No Minister

Archive for the ‘Transport’ Category

Good news from a simple solution

In the last few weeks I’ve written a couple of posts on the supply chain problems cropping up around the world, in particular across the Pacific and especially between the USA and China:

The Shipping News

World’s Worst Job

Since then the problem has actually got worse, with even more ships parked outside the Port of Los Angeles. In reading one of my foreign sources I came across a link to the Twitter account of a guy called Ryan Petersen who had rented a boat to go and look at the port to see what was happening.

But that was as far as I read and it merely confirmed other news about the situation. As it happens I should have read further, because he discovered something amazing that is almost beyond belief.

As this commentator summarises while listing out the entire Twitter thread:

  1. There was a rule in the Port saying you could only stack shipping containers two containers high.
  2. This is despite the whole point of shipping containers being to stack them on top of each other so you can have a container ship.
  3. This rule was created, and I am not making this up, because it was decided that higher stacks were not sufficiently aesthetically pleasing.
  4. If you violated this rule, you lost your right to operate at the port.
  5. In normal times, this was annoying but not a huge deal.

The last point on that list is this:

None of those people managed to do anything about the rule, or even get word out about the rule. No reporters wrote up news reports. No one was calling for a fix. The supply chain problems kept getting worse and mostly everyone agreed not to talk about it much and hope it would go away.

It’s incredible that this one stupid bureaucratic rule could be so obviously part of a massive and growing problem and not have anything done about it.

As it happens the Twitter guy did do something about. Having spotted the problem he suggested the obvious solution of suspending the rule so that containers could be stacked more than two high.

So far, so what you may say. Well this is where the power of connecting people on Social Media, in this case Twitter, was made obvious and for once in a good way. That initial tweet got 16k retweets and 33k likes, and even the others got thousands of likes as well, so this successfully got many people’s attention – including the people who make decisions, like the Mayor of Long Beach where the port is located:

That decision was made just eight hours after Petersen’s Tweet thread was posted.

EIGHT HOURS!

You can read the following blog post – An Unexpected Victory – for a (lengthy) analysis of this incident as an example of problem solving – and a glimmer of hope for solving other problems:

If you’re not terrified that the United States is a dead player, you haven’t been paying attention – the whole reason this is a miracle, and that it shocked so many people, is that we didn’t think the system was capable of noticing a stupid, massively destructive rule with no non-trivial benefits and no defenders and scrapping it, certainly not within a day. If your model did expect it, I’m very curious to know how that is possible, and how you explain the years 2020 and 2021.

Sadly there are multiple problems involved in the supply chain crisis, of which this was just one.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 9, 2021 at 10:08 am

The beauty of laminar flow

It is beautiful isn’t it? Even if it does look a bit like a flying egg.

That’s a new plane called the Celera 500L, made by a tiny US aerospace company called Otto Aviation.

With a cruising speed of 460mph at 50,000 feet and a range of 4,500 nautical miles it could be quite a challenge for other planes used for business trips and/or small-scale commercial passenger flights. Incredibly it’s doing all this with no more than a lightweight V-12 diesel engine.

It’s still undergoing flight testing but so far it’s been impressive:

For this test hop, Tryggvason plans to cruise at a sedate pace—maybe 250 miles per hour—while Len Fox, flying chase in a sleek twin-engine Piper Navajo, collects infrared images of the Celera. Tryggvason is loping along, barely using half the power at his disposal. So he’s surprised to hear Fox’s voice on the radio, sounding perturbed.

“Can you slow down some?” Fox says. “I can’t keep up with you.”

Tryggvason is a former Space Shuttle astronaut. You can read all about at Air & Space Magazine, but here are some important points:

Shaped like an elongated egg with wings and a stubby propeller hanging off the tail, the 500L is designed to leverage the benefits of laminar flow—an aerodynamic advantage that increases efficiency in flight by minimizing drag—to an extent never before seen in a production airplane.

Laminar flow has been around as a concept for a long time and its advantages are well known. The famous P-51 fighter plane used laminar flow in the design of its wings, as have other planes since then, but the Celera 500 applies it to every aspect of the plane. The problem comes with implementing it in practice:

Laminar flow structures don’t scale well—to the size of an airliner fuselage, for example. And the surfaces themselves have to be shaped to extremely fine tolerances. The precision required means that metal isn’t an ideal construction material. In flight, small impediments—ice on the wings or even dead bugs on the leading edge—can be enough to cause the flow to turn turbulent.

Which is why aerodynamic experts have rejected it for the most part. One strike that may be held against this plane is that its creator, Bill Otto, isn’t even an aeronautical engineer, although he’s worked a lifetime on the avionics of missiles and planes, and on a torpedo for the Navy that used laminar flow and achieved huge reductions in drag (and hence an increase in range and/or speed), but which was rejected for those practical, in-service reasons noted above.

For Otto, ignorance of these problems was bliss. All he knew was the science, and when he ran the numbers, they suggested that an airplane designed around wings, a fuselage, and an empennage that maximized laminar flow could be a game changer.

A warning note is given by the history of some other similar efforts like the Beech Starship and this comment from

But on one point, almost everybody agrees: The airplane sounds too good to be true. “I want to believe, but it sounds like a tall order,” says Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis for Teal Group. “Getting something airborne is the easy part. But getting something certified is a long process that inevitably results in changes, which, of course, can impair ambitious performance goals.”

We well see. I’m pro anything that’s beautiful, although the A-10 Warthog is an exception.

Written by Tom Hunter

October 31, 2021 at 10:35 am

Wellington is not moving.

I’m a firm believer in blogs like this connecting to other blogs rather than the MSM (breaking news aside) because blogs often provide a level of expert analysis and detail of subjects that the MSM does not.

In this case I’ll link to two blogs, Not PC and Liberty Scott on the matter of transport and do so in two separate posts. But they should be read together.

First up is Not PC, run by Peter Cresswell, an architect who has spent decades writing and thinking about urban planning. This particular article is a guest post by The Uncivil Servant, and focuses on transport in just one place, Wellington, and one group there planning it:

A RUNNING JOKE AROUND Wellington is the organisation for activist bureaucrats Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM). A running joke, because it is a symbol for how bureaucracy barely lets anything move at all.

The last National Government foolishly set it up to try to get agreement with local government on fixing transport problems in Wellington. Labour however has since changed its objectives, and painted a wide band of Green all over it. So now it isn’t really much about transport at all.

You could say the same about MBIE, set up at the behest of ACT. When are our “Right-wing” parties going to realise that setting up new bureaucracies to get things done simply results in these scenarios? All that happens is that the lovers of the State, the Left, have a new home to burrow into. In this case the writer details how the organisation’s primary objectives have been changed:

The upshot of this capitulation to blancmange is that LGWM is now less about transport and more about enabling intensification for housing development, and reducing carbon emissions. In fact, almost all about carbon emissions. Note: not noxious emissions like particulates…

The autistic focus gets worse than that:

It is also single-mindedly focused on reducing emissions solely by mode shift. Not by travelling less, not by moving to electric or hybrid vehicles, or by reducing traffic congestion to waste less fuel. LGWM is instead now almost solely focussed on enabling more housing (on one corridor), and on making peasants like you drive less by using public transport more.

They already have the statistics in front of them that show that their approach is not going to work, even on their own terms of reducing CO2 emissions. One third of traffic enters Wellington only to get to other places, and the primary reason for the congestion is that there is no bypass:

The problem is easy to identify: Wellington’s urban motorway ends abruptly at Te Aro at one end, and at the other end, SH1 from the airport stalls at the bottleneck of Mt Victoria Tunnel, with one lane in each direction. This causes congestion all day long and on weekends as well. Plus between 15-40% of traffic along Wellington’s waterfront is travelling to avoid that congestion, according to LGWM, that’s traffic that helps separate Wellington city from its harbour.

But LGWM is just not interested in solving that problem. Although the author does not say so I reckon that they’re actually happy with the congestion, thinking it will force drivers on to their trains, trams and buses, much as the Greens are happy about the Covid-19 lockdown destruction of our tourist industry, since it means fewer CO2 emitting planes ferrying people to and from our shores.

One of LGWM’s primary proposals is some sort of tram system that will cost $2.2 billion. That’s their estimate: public transport systems around the world regularly blow out such forecasts, often by multiples of two, three or more. Auckland’s ring train being merely the latest local example. The LGWM idea won’t do a damned thing for CO2 emissions either. In fact it has a different objective:

This policy of LGWM is straight out of the North American urbanist planner playbook, which calls for more “PT” (public transport) to induce more high-density housing. A policy that  has had the same success in addressing housing shortages and traffic issues there (i.e., virtually  none) as it would in Wellington. 

The other idea is fiddling around with the Mt Victoria road tunnels; building one for walkers and cyclists only and the other for buses only. Seriously, do these people even live in the city? I’ve walked and cycled around the place and on the rare nice day of sun and little wind it’s great, but there is no way I’d do it most of the time, especially during Winter and Autumn (Spring is not great either). There is already a dedicated bus tunnel of one lane only: why not just enlarge it? Probably for the following reason:

So all of the proposals essentially keep the current road capacity and do nothing at all about the bottleneck. This is straight out of the Green Party “building new road capacity is bad” school of thinking, on the basis people might have the audacity to drive (even with an electric car). One has to suspect the proposals are designed to just be dumped for being uneconomic, because they won’t encourage housing, won’t reduce emissions, nor encourage people to shift modes.

There’s nothing for the rest of Wellington either, even for other places with bottlenecks and congestion, like Karori. What a future National/ACT government should do about this is pretty simple:

If we want to ever get Wellington moving, a first step must be to remove Let’s Get Wellington Moving. It must be stopped.

Thereafter, [NZ Transport Agency] should be directed to finish SH1 in Wellington with a second Terrace Tunnel and Mt Victoria Tunnel; to trench the highway under Te Aro; and to grade separate at the Basin Reserve. Wellington City Council should put in place bus-priority measures at strategic points across the network.

On the other hand perhaps we just let Wellington drown in its own juices? Despite countless fuckups I see the locals regularly voting in very Lefty and Green councillors so Mencken’s rule of democracy should perhaps apply.

The only problem with that approach is that the rest of us, via central government, would end up paying to dig them out of their crap sooner or later. Better to stop them now before they hurt themselves.

Written by Tom Hunter

October 26, 2021 at 9:41 am