The Market Ticker
Commentary on The Capital Markets- Category [Musings]
2016-05-28 08:15 by Karl Denninger
in Musings , 238 references
 

Memorial Day is not for those who have served and are still with us.

It is for those who served and paid with their lives.

The question this weekend for you as you head to the beach, boat or other past-time, usually with beer and/or burger in hand, is whether what they died for is still here in America, or whether you have either actively conspired to destroy it or sat back and watched it happen with nothing more than a nod and a whimper.

Do we really have anything approaching freedom any longer?

Consider that we had something like a dozen candidates for President on the Republican side and two serious contenders on the Democrat.  Not one of them -- literally not one -- had a single word for the fact that there are 50,000 flatly unconstitutional gun laws on the books today.

Nor has one of them said one word about the blatantly-unlawful (and outrageously so) theft, fraud and arguably racketeering known as "health care" in this country that is not only one dollar in five of our "economy" it is also twice, as a percentage of our economy, that of the rest of the industrial world and those systems are almost-all socialist!  Oh, and it's also nearly 40% of our federal budget.

Can you really be "free" when four dollars in ten and doubling every 10 years in our government's spending profile goes to one place, virtually every aspect of it is facially illegal under laws that have existed for more than 100 years and you are one incident or accident away from literal bankruptcy irrespective of your age or wealth (fewer than 1 in 100,000 people is wealthy enough to be able to pay it off and shrug) meaning that in the end your choice is only between death and destitution!  Death comes to us all, but do you really have anything approaching 'freedom' if just prior to it you are robbed of everything you've ever accumulated by private parties and firms with the full consent and assistance of the government?

Meh.

Yes, I recognize and honor the fallen this weekend, and Monday will fly the flag.  Yes, I will have an adult beverage or two over the weekend in between completing the tune-up and cleaning on a newly-acquired pinball machine.  I do not have immediate family that gave their life in the service of our nation, but I knew people who did, and many of my friends do have family who gave all.

But today, before you start drinking that beer and grilling those burgers, you might want to contemplate just those two above examples.  There are hundreds more where they came from, but those two are more than sufficient to make the point -- and frankly, if you head to the beach or bar without at least speaking out on these issues, say much less organizing your life in boycott and action against same then I question whether you remember, or value, those who gave their lives at all -- or whether for you this weekend is just a drunken boob-and-beer excuse.

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When is a story that is "trending", that is, that people are talking about, not actually trending?

When someone manually plays editor just like at a regular print newspaper.

Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential “trending” news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project. This individual says that workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users.

Facebook is, of course, free to present whatever slant it wants on what it calls "news", just as is every other media outlet.  Does that freedom, however, not expire if they lie?

See, Facebook claims that the "trending" sidebar is about organic discussions -- what the software determines people are talking about.  The truth, according to this story, is a different matter -- "trending" not only might include stories that are in fact popular but it might also includes those that editors push on you and suppression of stories they do not want you to read, irrespective of the fact that they're popular.

This is what should be expected, however, when you are the product being sold.  After all one of the key items in selling something is making it more attractive to the buyer.  In this case the buyers are advertisers and presenting the illusion that you're talking about all nice squishy things might be exactly what the advertisers want to hear.

Of course it might not be what you want to hear.  But remember, you're not the customer when you're using Facebook.

You're the product -- and you're being sold.

How's it feel to have a "Facebook" when you discover that what's being discussed is manipulated -- things you are talking about are suppressed, and things you're not are being advanced, all under the claim that this sidebar actually reflects what people are discussing?

You really shouldn't have expected otherwise, by the way.  See, that's what happens when you are product -- you're massaged, lipstick is put on the pig (you), you're all dolled up and then presented for the actual customer, just like an apple has wax put on its skin to make it appear shiny and meat has carbon monoxide passed over it so it appears pink.  It's why cereals have cartoon characters or Bruce Jenner on the label when in fact eating fast carbohydrates (like cereals, for instance) has a known propensity to make you fat.  It's why sodas are formulated the way they are -- they are intentionally designed not to quench your thirst, but leave you wanting something to drink -- like another soda.  And it's why some bars have a pail of free salted peanuts on the table -- again, go ahead and eat 'em -- you'll order more beer, and the beer generates far more profit than the peanuts cost.

You can keep being marketed and sold -- that is, keep being product -- if you wish.  After all, is it slavery if you volunteer?

All you have to do is keep using Facebook.

Or you can say this to Zucker****er instead:

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Once again, stupidity.

I have a diving scooter that I'm selling.  DPVs are crazy-convenient if you own a boat or have a willing operator (there aren't many, unfortunately) and want to do wreck dives.  For longer cave-dives they can be essential.  They can also be dangerous as hell if you don't think, because it's quite easy to find yourself 5,000' back in a cave and then have the scooter fail and if you are ever dumb enough to do a powered ascent with one in open water you're at an extremely high risk of decompression sickness or outright death due to embolism.  Nonetheless I love the damn things and the only reason I'm selling mine is that I'm getting out of all but the most-mundane diving stuff.

There are two ways scooters fail, basically, although there are other less-serious problems that they can develop: One is catastrophically; they have a rotating shaft with a seal that had damn well better remain watertight, and not just because water and electricity don't get along. If the unit floods at depth you're double-****ed because it will instantly become 30+ lbs negatively buoyant and you will be forced to abandon it.  There's not really much you can do about this risk other than pay damn good attention to any hint of water inside when you get back from a dive, and if you find it change the shaft seal immediately.  Fortunately the seals are not hard to change and are pretty cheap; it's the same basic design as the seal used in your pool pump.

The other problem comes from the battery packs.  They're very high-energy and come in three forms -- SLA (basically UPS batteries), NiMH (usually made out of "F" cells) and Lithium-chemistry of various sorts.  SLAs give you a fair bit of warning before they die as their discharge curve is more or less a slope, so if you're paying attention you will notice the power level goes down -- assuming a brushed motor.  Both NiMH and Lithium chemistry doesn't work that way -- you have a quick drop to a flat voltage, then basically no change until the battery is essentially dead -- at which point it goes from producing plenty of current to almost-none in a very short period of time.  The controllers shut down the motor when that happens (and they need to, as otherwise you won't get anywhere but you WILL destroy the battery pack.)

Of course having that happen 5,000' back in a cave sucks; you either can swim out on the gas you have left or you're dead.  If you haven't planned for this to happen it is simply a matter of WHEN, not if, you will die because you were stupid.

Anyway, the underlying problems with multi-cell high-capacity battery packs are well-known.  Add to this that people are lazy; they want their pack recharged and they want it now.

NiMH and Lithium chemistry packs can be charged at very high rates with a 4-hour charge or faster being pretty common.  An "F" cell NiMH pack is made up of 13,000 mah (nominal) cells of 1.3V each, 20 of them.  It has a "working" voltage of 24V and is pretty-much a direct replacement for 2 SLAs, which internally are 2V per cell and six cells each, or 12 cells (instead of 20.)

The problem is that batteries are not all exactly the same.  That is, they have slightly different capacities.  Therefore, over time what happens is this:

You charge them and you have something like this:

13,000mah
12,900mah
13,100mah

.... and so on.

Note that you can have a roughly 250mah capacity difference with batteries that are within 10% of spec right out of the box.  This isn't unexpected.

Unfortunately since wattage (power) is volts x amps when you discharge them the power that comes out isn't exactly equal.  What's worse is that when you recharge them you put in 24V @ 4A, for example, but the charge acceptance isn't exactly equal either and since it is energy that is stored (Watt-hours or Joules) charging a string of cells inherently leads to either some being overcharged or some being undercharged.

Overcharging when you charge at high rates causes the cell to vent (it produces gas and a relief valve opens) and that destroys it.  Therefore chargers are designed to avoid this by detecting the characteristics of the charge, including in some cases temperature rise, particularly with NiMH as that's a very reliable indicator that the cell is full and you're going to vent it if you don't stop pumping energy into it.

But the fact that all cells in a pack are never equal means some cells will always be undercharged when a pack is fast-charged if it is appropriately protected against any of the cells being overcharged.

Over time this will eventually lead you to run the pack down with one or more cells that have no energy in them which reverse-charges it, and that instantly destroys the cell involved.

This is how multi-cell packs that are fast-charged die most of the time.

To avoid this you can slow charge the pack at a rate that won't heat it up enough to cause anything to vent, but will overcharge (intentionally) most of the cells once in a while.  That "picks up" the weaker cells and fixes the problem -- for a while -- provided you catch it before any of them are reverse-charged and short.  That does cost you some of the cycles that the battery could otherwise produce (in other words it will wear out for real more-quickly) but in most cases a pack doesn't die because the cells wear out -- they die due to inadvertent abuse caused by the above situation.

It gets materially more-dangerous with many Lithium chemistry batteries because a reverse-charge of one of those will frequently cause the cell to explode and the contents to catch fire when next charged, especially if rapid-charged, as they essentially short out internally.  NiMH and NiCad batteries will burst and make a mess but at least they don't burn down your house.  For this reason commercially-produced lithium packs usually have circuitry in them that detects this condition and fails "hard open", disabling the pack entirely, since the manufacturers don't want to get sued when your house catches on fire (but do note that this protection isn't entirely effective either!)

Manufacturers could avoid this by instead of supplying a simple series charger providing you with a fast balance charger that individually charged each cell.  This would require a connector block to handle that but the circuitry involved on the charger end isn't really much more complex and it would completely eliminate the problem.  Yet in more than 30 years of working with various equipment that have packs like this in them including UPS gear, consumer stuff, construction equipment and similar I've never once seen any manufacturer do that.

Eventually all batteries wear out, but what we have here is a case of planned obsolescence, basically.  Oh, and did I mention that these packs have a habit of costing upwards of $500 -- in some cases as much as a grand?

I have here one that, it appears, has one bad cell.  Of course the factory charger that came with the scooter is a 4A unit, which is guaranteed to cause problems over time.  Worse, it's hard to find something with (1) adjustable output and (2) the ability to handle a 20-cell NiMH pack.  The manufacturer wants $800 for a new pack; I will observe that the cells themselves are available from Tenergy for $12 each, approximately.

That's a nice racket you have there.....

So what I'm doing is replacing the blown cell and adding a pigtail so you now have access for slow-charging each of two strings of 10 cells.  Chargers that are programmable and can handle 10-15 cells are easily found and inexpensive (about $50), thanks to the RC vehicle market.

And for the cost of a connector, a piece of wire, and one F-sized cell, an $800 pack is returned to serviceable condition.  Oh sure, it doesn't have "new" capacity, but that's ok.  I can then also run a capacity test on it at a reasonable charge rate (I happen to have the equipment to do that) and find out, once each of the cells has been individually charged to full capacity, exactly what sort of life this pack has left.

If the answer is unacceptable then heh, you're into it for a two-hour soldering session and a box of F-cells.  Even then, $250 is a hell of a lot better than $800!

But if not?

How about it's fixed for $20 in parts and some (a decent amount, most of it waiting) time.

As for those who designed these things this way, and there's a lot of equipment like this out there including devices like cordless drills and such that are made up of high-density multi-cell packs with nothing other than a fast charger available from the factory I have two words: **** you and your intent to make me pay crazy money for new battery packs far more frequently than I should have to.

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