Monday, July 15, 2013

News from a Parallel Universe

George Zimmerman Found Not Guilty of the Murder of Travon Martin 

Somewhere out there, is an Earth in a parallel universe that has run the above as a headline. In that universe, Travon Martin was harassed verbally and stalked by George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman despite being told to not approach Travon, got out of his truck, closed the distance between the two and a fight ensued. George Zimmerman, a black man, pulled out his gun and killed Travon Martin, a white youth. 

Travon Martin Found Not Guilty of the Murder of George Zimmerman

Somewhere out there, is an Earth in a parallel universe that has run the above as a headline. In that universe, Travon Martin was harassed verbally and stalked by George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman despite being told to not approach Travon, got out of his truck, closed the distance between the two, a fight ensued, George Zimmerman pulled out his gun but Travon gained control of the gun and killed George Zimmerman.

Travon Martin Found Not Guilty of Use of Excessive Force on George Zimmerman

Somewhere out there, is an Earth in a parallel universe that has run the above as a headline. In that universe, Travon Martin was harassed verbally and stalked by George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman despite being told to not approach Travon, got out of his truck, closed the distance between the two, a fight ensued, George Zimmerman did not have a weapon and was badly beaten by Travon Martin.

Travon Martin Found Not Guilty of the Murder of George Zimmerman

Somewhere out there, is an Earth in a parallel universe that has run the above as a headline. In that universe, Travon Martin was harassed verbally and stalked by George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman despite being told to not approach Travon, got out of his truck, closed the distance between the two, a fight ensued, Travon Martin pulled out his gun and killed George Zimmerman. Despite having no license to carry a concealed weapon Travon Martin was found to be acting in self-defense.

Travon Martin Found Not Guilty of Murder of George Zimmerman

Somewhere out there, is an Earth in a parallel universe that has run the above as a headline. In that universe, Travon Martin was harassed verbally and stalked by George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman despite being told to not approach Travon, got out of his truck, closed the distance between the two, a fight ensued, George Zimmerman did not have a weapon and was beaten to death by Travon Martin. 

Travon Martin Found Not Guilty of Murder of George Zimmerman

Somewhere out there, is an Earth in a parallel universe that has run the above as a headline. In that universe, Travon Martin was harassed verbally and stalked by George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman despite being told to not approach Travon, got out of his truck, closed the distance between the two, a fight ensued, George Zimmerman pulled out his firearm but was stabbed to death with a knife carried by Travon Martin. 

George Zimmerman Found Guilty of Murder of Travon Martin

Somewhere out there, is an Earth in a parallel universe that has run the above as a headline. In that universe, Travon Martin was harassed verbally and stalked by George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman despite being told to not approach Travon, got out of his truck, closed the distance between the two, a fight ensued, George Zimmerman pulled out his firearm and killed Travon Martin. During the trial, the spirit of Travon Martin was called to the stand to testify as to the circumstances of Travon's death. The jury listened with rapt attention during Travon's Spirit's testimony during which it described the fear engendered in Travon by Zimmerman as he was harassed and stalked, the confrontation in which he knew he was struggling for his life, the terror he felt when Zimmerman produced a firearm and the pain and shocking feeling of injustice that swept through him as he lay dying of his wounds produced by Zimmerman, an older man who has had chance at life. The spirit also thanked the State of Florida for its attempt to defend him, a dead man, who was obviously on trial for his own death. The jury deliberated for two hours before returning a verdict of murder in the second degree against George Zimmerman.

Friday, December 14, 2012



for Ruby Carat

She captured my heart the instant I saw her. She was a long-legged dark beauty with orange highlights in her hair. She was attempting to cross a busy road against murderous traffic and I knew I had to act fast. Braking hard, I swerved my truck to the side of the road, jammed on the parking brake, launched myself from the door, and ran to her mid-road. I threw my hands to the sky. Traffic came to an abrupt halt. The busy travelers waited, confused but patient.

Alarmed at my approach, she halted her delicate gait. I fell down on my knees, placed my hand upon the black pavement and contrasting yellow lines and waited. Then, slowly she continued her progression, placing first one, then two, three, four and finally all eight legs of her black and tan and orange hairy beauty into the care of my palm. Her common name was tarantula but I dubbed her Elvira, the dark and mysterious.

She froze in my hand. I raised her to be admired. She appeared relaxed and unthreatened. She worried me little, as I've see many of her family before. Most people shudder in horror at their sight. But I find their slow ambling walk through the brush, in contrast to the speedy zipping of most every other creature, to invite a relaxed contemplation. I can understand the horror they strike in the uninformed. They appear as two hands sewn together such that the eight fingers work to propel and the thumbs are transformed to fangs. Small but threatening, people see them as a transgression against nature, a thing to be crushed. Though feared and hated, they too have their small purpose in life.

I saw through the windshield of the nearest vehicle the gap-jawed astonished faces and heard a polite reminding toot from a horn of the passage of time. The impatient crushing wheels needed to continue their work further down the road. So I stepped to the roadside and held her aloft to allow the curious to admire and the vexed to curse. As the parade passed, some laughed, some squealed, some saluted with the middle finger. Then we were alone.

The low sun and wind in the brush told me the day was waining. Carrying her to the fence-line, her original destination, I gently lowered her to the earth. She hesitated in my hand for a moment, until a gentle tickling with a finger urged her to continue her migration. I watched as she made her slow circuitous, progression through the brush and weeds toward some distant, unknown objective. Where was she going? Was she in search of food, a new home, a mate? Or was she simply following some indecipherable plan devised by nature? I watched until she was obscured. Then I turned to my truck, where it patiently awaited my return.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to Grow Butternut Squash

The following is written based on my experience with growing butternut squash in the high deserts of southern Arizona, latitude 31.5 N, elevation 4600 ft. where we have about 6” of rain July 1-September 15 and an alkaline mineral soil initially of pH 8.5 . If you grow them elsewhere you will need 90 to 100 frost free days.

Butternut squash prefer a slightly acid soil (pH 6.0-6.8) are heavy feeders that require multiple applications of fertilizer through the growing season. There is no need to plow an entire field to prepare for butternut squash as you will be growing them in relatively small mounds and the vines will spread out to a diameter of eight feet from the mound over unimproved soil. If you have a good loam soil (40% sand, 40% silt, 20% clay) all you need to add is a lot of organic matter and a bit of fertilizer. If you have a clay soil, add fine sand/silt. In the fall prepare the soil by marking out where you will plant. Dig into the soil when it is moist, not wet, to a depth of 18” and 18” diameter(2.6 cubic feet) one-half cubic foot (about five gallons) of uncomposted manure, 8 tablespoons of fertilizer (16-16-16) and five tablespoons of soil sulfur (to reduce pH to 6.5 from 8.5 like mine). Elsewise, use 1 tablespoon of sulfur per cubic foot of soil to reduce the pH by one unit. Soak with water to allow the fertilizer to dissolve and organic matter to rot over winter. Add more water every few weeks if you live in a dry climate. If you failed to prepare in the fall you can still plant in the spring but you will need to use composted manure and the fertilizer (16-20-0) may burn the roots unless you add it at a depth of 3” below the seeds. To make the digging to 18” and mixing the amendments easier, place half the soil in a wheelbarrow with half the amendments and mix those there while adding the other half of the amendments to the hole as you dig to 18”. My soil stops at 12” when I hit caliche but I still get a good crop.

In the late spring (May 15 here) form mounds and a bury a water pail (see last page for description) to 1” depth in the center of the mound. Plant three seeds at 5” radius from the center of the mound at a depth of 1/2” to 1”. To locate the seeds, mark a circle of 12” diameter by using the open end of a five gallon pail or use the suggested screened shelter (see last page for description) and place the seeds 1” to the inside of that mark and evenly spaced around the perimeter. Add water to the pan and over the entire mound and keep the ground moist until the seeds sprout. Cover the seeds with the screened shelter to protect from birds and rodents. To speed germination cover the shelter with translucent plastic. Remove the plastic after the seeds have risen. If all the seeds have not risen in two weeks replant those not risen. Replace the wire shelter. Once the plants are too large for the shelter remove it.

After the plants are developed with foot long runners, allow the first two inches of soil to dry before adding a total of 1” to 2” of water per week. This is enough so the soil will be moist at one foot (one gallon of water spread over 18” diameter is 0.9” of water). The water amount and frequency will depend on the temperature. During the hottest days you may need to apply one quart of water every day to reduce wilting. Allowing a plant to wilt will damage the fruits or they will not set fruit at all. If you can provide shade in the afternoon during the hottest time of the year do so. If you have many mounds, watering is easiest with a simple irrigation system. If you use such a system, water at a cool time of day so the water coming out onto the plant roots is cool. If you water during the brightest time of the day the water may exit at a temperature such that it scalds the roots even if the air temperature is moderate. If you scoop the common soil away from the outside of the mound to a distance of three to four feet you will form water harvesting swales that capture rainwater. This should be done before the vines interfere. Continue to water if there is not sufficient rain. As the vines spread outward it is possible to encourage additional roots to develop along the runners by pinning down the vines at the joint points. A light sprinkle of fertilizer in the swale area will improve its fertility. Add one-quarter tablespoon of fertilizer to the water pail every two weeks after the first blossoms appear. Each fall add more organic material and if you use uncomposted organic matter use triple-sixteen fertilizer.

When the vines reach four feet in length pinch off the ends to encourage lateral vines to develop. If you want many fruits harvested gradually over several months you can plant seeds every other week, in additional mounds up to mid July (mid August assuming warm weather to November 15). Space mounds at eight feet. Once a vine has three to five fruits (depends on the variety), pinch out any new blossoms or fruits to force food into the remaining fruit.

If you do not have good soil you can grow a single squash vine in a five gallon pail with drain holes in the bottom. The bucket sides need to be sheltered from the sun otherwise the soil may overheat. Use a high quality potting soil that has a slow release fertilizer.

Harvest the fruits at 90 to 100 days when a fingernail will not indent the skin or the stem begins to turn brown. Harvest the fruit by cutting the stem, don't break off the stem from the fruit. Remove all fruits before a frost as it will damage them and the shelf life will be nil. Separate all damaged fruits from the others. It is ideal to cure the fruit in the field by storing at 80-85 Fahrenheit and 80% relative humidity for 10-14 days in a plastic shelter to retain the moisture. Long term storage should be at 50-55 F and 50-70% humidity and will keep at least three months. If not cured, let the fruits stand on the shelf for at least two weeks to come to full sweetness before cooking.

Vine borer worms are the greatest pest. Look for damage to the vine indicated by a tan color sawdust where the worm has entered. Look for damage every couple of days starting in late June. The only thing I can recommend to kill the worm is to use a needle to pierce the worm hidden within the vine. Pierce along the length multiple times one inch on other side of the damage area. I am not sure what type of insecticide to recommend but if you use one apply it in the evening when the blossoms are closed and the bees are in their hives. It is recommended to dig new mounds every year as the vine borer worms will lay their eggs in the soil and that pest problem will increase. You can reuse the old soil if you pour into each mound one gallon of non-sudsy ammonia and cover with a patch of plastic to slow its evaporation. The ammonia will fertilize the soil and sterilize it of parasites.

Powdery mildew fungus will attack the vine leaves in August. Spraying with fungicide is only slightly effective and very difficult to do as both the tops and undersides of leaves need to be sprayed. As the old leaves are attacked and die, new leaves will begin to sprout and the additional roots along the length of the vine will help to sustain the plant. Hopefully the fruits will be well along in development before the fungus destroys the vines.

If you have rabbits (and you will) surround the squash patch with at least 18” tall 1” mesh chicken wire with at least 4” draped on the ground outside the enclosure. A small enclosure needs only half inch rebar to support it and bailing wire to attach the screen to the rebar. If you have havalina or steers you will need to use T-posts and stands of barbed wire. If you use 24” wide chicken wire, run one strand near the ground, another strand at 20” from the ground to support the top of the chicken wire, a third strand at 29” (for havalina) another strand at 38” and at least one more strand at 48” (0”, 20”, 29”, 38”, 48”). If you use 18” chicken wire set the strands a 0”, 14”, 22”, 34”, 48”. Attach the chicken wire to the strands with bailing wire every foot. Otherwise, use field fencing with chicken wire at the bottom.

Weeds can be partly controlled by watering the area where you will plant in the early spring to encourage the seeds to sprout which can then be sprayed with glyphosate herbicide (typical brand name Roundup). You can continue to spray until the vines seeds have sprouted. If you spray beyond that time take great care to keep the spray from drifting onto the young plants. After that you will need to pull or use a hoe to control weeds.

A 12” diameter shelter can be made with 37 ½” of plastic edging overlapped by 1” and held together with three short gold screws. Cover with window screen 14” x 14” (consider using aluminum for durability as creatures can eat their way through fiberglass screen) and hold in place with heavy 3/8“ staples at four places around the perimeter. Bend the staples over. I suggest using the solid plastic edging 4 ¾” X 1/8”.

Plastic water pails can be made from the bottoms of one gallon milk or bleach containers to help maintain a good water well and distribute the water. Cut the bottom off the container so the sides are 1 1/2” tall. Puncture the bottom with a nail or thumbtack in a dozen or more places so the water will drain into the soil. Set the pail at the center of the mound and sink 1” deep into the ground. A 6” x 6” x 1 1/2” pail will hold about one pint.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


(To be sung to the Monte Python tune "Finland")

Norway, Norway, Norway,
The country where I want to be,
Canoeing or camping,
Or just sliding on skiis.
Norway, Norway, Norway,
It's the country for me.

You're too near to Sweden,
Chorus: Horrors!
So far from Japan.
Quite a long way from Florida,
Lots of mile from Vietnam.

   Chorus: Norway, Norway, Norway,
   The country where I want to be.
   Eating fish and potatoes,
   Or just sliding on skiis.
   Norway, Norway, Norway,
   Norway has it all.

They have no religion,
No politics or death penalty.
Pumping oceans of oil,
Giving money with free hand.

   Chorus: Norway, Norway, Norway,
   The country where I quite want to be.
   Stole the Brits prettiest women,
   Vikings made quite a haul.
   Norway, Norway, Norway,
   Norway has them all.

They've a tiny army,
Almost toy-like it seems.
So politically stable,
It is boring to me.

All together Norwayphiles.

   Chorus: Norway, Norway, Norway,
   The country where I want to be.
   Where their mountains are lofty,
   They slide down them on skiis.
   Norway, Norway, Norway,
   Norway has it all. 
   Norway has it all.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Shadow Men

Shadow Men

We were most manly of men. We tested out mettle by roasting in the wastes of the Mohave by day to shiver the night under the stars. Young and foolish, we invaded caves with the most primitive of scaling and lighting implements to put our necks on the line in the way that young men will when testing their manhood. We evaded slippery death to engage in forced marches to the peaks of snow-covered mountains on moonlit nights. We escaped freezing death to push the boundaries of perception via chemical means and returned intact. Though irrationally reckless we considered ourselves sternly rational and clove to the study of the physical sciences and mathematics.

Spring break prompted our road trip, from Tucson north to the Navajo Nation and the cliff ruins of XXX. A full day drive and a ten-mile hike brought us to the base of XXX. We used the twilight to crawl along a precarious trail carved centuries ago by the long disappeared inhabitants, along and up the face of the cliff, over the lower lip, and slipped into the ruins.

The walls of the rooms, flat stones upon flat stones, stood largely untouched by vandals. In the fading light, now augmented by a full moon rising large in the east, we stumbled about. No flashlights to assist we speculated as to the mystery of the inhabitants long disappeared. The roof above, pierced by a smooth rimmed eye-hole of some fifty feet diameter, enclosed stars that shone, twinkled, in the air currents that passed through the eye.

My companion and I found a comfortably low wall, sat ourselves down, and lit some weed. The moonlight provided the little illumination our eyes craved. Never the chattering types but always content in strange circumstances as this, we grew quiet and basked in the mystery. It was a black and silver scene, all contrast. Our eyes and ears open, we sat and stared into the jumble of walls of the vanished community and privately speculated. What had driven them away; was it disease, drought, invasion; what had caused them to abandon their home?

In the dark, my eyes strained for color. I raised my sight to the eye-hole above where the stars seemed to shout their brilliance and appeared as a thousand miniscule gems embedded in a single gigantic setting. Lowering my gaze to the ruins below, I took the last drag and ate the roach.

What creepy-crawly things might be moving near? It was too cold to fear rattlesnakes or scorpions. A rat or two might call this home but without the easy food source provided by the aboriginals they would be few. A flitting from above hinted of bats wedged into the cracks above our heads but surely there was no creature about, able to bring us harm. My ears strained to be filled with sound, but received nothing in return.

I caught a movement in the corner of my field of vision. It naturally drew my gaze and I fought to bring the blackness into focus. I waited and watched. Then, my heart leaped into my mouth as I saw a shadow figure move silently from one of the small rooms into the hallway that split the community. The figure paused briefly, then slipped into another room. I'd heard nothing, was uncertain I'd seen anything at all, as the moment was so brief. It appeared to have a man shape but without a neck, nor were hands or feet discernible. Its shape brought to mind the simple stylized form of the “walk” icon at crosswalks but without a neck, just a bullet shaped head attached to a torso. The most striking of all was that it seemed blacker than the surrounding blackness.

My heart had jumped up but I remained sitting, staring into the dark. Minutes passed and then again I saw it as it rose from behind a low wall and it stood before me at a short distance, unmoving. It's eyeless presence seemed to be looking directly into me, challenging me. I stared silently into the dark at it. It was the purest possible black, so black it made the surrounding darkness comfortably light.

I shifted my gaze slowly to my companion to find him staring silently, into the same darkness. I turned my gaze to its original place, to discover with a light shock the figure was missing. Though my heart now raced, I was still certain it was only a figment of my imagination and the smoke. Raising my sight again to the eye-hole, I found the stars as before competing with each other in brilliance in a sky made dark violet by the rising moon. But something had changed.

The edge of the eye hole, previously regular, and smooth, now bore an unmistakable defect. Where the rim was previously unbroken, I now saw a bullet-headed torso-figure projecting over the edge and seemed to be staring down upon us. I was certain the artifact had not been there before. I'd reached an end with this adventure, and turning to my companion I said with all the composure I could muster, “Let's go.” I'd known my friend from adolescence and thought of him as made of steel. But his response, “Yeah, let's go”, contained an element of fear I'd not heard in his voice before nor since.

We made our way down the precarious moonlit foot-holds, into the canyon below. Only when we were safely on our path to home did we stop and raise our eyes to the gaping mouth of the community above. In the moonlight, the cliff, illuminated in the stark moonlight sneered white faced, the jagged ruin's broken teeth set in its gaping mouth. We briefly compared our experiences and then marched.

We conspired to explain away the experience as merely a figment of our overactive imaginations, combined with the extreme sensory deprivation of an unfamiliar setting. We satisfied ourselves with our rational conclusions but determined there would never need be a return to the ruins. Why should one test such a tidy hypothesis?

Monday, October 8, 2012

My Friend Mitt

I made a new friend yesterday. My refrigerator went on the fritz and I had to toss out a lot of stuff. I'm not sure why I did it, and regretted it the instant it was done, but I threw a quantity of chicken parts over the fence. I guess I was too busy to carry it further into the desert where the scavengers might picnic upon the remains in privacy. As a result, when I drove up the next day, I found had acquired new friend. It had discovered the tasty delights and I assumed it was hunkering about for another helping. It was only when I exited the truck to engage it in conversation that it hopped away and finally carried its hoary red head skyward. He is Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) but I just call him Mitt as he and his namesake, Mitt Romney, seem to have much in common.

Both are scavengers and both of species to which I cannot relate. While my father instilled in me a firm commitment to keep my mind open about everything for as long as possible especially when dealing with people, however unpleasant they may at first seem, I find vultures and similar venues of the same in the form of Bain Capital and Mitt Romney interesting but repulsive.

Vultures have their special niche in the animal kingdom. They are the vacuum cleaners from the sky that remove rank messes, and the health of many others depend upon the performance of their gory duty of ripping up and devouring a carcass so as to fertilize fields far and wide. Without the vulture's undertaking, protozoa and bacteria would reign and disease run rampant. Their tasks seem foul and ugly to us; as strange and weird as that of a distant culture of cannibals.

My revulsion does not spring from hate. I understand that all creatures great and small have a place in the grand scheme of cycle of life. I wouldn't presume to attempt a reordering of the duties of this or that creature or to circumscribe its behavior to suit my tastes. In a sense, “It is the best of all wild kingdoms.” But still, I gag when I think of the almost machine like process followed during the disassembling of weakened assets (businesses), and the spreading of those to farther ventures.

While the gory work of redistributing capital it ugly, it has made other businesses strong. But the mere workers who had affectionately (or foolishly) attached themselves to the now disassembled workplace, have been left with nothing more than a sharp slap to the face. The bottom-line had lined them out, and their homing ground, was no more than a capital asset to be broken up, devoured, and shat out so that others might make their balance-sheet more robust. The groundlings discovered they were not assets. Rather, they were liabilities to be set free to ply their trades elsewhere, that their salt too might fertilize the fields of commerce. The young marketed their skills, others slipped sideways to a similar job, too many caught unprepared with neither skills nor energy nor spirit slipped down the economic scale. It has happened before, it will happen again and again, as industries grow, mature and die. Those who believe themselves so wise and clever to have chosen their careers so well may soon discover that they were simply born in the right place, at the right time, and of the correct milieu. In short order they too will be harvested by Mitt and friends.

I harbor no ill will toward either Mitt Romney or his kite namesake, as I believe we need such scavengers. Having accepted their existence as a necessary evil, I still feel no urge to embrace a vulture.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

While I Wait

There is a light drizzle. I wait, struggling to gather my shattered thoughts, they drift too much like the fog before me, only the potential of words remain. Action now, is null. Time for truth.

I reached sixty years of a life that showed little merit; my trajectory was low. There are no children claimed or otherwise to miss me, few lovers, only a smattering of acquaintances, of whom some might once have called me friend. If someone should spend the time on a eulogy for me, it will be wasted as none will be in attendance. But recently, I discovered I had a way with words and possessed a few thoughts worthy of paper; call me vain. To be honest, as honesty is the password in the closing moment, I cannot tell you how pleased I was with that revelation.

I was hurrying home, in anticipation of putting thoughts to words, to pixel. Grand ideas had recently swarmed my head; thoughts of addressing deep questions for which the greatest are known. Aristotle did not ask, “How Often Should One Scoop the Cat-Box?” or “Should We Leave the House Today?” and if he did, those essays, mercifully, did not survive. I had thoughts of addressing essays to each and every one of our minor sins and foibles, as they seemed recently to be standing before me, tantalizingly clear.

I must say, I am a tad angry with you—and you know at whom I point this shade of a finger. You were careless; but I forgive you as carelessness is youth's theme. You drifted over the double yellow line and into me, and brought my life to an end. Did you manage to press “send?”

I do not blame you for your foolishness nor gnash my teeth at your abject stupidity; I too made mistakes in youth that caused me to come as close as you to an early end. But, my projects did not involve others.

In the last instant, before we met and the bright flash that brought me here to this gray place, I saw in your eyes—astonishment, terror, and I believe a hint of apology.

I forgive you your transgression.

Hope! That is the last thought I knew, and I stand now, puzzled as to its meaning. Was it hope that I might survive? Was it hope that you might survive? Was it the hope your parents had upon your birth, their child (of which I had none), that your life might lift them somehow above the common, and from the height of their shoulders you might report to them the lay-of-the-land and sights beyond the ability of their limited eyes? Or was mine just the low hope for a quick, quiet death?

The boatman approaches and the shattered remains of time are fleeing. I will gather together the shreds of myself that remain to pen these last few words, to stuff them into a reed, to cap the reed with a bit of clay, and to send into the river. I still, briefly now, possess the vain hope that it might make some meaningful way.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Alternate Path to a Greener, Brighter Future

by: Kelley Trezise a.k.a Zedshort

For a technological culture, an abundance of clean energy would change everything. The conventional forms of energy are depleting, and the unconventional forms of wind and solar appear unable to be brought online at a rate able to keep up with the growing demand much less to replace the present.

The “holy grail” of energy production is hot fusion in which two nuclei are driven together with enough energy to overcome their mutual forces of repulsion. As the nuclei approach each other, the repulsive coulomb forces, created by the positive charges of the nuclei, grow rapidly; at the same time the attractive nuclear strong forces increase. If the nuclei have enough energy to approach within a range such that the strong nuclear force of attraction is slightly greater than the coulomb repulsive force, the nuclei will fall into one another. The potential energy gained by the nuclei as they are drawn together manifests itself in an tremendous increase in their kinetic energies and that energy's final conversion into radiation and the kinetic energy of the fused product. The proposed hot fusion schemes of Tokamak and Inertial Confinement have been struggled with since the late '60s. That progress has been slow, and very expensive, and great technological hurdles remain. Many other fusion power methods are proposed.

Dense Plasma Focus Fusion (DPF) is an aneutronic fusion scheme that may soon be capable of net power production. The beauty of the method is that it produces virtually no neutrons and may offer a very clean, inexpensive and safe path to abundant energy. DPF offers a direct conversion to electricity method that would save the great capital cost of the conventional steam turbine cycle, and offer a very compact power production unit. The proposed method would work by the fusion of one proton with one boron-11 nucleus. The resulting highly energetic carbon-12 product then fissions into three energenic alpha particles, yielding net energy out. No gamma rays are produced by the process.

P + 11B → 12C → 3(4He) + 8.9 MeV

The writeup that follows derives mostly from information posted by Lawrenceville Plasma Physics Laboratory (LPP) located in Middlesex, New Jersey, as they have been very open about their progress and generously post a great deal of information about their work. Their web site may be found here: LPP. In addition, more information about aneutronic fusion can be found at: FocusFusion. The process is described by Dr. Eric Lerner the president and chief scientist of LPP at a 2007 Google TechTalk found here: Lerner 2007 TechTalk .

The term dense plasma focus originates from the resolution of a controversy concerning the origin of the fusion products that had been observed in early experiments. Researchers were aware that in the discharge of very large currents, neutrons were produced suggesting fusion was occurring somewhere in the plasma created by the arc of current. Initially they were uncertain as to whether the fusion occurred within small, dense areas or in the more diffuse volume of the current arc. Recent experiments, backed up by photos of the process have led to the conclusion that the fusion occurs within small knots of current which suggested that the process might be optimized and scaled up. At present, at LPP in their Focus Fusion-One, FoFu-1 or FF-1 machine, a pulse of 2.0 mega amps at 40,000 volts is discharged from a bank of capacitors and into a cylindrical array of eighteen cathode rods. From there, by arcing into the single anode placed centrally to the cathodes it creates a plasma within the reaction chamber. The diluted deuterium gas contained within the reaction chamber is pressurized at present to 40 Torr (0.053 atmosphere). A video illustrating the rundown and plasmoid formation may be found here: DPF Animation.

The process is described by Dr. Lerner:

The filamentary current sheath, driven by the interaction of its own currents and magnetic field, travels down to the end of the inner hollow electrode, where the filaments converge into a single central pinch region, further concentrating both plasma and magnetic fields. A third instability then kinks the single central filament like an over-twisted phone cord, forming a plasmoid, an extremely dense, magnetically self-confined ball of plasma only tens or hundreds of microns across. By this time, the density and magnetic fields of the plasma in this small region are much larger than those present at the start of the process, and a substantial fraction of the energy fed into the device is contained in the plasmoid. A fourth instability causes the magnetic fields at the center of the plasmoid to decrease, and these changing magnetic fields induce an electric field, which generates a beam of electrons in one direction and a beam of ions in the other. The electron beam heats the plasmoid electrons which in turn heat the ions, thus igniting fusion reactions. The energy is released in the ion and electron beams and in a burst of X-ray energy from the heated electrons in the plasmoid.

Proton-boron fusion begins at 1.5 billion celsius (123 keV). LPP has reported temperatures of 1.8 billion-degree celsius (150 keV, as of March 2012). These toroidal shaped plasmoids have a radius of 300-500 micron with magnetic fields in the range of 400 mega-gauss. The goal is 8 to 12 giga-gauss fields. The density of the entrapped gases increases to almost that of a solid and as a result, a very large fraction of the cyclotron radiation is captured by the fusible material. The arc formation and plasmoid collapse take place in 2 microseconds. Celsius temperatures are often quoted, rather than kelvin, but the difference is only 273 degrees and compared to the billion-degrees quoted, relatively speaking the difference is nil. While LPP has officially claimed 1.8 billion-degree celsius, they have evidence of temperature up to 4 billion-degrees, which claim may be found here: Four Billion Degrees.

The experimental apparatus operated by LPP is a single pulse machine that may be cycled several times per hour. At present they are fusing deuterium gas in order to measure the energy evolved within the ball of plasma by measuring the speed and number of the emitted neutrons. Later this year, LPP hopes to make the first shots with proton-boron fusion using a 2.3 mega-amp pulse at 45 keV. A video of a single shot of the apparatus may be viewed here: Single Shot. High speed video of the plasma formation within the reactor chamber can be seen a 1:10 here: Lassoed Lightning.

One of the beauties of aneutronic fusion is that it produces almost none of the very damaging neutron radiation common to most fission and fusion schemes, although there are side reactions with DPF that would produce short lived radioactive species and very rare and weak neutrons. The absorption of neutrons by nuclei may render them radioactive, and the passage of such radiation through the matrix of materials may alter it structurally. One unfortunate byproduct of neutron radiation is embrittlement of metals. Neutrons, of course, also damage living tissue. The very scheme of tokamak fusion might be rendered economically unviable unless the damage to the reactor can be mitigated. In addition, if a large part of the fusion energy is in the form of neutrons, those must be captured and the resulting heat conducted away in order to convert their energy to electricity. Worse still, almost all neutron production methods threaten to become a path to atomic weapon proliferation as the neutrons can be used to breed tritium, a fusible material used to boost fission weapons into fusion weapon status. Hence, neutronic fission and fusion schemes of power generation are destabilizing. Aneutronic fusion suffers from none of those weaknesses.

In the final production form, a DPF reactor using proton-boron fusion might be cycled 200 times per second to produce a power output of 5 mega-watt electric to the grid. The electrodes would be made of beryllium as that material is transparent to the copious X-rays produced, and less erodible at the reactor operating temperatures and pressures. The X-rays produced (about 40% of the energy evolved in the reactor during a cycle) would be absorbed by the photo-electric effect in many layers of metal foil that would surround the reaction chamber in an onion shell configuration. The diameter of the onion shell with the enclosed reactor might be one meter; this attests to its diminutive size. One of the unique and very useful features of the device is that when the cage of plasma collapses, it emits a beam of alpha nuclei that stream out of the plasmoid along the axis of the reactor. The flux of positive charges constitutes a current whose energy can be captured in a transformer coil. An animation of a concept of a power production unit may be found here showing the “onion shell,” transformer coil, and capacitor banks: Power Unit Concept.

The energy of the alpha particles would be captured in a transformer coil, while the onion shell would capture the X-rays. The three outputs provide the gross energy out, a part of which is considered net output that is sent to the grid. The efficiency of this beam and X-ray capture scheme would be 80% or more (this does not constitute the overall efficiency of the system). As there is no need for a steam cycle, the great cost of that capital equipment (which is about half the cost of a nuclear fission power plant) is saved.

A Sankey diagram for a proposed 5 MW electric output DPF machine can be found here: Sankey diagram. It illustrates the energy flow in the system for a single pulse from the capacitor bank charged to 100 kJ to produce an assumed fusion energy pulse of an assumed 66 kJ (equal to the amount from the capacitors that enters the plasmoid), the delivery to the grid of 24.7 kJ and total losses to be dissipated (or used otherwise for space heating) of 42 kJ. The efficiency of the process would be calculated to be 24.7/(24.7+42) X 100% = 37%. One hundred kilo-joules is enough energy to light a 100 watt bulb for 16 minutes and 40 seconds. The fusion energy gain factor, Q, of the system is the ratio of the energy created within the system to the energy required to maintain the operation of the system. In the example given the energy created is 66 kJ and the losses are 42 kJ. Hence the Q = 66/42 = 1.57.

The X-rays produced by this method are both a problem and a promise. Initially it was believed that as the cage of current crushed and heated the plasma, the loss of too much energy via X-rays, would limit the heating of the contained plasma. A phenomenon named the Magnetic Field Effect appears to limit those losses. Dr. Lerner talks about the effect at starting at 29:30 here: Lerner 2007 TechTalk X-Ray Cooling . Ideally, it is the ions whose energy must be increased, not the electrons. That increase comes about when a faster electron collides with a ion and boosts its speed by a small amount. The reverse can occur, causing energy to be lost from the ions but it is more rare as the ions tend to move more slowly than the electrons. There is however some overlap in the speed distributions of the two species. As the electrons move along the lines of the magnetic field, they must take a helical path (caused by the Lorentz force) and so orbit the magnetic field lines. There is a limit to the energy that an ion can impart to an electron due to the fact that in very intense magnetic fields (Giga-gauss range) the electrons are limited to only certain orbits about the magnetic field lines and that energy is quantized. In a sense an electron with the wrong energy (incorrect wavelength), cannot physically fit the orbital path it must take as it spirals along the magnetic field line, and so it cannot exist in that state. Hence if the electron is to increase in speed, the colliding ion must impart just the precise amount of energy or else the impartation of energy does not happen, the electron is not accelerated and the ion is not slowed. The reverse is not true as the ions are much more massive and slow and are able to take up virtually all the energy from impacting electrons in any quanta they can offer. In effect, in this situation quantum effect shows up for the electrons but not the ions. You might imagine there is a one-way valve that allows only a net flow of energy from the swarm of electrons into the swarm of nuclei.

As a result, the less massive electrons would be cooler (of lower energy) than the more massive ions and energy losses by radiation from the electrons would be reduced to frequencies that can be trapped in the very dense plasmoid. This has been verified by experimental evidence. When boron-11 is used with magnetic fields of 2.6 Giga-gauss, the ions would have to be at 600 keV in order for them to lose substantial energy to the electrons, while the electrons would be at higher speeds but with energies 20 times lower, (due to their very much lower mass than the ions). Thus the X-radiation from the plasmoid is reduced by a factor of four. It should be pointed out that the radiation is emitted by electrons only during the heating process. Bremsstrahlung radiation that results from the deceleration of electrons by collisions would produce much of the X-rays that would be captured by the onion shell. The Magnetic Field Effect is discussed here: Magnetic Field Effect.

Very subtle effects can have magnified consequences as is attested to by the recent application of an axial magnetic field within the reaction chamber. It was previously noted by one of the LPP researchers that the plasmoids had some amount of angular momentum and in fact that momentum is essential to their formation. It was concluded that the momentum originated with the component of earth's own magnetic field along the reaction chamber's axis. The thought naturally occurred to enhance the effect by the intentional induction of an axial magnetic field and so further increase the plasmoid's angular momentum. The end result was to boost the fusion product by a factor of two and the X-rays by a factor of 15. LPP likens the result to the “butterfly effect,” as a small current was used to control a much larger current, that in turn induced an increase in output. LPP now has a patent on the application of such a field. There is unfortunately an upper limit to the effect as too much momentum would result in losses. The axial magnetic field application and its results are described here: Axial Field Coil.

While the loss of energy from a power production device in the form of X-rays is a curse, the copious X-rays produced suggest an parallel path to economic success for the company in the form of X-ray inspection or lithography. That commercial path for LPP is discussed here: X-Scan Non-Destructive Inspection .

LPP goals in 2012 can be found here: 2012 Goals

As LPP has posted, “Looking forward, we expect in the coming year to achieve the following major goals:

1) Demonstrating the theoretically predicted fusion yield with pure deuterium.
2) Showing higher fusion yield with heavier gas mixtures.
3) Achieving reliable performance at still higher fill pressures.
4) Boosting yield even further with shorter electrodes, which allow higher gas densities.
5) Achieving giga-gauss magnetic fields in the plasmoids.
6) Demonstrating the quantum magnetic field effect’s reduction in X-ray cooling
7) Demonstrating scientific feasibility with pB11 fuel. “

What is not apparent in the above list is the long struggle LPP has had with unreliable equipment, misalignment of their reactor components, mechanical damage, and last but not least a lack of funding. Despite that, they have made progress and may be within striking distance of breakeven. The goal, however, is not breakeven but to produce power out at a level high enough to make the venture an economic success. LPP's method of hot fusion requires higher temperatures but the economic goal actually lies closer for them than that for tokamak power schemes due to DPF's greater simplicity and the efficiency afforded by direct conversion of the fusion power to electrical power.

This scheme of electrical production is conducive to producing a very compact and transportable energy source. A five megawatt electrical generation device might be enclosed and moved about in a semi-trailer and located virtually anywhere as the fuel could be contained within very small pressure tanks of decaborane and ordinary hydrogen sufficient for years, while the electrodes would need to be replaced more frequently. Such a generator would however require the dissipation of 8.5 MW of waste heat. While there is a need to dissipate the energy not delivered to the grid, that cost would be relatively small compared to the cost of the steam cycle capital equipment that is not needed with this method of power generation. The cost of mass-produced devices is estimated to be $300,000 and they would be able to produce electricity at a cost of 0.2 cents/kWh for an installed cost of $60/kW versus the present average of 12 cents/kWh and $1000/kW installed cost for conventional power generation. In other words the initial installation cost of a DPF would be only 6% and the long term cost a bit more than 1.6% (0.2/12) of conventional reactors. Estimates for fission plants are running up to around 25 cents/kWh and $4000/kW installed making the choice between the two paths very obvious. The installation cost of a futuristic tokamak power fusion reactor, expected to be online sometime near the end of the 21st century, is estimated to require the full faith and credit of the United States to fund and without a major breakthrough in materials durability, its lifetime as brief as a mayfly compared to any other forms of power production.

DPF reactors might be located closer to their point of use, and so the cost of the massive transmission lines and transformers would be eliminated. Looking into the future, such devices might power aircraft and by doing so eliminate the fuel which is as much as 40% of take-off weight. Spaceflight would be a bit more problematic as there would be no atmosphere to which the waste heat might be dissipated. Its dissipation would require a system of radiators; however, the specific impulse of such a propulsion plant would be astronomical.

What has LPP achieved and how far do they have to go and how does this compare with tokamak confined hot fusion, their progress and their goalpost positions? The three technical goals that must be achieved with any hot fusion scheme are sufficient energies (temperature), confinement time, and density. With respect to DPF, the first two of those three have been achieved. The experimental results suggests that the process scales as the fifth power of the current ( I5 ) or more precisely...neutron yield = 123 x I 4.674. Again it should be explained that at the present time LPP is using deuterium (D-D) as a fuel to allow measurements of process within the plasmoids. The yield of 150 billion neutrons (October 10, 2011) with recent shots, suggests the scaling law is accurate. The output scales as the square of the density of the reactants. At present the gas densities have been kept low but will be increased. The use of proton-boron fuel will also boost the plasmoid density. Shots with higher gas densities will be made with the use of additional capacitors and higher voltages in an effort to get the plasma density up. The confinement time has long been sufficient.

The Lawson criteria, in the form of the triple product of the three parameters, temperature, confinement time and density, provides a rough measure of progress and affords a comparison with other hot fusion schemes. For the DPF the required product is for break-even with proton-boron fusion is 2.5 x 1021 keV-s/cm3 while they have achieved 4.8 x 1018 keV-s/cm3 (October 2009) using a He, N, diluted D-D fuel. The results would rise with the higher density proton-boron fuel and higher amperage. For a tokamak, a machine that fuses deuterium and tritium (D-T) in a 50-50 mixture, the Lawson triple product is 6 x 1015 keV-s/cm3 for break-even. The goal, however, is not just to break-even but to produce a power generator that is economically viable. Hence, the goal for DPF is only ten times above breakeven whereas it might be higher for the tokamak by a factor of 20 or more as the tokamak requires a very expensive steam cycle power plant, and the reactor's service life might be very short. DPF uses a direct conversion to electricity method, hence it would be cheaper. Even in terms of the product of temperature, confinement time and density the DPF is ahead of the Princeton tokamak, TFTR, by an order of magnitude.

Lack of funding from government sources is mostly due to the decision to fund only two methods of fusion research: tokamak and inertial confinement. Initially the research on DPF was funded by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory with $300,000, under the guise of a space propulsion method but there was made an administrative decision that all fusion research of all sorts including that related to plasma research must be applied as directly as possible to enhance the the two preferred methods of tokamak and inertial confinement fusion. As a result, the program supporting Dense Plasma Focus was cut. Since that time LPP has raised over $2 million by private placements of company stock in an effort to raise capital. The Abell Foundation has also, generously, donated money to the cause. In the 2007 Google TechTalk, Lerner suggested that the construction of a 3 mega amp DPF able to surpass breakeven would take three years to construct and might cost $2 million. Beyond that another three years would be needed to create a prototype design. It is going on five years since that presentation. It is a puzzle as to why this promising method of producing power has been overlooked by the venture capitalists. The unfortunate fact seems to be, that we have a horizon of at most three years, which in the larger scheme of things is nothing compared with the potentially gigantic payback that DPF offers.

In spite of the very low level of funding, progress produced by LPP's machine, has yielded vastly greater results than has the tokamak. Tokamak funding over the past 25 years has been $300 million per year, whereas the funding of LPP's project over seven years was a comparatively miniscule $3 million. But when results are placed on the basis of funding that produced those results, the return seems vastly better from DPF. There are about a dozen other DPF endeavors around the world.

The foolish insistence that governments have, of putting all their eggs in one basket too often results in the squandering of opportunities. The error originates with the wrongheaded belief that a few decision makers (bureaucrats) can see into the future. The United States alone has spent almost $40 billion since the late '60s on tokamaks, inertial confinement, and plasma physics. While it might be said that the research into plasmas has not been entirely lost, much of the balance seems at this late date to be little more than an attempt to avoid the embarrassment of admitting to a loss and walking away from a bad investment. Unfortunately, when a single idea is supported at the expense of all others it may develop a strangle hold not only on the funding of scientific research to the degree that other productive ideas are stillborn, but may also capture a great many people into a bureaucracy that is unwilling or incapable of changing tack. The new path to power fusion might lie with Dense Plasma Focus.

It has been said many times in the past, “Fusion is the energy source of the future,” often with the caveat, “and it always will be.” There many come a day, hopefully soon, when the underfunded upstart known as Lawrenceville Plasma Physics Laboratory achieves breakeven with their Dense Plasma Focus machine and usurps the future. If I could somehow pit the Goliath of Tokamak against the David of DPF, I would put my money on the latter. In the meantime, and until the breakthrough comes, you and I and everyone else will have to continue to suffer the indignity of having a small cadre of well-entrenched scientists, who have come to believe that their long, and hard suckling at the public teat is their patrimony.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Wayward Cat

The sound of cowboys celebrating in the distance slowly rustled me from my sleep. Still drifting in half dream, I thought, “How wonderful, cowboys here, now, whooping it up. I’ll invite them into my yard, where they can build a campfire that throws sparks to the stars and they’ll share their whisky with me, and their horses tied up outside can munch the grapevines that drape the fence and we shall have a great time.” But I awoke instead to the realization of a pack of coyotes celebrating with their song and I was pinched with worry for my cat, Legs.
Legs-cat is my big Tom. I entrust him to the night, which I trust he can survive. He posts guard, primarily on the rooftop where he is master of all he can survey and the terror of the mice and rats that scurry beneath. Each morning I find him peering through the lights of my patio window. I slide the door open and he marches in, triumphant, bypassing the lowly cat-port I'd already opened. He greets me with a friendly, “mee-aargal”, and a tail twitter. Always surprised to see him in one piece, I swoop him up and playfully launch him through the air, onto a table where he lands next to his food bowl. “Welcome home bozo.”

But this morning he was not present. I worried. Were the happy yippings of last night’s coyote celebration in honor of his dismemberment? Did they play tug-o’-war with his body? Would I ever find evidence of his demise beyond hair filled scats on the road to my house, a dim echo of, “This is what we think of you White-Man?” The thought caused me to cringe with guilt for not having cared enough to chase him into the house before I settled into sleep. But I also knew he had the habit of disappearing and reappearing after a brief absence. I have speculated on these disappearances.

Perhaps he has an alternate home. The residences here are spaced at a distance of about one-quarter mile which I have heard is the range of most tom-cats. I imagine him, the suave, handsome cat-on-the-make being invited into someone’s home if not for an admiring petting, then perhaps for the sake of his safety. Kept inside all night in the name of his security against the roaming coyotes, I speculate my neighbors would release him the next morning. 

Or what is more likely, toss him out as he would have by then, no doubt, made himself domestic and would very probably be happy to remain so until prompted to leave with a great heave of his substantial weight through an open door and the admonishment, “Go home!” Landed safely on his four paws, he would respond with an amiable, “mee-aargal” and a tail twitter and hustle into the desert, through the white-thorn and the paint-brush to his primary base--my home. His tail held high, I picture him as he would march his stout carriage with direct intent, as there were no rodents at that time of day to distract him, nor any birds slow enough to be made breakfast. Alternatively, I imagine him treed by a coyote or bobcat. But a quick scan of the four or five mesquites nearby of any size, able to bear his weight, told no tale of any cat.

I checked the interior of the tool sheds and found no cat stashed, and the roof and the gutters too are cat free.

So, typically he waits each morning, draped on my porch, for his chance to re-enter, to eat a bit of chow, to mark time, take a nap.

Though he failed to show this morning and I left for work steeped in worry, I have now returned and am relieved to find Legs, in the here-and-now, draped upon a table. I greeted him with a friendly, “mee-aargal” and he stood and responded with a “mee-aargal“, in kind, and a tail twitter. Legs, the wayward cat, has returned, expectant of praise. Now I do not worry--until the next time.

I have grown too curious about his comings and goings so I asked Legs for clarification and he insisted everything should be on the record. The following is a transcript of his interview that covered a number of subjects.

I named him after Legs Diamond the ‘30’s era Chicago gangster. Legs has particular difficulties with my other male cat, Peoples.

Me: You understand, of course, that what is said here is on the public record?

Legs: I ain’t got nuttin' to hide.

Me: You have been accused of many transgressions by your associate Peoples-cat, whom refers to you as “Enemy-cat”.

Legs: Peoples is a shrimp in more then one way. He’s da reason I got da cognomen “Nick”.

Me: Come again, what was the cause?

Legs: Cause of da nick I put in ‘is ear, dats why. You got a problem wit dat?

Me: Actually sir, you go by a number of such devices, the following being a short list: Trouble, Hey You!, Pssssst, Bitie, Stinky, Rat-Catcher, and Coyote-Bait. And last but not least Snuggles? Could you explain the latter?

Legs: Ahhh--look, jes’ cause I come into yer bedroom late at night an' in da pitch dark, lay my head down in yer hand and fall asleep, don’t mean I’m yer snuggle cat--O.K.? Or maybe you got a problem wit dat?

Me: No, no problem here. But what about the excursions that take you several days away from the house. Where are you staying during those absences?

Legs: Look, I’m a cat, O.K.? I got secrets, un’nerstand? What self-respect’n cat would reveal to da ogling public all its mystery? Dats wat we’re known fer, mystery! Or, maybe you got a problem wit dat?

Me: But, where do you go and where do you stay? I worry about you.

Legs: Don’t worry, don’t worry. O.K., O.K. I’ll give ya a clue. There’s territory to be marked an' kitties to be sniffed--nuf said. I’m a male cat. Or maybe you got a problem wit dat?

Me: Alright, but you must understand I worry about you out there among the coyotes.

Legs: Damned coy-otes. Bunch of interference run’n pests. Don’t worry ‘bout me I can handle dem fools. I got their game plan in ma head, see? Not a problem.

Me: You’re getting old--time passes. Will there ever be a time to slow
down and become--well more domestic?

Legs: Ya mean hit da showers? Are you kiddin’ me? HaHa! I’m a TOMCAT ya fool get it straight! Well maybe--maybe some day with the right kitty. If ya know what I mean.