Sunday, February 21, 2021

Texas Ice Storm Feb 2021

While the recent cold weather storm was (and to some extent still is) a nightmare.  I had it relatively easy.  I only lost power for 37 hours.  Some folks in the neighborhood lost it for over 70 hours, and a week later, just got their water back on.  But I wanted to put down my story, and some of my thoughts.

First, I should let you know about my background.  I was in the military and for a few years was stationed in Rome, NY (mid to upper state near the Adirondacks).  I've gone out cross country skiing when it was -20° F -- though thinking back that wasn't very smart.  But it means I had and still have some cold weather gear.  But I now live in the hill country between San Antonio and Austin Texas.  It seldom drops to much below 30° F even in the winter.

I also love backpacking and have sleeping bags (only down to +20°) and both iso-propane canister and alcohol stoves.  And this last year we converted a van for travel/camping.  It has a diesel stove, diesel heat/hot water, and fairly large capacity lithium batteries.

In the 20 years or so we've been in Texas, I think we had one power outage over 2-3 hours, maybe 12 hours long.  We are on well water, so we have to have electricity for water.  I had plenty of bottles of water, and I even filled the van's fresh water tank half full.

We were told we might get rolling blackouts starting Sunday, and the temperature was expected to drop to 5 or 6° F both Sunday and Monday nights.  I don't remember it ever dropping below the high teens at our Texas home.  And it wasn't supposed to get above freezing till Tuesday, and barely then.  I was running a small ceramic heater in the van to keep the batteries warm, and it was doing an excellent job.  I was also using a small ceramic heater in our well house.

So I decided to sleep in the van Sunday and try to keep the batteries on during the outages.  Also, this was a chance to see how well the diesel heat worked in the van.   The diesel heat was doing well, and I had turned off the ceramic heater.  After I got bored with watching old movies, I went to bed early.  I awoke about 9:30 pm and noticed it was colder in the van.  I checked the heater vents, and the air was only room temperature coming out.  I shut off the diesel furnace and turned on the ceramic heater.  I went back to sleep until about 11:00 pm, when I awoke again, and decided to check the battery status.  They were down to 34%, when it should have been near 100%.  The ceramic heater was set for 1500 W output.  I then checked the inverter, and it showed no shore power (we were in a power outage).  So I shut down the batteries and came into the house.  I was later told the power went out about 8:00 or 8:30.  Because the van operates such that it switches to batteries when there is no shore power, I did not notice when it happened.

By the way, I think the diesel in the lines gelled and likely fouled the fuel filter on the diesel furnace.

The house started at 72° F and went down for the next 36 hours to about 48°.  Monday was sunny, though cold, and I think it helped reduce the heat loss during the day.  I typically wore long underwear, a light fleece top, and lightly insulated snow pants.  When I went outside to check the well house, I added a puffy and a raincoat (for wind).  By the way, we got a whopping 2-4" of snow!  Waterproof mittens, a cap, raincoat hood, and boots rounded out my attire.  I was toasty even outside at 6 degrees.  I slept using my 20° down quilt and long underwear, and was warm at night too.

For food, I used some instant oatmeal, freeze dried lasagna, and chili that I had prepared before the outage.  The alcohol stove seemed to work better than the canister stove at those temps.  I set up an aluminum bench in the garage, raised the garage door a couple of feet, and heated my water and chili in the garage (to avoid toxic fumes).

The biggest problem was disposal of human waste.  We have three bedrooms and four toilets in the house.  Worse, I got a mild case of the runs.  I think it was old, bad milk that didn't make it through the outage.  You could flush a toilet once, but not twice since there was no water to refill the tanks.  I was using lots of hand sanitizer.  It was not what I would call a sanitary situation.

On Tuesday morning, the toilet issue was becoming very urgent.  I decided to bring the composting toilet in the van into the house.  Shortly afterwards (I was hoping I would jinx the power back on), the power came back on.  I had turned off the power to the well-house pumps to avoid breaking any pipes or burning out the motor when the power came back on with frozen pipes.  So still no water.  The composting toilet was a godsend.  I cannot imagine how large families handled the situation.

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, when I tried running the pump (after the outside air had warmed above freezing), I got a lot of noise and no water pressure.  I never heard anything back from our usual plumber.  On Friday, the temps were rising, and suddenly I got water pressure.  It surged to 75 psi in about 5 minutes while I was outside doing some work.  I shut off the pump immediately as it was supposed to have a pressure switch set at 40-50 psi.  I also tried gently rocking the pressure bladder tank.  It appears completely waterlogged.  The only good news was that the pump still worked and we didn't have any broken water lines.

I finally got ahold of our plumber who said he does not work on well systems and that his plumbing supply house doesn't even carry those types of pressure switches.  The local well system company has not gotten back to me.

I've been turning the pump on manually till about 60 psi, then using water for a while, then checking the psi again.  I was able to run the dishwasher, and the clothes washer that way.   Hopefully, we will get some help with the well system in the near future.

Before leaving, I wanted to comment on some of the things I've read about in the news.  First, a word about our winter weather up till now.  I've been going hiking and leaving before dawn every few days.  Most days, the temperature has been below 30, and as low as 25 degrees.  I believe people set their thermostats to something they find comfortable and leave them there.  Most people in our area will have heat pumps.  In town, they probably have gas/propane furnaces.  While a lot of us in our area have wells, a lot of the newer subdivisions use city water (from Canyon Lake).

Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that nobody turns their thermostat up when the temperature drops.  Any additional power used by homes most likely comes from the furnace's duty cycle going up to compensate for the dropping temperatures.  This is totally predictable, and is NOT due to people's bad behavior in turning up their furnace or turning on more heaters.  Journalists or bloggers that say that people turned up their thermostats because of the cold are not being honest.

Further, to my knowledge, I was never asked to turn the thermostat down, until after the event.  And even that message turned out to be a hoax.  If the power system operators believed turning down thermostats would have helped, there should have been a widespread news request to do so.  Maybe I just didn't see it?  But their announcement of the possibility for rolling outages made it seem like it was just a possibility, and nothing to worry about.  Just a temporary inconvenience.

Next, the news reported that a storm in the winter of 2011 resulted in recommendations to weather proof the power grid in Texas (maybe that was the 12 hour outage I vaguely remember).  The reports indicate no weather-proofing was completed.  It is my belief that people are mad about what happened.  Lots of them live in urban settings with gas, power, and water supplied from utilities.  They have no options when services are disrupted, and their lives are put in danger.  Those who have some of their own systems, like our well water, are going to encounter extended outages and expenses--because power that we relied on disappeared for extended periods. 

Governor Abbot had better make sure this problem is fixed, and make the changes public, or he's going to be out on his bum at the next election. 

Personally, I do not like to rely on public utilities, so I've thought about changes.  I should have stored water in our two tubs before the cold arrived.  I should have charged my lithium battery backups for iPhone and iPad usage (I did have one charged).  I cannot do much about the van batteries if I cannot keep them warm (they automatically shut down somewhere between 20° and 30°).  I've ordered some diesel anti-gel and hope that that will keep the van's diesel furnace working.  And I need to keep more stove fuel on-hand.

Keep warm and safe!


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Prediction: Judge Sullivan will Sentence Gen Flynn

I hope I am wrong about this one.  Everyone says there is precedent that Judge Sullivan must dismiss the case against Gen Flynn since the DOJ has filed to dismiss the case.  I don't think he will care about precedent.

The judge has made (if I remember correctly) statements about Gen Flynn being a traitor.  He apparently strongly dislikes the general and must have been watching CNN or one of the other fake news channels to draw that conclusion.  I'm pretty sure the government only filed that Gen Flynn had made false statements to FBI agents and not that he had committed treason.

Further, the judge has drawn out sentencing now for about three years.  Who can afford to pay for criminal attorneys for three years?  Gen Flynn is wiped out.  You think Judge Sullivan cares?

The judge has also failed to allow Gen Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea, and as far as I can tell, has not called for a hearing since all of the new exculpatory material has come out.

My guess is that Judge Sullivan will claim that Gen Flynn plead guilty to the charges and confirmed his guilty plea with the judge.  [Irrespective of Gen Flynn's claims that the government threatened to bring charges against his son.]  He will insist the exculpatory evidence does not dispute that Gen Flynn lied.

Judge Sullivan will deny the motion to dismiss the charges again Gen Flynn.  He will then sentence the general to somewhere between probation and six months in jail, and he will order Gen Flynn jailed pending appeals.

Do you think I am wrong?  Let's hope so.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Local Businesses Opening at 25% Capacity

Since I predict (see my last blog) that infections will continue to rise, and so will mortality (slowly), during a reopening, there's going to be push-back to reopening businesses at full capacity.

So I just wanted to take a moment to think (and talk) about the impact of opening at 25 or 50% capacity.  A small retail store may not be impacted.  They probably only get a few people at any one time anyway.  That might not be true of a small retail store in a tourist area, where they are normally packed.

But consider just about any restaurant.  You have kitchen staff sized for anticipated breakfast, lunch and dinner crowds.  At 25%, you will never get anywhere near your peak crowds.  Only some of those kitchen staff will be needed.  Likewise with wait staffs.  You don't need nearly as many waiters or waitresses or cleanup folks.  So you've either made everybody part time or you've laid off quite a few of your full time folks.  My guess is you cannot rehire at more than 50% of what you employed pre-COVID.

Then there is the taxes that are charged on each sale.  The state/county/city is only going to bring in 25% of it's usual sales tax.  That assumes people feel safe enough to actually go out when the government thinks it's only safe enough to serve at 25% capacity.

Then there are the businesses that government didn't open when they opened some at 25% capacity.  The government is not getting any taxes or fees from those businesses.

So 25% is a big loss for government income.  It's a big failure to get people back to work.  And it's a real inconvenience to the public that wants a normal life back.

So a 25% capacity limit is going to be upped quickly by government.  They will go to 50% capacity within a couple of weeks.  Maybe three at most.

Remember, the loss in government income isn't just a new and larger deficit figure for those non-federal government units.  This isn't taking out a bond for a new arena, or committing to pensions 10 years down the road.  This is loss of daily liquidity for paying government employees.

And the most obvious government employees to most of you is police, sheriff and fire departments.  In some locations and localities, it will include water, sewer, garbage collection, and even electricity.  Not that they don't make you pay for some of those, but sometimes the municipality has taken over the utility and run it themselves.

So where are the municipalities, counties and states going to make cuts?  Can they make cuts without legislative action?  If they don't, where do the pay and benefits come from when the state is getting 10 to 25% of its normal income?

If your local government is run by democrats, my guess is they will try taking out bonds.  They will also expect the feds to bail them out before they file bankruptcy.  Maybe they will, but the republicans will generally be opposed to government bailouts.  Republican US senators (congressmen don't count since they are in the minority) may be willing to pay for COVID-19 health costs, but I do not expect many of them will want to reimburse states for lock down losses.

Anyway, no matter how much governments want to open safely, they are going to be squeezed hard if they don't start substantial re-openings soon.  My guess is the reluctant ones will use protests as their excuse to relax their lock downs.  The country will reopen, and it will reopen soon.

COVID-19 Modeling and the Future

I hit the modeling topic in the prior blog.  But I've also had more time to think about it.  The IMHE models at Healthdata.org were frozen (unchanged) for about four days, from a couple of days before May 1 to a couple of days after.  When they were frozen, the graph for Texas was showing a bunch of up and down bounces in the past data, just like you would expect.  The death rate was low enough that daily variations showed up distinctly.  Once the freeze stopped, those bounces disappeared.  The data was now smooth with one exception.  On May 1 there was a minimum and then a sharp rise thereafter.

So a death rate that is at least 14 days behind the curve in infections, decided to jump up the day that Texas began reopening.  The same thing happened with the US mortality.  I didn't actively follow the other states, so cannot say what happened there.

So either IMHE drastically changed their model or their data.  My suspicion is they did both.  They used to use actual data for plotting the curve in the past and projected data for plotting the curve in the future.

It looks to me like they've now fit the past data into a 'best-fit' curve of low order (high order would have more inflections).  So you cannot see what real data is actually being reported or recorded.

Since they showed an inflection point the day reopening began, I suspect they jumped the infection rate (R) value significantly and they did it at least two weeks before May 1.  Either that, or they artificially changed the model to reflect an immediate rise in mortality on May 1.

To me, they are lying scum.  Maybe whoever was providing their data changed it, and I should apologize.  But I won't.  They should have made a big statement on their prediction website with a big warning icon.  Maybe it's in the FAQ, but I won't look.

They could have continued to show their previous model output as it evolved after reopening so we could see how the reopening actually affected the data and their model.  They did not do that.  Instead, they drastically changed their model and data on the reopening day.  How can anybody trust them after that?  I WILL NOT.

On the future.  I don't believe it matters now whether the infections and mortality rate rise.  People and businesses cannot continue to survive without income.  The feds cannot continue to print money without causing a financial failure.  States do not have the income to continue to provide services.  The economy will reopen, and it will not close again.  

The economy will be sputtering for a while.  States are limiting opening by social distancing and capacity.  That will hurt most businesses.  And many people will still want to hide at home.  The mainstream media will still be trying to scare the public to help Joe Biden beat Donald Trump.

You may see a few cities or counties go into lock down again if their infection and mortality rates decide to jump up.  But state wide, people won't take it.  I'm not even confident that if a city or county opens, for more than a week, they will be willing to go into lock down again unless it gets really bad.

Unfortunately, I don't think people will wear masks in places where it's not required.  Especially if they are mad at the government for other reasons; and a lot of people are mad at the government.  And most especially if they do not feel at risk.  And risk is kind of limited to those over 65 and those with multiple comorbidities.  The vast majority of people believe they have only the risk of a bad flu.

So like my simple math predicted, I think the virus will continue to spread.  I think the hospitalization and mortality rates will go up some, but not a lot.  It will spread slowly to the states that weren't really infected.  The cumulative death rate is going to continue to rise nationwide, but we won't see dramatic jumps like we did with New York.

I see little chance of highly effective new therapeutics or vaccines.  We'll have to get to herd immunity the hard way.  Keep those high risk people safe!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Garbage at Healthdata.org

The IMHE models at Healthdata.org are just garbage.  If you looked at the US and Texas yesterday and then today they are completely different.  Yesterday we had lots of little small ups and downs in the curves for the prior couple of weeks.  Today, those have disappeared (the curves became relatively smooth) and the numbers nearly doubled.  They even changed the types of data they were reporting on.  Any curve that used to approach an asymptote (they leveled off), now keeps heading towards infinity.

This is all just crap.  In previous blogs, I've told you why the models are bad.  I also described how a simple back of the envelope assessment would show that infections would continue to increase until we had herd immunity or a vaccine.  I guess the virus could also mutate into an innocuous strain.

All of the IMHE models used to have a hump and then went down.  Now, they have a big, big hump and barely go down.

My conclusion is that IMHE simply uses assumptions about mitigation efficiency from lock downs and social distancing as the PRIMARY variables in their models.  That is, you can change variables to change the model's output, and the variable that affects the output the most is what I am calling the primary variable.

They are apparently not using past data to validate their models and do smaller and smaller refinements.  They are jumping an effective R from 1.1 to 2.0 (I made those numbers up) because they see some states starting to open.  That is, they made a radical change in a primary variable.

The issue is that it has been less than a week since openings began.  It takes 2 to 14 days to develop symptoms and up to another two weeks for a person to die.  They have absolutely NO data on what state openings are going to do to the numbers.  They are making guesses.

Have you been surprised at how accurate the models have been in the past?  Me neither; they've been horribly inaccurate and a failure at prediction.  Why would you want to believe their new guesses?

I hate to say it, maybe they put their best modelers on this (ha ha).  But it sure looks like more fear mongering to me without a sound basis for any kind of reasonable estimate.

So once again, this is all just garbage.


Sunday, May 3, 2020

Ugly Visit to the Verizon Store in Selma TX

Saturday was just a bad day.  I've recently been having battery problems with my iPhone X.  Early last week, I used it half a day and was checking my email, and it went blank.  No low battery warning or anything.  So I went online to see how much Apple charged for a battery replacement.  It was reasonable, so I sent my iPhone in for service.  The Apple stores here, like everywhere but China, are still closed.

Friday mid-day, I got the iPhone back.  They have you do an erase before you send it in, and they also have you pull the (Verizon) SIM card from the phone.  So I put the SIM back in the 'repaired' phone and went through the phone restore process.  I used an iCloud backup.

Then, for some reason, the phone did an update to IOS 13.4.1.  I had done that a week earlier.  Was this a replacement rather than a repair?  They did the service awfully quickly.  Once the update was done, the iPhone wanted to do a cellular activation.

The activating message stayed on the phone for quite some time, then it told me it failed, and I needed to connect to a PC running iTunes or a Mac. At this cellular activating stage, there is no way to get out of the 'activating' cycle, you cannot get to the home page or any of your apps.  The phone is pretty useless.  I found out later, if you pull the SIM out, you can get to the home page and the phone will do everything except use cellular.  You know, everything except make phone calls and texting.

So I hooked it up to my PC, and it tried activating through iTunes.  Another failure.  I hooked it up to my Mac and used Finder (the newest MacOS does not run iTunes).  Activating through iTunes resulted in another failure.  So I left the phone for the evening and tried to relax.

Saturday morning I got up and got on the Verizon chat support line.  They took me through a bunch of stuff.  Part of which also showed that the IMEI on the iPhone was not the same number as before I sent it off for repair.  I was pretty sure this was a replacement iPhone, though Apple had not told me that.  The support guru finally told me to take the iPhone into a Verizon store and get a new, free SIM.

So off we (my wife and I) went to the Verizon store in Selma.  The closest one that was still open.  When we got there, there was a Verizon rep outside the door taking a look at people's phones.  After a few minutes, I got my chance.

Please take the following as a paraphrased account.  I do not have perfect recall.

I told the 'gentleman' about my problem.  That Apple had replaced my battery and now the iPhone wouldn't activate cellular service and the Verizon chat support had told me to come in and get a new SIM.

He looked at my phone, which was on the Update to IOS 13.4.1 Complete page (where the activation starts after pressing the Continue button.)  He told me I needed to update my phone and handed it back to me.

I told him I had already updated my phone and gave it back to him.  I told him the IMEI didn't match what Verizon had on their device page, and re-emphasized that Verizon tech had told me to get a new SIM.

He told me it didn't matter what my IMEI showed, and that a new SIM would not make a difference and handed the phone back to me.

I was starting to get pretty heated.  I don't like going to ask for tech support in person, as most don't have a clue.  But this guy wouldn't even take me in and try to solve the problem.

So I asked to speak to the manager.  He said he was the manager, and he had 20 years of experience.  That it wasn't a SIM problem and that it was a phone issue.  And he handed the phone back to me again!

I asked him to pull the SIM, he did, and I showed him that the iPhone was fully functional except for the cellular activation.

At some point during our conversation, I think about now, he had hit the Continue button and saw the attempt to activate.  He also saw that the phone go to the Connect to a PC or Mac page.  So he told me to take it home and connect to a PC or Mac.

I told him again that I had done that, also with the Verizon chat tech, and they had told me to go to a Verizon store and get a new SIM.  I was pretty heated, and my voice was probably fairly loud.  We were outside the store and people were lining up behind us.  I drove 25 miles to this store at the Verizon tech support's recommendation, and this guy wasn't even going to try a new SIM.

He finally said to come into the store, but that my wife could not accompany me.  They had a guard on duty inside that was locking and unlocking the door.  The Verizon guy said they were only allowing one person in the store at a time.  Seemed there were half a dozen Verizon people in there, but nobody but me as a customer.

Well, he pulled out a new SIM from the back of the store and put it in, and it behaved the same way as the previous SIM.  He told me to take it home, connect to iTunes or a Mac and get back on line with a tech rep.  I asked him whether he meant Verizon or Apple, and he said Verizon.

So I went home, connected the iPhone to my Mac, and called Verizon support on my wife's phone.  They went through the whole story again, had me hold for a bit, then told me they would connect me to Tier 2 support who had more troubleshooting ability.  I was on hold for an hour listening to their music before I gave up and hung up.  Then I did a bit of troubleshooting on my own.  I tried a reset and this time I didn't do an iCloud restore, thinking maybe the previous restore had somehow messed up.  Didn't do any good.  Had the same cellular activation problems.

So I decided to go to my media room and watch some TV to relax.  I got there and tried to turn on my projector.  But it's status lights wouldn't even come on.  The projector had failed too.

I did not go to bed happy yesterday.

Today I got up and connected to the Apple support chat line.  I like chat because I can be exact and don't forget anything, and it is easier to stay cool.  They are always very polite!  Anyway, I went through the problem with support person #1.  After a while, she transferred me to her supervisor, support person #2 that claimed to have more tools and expertise.  After a while, he said he needed to transfer me to phone tech support, and he scheduled a call in about 5 minutes.  He said I should have iTunes up on my computer, and that he thought they could fix the problem from their end.

Apple support person #3 called on schedule, and I went through a lot of the story again.  He went off and did some checking.  Then pointed out that they had replaced my iPhone rather than repaired it, and that he believed the replacement iPhone was defective.  So they are sending me another replacement iPhone.  That's where I am in the process today.

I want to point out that the Verizon store manager was correct about it being an iPhone problem rather than a SIM card problem.  At least, that seems likely.  I hope it isn't a bug in the new IOS 13.4.1.  But that manager was the rudest customer service rep I have ever encountered.  I sure hope his employees don't follow his lead on how to make their customers happy.  The Verizon chat and phone support people were nice though; despite not providing useful help.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Fantasy Novels - A Rare Misfire by Martha Carr and Michael Anderle

In most cases I really like Martha Carr and Michael Anderle's books.  Martha Carr tends to favor urban fantasy novels that seem written without an excess of sexual detail; rather refreshing.  Michael Anderle seems to like to write fantasy in a science fiction setting.  They have collaborated quite a few times.  They've generated a number of fantasy 'worlds' that have included spin offs and collaborations with others.  They are prolific, and I like almost all of their work.

I just started reading "The Witches of Pressler Street" series.  This seems more likely a Martha Carr work with Anderle assisting.

But it's got a big gotcha in the plot that is almost impossible to get through.  You've got the three sister witches trying to avoid the usual world ending attack by the evil entity.  To do that, they have to destroy at least seven of twelve magical generators and capture the entity.  The generators are in known locations, and the sisters have a couple of tools that let them destroy the generators pretty easily.  They also have the magical ability to transport themselves to the locations of the generators.  If the entity starts up six generators, the world will end.  And the entity only has to capture six witches to do that.

So do they take a day and destroy the generators?  No!  Well why not you might ask?

Because it will interrupt their work and love lives.  The senior sister is an archaeologist on a summer sabbatical and wants to get it done, but doesn't think it is safe to do the generator destroying alone.  They need all three sisters.

The middle sister is a musician and cannot, of course, cancel any of her performances.

The youngest sister is an aspiring chef and has a new boyfriend.  She won't skip out on her shifts or cancel any of her dates.

This has got to be the stupidest plot line I've ever seen from either author, and in reality, from any author.  They get around to a generator once or twice a week.  The only thing more stupid than their attitude is that the evil entity doesn't seem to be any smarter or faster.  Why, I don't know.

Unfortunately, their writing, besides the plot, is as good as usual.  Read at your own risk.