C-19 BGO’s Finally Admitted

For those of you who blank out with acronym overload as I do quite often, a BGO is a Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious.  Today the director-general of WHO (World Health Organisation) admitted we hadn’t seen the worst of C-19 yet.  There is worse to come.  Wow! he must be good at graphs climbing skywards to notice that in most places cases are still increasing.  What was obvious to me in Jan when the contagion rate was approximately determined as over 3, but the incubation period was long, and even worst there were asymptomatic carriers, there is no “after the covid virus”.   I wrote in a blog in Jan I think, that C-19 was going to be a permanent scourge of mankind.  I have read so many articles talking about “after the virus”, or getting “back to normal” that I feel like shouting there is no “back”, there is no “normal” and there is no end to the virus.

The game changer could be an effective vaccine.  After all there are over 100 teams all over the world working on a vaccine, surely they will have one going before the year is out?  There have been breakthroughs announced already and Trump has assured us it will be in a corner store near you soon.  Actually, it isn’t that easy.  There is a slight problem with the word “effective”.  What Trump and all of us want is a ‘silver bullet’ vaccine to make all 7.5 billion of us humans are immune to the disease so that it recedes to only infecting pangolins or short-tailed asiatic bats (I made that up).  There will be flaws in the vaccine, the virus can easily mutate like flu, and how do you inoculate the entire world?  Don’t put too much hope in an ‘effective’ vaccine.

The re-occurrence of the disease in Australia, China, South Korea etc, shows us how it is like playing ‘whack-a-mole’ where it is laboriously eradicated only to emerge again as clusters leading to widespread community contagion.  The disease is progressing at different rates across all the countries on the globe.  There doesn’t seem to be any cases reported for Greenland, but I guess they are just waiting their turn.  There isn’t going to be any safe way of opening up international travel for this year, next year, and perhaps more years after that.  So for tourist operators there will be no foreign travelers for years.  I expect that will mean doom for some.  Others will have to adapt to domestic traffic only.  Yesterday Qantas laying off more staff was in recognition of this, and there will be no ‘back to normal’, just a steady exploration of what the new normal actually is.  It might mean getting a C-19 test 24 hrs before departure on a flight to get a negative certificate.  It might mean an anti-body test to get an ‘immune’ certificate, but nobody yet knows how long that lasts as immunity tends to wane with time.

It may be that Australia’s quite successful quashing of the initial outbreak might lead to vulnerability down the track as less people have been exposed and a lower rate of ‘herd immunity’ has been gained.  Perhaps Trump and Bolsonaro are right in allowing it to sweep through the country to hasten acquiring some immunity.  If they were right, it was for all the wrong reasons.  Whatever happens, the chance of eradicating the virus is long past and now the problem is managing the least worst options.  Deaths versus economic factors, jobs versus poverty, wealth versus humanity.  It requires equations with non-equatable variables.  Plenty of scope for political opportunism.

For all you out there I hope you are coping with what has been going down during lockdown and job losses.  Not too much different here as if you are the only worker, you don’t fire yourself.  And if you work in 156 acres, you are not cramped or confined.  As we creep out of the bunkers, I hope it is towards a brave new world of caring for neighbours and a low carbon world.

A Spot of Bother

The hydro system is pretty well self-governing, and I don’t get down to the turbine/generator bit very often.  I have a couple of indicator light bulbs to let me know what the power is and and where it is going that I can check at a glance as I walk by.  So all has been good for a couple of months without attention so I decide it is about time for a bit of grease to the bearings.  I get down there and all is humming nicely when I notice that there is a wobble on the shaft at one end.  Oh bugger!  I shut off the water supply and find one bearing has failed so the shaft started turning in the bearing and has worn away several mm of the shaft diameter and a few mm of the bearing inner ring.

knackered shaft end

The shaft was flapping around with 5mm of clearance instead of a very tight fit.  It doesn’t reduce the power output, and doesn’t show up at all on the indicator lights at the control center.

Which leads me to a historical note about the invention of the turbine type I am using called a ‘Pelton Wheel’.  In about the early 20th century, an engineer called Mr Pelton was employed by a mining company operating in remote parts to provide electrical power for a mine.  He had a similar problem to mine but where the bearing failure was catastrophic, completely severed one end of the shaft so that the turbine with buckets like deep bowls was skewed at a considerable angle to the incoming jet of water.  His reaction was probably the same as mine.  Oh bugger, lots of work here!  But he noticed that to his consternation, it was actually producing more power.  Totally stuffed, yet working better.  WTF?  A mechanic would have fixed it to how it had been before, but an engineer like Pelton had to know why.  He realised that preserving the momentum of the water jet and smoothly guiding it round 180 degrees, doubled the amount of energy extracted from the water jet.  The Pelton wheel is the most efficient engine known at over 90%.

That was for nerds, the rest of you can tune in again.  So on Saturday I have to shut down the hydro.  Murphy’s Law strikes again as it is 2 days before I can get parts.  The shaft has to be rebuilt with the ground down end built up with welding beads of stainless steel, then turned down to exact size on a quality lathe so there is an interference fit of a few thousandths of a millimetre.  I can’t bodge that bit.  So early Monday morning I take the shaft to Atherton for a re-build.  At this point I have to admit to a blunder.  The bearings I took off were covered with grease and muck, so I got an old and clean one out of the drawer to take to town to buy new ones at the bearing shop.  They looked at the numbers and gave me the exact same bearings.  I went to the engineering company and told them to re-build the weld for this brand new bearing which I gave them, which they did excellently and in the same day.  I got home and presented the bearings to the shaft, and it fitted like a brick in a shirt sleeve.  What has gone wrong here??  After staring at the offending pieces of steel for a long time, it occurs to me to check sizes with my vernier gauge.  The new machined end is exactly 1 inch.  The other end is 25mm.  A difference of 0.4mm.  I had forgotten that 30 years ago I’d widened the turbine case to increase efficiency and installed a new longer metric shaft.  I had grabbed an ancient bearing from the drawer of the old imperial size from the previous shaft.

parts machined and ready for assembly

In the end all works well, except for the ugly fact I have one metric bearing and one imperial bearing on the same shaft.  This is many orders of magnitude different from a similar balls-up of imperial and metric units that saw a 4 billion US dollar Mars lander crash because it actually though it was going to land 3km below the surface.  It took an army of engineers and a host of committees to make that blunder.  I did it all by myself.  I was $65 out of pocket.  Not even that really, as I have now got spare new bearings for each end.

Once I had the machined shaft and suitable custom bearings for each end, it only took me 3 hours to reassemble and put back on-line.  But 5 days in all because it happened on a Saturday and there were only 3 metric self-aligning bearings in FNQ, so I had to wait on transport.  In the mean time the system was kept going quite OK by the solar panels despite the fact there was a lot more cloud than sun.  I did have a problem pulling the pulley wheel off the shaft with my gear pullers.  In fact total failure.  I had to carry the whole shaft assembly up the hill (several breathers on the way), to set up a circular anvil (the massive body of the old generator) to smash the shaft out of the pulley with a sledge hammer.  A bit of good old-fashioned heavy engineering.  It might surprise some people that I actually like doing this sort of shit.  Especially at the end when I have won and defeated those obstinate chunks of metal.

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