Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Is net neutrality ruining my broadband?

Dunno about the rest of you, but broadband service on Time Warner Cable is going down hill for me. Used to be you clicked on a bookmark and bingo, the site opened in Firefox. Now, as often as not, the website fails to open and you draw an error page indicating the site is unavailable. Pain in the ***.
Deteriorating service is either failing equipment or network overload. The TV signal comes thru just fine. The broadband goes over the same wires and amplifiers as the TV signal, so if the TV is clean, the network is OK too. So the trouble as gotta be network overload.
The traditional way of dealing with overloaded networks is to let the important traffic go thru now and send the less important traffic later. In my view, and the view of the ISP's, important traffic is traffic that a live human user is waiting on, and less important traffic is stuff that computer programs are buffering out to disk. Music and video downloads are the classic less important traffic.
But, the purveyors of music and video downloads screamed like wounded panthers and started up the "Net Neutrality" jihad. As of right now, the ISP's are under siege by the jihad and probably are letting the downloads block more important traffic.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Katrina, 5th anniversery thereof

Every one (NPR, NBC, WSJ, Fox, you name it) is doing a Katrina story. I watched Brad Pitt showing off new green houses with solar panels in the Lower Ninth Ward. We had pundits complaining of the slowest of the disaster response, community development corporations showing off new construction, finger pointing, and endless talk.
But no talk about the root cause. The root cause wasn't racism, classism, illegal immigration or dreadful public schools. The root cause was the floodwalls broke under the weight of 18 feet of water and let the Gulf flow into the city. Most of New Orleans is below sea level, and once the floodwalls failed the town filled up with water.
Before New Orleans can do much rebuilding, the floodwalls and levees must be fixed. No bank is going to grant a mortgage and no insurance company will offer homeowners insurance to a site that is below sea level, unless there is a strong public commitment by Army Corps of Engineers to defend the site against the next flood. Banks are not keen on mortgages when the collateral for the loan is liable to be destroyed in the next spate of bad weather. Insurance companies are equally reluctant to insure places that are going to generate humongous losses. Banks won't grant mortgages unless the place is insured. Few private citizens can afford to rebuild without a mortgage and insurance. Until the Corps of Engineers makes clear which neighborhoods will get levees and floodwalls, and which ones won't, little private redevelopment is going to occur.
In five years following the disaster the Corps has said nothing.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

No wonder health care costs are high

Opened all my junk mail this morning. It burns better if you open it before pitching in the fireplace. One piece was pushing hearing aids. It was in-the-ear and had some decent features like background noise cancellation, and feedback squeal reduction. They wanted $1095 for it. They bragged that this was a bargain, comparable units from the competition were going for $2400, they said.
I used to design stuff like this for my day job. I know I could achieve this performance with $100 worth of parts. Using the industry rule of thumb of "four times parts" I could assemble and test and ship something like this for $400 and make money.
I think patients are getting over charged by better than 100% here.
Maybe I should come out of retirement and get into the business.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Thirty percent of BP personnel take the Fifth

Today's Wall St Journal lists ten BP and Transocean executives and workers involved in the Gulf well blowout. At hearings into the disaster, three of them have refused to testify, claiming fifth amendment protections against self incrimination.
It is generally agreed that the well blowout was caused by BP executives Donald Vidrene and Robert Kaluza who decided to ignore instrument indications of a gas leak in the well. Vidrine and Kaluza are two of the three BP men who took the fifth.
Equally as interesting, the Journal cites an internal BP investigation report as their source. Could it be that disgruntled BP employees leaked the report to the Journal?
Also interesting, all the men seemed to have lawyers.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


It's been common knowledge for years that automatic transmissions cost you about 5% on gas mileage compared to a stick shift. T'other day I was reading an internet rant that claimed the "modern" slushbox was in fact just as efficient as manual shift. I beg to differ.
Car transmissions have a simple problem to deal with. When stopped at a light, the wheels must not turn and the engine must turn. Automatic transmissions use a fluid coupling between engine and gears to solve this problem. The engine turns a paddle wheel gizmo in a can of hydraulic fluid and a similar gizmo on the gear shaft gets swirled around and around by the fluid. When stopped at a light, the brakes hold the car stopped, and the fluid just gets churned up. Trouble is, when the car is moving, the fluid coupling or "torque converter" is still there, and there is some slip between the engine in the gears. About 5%, which accounts for the 5% loss of gas mileage.
Some advanced automatic transmissions a have an additional lockup clutch which grabs the two paddlewheel gizmos together when the car is moving and prevents any slippage. Transmissions with a lockup clutch are pretty good, but not all cars have them. For instance Cadillac has a lockup clutch and enjoys significantly better gas mileage than the big Ford/Mercury/Lincoln sedans which don't.
So, when asked what you have done for the environment lately, you can respond by asking them if they drive a stick shift. And when buying a new car, you can mystify the salesman by asking if the car has a transmission lockup clutch. The device will save you 5% on gas mileage over the life of the car, so it's worth a few bucks extra to get one.
Other benefits of the stick shift. It serves as an effective anti theft device. Most kids cannot drive stick any more, so your car is less likely to be stolen if it has a manual trannie. When climbing a snow slick hill in winter you don't have to worry about the trannie deciding to downshift at the wrong time and making the wheels loose traction.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Or, why downloading should be legal. Copyright is so important that the US Constitution has a special clause about it.
"To promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;"

Subsequent acts of Congress and judicial decisions have broadened this clause significantly. Copyright now is applied to music, even though music is neither a science nor a useful art. Art it is, but it isn't a useful art. Beautiful, pleasant, desirable, but not useful in the 18th century meaning of the word.

An act of Congress could end the current hassling of young folk by the record labels, by simply saying that recorded music is in the public domain at all times. The record companies would scream and cry and threaten to hold their breath, but they have been loosing sales for years. The musicians would support themselves off concert tickets, which is what they do now anyway, royalties from the record labels being few and far between. Enormous numbers of young folk would be overjoyed. A really clever Republican party would take up this issue. Young people vote in much greater numbers than the record labels do.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blago vs the prosecutors

Looks like Blago wins. The prosecutor ought be fired. If you bring a high profile case, it better be a sound one. First mistake was to charge Blago with 24 different offenses. Nobody has the time to commit that many crimes. Blago, unlikable as he is, may have done a couple of things, like offer Obama's old senate seat to the highest bidder, but he didn't have the time, or the smarts, to commit 24 separate offenses. Then, the one charge the jury convicted on, isn't really a crime in my book. Lying to police may be an undesirable character trait, but he wasn't under oath, and any fool knows that anything you say to the cops will be used against you in court. So, nobody in their right mind is going to tell the cops "I did it". Plus, in this case, the jury doesn't think Blago did it, so Blago wasn't lying when it told the cops he didn't do it.
Wanta bet the government tries again? Despite the constitutional prohibition of double jeopardy. " Nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb,"

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Barney Frank wants to replace Fannie and Freddie

This off the Fox News crawl. I'm agin it. Frannie Mae and Freddie Mac are largely responsible for causing Great Depression 2.0. They should be disbanded, and their management prosecuted.
Barney claims the new organization would subsidize the housing market. I say we should stop subsidies to housing. Housing doesn't need subsidy, other wise known as giving taxpayer money to builders, realtors, home owners, and banks.
Home mortgages are attractive investments just as they are. The loan is secured by real property which the lender can seize if the borrow doesn't make his payments. The collateral is fixed and immobile, the lender cannot drive it out of state. The borrower is highly motivated to keep up the payments, if only to avoid harsh criticism by his spouse when the the couple is evicted.
If the lender makes a realistic appraisal of the property value, and insists that the borrower put up 10 or 20 percent of the value in cash, and the borrower isn't spending more than 25% of his income on payments, the loan is highly likely to get repaid. They used to say "safe as houses" to describe a secure investment. Banks can do very well loaning on mortgages at 6 percent and paying depositors 3 percent, keeping the spread between loan rates and depositors interest rates.
Home mortgages used to work that way. First house I ever bought, back in the '70s the bank loan officer interviewed me and the wife, and then went to the property and appraised it himself. No mortgage broker and the bank loaned its own money, not Fannie's, and held the note til we sold the house.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Environmental Impact Statements on new wells

In an effort to slow down oil drilling, the Obama administration will require a full environmental impact statement to be filed for each new well drilled. Work cannot start until the paperwork is finished. Of course we all know what the environmental impact of an oil well blowout is, it's horrendous. Ixtoc I, and BP have made that abundantly clear. We don't need paperwork to inform us of that. But if we make the paperwork burden heavy enough maybe those pesky oil companies will stop drilling. We can all freeze to death in the dark rather than risk an oil spill.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

How to loose WWII

The Germans lost by frittering away their industrial capacity building too many different types of weapons. Both Heinz Guderian and Albert Speer complained about this in their post war memoirs. I have a lovely coffee table book of the German air force listing every aircraft they developed. During WWII the germans developed 143 different warplanes, of which a whopping big 58 went into production. The other 85 designs went no farther than prototypes.
In contrast, the highly organized US Army Air Force numbered all it's designs. Over all of WWII, USAAF sponsored a mere 67 designs, of which only 14 went into production. Estimating that the less organized US Navy, which did not number it's designs, added perhaps another 50% to both numbers, we have maybe 100 American designs, with a mere 21 going into production. In short, the Americans out produced the Germans by concentrating on building a few, but superior, types of aircraft.
Plain old capitalism was more effective at marshaling the nation's industrial power than National Socialism was.

NPR discovers yet another problem.

Listening to NPR on the clock radio this morning. They did a long piece on the need for new regulations of chemicals. They never did get around to discussing the problem[s] with chemicals, but they had a solution. Companies would be required to submit massive paperwork on every chemical made or used. Poorly educated bureaucrats would be given authority to ban just about anything they pleased, when ever they pleased.
Sounds like another bit of economic stimulus :-)

Swett Equity

Watching Katrina Swett, Democratic candidate for US house on channel 9. She just said "Give the middle class a $150 tax rebate and they will go out and spend it".
That happens not to be the case. Middle class citizens are frightened of losing their jobs. Give 'em $150 and they will save it or pay down bills with it. They ain't gonna buy anything except groceries until they feel secure in their jobs.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Gene Makes Superbugs Resistant to Drugs

So reads the headline on a Wall St Journal Story. It quotes "Lancet Infectious Diseases" who says that a new gene dubbed NDM-1 gives bacteria the ability to produce a chemical that protects them against most antibiotics. The new strain of bacteria was found in 180 cases in India and Pakistan, and in a few British citizens who had had surgery in India. Three cases have appeared in the US, all from people who had medical treatment in India.
So another superbug joins Methicillin Resistant Staphlococcus Aureus (MRSA). Medical authorities blame excessive use of antibiotics for the rise of antibiotic resistant germs. So long as we feed antibiotics to farm animals to make them grow faster, we are going to have resistant bacteria cropping up.
Since antibiotics cure patients, the drug companies are not interested in creating new ones. After a few doses, the patient recovers. Drug companies like expensive drugs that don't actually cure anything so the patient keeps buying more of them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

To Big to Fail oughta meet Anti Trust

Great Depression 2.0, still ongoing, was triggered by foolish actions by a handful of big Wall Street operations. When a brain dead executive has control of massive amounts of cash, he can do a lot more damage than a similar executive at a smaller firm. When big outfits like Fannie Mae or AIG go belly up, Uncle Sam bails them out lest their failure throw the economy into a tail spin. This time Uncle spent carloads of cash bailing them out and the economy still tanked. Effective use of taxpayer funds that.
And, when us customers are shopping, we get a better deal if we have a lot competing companies to buy from. If a super biggie is the only game in town, we are going to get robbed.
So, for all these reasons, super big companies are a bad idea. We used to have a Sherman Anti Trust Act, enforced by the US justice department. Back in the good old days they broke up Standard Oil and the telephone company, and tried to break up IBM. Used to be, the Anti Trust division of Justice could put the kibosh on mergers if they deemed the merged company would be too big.
Far as I know, Sherman Anti Trust Act is still on the books, but the Justice department hasn't enforced it for 20 years or more. Which is why we have AIG and Microsoft out crashing the economy and abusing customers.
Let's bring back the Anti Trust lawyers and sic 'em on any company that controls more than 50% of any market.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Russians bid on the USAF tanker replacement

This is a little hard to believe, but according to Aviation Week, Antonov, the Russian airliner builder, is submitting their AN-70 jetliner for the KC-X tanker competition. The Air Force is hassling Antonov about timely bid submission. Bids were due at 2:00 PM, 9 July at Wright Patterson AFB. Antonov's bid got there but was stamped with a 2:05 PM arrival time, five minutes late. The Air Force is attempting to throw out the Antonov bid on this technicality.
I wish the Air Force luck. They have been bungling this needed tanker acquisition for nearly 10 years now. No matter how they play it, they will get sued on this one. Antonov will sue if their bid is rejected, Boeing and Airbus will sue if it is considered.
The thought of USAF flying Russian built aircraft boggles the mind.

Immigration Reform

Service in the US armed forces ought to grant US citizenship. Anyone who serves a hitch, especially in wartime, and especially a hitch in a combat zone, is a plenty good enough citizen for me. An honorable discharge ought to be good for the soldier, and his wife and kids to become citizens.
Why? The armed services attract the very best people. And they are loyal to the country. The men I served with in the US Air Force were all the best people you could ever want to see. Far as this veteran can tell, the current crop of service men is every bit as good. We strengthen the United States by admitting people like that to citizenship.

No singing at the Lincoln Memorial

For your daily dose of outrage, read this.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Oil Floats

Not to deny that the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a terrible disaster. But, all this talk about "underwater plumes of oil" sounds suspicious to me. Oil floats on water, and I expect underwater oil to float to the surface in a day or two. I think we have enough real oil damage that we can fore go inventing imaginary damage.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Home Hobby Shop overkill

I have an aging favorite chef's knife, of the sort with wood handgrips secured with brass rivets. Over 40 odd years of dishwashering the wood had crumbled and was held in place with tape. To replace the simple wood handgrips seemed as easy job.
But it gets complicated. I special ordered the brass rivets from Lee Valley, $8 a pack. Right there I'm behind the power curve, the knife only cost $3.50 back in 1966. I needed the services of my radial arm saw, my jointer, my bandsaw, my drillpress, and my pad sander by the time the job was done. A lot of power tools to shape a couple of three inch long bits of poplar. Dunno how those colonial cabinet makers turned out high boys with nothing but hand tools.
But the rehandled knife looks fine.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

What is the purpose of NASA today?

NASA was created to get Americans into space, and then to the Moon. It succeeded brilliantly in those two missions. Then it became the Shuttle operator and science investigator, launching planetary probes and Hubble space telescope. Now that the shuttle is going away, what is NASA supposed to be doing?
How about building and launching a bigger and better space telescope? Hubble is 20 years old. Sooner or later it's going to die. And with the Shuttle gone, we won't be able to fix it. With 20 years of technical progress we should be able to build a bigger and better one. Right now NASA is getting $19 billion a year of taxpayer money. I'd kinda like that money to get us something worthwhile rather than just paying a bunch of salaries.
A new Space Telescope is easily fundable. A manned mission to Mars is not. Back of the envelope calculations show a Mars trip would cost $1 trillion and up. That's more than the US defense budget and is politically impossible. A lot of voters think we need a space program, but few of them are willing to pay for that size of space program. More do able, would be setting up a manned Moon base, a worthy goal, but when you consider the success of Hubble, I think a bigger and better Hubble follow on would be just as successful, giving us a view of the entire universe, where as a Moon base would only be able to do Lunar geology and seismology. Seeing back to the Big Bang is more exciting than categorizing Lunar rocks. Cheaper too.

This economy doesn't stimulate

Great Depression 2.0, which we are in now, is a vicious circle, consumers are not consuming so producers aren't producing and laying off workers. The laid off workers consume even less.
Economics, especially the branch invented by Lord Keynes during the first Great Depression, says that the way out of the vicious circle is for the government to "create demand" which causes the producers to produce and hire people. The gigantic demand created by WWII is what ended the first great depression. The government purchased humongous quantities of every sort of war supply, everything from bunk beds to B-17's, as well as enlisted 10 million men in the armed forces. The producers, as soon as a government order was in hand, turned the money right around by ordering parts to fill that order. That's stimulation.
Obama's "stimulus" bill does nothing of the kind. The $800 billion was given to state governments who used the money to meet payroll and avoid layoffs of public employees. A lot of teachers, bureaucrats, and public safety workers are very happy about that but that doesn't help the economy much. The money should have been spend buying goods or constructing things, but it wasn't, mostly because politicians deem it more important to keep the public employees happy and reap their votes in the next election.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Words of the Weasel Part 14

"Certification" as in "One of the failures is the lack of a certified technology that can be used to perform intricate inspections of palletized freight and cargo in unit loading devices used by the widebody aircraft that do most of the international flying."
This from an Aviation Week editorial in the August 2 edition.
I'm not sure what universe the editorial writers are living in. To obtain a cargo inspection system, you write a specification and then go out for bids to build them. Then you test the first article delivered to make sure it works in accordance with specifications. As long as you have money to pay the contractor, you have working equipment. If you don't have the money, you don't get the equipment, working or non working.
The specification might be a little difficult to write. You want to detect the smallest bomb buried deep in the densest and most opaque cargo imaginable. You probably have to call for construction of a test cargo pallet with simulated test bomb and require the machine to detect the test bomb some percentage of the time (90%, 99%, 99.9% and so on). Once the delivered machine meets spec, the contractor gets paid.
I don't know what the "certification of technology" phase means. Presumably the certification would read "Cargo inspection machines using Xray/Ultrasound/Microwave/YourFavoriteScienceFictionTechnology meet TSA requirements." Or words to that effect.
Except I don't believe in certifications. The only thing I believe is actual test results on real hardware. Which means you have to build the real hardware before you can test it. Which takes money.
What is really going on? Dunno, but it might be that nobody wants to pay real money to buy cargo inspection machines and fingers are being pointed to divert attention from the lack of money. Perhaps the Obama Porkulus bill could pay for them?

Day of Battle, by Rick Atkinson

Just finished this mammoth book on the WWII Italian campaign by the author of "An Army at Dawn". It's a good read, covering the ins and outs of a costly campaign of 65 years ago. It's not as much fun as his first book because it describes a very costly operation that took many lives for questionable gain. We never tied down as many German soldiers in Italy as we employed our own troops in fighting them. We did knock Italy out of the war, but that isn't saying much, the Italians never contributed all that much to the Axis war effort. Churchill's "soft underbelly" was mountainous, cut be deep and fast flowing rivers and the sort of country where a few riflemen could stand off an entire army.
According to Atkinson, the real reason we fought in Italy is it was the only place we could fight the Germans until we built up the strength for Overlord. When WWII is raging, you have to keep fighting the enemy, and Italy was the only place we could do so.
Atkinson covers all the fighting, the wheeling and dealing, the personalities of the generals, the scandals and the rest of it. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Nanny State Alive and well in Oregon

A seven year old was busted for running a lemonade stand. State health inspectors felt the lemonade stand was a serious risk to public health. Let's hope New Hampshire never sinks this low.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Electric Smart Grid is hackable

Simmering along under the radar is the "Smart Grid" plan. At bottom "Smart Grid" would let the power company turn off your water heater and air conditioner when they are running out of electricity. The electric companies have to build enough power plants to meet peak load (warm summer afternoon or cold winter evening) but these expensive plants sit idle, earning no revenue, during most of the day. If PSNH could switch of customers air conditioners on hot summer afternoons they would not have to build so many power plants. They save money, we customers can no longer count on electric appliances working when we need them.
To add smart to the grid, electric meters and major appliances are connected to the internet to accept orders from PSNH. Major weakness, Internet hackers can fake out anything connected to the internet, with the result that your appliances can be switched off anytime someone else wants to. Not good.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Good article on US Pakistani relations

I saw this on Instapundit. I've traveled in Pakistan and this article sounds about right to me. One thing the author omits. The Pakistanis I met and talked with were VERY interested in obtaining American support for /alliance with Pakistan against India, China, Al Quada and the various other bogymen out there. They all had problems with various aspects of US policy, but they all saw the US as powerful, reasonably benevolent, essential, and a great place to live.
There are a few things to remember about Pakistan. It's big, 160 million people. About 20 million live in and around Karachi, do manufacturing and trading, have radio and TV and read newspapers. The rest of them, 140 million, are tenant farmers, scratching out a crop with hand tools. No radio, TV, newspapers, many are illiterate. But they are not stupid. When their landlord runs for public office, they know to vote for him lest something bad happen to them. So the majority of Pakistan's elected parliment is landlords, with little sense of responsibility to the general welfare of Pakistan. Every 15 years or so the corruption of the parliament gets so bad that the Pakistani Army steps in to clean things up. After some time goes by, the army will relinquish control to the elected civilian leadership. Pakistan is in that phase right now. They have gone thru this cycle two or three times in the 60 years since Pakistan became Pakistan. They will probable keep on doing it. The Pakistani Army is highly respected and enjoys as much or more confidence among the population as any Pakistani politician.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Spruce up your blog

>Spruce Up Your Blog
>Choose from thousands of Widgetbox widgets to add to your blog. Slideshows, Twitter, >Polls, Countdowns and more.
>Try it now

So it says on my blogger dashboard. Question. Does anyone know just what these spruce ups do, other than clutter up the page? How many of them slow down access to your blog?

Why is the US economy still on the rocks?

70% of the US economy was consumer spending. Cars and groceries and clothes and appliances, restaurant meals, amusement park tickets, home renovations, boats and RV's, sporting goods. Trouble is, buying this stuff can be postponed. You can always squeeze another year out of the old car, wear old clothes a little longer, do without a new flatscreen as long as the old CRT still works.
Today, any consumer with two brain cells firing has to be worried about losing his/her job. With that hanging over them, the rational reaction is save money and don't buy everything except groceries. So consumer spending is down, a lot. And will stay down until the consumers feel a little safer in their jobs. With 70% of the economy on vacation, demand is down, and manufacturers are not hiring. Which makes people fear for their jobs all the more. It's a vicious circle. The last time this happened, it took World War II to snap us out of it. Nobody wants to do World War III just to restore full employment in the US.
Just watched Meet the Press, with Allan Greenspan, Mayor Bloomberg, Ed Rendel, and some others. No one mentioned this, not even Greenspan who used to be a pretty sharp Fed chairman.
We are in trouble until our leadership figures out what makes the US economy tick.