Friends don’t let friends flood the dorm for their thesis …

From the moment Jon Froehlich and I decided it would be a good idea to use washing machines as a mechanism to judge the relative effect of proximity of a message to the ability to act, a major issue was the possibility of catastrophic failure resulting in a leak.

The first generation of flowmeter-fitting kits, using rigid brass fittings to connect the meter to the washing machine and intake hose, had two major problems: leaks from the fitting-meter interface and the possibility of breaking the acrylic meter housing. The Koolance INS-FM17N flowmeter has nominally ¼” BSP threads, but in actuality, the threads are slightly larger in diameter, not properly fitting with the Swagelok fittings. I attempted to use Loctite 575 thread sealant to remedy this problem, but it was unable to seal the gap and lock the threads because of the large clearance, necessitating the use of matching Koolance BSP fittings with gasket. This had the benefit of also switching from a rigid connection with excessive length to a setup with flexible hose on both sides of the flowmeter. In assembling and testing the rigid connections, I broke a few meters (at $20/each), cracking the acrylic body.

Assembled with 2′ of flexible hose on either side, the problem of torque cracking the body seemed to be resolved, and rated to 70°C (158°F) and 85PSI, the application seemed to be within the failure limits.

high-temperature washing machine hose with Koolance INS-FM17N flowmeter

Hose and flow meter assembly

Still, I was worried about the possibility of something springing a leak, and every time I went to download the data, I checked everything for leaks.

And one day I came upon a cloud of steam rising from behind a set of washers in Carlyle, and saw water dripping from a rag draped over a meter. Removing the rag I got a jet of hot water shooting up in my face. I quickly closed the valve and replaced the meter. It had cracked along the long axis, I’m unsure of how the crack started, whether it was somehow damaged or if there was a defect in the plastic (a small bubble could be the nucleation site).

About a week later, I found a meter with one of the ends slightly dislodged—it was not leaking, but looked as though the end was going to fail. I replaced that meter, with the final spare, and went to California for the Ebay Data Visualization Expo. Upon return, I found one of the meters had failed in the same way, presumably with the end blowing off and water shooting everywhere. Someone fortunately found it, closed the valve and left the ends dangling. I replaced the meter, and inspected the others, but the possibility of catastrophic failure is really disturbing.

Independent of the fact that in one of the other Carlyle laundry rooms (C1) there was a long-term leak from an outflow hose, and some of the machines leak internally, leaks are totally unacceptable, especially a 3/8″ hose shooting hot water everywhere!

Koolance wants the units back for analysis, and to give me a refund for the price of the replacements, but it’s still disturbing to worry about failure and finding myself in hot water with the administration. So far there has not been a frantic call from facilities, but it’s a worrying thought.


hearts and minds

On my way across Massachussets with Bike and Build, I had the chance to meet a most fascinating man: Neal Anderson.  An upstandanding Cornell Alum (noted by his humming the Alma Mater when I mentioned the name of that illustrious institution); expert climber; noted biologist and sports scientist; and professor at Fitchburg State, he was helping out with our stay in Fitchburg’s Unitarian Universalist church.  After dinner, we got to talking and he mentioned the book Three Cups of Tea.  I haven’t read it, but the synopsis is:  Greg Mortenson was making an ascent on K2, which was aborted due to weather and illness.  Staggering downhill, he was taken in by some locals and nursed back to health.  He promised them a school, and made good on his promise… and kept building schools in locations we see on TV as ‘hotbeds of anti-american sentiment’.  And now the state department, and Nicholas Kristof have noticed that hearts and minds are what we’re really after.
Walter Lafeber wrote a book a few years ago about how American culture has spread across the world, but it’s not a universally thick layer, and certainly not everyone likes the Buy n Large vision of the future.  Some people really don’t like western culture, and, well, blow things up to protest its spread.  Here and now isn’t the place to pontificate about the West, so it will suffice to quote Churchill: "No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. " -speech to the House of Commons, 11/11/1947
So, this Greg Mortenson has done more to further Western values, defeat the Taliban, and win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world than all the bombs and rockets of the United States Military.  Why?  he went directly for the children, and their parents.  Building a school is crafty, insidious, and effective.  If women are empowered, their sons will listen to their mommas and not go off to the Jihad.  If people have real skills (like reading, writing, and arithmetic) they can do productive things, rather than sit around smoking in caves and blowing stuff up.
I salute you mr. Mortenson, and I shall now go read your book.  And to George Bush or whoever wins the election in November: put tax dollars to work: invest in the peace corps, not the war corps.

truth vs. happiness

well, perhaps it’s not the most authoritative source, but the article’s good:
Boiled down, you can either be truthful with yourself or happy.  I try to be on the level with myself, which occasionally means I’m stuck with some major dissonance issues.  No one is perfect, but until you really know someone, you’re really dealing with their polished "ambassador" alter ego.  And to complicate matters further, the fundamental attribution error, the attribution of situational effects on a person’s actions to internal causes, tends to make people think of people in the wrong way.
All of this has to be adaptive.  Otherwise, how would Elie Wiesel have written Night?  If he had assessed the situation properly, he probably would have grabbed the closest SS guard’s sturmgewehr 44, shot a few Nazis and gone down in a hail of gunfire.  Playing the probability game, that probably would have been a pretty wise course of action.  Certainly for his father, that might have been a better plan than dying of dysentery.
Anyway, I see humans major, and perhaps only, driving force being the search for truth (i.e. scientific truth), and as such would rather see the truth than be blissfully oblivious.  what say you to that?

Prescription drug or heavy metal band? (from a radio contest)

Prescription drug or heavy metal band:
  1. Keflex
  2. Xetian
  3. Zithromax
  4. Biaxin

well enough of the games.  Biaxin is a prescription antibiotic.  It’s relatively cheap, effective and TASTES TERRIBLE-ALL DAY!  it makes your saliva taste bad (but no smell thank goodness).  so if your doctor wants to give it to you, be warned, or ask for something else.


Now off to North Carolina for a job interview at humancentric technologies:

BMW vs. Volvo at 120mi/hr closure

"there would have been no survors"
please drive safely.
I apologize for being awol with regards to the blog for almost 2 months.  Things have been busy, and I’ve just beeen lax about posting things.  It’s not that things haven’t happened, I just haven’t been dilligent about posting.

опасность радиации

want to take a trip to Chernobyl?  It’s hot, even in the Ukranian winter!
it’s sobering to see what damage mistakes can do.  60 years ago, nuclear energy appeared to be the future-no smoke, a lot of energy from a small amount of mass … we’ll deal with the waste later.  Over the years, accidents occured (windscale I, Chelybinsk 65 [some estimates state that accident released more radiation than Chernobyl], Three Mile Island) and the US and the USSR dumped radioactive waste and reactors into the oceans.  And the waste piled up, with no idea how to store it until it half-lifes into stable substances.  To say "you should have thought of this before you started" is an understatement.
In risk analysis, risk is quantified by taking into account probability of accident and severity.  Unfortunately, in the long run, the probability of serious accident becomes ~1.0, and the severity is undefined.  It is known that radiation poisoning from doses >100 rem can be fatal in the short term and elevate cancer risk.  It is unknown what damage can be wrought by low doses-can chromosomal damage from exposure impact future generations?
Now people are thinking about starting to build more reactors-"we need greenhouse-gas free energy" they claim.  Build solar, wind, and geothermal plants; and increase the efficiency of the demand side.  It’s a bad idea to rub the genie’s bottle when you’re sure to get burned, and there are safer alternatives.