Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fuel costs are negligable

I am a big optimist when it comes to space travel. One of the big reasons can be explained by the fuel costs for a SpaceX rocket which is only $200,000. This is pretty remarkable, a $55,000,000 mission and only 0.4% of that price is fuel.

On a per pound basis, the cost of fuel to get to orbit is about $10 a pound. This means that all the rest of the cost is hardware or employees. As spaceships become reusable the hardware costs could easily drop by a factor of 10, and a factor of 100 or even 1000 is plausible. All it would take is a ship which could go to space, land, refuel, and launch again without needing to do much other than refuel. As for the labor costs, most of that will ultimately be reduced by better robots and computers. So a cost of $100 a pound to get to orbit is not that implausible and lower may even be achievable. At that price a trip to space still costs about the same as a nice car. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

City Ventures Development in La Habra

Continuing with my plan of being a pesky neighbor, I sent this letter to the planning department in La Habra to encourage them to go along with a new development which is being proposed

                The City Ventures development is exactly the sort of project La Habra needs so that it can create a decent downtown. While the Civic Center and Church site is better for the city than the office building site, both are a huge improvement over what we have today and should be encouraged to proceed as quickly as possible.
                The best part of this development is that it is high density housing within walking distance of a lot of underutilized commercial space. It will bring hundreds of customers to the area bringing it new life. At slightly greater than twenty homes per acre, this development is high enough density to encourage a vibrant walkable neighborhood. It might be possible to fit a few more homes into the development but under no circumstances should that number be reduced. La Habra needs all the new housing it can get.
                Another encouraging feature is that the design includes large number of three story townhomes. This type of construction makes very efficient use of space and should be encouraged across La Habra.
                If only one of the two options is to be chosen, the superior option is the civic center and church site. Not only does it bring twice as many new homes to La Habra, but it uses land unlikely to be used for a better purpose. The office building site would be better used for a large mixed use building with apartments on top and retail fronting La Habra Boulevard.
                Surface parking is a low value use of space which should be discouraged. This project does a reasonable job of avoiding excessive use of it, but thought should be given to relaxing the city parking minimums or putting the parking in a parking structure to free up space for more homes.
                More thought should also be given to ensuring a walkable design. There are several Cul-de-sacs in this proposal. Those are fine for cars, but really interfere with pedestrians by increasing the walking distance to nearby destinations. A grid of pedestrian paths should be created by installing paths between adjacent streets anywhere a cul-de-sac is present. This is particularly true for the office building site; Pedestrian paths to La Habra Boulevard, and Euclid Street are needed to ensure that residents can quickly walk to nearby businesses.  On the Civic Center site, pedestrian paths are also needed to reduce walking time to the Library and to connect the cul-de-sac near the corner of Euclid and Florence to Euclid Street.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


I ignored the talk of Ebola until a few days ago. Ebola has been famous for being really deadly, but really quick to burn out. Because the virus is so deadly, it typically is easy to find. Once doctors find patients they must only keep them isolated for a few weeks before they are either dead or no longer contagious. Close contacts can be monitored so they do not spread the disease much should they get infected. It seemed to me that this new wave of Ebola would follow that model.

The stories from Western Africa are getting pretty scary though. The disease has been destroying the medical teams which fight it, and few volunteers can be found to fill their ranks. Since two of the cases which have been treated outside Africa resulted in a nurse being infected, I just don't see how Africa has a fighting chance. There are probably another three months where a big international effort could bring the situation under control, but exponential growth will soon make even that sort of intervention implausible. The most likely outcome is that the disease will kill millions before it is brought under control.

Ebola still doesn't seem like a threat to any reasonably run country though. Even in Liberia, an average case of Ebola only infects one or two other people. In America, we could easily isolate cases quickly enough for the average case of Ebola creates less than one new case. Only a major terrorist attack or a mutation making the disease much easier to catch could make this disease scare me as much as car accidents.