Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Is it stain? Is it paint? For sure it IS $38.50 a gallon

The house got painted a few years ago with a water based stain put on with a HVLP sprayer. The stuff worked just fine on the walls, which have deep eaves to keep the rain off. But on the flat deck, exposed to rain, the stuff didn't last. It peeled off in big patches and looked dreadful. Stuff was water based but not water proof.
After several years of listening to children bugging me about how shabby the deck looked, a refinish project got underway. Step one was to rent a power washer and sluice most of the old paint away. Was able to get that done fast enough to get the washer back to the rental place soon enough for the half day rate, $44. Between the power washing and the intermittent rain showers, the deck came out clean but VERY damp. Then it rained for a couple of days straight. Deck took nearly a week to dry.
Today I started with a gallon can of Cabot oil based deck stain in Cordovan brown. Used to be "stain" was kinda thin and runny to soak into the wood. This stuff was thick as applesauce, and looked more like paint than stain. No matter, it's paid for now, I'm gonna use it. Took about two and half hours with a paint roller to get it spread. One gallon was just enough to cover the whole deck, not a drop left over.
Then Stupid Beast, who has been patrolling the lawn, takes fright at something and flees up the freshly painted steps onto the just as freshly painted deck. So now we have a cat with four Cordovan brown stained paws. A rag and a bottle of 409 cleaner got most of the stain off the paws. Cat was highly indignant about the entire procedure. At least we avoided Cordovan Brown paw prints on the rugs.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The law is does not come from lawbooks

Most Americans are law abiding. How does this happen? Most everyone knows what the law is, and believe it to be fair, and they think of themselves as decent citizens and so they obey it. They obey the obvious bits drawn from the ten commandments and they obey the not so obvious bits like income tax. American's willingness to do the right thing, obey the law and pay their taxes is unusual in this world, and a great source of national strength.
In short, the law is what the citizens believe it to be, and those beliefs cannot be easily changed. Legislatures or courts cannot pass new laws and have them obeyed, unless those laws are acceptable to the citizens. Prohibition is the classic example of an unpopular law being defied by the ordinary citizens.
Most Americans believe the Constitution gives them the right to own guns. In fact, the written Constitution is pretty clear on the subject. In the first century of the country's existence, this right was unquestioned. Sometime in the second century an attempt to revoke this right was made, and learned lawyers opined that the plain words of the second amendment meant the citizens only had a right to join the National Guard, and not a right to have a piece in the bedside table.
The citizens never bought into this interpretation (distortion) of the law, and continued to believe in the right of private ownership of firearms. Yesterday the Supreme Court finally ruled that the second amendment means what it says and citizens do have an "individual right" of gun ownership. This is an important ruling because it brings the "official" law into compliance with the real law, the law that the citizens believe in and obey. That is a good thing.

Monday, June 28, 2010

4.6 Liters, the magic size for V8 engines

Way back at the beginning of time (1956) Chevy introduced their famous 283 cubic inch V8. The plain jane two barrel carburetor version produced a mere 190 hp, using the 1950's more generous SAE rating system (no accessories, carburetor inlet temp corrected to 68F) This engine, and its 327, 350, and 307 cubic inch descendants powered GM cars for 40 years. 283 cubic inches is just about exactly 4.6 liters.
Then sometime in the 1990's Ford introduced an over head cam 4.6 liter V8 which is still in production. It started out as power for Lincoln, and spread to the Crown Vic and Mercury Grand Marquis variants of the Ford large sedan. Using the less generous SAE rating system of the 1990's, the first version of this mill had 210 horsepower, and was jacked up to 240 horsepower after improved cylinder heads were introduced right around the turn of the century.
The last entry is the Cadillac Northstar 4.6L engine, an all aluminum, double overhead cam, powerplant for the Deville. This masterpiece produces 275 horsepower, nearly one horse per cubic inchin standard trim, and 300 horse in the performance version. It gives the Deville way more power than the Ford large sedans. The extra efficiency of the Northstar allows the Deville to handily best the Fords on gas mileage.
It seems that 4.6 liters or 283 cubic inches is the optimum size for a V8. Various improvements have raised the specific power output from 0.67 horse per cubic inch in 1956 to 1.06 horse per cubic inch today.
Marketing is more difficult today. Used to be engines were known by their displacement in cubic inches. Numbers like 283, 327, and 409 live on in hot rod song and story, and sold plenty of cars. Lately is has become fashionable to size engines in liters the way the Europeans do, but no such engine has developed the fan base of the older cubic inch mills. The closest we have seen is the "Hemi" marketing campaign by Chrysler.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Sherman Declaration

Apropriate comment here.

Gary Johnson

A nice guy. Former governor of New Mexico. He is traveling the country, speaking out on issues. He came way up country to the wilds of northern New Hampshire and invited a bunch of natives, including yours truly, to dinner at the Oasis in Littleton. He did a good deal of listening.
The talk was naturally political. There was universal agreement that the economy (i.e. layoffs and plant closings) was the absolutely most important issue with the voters. And the voters are concerned, not to say frightened, about what they see coming at them. If the voters remember in November, many things could happen. On a related theme, the voters are worried about Obamacare. They fear their employers will drop company health care and they fear doctors will stop seeing Medicare patients because of cuts in reimbursement. The state budget mess was another topic. Until November the Republicans don't have the votes to do anything about it. The state is running a deficit between $60 million to $300 million depending upon how you count it and the democrats cannot cut anything, due to the screams of pain that cuts provoke, and they cannot pass an income tax for fear of angry mobs with torches and pitchforks.
Gary Johnson has a platform, I have a printed flyer. He pledges to protect civil liberties from bureaucratic encroachment. He wants to balance the budget, lest the deficit destroy the US dollar, the credit of the United States, and any chance of economic recovery. He would legalize marijuana and regulate it the way we regulate tobacco and alcohol. He is against raising taxes. As a border state governor he is concerned about immigration. He doesn't think fences will work. He wants to simplify the paperwork so that workers who want to work in the US can get work visas, get jobs, and pay US taxes. He is against the "cap and trade" fuel tax the democrats are pushing. He wants to get out of Iraq ASAP. He is against Obamacare.
We Republicans ought to pay more attention to Gary Johnson. We need someone to oppose Obama in 2012 and right now, we don't have anyone.
He has a web site.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Chrysler to attempt a "Man Van"

Chrysler will attempt to overcome the soccer-mom connotations of the mini-van with a "man van" version featuring hood scoops, light alloy wheels, and black leather upholstery with hot pink stitching.
Chrysler management must still be brain dead. No way can they make mini-vans more attractive to guys than SUV's are. Why bother? Mini-vans make a great family car, with a seat for every kid, room for plywood and sheetrock, as well as furniture from the auction. I have owned three of them over the years and they all gave great service. The front wheel drive is just made for skiers. But utilitarian is the kindest word I have for them, and I doubt that a few tack on gewgaws is going to change that.
If Chrysler really wanted to sell some cars, they need a small sedan with distinctive styling, good handling, and a decent engine. Actually, they had a fairly good concept in the PT Cruiser, but they botched it with inadequate engine power, mediocre gas mileage, pig-on-ice handling and a reputation for expensive breakdowns.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Why oh why

Do they make maple syrup bottles too tall to fit my cabinets? I have to store the stuff on the liquor bottle shelf, being the only shelf tall enough.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On the cover of the Rolling Stone

I read the notorious Rolling Stone article about Gen McCrystal and Afghanistan. I'm not entirely clear on what Obama finds so objectionable. I didn't see any quotes or reporters opinions disrespectful of the President. I did see a long article disparaging the war, casting doubt on the chance of victory, emphasizing internal friction, badmouthing the Afghans, all in all a downer of an article. The kind of hatchet job that Seymour Hersh used to do for the New Yorker. The author also paints McCrystal in an unflattering light. In fact, the article makes McCrystal look way way worse than it does Obama and the administration.
Clearly McCrystal allowed the wrong reporter access to Afghanistan and even granted him interviews. Surprising. We in the military learned not to trust the US press back in Viet Nam. I guess McCrystal forgot, or maybe never learned, that US reporters will write stories that make you personally look bad and discredit your unit and your branch of the service.
Of course, it could be that Obama, impatient for progress, has decided it's time for a better commander in Afghanistan, and the Rolling Stone article is a convenient excuse.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Refinishing for fun and profit, Part 2

The penetrating resin finish is a synthetic form of boiled linseed oil, which is still available in hardware stores and can be used as well. Linseed oil takes a little longer to dry, and doesn't dry as hard as Minwax, but many folk use it instead. Minwax comes in clear (natural the can will say) and with various colors, (stains). Old furniture usually has a lot of wood color, for which natural Minwax is appropriate. If the piece is lighter than you like, a stain can darken it. Stains won't lighten anything. A piece that shows a solid dark walnut color will remain solid dark walnut even after a coat of Minwax colonial pine.
Many pieces look very good done in penetrating resin. However there is some formal furniture that calls for a glossy finish. The easiest to apply is shellac and wax. Shellac is the resins of an Asian insect dissolved in alcohol. It flows on easily and dries rapidly which means the dust doesn't have much time to settle in the wet shellac. Let the first coat dry overnight and then you have to sand the piece again. The shellac raises the wood grain giving a nubbly feel to the surface. A light sanding with 220 grit will make it feel glassy smooth to the touch. Wipe the sanding dust off and you can give it a second coat of shellac to cover the places where you sanded a little too hard and exposed the wood. Let the second coat dry overnight and then you can wax it. I use Butchers paste wax, but other carnauba containing paste waxes, sold for wood floors and bowling alleys will work too. Rub it on, buff it up with a clean dry rag and you are good to go.
Couple of things. Shellac has little to no resistance to alcohol or water. It is not appropriate for bartops or kitchen and bath areas. The wax is pretty good at keeping the shellac dry against water spills, but a spilled drink will dissolve both the wax and the shellac. Shellac has a relatively short shelf life. The cans are dated, and it is not unusual to find out dated cans sitting on the shelf in the hardware store. Don't stock up on shellac, it will grow stale before you get to use it. If there is a question about the freshness of a can of shellac, put some on a test scrap of wood and see if it dries hard overnight. If the test scrap is still sticky in the morning, toss the shellac.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Refinishing for fun and profit

That first pad, that needs furniture, can be a real money black hole. Even IKEA is expensive and the standard furniture stores are outrageous. But, there is another way. You can refinish older furniture and have the job come out looking like new. I still have a chair I bought for $1 and refinished years ago.
For those of you who have never tried it, here is the way to go. First pick your used furniture carefully. It needs to be all wood, no upholstery, no particle board, and it has to look right even when old and dingy. There has been a lot of plain ugly furniture made over the years and even refinished, ugly stays ugly. Look for signs of quality, dovetail joints on the drawers, really top notch stuff has dovetails on the back of the drawers as well as the fronts. Drawers with a center guide rail are better than those without. Avoid elaborate carvings cause it is hard to sand them.
Then you have to get the old finish off. Paint remover will cut thru anything. It is also bad on skin, worse on eyes, and will burn like fire if you get some on your clothing and it sinks in. Rubber gloves help. Pick a sunny dry day and do the job outdoors. Slather on the remover, wait a few minutes for it to make the old finish crinkle up, and then scrape the resulting sludge off with a putty knife, or a rag, or steel wool, or scotchbrite pads, or a rag. Do the entire piece, except you don't have to strip the insides of drawers, just the drawer fronts. When done scraping and wiping, take a garden hose and wash the whole piece down. Dry with a clean rag. Do this fast, and then let the sun dry it the rest of the way. Police up the remover soaked rags, and such to prevent children, unwary friends and passers by from getting paint remover burns.
The remover and the water have by now raised the grain, and you have to sand it all smooth again. Sand paper comes in various grades. Start with 120 grit and go down to 220 grit as soon as possible. 220 grit is as fine as I ever go. The wood should come out smooth to the touch. For larger pieces an electric pad sander can be had new from Walmart for $30 or so and it really speeds the job.
After sanding, and before finishing, you want to clean up the shop to lay the dust. Then wipe down the piece with a rag moistened with thinner to pick up as much dust as possible. Give the air in the shop a day for the flying dust to settle and them wipe it down again.
Simplest and most foolproof finish is "penetrating resin" of which Minwax is the best known tradename. These finishes soak into the wood and harden, filling the pores and giving the wood a nice glow. The do NOT create a surface film and are never glossy. The stuff is water thin and you can apply it with just a rag, although brushes work fine too. Slather it on generously and give it 5 - 10 minutes to soak in. Then wipe it off with a clean dry rag. That's it. You are done. Give the stuff overnight to dry hard and carry your new classic antique up from the shop into the pad.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Watched the Sunday Pundits again. Dunno why I bother. Today it was NBC Meet the Press with David Gregory. They spend a lotta time trashing Obama over the Gulf oil spill. Of course the Gulf spill isn't Obama's fault, and there is nothing he can do to stop it, but hey, they gave Bush the same flak over Hurricane Katrina, and if it's good for Bush, it's good for Obama. Then they drove off into deep green territory. I watch Ed Markey, my old US rep from back when I lived in Massachusetts, claiming that a wonderful renewable energy future was right around the corner, if only someone would get the lead out. Sounded so nice and green.
Too bad it doesn't work that way. I need gasoline to make my car run and furnace oil to keep my pipes from freezing, and only way to get that stuff is from oil wells. And there is something wrong about watching a US Congressman peddle that kind of snake oil on national TV.

Why, Oh why can't the laptops do it right?

Right is simple. When the lid is closed, any intelligent laptop ought to power down to save the battery. So, just to see what would happen, I closed the lid, packed laptop into his carry case, and drove over to mother's place, some 15 minutes. Pull laptop out of bag, and damn, his battery is nearly flat, and all he can due until he gets plugged in is whine about low batteries. Damn thing was near full charge when I closed his lid 15 minutes before. In short, laptop had failed to power down, and during the short drive had wasted nearly every electron in the battery.
This has been a laptop problem for years. You cannot trust the little critters to turn off unless you do the Windows shutdown procedure. PITA. There you are in the airport, catching up on a little paperwork while waiting for your flight. Then they announce boarding, and you can't just close the lid and get on the plane. On no. You gotta click on the start menu, click on the shutdown item, wait for windows to actually shut down, and then pack laptop into his bag. If you don't, your battery will be flat by the time the seatbelt warning signs go off. And you can't plug in on the plane.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Roasting BP

Watching yesterday's Congressional hearing on BP was kinda like watching a bull fight. You know how it's going to come out, you watch it to see the blood flow. The congress critters demanded confessions from BP CEO Hayward, and Hayward wasn't about to confess to anything. They repeatedly asked Hayward to admit that BP had taken short cuts to save money, and Hayward wasn't buying that one. Committee chair Henry Waxman, came across as clueless and vindictive.
Hayward missed several opportunities to defend BP's drilling practices and paint the blowout as an unavoidable accident. He finally resorted to stonewalling the committee's "have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife" questions. Hayward clearly is not at his best public speaking to a hostile audience.
Neither side had slides to illustrate what they were talking about.
In actual fact, the well had a leak that allowed natural gas under great pressure into the drillpipe. BP skipped three important leak checks, any of which would have detected the problem. Then they pumped the drilling mud out of the well, and the well blew. The committee interrogators failed make this clear to the TV audience. Hayward kept his cool, disclosed nothing, and came out of it looking better than he went in. Which isn't saying much, but it could have been worse for him.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The sun is exploding

A NASA scientist announced that a super magnetic storm on the sun, strong enough to do all kinds of bad things, is expected in 2013. Instapundit picked up the Slashdot story and passed it on.
Gotta wonder about that one. In actual fact, sun spot activity is at an all time low. The 11 year sunspot cycle is almost stopped. Astronomers and radio amateurs are waiting for it to start up again. So a prediction of intense solar activity three years from now arouses a certain amount of skepticism among those who pay attention to the state of the sun.
By that as it may, how much badness could an intense solar storm do? The last really bad one was back in the 1850's and it scared the bejesus out of telegraph operators. It was strong enough to cause sparks to fly off the telegraph wires, lighting up the telegraph offices.
Today we have built more targets for solar storms to disrupt. Telephone, cable TV and electric power wires, plus all the station and central office equipment, and everything electrical plugged into those wires. However, all these networks have been hardened against lightening hits. It is doubtful that a solar storm is a bad as a lightening stroke, which can toast anything electrical and set the place on fire to boot. So the networks will stay up. We may have truckloads of melted modems, scorched stereos, and toasted TV sets, but I think the lights will stay on, and the phone will work.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hor rodding ain't what it used to be.

Things have changed. Used to be you could pull an engine out of a junker and drop it into something cool and it would run. Not any more. This Hot Rod magazine story shows how things have changed. The "junk yard jewel", a 4.6 liter Ford V8, won't run as it come out of the junkyard. The electronic boxes that make the fuel injection run don't come with the engine and the electrical harness to the injectors is toast.
Solution. Simple. Go with a carburetor. OK so far, except the carb needs a new Edelbrock intake manifold for nearly $600. The whole damn engine only cost $400. So before they can even crank it over, the $400 engine becomes a $1000 engine. I can remember replacing the entire engine in a hobby stock racer for $50 total. Speed costs, how fast do you want to go?
And then, Hor Rod magazine had access to a dyno. Us shade tree mechanics used to judge improvements in engine power by the seat of the pants, or quarter mile times, or looking at manifold vacuum. Dyno was a luxury far beyond our pocket books.
I shouldn't carp. Following this article you can produce a very strong engine from readily available parts and the whole project is less than $3000. They pushed the stock Ford mill from 200 and a skosh horsepower to nearly 400 horse and it's still driveable in the street.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

When Judges legislate from the bench

Granite Grok has an excellent piece here.

Product Improvement, 1830's style

Down in Baltimore they have a railroad museum full of steam locomotives. It goes right back to the first steamer the B&O ever built, Tom Thumb. Walking around the museum you can see the machines evolving from the first experimental model to the humonguous machines built in the 1940's.
The first model, Tom Thumb, of the famous horse race, is an obvious design. Take a four wheel chassis and plunk a steam boiler down in the middle of it. Firebox on the bottom, fire tube boiler above the fire, and a stack, for draft, atop the boiler. Vertical cylinder driving the wheels thru gears. The number 2 and number 3 engines, dubbed "grasshoppers", are bigger and heavier versions of Tom Thumb. Design is moving forward, number 2 grasshopper still has the expensive-to-make gear drive. Number 3 grasshopper drops the gear and replaces it with cheaper and simpler drive rods.
Grasshopper design reached a dead end. The grasshoppers were not very big or very powerful and they could not be made larger. A larger vertical boiler would be taller and would not fit under the bridges. A look around the museum shows the stacks on all the locomotives rise to exactly the same height, namely the height of the lowest bridge on the mainline.
Follow on design, which lasted until the end of steam, was the horizontal boiler. Technical difficulty of horizontal boilers is how to get the heat of the fire to flow sideways thru the boiler. Heat rises as we all know, and sidewise is a long way from up. The solution was to put the stack at one end of the boiler and the fire at the other. The draft of the stack sucked the flames thru the firetubes of the boiler. The final trick was to vent the waste steam from the cylinders up the stack. As the steam rushed up the stack it created a strong draft that kept things burning merrily.
In the museum you can see all these design improvements coming on very rapidly. It took less than 20 years to go from Tom Thumb to the American standard locomotive design that stayed in service until the end of steam.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I wonder what they are slipping thru in Washington

While the news media are totally consumed by the BP oil spill?

Why I hate Windows.

Was out with the laptop doing an inventory. Bring the laptop home and try to back up the new data to the desktop. Plugged a criss-cross network cable between the two machines, expecting to be able to move files between them. This used to work, in fact it used to work with these two computers and this cable.
Well, it doesn't work any longer. I futzed around for an hour. Turned off the firewalls. Each machine could ping the other machine, but Windows file sharing would not work.
I finally burned the files into a $1 CD and moved them that way.
Damn Microsoft.

Friday, June 11, 2010

It takes money to make money

Or, it takes energy to get energy. This graph shows how much energy is required to make various energy sources work.
The red is the amount of energy consumed by drilling engines, explosives, refineries, pressure vessels, stills, etc. The blue is the amount of useful energy yielded by the process.
Notice the broad yellow arrow marked "ERoEI Required to sustain current Industrial Civilization." Notice also that favorite energy sources of the left and the right (bio mass, nuclear, tar sands, ethanol) are on the wrong side of that arrow.
Bottom line. We need conventional oil and gas unless we accept dropping back to a pre industrial standard of living.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Words of the Weasel Part XVI

"Hold accountable". Same as "bust their chops, but good".

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

To bust or not to bust BP

President Obama is under pressure to "do something" about the BP oil spill. Problem is, objectively there is nothing he can do. The men, equipment, and expertise all belong to industry, not the government. The well will be capped as fast as BP can do it.
Groping around for something to do, Obama is threatening BP with criminal prosecution. Legally speaking this is possible. US law is riddled with loopholes, and aggressive prosecutors with plenty of budget can indict even a ham sandwich, let alone a multinational oil company with an accident prone record. Now, with pictures of oil sticky pelicans all over TV news, no American jury would have any trouble convicting.
According to the Wall St Journal, the only paper to cover the issue, the spill happened because of bad judgment calls by the BP manager aboard the rig, and failure of the blowout preventer. The BP man omitted or cut short two important tests for gas leakage. They cemented the well shut, assumed the cement job was tight. In actual fact, the cement job leaked, allowing natural gas at 3000 pounds/square inch into the 13000 foot long drill pipe. The only thing preventing this high pressure gas from rising up the well was the weight of 13000 feet of heavy drilling mud in the pipe. BP pumped that out and refilled the well with sea water. The natural gas forced its way up to the surface, caught fire and exploded. BP tried to shut the well off with the blowout preventer but that gadget malfunctioned. This is dumb and dumber, possibly rising to the level of negligence, but not criminal in the ordinary sense of the word.
Plus, we are depending upon BP to cap this runaway well. Somehow I don't think the threat of indictment, trial, and punishment is going to make BP work any faster or harder. In fact it will slow them down. BP is lawyering up, and lawyers always slow things down.
Obama would do better to call the BP people and offer them help. Navy submarines, Air Force transports, Army helicopters, could help, and won't hurt, and the support would help the morale of the BP personnel struggling with heavy equipment in 5000 feet of water.
And, to prevent this from happening again, there ought to be a clearly written set of safety regulations covering leak testing, fire fighting equipment, chain of command aboard the drill rig, life boat drills, fire drills, and testing of blow out preventers. I don't think such a book exists right now and it ought to.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A tale of two boats

Boat, aka traditional American car. Like six passenger, V-8, four door sedan. There was a time then that was all Detroit made. Then they started confusing the issue with station wagons, compact cars, intermediate cars, pony cars, mini vans, SUV's and crossover SUV's. The breed has been thinned down a lot, and there are just two survivors, Cadillac DeVille, and the Ford Crown Vic/Mercury Marquis/Lincoln.
My beloved '99 Cadillac DeVille bit the dust a few weeks ago. I just replaced it with an '03 Mercury Grand Marquis. The two survivors are an interesting contrast. The Caddy has better styling and more groovy gadgets then the Merc. Caddy's have, in addition to the standard electric seats and power door locks, power antenna, power trunk lid latch, power gas filler door, hands-off air conditioning & heating, all digital dashboard. Caddy engine is the magnificent all aluminum, double overhead cam, 4.6 liter Northstar. It's lighter and more powerful than the Merc's plain jane cast iron V8. Step on the Caddy and the Northstar would launch the car into orbit. Step on the Merc and it does accelerate, but it is modest. The advanced engine bought Caddy better gas mileage, 27 on the highway where as the Merc only gets 20.
The Merc is built stronger. The Caddy got scrapped because the rear axle loosened up and nearly came off the car. The combination of New Hampshire potholes and road salt caused the fasteners holding on the axle to loosen up and make an unnerving banging noise over bumps (of which NH has plenty). Two different body shops opined that 1. It couldn't be fixed; and 2. It wasn't long for this world. Caddys have also have heat gasket problems because you cannot torque up the head bolts enough to keep the head gasket in place with stripping the threads out of the aluminum block.
At 125K miles the drivers seat upholstery in the Caddy was sagging.
The Merc has a reputation for longevity, and long hard service as police car, taxi cab, airport limo, doesn't faze it. It has a better radio than the Caddy. Signal seek actually finds stations out here in the deep fringe area, the bass is stronger and it will play CD's AND tapes. The Merc does the plain car things well. It feels better charging thru a narrow slot between the Jersey barrier and the 18 wheeler at 80 mph. Ride on the interstates is smooth and solid, ride over bumpy back roads is confidence building. It doesn't bounce up and down.
In short, Caddy is a more advanced design, but the Merc is more rugged.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Multi Engine Aircraft

The biggest piece of aerospace business, possible the last big piece ever, is the F35 fighter program. They are talking about a thousand of them. The biggest piece of business in the F35 is the engine. Typically the engine accounts for a quarter to a third of the price of the airframe (plane less fancy electronics) Currently Pratt and Whitney's F135 engine is built, tested, bought, and installed in the F35.
However, Congress likes the idea of a second engine supplier for the F35, and so, there is $485 million of development money for GE to develop a second engine design. GE, and the congressional delegations from every state with a GE plant think this is a wonderful idea, the competition between Pratt and GE is supposed to keep the price of the engine down. After those development costs are paid down of course.
The Pentagon, (and Pratt) think $485 million could be saved this year, and a like amount in future years, by canceling the second engine and going with the existing design. As an old squadron level maintainance officer myself. I'm all in favor too. The thought of having a squadron of fighters with two different engines is unpleasant. You need two sets of special tools to work on them, two sets of spare parts, you have to train your guys on both engines, and you open up a whole world of nasty possibilities for maintainance errors. Not good.
In the old days, engines had multiple aircraft. The J47 powered the F86, the B45, B47, and others. The J57 powered the B52, the F100, the F101, the F102 and the early 707's. The J75 powered the F105, F106, U2, and later 707s. The thought of having two engines to power a single fighter is a kind of technological richness, or perhaps over indulgence, that we didn't have back when I was a flight line maintainance officer. Sounds like time for a cost cut here. Usually when the Pentagon doesn't want something and Congress does, there is pork involved.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Stealth has a price.

Stealthy aircraft, namely the F22 and F35, no longer carry weapons on under wing racks. Instead missiles are tucked into internal missile bays lest enemy radar get a return off the ordinance. So far so good. Unfortunately the missile bays on F22 and F35 are just big enough to accept AIM-120 "Slammer" air to air missile. They are too small to fit the bigger anti-radiation missiles (HARM) used to knock out enemy radar and SAM sites.
The Air Force is working on smaller anti radiation missiles, small enough to fit, but this is probably a loser long term. An anti radiation missile has to be big to carry enough "bang" to do a ground site, which are more robust than aircraft. I remember the old AGM-45 Shrike we used in Viet Nam. Nice missile but the warhead wasn't big enough to do the job.
Then there is the never fading Air Force desire for a bomber. Every Air Force officer has seen "12 o'Clock High" and wants to have a modern B17. In Viet Nam and Iraq the bombing was done by fighters. The jet fighters carry as heavy a bomb load as the B17's and defend themselves as well. Or at least the old, reliable, but unstealthy F105, F4, F15 and F16 can, the fancy new stealth F22 and F35 may not. Be that as it may, USAF wants a bomber. They haven't decided range, payload and survivability requirements yet, but they know they want a bomber.

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This innocous email turned up this morning. Looks halfway authentic. Except for a couple of things.
1. My email reader pulls all my email off the server onto my very own PC. No way is my mailbox ever gonna fill up.
2. Never heard of RR Mail.
Based on 1 and 2, I decided NOT to click on the link. There are plenty of spammers and worse out there.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cat shows backbone

Stupid Beast, who is so timid that passing pickup trucks make her hide under beds, faced down a dog this morning. It was a very nice young black Lab who wanted to make friends, but Stupid Beast wasn't having any of that. She did the arch back, fluff up fur and menacing growl bit so effectively that she drove the poor Lab right off the property. The dog was so impressed he failed to even bark.

How have the mighty fallen.

According to Fox Business News, the Caterpillar company will buy the Electromotive Division (EMD) from a pair of vulture capitalist firms for a measly $820 million. EMD is the company that made the diesels that replaced steam locomotives on US railroads in the 1950s. EMD started out in the 1920's making gas electric rail cars. They were what we would call a system integrator today. They bought the car bodies, the electric traction motors, the generators and the Winton distillate engines from suppliers and put them together to make self propelled rail cars. Gas electrics sold pretty well, plenty of railroads had thinly traveled routes that a single car train could serve. Compared to getting down to the roundhouse four hours before train time to light the fire and raise steam, a gas electric was simplicity to operate, you just hit the starter button and it was running.
As the Winton engine people squeezed more power out of the engines, the gas electrics gained enough oomph to pull a trailer car, yielding a two car train. Then in the middle 1930's the Electromotive Corporation built the two prototype streamline trains, the Burlington's Zephyr and the Boston & Maine's Flying Yankee. These were sensational trains, all stainless steel, ultra modern styling, fast, great looking interiors and they gained a lot of publicity. Somewhere along the line, the Electromotive Corp was bought by General Motors and became the Electromotive Division (EMD).
In the late 1930's, just before WWII, EMD introduced the first passenger and freight diesel road locomotives. In 1941, after Pearl Harbor, the War Production Board, faced with endless demands for guns and tanks and aircraft and all the logistics needed to supply American, British and Russian armies, decided that the scarce and high tech diesel engines should go into submarines, landing craft, transportable electric plants and other munitions. The railroads were told to haul the wartime traffic with steam engines. Of which there were plenty, and Baldwin, Alco, and the railroads own shops were all set up to make plenty more. Net result, EMD's road diesels ran through out WWII and by VE day all the bugs had been worked out.
After VJ day, the traditional steam locomotive makers, Baldwin and Alco, along with GE and Fairbanks Morse introduced road diesels, but they didn't stand a chance against the seasoned and debugged EMD models. In less than 15 years the railroads scrapped all the steamers and replaced them with new EMD diesels. That was a tremendous piece of business. EMD, and parent company GM, made money hand over fist doing it, and EMD dominance of the US locomotive market lasted well into the 1980's.
For reasons unclear to me, competitor GE stayed in the locomotive business and gradually pulled ahead of EMD by the mid 1980's. Could be of course that brain dead GM senior management screwed things up, I don't know that story, but it is likely. In 2005, as GM was sliding down the tubes, they sold EMD to couple of vulture capital firms. And now the capital firms sold out to Caterpillar.
I wish the new owners every kind of luck. They have a great name, 33000 locomotives in service, and $1.8 billion yearly sales. Caterpillar bought the place for only 1/2 the yearly sales numbers.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ratings Agencies, Welfare for Wall St.

Used to be, companies and state and local governments could just issue bonds. You know, written deals that said "You give me cash, I promise to pay it back, with interest over the next umpteen years." If the bond issuer seemed solvent, people bought the bonds. If the issuer was unknown or had a bad rep, the bonds didn't sell.
Then Congress got into the act. To issue bonds now, the issuer must get a rating agency like Standard & Poor or Moody's to "rate" the bonds. You know AAA or ABA or PUREJUNK. This was supposed to "protect" investors from unscrupulous junk bond dealers. Trouble is, the ratings agencies are less scrupulous than the junk bonders. The ratings agencies happily rated sub prime mortgage backed securities AAA. The defaults on AAA rated sub prime bonds caused Great Depression 2.0
Needless to say, this is pure gravy for the ratings agencies which now get a cut on every bond issued. The issuers have to pay the agencies for the rating. Needless to say, the issuers shop around for the best rating. If Moody's won't give me AAA maybe Standard and Poor's will.
It's welfare for Wall St.