Sunday, December 30, 2007

Was the Bhutto assassination was an honor killing?

This blogger says yes. She feels insecure Muslim men whacked Bhutto because she was a woman getting too uppity. Maybe. But it makes more sense to think that Mrs Bhutto was killed to destabilize Pakistan, in the same way blowing up the Sammara mosque destabilized Iraq. Al Queda can convert Pakistan into a lawless failed state no man's land. All they have to do now is get rid of Musharraf.

Blomberg News, fair and unbiased?

I am watching Washington Week with Glen Ifill this morning. Gwen has Genenne Zacharias of Blomberg news on, and Genenne is talking about the Bhutto assassination. "It's a terrible setback for George Bush" says Genenne.
Setback for Bush?? It's a tragedy for Bhutto's family, Bhutto's party, all of Pakistan, all decent Muslims everywhere, and for the United States. But Genenne has her red and blue sunglasses on and just sees something to bash Bush with. She faulted Bush for dealing with a Pakistani politician who got herself assassinated. Which is kind of dumb thing to say.
Benizar Bhutto was an important Pakistani politician with a strong following and, had she lived, would have been able to share a great deal of power with Musharref. Pakistan is a very important Muslim country and any responsible US administration will maintain close ties with major Pakistani politicians.
But all Blomberg news can see in the assassination is a setback for Bush, they don't see it as a disaster for everyone except Al Queda.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Troublesome Young Men by Lynne Olson, Pt 2

Finished the book. Excellent read. Paints a fascinating picture of British politics of the era. England was run by an old boy network elite. These guys were alumni of the same few schools, partied together, married each other, and owned all the important businesses. Parliament was operated by the Tory party which had total control over who could run for parliament, who got a prestigious position, who became prime minister. All done by word of mouth and tradition, nothing formalized in writing. Tory MP's found it impossible to vote against any government bills. Even if they deeply disapproved, the furthest they could go was to abstain from the vote. Voting against a measure of your party was simply never done. American visitors and reporters had difficulty understanding this.
The end came for Neville Chamberlain over the Norway disaster in the spring of 1940. After some vigorous Chamberlain bashing on the floor of Commons, Chamberlain made the next vote a vote of confidence in him. After the votes were counted, Chamberlain had won, but by a narrow margin of merely 80 odd votes, when the Tories had 400 and something seats in Commons. The narrowness of the margin was adjudged a defeat, and Churchill became Prime Minister.

The 2nd amendment, or Can Lawyers Read?

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security a free state" proceeds the "Right to keep and bear arms" clause of the second amendment. Various lawyers have argued this qualifying clause reduces the second amendment to merely the right to join the National Guard. That idea merely displays ignorance on the part of lawyers. Militia was always a bring your own gun thing. Militiamen (all able bodied men of the community) were required to take the musket down from over the mantle piece when the militia mustered. The town, county, or state did not issue arms, members had to furnish their own. In fact there were laws requiring all citizens to possess serviceable firearms in case Indians, pirates, redcoats, rebellion, oppression, or riots caused the militia to be mustered.
The second amendment should be read as "In order to have a militia, the citizens must be allowed to keep and bear arms, because mustering the militia without arms is pointless."

Life imitates science fiction

Years ago Mack Reynolds wrote science fiction about a war between massive dictatorial Betaland and small outnumbered and democratic Alphaland. To compensate for their numerical inferiority, a squad of daring Alphaland commandos attacked the Betaland national databank center and erased the entire Betaland database. The ensuing chaos was the downfall of Betaland.
Now a days it doesn't require highly trained commandos, apparently plain old burglars can do the same thing. Thieves broke into country offices in Tennessee and swiped laptops containing the country voter list, names, addresses and social security numbers.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Is the Wall St Journal getting smaller for 2008?

Now that Rupert owns the paper, is he going to shrink it to save money on paper? They reduced the height and width of the paper last summer by a couple of inches. Up til last week the A-section was around 20 pages long. Last few days the A section is down to 12-14 pages. And next year?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Shoot 'n Scoot Lenders, WSJ

On Wednesday's Wall St Journal op ed page, John W. Snow, former treasury secretary wrote:
"Fifth, banks should be required to stay on the hook after making an asset backed loan . While the securitization has clearly been an important cost saving financial innovation, an important source of discipline is lost when a loan originator simply sells off a loan to an unwitting investor without any continuing stake.
" Requiring banks to hold onto some portion of these loans would be a good safeguard against improvident lending practices. It would also help avoid the duplicitous behavior of publicly marketing an asset based security while privately betting it will fall in value. "

With these words Mr. Snow becomes the first, and perhaps only person to write about the real cause of the "subprime" crisis. Banks and mortgage operators hve been writing super bad junk mortgages left and right and then selling them off to more gullible investors. The mortgage originators don't care if the mortgage defaults and forecloses, just sell it fast before it goes belly up. Hence the teaser rate mortgages that will only last as long as the teaser rate lasts.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Aviation Week reports that the 3400 page omnibus appropriations bill has enough earmarks to choke a pig.

Troublesome Young Men by Lynne Olson

An account of how the British dumped Neville Chamberlain and called upon Winston Churchill to fight WWII. A crucial turning point in history. Chamberlain represented a sizable group in the British establishment who were as anti war as the America Firster's over here. These people were sympathetic to the Nazis, closet anti-semitics, and upholders of class privileges. Their war policy was that of a turtle, keep your head down, wait for it to blow over. Had this happened, history would be all different.
Hitler came very close to winning WWII. Had Britain withdrawn from the war in 1940, it would have freed up a lot of German military power which would have been added to the assault on Russia in June 1941. That offensive reached the outskirts of Moscow. Just a tiny bit more fighting power and Guderian's panzers would have taken the Soviet capital. It is unlikely that the Soviets would have survived that blow, leaving Hitler master of Europe all the way to the Urals. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, the Americans would have turned all their force upon Japan. Why intervene in Europe when the British had given up?
After smashing Japan, the United States would have then used nuclear weapons to deal with any back talk from the 3rd Reich.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Chevy Volt

Long story about Volt development. Has lots of interesting things but says nothing about the battery. Chevy is hoping for "triple digit" fuel mileage. Battery mileage is more of interest. Car batteries here and now last 4 winters and then need replacement for 50 bucks. Lithium ion laptop battery life is not well established, but they cost 50 bucks to replace. If a laptop lithium battery costs that much, how much does a car sized lithium battery cost? And how long will it last?
And what about the fire hazard? There is some neat video floating around of a lithium battery laptop bursting into flames on a conference room table. What's that chances of a Chevy Volt doing the same? Especially after hitting a pothole at speed?
Electric cars aren't difficult to make, it's just they are low performance. Golf cart is about the best anyone has managed so far. Better batteries are needed to exceed the golf cart level of performance. Without better batteries, for get it.
Question, are the better lithium batteries going to be available?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The many panes of Windows, Pt 4, The Registry

In the beginning was a frill. Windows 95 "enriched the user interface" by permitting every file to display a custom file icon, something that Windows 3.1 did not support. For Explorer to paint the file icons, it needs to find each icon on disk, and suck it up to the screen. It was decided to create a fast, ram resident database to hold all the needed file pointers. Such a data base, dubbed "the registry" was troublesome to create, so it was generalized to support any program's need to remember things while running. For instance, Windows programs want to remember the size and position of their window (full screen or something less), what files they had open, and what options the users had set, and where the home directory was. Provisions were made to hold patches to the code, and user authorizations, and to start programs.
The major attraction of using the registry is copy protection. The application's install program writes the needed keys into the registry. The program checks for the presence of these keys in the registry as evidence that the program hasn't been pirated. You cannot get MS Office to run on another machine by the simple trick of copying all the MS Office files to the other computer.
The copied program will note the absence of registry keys and refuse to run. Writing the needed keys into the registry by hand is theoretically possible, but in practice it is just too hard. Presto, instant copy protect for programs. The utility of this copy protection became obvious to every programmer and every Windows application uses it now.
Downside. Every program or virus running on the machine can change the registry, and the changes stick, making the damage permanent. The registry is very powerful, it can run anything on the hard drive, alter the code in any program, and change many important windows defaults, such as the default web site web browsers visit upon startup. Coding errors in ordinary applications can do things to the registry that break windows, windows applications , drivers and hardware. The S32EVNT1.dll bug was caused by a faulty registry key. The opportunities for malware to damage the system thru registry modifications are enormous. The registry is one humungous security hole waiting for a place to bite.
And we are stuck with it forever. Changing the powers of the registry would break many programs. For good commercial reasons Microsoft works hard to make each new version of windows run last year's programs, so the registry security hole is with us forever.

Christmas Pageant, mission accomplished

It took three weeks of rehearsals, two dozen costumes, but it worked. We had every small child in the church (and a few who aren't members yet) . Numbers of children kept growing at each rehearsal. The whole thing came together this morning, the parents and the congregation were charmed, the church was full and everyone had a good time. Plenty of non speaking parts (sheep, shepherds and angels) for the preschool set, a fine solo of Silent Night from a teenager.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lead in Toys causes Chinese factory manager suicide

It is not known how dangerous lead containing toys are to US children, but they can be fatal to Chinese workers. The factory involved in the first Mattel recalls, Foshan Lee Der Toy Co. has shut down entirely. The plant office is secured with a yellow bicycle lock. Boxes of Fisher Price toys for toddlers can be seen stacked in the warehouse. The factory's owner committed suicide after the recall. The company laid off their workers, the concrete company dormitory stands empty.

Fixing broken Windows

Daughter's brand new HP XP laptop started acting up after three days. HP XP means HP's brand name on the laptop with factory installed XP rather than Vista. A clueful software whine (C:/blahblah/yaddayadda/symantec/S32EVNT1.dll has failed to initialize) started to appear when ever Fprot antivirus, Civilization, or Simcity was launched. Since daughter and laptop are scheduled to depart for Krygystan in a week (Peace Corps) I decided to see what was what.
Googling for "Symantec" and "S32ENVT1.dll" and "failure" brought up a world of hits. Apparently this problem is widespread. After reading a bunch of hits, the story begins to unfold.
Laptop had come from the factory with a "free trial version" of Norton Anti virus. Due to a bad rep, extreme sluggishness and irritating cost we had uninstalled Norton and put in AVG.
Turns out that Norton Antivirus doesn't uninstall properly. It leaves some trash in the registry that causes the S32EVNT1.dll error. Going to this helpful website:
guided us to a special Symantec written cleaner-upper program that swept the trash from the registry and all Symantec software right off the computer. It then plead for us to re install Symantec products but we didn't fall for that pitch.
Laptop now works perfectly.
Why do I have to troubleshoot brand new Windows XP systems? Why is Windows so damn tender that it needs antivirus kludges to exist, and is so additionally tender that said anti virus kludge breaks Windows?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Mitigating the sub prime mess

Paulsen, our treasury secretary, has been pushing for a voluntary cutting of slack, for hard pressed home owners. In a burst of stupidity, banks began to issue teaser rate sub prime mortgages. The home owner got a couple of years of mortgage payments that he might be just barely able to pay. That's what makes it sub prime, the borrower doesn't really have enough income to carry the mortgage. Two years into this deal, the mortgage payments go up, a lot, the mortgage is "reset" to "market interest rates". About a million borrowers are looking right down the barrel of foreclosure when this happens.
One million forclosures is bad news for the lenders, the home owners, the neighbors, and the local tax base. The lenders loose half their money, the home owners are out in the street, the neighbors property values take a big hit, and the foreclosed property doesn't pay taxes.
The lenders take a real short haircut. If the property were salable, the owners would sell it rather than turn it over to the bank. The property that falls into the hands of the bank is the property that won't sell. If the owners can't sell it, the bank can't either. Usually the property is auctioned off and the lenders recover about half of what they lent out.
The lenders are better off if the homeowner keeps paying on the mortgage. With that in mind, Paulsen has been urging the banks to give the homeowner's some slack, namely holding the teaser rates for another five years. Sounds like a win-win to me. Bank avoids the losses from foreclosure, the homeowner gets to stay in the house. Plus I have heard the "teaser" rates were hefty to start with and the "market rate" to which the loan reset was high enough to class as usury.
For some reason, the Wall St Journal is against this plan. Two editorials have spoken against it, although the reasoning is unclear. WSJ has been nattering about "sacredness of contracts" and "let market forces prevail" but these are sound bites, not serious reasons. The lenders will be better off accepting a lower but still hefty "teaser" interest rate than losing half their capital in a foreclosure.

Fantasy Lead on Lehrer's News Hour

The Newshour did a piece on lead in toys last night. The opening was alright, they actually reported a real live number, the lead limit is 600 parts per million. Then they showed a fancy non contact lead-detector instrument with a pistol grip looking for all the world like a refugee blaster from a science fiction flick. This technological marvel was pointed at a few suspect toys, who promptly put their hands up, and registered 500 parts per million, comfortably below the limit.
This provoked a tirade from the anti lead lady on the show. She felt it was horrible that the toy contained any lead at all, rather than virtuous that the toy met written standards. Then she moved deeper into fantasy, telling us that lead was removed from gasoline to reduce the lead in the environment, AND, the decrease in the US crime rate since the 1970's was due to less lead getting into children and turning them to crime.
Wow. Three whoppers for the price of one. Manufacturers whose product meet standards are to be praised for their diligence. Tetra ethyl lead was removed from motor gasoline to preserve the life of catalytic converters, not people. Lead poisons the catalyst, and the converter stops converting. There is zero evidence that lead causes criminal behavior.
That this much fantasy was aired on a respectable TV news show is evidence of how ignorant the newsies really are.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The cult of vague generalities, air traffic style

Lehrer's NewsHour did a piece on air traffic control, and what ought to be done to keep the planes moving. They talked for several minutes. Just once, briefly, one of 'em mentioned the real problem, lack of airports. Then the flow of vagueness rushed forth, carrying us viewers along into a sea of mush. No discussion of the real problem.
An airport can only do 60 flights an hour. For safety sake, you have to allow the landing aircraft to slow down and clear the runway before the following aircraft can put his wheels down. And you have to let the aircraft taking off get clean off the runway into the air before the following aircraft releases his brakes. Both of these actions take about a minute, so you get a limit of about 60 planes an hour. You can put in dual runways, and use one for takeoff and one for landing, but that's about it.
We have 53 big cities ("standard metropolitan areas") in the country. Some biggies like New York have three airports, most others (Boston, Philadelphia) have only one. Ball park figures, we have 100 airports in the US. ALL the flights have to depart one, and land at another. Once in the air, there is plenty of air to spread 'em out in. The bottleneck is the airports.
What to do? Build more airports, but we all know this is hard. Nobody wants an airport in their back yard, and the things are frightfully expensive. Send more traffic into secondary airports. Actually this works. For instance, Manchester New Hampshire is as easy to drive to as Logan airport for everyone on the north shore. Manchester is very lightly used whereas Logan is jammed. Ten percent of the Logan traffic could go to Manchester and passengers would be happier. Finally, use bigger aircraft, that carry more passengers, and fly them less frequently. The airlines hate this. They want to offer lots of flights so passengers are more likely to fly them rather than a competitor. Frequent departures mean less time to gather passengers, so they operate smaller aircraft, more often. Regulations could be invented to reduce the number of small aircraft flights into bottlenecks like New York.
All the other stuff they talk about (opening military airspace, expensive upgrades to the air traffic control system) are window dressing, or pork for the makers of ATC equipment.

The 5 million dollar man

The Defense department budget for this coming year is about 500 billion dollars. Congress passed a 400 and something billion defense budget and then just put in another 70 billion for Iraq operations in yesterday's giant continuing resolution. Call it $500 billion overall, give or take a few tens of billions.
For all this money, the country is putting 100,000 infantry men into Iraq. So, for 500 billion, we are paying for a very small active army. Divide $500 billion by 100,000 soldiers and it works out to $5 million per soldier sent into combat. You can hire baseball stars for that kinda money. Too bad the troops don't get much of it.

3400 pages for the hiding of the pork

Congress, under the gun at the last minute, decided to keep the US government running. They passed a single giant bill authorizing spending for next fiscal year for the entire government. It's nearly a trillion dollars, 3400 pages, and nobody has read it.
I mean, like who can read 3400 pages of the dull obfusticated text in less than a month? This baby went from Congress to President for signature in 24 hours, so it hasn't been read. The only people who know what's in it are the 20 or so staffers who wrote it. Or cut and pasted it together from last year's budget. Major benefit to the insiders, you got plenty of places to hide your pork.
Used to be, Congress would pass one appropriation bill for each executive department, Defense, Agriculture, Education, State, Treasury and so on. They were supposed to pass all appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year. Back in 1964 this actually happened, I was in USAF at the time, and we took notice of these things. By the end of the fiscal year Air Force money was always tight and we waited for the new budget to come down so we could buy beans and bacon and jet fuel and spare parts and all the stuff you need to keep a fighter wing going.
Next year (1965) Congress was a month late, and things got very tight indeed. So for 1966 Uncle Sam moved the end of the fiscal year back a month to give Congress more time to do the appropriations bills. Naturally the appropriation bills were even later. Give 'em more time and they will take more time. This annual slippage kept getting worse.
Some time in the 80's or 90's, Congress just gave up appropriating and started passing "continuing resolutions" at the last minute. A continuing resolution is an act of Congress that says "Keep things running, limit your spending this year to whatever was in last year's appropriation."
Now, they let everything go til the last minute, and then pass a single giant continuing resolution which in reality, puts the power of the purse into the hands of Congressional staffers, and a few well connected lobbyists. Congressmen just vote on whatever the staffers create, they don't have a clue what's in it.
Back when appropriations bills only covered one department, they were smaller and it was possible for diligent Congressmen to understand one of them. These few diligent Congressmen became legends in the armed services, Carl Vincent, Sam Nunn, and John Stennis for example. Stennis was so legendary that they named an aircraft carrier after him.
Apparently modern Congress men are more interested in making political gestures, like trying to cut off Iraq war funding again and again when they don't have the votes to do it, rather than getting the country's business done. Business has been delegated to unelected staffers, so the elected Congressmen can spend their time posing for the TV cameras.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

End it don't Mend it

Title of a piece on Transterrestrial Musings I agree. CIA has so discredited itself over the last ten years that nobody should take their findings seriously. Why fund an intelligence agency that will never produce another piece of believable intelligence? The codebreakers and the recon satellites do most of US intel work. State dept is there to provide unclassified intel, the military would be happy to do the covert action. Why fund CIA?

Broken gas gauge grounds shuttle (Aviation Week)

Last week's shuttle abort was caused by failure in the hydrogen level sense system in the big external fuel tank. Four engine cutoff sensors are supposed to signal when the hydrogen is all used up and cut off the engines. Otherwise the turbopumps will overspeed when the fuel line goes dry and they start spinning in air (or vacuum). Centrifugal forces from pump overspeed can cause the pumps to fly apart, flinging pump parts thru out the spacecraft at high velocity and triggering an explosion. Normal operating speed of the turbopumps is 39,000 RPM, which is faster than stink. For comparison, a car engine will blow up at a mere 5,ooo RPM, a turbojet can shuck turbine blades at 10,000 RPM. These pumps are running on the ragged edge of failure under normal conditions. Letting them spin faster when the hydrogen runs out naturally makes all hands pretty nervous, and rightly so.
The failure only shows up when the hydrogen tank is full of supercold liquid hydrogen. NASA was going to run a ground test yesterday by filling the tank with 385,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen. I don't know what hydrogen costs, but at gasoline prices, that's about $1,000,000 worth of fuel. A lot of it will boil off just sitting in the tank.
Apparently the problem has been there all along.
"It seems to me likely that we have been flying the entire history of the shuttle program with a false sense of security and that we never had reliable protection from a [catastrophic] liquid hydrogen low-level engine cutoff. That is a really sobering thought ." writes Wayne Hale, NASA program manager, in an email obtained by Aviation Week.
So far, the shuttle computers have been shutting down the engines when orbital velocity of 25,700 foot per second is reached. Up to now, there has been hydrogen left in the tank at engine cutoff. Any one of a number of malfunctions, starting with a leaky tank, could cause hydrogen to run out before orbital velocity is achieved, causing the shuttle to explode unless the hydrogen level sensors are working.
Managers had initial considered flying the 9 Dec mission with "relaxed ECO rules", NASA speak for flying with broken hydrogen sensors, but the Astronaut Office objected.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Israel wants the new F-35 Lighting II fighter

Of course nothing is perfect.
" Weaknesses include a one man cockpit, the perishability of of it's stealth, and the need to use Israeli-specific equipment" reports AW&ST Senior Military Editor David A. Fulghum on the Aviation Week blog here.
F-35 is the latest hottest fighter, so new it isn't really in service yet, just a couple of prototypes flying.

Vista Disappoints

Also from the 17 December eWeek:
" Microsoft Windows Vista officially launched to much fanfare, and it was received with a resounding ... thud. Eschewed by consumers who thought that XP still had the right stuff, and virtually ignored by corporations whose applications weren't ready for the new OS, Vista made news in 2007 for all the wrong reasons."

Looks like me and my daughter aren't the only ones attempting to avoid Vista. Who wants copy protection and extreme sluggishness?

IT can do all, see all, be all...

In the 17 December eWeek (an IT trade magazine) Eric Lundquist wrote:
"The technology shortcoming of 2007? Despite their continued investment in technology, the finance companies looked increasingly foolish as the sub prime mortgage crisis intensified. Banks and financial institutions -- traditionally the most robust technology buyers-- continued an embarrassing dance of writing down billions of dollars in debt without the ability to track and estimate how much greater their losses might grow."
Eric is clearly a believer of the "Corporate IT can predict the future, travel in time, and leap tall buildings with a single bound" theory. The sub prime mortgage mess was caused by wheelers, dealers, and scammers who finally got caught. Investors finally wised up and stopped buying "bonds" (actually IOU's) "backed" by pools of sub prime mortgages. The holders of these IOU's know they cannot sell them, so their actual cash value is zero. Nobody reports that, 'cause that loss is so bad as to force the reporters of same into bankruptcy. The holders hope that maybe, some time in the future, on a sunny day, they might be able to sell them for something, but nobody knows what. So rather than report the ugly truth, they report a small and not too hurtful ugly, or say that they don't know.
Anyone who thinks that a clever piece of software could have prevented the sub prime meltdown is kidding himself.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ordering a new Laptop withOUT Vista Pt 2

After more googling favorite daughter found a mail order place, Compusource Inc, in Swedesboto NJ. The guy on the telephone knew how many laptops they had in stock, at which warehouse, which ones were loaded with XP, and promise a before Christmas delivery. Gave 'em my credit card number, and lo and behold, UPS drops the machine off on the porch. It powered up, runs well, detects the wireless router, and isn't completely overloaded with craplets. Comes with a real Windows XP CD in case you need to re install after some terrible catastrophe. In fact, only ONE icon, the recycle bin is on the desk top.
So we do some cleaning. Zap Norton antivirus, the trial version of office, and some other stuff. Try out the recommended backup utility. The backup utility asks for 18!!! CD's or a mere 3 DVD's. We feed it the first blank CD. A lot of backing happens, but we only get thru the first DVD and the backup util cannot move onto the 2nd and 3rd. Three DVD's is 15 Gbytes of stuff, and it is unclear how much of it we care about. The Windows XP disc has all the HP drivers and Windows on it. What more do we care about on a virgin machine?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why don't they make furnaces with external combustion air?

It's all relative, humidity that is. Heating season is always dry, dry, and dryer indoors. The dryness causes all those winter colds and sniffles, does evil things to wood in the house, and creates all that static electricity. It gets so bad that merely stroking the cat gives you, and it, a 20KV jolt, most upsetting to cats.
The house gets dry, 'cause humidity is relative. Air feels moist when it is carrying all the moisture it can hold, and feels dry when the air is short on moisture and is sucking moist out of everything in the room. Magic science fact: Warm air can hold more moisture than cold air. The house is dry 'cause cold outside air was warmed by $3 a gallon furnace oil. As the air warms, it can hold more moisture, so it starts sucking moist from everything in the house. Eventually the warm air picks up enough moisture from people, showers, sinks soaking the dirty dishes, evaporation from toilets, humidifiers, and ceases to feel to damnable dry.
About this time, the furnace lights off. The burner takes air (a lot of expensively heated air) from inside the house, and sends it up the stack. Zip. Nature abhors a vacuum (Magic science fact #2) and so cold outside air slips into the house thru cracks around the doors and windows, leaks in the walls, somewhere. The new air is cold, and as it warms up it does the moisture sucking thing and the house gets drier.
Why not make furnaces with an combustion air inlet? You run a air duct to the outdoors and then the furnace sucks its combustion air from the cold outdoors rather than the expensively heated indoors. The indoor air stays moister, which is nicer. The cat approves.
The wood stove people understand this already. Good woodstoves are sealed and have a single air inlet which gets ducted to the outside. What is holding the furnace people back?

Getting the lead out

I loose track of the number of TV news stories about this or that child's toy recalled for "excessive" or "dangerous" amounts of lead. The toy maker is inevitably Chinese, the effects are always dire, and good luck finding Christmas toys that aren't made in China.
Never is the amount of lead mentioned. Are we talking about 40 percent lead? 1% lead, 1 part per million? one part per billion? Modern chemical analysis equipment is so sensitive that it can detect tiny levels of anything, in anything. Are we talking about a trace amount of lead that might be detected by modern equipment, or are we talking about a thick coat of pure white lead oxide paint? Modern newsies are innumerate, so we never get the real facts of the story, numbers, just the opinions. Opinions are like a**h***s, every one has one.
Latest lead story, this morning, reports Christmas lights with the bulbs soldered together with standard 60-40 tin-lead solder. The precautions recommended over the radio were more appropriate for handling plutonium or beryllium. To be hazardous the child would have to remove the light bulbs, put them in the mouth, and suck on the soldered tip for about a month. All without breaking the glass bulb, sharp fragments of which will cut. Somehow I don't worry about children sucking on light bulbs as a hazard. Surely the most ignorant parent would not allow their kids to chew on light bulbs.
How much of the lead in toys furore is really safety related and how much is anti Chinese imports related?
Especially as metallic lead isn't terribly dangerous, so long as you don't eat it. According to the MSDS lead is not terribly reactive with anything. Half the water pipes in the US are copper tubing soldered together with 50-50 tin lead solder. The water in the pipes doesn't dissolve out enough lead to matter. We survived 50 years of gasoline spiked with tetra ethyl lead. The major hazard connected with lead was the use of white lead as a pigment in house paint. The paint would peels and small children would eat the chips cause the lead dioxide tasted sweet. White paint was converted over to titanium dioxide in the 1960's.

The great Nor'easter, gets way up north

Started snowing in the early AM. Town plow went by at 8 am. Kept snowing hard. By 10:15 I decided going down three mile hill to church was a bad idea, too much chance of dinging DeVille somewhere. Town plow made a second pass at 11 AM. No sign of Ken King who plows my driveway, but on the other hand, I have no pressing need to go anywhere. So far we have 8 to 10 inches down and we may get more. It has slacked off in the last few minutes, but the weather radio&TV is threatening more for this afternoon. Skiing is superb, best snow before Christmas in a long long time.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hazards of being a winter squirrel

We have a nice fresh snowfall on the ground. All bright white with a brilliant sun. We need the sun, it's nearly zero outside. Bunch of chilly squirrels scurrying about on the snow. Legs are too short to reach thru the powder snow and touch the ground, and they are so heavy that they sink right in. You can see 'em struggling in the deeper parts. They are all dark, and stand out on the brilliant white snow, making themselves perfect targets for any kind of hawk. Dunno what brought them out today, usually they hibernate thru the winter. If they were truly into being active-in-the-winter critters you would think they would grow white fur coats.

Beowulf, the movie

Not bad at all. The movie retells the ancient legend and remains surprisingly close to the original saga. Beowulf comes across first as a true hero, strong, brave, and wise, in the prime of life, out to win glory by slaying a dreadful monster. Then in the second part, Beowulf is older, a successful and beloved king faced with a second coming of monsters. Despite loyal followers, wives, and mistresses trying to talk him out of it, a graying Beowulf pulls on his mail shirt, picks up his sword and goes to protect his people from a dragon. It's well done, and we left the theater with a warm spot in our hearts for Beowulf, a tough guy who never flinches from the path of duty.
The movie is three D (they issue glasses). The 3-D is used for spectacular effects which do get your attention. Spears and arrows and suchlike fly right out of the screen into your face. The rest of the flick is mostly CGI. It's well done, looking at the lead actors, Beowulf, Grendel's mother you almost think they are live. Some of the supporting cast do show their CGI origins, but all and all, its a big step forward for computers, another few years and we won't be able to tell live actors from CGI. Angelina Joli as Grendel's mother is very successful. She has Angelina's face, and some CGI bodily inhancements and I couldn't tell just how it was done. Did they digitize Angelina's face and create the actress entirely from pixels or did Angelina act the part live and the CGI wizards souped it up afterwards? There are some things I would have done differently, but all in all it's a good action adventure flick.
Any student assigned Beowulf as classwork should see this movie.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Who to vote for? NH primary is getting closer

Let's talk Republicans today. All my Republican friends really want a candidate who can win the election, i.e. beat Hillary. NH Republicans assume Hillary will get nominated, 'cause the polls say so, and because she seems the toughest candidate to beat. Most of us New Hampsters are waiting for Iowa, so we can see who is electable and who is not. None of the Republican front runners is irresistable. McCain's record commands respect, but his involvement in McCain-Feingold and last summer's immigration bill plus his age are negatives. Romney has good name recognition, but his lack luster performance down south in Massachusetts, and some well publicized policy changes on hot button issues raise questions. Guliani's performance in NYC during 9/11 make him seem like a good man in a storm, but his personal life and support for gun control and abortion don't make anyone happy. Huckabee was an also ran just a few weeks ago and no one up here sees any reason to change their minds on that, unless he should win in Iowa. Then Huckabee would be formidable. He is conservative as they come, and lacks the worrisome negatives of the other three front runners. On the other hand if he loses in Iowa, nobody up here will vote for him, who wants to hand the election over to Hillary?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Tree raising

Stopped at Corey's Sport Shop (used to be Corey's Gun shop, but we have to be politically correct now a days) to buy a Christmas tree. This year, instead of lashing said tree to roof of DeVille, I merely popped the trunk lid and stuffed the tree into the trunk. Drove home with a bungee cord keeping the trunk lid from flapping too wildly in the breeze. Deville showed the "Trunk Open" warning all the way home.
This Christmas we have improved upon past tradition. I now have a reciprocating saw with a pruning blade to cut the tree trunk and trim low flying branches. Used to do this with a hand saw, now we are mechanized. Placed the traditional green plastic trash bag on the floor, and adjusted tree stand to get him straight up.
Now the fun begins. First string the lights, including the infamous bubble lights that my mother has detested for 40 years. She thinks they are too plastic. Shake each bubble light to make it bubble again. Then, what's a Christmas tree without an electric train running around it?
Pull out the Hogwarts Express train set in bright red. Connect up the track, the power pack and sure nuff, it runs. Now the fun begins for the cat. She crouches on the floor, tail lashing back and forth, trying to summon up the courage to pounce on the moving train. But the train's confident whirring noise puts her off. Hours later, cat is still watching train intently, looking for a chance to pounce.
Then we invite my brother's family over to help with the rest of the trimmage. After doing beers, and a bit of stronger Christmas cheer, we are in the proper mellow mood. Glittery glass balls, santa clauses, candy canes, trumpets, and more. Cat is still watching the train. No attention deficit disorder in that cat. As the ornaments, and the beers finally run out, we declare the tree to be properly trimmed.

National Intelligence Estimate totally confuses Aviation Week

Last week's NIE, the one that says Iran isn't building a bomb, provoked a full page editorial in Aviation Week. Headline is "NIE on Iran and Nukes offers New Chance for Diplomacy". Oh really? This I need to see. US diplomat, "We will do this good thing and that good thing if you stop building a bomb". Iranian diplomat, "We are not building a bomb, you Yankees said so yourselves. And no way will you Yankees be able to sanction us or invade us, your Congress won't permit such things now."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Buying a laptop, withOUT Visa

It can be done. But it ain't easy. The major objections to Visa are extreme sluggishness, easily seen in the store, and extreme copy protection making it difficult to impossible to download music, copy CD's or DVD's, upload and download from your I pod. Advantages to Visa have not been reported by anyone.
Reloading XP over Visa is possible, but tricky. First you need a real XP CD. Those cost $200 at Staples. Then you need all the "drivers", bits of low level software that operate your hardware gadgets, disk, display, touchpad, wireless card, modem, LAN adapter, printer, DVD drive, USB gizmo's. The purpose of drivers is to make all the hardware look the same to windows. When windows wants to operate some hardware, write a pixel on the display, read the touchpad, write a block to disk, it sends a message to the driver, and the driver does what ever is required to make it happen. This allows windows to operate different brands of hardware that may not work the same way, even though they do the same thing. In principle all the drivers are available for download in the net. In practice finding them, and getting the driver that matches your computer EXACTLY, can be a nightmare.
All is not lost yet. Few to no companies are running Vista, so the "business" outlets still have laptops with XP. The "white box" people still do XP. We did encounter some web dealers with slogans like "Tired of Visa?".

Shooting yourself in the foot, the CIA way

Seems like some extra dumb agents video taped the interrogation of one or two Al Quada suspects back around '01 or '02. These clueless agents apparently forgot how much trouble tapes can get you into. Just ask Richard Nixon about tapes. Then they kept the tapes, and even dumber, let other people know the tapes existed. Interrogating an unwilling terrorist isn't a pretty thing, with or without waterboarding, and showing live action tapes is going to make the audience unhappy. Better not to videotape in the first place, and failing that, keep them secret and destroy them quietly.
Long about 2005, Jose Rodriguez, Chief of the CIA National Clandestine Service figured out that the tapes were nothing but trouble, especially for the CIA guys doing the interrogation. He had them destroyed. Mr. Rodriguez is an old CIA hand who plans to retire this year. According to some sources, he was able to get some CIA lawyers to OK the tape destruction in writing. If so, some CIA lawyers had best get their resume's (and alibis) in order.
Coming on top of the "Iranians aren't building a bomb" paper of last week, you begin to wonder whether we would be better off shutting down CIA. Can we believe anything coming out of Langley now?

The many panes of Windows Pt 3

Microsoft used to sell a client windows and a server windows, but they gave up the client version. (Client is personal computer, Server offers disk, print, and other services to other computers) Back at the beginning of the '90's the first Windows to hit the big time was Windows 3.1. The hardware was less powerful back then, and just getting the simpler client OS to run was a real trick. For better speed and smaller code size, important parts of Windows 3.1 were coded in assembly language. Coding in assembler is a pleasant pastime (I have done a lot of it), the resulting code is very fast and very small, but it is very tricky to understand. Even the original programmer may forget how his code works after a year or two. If the original programmer leaves the company, the secret of the assembler code may be lost forever. The company can keep shipping it, but no one knows how to modify or fix it. Windows 3.1 begat Windows 95, Windows 98, and finally Windows Millennium Edition (ME) .
Given the howling success of the client Windows, Microsoft started a project to create an all new from the ground up server operating system that would do all the client things and offer services to other computers too. This product would sweep away the last of the mini computers still running company networks. Microsoft hired a bunch of experienced systems guys recently laid off from Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) to pull this off. The DEC guys wanted to do it right, the DEC way, and in one way the succeeded. The new Windows NT was written all in C, was modular and readable. Unfortunately it was also slow and fat. Windows NT begat Windows 2000, Windows XP, and finally Windows Vista, the slowest and fattest of them all.
For some years Microsoft was shipping and supporting both the client Windows 9X and the server Windows NT. Support is a crew of programmers fixing Windows bugs. Microsoft had two such crews, a 9X crew and an NT crew. Since NT could do everything 9X could do, and NT was easier to understand and fix bugs in, Microsoft decided to cut support costs in half by dropping 9x Windows. That is why we all are stuck with slow, vulnerable, bug ridden and fat old Windows NT and it's descendants.
Many of the vulnerabilities of Windows would go away if the server features were removed. The viruses do much of their dirty work by asking a server to perform some service (such as loading and running them). Pure client operating systems don't offer services, which blocks a lot of viruses, and contain far less code than servers, 'cause they don't do as much. The number of bugs is proportional the the number of lines of code, so smaller operating systems have fewer bugs than big ones. Small is beautiful in the software world.
There is a market for a good client only operating system out there. Maybe some company will take advantage of the opening one day.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Golden Compass (the movie)

Went to see it this afternoon. If you have read the book, you will like the movie. If you haven't read the book it will be heavy sledding. There is lots of action but it will be more than a little incoherent. Sets and costumes are beautifully done, the acting is very good. The young girl protagonist, Lyra, is well played indeed. The ending is a cliffhanger, leaving the audience waiting to see the next movie of the trilogy.

House passes "energy" bill

It hasn't made it thru the Senate yet, and the president is talking veto, but the house passed one. It "closes tax loopholes" on the oil companies (raises taxes), pushes up the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) to 35 mpg, and requires electric power companies to generate 15% from "renewable" (solar, wind, tide, hydro) sources.
The CAFE change erases the distinction between cars and "light trucks". Right now light trucks only have to do 25 mpg, whereas cars have to do better. The CAFE law is responsible for the demise of the station wagon and the rise of the SUV. Station wagons were cars but SUV's were "light trucks". For that matter as unlikely as it sounds, the Chrysler PT Cruiser was a "light truck". Now everything under 8600 pounds Gross Vehicle Weight is subject to CAFE, anything heavier is a real truck and not subject to CAFE. Expect to see some really heavy SUV's come out to take advantage of being a real truck. The CAFE change seems to be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Since Katrina and $3 gas, car buyers are buying the best fuel economy they can find. The market for SUV's and pickup trucks has collapsed, putting the Detroit big three into deep doo-doo. Toyota is selling all the Prius's they can make, even though the Prius is $5000 more expensive than Corolla. Do we really need to further roil the car market with legislation?
The 15% renewable electricity mandate is a cushy deal for the makers of renewable equipment, but it will boost my electric bill, a lot. Wind and solar are not firm power, A calm day, or nightfall, and no juice. The power company has to build real power plants (the works all the time kind) to keep the lights on under worst case. Worst case is a hot summer afternoon (last NY blackout) or a cold winter evening (first great blackout) . Then, as the load meters edge up and up, and unexpected failures take big plants off line, the system controllers cannot count on the wind blowing, or the sun shining. In short, that 15% "renewable" generation does nothing to prevent another great blackout. It's just money poured down the drain, my money as a matter of fact. I'm already paying 20 cents per kilowatt hour, up from 5 a few years ago, and I see no reason to pay yet more to purchase relatively useless "renewable" energy.
You want to do something for the electric power industry? Make 'em put in 15% nuclear power. It's firm power, it's clean, we have the technology. France is 80% nuclear, why not the US?
The final insult to tax and rate payers. This "energy" bill is 1000 pages long. At one lawyer per page, that's lifetime work for 1000 lawyers, at full fees or course. Plus some juicy pork too. Like a $1 billion rail connection to JFK airport. JFK is already on the subway, what more do you need?

Christmas is bad for blogging

Christmas brings house guests and children back on leave, and entertaining and all kinds a fun stuff, which leaves little time for blogging. Especially as just a short post can take half an hour to compose, correct and publish. How Glenn Reynolds cranks out his daily dozen postings is a mystery to me. Anyhow posting may be a little lighter until things go back to their quiet and predictable ways after New Years.
Merry Christmas and Bah Humbug too.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

DOJ is siding with RIAA in a downloading case

Arrgh. RIAA took some single mother to court for downloading and obtained a $220,000 judgment against her. Story here. Why is my government siding with the record labels? Does not the RIAA have enough lawyers already? Why is the US Dept of Justice getting into the act? Do the Republicans have a political death wish? Surely it ain't worth the wrath of a lot of voters to curry favor with the labels?

Plastic costs more than wood

I am finishing up a home project, a wall display case/shelf for HO model trains. To make it look nice, I purchased poplar wood, nicer than plain old run-of-the-lumberyard knotty pine. Clear pine can be had, but the price is outrageous, poplar is a better deal. The poplar cost $66 for a 3 foot by 5 foot seven shelf case.
Had a good time making it. Hand cut dovetail joints, edges of the shelves shaped to an ogive pattern, hand rubbed linseed oil finish. To keep the dust out, I routed slots to accept clear plastic sliding doors.
Just picked up the plastic. Two pieces, 3 foot by 3 foot. Had the plastic shop cut them to size, 'cause I cannot fit a full sized 4 foot by 8 foot piece of plastic into the Deville. Plastic came to $67 dollars, as much as the poplar.
It looks good, and I'm still ahead. You can buy things like this but it's $300-$400 for one this size.

Gitmo rides again

The Supreme court is going to hear yet another Gitmo rights case today. Should the detainees/prisoners of war/oppressed freedom fighters have the right to clog the federal court system with appeals for out?
Used to be, armed enemies captured on the battlefield were prisoners of war, and they were stuck in POW camps until the war was over. No lawyers, no courts, no habeas corpus, no special commissions. POW's get certain rights, like mail from home, the right to refuse to divulge intelligence information (Name, rank, and serial number only), and others. We have all seen the war movies, Alec Guiness in Bridge on the River Quai, Steve Mcqueen in The Great Escape, and plenty more.
Whereas, criminal suspects in the US get Miranda rights, habeas corpus, public defenders, bail, and a chance to beat the rap by claiming illegal search and seizure.
The Gitmo detainees aren't real soldiers, so they don't even rate POW status. That's why we call 'em "detainees" rather than the more usual "prisoners". They are clearly dangerous, some small fry have been released and then later recaptured bearing arms against us in Afghanistan. Talk about two time losers.
So, why promote Gitmo detainees two jumps up, from no rights detainee, to POW, to criminal defendant? I kinda like leaving them as no rights detainees. Detainees can be interrogated at length for intelligence, which POW's cannot.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Iran is NOT building a bomb, says CIA

Good news, in fact perhaps a little bit too good to be true. Mossad says the Iranians will have a bomb year after next. CIA says no they won't. Who do I believe? Surely the intelligence service that failed to predict the fall of the Soviet Union, failed to predict 9/11, called the Iraqi bomb a slamdunk sure thing, and has worked hard to destabilize the Bush Administration has earned my trust....

Monday, December 3, 2007

Dirty Jobs, Cleaning the oven

My oven, has been happily cooking stuff for about a year, getting cruddier and cruddier as time went on. It finally got so bad as to offend even me. I'm not a real neatnik. Christ on crutch. I needed a 1/4" Spintite, pair of long nose pliers, razor blade window scraper, shop vac, mechanic's trouble light, to say nothing of the old standbys, Easy-Off, rags, Brillo, and newspapers. Took all afternoon. It's gonna have to get really cruddy before I do this again. The Eazy-OFF does awful things to your hands.
Just out of curiosity, why, after doing the outside of the range in white, can't they do the inside of the oven in white, giving you half a chance to see what you are doing while cleaning? I had to use one hand to hold the trouble light so I could see, and the other hand to wipe the brown slime of spent Easy-Off out of the oven. If the damn thing was done in white porcelain instead of dark gray, so you could see something, I could have used two hands to wipe off, and not needed the trouble light that I use working underneath cars.
Why not have a plug and socket for the bottom oven heating element? To remove said element, so I could d0 the oven floor, I had to undo a pair of sheet metal screws with the Spintite, reach both arms into the dirty oven to wrassle the brass terminal lugs off the heating element, and then go fishing for the wires which immediately buried them selves in the fiber glass insulation behind the back wall of the oven.
Granted, it's a 24 inch range, a size only purchased by builders, which means it's made as cheaply as possible. Real consumers who buy ranges, always have enough kitchen to take a 36" standard range. So all the fanciness, automatic cleaning, continuous cleaning, stuff is only available on the larger range. If you have a compact kitchen, that needs a 24" mini range, you are SOL for auto clean ovens. Back to the Easy-Off, you peasant you.
How about some clever designer doing a removable oven. Make the oven liner is a one piece steel stamping that slides clean out of the oven for cleaning. Take it outside, spray on the Easy-Off, and then take the garden hose to rinse the slime off. Is that so hard?
Women do the bulk of American oven cleaning. Does the fair sex have some secret for cleaning el cheapo ovens that they are hiding from us bachelors? Do they have the tools to pull the bottom heating element or do they just wipe around it?

Makers of Childrens movies just cannot win

Back a Christmas or two ago, Disney released The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, a film version of the well loved C.S. Lewis tale, now on its second generation of readers. I read it as a child, and read it aloud to my children. Back at release time there were a few learned Grinches who complained about the Christian content of the story. According to some , it was an abhorrent violation of the establishment clause of the US constitution to have Aslan resurrected by the Deep Magic from before the dawn of time.
This Christmas, Phillip Pullman's Golden Compass is getting the same treatment from the Atlantic Monthly. Only from the other side. Pullman's tale is at best anti clerical, and treats God with little respect. The movie makers get dissed firstly for making a child's movie promoting atheism, and secondly for watering down some of Pullman's more pungent atheistic remarks.
Hollywood cannot win for losing here. Make a movie from a Christian allegorical tale and get dissed for promoting Christianity. Make a movie from a not-so-Christian tale and get dissed for promoting atheism.
As a reader of both books, the ideological/theological/allegorical elements never caught my attention. Both stories are adventure tales with likable and plausible protagonists, making for enjoyable light reads. I, and my children, enjoyed the adventures and the ideological freight sorta just passed everyone by.
For more intellectual angst I suppose we could proceed to diss Harry Potter.

Immigration Reform; Green cards for veterans

One small step for US. The attraction of America is so strong that we have non citizens enlisting in the US armed forces. Any one of these who gives honorable service to the United States ought receive at least a green card, if not actually citizenship. We owe these brave people something and legal entry to the US is the least we can do to square that debt.
In the same vein, Iraqi's and others, who serve our armed forces overseas as interpreters, informants, and as agents ought to get a fast track toward a green card.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Democrracy is not the natural state of man, (NPR)

Listening to NPR this morning. Actually my clock radio comes on at 0630 playing the local NPR station. Somewhere they dredged up a leftist to give the old "Democracy is not natural, we should not intervene to establish democracy, let the natives do their own thing" mantra. This clueless speaker then proceeded to tell us that democracy was not established in America until the 20th century.
This guy had managed to be both racist and disloyal to the United States, all within 2 minutes. It is racist to suggest that other peoples (say Iraqi's) are incapable of operating a democracy. It is equally racist to suggest that only people from "Northwest Europe" (his phrase) are capable of running one. Either way you say it (and the speaker said it both ways) you are saying some people are better than other people. I don't buy that.
I stand with Jefferson. All men are created equal. That includes Iraqis, Iranians, and all the other manifold peoples on this earth. That means they can all operate a democracy. I also stand with Churchill who said "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."
As for the other slam, "America did not become a democracy until the 20th century" the speaker demonstrates near total ignorance of US history and the English language. I wonder shere he went to school. The constitution written by the founding fathers is a true democracy, the first in the world, at a time when all the other nations of the earth were ruled by kings. Since 1789 the US has continuously broaden the freedom's of the constitution, some times at enormous cost.
This speaker totally discredits NPR.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Recycling at the town transfer station, aka dump

It's not a dump, it's a transfer station. Just ask the folk who work there. They charge $1.50 a bag for plain old trash. Recyclables are free. That's bottles, cans and paper. They have a humunguous pile of glass bottles. Mostly beer bottles, with a good leavening of liquor bottles. If we just gave up on drinking that would solve the glass recycling problem.

The many panes of Windows, Pt 2

Windows is a server operating system, which is a big contributing factor to Windows' fatness. 99 out of 100 Windows systems are client, not servers. Being a client is simpler than than being a server. Client operating systems support just one owner/operator. They keep our hard disk in order, launch our programs off our hard disk, work our I/O devices and the internet. We own the whole computer, so we own all the files on it. Clients don't do work for other computers. Servers on the other hand spend their life sharing stuff, printers, hard disk, internet connections with other computers. At the office, when you click "print" and your stuff pours out of the central printer, a server makes that happen. Your client machine sends a message to the server machine connected to the printer saying "Print this as soon as possible". The key difference between clients and servers, is servers have to the smart enough to accept requests for services over a comm link (LAN, dialup modem, or other links), and accomplish them. Servers have to serve a number of clients, and so must keep various clients separate. Servers allow clients to store files on the server's hard drive. For this to work, the server must remember which client owns which file and only allow the owner access to his files. It won't do to have Joe reading and writing Sally's files.
So, servers must remember who owns what files, and each time a file is opened, it must check to be sure the opener of the file is the owner of that file. Both providing services upon request and keeping files private make a server substantially more complicated, bigger and buggier than a pure client.
Servers are inherently more vulnerable to malware. "Load this program and run it" is a basic service provided by Windows. This is how malware spreads across the internet, a virus running in an infected computer asks another computer to load the virus and run it. Windows calls this feature "Remote Procedure Call", or "RPC" for short. "Telnet" is another such feature. There are more such features in Windows, too many more to count. What's worse, in Windows you cannot turn RPC off. If you do, Windows won't boot.
Since Windows ships with the RPC "kick me" sign prominently displayed, Windows needs a "firewall" program to protect it against RPC spreading viruses. A "firewall" intercepts all incoming traffic and blocks the dangerous stuff. It is said that an unfirewalled Windows system will be infected by malware within ten minutes of going onto the internet.
So, for being a server, something no one wants, Windows is burdened with all the code to respond to client requests, and then more code to block those requests. A pure client, which doesn't offer services, would be leaner, faster, and more robust.

Bye Bye Etrade

Seems like discount stock brokerage house Etrade is hosed. Not content with running a fairly decent business as an on-line ultra low cost broker, the Etrade suits decided to play the sub prime mortgage market and got burned. According to the WSJ, a hedge fund, Citadel Investment Group, has "loaned" Etrade $1.75 billion AT 12.5% interest.
Wow. Nothing, but nothing makes 12.5%. For the loan to be real, Etrade would need to make MORE than 12.5% in order to pay the loan back. That's not going to happen, no legal activity makes 12.5%. Citadel will own Etrade outright, and this "loan" is merely a paper device for moving what's left of Etrade's money into Citadel's coffers.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Scary, weapons grade uranium for sale

Fox news is reporting the seizure of three pounds of enriched uranium, in powder form, from a sting operation in Eastern Europe. The TV claims it is enriched to weapons grade, better than 90% U-235. Critical mass for a U-235 fission bomb is supposed to be a kilogram (2.2 pounds) so three pounds is enough to make a real Hiroshima size fission bomb, rather than just a dirty bomb, at least if you know what you are doing. The Hiroshima bomb was "only" 20 Kilotons of yield, a mere firecracker compared to the yield of up-to-date nukes.
Even scarier thought. The Russians still have a lot of nukes. These are sitting in ammunition magazines scattered about Russia. Each magazine has a crew of technicians, bomb loaders, guards, and whoever. These guys are under the command of some Russian officer, a colonel at a guess. How many of those colonels are worried about layoffs, retirement savings, college educations for their children? Would one or two of them accept a million Euro's to let a couple a nukes out? A real Red Army nuke that has been tested and is highly likely to go bang? As opposed to a terrorist home made job that might well fizzle? The North Koreans demonstrated a fizzle not too long ago.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Why is Windows so Paneful?

Windows, the nearly universal operating system, has earned itself a host of bitter enemies. Nobody likes it. Windows is buggy, expensive, slow to boot, slow to launch programs, slow to run programs, wide open to malware, and infuriating to program for. Users need to buy, install, and futz with anti virus , anti spyware, and firewalls. Despite the add-on defensive software, viruses (virii?) have taken control of millions of PC's and use them to sent spam, launch distributed denial of service attacks across the web, or perform identity theft on behalf of criminal gangs. Writing Windows drivers for plug-into-the-PC products consumes more engineering effort than creating the product in the first place. Each new release of Windows is slower and consumes more RAM, disk space, and run time than the last. And requires a time consuming rewrite of all those painfully written drivers.
And yet, Windows is the only game in town for those of us in the software business. Nearly every PC runs Windows, so your product has to run under Windows if you expect to sell it. For every Linux or Apple machine, there are a hundred Windows machines. No one will buy a product that doesn't run under Windows. Windows is a fact of life and we are stuck with it until some company offers something better. I'm not holding my breath. IBM tried with OS2 years ago and ancient Windows 3.1 totally destroyed them. The Linux folk have yet to convince ordinary customers to give up Word and Excel for Star Office.
What makes Windows so bad?
It's too damn big. Windows is humungous. It's so big no one understands it any more. The number of bugs is proportional to the number of lines of code, and the number of lines of code in Windows is millions, billions, who knows really. But it's the biggest program in captivity. Which makes it the buggiest. The only way to reduce the bugs and speed it up is to make it smaller.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

CAFE or no CAFE?

Congress is getting ready to jack up the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. Currently new cars are supposed to get 27 mpg, and "light trucks" (SUV, minivan, pickup truck) are supposed to get 20 mpg. A Senate bill would wipe out the distinction between cars and light trucks and require all of them to meet the same standard.
Question: Since $3 gas happened, does not Detroit have all the incentive anyone needs to produce good gas mileage cars? Certainly sales of the big SUVs and pickups has nosedived, causing GM, Ford, and Chrysler to loose staggering amounts of money, while Toyota and Honda sales and profits are up?
Nother question: How real are CAFE standards actually? The Chrysler PT cruiser, which looks a lot like a car to me, is actually classed as a light truck. Chrysler did this to raise the average gas mileage on their light trucks. Each PT cruiser sold allowed the sale of a couple of Hemi powered Dodge Ram pickup trucks.
Last Question: If US citizens are willing to buy big vehicles for hauling flocks of kids, plywood from the lumber yard, furniture back from the yard sale, and trash to the dump, why not let them. It's a free country. Should we not be able to spend our hard earned dollars the way we like, as opposed to the way someone else thinks we ought to?

Light Duty Trucks or Light Trucks

Just watched a GM ad on Fox. Camera pans across a car showroom full of shiny pickups and SUV's. The voice over describes them as "Light Duty trucks". Not good. "Heavy duty" is good, "Light Duty" says the truck is gonna fall apart upon hitting its first deep chuckhole. The voice over should have called 'em "light trucks" which is good. Heavy trucks have 18 wheels and won't back into your garage which doesn't help sales appeal.
I can understand the ad writers making this goof, but how do it get by all the suits at GM?
Or are the GM suits as clueless as the admen?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Eliminate the sub prime middle man

Make it illegal to sell loans, mortgage or any other sort. The sub prime meltdown happened when the banks (or loan companies) who issue loans started selling the loans for cash. This freed the mortgage issuers from all risk and restocked their supplies of cash, so they could run out and do more mortgages. Which they did. The issuers make their money on the closing costs, so the more closings they do the more money they make.
Mortgages are creations of the law. We could pass a law saying that no one can sell a mortgage. The mortgage is a deal between a specific borrower and a specific lender and the deal is not an article of commerce that can be traded, sold, or given away. The legal rights to enforce the deal (foreclosure on the house) are only enjoyed by the original issuer, second hand mortgages loose their right of foreclosure.
The idea is to kill off the juggling of mortgages from one hand to another. You issue it, you own it forever. Issuer's will be much more careful who they loan to, and on what terms, if they have to live with the deal for 30 years. When the issuers can sell the loan, they don't care how sound it is, it just has to be sound enough to last long enough to sell it off. This accounts for the teaser mortgages, low payments for a couple of years, much higher ones later. The borrower probably won't default until his payments go up, by which time the issuer is home safe and some gullible investors get hurt. And the borrowers, and the entire economy too.
The issuers will cry and wail at this proposal. They will say they need to sell the mortgages to get the money to do more mortgages. Let me say this to them. Raise money the old fashioned way, pay decent interest on deposits. Sell certificates of deposit that pay 1% less than the going mortgage rate. With mortgages around 7% the CD's could pay 6%, and have FDIC protection too.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

How slick is this? (From Commentary)

A junket to China by some US reporters.

Chinese Olympic spokesman: "Thanks to a range of measures, two thirds of the days in Beijing now have good air quality"

Outside the glass walled conference room smog was so thick that nearby buildings were visible only in outline.

US reporter, waving toward the windows: "Is this a good air day?"

Chinese spokesman: "It takes an expert to determine that."

Crime, Drugs,Welfare, things ARE getting better

The December issue of Commentary magazine cover article proclaims that crime, drugs and welfare are getting better in the United States. They give real numbers (unusual among modern newsies who are largely innumerate).
Teenage drug use: Down 23% since the 1990's
Ecstasy, speed& LSD: Down 50%
Welfare cases: Down 60% since 1994
Abortion: Down 19% since 1990
SAT scores: Up 8 points since 1989
Teenage births: Down 35% since 1991

There is a good deal more, but the writer is convinced that things are rebounding after a dreadful low in the 80's and 90's. Still not as good as things might have been back in the good old days, but measurably better than ten years ago. This is good news for a change.
Just in time for Christmas too.
Too bad this webby thing doesn't understand tabs or columns...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Patents on Tax Shelters

I knew the good old Patent Office was granting a lot of outrageous patents lately, but I never knew it was this bad. They are issuing patents for tax shelters, bits of legal fakery used to avoid paying income tax. Finally a few congressmen got up the backbone to attempt to outlaw this scam on the part of the patent office. They issued this press release just before Thanksgiving.
About time. While they are at it how about outlawing "business methods" patents, and patents on software? And requiring a working model before granting a patent. And outlawing patents on genes. And outlawing patents on obvious ideas and prior art?

Selling Jaguar and Land Rover to the Indians?

A meeting of 60 shop stewards at Jaguar and Land Rover moved to support a buy out (buy up?) by India's Tata Motors Ltd. Jag and Land Rover still employ 16000 workers in Merrie Old England. The union continues to oppose a sale at all (they want to continue as part of Ford) but if they have to be sold, they like Tata better than the other possibilities. They see Tata as "the only company among the final bidders with enough money, clout, and experience in our industry" to successfully manage the brands, according to a labor official who attended the meeting.
Ford acquired Jaguar for $2.5 billion in 1989 and Land Rover for $2.75 billion in 2000. I wonder what Ford was thinking when they bought the British brands in the first place. I understand that after paying $2.5 billion for Jag, the proceeded to pour in a lot more money to improve the product. Jag has always had a sexy product, but a product with a well earned reputation for unreliability. I owned one once. For the last 40 years the unreliability rep has been so strong as to overwhelm the good styling, handling, and interior trim level. Eighteen years of Ford improvements hasn't been able to turn that around. You have to wonder if the time and money put into Jaguar would have been better spent on Lincoln, Thunderbird, Cougar and Mustang.

Friday, November 23, 2007

New Hampshire primary is wide open

At Thanksgiving dinner, now that the date is fixed, we played the "who ya gonna vote for?" game. Surprise. No one at the table had made up their mind yet. All the serious Republican candidates would be OK with everyone. All of them have some flaws that would have to be overlooked. The young folk like Obama better than Hillary.
If my family is representative of the whole state, then anyone could win the Republican primary. We only have 46 more days to make up our minds.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The right to bear arms

The Supreme Court is going to take the Washington DC gun control case. A DC citizen took DC to court claiming that he had a right to keep a loaded piece at home and the DC anti gun ordinance outright bans ownership of handguns and requires long guns to be stored unloaded and disassembled. Case lost the first time, but won on appeal. Now the Supreme Court has stepped up to decide if "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" means you can keep a loaded gun in your house in case of burglars.
The newsies have hyped this as the case of the century. I wonder. In actual fact American citizens believe they have a right to keep a gun in the house, and in the car and in the cash drawer and other handy places. I doubt they will give up this quaint colonial custom anytime soon, no matter what the court rules.
So the Supreme Court can rule two ways on this one. They can rule that the 2nd Amendment means what it says. This will please the vast majority of ordinary citizens and outrage the chattering classes. Or they can invent a penumbra or something, rule that the 2nd amendment is "inoperative" , turn the vast majority of citizens into lawbreakers, and make the chattering classes happy.
If the court has two brain cells firing, they will rule that the 2nd amendment means what it says. But they are nine lawyers, and lawyers are dumb as rocks, so it's anyone's guess what the ruling will be.

There oughta be a law, (Pt 2)

Defacing a good old movie on TV with those channel icons oughta be illegal. Even worse are those full motion mini advertisements. Having your videotape of some favorite movie covered with advertising graffiti takes much of the simple pleasure out of watching the flick.

There oughta be a law (Pt 1)

Actually there oughta be a law making telemarketing a death penalty offense. That's fantasy, but we could make a law forbidding ringing my telephone and failing to answer when I do pick the phone up. Often as not, after going to the trouble of answering the phone, the line is dead and stays dead. Lets demand the telemarketer not disturb us unless they can furnish a sales pitch rather than a dead phone line.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tomorrow Never Dies

How have the Bond movies fallen? 40 years ago Bond gets an Aston Martin DB5, a real car. Q spends some time checking 007 out on the machine guns, the ejector seat and so forth. Fast forward 40 years and we have the same scene, the Q briefing 007 for the new car. But, instead of something hot, Bond gets a 4 door luxury sedan, painted gray no less. Jeez, what a come down from the Aston Martin.
Then for the big chase scene, we have James driving the thing by remote control from the back seat using a trackball on his cell phone. Yuck, Gross. You gonna drive a car, lets do it right, from the drivers seat, using the wheel. For extra points use a decent 5 speed manual transmission and a clutch. Skip the slush box.

You gotta strike back

Fox news was discussing Kerry and the swiftboaters again. Lot of happy talk, but the newsie failed to mention Kerry's major mistake. Kerry failed to reply to the Swiftboater's charges. Speaking as a typical voter, I never heard Kerry denounce the charges made against him. Silence gives assent. I was prepared to believe that all the noise was a bunch of soreheads, backed with Republican money, trying to derail Kerry's campaign. But when time went by and Kerry didn't come out on TV and deny all the charges (smears) against him, then I began to think maybe there was some truth in the swiftboaters position. When the election was over, it was clear the swiftboaters had done Kerry a lot of damage.
Plus, us veterans usually stick together. It was surprising to hear old shipmates (boatmates?) trashing a member of the outfit 35 years later. Seemed to me, and many others, that young Lt Kerry must have been a real pain-in-the-tail officer to attract so much venom after such a long time. I served as officer in Viet Nam, and 40 years later I have good warm feelings about all the guys in my old outfit. I cannot imagine any one who served with me, dissing me, either behind my back, or in public. Just won't happen. The fact that it happened to Kerry makes you wonder what sort of leadership qualities he really had.
Same thing happened to Mike Dukakis back in '88. The Bush campaign ran the "Willie Horton" ad against him. Showed an ugly and vicious looking convict walking round and round a revolving door while the voice over explained that this ugly bastard committed some awful crime while out of slam on furlough. Dukakis never replied. There were a lot of things he could have said, many of them convincing. But he didn't strike back, and us voters were left with the impression t he the Duke was soft on crime.
When they diss you, you gotta speak up. Silence gives assent.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Why doesn't any one write science fiction anymore?

Back in the 1950's and '60s a wonderful group of writers, Heinlein, ,Clarke, Asimov, Smith, Anderson, Piper, Norton, Schmitz, Van Vogt, De Camp, Leinster, Reynolds, and others poured forth an endless stream of really good science fiction, both short stories and novels. The old masters are mostly/entirely dead now, and their living replacements are few, only Pournelle, Niven, Stross and Brin come to mind.
Demand for science fiction is still there, strong enough to keep the old masters in print, but little new writing is making it to the bookstore shelves (or to Amazon). The big box book stores have only four categories for fiction; Science fiction/Fantasy, mysteries, romances, and "everything else". Judging from the shelve space allocations, the Science Fiction/Fantasy category is selling as well as any of the others, but the new books are all fantasy, no science fiction. The fantasy writers work hard, but few-to-none of them compete well with Tolkien.
One difficulty for a science fiction writer is the advance of science and technology. After 1968 no one could write another "first trip to the moon story". The first interstellar faster-than-light travel stories were published before Einstein published special relativity, which rules out faster-than-light travel. Although faster-than-light drives persist in movies and TV, they faded out of science fiction stories by the 1980's. In short, science and technology advances have over run or ruled out of action many fruitful subjects for good stories.
Perhaps we need to broaden the definition of science fiction. For instance Tom Clancy's numerous thrillers are really science fiction set only a few years into the future, instead of the more traditional decades.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

US House outlaws "Predatory Lending"

New thought crime, "Predatory Lending". Sounds worse than loansharking. Congress wanted to be seen doing something about the sub prime mortgage scam. Sometime around 1990 or so someone on Wall St invented the "mortgage backed security". This was a brokerage house IOU "backed" by home mortgages that channeled the interest yield on a home mortgage to investors (rather than to the lending bank) . The brokerage house bought home mortgages from the issuers (banks) and did some legal magic to wave a thin coating of "backing" over the IOU's. The sub prime crisis currently rocking Wall St occurred when investors discovered how thin the coating really is AND that the mortgages are going into foreclosure at a much greater than expected rate.
The bad effect of this financial wheeling and dealing is the willingness of banks to grant mortgages to shaky borrowers, backed by inflated property evaluations. Once the issuing bank could sell the mortgage, they stopped caring whether the mortgage would default in the future, and lending standards were lowered, a lot. The new house bill proposes to penalize lenders for granting mortgages that the borrowers won't be able to pay.
Mortgage lenders used to be fairly tight in the granting of a mortgage, because should the borrower default, the lender gets hurt. When the borrower defaults (misses enough mortgage payments) the lender seizes the house. Unfortunately for the lender, the repossessed house rarely sells for enough to make the lender whole again. In many cases the house doesn't sell for years. The lenders all know this, it's been true since Shylock's time, and so they used to make sure the mortgage was less than the price of the house, so the borrower had to put a significant sum into the house. This weeded out a lot of destitute buyers. They also checked for inflated house prices and insisted that the borrowers income be 4 to 5 times the mortgage payments. Best to avoid doing a shaky ("sub-prime") mortgage than risk the losses from a default.
Now that the issuers no longer care should the mortgage default (no skin off their nose) Congress proposes to outlaw the granting of mortgages that the borrower might have trouble repaying. Boy what a lawyer's delight. Prosecutors and defense lawyers can have a field day (and collect handsome fees) arguing about the soundness of this or that mortgage deal.
Better would be to outlaw the sale of mortgages. Make sure the man granting the mortgage has a real stake in the soundness of the mortgage, i.e. his bank gets hurt when the mortgage defaults. Presto, end of problem, the banks go back the the lending standards they used before the "mortgage backed security" was invented.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Follow on to the Russian Anti Missile Radar

Another interesting detail from the same Av Week article. "Russian officials say it can locate missile launch sites and predict trajectories by transmitting data to computing complexes near Moscow."
Wow. A multi million ruble system doesn't have the on site computing power to compute trajectories, launch points and impact points? In the year it was built (1985) or today? Russian anti ballistic missile defense relies upon the phone lines from Azerbaijan to Moscow staying up under nuclear attack? Is a system that vulnerable to enemy action even worth building?
Could it be that the Russians were incapable of providing the necessary on-site computer power back in 1985? Did the Russians only have one main frame computer in Moscow to serve the entire anti ballistic missile system?
By way of comparison, the US had a mobile anti artillery radar project in 1975 (ten years earlier) that detected and tracked artillery shells in flight, and computed launch and impact points all using a smallish 16 bit mini computer (AN/UYK-20). ICBM re entry vehicles move the same way as artillery shells; the trajectory computations are exactly the same for both objects. I programmed this beastie and the software could aim the phased array radars and do trajectory computation at the same time. The whole computer was the physical size of three modern desktops and was in the IBM PC class (4.77 Mhz 8088, 128K bytes ram) for computing power.
In short, an small mobile American system from 1975 could compute trajectories, and a larger stationary Russian system from 1985 could not.

Send 'em back for remedial marketing

The usual load of Christmas mail order catalogs is gladdening the hearts of marketers and straining the backs of "letter carriers" (can't call 'em mailmen anymore, that's sexist :-). Today I am thumbing thru "Historic Rail" , full of model trains, railroad posters, and rail fan books. Nicely printed, 63 pages, full color on every page. Not too shabby.
Just one problem. The catalog seldom mentions the maker's name. In the model train business there are some good makers ( e.g. Kato, Atlas, Broadway Limited). And there are some not so good maker's names (e.g. Tyco, Bachmann). Products from the good makers cost two or three times as much as product from the not so good makers.
So, reading the fine print underneath the nicely photographed products and mostly no maker's name. If one was to order this product what would be delivered? Kato or Atlas? Or Tyco. It does make a difference to us customers.
Where did these guys learn the fine art of selling?

First snow of the season

Winter got here. Started yesterday with rain. Cooled down over night and we had an inch of snow down by first daylight. Then the electricity went out. I called the PSNH service number and the usual voice mail thingie took the call. It was relatively sophisticated, it had caller ID and a reverse phone book and was able to figure out my street address correctly just from the phone number. Then it promised me the power would be back within two hours. Okay...
The voice mail thingie had it right, power came back just exactly two hours after I called. Not bad at all. By this time we have six inches down on the porch, the town plow has plowed the road, and Ken King has plowed the driveways. Ken, bless his soul, took a hellova bite out of my hand planted, hand weeded, hand watered and cherished grass. He thinks he is creating more room to plow the rest of the winter's snow. I think he is committing herbicide upon my grass.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Iran may get the bomb by 2009

Israeli Brig. Gen Yossi Baidatz, chief of Israel's military intelligence research division, made the prediction to the full Knesset recently. I have more confidence in Israeli intelligence than anything coming out of CIA.
Backing this up, Amadinejad boasted that he has 3000 uranium enrichment centrifuges running. That's not a pilot program, that's a production setup.

Russian Anti Missile radar runs on vacuum tubes. (Av Week)

You may have heard of US plans to install an antimissile system in Europe. Talk is going round about locating radars and missiles in Poland. Naturally the Russians are unhappy about an American mini-star wars anti missile system right on their border. After huffing and puffing for a while, Putin made a counter offer of access to a Russian anti missile radar in Azerbaijan. He must have figured it's better to Americans snooping around inside a Russian radar site than have the Americans setting up their own radars.
Putin recently allowed a team of Americans into the Azerbaijan site to assess it's suitability. The Americans were not impressed. The 1985 radar runs on vacuum tubes. This is a big step backwards. In 1973 I designed sections of the American ABM radar and it was all solid state, not a tube to be seen. To learn that the Russians were still using vacuum tubes 12 years later indicates that Russian cold war technology was neolithic.
The basic problem with vacuum tubes is they burn out, rapidly, like light bulbs, for the same reasons (hot filament eventually fails). Tube reliability was so bad that 1960's USAF aircraft required replacement of the UHF voice radio after merely four missions. The solid state radios in later aircraft would last forever. Going to solid state, from vacuum tubes changed a flaky unreliable device into something that lasted the life of the plane. A UHF voice radio is pretty simple compared to a radar. The real reason the Azerbaijan radar used tubes has gotta be that the Russians couldn't make decent transistors as late as 1985. The article didn't say what the mean time between fail (MTBF), and mean time to repair (MTTR) is on that radar, but it's gotta be horrible.
The Russians made the excuse that vacuum tubes could better withstand the electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) from the detonation of nuclear weapons. Right. When the EMP is strong enough to damage transistors, the blast has already leveled the place.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Glenn Reynolds pointed to this story in Popular Mechanics.
Anti IED laser armed Hummer pictures.

I posted about a story here in Aviation Week concerning the same laser vehicle last month. The Popular Mechanics story had good pictures, which the Aviation Week story lacked. Looks like it's real. A first step toward a science fiction laser death ray.

Words of the Weasel Part 5


Often used by computer people as a neutral sounding replacement for “bug”. Issue is favored because it holds out the hope that the “issue” can be negotiated away, rather than requiring the programmers to get off their duffs and fix the problem. Also used as a replacement for “problem” and “malfunction”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Who reads a 1000 page act of Congress?

Answer, no one really understands 1000 pages of anything. When it gets to court, lawyers will argue for this interpretation or that interpretation, and in the end, a judge decides what the law really means. These overly wordy acts are Congress's way of shirking their Constitutional duty to legislate. The verbose legislation fails to bind anyone to do anything, nothing happens until some judge decides what the law is.
The overly wordy acts occur for a number of reasons, all of them bad. For openers, its hard to get agreement on anything these days, so rather than negotiate, the committee (probably the committee staffers) just puts in everyone's pet language and sends the bill to the floor.
Then everyone on the job is a lawyer. Lawyers get sent to special four year schools that teach how to use a lot of broken English and some Latin mumbo jumbo to make the paperwork unreadable by anyone. Once the paperwork is 1000 pages long and unreadable, they can slip all sorts of goodies (pork) into the nooks and crannies of the law and it will slide right thru Congress.
We ought place a word limit upon acts of Congress. For instance, require that no act of Congress contain more words than the Constitution itself contains. The Constitution has enough words to keep the US of A going over for better than 200 years, that ought to be enough for anything else.

No WSJ, No inspiration for posts

What with veterans day and all, its been two days since I last got the Journal. I kept trying to think of things to blog about, but everything that came to mind seemed like I'd said it before, or it came off as a plain old rant.
Drought is over, USPS just delivered both the Monday and the Tuesday Journal, Aviation Week and Eweek. That oughta keep me going.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

First over ride of a Bush veto to save the pork

What more needs be said. Lets stand up to Bush and get our pork. Defense bills, children's health insurance, ho hum, but let Bush veto a "water projects" bill and Congress will rise up in righteous wrath and restore every dollar in hard won pork.

Fiscal Responsibility Proves Costly (WSJ)

"Democrats took control of Congress this year with a pledge to me more fiscally responsible than their Republican counterparts. Trying to fulfill that promise, however, has cause strains among lawmakers, forced cutbacks on big policy goals and snagged major legislation,
The root of the problem is what is known as pay as you go or paygo, a budget rule revived by the new majority that says Congress must offset new costs with tax increases or spending cuts. The rule's purpose is the prevent new entitlement spending from increasing the budget deficit.
Thus far, it has complicated efforts to pay tax breaks for renewable energy, slowed progress on a farm bill, and become a sticking point with the Bush administration over an effort to expand children's health insurance. "

Costly? Sounds to me like paygo has saved us long suffering taxpayers from yet more fleecing. No kind of energy (renewable, nuclear, biological, fossil, or magical) needs any kind of tax break. The price of energy is so flipping high that it will draw investment dollars out to thin air. Farm bills are subsidies for farmers, taking my money and giving it away to farmers. Why should that happen? What makes farmers worthy enough to take my money? The "children" s health insurance will give my tax money away to adults, and children of families making more than I make.
Lets have more paygo. It's saving us taxpayers real money. The Republicans ought to make a campaign promise to retain paygo should they regain control of Congress next year.

Ford is losing less money than GM? (WSJ)

" As Detroit's two biggest auto makers brace for economic turbulence their respective turn around efforts are running in different gears.
The surprise: Ford Motor Co., not General Motors Corp, suddenly appears to be on a faster track to profits.
Ford, considered by many industry executives to be the sickeset of Detroit's big three, yesterday surprise investors by sharply narrowing its third quarter loss and forecasting it would break even for the year and generate positive cash flow."

Well, good news from Ford and all, but the comparison with GM is worthless. GM reported a $36 billion loss on some kind of tax credit scam, totally unrelated to the real business of assembling cars and selling them. That's a loss of $68 a share on shares that are only worth $35. This kind of accounting isn't real. It tells us nothing about what's really happening in the real world of styling new models, buying parts to produce today's models, negotiating better labor costs, advertising, and selling cars. It's an accountant's magic wand, reporting a fantastic paper loss. The accountants tilted the books by $36 billion with a wave of their pens, hiding any modest gain or loss in the core business. Yet the WSJ and the industry pundits really think Ford is doing better than the General, based upon this kind of phony financial reporting?
At least the Ford suits were responsible enough to spent Ford money on the core business, as opposed to the GM suits who used GM money to speculate in the sub prime housing market and rack up a $750 million loss (which is almost invisible compared to the $36 billion loss the accountants invented).

Government backing for McMansion mortgages (WSJ)

"Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke floated a new idea to fix the troubled market for mortgages to large for Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac to buy. All the companies to securitize jumbo size mortgages but have the Federal government guarantee them.
Fannie and Freddie currently can buy mortgages only up to $417,000 and Congress, so far, hasn't acted to lift that limit, despite distress in that market that has made jumbo mortgages at "somewhat tighter terms and higher prices" as Mr. Bernanke put it."

Wow. Fannie and Freddy were set up by act of Congress to make it easier for working stiffs to get home mortgages. For this reason Congress limited to size of mortgage eligible for US government subsidy to $417K to prevent fat cats buying McMansions taking advantage of subsidies for working stiffs. $417K will buy one hell of a house in any market you care to mention. Why should Uncle Sam use my tax dollars to make it easier to finance rich people's houses? Let the fat cats pay market rates for their houses, just like real people.
Presumably Mr. Bernanke was attempting to ease the pain for banks and brokerage houses who are getting burned in the sub prime crisis. I'm agin it. Let the speculators take some solid losses. That will teach 'em not to drive up the price of housing by speculation.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Can the cookiepushers destablize Iran?

We have here , a participant in the Iranian deal bellyaching about how the State Department is handling $75 million intended to destablize the mullahs in Iran. The arguments in the article are sorta murky, and there is a strong smell of bureaucratic turf battle about the whole thing.
But first one has to ask; Can the State Department ever do any good in a clandestine attempt to do any thing? The corporate culture at State can be expressed thusly: Make enough nice to the scumbag and he will come around to our way of thinking in the end. Supporting a liberal democratic Iranian party isn't making nice, it's attempting to subvert the mullah's power, and even a cookiepusher knows that. No way is State ever going to conduct such a program, it goes against their grain, and their diplomats lack the skill set to pull it off.
Plus, any Iranian who gives the American's the time of day is in deep doo-doo. Taking American money is high treason rewarded with the death penalty. Supporting an Iranian democratic party, hoping they will overthrow the mullahs, requires the utmost in secrecy, something that neither the leakprone State, or the even more leakprone CIA can pull off. Soon as the program got to first base, some argent leftist at State or CIA would leak the whole thing to the NY Times, and get everyone in the program killed.
The idea of destabilizing Iran is a good one, by all accounts there are plenty of disgruntled Iranians who don't like their regime. Problem is, a lot of those disgruntled Iranians hate us as much as they hate the mullahs, which makes contacting them difficult. The job calls for some legendary secret agents, who can blend in, speak the language, avoid the Iranian police, locate and make contact with the local underground opposition, and finally, discriminate between the real revolutionaries and all the other Iranians who will be happy to take Yankee dollars but never do anything in return.
This job description calls for Superman or James Bond. Can we recruit agents good enough to pull it off? Where is Lawrence of Arabia when we need him?