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AvatarComments by Michael Cain*

On “The Democratic Debate: Houston Has Problems, Plans, and Candidates for President

In the cities, anyway.

North Front Range suburbs. I live in CO-7, created after the 2000 census, intended to be competitive. The first election it was -- the Republican won, 47.31% to 47.24%. It's been sliding steadily leftwards ever since. Last year the Dem won 60.42% to 35.42%. In that most recent election, the Republicans were forced to run a retread candidate from years earlier because no one else was willing to waste their time.

I suppose we count as "cities"; most of the population is in cities with populations >100,000.

On “Do It Yourself Pizza

I have friends in Sante Fe that have traditional adobe hornos outside the house. One of them uses hers for pizza, but complains about the long planning horizon -- it takes some hours to bring one up to temperature.

On “The Democratic Debate: Houston Has Problems, Plans, and Candidates for President

If the California GOP could say turn themselves into Jacob Javits Republicans, I think they would be successful. Instead they would rather “own the libs” and troll.

My perception is that the same thing is happening in Colorado, although not to the same degree yet. 2018 was a horrible year for the Colorado Republicans -- the Dems won a state government trifecta, all the state-wide offices that were up, and flipped a US House seat.

The Republicans ran six recall attempts this past summer -- one of the six resigned for other reasons, one is still in signature collection, the other four all failed to get enough signatures to make the ballot. So much for "owning the libs".

There seems to be a lot of infighting going on. I don't pay a lot of attention but I think the moderates are losing.

On “The Democratic Debate: Houston Has Problems, Plans, and Candidates for President

I really doubt he’ll even keep his seat in El Paso.

He gave up his House seat last year so he could run for Cruz's Senate seat.

On “The Case For Detroit Pizza

My attitude is that if an out-of-state visitor asks*, I'll be happy to take them to Beau Jo's, the originators of the "mountain pie." It's okay once. It's telling that almost no other local place does it.

* I'll take them to Casa Bonita once also, just for the tourist-value of having mediocre Mexican food and indoor cliff diving, in a suburban strip mall.

On “Thursday Throughput for 9/12/19

Sigh... When I reread this, it suddenly struck me that I am now farther in time from the end of the Vietnam War than I was from the end of WWII when I entered college.


Who was it that said vices require constant practice?

On “The Case For Detroit Pizza

Unless you’re opening in the Detroit metro area, you’re unlikely to have much competition. And that’s too bad, because there really should be Detroit-style pizza in other places. It’s the best style.

Mostly Colorado-based Blackjack Pizza includes a Detroit-style pizza on the menu at most of their locations along the Front Range urban corridor. It's our change-of-pace choice in pizza. Our regular is something lighter these days; getting old means having to sacrifice some things.

On “Thursday Throughput for 9/12/19

Another reference point -- 22.5 km is a bit lower than the service ceiling for both the SR-71 spy plane and the MiG-31 fighter jet.


Or worse than ditch weed.

When I was an undergraduate in the mid-1970s I had a summer job at an ag field lab. The land for the lab was part of the 15,000-acre storage area for the WWII Nebraska Ordnance Plant. During the war most of the space between the munition bunkers was planted in industrial hemp to produce fiber for ropes for the Navy. Once established, hemp is darned hard to get rid of -- 30 years after the war the creek banks were still covered with the stuff. From time to time university students from Lincoln would sneak into the area to pick "marijuana."


Of course it's different. The growers are breeding improved strains. Growing conditions are consistently good. Curing, which can take up to several weeks, is enormously better than it was back then.
Interior shot of a commercial curing room. Note the use of stainless steel. The rooms are dark except when someone is doing something in them, and have carefully controlled temperature and humidity.


ThTh2: I have lost track of the number of US dot maps I have seen showing where such-and-such is occurring that are dead ringers for a US dot map showing population. I blame it on "they bought us this expensive map-making software, we have to do something with it."

On “CNN Climate Emergency Town Hall: Never Let A Crisis Go to Waste

I'm not exactly disagreeing, but...

Last year, Electric Boat rejected an entire batch of launch tubes for ballistic missile subs because of defective welds. The problem was discovered more-or-less by accident. The supplier has indicated that they will probably be getting out of that line of business. If that happens, the Navy has suggested there will be a multi-month delay in the sub construction program because of the time required to find and qualify a new supplier.

Around 2015 one of the Virginia-class subs sat in dry dock for more than two years while welding problems associated with the reactor were corrected. Similar problems have now been found in two other subs.

From 2007-2009, Newport News Shipbuilding found use of improper welding materials and falsified welding inspection reports affecting nine subs and four carriers.

On “Chick-Fil-A: Whose Pleasure?

I am given to understand, for example, that they have a ban on employees having “unnaturally” colored hair dyes.

Tokyo Joe's, a Denver-based fast-service Asian-style bowls chain (starting to appear elsewhere in the Southwest) takes the opposite tack. It is the rare person working the counter there who does not have at least one of "unnatural" hair color, tattoos, or piercings. It is rumored that at one time their employment recruiting included the phrase, "The few. The proud. The pierced."

My experience has been that the service is fast, friendly, and competent. The last time I was there the woman who took my order had one of the most gorgeous tattoo sleeves I've ever seen. I apologized for staring. Since it was the middle of the afternoon and there was no one in line but me, she took a couple of minutes and pointed out her favorite parts of it.

On “Choose Your Own Narrative: NC-09 Special Election Edition

This version of NC-09 is radically different than the pre-2011 version, and spent most of the time from then till now in court challenges.

There is an outside chance that this version of NC-09 won't be the one used in the 2020 elections. Ten days or so ago a North Carolina court tossed the state legislature's house and senate maps and required that new ones be drawn up before the primaries there. The North Carolina Republicans have said they won't appeal that decision. There's probably not time to move a case involving the congressional districts for 2020 through the state courts, and no guarantees one way or another about what the state courts would say. Either way the 2022 congressional districts will be different, as NC is almost sure to pick up another House seat after the census.

On “Chick-Fil-A: Whose Pleasure?

At least locally, yes, they pay better than most of the other fast food places.

The other fast-service place here where I've found the staff to be more uniformly cheerful and helpful is Papa Murphy's Take-n-Bake pizza. While there are several possibilities for why, I suspect that one of them is that "everybody does every job." Everyone greets customers and takes orders. Everyone builds pizzas. No grumpy people that totally lack people skills hiding in the back. Watching them, they must go through a staggering number of plastic gloves in a day.

On “The Soda Clerk At Home

There's something about the interplay of a long-married couple that strikes a chord. Mariette Hartley and James Garner's Polaroid commercials come to mind -- many people refused to believe that they weren't married.

On “CNN Climate Emergency Town Hall: Never Let A Crisis Go to Waste

Let me put my old systems engineer hat on.

Power stations have tougher specs and far more interdependency between parts than an airport. You can screw up a runway and it doesn't affect the terminal building. (And runways do get screwed up.) More important, firms that bid on airport contracts can bid based on their actual expected costs.

There's plenty of evidence that we can build nuclear power stations. The evidence says a single-reactor system today takes 8-10 years and costs about $8B per GWe of output (plus financing costs associated with a long schedule). However, in a regulatory regime whose primary concern is the retail price per kWh, no one dares bid those numbers. They need to bid 3-4 years and $3-4B per GWe to be at all competitive.


Nuclear power stations are more like airports than they are like airplanes (there are only 60 or so such power stations, some with multiple reactors). Many power stations use a common reactor and steam generator design. Much of the facility surrounding those reactors has to be unique, reflecting terrain, soil strength, water supplies, etc, etc. Vogtle 3 has been placing some of the common components for the reactor and steam generators inside the partially finished containment building; that part seems to be going more smoothly.


...but if you don’t, the NRC can take a look around and, at the end, go ‘Nope.

A quite detailed design for the reactor proper (and other site-independent stuff) has to be pre-approved. No one can build a Russian VVER reactor in the US because the design isn't NRC approved. Well, you can build it, but the NRC won't do the ongoing inspections and you can never fuel or operate it.

NuScale's SMR design was submitted in 2017, the review is proceeding on schedule, and completion is expected in 2020. Nuscale had been working with the NRC staff before the design was submitted to determine exactly what details would have to be submitted with the application. That document, much of it pointing to more generic requirements, runs to a few hundred pages.


Welding problems in particular are not limited to nuclear power plants; they're problem for almost all thermal power plants. It's an extraordinarily challenging environment in terms of temperatures and pressures. You don't hear about a heat-exchanger weld breaking at a coal-fired power plant because it doesn't spew radioactive steam all over.

Lots of the construction has to be done on site. There are some hundreds of welders working at Vogtle 3 and 4. To push one of your analogies (probably too far), how much would it affect performance if thoracic surgeons had to ride in the ambulances and do their work on site?

Small modular reactors have come up a number of times in the comments here. At least some of the SMR designs have the immediate advantage that the parts dealing with radioactive stuff is built in a factory where quality control is so much easier.

On “Saturday Spins

So, where do you stand on the CD-vs-vinyl debate?

On “CNN Climate Emergency Town Hall: Never Let A Crisis Go to Waste

The things that are killing Vogtle aren't slack. For one of the main pieces of structural concrete at Vogtle, the rebar folks deviated significantly from the design. It was correctable using more expensive stronger concrete. But first the engineers had to measure exactly what the rebar people had done, then run the calculations, then file the change with the NRC and get approval. Then there were problems sourcing the different concrete in quantities sufficient to meet a single-pour requirement. The project has been filled with that kind of shit: major errors in procedure, materials, and documentation.

As for project management, yeah, they're that bad. Probably not surprising. It's been a generation since a reactor was built in the US, everyone in the entire management and supply chains has to relearn how to do it.

Globally, some SMR prototypes are being built, in countries where the national government has pretty much complete control. Here, the NRC has issued licenses for experimental reactors, the DOE has funded paper studies (which is all Congress has agreed to fund), no company has raised the billion or two dollars needed to build a prototype, no state has been willing to allow construction, and the feds have signed legal settlements with Idaho and Washington that put the usual sites for such work (INL and Hanford) off limits. DOE has been trying to talk DOD into giving up a big chunk of their land in Nevada for prototypes. Nevada is not happy.

*Comment archive for non-registered commenters assembled by email address as provided.