Welcome to my musings on whatever topic catches my eye, plus stories, recipes, handyman tips, welding, photography, and what have you. Oh, and analog/digital hardware design, and software. Please comment on the blog post so everyone who visits can see your comments.

Author: Phil (Page 3 of 51)

Hello. I'm a retired electronic hardware, software & mechanical engineer. My hobby is making metal art. My interests range across writing, economics, politics, history, photography, fountain pens, languages, ham radio, and music. I've been writing software since 1968.

The Paradox of Tolerance: If a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant. --Karl Popper

Waterproof Lipstick is Forever


Ever more frequently one sees “forever chemicals” mentioned in the news. They’ve become so pervasive they’re found in most water supplies, in the rainfall over Antarctica, and in the bloodstream of every person.

The forever chemicals being talked about are members of a large family of manmade chemicals called PFAS, PFOS, and PFOAS. The archtype of this family is perfluorooctanoic acid. These have been manufactured since the 1940s and do not occur in nature. We’ve developed more than 16,000 different PFAS type chemicals. More members of this family of chemicals are developed each year.

Perfluoro- and polyfluoro- chemicals have become so widespread because they are so useful. Most of them repel both water and oils. They’re used to make Teflon and other non-stick coatings, stain resistant carpet, water-repellent clothes, fire-fighting foam, ski wax, waterproof cosmetics, and many other products.

The remarkable repellent properties of PFAS stem from the fact that these molecules are electrically charged (ionized). Because of this it’s long been assumed that PFAS would not be absorbed through the skin. However, recent studies show this is not true. See addendum below.

PFAS molecules are very stable so they don’t break down in the environment. As a result, they’ve found their way into almost everything — air, water, and soil all over the planet, and inside our bodies.

They are not harmless and they are mostly unregulated in the USA. In recent years, studies have shown possible causal connections with testicular and kidney cancer, fetal problems like low birth weight, early puberty, immune system problems, liver damage, thyroid disease, blood pressure problems during pregnancy, and colitis.

Study results thus far have been inconclusive but it’s a major concern because these chemicals are everywhere and we can’t effectively get rid of them. They become more abundant each year.

Waterproof Lipstick

Published in The Journal of Environmental Science & Technology on June 15, 2021 is a peer-reviewed study conducted by researchers at Notre Dame University. The study shows that roughly half of the 231 cosmetics tested contained PFAS. Most of these products did not show PFAS on their list of ingredients. About 60 percent of eyeliners, foundations, and liquid lipsticks, and 80 percent of waterproof mascaras contained PFAS. How much are you ingesting? There’s no solid data on this question but the answer is clearly not zero. (See addendum at the end.)

Another problem with waterproof lipstick is that it works really well. It works too well. It works so well that it’s a serious problem in restaurants and bars. Lipstick prints on water and wine glasses are durable. Unlike conventional lipstick, waterproof lipstick is unaffected by the high pressure, heat, and chemicals used in commercial dishwashers. Nobody wants to receive a glass with somebody else’s lipstick print on it. This means that each glass must be inspected and lipstick scrubbed off by hand. A mini-industry has sprung up around this problem that offers special tools, rim scrubbers, and harsh chemicals to help restaurants and bars deal with the problem. This results in more labor and higher costs which will be passed on to the customer.

Please keep the above in mind when making a purchasing decision. You must decide for yourself if it’s worth it.

ADDENDUM:

On March 2, 2023 AP News reported that the EPA is going to start addressing the problem of PFAS in drinking water. However, the article makes no mention of PFAS in cosmetics.

I assume that PFAS in cosmetics has to be addressed by the FDA. Until this is dealt with, buildup of PFAS in the environment will continue.

https://apnews.com/article/pfas-epa-water-regulations-d2d5052c36a5a95f4e56866f028c9c4f

ADDENDUM:

In June of 2024, results from a study at the University of Birmingham showed that PFAS were absorbed through human skin much more readily than previously thought. Until recently it was thought that humans absorb PFAS into the body mainly through ingestion, but this may not be the case.

Seventeen “forever” chemicals were tested and all were able to be absorbed readily through the skin and reach the bloodstream.

https://phys.org/news/2024-06-chemicals-absorbed-human-skin.html

The IRS Expansion


IRS Logo

The organizations paying for ads opposing the IRS expansion and the hiring of more IRS agents are telling on themselves. They’re calling it a “shakedown”.

Let’s think about this for a minute. The IRS doesn’t take any more than they are legally allowed to, which in the U.S. these days is very little. This is the amount legally owed. Anyone who would call expansion of the IRS a shakedown is admitting that they are a tax cheat. They’re admitting to breaking the law and not paying their fair share. All such people are in the top ten percent of wealth in this country.

So who is paying for these ads? The ones I’ve seen are paid for by an organization called “Americans for Prosperity”. Great sounding name but who are they? Americans for Prosperity is the Koch Brothers’ propaganda outlet, funded by them. Are you a billionaire? A millionaire? No? Then this expansion doesn’t apply to you.

Americans for Prosperity produces ads that try to get normal middle-class people and the poor angry about issues that have nothing to do with them but do concern the Koch Brothers and their billions. Unless you’re a billionaire or expecting to become one soon, you’re being played. Keep this in mind the next time you see an ad from Americans for Prosperity.

The ads imply that the IRS engages in theft, when it’s the reverse. All the IRS does is enforce the tax code as set forth by Congress, nothing more. Those who cheat are the thieves, robbing the government of funds that would come to the middle-class and poor in the form of roads, highways, education, assistance, medical care, and security.

Ironically, it’s the richest people who can easily afford to pay their taxes that complain. The poor pay little tax, as it should be, but the Koch Brothers still want you to vote for things that benefit them, not you. Don’t be fooled by the name Americans for Prosperity. Whose prosperity? Yours? No.

Will the IRS be targeting the billionaires? Of course they will. Why would they come and audit you if you’re an ordinary wage earner, who pays their taxes with every paycheck? It would be a waste of time. It’s the ones who owe tens of millions of dollars on a hundred million in income that is worth the effort. These cases also require more manpower and smart auditors to untangle complex tax-dodging arrangements. That’s what those agents will be doing — exactly what the Koch Brothers and hundreds of others don’t want.

Tax rates in the U.S.A. are very low when compared to the rest of the developed world. They are very, very low when compared to the 1950s and 1960s when the U.S.A. was at it’s most prosperous. Republicans have been gutting the IRS for 30 years by reducing IRS funding and staff. Why? The intent is to hobble the IRS so their wealthy donors can cheat with impunity.

What’s more, it’s not even an expansion of the IRS if you look back 30 years. It’s the intent of Congress to restore funding and restore the IRS to an appropriate level. Again, unless you’re a billionaire or millionaire, none of this concerns you.

Fossil Fuel Companies Hold Planet Hostage


Sounds sensational, doesn’t it? Click bait. Well, after reading this, you tell me.

It’s not widely known but over the past 100 years, investors have demanded agreements and treaties from the governments of countries they invest in. There are thousands of these treaties, including with the United States. Investors understandably don’t like risk and do everything possible to eliminate risk. Countries, especially poor countries, will jump through hoops, bend over backwards, go to any length to attract foreign investment. They’ll give everything up and sign such agreements in order to attract foreign money.

Petroleum Jack Pump

In the case of fossil fuel companies, such treaties enable them to demand hefty compensation if the government interferes with the business in any way, revokes permits to drill, delays or refuses permits to lay pipelines, restricts extraction, and so forth. We’re talking payouts that can amount to hundreds of billions of dollars if/when these treaties are invoked, far beyond the means of many countries.

And, it’s starting already. The U.S.A. is being sued to the tune of a billion dollars for cancelling the Keystone Pipeline. The governments of Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and others are being sued for four billion dollars over their phasing out of coal power plants, requiring environmental impact assessments, and blocking of extraction projects. Anything that interferes with the business is grounds to sue for damages.

These treaties enable fossil fuel companies to hold us hostage and prevent the implementation of measures to mitigate climate change. Oil companies can make it too expensive to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, hamstringing the ability of countries to deal with climate change.

It’s an insane situation where the urgent need to act on climate change will be derailed by old treaties from the middle of the last century. But here we are. They have us over a barrel (of oil).

To Support Coal Buy an EV


What? Yes, it’s true. Read on.

This post is intended for my fellow West Virginians. West Virginia is coal country so a lot of West Virginians support the coal industry.

I look at the big picture as an engineer. Now that the pollution problems associated with coal were mostly solved decades ago, I see coal as just another fossil fuel that we burn to obtain energy. It also happens to be what we have an abundance of in West Virginia.

I’ve watched climate change coming since 1990 and it’s going to bring huge difficulties. We ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. The bottom line is humans have to eventually stop burning things to obtain energy. Achieving this goal is going to take a long time. I don’t like it but I’m a realist. Weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels is going to take far longer than we can afford but that’s how it’s going to be. We’ll be burning coal for a long time to come.

However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to reduce our CO2 output. In fact, there’s something we can do to reduce CO2, save our hard-earned money, and support the coal industry, all at the same time. Sound impossible? It’s not.

Power Plants and Efficiency

To explain this we need to talk a bit about engineering, but this is something anyone can and should understand. It’s not complicated. Engineers who design machines or electronics are always interested in efficiency. In simple terms, efficiency means how much “input stuff” do you have to put into a device or system to get a certain amount of desired “output stuff” and how much is lost along the way.

In the simple case of an electric motor, if you put in 100 watts of electric power and get 75 watts of mechanical power out, the motor is 75 percent efficient. The other 25 percent is wasted/lost as heat. Nothing is ever 100 percent efficient. There are always losses.

If you have two or more devices one after the other (in series), you multiply together the efficiencies of each device to find out what the total system efficiency is. So, taking some typical figures, if we have a gasoline engine that’s 25 percent efficient, followed by a transmission (geartrain) that’s 80 percent efficient, the total efficiency at the output of the transmission is 0.25 times 0.80 equals 0.20 or 20 percent efficiency. The other 80 percent is lost as heat. This principle will become important below.

Power plant technology has improved continuously since the steam engine was invented. Efficiency is, by far, the most important factor in the design. Power plant efficiency means how much of the chemical / thermal energy in the fuel ends up coming out of the plant in the desired form and how much is lost as heat. Early steam engines were horribly inefficient. Only a few percent. Coal-fired power plants built in the 1970s achieve an efficiency of around 35 percent. So 35 percent of the thermal energy in the fuel leaves the plant as electricity. It may not seem like it, but this is pretty impressive. Modern coal plants built in recent years reach 45 percent efficiency and this is probably close to the maximum possible.

As an aside, natural gas power plants can employ designs that are not possible with coal. The most advanced natural gas plants can reach an unbelievable 60 percent efficiency. But, we’re not talking about natural gas here, we’re talking about coal. But since a lot of people in the U.S. get their electricity from gas-fired power plants I’ll mention this figure once more at the end of the article.

It probably goes without saying but I’ll point it out anyway. The more efficient a power plant is, the less fuel it consumes, but also the less CO2 it produces to generate a given output. This will become important below.

Internal Combustion Engines (ICE)

Now let’s look at internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. The overall efficiency of modern cars ranges from 12 to 28 percent. That’s the system efficiency measured from the energy in the fuel to moving the car down the road. The 28 percent figure only applies to certain cars under certain conditions. My little Corolla probably gets close to that 28 percent figure when on a flat highway, at a reasonable speed, no headwind, I’ll get 38 mpg. When city driving, that figure drops way down and I get 24 or 25 mpg. Many cars, SUVs, pickups, do much worse. At no time does any ICE powered vehicle reach the efficiency of the oldest coal-fired power plant. Most of the time the coal plant is 2 to 3 times as efficient at turning fuel into usable power.

Besides all the frictional losses of all the moving parts in an internal combustion engine, a fundamental problem with internal combustion engines is something called the “power curve”. An IC engine produces maximum power at a certain RPM, maximum torque at a different RPM, and maximum efficiency at yet another RPM. At low RPM it produces little power or torque. At idle, it produces no usable output but still consumes fuel. To get optimal efficiency from an internal combustion engine it must be run a constant RPM.

Vehicles must operate over a wide range of speeds starting from zero miles per hour with loads that can vary widely, up and down hills, over a wide range of temperature and humidity. All of this is in direct conflict with the “power curve” problem mentioned in the above paragraph and results in the low efficiency of internal combustion vehicles. This problem can’t be fixed. It’s not going to get better.

Electric Motors and Cars

Modern electric vehicles are powered by 3-phase induction motors. Small electric motors achieve 70 or 80 percent efficiency but the efficiency rises rapidly for larger motors. At the 100 horsepower level, such 3-phase motors are more than 95 percent efficient. Larger ones are even more efficient. And that’s running on fixed mains power at a fixed voltage and frequency.

The 3-phase motors in cars are powered by a sophisticated motor controller that varies the voltage and frequency as the motor’s speed and load changes. That gives these motors a flat power curve and even higher efficiency. At low RPM / low speed they produce lots of torque. At high RPM / high speed they produce the horsepower the car needs. The efficiency stays almost constant at all speeds. The “power curve” problem described above doesn’t exist with electric motors.

So what’s the system efficiency of an electric car? The lithium batteries used in today’s electric vehicles have a charge/discharge efficiency around 85 percent. So 85 percent of the electricity you put in comes back out to power the car. Fast charging pushes that number down towards 80 percent. Charging slowly at home pushes it up close to 90 percent.

The motor gives at least 95 percent efficiency, the motor controller is 98 percent efficient, the battery 85 percent, there is no transmission. Multiplying those together we have around 79 percent efficiency from the charger plug to moving the car down the road. I’m ignoring regenerative braking that harvests the energy from braking to charge the battery. No ICE vehicle can do that, harvest the energy from the brakes and convert it into gasoline.

The electrical grid that transports electric power from the power plant to the home or charging station is very efficient. Over the short distances found in West Virginia, it’s nearly 100 percent efficient and can be ignored.

Conclusion

Let’s pull all the numbers together here: older vintage coal-fired power plant at 35 percent efficiency and 79 percent efficiency in the vehicle means 27 percent system efficiency from a pile of coal to moving the vehicle, any vehicle, down the road. All the time, city, or highway. That’s equivalent to my Corolla under rare perfect conditions. With a more modern coal-fired plant, it’s 36 percent efficiency from a pile of coal to moving the vehicle down the road. Well beyond what an ICE vehicle can ever achieve. “Fueling” an EV from coal generates, on average, one-half to one-third the CO2 of burning gasoline or diesel in an internal combustion engine.

What’s more, the cost of that energy is much lower than buying gasoline or diesel. For example, a high-end Tesla Model S with the big battery pack option, completely discharged, at the electric rates we pay in West Virginia, costs about $12.00 to “fill up”. On top of that, your money isn’t going to a company in Texas, Mexico, Venezuela, The Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, or Russia. It stays right here in West Virginia. West Virginia generates about twice as much electricity as it uses locally. The rest is sold to out-of-state utilities. Availability of locally generated power is not a problem.

For those of you not in West Virginia or coal-country, if your electricity comes from hydro, wind, solar, or nuclear, like in the Pacific Northwest, no fuel is burned and no CO2 generated to power an EV. If your power comes from a modern gas-fired plant like in Florida, efficiency is 2 to 4 times that of an ICE vehicle and about one-third the cost.

As soon as I can solve the charging-at-home problem, I’ll be getting an EV and it will have a bumper sticker that says “This Car is Powered by Coal”.

tl;dr version: It’s more efficient, cheaper, and produces less CO2 to “fuel” an EV with coal-generated electricity than an equivalent ICE vehicle burning gasoline or diesel. Roughly twice as efficient and at one quarter the cost.

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