Thursday, June 30, 2011

Is it a loop hole to be closed or a tax hike?

Strange bedfellows. Last week the Senate voted to end US tax breaks for the ethanol industry. Then Grover Norquist, long time anti tax activist popped up and complained that closing this tax loophole was actually a tax hike and he opposed it. Norquist does his homework, and has persuaded most congressional republicans to sign his no-tax pledge. So he is hard to ignore.
Then Obama came out four square for tax changes to cut the budget deficit. He wants to close a loophole for corporate jets, another he claims is for the oil industry but is actually available to all US manufacturers, and a tax break he says applies to hedge fund managers.
So are these tax hikes or loophole closings? And is this real money or chickenfeed? The corporate jet loophole actually applies to all new aircraft, and Obama hasn't said what he is proposing, killing it for all aircraft, changing it to exclude small jets, or to exclude all light aircraft.
The oil industry is taking advantage of the 8% US manufacturing tax credit which was passed in 2004. Oil drilling counts as manufacturing.
The hedge fund tax break is "carried interest", IRS jargon meaning the right to treat manager's bonuses as capital gains. Managers get a bonus based upon how much the funds assets appreciate, and the IRS allows this to be taxed at the 15% capital gains rate rather than the 35% ordinary interest rate. The democrats tried to make this law last year but failed. This one is probably real money, the other two are chicken feed.
So what we have here is probably loophole closing, but the Republicans are properly rejecting it as tax hikes, because you don't want to give Obama anything on the revenue side until you have pinned him down on spending cuts.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


"The Interrogator: An Education" by Glenn L. Carle. Reviewed in the Wall St Journal by Ali Soufan. The author retired from CIA, the reviewer retired from the FBI, and both of them did some of the interrogation of 9/11 detainees. They both conclude that "enhanced interrogation techniques" (aka waterboarding) did no good. Under duress, all but the dumbest detainee would tell the interrogator anything he wanted to hear, just to make it stop hurting.

What price Alternate Energy?

Harbor Freight, a low end retailer of low end tools and hardware, is offering a 45 Watt solar panel for $169.99, or $3.77 per watt. Same catalog offers a 800 watt gasoline generator for $99.99, or $0.12 per watt. Or, a utility can buy a 1 Gigawatt nuclear plant for $6 billion, or $0.006 per watt.
Solar cells are not going anywhere because they cost way too much. And they don't give any electricity after the sun goes down, which is when I really want my electric lights to work.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What are kids reading today?

Does not look good. Take a look here The only book in the whole list that is any good is The Golden Compass by Pullman. The rest have just horrible stories featuring suicide, rape, cutting, drug use, and a distopia (The Giver)that makes 1984 look like summer camp. Bummers all of 'em.
What happened to the books I enjoyed in middle and high school? J.R.R. Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert A. Heinlein, Rudyard Kipling, Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov, Montgomery Atwater, Sperry Armstrong, Poul Anderson, L. Frank Baum, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jules Verne, Frans Gunnar Bengtson, Fletcher Pratt, Willy Ley?

An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson

A good read. Atkinson tells the story of the WWII North African invasion, Operation Torch. It starts off with controversy, the American general staff was dead set against it. Roosevelt intervened, over rode the US military's objections, and the operation was on. The invasion fleet loaded up in Norfolk Virginia, steamed across the Atlantic and hit the North African beaches some 3000 miles away. One troopship was torpedoed and the troops lowered their landing craft in mid Atlantic, planning to motor the rest of the way. They didn't make it, and had to be rescued by a destroyer, but it was a noble effort.
Then there was a need for a shallow draft vessel to bring bombs and aviation gas up a shallow river to an airfield. A tired banana boat, the Contessa, was commandeered, dry docked for a scrape and paint of the hull, plus leak repairs. When the crew heard where the Contessa was bound, they all jumped ship. The captain and first mate go down to the Norfolk jail and pretty soon they have a new crew of men who think crossing the sub infested Atlantic, loaded with gasoline and explosives, is a better deal than a Virginia chain gang. The Contessa makes it, picks up a local pilot, gets up the river and unloads at the airfield.
Any history buff will enjoy this one.

Monday, June 27, 2011

NH Budget

We should praise our New Hampshire legislators for passing a real balanced budget. Give them extra credit for getting the governor to go along with it. The new budget reduces state spending by 11.7% from last year. These are real cuts. Real cuts occur when the agencies get less money than they got last time. Fake cuts (popular in government circles) occur when the agencies get less than they asked for. This budget has real cuts.
Much angst has been raised among democrats about cuts to worthy programs. In the real world, there is never enough money to pay for all the worthy programs. The programs cut are all worthy programs, but we just do not have the money to pay for them. We will never have to money to pay for all the things that would be nice to have.
The state only has so much money. It can’t get any more without raising taxes. We taxpayers are paying too much right now. We are facing layoffs; cuts in hours worked; a dreadful job market; increased gasoline and furnace oil prices; and increased food prices. We don’t have any more money to give to the state.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Swiss bomb shelters

According to the Journal, Swiss building codes require all new residential construction to have a bomb shelter. And, said shelter is supposed to be hard enough to ride out a 12 megaton nuke at 700 meters. Damn, that's hard. I don't think missile silo's are that hard.
Now that the cold war is over the Swiss are debating relaxing the bomb shelter requirements...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Patent Law revision

The US House just passed a law to revise US patent law. The Senate has already passed it's own patent law, so after the House-Senate conference resolves the differences, it will go to Obama for signature.
Speaking as someone who worked in new product development for forty years, the US patent system is research and development hostile. Develop something, get it into production and bingo, get sued. There is always some patent troll holding a vaguely worded patent with claims as broad as all outdoors demanding money. Things like "Use of computer to transmit data", or "Register customer's sale after one mouse click."
These are mickey mouse patents that should never have been granted, but they were granted, and now some lawyers use them to take money away from developers.
What we need is to tighten up the granting of patents, and make it easier to revoke the mickey-mouse patents that are out there.
What are we going to get? More welfare for lawyers. They want to change the US system from "first to invent" to "first to file a patent". This is good for lawyers, 'cause it requires every inventor to file an expensive patent as early as possible. Right now you don't have to file until the idea shapes up to the point that it has some economic possibilities. Under "first-to-file" you better file as soon as possible, lest the idea leak out and some troll files first. Result, lots and lots of patent applications. Plus, large companies with legal staff have it easier filing a patent than a small startup does.

Right to Work is dead?

Or at least in terrible jeopardy. As you may or may not remember, House Speaker Bill O'Brian scheduled an over-ride-Lynch-veto vote last week. Then it slipped. Then the speaker announced that the vote would be postponed until September.
Today's Wall St Journal carried the story but added that right-to-work in NH was dead. The Journal quoted some legislators as saying "I have a lot of Republican cops and firemen in my district. I don't dare cross them on right-to-work cause they might go and vote democratic on me."
Too bad. Right to work would bring new industry to New Hampshire. Companies won't invest in a state that lacks a right to work law. That's why the right to work states have shown better growth, both economic and population, than closed union shop states.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Home sprinklers defeated

The nation's fire men have been pushing for installation of sprinkler systems in all new residential construction. They pushed hard enough to get a sprinkler requirement into the national fire code a few years ago.
This requirement would jack up the price of a new home by $5000 and bring you tasteful chrome sprinkler heads in the living room ceiling. Political pressure from home builders and ordinary citizens got the NH legislature to pass a bill forbidding cities and towns from requiring sprinklers in new residential construction. Our governor, Lynch, vetoed the bill a few days ago.
Fortunately, the legislature was able to over ride the governor's veto yesterday and New Hampshire homes can remain free of mandatory and expensive sprinkler systems.
Now if we can only find the votes to override Lynch's veto of right-to-work.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Does spending kill jobs?

No, according to a Wall St Journal op-ed by Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton professor of economics. We have to take this with a grain of salt, Mr. Blinder's arguments are difficult to follow and are strewn with oddities.
For instance, "But even building bridges to nowhere would create jobs, not destroy them, as the congressman from nowhere knows." Mr. Blinder fails to understand that jobs must create wealth, not consume it. Farming, mining, manufacturing, logging create wealth. Bridges to nowhere consume wealth. Might as well just pile the money in a heap and burn it for all the good they do. Government make-work jobs are just welfare dressed up pretty.
Or, referring to the Obama Porkulus bill, "How in the world could all that spending, accompanied by tax cuts, fail to raise employment?" Good question Mr. Blinder, where did all that money go, leaving us with 9.1% unemployment? It is obvious to a Princeton economist that so much spending absolutely must raise employment. Perhaps Mr. Blinder is so wedded to Keynesian economic theory that he cannot bother to look at real data, like the unemployment rate
Then he makes a favorable reference to Paul Krugman. That is a bad sign. In my estimation, Krugman is an idiot, despite his Nobel prize in economics and his perch on the New York Times op-ed page.
Blinder sums things up by saying that we need spending and tax cuts to create jobs but cuts and tax hikes to balance the budget. He never mentions that economic growth ( which we don't have) will balance the budget. He then offers a tricky tax credit (aka tax loophole) to encourage hiring.
Mr. Blinder has just earned a spot on my personal idiots list.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Lotta talk on the internet about a solar something-or-other concerning sunspots, or rather the lack of them. Some in climate "science" are claiming that a sunspot drought will save us from Global Warming.
Doubtful. Sunspots have been observed for some 400 years. They wax and wane on an 11 year cycle, and they do effect high frequency (2-30 MHz) radio communication. During sunspot maximum radio amateurs can work stations all over the world. During sunspot minimum they may have trouble working a friend in the next town.
Needless to say, amateurs pay a good deal of attention to sunspots. Right now we are at sunspot minumum, and it's the lowest minimum on record. Like zero spots visible, and we are late coming out of it. We should have a lot more sunspots right now than we do. Based on this sunspot drought some people are predicting an abnormal sunspot cycle. This has happened before, and no reason to believe it won't happen again.
There is little reason to believe that sunspots have anything to do with Global Warming. No weatherman will say that sunspots effect the weather, and climate is just long term weather forecasting. The climate "scientists" will say almost anything, you gotta watch them carefully.
We have about 30 years of satellite data on "the solar constant", i.e. the amount of sunlight falling on the earth. The satellites show about 1350 watts per square meter. If you look hard at the plots of satellite data, you can see the 11 year sunspot cycle, it's about plus/minus 1 watt/sq meter, that's a variation of like 0.1%. Weathermen and most reasonable people feel that is way too small to make any difference in weather.
But expect to see a good deal of talk about it on slow news days.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mouse Guns.

New issue of American Rifleman has a review of the Diamondback DB380 pistol. It's an automatic chambered for 380 ACP, polymer frame, six shots. Looks like a mini Glock, a pocket pistol.
Somewhere in the writeup they mention the DB380 had seven failures-to-feed while they were testing it. Wow! Four failures occurred with hollow point ammunition and 3 with round nose full metal jacket ammunition. This negates a common excuse for failure-to-feed in automatic pistols, hollow point ammunition. Looks like the DB380 has about as much trouble with full metal jacket as it does with hollow points.

The authors of the review suggest (but don't guarantee) that this might go away after shooting the gun in for a while longer.

Sounds like a good reason to get a .38 snub nosed revolver.

Obama and the War Powers Act Part 2

Meet the Press went over the matter just this morning. Funny thing, the Republicans on the panel were more supportive of the Libya war than the Democrats. The Republicans both said something like "We wish Obama would talk up the need for Libya to both voters and Congress men. It's something that needs doing, but Obama ain't doing it right." Which has to count as more supportive than the Democrats on the same panel nattering about War Powers.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Obama and the War Powers Act

Ya gotta wonder about Obama. Basic lesson from history, if you want to get in a war you need support from the voters and from Congress. Lack of such support doomed the Viet Nam war effort. Congress passed the War Powers Act to prevent a gung ho president from dragging the nation into another Viet Nam war.
So Obama decides to intervene in Libya without going to Congress and asking for support (in effect a declaration of war). Dumb move. We been bombing the crap out of Quaddafi for two months, and the bastard is since there. And now, Congress is making noises about War Powers and disapproval, and cutting off funding.
Obama should have gone to Congress two months ago and gotten a resolution that whackng Quadaffi is in the national interest. It would have passed, Quadaffi is scum who is better off dead. But now, Obama may be wrapped around the Congressional axle for lack of forethought.

Friday, June 17, 2011

So why did the Roman Empire Fall?

The perennial question of ancient history. Many historians have chimed in on this one. The empire was, at its peak, immensely strong. At the center of the empire was the Mediterranean Sea, offering water transport to and from all points. The empire controlled the entire shoreline of the Mediterranean, which for the first time in history, put down the pirates. Pirates are not suppressed in blue water encounters with naval vessels, they are suppressed by taking over their home ports. The empire was the first to profit from widespread sea trading. Water transport was so cheap that the city of Rome fed its people on grain imported from far away Egypt. So what laid the empire low?
Perhaps it was the lack of a succession mechanism. When the emperor died, a civil war often broke out to determine the next emperor. Nothing saps the strength of an empire like a civil war. In addition to the killing and the property damage, the survivors are likely to adopt a life long "keep your head down" attitude and contribute as little as possible to keeping things running.
Then there must have been technological diffusion. In Julius Caesar's time (first century BC) the legions were far superior to the Gauls and the Celts and everybody else. The Legions knew about marching in step, staying in ranks, obeying orders, and they had better weapons too. Caesar tells of Gauls having to drop back from the front line, lay their bent swords on the ground, and pull them straight again. The legionary gladius didn't have this problem, due to superior Roman smith craft.
By say 300 AD, this superior Roman technology must have diffused out into the wider world, and the legions found them selves fighting barbarians who were as good as they were. Some of this diffusion must have come from the Roman practice of enlisting barbarians to fill the ranks of the legions. After serving a 20 year enlistment, the retired veterans must have known everything there was to know about Roman military art. Plenty of them must have returned home to where ever and passed on what they had learned.
There are other reasons, such as failure of the Roman tax base, that have been widely discussed by historians, the notions of repeated succession crisis and technological diffusion are my own.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Can Boeing sell the V22 Osprey?

Apparently the US has bought about all the V22's it wants. To keep the Boeing production line open, and all the workers employed, Boeing is looking to sell the V22 tiltrotor to any foreign country with money. A lot of money, V22 is expensive. Much more expensive than helicopters.
According to Aviation Week, notes that "V-22's ship board accoutrements- including folding wings and electro magnetic hardening- account for nearly half the cost." Wow.
And "A particular headache for the V-22 has been engine on wing time, now averaging 100-200 hours in the harsh conditions of Afghanistan" Double wow. J-75 fighter plane engines gave 1000 hour service back in the 1960's.
Boeing has an expensive-to-buy and expensive-to-fly machine here. Good luck finding customers for it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Protect electric power grid

Op ed piece in the Wall St Journal, decrying to failure of the government to "protect the electric grid" from hostile Chinese hackers.
Sorry, it is the responsibility of the power companies to protect their assets, not the government. All that is necessary is to make sure that control of generators and other machinery never goes over the public internet, and that Windows computers are never connected to the internet. They can even use cheap PC's so long as they run Linux and not Windows.
State public utility commissions should be asking their regulated power companies about use of the public internet.

There ougtha be a law

Against robo callers who ring your phone but fail to answer when you pick it up.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How GM sank, by Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz is a long time GM executive responsible for product development. He calls himself a "car guy", although the real GM car guy was Zora Arkos-Duntov the father of the Corvette. Lutz claims the bean counters are responsible. He describes what happened to Cadillac. Once upon a time Caddy was top of the line, best car out there. A new Caddy sold for maybe three times what a new Chevy sold for. Cost to manufacture a new Caddy was about the same as a new Chevy.
According to Lutz, GM decided to ramp up sales of Caddy, to sell more Caddies than Ford sold Lincolns. Production was increased, vast numbers of Caddies were sold to rent-a-car companies, who turned around and sold nice clean low mileage Caddies for less. Resale value of Caddy dropped, a lot, and used Caddies were so cheap anyone could and did buy them. People with money stopped buying new Caddies 'cause they were a dime a dozen, everybody had one. The lucrative new luxury car sales went to Mercedes and BMW.
Lesson not learned, a top of the line product has to be scarce, if you make to many of them, it stops being top of the line.
Then Lutz talks about Saturn. "despite some heroically mediocre cars there were at one time vast legions of happy Saturn owners." But Saturn was more than just a product, it was a whole car company with it's own engineering, personnel, dealership network, legal staff and so on. This massive overhead had to be paid for by the sales of just one compact car.
Lesson not learned, save money by consolidating the overhead operations.
This all comes from the Wall St Journal's excerpts of Bob Lutz's new book.

"We have turned this economy around"

The Democratic National Chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, delivered this preposterous assertion on NBC's Meet the Press yesterday morning. This was too much for even the NBC moderator David Gregory, who called her on it, on air. It's so outrageous that Fox News is rerunning it today, just to make sure nobody misses it.
Either Debbie is totally clueless or she is deliberately lying. Either way it's a bad sign. How many other office holding democrats believe they have turned the economy around?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Quid Pro Quo.

The US needs, (or thinks it needs)to increase the national debt ceiling. Which we have hit. Treasury figures they run out of money beginning of August, say eight weeks.
Republicans are reluctant to do this. They are milling around, making ugly noises, but they haven't figured out what they want as a trade for raising the debt ceiling.
They could ask for ending farm subsidies, and abolishing the Agriculture Dept. They could ask for abolishing the Education Dept. They could ask for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. They could ask for tax reform. They could ask to abolish the EPA.
They ought to ask some damn thing...

We must be doing something right.

This website ranks NH first in freedom in the United States. What's no to like?

Greece, the debt bomb.

Apparently one of the things keeping the Greeks afloat, is the European Common Bank, who fears that a Greek default will crash some sucker banks that bought a lot of Greek bonds 'cause they liked the high interest rate. So the EU is trying to find support to loan the Greeks a wad of Euro's that the Greeks can use to pay off their bonds, which will save the sucker banks from big losses. In short, the ECB wants to transfer the losses from the sucker banks to the European taxpayers. There is a good deal of resistance to this idea among German taxpayers, and the resistance is rising daily.
Sooner of later something has got to give. The Greek government is still spending more than they take in taxes and covering the difference by borrowing. They owe something like 130% of GNP, which, to be real about it, they can never pay off. The EU bailout payments just push the day of reckoning into the future. Reportedly one IMF official uses the sound of a can being kicked down the road as his ringtone.
This is kinda like watching a bull fight, to see who gets gored first, the sucker banks or the taxpayers.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The news has been carrying stories of unprofessional conduct on the part of Obama appointed NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko. According to the Wall St Journal, Jaczko was appointed to kill off the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository. This was to make the Nevada greens happy and get them to vote Obama in 2008. Jaczko has been accused of various illegal and unethical actions by the NRC inspector general. The affair ought to be on TV this coming week as Congressional hearing get under way.
A couple of things one ought to know, that the MSM doesn't talk about.
First, the nuclear wastes, actually spend fuel rods from commercial power reactors, don't need a super expensive under mountain storage facility way out in the desert. Fuel rods removed from reactors are placed in pools of water (swimming pools essentially) on the reactor site. They are very happy there, and it's safe, and economical. They can stay there, just about forever.
Second, if we were to recycle the fuel rods, the problem would go away. The spent fuel rods are still 90% fissionable uranium. All that is necessary is to remove the 10% fission products and you have most of a new fuel rod, ready to go on producing more electricity. Most other nuclear countries recycle their fuel rods.
What we really have here is a political contest between the greenies who want to shut down nuclear power generation, and the NIMBY's who don't want Yucca Mountain to open up in their state.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Simvastatin will kill me?

NHPR got my attention this morning when it ran a piece about the FDA bashing the anti cholesterol drug Simvastatin. I happen to be on Simvastatin, so that story struck right home. The FDA spokeman was strongly against use of Simvastatin and said it should have been taken off the market years ago. There are many other drugs that are better. Well, yes there are, namely Lipitor. Trouble is, Lipitor costs $3 a pill, Simvastatin costs $0.13 a pill at Walmart.
So I googled to find out what is going on. FDA ran a big study, 6000 people using the big 80 mg dose of Simvastatin and 6000 people using the smaller 20 mg dose. Less than 1 percent of the 80 Mg users came down with a rare muscle ailment that I never heard of. Less than 0.1 percent of users of the smaller 20 mg dose suffered from the same ailment. Well, that's statistically significant. The FDA gave no information linking the difference in risk to the drug, as opposed to underlying conditions in the patient. Patients taking the 80mg dose are doing it 'cause their cholesterol counts were higher and needed a stronger dose of Simvastatin to control it. Could be that patients with higher cholesterol counts are more vulnerable to the rare muscle ailment, but we will ignore that.
Checking my medicine cabinet I find I'm taking the 40 mg dose, not the 80 mg dose, so I'm OK there. Plus, rare muscle ailment usually strikes within a year of starting Simvastatin and I've been on it for longer than that.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

CEO of Government Motors calls for gas tax hike

Story is here. Aren't you glad to have your tax dollars bail out this company? Also note the comments on this article, most of them are in favor of the proposed gas tax hike.

Pilot Error

Last year Air France flight 447 disappeared over the south Atlantic. No distress calls, just gone. After a year long search of deep sea bottom, the wreck was located and the flight recorders were recovered from 10,000 feet. They must build 'em right cause after a year on the bottom of the ocean, they still work.
The flight recorders reveal that the aircraft, cruising at 38 thousand feet, had the autopilot suddenly trip off line, leaving the pilot[s] to hand fly the aircraft. This they failed to do. The aircraft went nose up and stalled. And stayed stalled, the pilots never pushed the stick forward to put the nose down, gain airspeed and fly out of the stall. The stall warning horn went off, but the aircrew failed to put the stick forward. The aircraft, stalled, fell from 38 thousand feet (seven miles high) and hit the sea.
This is really hard to believe, 'cause everyone knows about stalls, and everyone knows you push the stick forward to recover from a stall. There were three pilots on the flight deck, and not one of them came up with the right answer.
Contributing factor to the accident, the pitot tube iced up, which caused the indicated airspeed to drop to 60 knots. This is why the autopilot dropped off line, it is smart enough to know that the plane won't fly at 60 knots, something must be wrong, and it wanted the pilot to take over. Unfortunately the pilots could not fly the aircraft either.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cybertage, large scale

Aviation Week has a couple of dramatic pictures. The first shows the new power room of the Shushenskaya hydro electric plant. Huge, slightly curved room, big windows, spotless concrete floor with eight turbines neatly set out.
Second photo shows the same room after the accident, the place is wrecked, concrete floor torn apart, turbines and generators ripped apart and hurled into corners.
How did this happen? A plant employee used a network to remotely and accidentally activate an unused turbine with a few errant keystrokes. This created a water hammer that flooded and then destroyed the plant and killed dozens of workers. This happened back in 2009 in Siberia.
The obvious conclusion is that cyber hackers could make the same thing happen deliberately.
Which is why control of electric power generators should NEVER be done over the public internet, and should NEVER rely upon Windows computers.

Ads slowing the net

I click on a web site, and wait, and wait. Firefox flashes up a running display of all the websites visited on the way to the blog I clicked on. All ad sites. I gotta wait for all the ads to load before I get to see the content I cared about.
There is an opening here, for a web site to claim faster than the average site. All it has to do is display content first and ads second.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Development cost at SpaceX one tenth of NASA.

Aviation Week says SpaceX developed and launched the Falcon 9 heavy lift rocket booster for $390 million. For comparison NASA used the NASA-Air Force Cost Model computer program to estimate the same job and found the computer estimated cost to be $4000 million, ten times as much. The cost savings are attributed to SpaceX program management technique.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden said "They don't spread things all over the country the way that NASA and defense contractors tend to do. They're very focused in two locations in the country. They bring everything in-house. They have no subcontractors, so everything comes to them."
NASA post Shuttle plans are up in the air. They ought to just purchase the Falcon 9 off-the-shelf to boost crew and cargo to the International Space Station. Congress wants NASA to develop their own heavy lift booster to keep the vast Shuttle workforce employed. The Obama administration wanted to drop the NASA heavy lifter development and concentrate on deep space missions. So far the three sides have not agreed on a policy, so things are just drifting. Meanwhile the US is paying the Russians something like $25 million a ticket to take US astronauts up to the International Space Station.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Robert Gates gives a farewell address

Gates, the out going defense secretary made a few remarks, reported upon
He bemoaned the Pentagon procurement system but without offering either an explanation of what is wrong with it, let alone how to fix it. This is unfortunate, so I will attempt to lay out the real procurement problem, gold plating.
Gold plating is the tendency to specify the platforms be equipped every new gadget imaginable, kinda like ordering a new car fully loaded. Take an example from ancient history, the C-5 transport plane. This design goes back to the 1960's. At base, the C-5 was to be the biggest transport that could fly using then new and much more powerful jet engines. It had double the engine power of the contemporary C-141 which yielded a whale of a plane. Flying cargo, including big cargo, to and from real airports (ones with concrete runways) it would have been a very useful machine to have.
It was the first transport aircraft big enough to actually get off the ground carrying a real Army tank, not a light weight "airborne" tank, but a main battle tank, the M1 Abrams. The Army was overjoyed, and began to have visions of future air assaults. The paratroops jump in, capture some bean patch behind enemy lines, then the C-5's swoop in and unload the tanks. Presto, you have a real armored division operating at some strategic spot with complete tactical surprise. Trouble is, landing a whale of an airplane, with a 50 ton tank inside it, on dirt runway doesn't really work. The wheels sink in and the whale is stuck, and blocking the runway. Nothing, not even a tank, is going to tow a stuck C-5 anywhere. It might tear the nose gear off, but it won't move the C-5. Or die hard enemy defenders drop a mortar round on the C-5 as it's unloading and again you have the runway blocked with a blazing and unmovable whale.
To support the "land on dirt runway" requirement, the C-5 was equipped with a fantastic landing gear of 28 wheels. Truly ingenious design solved the problem of retracting this forest of wheels. To go with the 28 wheels, it needed 28 disc brakes, 28 anti skid sensors and an anti skid control box smart enough to figure out which wheel[s] needed less brake pressure and which needed more. I watched a C-5 land at Altus AFB back in the '70's. Touchdown was smooth, followed by flying rubber as some tires blew. At debriefing the aircrew said "Fairly normal landing, we only blew three tires". Antiskid had managed to lock up some of the wheels, and sliding the locked tires along the concrete runway wore right thru the tread.
Then came the requirement for "truck bed loading height", which means having the cargo deck at the height of an ordinary Army truck so cargo pallets could slide off the C-5 onto a truck, no forklift required. Sounds benign. Trouble is, after you get a huge plane that low to the ground, you cannot rotate for takeoff because the tail scrapes on the runway. To solve this problem, the fantastic landing gear was redesigned to "kneel", lowering the entire C-5 to the ground, and then later, jacking the whole plane up high enough to take off.
Then they added a "Maintenance Data Computer" which didn't do much, an unnecessary nose loading door to go with the tail loading door, and a bunch of other stuff that I no longer remember at this remove in time.
Now the C-5 had all the stuff everyone wanted in it. But adding stuff made the plane heavy, heavier than the specification allowed. Lockheed was driven to incredible lengths to trim the weight down to meet spec. This included making the brake rotors (all 28 of them) out of beryllium. Beryllium costs more than gold. When everything else failed, Lockheed made the aluminum skin thinner. This would have fateful consequences later in the C-5's life.
The contract was "firm fixed fee" for a an initial production run (Run A) of 52 C-5's. Lockheed lost barrels of money on each plane it built. When it came time for a contract for the next 52 airplanes (Run B) Lockheed held out for a price that let them earn a little money on each plane. That price was stiff. So stiff that one Air Force general said "I'll haul the troops in gooney birds before I pay that kind of money". His view prevailed, there was no Run B. The 52 C-5's of Run A were all there ever were. They are still flying.
Lessons that should have been learned. Don't specify things that aren't absolutely necessary to accomplish the primary mission. The C-5 was good at moving vast amounts of stuff to and from real airports. Spec'ing in dirt field operation and truck bed loading turned a good airplane into a hangar queen, and sent the cost thru the roof.
These lessons probably have not been learned to this day.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Why it's nice to get home from a trip

Reason 1. A good night's sleep, with cool breeze flowing thru the open window and no roar of city buses or warbling beeping car alarms. Sleeping in DC or Brooklyn is hot and airless, you are wet with sweat in the morning. Before air conditioning, Washington DC was considered a hardship post by diplomats. I agree with that.

Reason 2. The grass was on the warpath. I cut it just before I left, but given a week unmowed it was 6 inches tall. Give it another couple of days and it would have been too tall for the mower. May is grass growing month.

Reason 3. Aid and succor to Stupid Beast. I left the cat with a niece to Cat's dismay. Niece had a 2 year old, a newborn, two strange humans and a beagle. Cat was demoted from being The Cat to just another pet. Plus she is a very conservative cat, disliking pick up's, laps, riding in cars, and new people. Faced with a household of picker uppers, petters, and strangers was a trial. She lost weight, going from a tubby 20 pounds down to a shapely 16 pounds.
Cat was overjoyed to get back to the regular house, the familiar rugs and furniture. She started purring immediately and remained grateful for all of two hours after coming home.