It's Official: British Car is Fastest Steam Kettle Ever, Clocking Over 148MPH

For the record: On August 26, Don Wales successfully set a new land speed record for a steam powered car. The British car set the world record for a measured kilometer, achieving an average speed over two runs of 148.308 mph.

The Value of Rural Broadband, from Ars Technica

Great case study, and one more reason why spending stimulus funds on expanding rural broadband is a net positive for America. Just so we are clear:

Better Connectivity = Higher Productivity
Higher Productivity = Greater Net Revenue
Greater Net Revenue = More Taxes Back to Uncle Sam

"'One specific example of the impact that fiber optic network capacity can have on a business is Northwood DNA, Inc. This is a business operating in a very rural area, Becida, MN, that provides DNA sequencing and genotyping services globally. The services they provide require receiving and sending large data files electronically. Prior to the deployment of the fiber optic network, their business was only able to report two to three test results per day. Today, with the benefits of the all fiber optic network, they report over 50 test results per day.'"

From excellent article here: Fiber gets nimble: small telcos weaving fiber web - Ars Technica:

Benefits of Rural Broadband - The Boston Globe

This Boston Globe piece has a nice roundup of benefits that flow from rural broadband:
"Providing broadband to the 43 Western Massachusetts towns that lack it entirely or in part could kickstart the economy of a region that has suffered from the decline of basic industries like paper and electrical equipment. According to federal figures, communities with broadband add a percentage point to their employment growth rate. The state estimates that extending broadband in the western counties will create 1,360 jobs in construction alone and at least 1,680 additional jobs through use of the network.

That figure could prove low. Once broadband is added to the region’s other advantages - a relaxed lifestyle and relatively low living costs - Western Massachusetts hill towns could become a magnet for self-employed consultants, Web designers, and other professionals. High tech startups that might have shunned the region because their employees in outlying towns lacked broadband service for telecommuting might give it a second look."
Broaden access for broadband - The Boston Globe

Otsego County, New York, Hopes for Fiber Optic Loop With Wireless Outreach

Yes! This is exactly what the Obama-Biden plan had in mind: Last week we learned that Otsego County has applied for about $5.89 million in federal stimulus money to build a fiber optic loop around the county, according to The Daily Star.

Carolyn Lewis, the county's economic developer, said she believes "the loop will help bring prosperity to the countryside as firms, large and small, and residents, even on back roads, are able to operate smoothly on the Internet." Citizens of the county are strongly supportive of the project and prepared to pitch in to make it work to everyone's advantage.

(Surprisingly, even in Otsego County, a rural New York county that voted for Obama in the 2008 presidential election, some people don't realize that the "Obama-Biden Plan" placed a priority on rural broadband way before the stimulus package. In fact, it was in the works even before the presidential debates last Fall--attentive viewers will have noted that Obama spoke of the need to bring true broadband service to rural communities during the first debate.)

Support for this project today is bipartisan and pretty much across the board, from schools to hospitals, from companies and colleges to farms and families. According to Lewis, when it is built, the fiber loop would be available to colleges, hospitals, businesses and telecommunications service providers, which would be encouraged to reach the county's most remote areas with wireless devices that tie into the loop. This raises the exciting prospect of farm-wide wireless broadband service, a huge boon to farmers in this important dairy-producing region (New York is America's third largest producer of dairy products).

The county-owned network would be operated by a limited development corporation, a not-for-profit agency made up of members selected by the Otsego County Board of Representatives, according to a memorandum from ECC Technologies of Liverpool, the county's consultant on the project. Within six weeks, the county should have a preliminary indication of how its application was received. An official announcement is scheduled for November 7.

If it goes forward, the project is likely to be a big hit with local residents who for years have been exasperated by costly and unreliable satellite service while unable to get companies like Verizon, AT&T or Time Warner Cable to supply them with affordable Internet connectivity. Many thanks are due to Lewis and the county workers who helped complete the very demanding application, including Marybeth Vargha, the county's GIS coordinator, and County board Chairman James Power.

Actual Speeds on HughesNet Satellite Internet Service

This is just a short post for anyone who is curious about how well HughesNet Satellite Internet service works. I pay $80 a month for HughesNet ProPlus service which is described on the company's web site as follows:HughesNet Actual Speeds
"With the ProPlus plan, connect to the Internet with maximum download speeds of up to 1.6 Mbps, with typical speeds about 800 Kbps to 1000 Kbps during peak times. Upload speeds, which are capable of reaching 250 Kbps, are typically 130 Kbps to 150 Kbps during peak hours."
As you can see from the chart on the left, I do not get anything like that. The highest burst of speed was 679 Kbps up and 68 Kbps down. But that speed is for a fraction of a second, transferring only part of a file. The best average speed over the course of a single file transfer in these tests is 275/67 which is a far cry from the low end of the 800/130 cited by HughesNet. BTW, that chart is a screen shot from a widely tested and trusted speed test program on my iPhone. I have checked it against other tests in other locations. The chart is all the results from my random tests in the last month or so. I have not edited out anything. As you can see, I have never clocked the promised low end of 800/130 let alone the fabled 1600/250. As for the average, what I typically get from this 1600/250 service is 174/52.

These results match those my wife has recorded using Hughes own speed test application. In other words, according to Hughes themselves, we get way worse service than we pay for. One of these days I will make yet another attempt to get Hughes to address this problem. My wife has made numerous calls to them in the past but things have not improved. They have a very cavalier attitude to problem tickets and consistently close them out without actually resolving the problem.

Like many other HughesNet users we hesitate to get too angry with them because they are currently our only option for "high speed" Internet (given that, in our case, fate has us living on a hill in upstate New York, one of the millions of places in this country that phone and cable companies refuse to service adequately). So it's not like we can switch to anything else.

There are many other problems with satellite Internet service, like lack of support for VPN and VoIP, latency times that are worse than dialup, and a daily bandwidth cap of 435 megabytes. We have learned to live with these, but we have not received anything in return. We are not even getting one sixth of the speed we pay for. Hopefully, this information will be helpful for anyone who is thinking about chosing to live beyond the reach of cable or DSL. My advice? Don't do it, not unless your goal is to disconnect from the Internet. Believe me when I say, if the housing market were not so depressed, we'd be looking to move to a place that has cable or DSL and ditch this over-priced dish.

Official Steam Land Speed Record Broken, All Time Record is Next

A pair of regulation runs across a California dessert have resulted in a new official world land speed record for a steam powered vehicle!

The British Speed car exceeded 150mph at one point and averaged a shade under 140mph. In official terms, the record is now 139.843mph. According to the Daily Mail there will be further attempts to try and best the unofficial record of 145mph. Definitely another feather in the cap of British engineering, which also holds the overall world land speed record. And interesting to note the numerous speed-family connections mentioned in the Daily Mail article.

Why Rural Folk Feel 3.6X Angrier About Broadband, TV, and Verizon

Guest Blogger Stephen Cobb writes:

Right now it hurts to watch New York City's Channel 4 NBC news if you live just a few hours outside of New York City in the rural areas that supply the metropolis with its dairy goods and fresh produce. Why?

The NBC 4 New York sports section is sponsored by Verizon FiOS and Verizon FiOS spots are all over the show, advertising an $80 per month deal on high speed Internet, plus television and phone service. That's $80 for all three. What do you have to pay if you live outside the city? $290.

That $290 "deal" is what rural folks must pay to get service that is not even as good as FiOS at $80 or even FiOS at $160. Yet some of the fiber optic cables that make FiOS possible pass right through these rural fields and valleys. Here's how it breaks down in the many areas that phone and cable companies chose to ignore:

$80 for HughesNet satellite Internet
$75 for Verizon land line phone service
$135 for DirecTV satellite TV

Yep, it adds up to $290, about 3.6X what city cousins pay. Bear in mind that the rural dweller's $80 rate for satellite Internet only gets him, if he's very lucky, download speeds of 1.6Mbps and upload rates of maybe 128Kbps, with latency that is much worse than dialup. And daily traffic is capped at 425Mb (in other words, one hi-def movie download or operating system upgrade and you're done for the next 24 hours).

Yet the current 3-way FiOS package from Verizon, which "serves" most of these rural areas of New York state at a much lower grade, gives the subscriber phone service, plus TV service, plus broadband Internet access at 50Mbs upload, 20Mbps download. That is more than 25X what you can get in the country, with a bandwidth cap that is at least 1,000X greater than the cap on satellite. So, Verizon gives city dwellers a level of service that is massively better than what they offer their rural customers, at about a quarter of the cost rural customers have to pay.

If the situation were reverse and it was rural customers getting that deal, surely there would be riots in the streets of the city. No?

The Kettle is On! The British Steam Car Challenge is going for the "world land steam" record

Once again there are folk from England sweating in the American desert in pursuit of speed. But this is not the world land speed record for cars with jet engines (as claimed and owned by the British Thrust II). This is the speed record for steam-powered cars.

Known as the British Steam Car Challenge, the project is in California right now and is likely to break the record any day now. That means going over 145mph while powered by hot water (heated by propane).

The vehicle specs are amazing. The Inspire, as it is called, stretches 25 feet in length, weighs 3 tons, and has a steam turbine that generates 360 hp. Theoretical top speed of the car is 170mph. Now that might not sound very fast. There are several production sports cars capable of exceeding 200 mph with internal combustion engines. But an IC engine is inherently dirtier than a steam engine, which can be fired by much cleaner fuels. The problem with developing a fast steam powered car is size. It is possible to build steam engines that generate 3,000 hp but they are huge. Indeed, the only place you are likely to find them is in steam locomotives.

The fastest British steam locomotive, arguably the fastest ever (argued in immense detail here) was the Mallard. It was rated around 3,000 hp and at times it achieved speeds in excess of 120 mph. But it weighed over 100 tons! The Inspire is one eighth of the power with one thirtieth of the weight! That is an amazing feat of engineering.

Health Stats Table as a Blog Post

I thought I would present some health care statistics in a handy table. All data is from the World Health Organization.

I was quite surprised to find that the under 5 mortality rate in America is twice what it is in Spain. Unless my math is mistaken, this means children in America are twice as likely to die before they reach the age of 6, even though America spends three times as much on health care.

Here's another chart that I find revealing:

More Government Health Care Facts for Those Who Like the Truth

So, here are some actual facts to consider. In Britain, which is apparently the most despised example of evil Orwellian government health care that the opponents of government health care can think of, people are free to buy and use private health insurance for private health care. I know quite a few British people who do this. These are not people who make things up.
  • Britain's NHS sees one million people every 36 hours and 93 per cent of patients rate their care as good or excellent.
  • The CIA says that Brits can expect to live longer under government health care than Americans can under the current free market system:
  • Measured as a percentage of GDP, Britain spends about half of what America spends on health care, yet Britain enjoys greater life expectancy, lower infant mortality, lower maternal mortality.
  • My 80 year-old mother lives in Britain and has never experienced age-related government health care restrictions.
  • The World Health Organization ranks Britain's health care as 18th in the world, while the US is in 37th place.
In other words, Britain, along with many other countries, has figured out how to get better health care results while spending a less than America does. Indeed, Spain has even better outcomes than Britain and spends even less.

So, there is no reason that America can't cut medical spending while improving health care. Okay, well there are reasons. I think they are excess profit and inefficiency.

Just the Facts? The CIA, Stephen Hawking, and the government health care option

I had almost abandoned this 2007 wore on it looked more and more like health care reform in America was just a fading dream. Then came 2008 and candidate Obama. Health care reform went from "distant hope" to solid plank in a triumphant campaign platform. No need to blog about health care reform if it was now a presidential mandate. Then came the reality of extremism, people prepared to twist and distort reality to scare up opposition to health care reform, particularly an expanded government health care option.

(For the record: All Americans already have a government health option if they become physically disabled or poor, it's called Medicaid.)

These opponents of an extended U.S. government health care option are not content to say "I am happy with my private health insurance and don't want change." Instead these people had to make things up. And America's ethically bankrupt mainstream media seems prepared to give voice to these fabrications. Blogging to deconstruct these fabrications is now imperative.

Consider Investor's Business Daily. In an attempt to articulate the argument that Americans should not adopt the same kind of government health care that has existed for over 50 years in the United Kingdom, IBD actually printed this: "Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK."

There is zero basis in fact for this statement, but worse than that, the statement is the exact opposite of the truth. For many decades the UK's government health care option, the National Health Service, has provided Stephen Hawking with great care, at no cost. Indeed, Stephen Hawking, one of the world's most celebrated scientists, was moved to make a statement to the press. He said: "I owe my life to the NHS."

So, here is the strategy adopted by opponents of government health care in America: "Make false and alarming statements about how bad things will be if there is an expanded government health care option in America. Make these statements as often and as loudly as you can. Don't worry about the truth at this point because the ends [killing an expanded government health care option] justify these means."

Guest Post Anyone?

Agrilan would like to encourage those with an interest in rural broadband issues to submit posts to this blog. Please email us at mail at agrilan dot com for more information.

Healthcare Reform: Where I stand

I think some of my friends are beginning to wonder why I have resisted blogging about the current healthcare debate in America, given that I have--as they know all too well by now--a lot of opinions on the subject. The truth is I cannot afford to get drawn into this one.

Why? I am way too busy holding down a job and patching up the hole in the roof and generally doing the things necessary to get by, like figuring out how to pay off the mid-five figure medical bill my wife's current illness has run up, so far (a task made even more challenging now that my credit score is getting perilously close to my IQ--and no, I don't think I'm getting smarter as I get older).

This state of affairs is unfortunate in more ways than one (or two or five). For a start, I feel that I have a useful perspective on healthcare reform. I was born and raised by socialized medicine. It served me and my family well. When my father died of cancer at 50, the family's grief and loss was not compounded by fears that his illness would bankrupt us. We never saw a bill. We never paid a penny, except to send flowers to the nurses who cared for him so mercifully in his final hours.

Since moving to America in 1976, I have observed what damage fate can do to a family through accidents and ill health compounded by the absence of any systematic approach to caring for the less fortunate. Yet  during that time the prevailing American attitude to healthcare appeared to be:
"I will take my chances. Whenever I see someone brought low by pain and suffering and medical bills I will pray for them, maybe make a donation, then remind myself "There but for the grace of God go I."

When I decided to make a new life in America I knew that it was a gamble. Work hard and you can do well. You can rise high and fast. The risk is that you can fall even faster, and way further, than in most "wealthy" countries. The only insurance against all eventualities in America is to have a lot of money in the bank, I'd say high eight figures at a minimum.

About 12 years ago I heard a doctor, who was also a U.S. congressman, describe, in a public speech, the prevailing American sentiment on healthcare:
"I've worked hard all my life. I didn't party in high school, I studied. I went through years of grueling college and post-grad education so I could make a good living. I have earned, and I deserve, better healthcare than the guys who come to mow my lawn every week."

As I said at the outset, I cannot spend much time on this. I can't do the lobbying and blogging and networking that I would like to do in order to change, or at least try to change, this point of view. About all I can do is present my own view on healthcare, stated as a general principle :
"The total bill for providing systematic and equal care to all members of society should be born equally by all members of society and paid by all members, according to their means."

I cannot think of a single reason why a caring and compassionate person would argue against that. Dozens of countries have adopted this principle and made it work. I cannot think of a single valid reason why America cannot do the same. That's where I stand on healthcare.