Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Does the world need a STOL C17?

Aviation Week is ruminating about the fate of the C17 production line. The Air Force has bought most, nearly all, the c17's it wants/can afford/can-get-funding-for. AFAIR that's 187 aircraft. It's a good plane, a lot better than the aging C5, but expensive. The RAF bought 4 or 5 and the Europeans bought a few more, but it's so expensive that only USAF can afford it. So, Boeing is looking at shutting down the lucrative C17 production line next summer. Once shut down, it's gone for good. So Boeing is doing everything it can to generate some more orders for the plane to keep the production line open and the money coming in.
Latest plan is to offer a Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) version of the plane. More wheels to spread the weight so it doesn't sink in to dirt fields, more engine power, bigger flaps. Might work, but does anyone really want to fly something that big. heavy and expensive into a dirt field? And risk ground looping it? The world is covered with real airfields, the kind with 5000 foot paved runways. Better is to fly the big long range C17 into a real airfield, and swap the cargo over to a real STOL aircraft like the old reliable C130. Air cargo all goes onto pallets with rollers on the bottom. It only takes minutes for the loadmaster to undo the tiedowns and roll the palletized cargo out the rear ramp onto a loader/crawler vehicle. The loader rumbles across the ramp to a C-130 and in a few minutes the cargo is all inside the C130.
Actually, in real life, the long range C17 coming in from the States has a mixed cargo intended for everyone in theater. So they cargo comes of the C17 and into a warehouse. The C130, going upcountry to supply troops off some bean patch, gets a mixed load of stuff off the C17, locally purchased food and drink, ammo that came in by ship last month, and whatever.
In short, the C17 is a good long range transport that needs STOL capabilty like a snake needs shoes.
Boeing needs to keep hoping that the project to rebuild and re engine the aging C5's gets scrapped and the Air Force uses the extra money to buy more C17's. That would probably be a better use of tax payer funds. C5 was a disaster when it was new. McNamara and his whiz kids managed to screw up the design beyond recovery. We would be better retiring it and going with something newer.

FAA plays gotcha with AD's. ( Aviation Week)

Herb Kelleher, Southwest's executive chairman, suggests compliance with airworthiness directives (AD) might be more effective if they were simplified. He was referring to 1,100 pages of six AD's covering the Boeing 737 fuselage cracks. Congresscritter James Oberstar (D-Minn) thought that unwise.
I think we just found the root cause of all those groundings. The airworthiness directives are unreadable garbage. No one can keep 1,100 pages of boilerplate in mind as he inspects a real airplane on a flightline. Hell, he can't even carry that much paper work out of the office. In real life, directions for crack inspection can be written in 10 pages, single spaced. In a former life I used to inspect aircraft and write inspection procedures. I never needed more than ten pages myself.
Once you have 1,100 pages of mush, a pissant inspector can find just about anything he wants, buried somewhere in the 1,100 pages. No matter what the line mechanics do, an inspector with 1,100 pages to play gotcha with can always find fault. Betcha the recent FAA grounding of American's fleet started with some pissant inspector playing gotcha with the mechanics.
I suggest we put the FAA out of the paperwork business. Have the engineering departments of the aircraft makers write the maintainance procedures for their products.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

To Gap or not to Gap (Medigap that is)

Decided to wade thru the forty pounds of stuff about health insurance that has piled up since my medicare eligibility hove into sight. Let's see. We have Medicare, Part A, which covers hospitalization and is actually free. There is Medicare Part B which covers some doctor's visits and some shots and tests. That's $93 out of your social security check. Doesn't cover annual physicals which are $500 a pop. Medicare, either sort, has pretty high deductibles.
If the high deductibles are scary there is a raft of private insurance out there that offers all sorts of coverage for all sorts of prices.
Then if you are onto expensive medicines, there is Medicare Part D,m newly passed, that buys your pills. With a deductible of course.
Question. Are the extra coverages worth the monthly fee? Do I have the energy to read thru all this stuff and figure out what they cost and what they return?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hollywood has forgotten how to mix the soundtracks

Watched "Revenge of the Sith" on DVD last night with teenaged children. Lucas needs to find a new sound man. He forgot the fundamental rule of sound mixing, MAKE THE DIALOG LOUDER THAN THE SCORE. Dialog was almost impossible to hear over score, sound effects, crashing space craft and what ever. This isn't the only recent movie to suffer from inept sound men, "Charlie Wilson's War" was just as bad.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Can McCain balance the Federal Budget?

McCain will extend the Bush tax cuts, declare a gasoline tax moratorium, lower capital gains, and increase individual income tax deductions. He plans to balance the budget by reducing Federal spending. Question, is there enough fat to cut?
Well let's see. $18 billion in pork. $11.5 billion for fancy presidential helicopters. $30 billion in farm subsidies. We could declare the Interstate Highway system complete and close down the highway trust fund. That is good for $100 billion a year savings. Repeal the "energy bill" which is a $30 billion subsidy to the oil companies. Drop the ethanol subsidy. That's about $190 billion in savings right there. There is surely more.

Surprise, retired military officers remain pro military

The Lehrer news hour did a length piece concerning retired military officers servicing as military commentators on the TV news. The piece was kicked off by a NY Times story (which I haven't read) which charged that all the military commentators on TV had received friendly treatment, briefings, junkets to Iraq, and other favors from the Pentagon. The NYT guy on the program called this illegal tampering with a free press. The officers in question were being buttered up to push the Administration's story over the air. This was illegal, unnatural, unconstitutional, and fattening.
Wow. What planet do NYT reporters live on? Does any grownup fail to understand that a retiree who has spent his working life in the service will share his service's view of things when he starts speaking as a TV pundit? And, I wouldn't have it any other way. I want military officers who are loyal to their branch of service. A guy who retires and then opines that we are doing it all wrong, the generals are losing the war, and we ought to quit, wasn't much of an officer on active service. Any how, the NYT is still outraged to find out what the rest of us know, that US officers are pro military and favor victory. And that they have friends still on active duty who give them valuable information.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Plastic turf scare mongering on Fox News

Just this minute Megyn Kelly was doing a story on toxic artificial turf (Astroturf). Some one has claimed the stuff is bad for kids. Fox did not tell us who made the claim, the chemical name of the bad stuff, the amount of the unnamed bad stuff in the plastic grass. All we got was an interview with a doctor who recommended we all watch our children for any sort of ill health.
Right. Watch your kids, and when they get sick blame the Astroturf. They will get sick sooner or later, that's part of being a kid. Salem witches were burned on this kind of "evidence". At least we won't burn the Astroturf, too much air pollution.

Today is tax free day

I got that in an email from Senator Sununu this morning. According to someone's calculation as of today you have earned enough to pay your income taxes, the rest of the year your are working for yourself.
Now that the pain of doing my 1040's has faded somewhat, let's talk tax simplification. I'd be willing to give up all deductions, tax credits, dependent allowances, and other loopholes in return for a lower tax rate. Over the years, after days of staring at the forms, the rules, J.K. Lasser, and oceans of canceled checks, in th end, I wind up paying 17% of my real earnings. It would save me a sentence of hard time at the 1040, if all I had to do was multiple my earning by 0.17.
All those tax loopholes are in there cause we use the tax code to subsidize home ownership, raising families, oil companies, stock brokers, and any body who hires lobbyists to get a special tax break written into law.
It would be fairer to all if we dumped all the special rules. It would sure ease the pain of filling out the forms.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The search for XP

Youngest son needs a new laptop for Brooklyn Polytechnic, where he will be starting in the fall. Polytech offered a Lenovo T61 with Vista thru the student union for $1900. The Lenovo website offered the same machine for $1080. Some searching found a Dell with XP on it for $1100. XP was the deal maker, neither son nor I wanted to touch Vista with a ten foot pole. Thinking that Microsoft may drive XP off the marker completely, we ordered now, before the last XP machines are gone.
How Microsoft managed to bungle Vista is a story that needs telling some where.
The effort to retrofit XP into a Vista machine is unknown. The drivers, tiny bits of software that pass intructions down to the hardware, had to be rewritten for Vista. So a Vista machine will have Vista drivers, that probably won't work under XP. In principle the necessary XP drivers can be found on the Internet, but that is not guaranteed.
This is the second time this year that a child has needed a laptop and managed to avoid Vista there on.

Rupert Murdock reshapes the Wall St Journal

Yesterday's WSJ had the editorial page all revised, fewer editorials, letters to the editor moved onto the editorial page and taking up half the page, and an op-ed by Murdock himself. Today's front page story announces the "resignation" of the Journal's editor. According to the story Murdock wants less long in depth stories and more quick snappy news bites. I don't think he has ruined the paper yet. Lets see what happens next.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Russians are coming

How does NASA plan to get astronauts up and down from the International Space Station after the Shuttle is retired in 2010? Simple. The Russians fly them in the Soyuz capsule.
NASA has been buying space transportation services from the Russians under an exemption to the Iran, North Korea and Syria Non proliferation Act. The congressional exemption expires in the fall o 2011. NASA wants Congress to permit continued purchase of rides for U.S. space station crew members on Soyuz vehicles.
Wow. We passed a law lumping the Russians in with the most unsavory regimes on the planet and then we authorize an exemption. Does that improve our relations with Moscow or what?
Only in America.

Pricey Choppers

The President is getting a new helicopter, the VH71, to fly him from the White House to Andrews AFB, where he can board Air Force 1. The program is going to cost $11.2 billion dollars. They will buy four test aircraft and 23 operational aircraft at a price of $414 million dollars per aircraft. Wow. $414 million will buy TWO brand new 747's. That's one pricey helicopter.
And of course we need 27 aircraft standing alert just to fly one president out to Andrews.
The choppers will be hardened against electromagnetic pulse and directed energy weapons, and have every kind of radio ever invented. The comm system is spec'd to allow the president to talk to any federal agency at any time with secure data and voice. The republic might fall if the president has to wait til he boards Air Force 1 in order to talk to the White House travel agency.
Could this be military-industrial welfare?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Paul Valar, old man of the mountains, put to rest today

Paul Valar, the grand old man of New Hampshire skiing, was put to rest today. Paul was a ski racer, who married another ski racer in the 1940's. Since then Paul and Paula ran the Cannon Mt and Mittersill ski schools, run a ski shop, bought and operated a Vermont dairy farm, authored the American Ski Technique book, started the Professional Ski Instructors Association, and raised four daughters.
Services were at the White Mountain School, at which he and Paula had taught. The crowd was huge. All the Franconia skiers showed up, the school grounds were parked up solid. Weather was perfect, good eulogies from the four daughters and some old friends.
Paul was a serious builder of the New Hampshire ski scene, a decent gentleman, and a fine teller of stories. We won't see anyone like him for a long time.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bethlehem dump feud

Another twist in the long standing Bethlehem dump feud. By a one vote margin (3 to 2) the Bethlehem selectmen voted to support passage of House Bill 1429. On the surface this is an anti dump state law that would require host community agreements between private landfills and towns, and more permits for landfill expansion. There are only two private landfills in the state, one of them being the Casella operation in Bethlehem. HB 1429 is sponsored by State Rep Martha McCleod, in response to widespread citizen desire to close the landfill. Looks like the pro dump faction in Bethlehem still has some life in it.

One had giveth, the other hand taketh

The Littleton Opera House is a glorious Victorian wood building, standing upon a commanding site, in the middle of town, over looking the river. It used to house the Littleton police dept, the town museum, and some town offices. Back in 2005 some humorless structural engineer declared the entire building unsafe and in danger of falling into the river. The town moved the police dept out, closed the museum and the Opera House has been standing empty for the last three years.
It will take a million or more dollars, which Littleton doesn't have, to fix the building up to modern standards. US Senator Judd Greg did whatever senators do, and a sizable Federal grant come thru to fix up the Opera House. Plans were drawn, a contractor selected and work was about to start.
Then disaster struck, by email. "The funding may be in jeopardy if the town doesn't comply with any and all requirements. " Starting with a review by the NH State Preservation Officer because the Opera House is a historic structure. Zap, project on hold till the paper work gets done. "any and all requirements" means a never ending load of paperwork. By the time the first load is accomplished, some bureaucrat will invent more paperwork.
Clearly the Opera House project has acquired some enemies from somewhere. This is surprising, 'cause I thought everyone in Littleton was in favor doing the project. Maybe someone wants the Opera House gone, so they can buy the land to erect something tasteful like a fast food place?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

CIA follies, Part 2

I forgot to mention the CIA's destruction of any chance of diplomatic or economic pressure against Iran's nuclear program. When CIA said the Iranian's aren't building nukes early this year, the efforts to talk the Iranians out of a nuclear weapons program collapsed, probably for good. CIA bureaucrats managed to torpedo American diplomatic efforts.
I also forgot to mention the CIA's ever so helpful efforts to give credibility to Osama bin Laden's propaganda. Every time bin Laden releases a tape to the media, CIA jumps right out in front and validates the tape as genuine. Instead of allowing the natural doubts about bin Laden's very existance in this world to grow, they tell the world that good old bin Laden must be alive and well. Our enemies, hearing this, think "Well, if the Americans say the tape is genuine, it must be, because the Americans have every reason to declare it fake".

The tax man cometh, via internet

Our Congress critters are planning to tax sales over the Internet. CNET has the story here. I'm against it for two reasons. 1. I don't want to give yet more of my fixed retirement income to the government. 2. The complexities of doing state sales tax are so bad that only the biggies like Amazon will be able to do it. The small sellers, the Ebay sellers, like me, will be driven off the net.

Welcoming the Pope

Watched the Pope arrive at Andrews Air Force Base yesterday. Clearly we Americans are going all out to make the Pope feel welcome. Red carpet, on a roll, with uniformed Air Force men rolling it out. An honor guard, looking sharp despite motley uniforms (inter service rivalry never ends), and well worn M14 rifles. The M14 is nearly as ceremonia a weapon as the halbards the Swiss guard carries. President of the US, plus wife and children meet the Pope at the airport. Small but friendly and enthusiastic crowds. It doesn't get much better than this.
I think it's fitting to honor the Pope, he is a lot more holy than I will ever be.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Defending the CIA by Paul Pillar

Paul Pillar, ex CIA agent and wannabe pundit reviews three books about the CIA in the March issure of Foriegn Affairs. "Legacy of Ashes" by Tim Weiner and "Spying Blind" by Amy Zegart, both critical of CIA are condemned. "Enemies of Intelligence" by Richard Betts is supportive of CIA and Paul has good words for it. Pillar explains that intelligence is a tough business and you can't expect to always get it right, and successes remain secret but failures are broadcast. He criticizes the author's sources, claiming they are too old or take too much from the 9/11 commission report or Pillar considers them biased. I haven't read any of the books mentioned so I cannot really argue about them, but I don't trust Pillar much.
In actual fact, CIA has been a disaster in recent years. They leaked the Glomar Explorer salvage of a Russian submarine to Seymour Hersch at the New York Times. CIA completely failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. CIA failed to warn of 9/11. CIA furnished the evidence that Colin Powell took to the United Nations justifying invasion of Iraq. CIA failed to have a single agent on the ground inside Iraq. CIA said Saddam's nuclear weapons were " A slamdunk". CIA has spent the last eight years attempting to destabilize the Bush Administration by press leaks. CIA set up the damaging Valerie Plame affair. CIA revealed the extent of NSA wiretapping against Al Quada, revealed that NSA was reading Bin Laden's satellite phone, and revealed that the US Treasury department was using the international banking system to track Al Quada money transfers. CIA continues to operate out of US embassies abroad, making their agents easy to trace.
We ought to shut CIA down and save money. All our intelligence comes from NSA intercepts and recon satellites. CIA furnishes little intelligence, much of it is wrong, and nobody really believes anything coming out of CIA any more, be it right or wrong. After so many wrong calls, who in their right mind would trust CIA intelligence?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Alternate Energy, reduced carbon foot print, Nuclear Power

Was listening to Joe Leibermann explaining a "Alternate Energy Bill" that he is sponsoring. The newsie asked Leibermann if John McCain was ready to support the bill. Surprise. Leibermann said McCain refused to support the bill unless it contained language favoring nuclear energy.
All Right. Way to go. Nuclear has zero carbon footprint, nuclear will keep my lights on after the sun goes down, and it works every day, even if the wind doesn't blow. And it's safe. In fifty years no one has been hurt by nuclear power. Three Mile Island didn't hurt anyone, despite all the press coverage.
Alternate power from sunlight or wind isn't dependable. You don't get any solar power after the sun sets, and you don't get any wind power on a calm day. The electric company has to supply power after dark and on calm days. Building wind and solar plants is a waste of money, 'cause they have to build coal or gas fired plants as well to supply power all the time. That means spending double the money.
I'm glad McCain is willing to ignore mouthy greens and support the only alternative power scheme that will actually generate real power.

McCain cannot be bought . Causes lag in fundraising

Last figures I saw had Obama and Clinton both raising nearly twice as much money as John McCain. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. A lot of campaign money is given to buy "access". If you have have donated serious money to a man's campaign, he will probably answer his phone when you call. And after listening to your pitch, there is a chance that he will actually get out there and do something for you. Certainly Hillary can be swayed by money. Probably Barack as well.
How about flinty old John McCain? Not very likely. Every knows that McCain is his own man and does his own thing. So why bother to buy access to a man who isn't going to do what you ask?
Is that the reason for the lag in fund raising?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

NH working to raise the price of lightbulbs

Concord is mulling over banning incandescent lamps (plain old light bulbs) to save electricity. But why? The compact fluorescent bulb saves enough electricity to pay for itself in 400 hours of burning. That's figured on 10 cent a kilowatt hour electricity and $4 for a new compact fluorescent. Sales of compact fluorescents are strong, clearly people have heard the word and are converting over to the more efficient lamps. No government policy needed, the economics are driving the change over.
Why outlaw the plain old bulbs when the new bulbs are taking over anyhow? There are plenty of bulbs in the world that only light up for brief intervals, and use negligible amounts of electricity. Consider the light inside your refrigerator. It doesn't stay on very long, but let it burn out, and you cannot find the milk, let alone something way in the back. There are a lot of light bulbs like that in out buildings, cellars, attics, and other seldom visited places. If an owner chooses to replace such a bulb with a 75 cent incandescent rather than a $4 compact fluorescent why not? Think of all the decorative fixtures and appliances that require small incandescent lamps. Is it fair to require the owners to to junk these things when the bulb burns out? Will I be able to buy replacement lamps to fit my Christmas light string?
Or is banning incandescent lamps just a way for politicians to make a feel good gesture toward greenness with out spending any state money? Or does it cater to the natural desire to boss people around just for the sake of bossing.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Is the FAA targeting American Airlines?

American's fleet of MD-80's, which have been carrying passengers for 20 years, all of a sudden became unsafe to fly, with American canceling hundreds of flights and stranding 250,000 passengers.
How come the sudden change from reliable passenger hauler to safety of flight hangar queen? Could it be the FAA inspectors have a grudge against American? And after the Oberstar house hearings last week, no one is going to challenge a line inspector on anything.
According to the Wall St Journal, the MD-80 furore involves the spacing of wire tiedown clips (Adel clamps) . FAA was complaining that the clips weren't on a ONE INCH spacing. In a prior life I was a flight line supervisor. If the wire bundles were secured with Adel clamps every 12 inches we were happy. I never heard of any aircraft requiring tiedown clamps on a one inch spacing. The clamps are 1/2 inch wide, space them every inch and you might as well put the wires into conduit.
The Air Worthiness directive that caused all this trouble was only issued in early March. Surely they might allow a little more time to comply with an Air Worthiness directive without grounding the MD-80 fleet and stranding 250,000 passengers.
Then the the paper pushers came up for air. FAA will now allow carriers to submit their their interpretations of maintenance rules to the FAA for approval before they instruct their mechanics. This ain't right. Aircraft are maintained by the book. There is one book for each aircraft, written by the maker's engineering department. We don't write separate books for each airline. let alone have FAA approve each airline's special book. We stick to the right book, with no variations. Sounds like FAA is demanding each airline paraphrase the maker's book and submit the paraphrases for FAA approval. That will keep a bunch of GS paper pushers employed for decades.
Aircraft are complex, and no one on the flight line pretends that he knows everything about the aircraft. Instead, everyone has a copy of the book. When questions as to proper procedure arise (and they do, trust me) everyone pulls down their copy of the book. And complies with it. No arguments. If it's in the book, we do it by the book. And we have one book for everyone. Even FAA inspectors should be going by the book. They should not be re writing the book.
Good thing I don't fly much any more. Bad enough they want me to take off my shoes. Worse they now cancel my flight and leave me stuck at the airport.

The Second Civil War Ronald Brownstein

Sub titled "How extreme partisanship has paralyzed Washington and polarized America." It's a very recent book (2007) . It gives an interesting account of the politics of the last 20 years. For those that lived thru the period, it is a good nostalgic read. The author describes the "great sorting out" when the Solid South decided to leave the democratic party and join the republicans. In the good old days, the solid south voted democratic, and had done so ever since the Civil War. The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 was pushed thru by the national democratic party, over the dead bodies of the southern democrats. After that, southerners found they could join the republican party without causing total revulsion among their neighbors.
The result was the conservative southern democrats joined the conservative republican party, and the moderate republicans from the northeast switched to the liberal democratic party. The result was considerable more unity in the two national parties. By the 1990's the division between the parties in Congress was as sharp and rancorous as it had been before the Civil War. The strength of the two parties was fairly equal by the '90's so controversial legislation had little chance of passage.
The author decries this as total gridlock and calls for a return to the more mellow 1950's. I fail to agree with this viewpoint. I see the great sorting out as clarifying the issues to the voters. In the mellow 1950's it was hard for citizens, even real news junkies, to know what their party stood for, and what it might do if elected. Today the choices for the voters are more understandable.
The author does not discuss the rise of contentious issues since the 1960's. Things like drugs, abortion, gay rights, and immigration just were not issues in the 1950's and 60's. They hadn't been invented yet. When you have more contentious issues on the table you are going to have a more polarized electorate. The other thing the author fails to discuss is the fading of the unity forced upon us by the great challenges of the depression and World War II, and the Soviets. Twenty years of facing down existential challenges will foster a lot of political unity.
The author is a reporter for the Los Angles Times, and once co authored a book with Ralph Nader. His liberal sympathies seep out in the text.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Petraeus-Crocker hearings

C-Span carried the hearings live. General Petraeus looked and sounded good. Crocker did OK, although there were a couple of times where he should have answered "Yes' or "No" and didn't. Ranking committee member John McCain was impressive. McCain's questions where real questions, which prompted the witness (Petraeus) to offer more and useful information. The committee democrats just made anti-war speeches. The democrats tried hard to get Petraeus and Crocker to commit to a withdrawal date, but they wisely refused. You don't tell the enemy when you plan to go home, that just makes the enemy hunker down until you leave him in charge.
Crocker is negotiating a "status of forces" agreement with the Iraqi government. The UN resolution that OK'ed the US invasion will expire end of this year. "Status of Forces" is the usual agreement between our government and foreign governments that allows armed US troops into said foreign country. Such agreements usually spell out legal jurisdictions, does a US soldier have to face the local justice when crimes are alleged? We try hard to put in a clause that give the US Army jurisdiction, but that doesn't always fly with the locals. Interesting point, Crocker said the status of forces agreement would be handled by executive order without the advice and consent of the US senate. Most of the existing status of forces agreements were handled as real treaties needing Senate OK. This might give rise to more Senate grandstanding before the election.
Petraeus and Crocker feel that the recent shootouts in Basra and other places represents the Maliki government getting strong enough to take out the militias, which is a good thing even if taking them out leads to a bit of mortar fire into the Green Zone.

Defeat the Granite State Fair Tax Coalition

They want to strip away the powers of cities and towns and give them to Concord. Behind seductive talk of lowering property taxes they call for rejection of “The Pledge”. Translation, give Concord a sales tax and state income tax like they have in Massachusetts, and Concord will stop skimming our property taxes.

Concord started skimming to pay for the State Supreme Court mandated equal school funding. Before that bit of judge made law came down, Concord managed to struggle by on the Liquor Commission profits.

New Hampshire could put things to rights very simply. Amend the state constitution to put schools back under the control of the cities and towns, where it was before the court changed the rules.

Cities and towns will get more education done for less money than Concord could. Local school boards, facing skeptical tax paying citizens, many of whom they know personally, will strike a better balance between expenditures and revenues. Questions about the proper place of athletics, shop classes, music, art, a ski team, and the whole host of other issues, are best handled at the local level.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Secrets of fine wood finishing

For a paint finish, things haven't changed much over the years. Although a bright finish (varnish,shellac,oil) shows off the wood to advantage, some pieces call for the opaque finish of paint. Especially things made of ordinary lumberyard wood (pine) as opposed to expensive hardwood.
For openers, fill cracks, gaps in joints and finishing nail holes with wood filler. Smooth the wood filler with a putty knife. Give the filler some time to dry and then sand the whole thing. Walmart has Black & Decker 1/4 sheet orbital sanders for $30. The power tool takes a lot of the curse out of sanding. 120 grit paper is about right, coarse enough to cut the wood and fine enough that the scratches won't show thru the first coat.
First coat is thinned down shellac, to act as a sealer. The grain in wood is layers of harder and softer wood. The softwood soaks up more paint than the hardwood and causes the grain to show thru the paint layers. The sealer soaks into the soft and hard wood, and prevents to top color coat from soaking deeply into the wood. You take plain store bought shellac and cut it 50-50 with shellac thinner (denatured alcohol). The thinned shellac will soak deeply into the fresh wood.
Let the shellac dry hard, overnight at least. Although shellac dries tack free in less than an hour, you want to give it plenty of time to get good and hard so it won't clog the sandpaper when you sand it. The dries shellac coat will be rough to the touch. What's happened is tiny wood fibers that were soft and flexible have gotten hard and bristly thru the shellac drying and hardening then. Sand every thing with 220 grit sand paper until it feels glass smooth. If the sandpaper cuts down thru the shellac to the wood it doesn't matter much, the thinned shellac is still in the wood pores.
Wipe down the sanded piece with a rag dampened in mineral spirits to catch all the sanding dust and then put on the first coat of paint. I don't trust water based or latex paint. I look for a gloss oil based paint. Rust Oleum or Larcaloid has worked for me, but any oil based gloss enamel works. Avoid lacquer unless you have a paint sprayer. Lacquer dries so fast that the brushmarks don't have time to level. Lest the paint dry over night.
Sand the first coat of paint with 220 grit. Wipe the dust down with the same rag moistened in mineral spirits. Then apply t he second coat, let dry and you are done, if you want a glossy surface. For a more sophisticated matte finish, you sand the last coat with 220 grit and then give it a coat of paste wax. Butcher's wax is good. Avoid car wax, it contains silicone to which nothing will ever stick, making a recoat in later years peel off.

Sunday Pundits

An earnest young thing on George Stephanoplis' show this morning argued that American withdrawal from Iraq would improve things. She proposed that lacking Americans to shoot at, the Iraqi shooters would hang up their guns and go home. Good old Cokie Roberts said "I don't think the American electorate accepts that view".
I think Cokie has it right there.

The Eco Fair

I drove over to the great north country Eco Fair, held at the Profile High School yesterday (Saturday). The parking lot was all parked up and cars were parked up and down Rt 18 for quite a distance. It being 11 o'clock, peak hour on a Saturday, I didn't bother to look from a closer in parking space, it was too early for anyone to have left. As I walked up the long line of parked cars I took note of what people were driving. Answer: Mostly Honda and Toyota. The few Detroit made vehicles were full size 3/4 ton pickups. No Detroit sedans at all.
Inside the school gym were vendors, ecological science displays from local school children, various pitchmen, and every one from The town of Franconia. I met Martha McCleod, Ken King, Paul and Karen Foss, plus John and Maggie Starr. Clearly there is interest in saving energy, which up here means saving $3.89 a gallon furnace oil.
Products on display. Several vendors offered a neat "build an insulated concrete wall" system. Sheets of 2 inch styrofoam insulation with plastic spacer gizmos. The spacers hold the styrofoam sheets about 6 inches apart and have pockets for the rebar. Concrete is poured inbetween the two styrofoam sheets, and when it hardens presto, a poured concrete cellar with 2 inches of sytrofoam insulation both inside and out. Since concrete by itself has zero insulating value, this is an improvement.
Then the high efficiency light folks were out in force. The local power company (PSNH) was selling them at the door for $1 a piece. At that price they make sense. An ordinary 100 watt (0.1KW) light bulb lasts 1000 hours which means it burns 100 kilowatt hours over its life. At 10 cents a kilowatt hour, the ordinary bulb uses $10 worth of electricity. The compact fluorescent bulbs use only one quarter of that, so you recover the $1 price of the bulb in the first 150 hours of lighting. Then there was a kitchen appliance maker promising tremendous savings from their products. Unfortunately they did not bring samples to the show, so it was hard to get excited about them.
Then we had vendors of solar hot water heat and windmills. Not present, vendors of "solar cell on the roof" do it your self electric systems.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Fox & Friends, Life on Mars is a joke

Fox & Friends Megyn Kelly and Bill Hemmer tried to do a life on Mars story this morning. They opened with an enigmatic photo of something fibrous and crawly. The voice over was confused, and failed the who,where,when, what & why test. They failed to mention who took the photo, what is the photo of, where the photo came from, when it was released. Then they flipped up a Mars orbiter picture of some terrain on Mars, but failed to connect the two pictures. At this point Megyn Kelley, the cute blonde who works a 14 hour day said she didn't understand the story, and would have no hope of understanding it. Hemmer then opined that until he saw a flying saucer he wouldn't understand anything.
In this one botched story the two of them managed to convince me that neither of them knew, understood, or cared about, interplanetary exploration. They also managed to show that they had never taken even high school science. They are cute and handsome, but empty headed and ignorant.
I guess they got their jobs thru charm and good looks rather than intelligence.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

FAA accused of lax aircraft inspections

CSPAN covered the FAA hearings live. The House transportation committee held hearings about FAA inspections and the Southwest Airlines $10 million dollar fine. Something has gone wrong with FAA. The committee heard from a bunch of working level FAA inspectors, the guys who are supposed to walk the flight line and hangers looking at airplanes, and make sure they are air worthy. The working stiffs all accused FAA senior management of suppressing inspections, supressing reports of bad aircraft maintenance, and giving airlines the OK to fly passengers in planes that were out of compliance (planes that had not been inspected or reworked in accordance with air worthiness directives).
This is fairly bad. "The air, even more than the sea, is terribly unforgiving of the smallest mistake". I spent six years doing aircraft maintenance for USAF. On the flight line we all knew that if the plane broke in flight, the aircrew could die. That was a tremendous incentive to do things right lest you bear the guilt of causing a fatal aircraft accident. This attitude goes all around the aviation business. I'm sure Southwest's maintenance guys have it.
But then there are operational pressures. "We need that airplane to fly a mission today. If we can't fly it we will have to cancel a scheduled flight and leave our passengers stranded in the airport".
That aircraft is in good shape except an air worthiness directive hasn't been complied with yet.
The air worthiness directive says something like "After 5000 landings, inspect wiring in a hard to get to place for chafing. " Hard to get to might mean drilling out rivets and pulling off sheet metal, might take a day to pull the plane apart, inspect the wiring and then put it back together again. The plane has exactly 5000 landings.
A reasonable man might decide that nobody is going to get hurt if the plane makes a few more landings before the inspection.
On the other hand, if short cuts are permitted here, then soon enough they will be permitted there, and somewhere else, and pretty soon anything goes. The job of the FAA inspector is to say "No short cuts, ever".
According to testimony I watched on CSPAN, senior FAA management was permitting short cuts, over the objections of the line inspectors.
Time for a new FAA administrator and laying off the top two or three layers of FAA management.

Income Tax Break for Intelligence Agents (aka spies)?

I just finished the yearly chore of doing income tax. I'd rather clean out a stopped up toilet. Be that as it may, I read the instructions, and I found a new-this-year tax break (tax loophole?) just for "intelligence agents", presumably civil servants working for CIA or NSA.
Why do they get a special tax break? A reward for the excellent intelligence they have furnished over the years? Because of the extraordinary dangers they face driving into the office every day?
Or did the intelligence community blackmail congressmen by threatening to reveal dirty laundry in public?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Fairpoint to pay 13.5% interest. From my phone bill.

Union Leader article says Fairpoint deal is going thru even though Wall St is demanding 13.5% interest on the $500 million loan Fairpoint is taking out to pay Verizon for the northern New England telephone system.
Wow. That's gonna hurt us bad. If the loan is only $500 mil, then Fairpoint will pay $67 million in pure interest per year. Guess where they are going to get that money? Where else but out of my telephone bill? What ever happened to usury laws?
It may be worse. The Union Leader article said the whole deal is $2.3 billion, of which Fairpoint only borrows $0.5 billion. Where the other $1.8 billion was coming from was not disclosed. I doubt that Fairpoint has that much cash on hand, so they are borrowing it from somewhere. Where and for how much is not disclosed either.

Reform or re arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic

Yesterday Treasury Secretary Paulson proposed a big re-organization of the Federal bureaucracy that regulates banks, brokerages, thrifts and insurance companies, in short the financial industry. And in fact, the number of bureau do seem excessive. We have the FDIC, the Federal Reserve, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift regulation, the SEC, a commodities trading office, and probably more. Of these, the Federal Reserve is the most powerful, they can actually write checks, rather than just memo's and regulations. A check is something that makes people really pay attention.
However, more important than how the paper gets shuffled, is some basic financial policies. The financial system is doing good when it raises the money to build factories, roads, schools, hospitals, single family homes, or even finance the purchase of new cars. It is doing bad when it acts like casino gambling, merely swapping assets and "securities" back and forth between Wall St players like a poker game.
Policies for the financial industry should encourage the raising of capital and discourage gambling.
First new policy. Declare mortgages to be a deal between a borrower and a lender only. Lenders shall not sell or trade mortgages. The bank that writes a mortgage is required to keep it on their books until paid off. This rule would make banks evaluate the creditworthiness of the borrower and the market value of the property and get it right, because if they don't get it right it costs the lender real money. The sub prime crisis that is pushing the US into recession was caused by banks writing shaky mortgages and then selling them to gullible investors. So, prohibit trading in mortgages.
Second new policy. Business will keep just one set of books. Right now they keep one set of books showing great profit to impress investors, to make them buy the company's stock. The
other set of books shows how little money they made. They show this set of books to the taxman. This is even legal. One set of books is all we need. If the company made money, it should pay tax there on.
Third new policy. Lenders will quote interest rates in just one way, namely percent of original loan, per year. Right now, my little rural bank has a sign advertising rates on loans. Each interest rate is given two ways, differing by a tenth of a percent. If a little rural bank is quoting interest two ways, imagine how many ways the big city slicker banks can confuse the issue. There ought to be one standard way to quote interest rates to permit comparison shopping in a meaningful way.
Fourth new policy. Everything must be on the company/bank balance sheet. No more inventing fancy IOU's (mortgage backed securities) and not showing them as a liability on the balance sheet. They are liabilities, 'cause the holders can return them and demand cash. Big banks made their balance sheets look better with trickery that moved the fancy IOU's off the balance sheet.

So who is suffering from the subprime mess?

Obviously banks, brokerages, and investors have been burned to a crisp. On the other hand, I don't feel too bad for them, they were dumb or greedy or both. How about the homeowners? How many sub prime borrowers are there? How many of them deserve our compassion, and a bailout? How many are speculators who bought the house to flip it? How many would be better off mailing the keys to the bank and walking away from a gigantic mortgage that is way more than the house is worth? How many can refinance and come out with lower mortgage payments?
Does any one know? Who would be honest about it? I wouldn't want to trust anything I heard from a mortgage broker. The newsies are clueless as usual.
The price of houses is going down. That's good news for those who need a house, 'cause of a child, or another child, or a new job in another town. It's not so good news from home owners.
Why are house prices going down? Partly 'cause the price of a house is set by how much the banks is willing to lend on it. Back when there were gullible investors to take the subprime mortgage backed "bonds" the bank didn't care how much it loaned on a house, cause it would sell the mortgage, and come away with cash. The investors have wised up, so the banks are going back to previous lending standards. This means they will no longer write humongous mortages on cheap new tract houses.