Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Write your Senator

I am snail mailing this to my senator. Even though she is a hopeless greenie democrat, I will invest a 44 cent stamp. If enough of us write our senators maybe we can stop this catastrophe in the Senate.

US Senator Jeanne Shaheen,
520 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator,

Please vote against the Cap & Tax energy bill that just passed the house.
First of all, you haven’t read it and your staff hasn’t read it. The bill is 1200 pages of legal gobbledygook, and no one has a clue as to how bad it will be. Or what bad things lurk in the darker corners of a document written with an eye to obfustication.
Second, raising the cost and reducing the availability of energy is a jobs killer. Industry creates jobs, and industry uses energy. It needs process heat, electro chemistry power, transportation fuels, electricity for machinery, lights, ventilation, and furnaces. Make energy scarce and expensive and industries go out of business, scale back operations or move over seas, throwing people out of work.
Third, raising the price of heating oil, gasoline, electricity and firewood hurts people like me, and especially people living on fixed incomes.
Fourth, global warming ended in 1999. World temperatures have been falling since then. Carbon dioxide is not the main greenhouse gas, water vapor is. The atmosphere holds between 10000 and 40000 parts per million of water vapor, where as carbon dioxide is 360 parts per million, too small to make a difference. Of that 360 parts per million, only 60 parts per million comes from burning fossil fuels. Even reducing man made carbon dioxide emissions to zero will have no effect on global warming.
Fifth, the cap & tax bill will subject us to oceans of expensive government mandated paperwork and create an army of government bureaucrats with power to forbid new construction, forbid purchase of vehicles, forbid repair of heating plants, forbid road construction and repair, forbid logging, forbid farming, and who knows what else. Economic activity will be slowed or stopped by bureaucrats armed with 1200 pages of vaguely written federal law.
Please vote against this disastrous bill because it will throw people out of work, raise prices, slow economic growth, and will not do a thing about global warming. Let’s not kneecap the economy for no reason.


Monday, June 29, 2009

New Hampshire spends porkulus money

Drove down I93 to Manchester and back. They are resurfacing I93 again. Big signs around Ashland explaining how all this goodness is brought to us by the American R-something and R-something-else Act, otherwise known as the $787 billion porkulus bill. I didn't slow down enough to read all the fine print on the signs.
Of course this stretch of I93 was resurfaced only three summers ago and is in pretty good shape. But if Uncle Sam offers free money you might as well spend it.

Cap & Tax will create green jobs. Right

David Axelrod was on the Sunday pundit shows explaining that the Cap & Tax bill, that just squeaked thru the house was going to create "green jobs". Sure it will. Alternate energy supplies about 1 percent of US energy consumption. Grow it by a factor of 10 and it's still only 10 percent. Is that going to equal the jobs lost from the one hundred times larger conventional energy industries, plus the job losses that will occur when the price of all kinds of energy goes up? Industry needs energy, for process heat, to run the machines, to heat and light the factories, to synthesize and refine materials, to fuel the transportation, just about everywhere. Raise the price of energy and the industry will leave for overseas, cut back, or go out of business.
Industry is what supplies the jobs. Hurt industry and you get unemployment.
No way will the jobs making windmills and installing solar collectors come anywhere near to the jobs lost thruout the rest of the economy.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Waxman Markey is to Smoot Hawley as ?

Yesterday the House passed the Waxman Markey cap & tax bill by a mere 7 votes. Eight RINO's voted for this disastrous bill. They are:

The eight Republicans registering 'yes' votes are likely to draw heat from their party's leadership. Those members are Reps. Mary Bono Mack (CA), Mike Castle (DE), Steven Kirk (IL), John McHugh (NY), Leonard Lance (NJ), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Dave Reichert (WA), and Chris Smith (NJ).

Voters in CA,DE,IL,NY,NJ, and WA should remember in November.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Words of the Weasel Part 9

"Budget Cut". Used by politicians to distract attention from the fact that they will spend more this year than last year. Has no objective definition. The more they spend the more "budget cuts" they announce.

"Passed away" or more crudely "Passed". Used by people too squeamish to say "died". Farrah Fawcett "passed" today. The TV newsies never say die.

Trash the international space station in 2016?

From Aviation Week:
"NASA hopes it can use untested commercial vehicles to fill a 60 metric ton cargo shortfall in resupplying the International Space Station until 2016 when it plans to drop the $100 billion orbiting lab in the Pacific Ocean for lack of funding."

One hell of a lead sentence. Two bombshells before we get to the period at the end of the sentence. There are plenty of fully tested commercial vehicles. They launch commercial communications satellites every other week. NASA could use those. Then announcing plans to scrap the frightfully expensive ISS in just 7 years is a real bombshell too. First I'd heard of it. Seems a shame to waste all that money. They just finished the station last week and now they say it's toast in just seven years? If we dump ISS you can scratch any plans for a Mars trip. Any space craft large enough to go to Mars is too large to blast off from Cape Canaveral. It needs to be hauled up to orbit in pieces and assembled in free fall. No ISS, no in orbit assembly.

"Gary P. Pulliam, vice president of civil and commercial operations at The Aerospace Corp., briefed the panel on his organization's finding that it will be possible to human rate a Delta IV heavy launch vehicle to carry the Orion crew exploration vehicle for about $3 billion LESS than it will cost to finish Aries I."

Buzz Aldrin agrees that Aries is a bad deal.

Aries is a new rocket design to support manned space missions after the Space Shuttle is retired next year. Despite using Shuttle engines and solid rocket boosters, Aries is not expected to fly for 5 years. Right now Aries has a serious vibration problem, serious enough to shake the rivets out of it, and no fix in sight. In the mean time the US will purchase rocket tickets to the ISS from Russia.
Delta IV is in service right now, has as much or more lift than Aries I. The price of Delta IV will go down if NASA buys some of them, economies of scale. The "human rating" means doing a lot of NASA paperwork, it doesn't mean changing anything real in Delta IV. Due to the company ruining cost of a failed satellite launch, commercial satellite launchers are built as reliably as we know how. The early astronauts rode ballistic missiles (Atlas, Thor, Titan) into space. Delta IV in 2009 is a whole bunch safer ride than an Atlas in 1962. In fact, given Aries vibration problem, Delta IV will be a safer ride than Aries I.
Many in the industry think NASA has lost it's way. And under an Obama administration it is unlikely to find it any time soon.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nuclear power science fiction

Wall St Journal today had an op ed extolling the virtues of a new type of nuclear fission reactor. It's small and wonderful and the author, a Mr. Metcalfe is a venture capital guy involved in the development somehow.
According to Metcalfe conventional nuclear plants use weapons grade fuel. Actually they don't. And Mr. Metcalfe and the WSJ should know that. Metcalfe is a trustee at MIT and recipient of the National Medal of Technology, a venture capitalist involved in nuclear power, and he lacks the faintest idea how power reactors are built. I took two semesters of reactor design many years ago, and I know what's possible and what's science fiction. Mr. Metcalfe is pushing science fiction.

Remind me not to invest with Mr. Metcalfe's firm (Polaris Venture Partners in Waltham Mass).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

DC Subway Crash

There is some talk running around the net about the age and condition of the subway cars that crashed.
Doubtful. Railcars last forever, especially stainless steel ones. The air brakes were invented in 1880 and work just fine in 2009. One train rear ended another, which means the following train ran a block signal AND failed to see the other train in time. Or the block signals broke. All rail systems have block signals. The signal at the entrance to an occupied block shows red, the signal for the block behind the occupied block shows yellow, and further back block signals show green.
So, we have maybe three possibilities. The operator of the following train failed to obey the block signals (sudden heart attack? texting while training? who knows, she died in the crash). Or the brakes failed. Or the block signals failed.
By the way, the Knoxville TV station quoted above mentions "roll back". That's a new one. Trains have friction brakes just like cars. Put the brakes on and the rail car comes to a stop, forward backwards it's all the same to the brakes.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Regime change in Iran?

Looks like the Iranian crisis has legs. Despite tough talk from the top mullah, Khameni on Friday, crows came out for demonstrations on Saturday. Smaller, but still enough to give us video of crowds throwing rocks at cops. This thing has been going for a week now, and the authorities have not yet ordered a Tienanmen Square style crackdown, you know tanks and troops and shoot the demonstrators until they flee.
Either the regime is hoping things will die down, or they fear a real crackdown might not work. The troops might not fire on the crowds, or the resulting outrage might spread the unrest rather than chilling it. Either way, the street demonstrations continue.
Obama has soft pedaled the thing. He was hoping to negotiate with Amadinajahd over nuclear weapons. He fears expressing support for the demonstrators will irritate Amadinajahd and make negotiation more difficult. This is kinda dumb, Amadinajahd hates our guts already. No amount of support for his opponent will make things any worse than they already are. In actual fact, regime change is the only hope we have of preventing a nuclear Iran. We don't know if this thing can hang on and overthrow the mullah's, but it's the best chance we have.
On the other hand, the US of A is not exactly popular in Iran, and siding with the insurgents might hurt them more than help them. Kinda like how a Russian endorsement of an American politician would be a kiss of death.
I noted that Obama claimed lack of knowledge of the true state of affairs inside Iran. Way to go CIA.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Unscience advisor to the President

"I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind;"
Lord Kelvin.

The morning NPR carried a longish talk by John Holdren, newly appointed science advisor to President Obama. Dr. Holdren is a global warmer, and spent his air time pushing for "a comprehensive energy bill" what ever that may be.
Not once did Holdren mention a number. No mention of degrees of temperature rise, inches of ocean rise, years before it happens, cost, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere (past, present, and hoped for), number of "alternate energy" plants to be built, nothing.
Nor did he enlighten us on how a "comprehensive energy bill" was going to fend off global warming, and by how much. He offered no scientific evidence that global warming is happening. It's been chilly all spring and I am expected to believe global warming is happening? Nor did he explain how a man made CO2 concentration of 50 parts per million is significant compared to a water vapor concentration of 10,000 parts per million. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas just as strong as CO2. Nor did he mention that global temperatures dropped by a fraction of a degree since 1999.
This science advisor didn't bother to present any science. He's not scientific, he's political. If this is a quality of science advice available to Obama, we are in deep doo doo.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Write your Congressmen.

Today I mailed this to my US representative (Paul Hodes a democrat) and my democratic senator (Jean Shaheen). The word I have is that real letters sent snail mail are more influential than email.

Dear Representative/Senator,

Please vote against the “Health Care Bill”. It costs too much. The United States already spends too much money, 18% of Gross National Product, on health care, twice what any other industrial nation spends. This is an outrageous amount of money. Measures of health such as life expectancy and infant mortality are just as good in other countries that only spend one half what we spend. In short the United States spends twice as much money on health care but gets nothing in return.
Why is US health care so expensive? Simple. It’s free. Many, perhaps most, citizens have health insurance provided free to them by their employers. What ever the doctor recommends, the patients do, because it’s all paid for. No matter how outrageous the bill, few complain, because it’s all paid for. Expensive tests, imaging, x rays, CAT scans, MRI scans, ultrasounds, are freely proscribed, are billed, and insurance pays for it.
The “Health Care” bill pending in Congress, and favored by the Administration merely extends free health care to the un insured. Offering health insurance to the 40-50 million uninsured will merely jack up the amount of money poured into health care. We cannot afford the 18% we already pay, and we surely cannot afford any more.
If new “health care” laws are needed (doubtful) they should reduce the cost of health care by encouraging incentive systems like Safeway’s, reining in the malpractice scandal, and bearing down on drug company prices.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Non Darwinian Dandelions

Ever notice how easy it is to pull up the "off lawn" dandelions? The ones growing in the woods, beyond the reach of the mower, shoot up tall and strong. Grasp them by the leaves and tug and up they come root and all. Whereas the lawn living survivors of the mower grow low and hug the ground. The root never comes up, the leaves pull off and you know that feller will be there next spring.
Kinda like Kipling's story How the Elephant Got his Trunk. Remember the elephant's child had an close encounter with a crocodile who pulled and pulled and stretched the elephant child's nose out into a trunk. The dandelions get whacked and whacked by the mower and react by growing lower.
Cute stories. But Darwin doesn't work that way. "Acquired characteristics cannot be inherited." Evolution happens when less successful organisms die before they can reproduce, and the fitter organisms survive and breed.
Tell that to those dandelions.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Detroit tries marketing

I got a letter from Chrysler, addressed to me (rather than occupant), explaining how wonderful Chrysler is going to become and including a $1000 discount ticket for a new Chrysler. Not too bad, I did buy a new Dodge Caravan back in 1999. So somehow the Chrysler IT system dredged up my address after ten years and one change of address. One day, when the current wheels wears out, I will buy a new car, and I have been a loyal buyer of Detroit iron over the years. (Ford, Chevy and Dodge, plus one Fiat and one Jaguar). At least they are trying.
GM ran a TV commercial yesterday on cable. It was an "image" ad, like the one PBS runs, rather than a traditional buy-this-car ad. First ad from the General I've seen in a long time.
I wish Chrysler and GM lots of luck, but I fear that they will loose money this year, find no one to lend to them, and Uncle will give in and give them another umpteen billion of taxpayer money to keep them going for another year. This might go on for decades.

Car money time

Let's see, to keep the car on the road for another year
$120 Town of Franconia
$43.20 State of NH
$40 Inspection sticker

$203.20 All in one day. Easy come, easy go

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cost is missing from the health care debate

The Democrats are pushing hard for health care "reform" by which they mean everyone gets health coverage and Uncle pays for it. Problem is we cannot afford it.
Right now, with millions of uninsured, we spend 18% of GNP on health care. We cannot afford that. Insure the uninsured and the health care slice of the economy will go up, and we can't afford that either. The US spends twice as much on health care as any other country on the globe. 18% of GNP means 18 people out of 100 are providing health care. Each health care worker only cares for 5.5 patients. This is insane. US products sold abroad cost 18% more just to pay the workers health care. We have to compete with the rest of the first world that is only paying an 9% health care markup. Companies move production off shore to avoid US health care costs.
We need to cut costs, by a half, to be competitive. Adding tens of millions of people to health care insurance isn't the way to do it.
The US spends as much as it does on health care because health care is free. The bulk of us have company paid health care that pays for everything. So whatever the doctor orders in the way of tests, procedures, imaging, motorized wheelchairs, prescriptions, and office visits, we do. Doesn't matter how outrageous the bill is, we don't care, it's paid for. And the bills ARE outrageous. Like $500 for a 50 minute office visit or $1023 for prescription drugs that can be had at Walmart for $48.
Only way to fix the excessive amounts of care and the gouging on the bills it to have us patients pay for it out of own pockets. Insurance ought to only pay for major catastrophes beyond any ordinary patient's purse. Routine stuff ought to be paid for out of pocket.
Then we could clamp down on the tort lawyers that sue for malpractice at the drop of a hat. A lot of testing and scanning and such is done to cover the ass of the doctor against a possible malpractice suit. Do something about predatory lawyers and costs would go down.
We need to clamp down on drug costs. The sky high prices charged for on-patent drugs goes not to research and development, but into marketing. Big drug companies have fancy salesmen, wearing suits, visit every doctor in the country every couple of weeks to peddle pills. Not quite sure how you deal with this but I'm sure there is a way. Allowing drugs in from Canada might be a start, taxing marketing expenses might be another.
Allow more competition. Allow insurance companies to sell insurance in every state of the union. Get a license in one state and you have the right to sell the same insurance policy in every state. Right now states won't allow out of state companies to sell insurance instate.
Drop state mandated support of every strange condition. Plenty of people would be happy to skip support for drug addiction, chiropody, contact lenses, dental coverage, gender change, and who knows what else, in return for a lower insurance premium.
Something like 30% of health care costs are incurred in the last year of the patient's life. At end of life, there is always something that can be done, even if it won't help much. It may not help, but the doctor and the hospital can bill for it and Medicare will pay for it. This isn't health care, it's making money. One fix might be to have a law that says "Death cancels all medical bills. If the patient dies, clearly the medical treatment was ineffective and will not be paid for."

Fools Gold by Gilliam Tett

From the dust cover "How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe". It's a 2009 copyright which brings it right up to date. Gilliam Tett must have read Tracy Kidder somewhere along the line and her book has Kidder's closeups of the people involved. Those are fun to read. The "Small Tribe" at Morgan invented the credit default swap in the early '90s. This bit of financial magic amounts to default insurance. A credit default swap issuer gets paid a modest amount of money. In return the issuer guarantees the deal. If the borrower doesn't pay up, the issuer will make good the buyer's losses.
The first credit default swaps were issued on ultra safe packages of blue chip bonds. The banks persuaded the federal regulators to lower their reserve requirements if their loans were protected with credit default swaps. The credit default swap market took off like a rocket and the issuer's made a lot of money selling them. Late comers, stuck on stupid, began issuing credit default swap protection on shaky mortgage backed securities. The whole thing crashed in the fall of 2008 when Bear Stearns and Lehman imploded and everyone started collecting on their swaps. The issuers of the swaps didn't have the cash to pay off, and the Bush administration picked up the tab, fearing that letting AIG and the rest of them fail would touch off Great Depression II.

The author reviews some of the famous Wall St catastrophes of the past, Drexel Burnham Lambert , Long Term Capital Management, Enron and WorldCom. She gives J.P.Morgan a sympathetic treatment, they were smart enough not to get sucked into the mortgage backed security black hole.

She skims over the housing crash and the role of Fannie and Freddie in that crash. Fannie and Freddie fueled the sub prime disaster when they bought sub prime backed securities. This prompted the dumber Wall St houses to buy shakey mortgages, "securitize" them, and sell them. The resulting demand for mortgages led the mortgage companies to write mortgages on worthless property and to borrowers unable to make the payments. But not to worry, we will sell this sub prime mortgage to a bigger sucker on Wall St. When the suckers wised up and stopped buying the roof fell in.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Did speed sensors cause Air France mystery crash?

The TV pundits are in love with the story. The "speed sensor" is the pitot tube, a simple piece of tubing that sticks out head on into the air stream. The air speed indicator works by measuring the air pressure generated from the pitot tube. Airbus had been replacing the pitot tubes on the A-330's for some reason or other. The replacement program had been running BEFORE the crash.
Worst case, the pitot tube falls off or ices up and the airspeed indication drops to zero. Planes will fly with no airspeed indicator. Leave the engines set to cruise power and keep the plane level and it will keep flying. The zero airspeed will probably confuse the autopilot enough to make it drop off line, but again, the crew can fly the plane by hand.
Dispite pitot tube excitement on the TV news, I very much doubt that the pitot tube caused the crash.

TV pundit talking thru his hat.

Commenting upon the CIA director's opinion that Bin Laden is still in Pakistan, the Time magazine pundit, said that Bin Laden was unable to leave Pakistan.
Scratch that pundit. All Bin Laden needs is a credit card, a passport, and a shave and he can fly anywhere in the world.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Terminator Salvation

It's got action. Fist fights, gun fights, fires and explosions, airstrikes and dog fights, car chases and crashes. The action never stops. Lots of tough guys with stubble looking tough. They even resurrect Arnold for a brief fight scene. I assume that was done by computer graphics.
The movie is set in the future were the human underground is warring against the shiny red eyed terminator machines of Skynet. The humans win in the end, at least partly. The closing voice over announced that the war wasn't won yet, leaving an opening for a sequel.
If it had been on TV I would have changed the channel.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Welfare for NEMA

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) managed to help themselves to a slice of pork. First they created a marketing concept, "NEMA Premium" electric motors, which are supposed to be radically more efficient than "NEMA Standard" motors. Naturally NEMA Premium motors cost more than NEMA premium. Then they got a US government subsidy for the purchase of "NEMA Premium" motors as an energy saving measure.
Trouble is, electric motors are highly efficient already, and motors manufacured 50 years ago are very efficient. The "Premium" motors are not any more efficient than any well designed motor. "Premium" motors run between 77 and 89 percent efficient. In actual fact, decent electric motors have been 90 percent efficient since World War II and before.
In short, a marketing concept, the "Premium" designation, has been recognized at law, and given a federal subsidy, paid for with tax payer dollars.
Nice work if you can get it.
This global warming measure was brought to you by congressmen from districts with large electric motor companies.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Hillary on the Stephanopolis Show this morning

She said the US doesn't know just what the Iranians want, and perhaps a diplomatic conference with Iran would lead to an exchange of views and we would learn what Iran wants. Right.
I got news for Hillary. You don't negotiate just for the fun of it. It's a horse trade, you give us this, we give you that, and it's gotta be a fair trade or both sides will welsh on the deal. If we don't know what the Iranians want, and how bad they want it, before sitting down with them, forget it.
Actually, we do know what the Iranians want, they want nukes, and they want them badly. With nukes they become regional hegemon, and they gain insurance against sudden regime change, the kind that happens should US tanks roll thru Tehran like they did thru Baghdad.
We are not happy with a nuclear Iran, and there is nothing the Iranians can do to make us happy, short of giving up their nuclear program, which they won't do, at least not voluntarily. Does not look like the basis of fruitful negotiations. In fact the Euro's have been having fruitless negotiations over this point for years. It has given Tehran more time to work on their nukes, but other than that, a wasted effort.

Why Window Envelopes?

Every single bill comes with a return envelope, a window return envelope. Which means I gotta take a just a little bit of extra care to get the return slip right way round and in front of the check. Not the end of the world I suppose.
On the other hand, window envelopes ought to cost more than plain ones, if only a fraction of a cent. The only bennie to the billing company is the ability to change the address of the payment center without having to dump stocks of old pre printed envelopes. But how often does the phone company, the bank, or the electric company move a billing center?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Another US diplomat shows lack of cluefulness

"How to Deal with a Dictator" by Robert Joseph in the Wall St Journal. Author comes on strong for bearing down hard on North Korea, often referred to as the Kim Family Regime. He decries past US policy for first bearing down and then backing off. Then he gets around to one of the keys to the matter, Chinese support for North Korea.
"China must know there are costs and risks for not acting to end the North's nuclear programs. Some of those costs we can impose if we are willing to pay an economic price."
Right. Just what is the economic price to us for China dumping her $700 billion worth of T-bills on the international market? What cost can we impose on China greater those Great Depression II has already laid upon them? We have here an ex State Dept. weenie with no idea about economics, business, finance, and economic power. Like Thomas Jefferson's embargo against the British, which ruined American traders and helped the British by taking a competitor out of play. Before you pull the trigger, make sure the gun isn't pointed at your own feet. In actual fact the US lacks any means of pressuring China other than talking to them.
Robert Joseph completely ignores another key fact about the situation. North Korea is in such bad shape that the communist government may collapse at any moment. The only thing keeping the current government in power is the perception that the army will shoot North Korea civilians to maintain order, and keep the Kim family in power. Should that perception wane, all hell will break loose. A single platoon refusing to fire upon civilians might unleash chaos.
When the regime falls, a tidal wave of refugees will slosh into South Korea. China will be under great pressure to send troops to maintain order. So will South Korea. A second Korean war could be touched off by a single firefight between the People's Liberation Army and the South Korean army.
Only modest diplomatic and economic pressure on the Kim Family Regime might touch off the revolution. Robert Joseph doesn't discuss the existence or the solution to these problems at all. For the sake of the US I sincerely hope we have some more clueful diplomats, somewhere.

Welfare for Lawyers

According to the Wall St Journal, Justice Dept. lawyers are deciding whether to bring charges of violating the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act against Scott Roeder. State officials have already brought charges of first degree murder against Scott Roeder for the shooting of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, killed while attending church on Sunday.
First degree murder is what was done, the penalties for same are very stiff. Why are we messing around bringing obscure charges under a forgotten act of Congress when plain first degree murder charges are highly appropriate?

Friday, June 5, 2009

What does GM do with Bailout Money?

Lends it to private equity firms? My tax money, given to GM so they can lend it to someone else?
According to the Wall St Journal, GM is going to lend $2.5 billion dollars to Platinum Equity so it can buy bankrupt parts supplier Delphi. Platinum Equity only puts up $750 million of its own money, with us taxpayers, thru GM, supplying the rest???
Delphi is an important supplier to GM, and probably needs to stay afloat in order for GM to keep making cars.
But why offer a slice to this Platinum Equity run by Tom Gores? Why does Platinum have to come to GM for money as opposed to borrowing for a bank? Could Delphi be such a disaster that no bank will touch it with a ten foot pole? In which case, our tax money should not be poured down a drain.
If there is any chance of Delphi becoming profitable why does not GM buy the place outright. Why let this Platinum Equity profit at all. Buy it outright and keep any future profits.
Delphi is a UAW company, and used to be owned by GM. GM spun the thing off years ago, thinking to unload union health care and retirement liabilities. The newly independant Delphi never managed to get it's labor costs down enough to stay in business. It's been in bankruptcy for the last four years, hobbling along on loans from GM. Now that GM is flush with taxpayer bailout money it's doing something to keep Delphi going. But why cut this Platinum Equity into the deal? Platinum isn't bringing any money to the table.
How much money did Platinum or it's owner Tom Gores contribute to the Obama campaign?

Nuclear Cluelessness

The TV announced the discovery of "Manmade Uranium" in the rubble of the Syrian reactor site bombed out by the Israeli Air Force three years ago. Clueless.
There are man made elements, but uranium isn't one of them. What the clueless newsie probably meant is enriched uranium. Natural uranium is mostly isotope U238 which is too stable to fission and be useful in power reactors or bombs. Only a tiny percentage (0.07%) of natural uranium is the fissionable isotope U235. It is possible to concentrate (enrich) uranium in the the fissionable U-235 isotope. Power reactors commonly run on uranium enriched to a few percent of U235. Nuclear weapons require enrichment to 90% and above. Uranium enriched to 90% or more is commonly called "weapons grade". The newsie didn't say if the enrichment was just a few percent or or weapons grade.
Enrichment to weapons grade is the hard part of making a uranium fission bomb.
Morale to the story. If its even slightly technical, expect the newsies to get it wrong.

Testing, Testing from Aviation Week

"The nuclear test produced 'less than a 2-kiloton explosion,' says a Washington-based intelligence official. 'It was bigger than last time,but somewhat less than predicted.' perhaps only 10% of expectation. ... However it has yet to be determined if this was a uranium or plutonium device."

Translation. It was another fizzle. Twenty kilotons, the yield of the Hiroshima bomb, is always the design goal for beginner's nukes. Very few nukes less than 20 kilotons have ever been built, because it's hard to get them to go off. The only hard evidence is the 4.7 Richter scale reading for the current test, compared to 4.1 for the 2006 test which everyone agrees was a fizzle.

"I am fairly certain we will see much more interest in ballistic missile defense in Japan and South Korea," says Bernard Loo of the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

No kidding.

"For China, that could be one of the worst results of the test", says Loo. "Beijing does not want missile defense systems preliferating in its neighborhood since it maintains a nuclear arsenal the is modest by the standards of the US and Russia and would not bear significant attrition."

Maybe. Mr. Loo obviously thinks anti ballistic missile defenses are effective. I disagree, and I used to design the radar that guided the antimissiles. Plus, if the Chinese really didn't want the North Korean's to do nuclear tests, they could shut off the North Koreans supply of food and fuel. That would get their attention. In actual fact, the Chinese are happy to keep a thorn in the side of Americans in business.

"Gathering intelligence about North Korea is tough say the experts. Human intelligence sources are non existant, while rugged terrain, underground facilities and lack of overflight all conspire against observation. "

Again, maybe. Koreans all speak the same language, were colonized by the Japanese in the 1930's, and there are plenty of South Koreans with relatives in the North. You'd think an effective South Korean intelligence agency (KCIA they call it) would exploit these ties and have some sources in the North. KCIA is undoubtedly reluctant to share this with the Americans, given the Americans record of leaking top secret stuff to the New York Times.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Thursday's junk mail

From Crosstown Chrysler Dodge Jeep, Rt 302 Littleton. Four color 16 page ad sheet, no addressee, they used some deal whereby the rural mail carrier dropped one in every mailbox. "We are here to Stay!" That's the closest they come to mentioning the great Chrysler dealer massacre of a couple of weeks ago. I didn't see their name on the list of dropped Chrysler dealers that went around the net a couple of weeks ago, so I guess they are still in business, and not a zombie dealer trying to dump inventory.
They have 17 different new 2009 model cars/trucks. Ten SUV's and pickup trucks, five small gas sipping econoboxes, and two minivans. They do list prices, a plus for a car ad sheet. They don't list EPA fuel mileage ratings. For econoboxes we have Caliber, Avenger, Journey, Sebring, and PT Cruiser. All with a 2.4 liter engine. Asking prices from $15,791 to $19402, which doesn't seem very cheap. Styling bland and instantly forgetable except or the PT Cruiser. The two minivans were priced at $19633 and $22,647. I bought three minvans over the years for $12500 on all three, so the the minivan pricing is no bargain. The big V8 crewcab pickup trucks go for $25,000.
Other interesting feature, they now offer to finance the car over 6 and half years. Wow. Used to be a three year car loan was standard. And they only want 7.95% APR.
Does not look like much of a change in car lineup or pricing even though we are deep into Great Depression II, gas is at $2.60 a gallon and climbing and Chrysler is in chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Z1485 IS Camera Battery

I bought a non Kodak rechargeable lithium battery and charger off the internet for about 1/2 the cost of the genuine Kodak article. The battery fits the camera, it's a clone of Kodak battery type KLIC8000. I was too cheap to buy a pair batteries to allow one in the camera and one recharging. The Chinese maker did not bother to place his name on either the battery or charger, so I can't recommend a maker to you.
Battery life is good, I haven't been able to discharge the battery so far as to cause the camera to stop working. So it's good for 20-30 shots for sure and probably a good deal more. Not wanting to run out of battery while out taking pictures, I pop the battery into the charger when I come home from picture taking.
The charger will allow you to put the battery in backwards. It doesn't harm anything, but the battery won't charge when backwards. The charger has a single LED that lights red when charging, yellow when partly charged and green when fully charged or the battery is in backwards. The camera has enough backup capacitor to hold the time and date settings long enough to swap the battery. To avoid having to reset time and date, I slip the original non rechargeable battery into the camera while the KLIC8000 battery is in the charger. The non rechargeable battery has discharged so much it won't work the camera, but apparently it has enough charge to hold the memory settings.
The NON rechargable battery has different contact arrangements from the rechargable battery. This feature insures that the charger won't try to charge NON rechargeable batteries. The users manual warns of dire concequences from charging NON rechargeable batteries. I don't know how true this is, but I wasn't planning on verifying the warning. Many years ago a buddy was recharging plain old fashioned flashlight batteries. Most of the time the batteries would accept a charge, but once a battery exploded in the charger. Made quite an impression on us, and the buddy acquired the nickname "Supergoose" from that incident.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Internet Car reviews

Back before internet, car reviews came in magazines, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Car & Driver. Since the magazines accepted a LOT of auto company advertising, the car reviews were always favorable. Didn't matter how wretched the car, the reviews made them sound wonderful. Never read a bad review.
Then there was Consumer Reports. It didn't accept advertising from anyone, and the editors hated cars. So the annual new car issue was depressing, it just listed warts. They used to invent warts just to avoid saying any thing nice about anything.
Now we have free internet reviewers. These guys have a new set of quirks. They are all car buffs and wannabee racers. Doesn't matter how much engine power the car has, they will tell you it needs more. Unless the transmission has 8 speeds forward it's obsolete. Interior must be trimmed in rare imported leather, hand carved mahogany, and engine turned stainless steel. Plastic is always bad mouthed as too shiny and too brittle. Cockpit design is derided as bland. Gigantic 25 inch diameter wheels are praised. They all love rear wheel drive.
Let's get back to the real world. More engine power costs you gas mileage. If you just want to get to work and not go drag racing, one horsepower per 35 pounds of car will get you there and get you back. One horsepower per 18 pounds of car is plenty lively enough for any kind of street driving, passing on two lane roads, and hill climbing at 100 mph. Four speeds in the transmission is plenty for engines of 4 liters (260 cubic inches) or larger. Manual transmission gives the best gas mileage and serves double duty as an anti theft device. Good automatic transmissions have a lockup clutch that eliminates slippage in the hydraulic torque converter. The lockup clutch will improve gas mileage by 2-3 mpg.
Interior trim is a matter of taste. Back in the 1950's Detroit interiors were bright with chrome, polished metal, fake wood strips, and two or three contrasting colors. In the 1960's the safety people came in and things were toned down. Reflective metal was banned because of blinding reflections in sunlight, and the eye catching trim went out. The result is a bland interior that doesn't distract the driver's eye from the road. As long as the interior looks well made so it won't come apart and look shabby, it's OK.
Big wheels smooth out the bumps but require more space inside the car to avoid the wheel hitting the inside of the fenders. Fourteen or fifteen inch wheels are plenty, the mega wheels popular now don't improve ride, handling, or tire wear.
Front wheel drive was cool back when it was new. In snow country it's the way to go. Front wheel drive gets rid of a space hogging drive shaft tunnel and transmission hump that used to eat up cockpit space.
Things the reviewers don't talk about. A good car has about the same weight on the front wheels as the back wheels. Fifty-fifty weight distribution it's called. The less the car weighs, the better the gas mileage. A hatchback with fold down rear seats lets you bring stuff back from the lumber yard.
You will save money if you buy a car you like. If you like it, you will keep it longer, which saves money. The virtuous car that you never liked, will encourage you to trade it on a new one sooner. Hybrid cars are so much more expensive than plain gasoline powered cars that the somewhat better gas mileage never pays for itself. You will sell the car before you break even.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Slow Speed Rail

Getting up here without a car. Take Amtrak's Vermonter from New York to White River Junction VT. Amtrak departs NYC and 11 AM and arrives in White River at 6:45 PM, (sometimes). That's 263 miles in 7 3/4 hours or 34 mph. Speedy.
By contrast, the bus, with a change at Hartford, makes it in 7 hours, (37 mph) and you can drive it in 4 1/2 hours (58 mph).
Why so slow? Old and weary track. The rail line up the Connecticut River was laid in the 1830's and has been allowed to quietly rot since the 1970's. The ties are so rotten that spikes can be pulled out by hand, it's bumpy, the rail joiners are loose, and you can see the track flex under the weight of the train. So they don't run it very fast. The trainset is all modern stuff that could do 100 mph on good track.
It wouldn't take all that much to fix the track up enough to allow 60 mph schedules, even with stops at Stamford, Bridgeport, Hartford, and a few other places. Let's see, 263 miles by $500,000 a mile, is $130 million, a mere pittance compared to the $787 billion porkulus.
In short, it's not Euro style 200 mph rail service that we need, it's plain old 1920's style 60 mph rail service. The Vermonter runs pretty full, they demand reservations in advance. If it was faster, more people would ride it.

Have your ever seen a toad struck by lightening?

One of Hally Berry's few good lines in X-men. An Airbus-330 airliner enroute from Rio de Janerio to Paris is overdue, presumed lost. The home office suggested that it might have been struck by lightening over the Atlantic. Maybe, but I don't really believe it.
My Air Force squadron had two F-106 fighter planes struck by lightening back in the 1960's. Both planes landed OK. One suffered electrical damage to an antenna, sufficient to warrent replacement, but not so bad as to knock out the radio.
Lightening strikes on aircraft are not uncommon but very seldom do much damage. Since the aircraft is not grounded, being high in the air, the full current of the bolt has not where to go. Plus what current does flow thru the aircraft flows thru the highly conductive aluminum skin.
Maxwell's field equations say that electric fields cannot exist inside a conductive shell, which means the aluminum fuselage offers highly effective shielding to everything (passengers, fuel, electrical and electronic equipment) inside it.
The "lightening did it" press release sounds more like "it wasn't our fault".