trick to it is the gradual and ordered introduction of new sounds.  He’s now reading words that have blended sounds at the beginning and end of the same word



Another trick is that they’re still only using short vowel sounds.  He brought home a single page story about riding a sled, but due to use restrictions there’s were several words were conspicuously absent: Ride.  Snow. Ice

I’ve alway thought there weren’t enough letters for the sounds we use and the vowels particularly seem overworked.

Someone Designed that.

I was driving at night in a very light rain, so I set the wipers to intermittent. Well as the misting density* changed the rate that my windshield got smeary would change, but if the interval between wipes was too small you got that sqeaking noise.  When the glass accumulated too much water I would twist the nob one click up and the wipers would immediately swipe… because obviously if you want more wiping it’s because you need a wipe right now.  In contrast when I turned it down a click it did not give an immediate wipe, for symmetric reasons. Someone designed that.


Also the click from one interval to the next is softer than the click that takes you from intermittent to low continuous.  So you know before you cross that line.  Someone designed that.

Also the knob has ridges all the way around that are a good width for my fingers.  This raises questions about the statistical variation between fingers within the population as well as between men and women.  Someone designed that.

This same knob also has functionality of the window sprayer and of the rear wiper and of the rear sprayer.  Someone designed that.

In my othercar the windsheild wipers don’t have as cool an intermittent function, but the same lever controls the headlights, brights, and blinkers. Someone designed that.

All these designs are based on years of experiencing the world and building on the work of other designers.  Someone has to decide how closely to follow in the footsteps of the preceding work and how much to branch off on their own.  Even if their changes are improvements, people often prefer what they’re comfortable with over things that are new even if new is better (as Facebook is well aware).

I’d like to send good vibes out to the thousands of people that designed something I touched today.


misting density is found by taking the integral over the area of the windsheild of the cross product of the velocity of the rain (relative to the car, not the earth) and a unit vector perpendicular to the surface of the windshield at each point.