Monday, September 30, 2013

Procedural Votes, Flim flamming the voters

With a government shutdown only 5 hours away, the House is conducting three procedural votes.  This should not be happening.  The only thing a legislature should vote upon is passage of a bill into law.  "Procedural votes" are a way to kill a bill with out seeming to.  The procedural issue is cloaked in bafflegab so we voters and the ignorant media have no idea what such a vote means.  Members can vote to kill or pass something controversial without appearing to do so. 
   If we wanted a functional Congress we should outlaw procedural votes of any kind.  Members get to vote on a published bill, yea or nay, and your vote is counted and reported to your constituents.  No mystery votes allowed.  Truth in government. 

Will the young buy Obamacare insurance?

Probably not.  Most young people have jobs with big companies that already offer health insurance.  Obamacare is selling to the less fortunate who lack employer health insurance, and the self employed. Most of these people lack the money to buy any kind of health insurance.  They will sign up if it is free, but they can't afford  to pay for much.  They just don't have the money. 
   Plus, when you are young and single, and in good health, you don't really need insurance.  If you get sick, probably a single doctor visit and a prescription  will fix you up.  Maybe $400, every couple of years.  Why insure against that?
  Plus, if there is an accident, and the ambulance drops you off at the emergency room, they will bandage you, stop the bleeding, and set the fractures, whether you have insurance or not.  

Obama REALLY wants to negotiate

With Iranians that is.  With House Republicans, not so much. 
I hear TV pundits, even on Fox, claiming that the Iranians are just going for nuclear power.  Yeah right.
Iran wants the bomb, has paid out plenty so far, and isn't going to give up.  So what's to negotiate?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Road Trip to Rutland

Vermont that is.  Long trip, left the house at 8 AM, didn't get back til 5 PM.  Didn't feel like posting last night.  Rutland is way over on the other side of Vermont, the only way there is old US4, 42 miles from White River Junction.  It's scenic, very scenic.  The leaves are on the verge of turning, but not quite there yet.
  US4 is only two or three lanes, curvy, lotta No Passing signs.  Traffic moves along until it piles up behind some leaf peeper doing ten miles under the speed limit.  Since everyone up here drives ten miles above the speed limit, that is really slow.
    A good big engine makes the passing game less white knuckle.  The 4.6 liter V8 in the Mercury is adequate, but could be better low down.  The slushbox doesn't downshift as far as it ought to.  A good four speed manual would help the car, but they haven't made those for 30 years.  The DeVille, with the same size engine had 30 more horsepower and was quicker, much quicker.  Got better gas mileage too.  To its credit, the Mercury handles better than the DeVille.  I could wrap it around mountain curves at 70 mph no sweat.  The DeVille always felt a little twitchy doing the same thing. 
   Oncoming drivers are more uptight these days.  I had one pull over on the shoulder, and another one blow his horn and wave his fists at me.  I guess few people pass anymore.
    Rutland is big for an upcountry town.  Has a branch of UBS and one of Morgan Guarantee, both pretty fancy high finance outfits.  We don't have anything like that in Littleton. I took in the train show at the Howe Center.  Then I checked out the two book stores that showed up on Google maps.  They were both literary stores, shelves full of main stream fiction, poetry and left wing political rants.  Me, I'm looking for light reading, science fiction, adventure, history, or science.  I didn't find anything.  Business was slow for a sunny Saturday afternoon. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Obama is eyeball to eyeball

with the House of Representatives.
When it was Assad of Syria, Obama blinked.   How scary is John Boehner?   Will Obama blink for him?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Not raising the national debt limit is NOT default

Obama has been saying that he will default on the obligations of the United States (treasury bonds) if Congress doesn't raise the federal debt limit. 
   That's scare mongering.  Tax revenue is enough to cover two thirds of the federal spending.  So pay off the bonds with tax revenue, pay the armed services (you're gonna need 'em).  Pay social security 'cause of the political uproar that will result if you don't.  Furlough all the civil servants, except maybe air traffic controllers. Stop buying (or at least paying for) new toys for the armed services.  Stop highway construction, farm subsidies, Congressional pay and benefits.  Close down Agriculture, Health & Human Services, Transportation, Commerce, CIA, NSA, EPA, FDA.  If you run out of money, pay suppliers (including medical suppliers) with IOU's.  We can make it.  We might even find we can save serious money.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

First Test Flight for Bombardier CS100

After $3.4 billion and 5 years development, The CS100 airliner made it's first test flight.  CS100 is an ordinary looking twin engine jetliner with 110 seats.   That's small, the bread and butter Boeing 737 seats 150 to 170, but it's big enough to be a real inter city airliner, rather than a puddle jumper.  Bombardier has 177 firm orders for it.  Boeing and Airbus have a competitor.  
   It is the first airliner to use Pratt and Whitney geared turbofan engines which promise extra good fuel efficiency.  P&W has great hopes set on the geared turbofan.
   If this works out, it will promote Canada in to the very select club of nations advanced enough to manufacture airliners.  Right now the club consists of the US, the Russians (barely), France and Germany (Airbus).  That's pretty small.  The Chinese have a project going but not going well.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Does anyone think we can talk the Iranians out of their nukes?

The Iranians have been working to get nuclear weapons for years.  They want nukes badly.  They want nukes to prevent the Americans from doing regime change on them, like we did on Saddam Hussein 10 years  ago.  The Iranians figure if the Americans can knock over Iraq in a month, something which the Iranians failed to do after a ten years war, then the Americans can take them over just as easily.  The Ayatollahs have no desire to wind up hiding in foxholes like Saddam did.
   There is nothing we can offer Iran in return for scrapping their nuclear program. The Iranians are dead set on getting nukes, they have spent a load of money on them, they have endured economic sanctions, they are so close they can taste it, they aren't going to quit now.
  No matter what deals we offer, what threats we make, the Iranian nuclear program is going ahead.
  And yet, our Obama, is taking the occasion of the UN dog and pony show, to talk about negotiation with Iran.  The Iranians are fine with that, they will happily negotiate until hell freezes over, or until they set off their first nuke.  Sure we can negotiate, but nothing is going to come of it.
   Obama is OK with that, as long as the negotiations are going on he doesn't have to make any commitments, or even worse, go to Congress and ask for military action against Iran.   He is hoping that things will drag out long enough for him to leave office without having to make a move.
   It's time for another Stuxnet.

Light weight fighter

Textron, ( parent of Cessna and Bell helicoptor) and a new company Airland, are developing a new light jet fighter, called Scorpion, on their own money.  Scorpion is a big step up from the turbo prop Super Tuscano light fighter in terms of range, payload and speed.  It's main claim to fame will be low cost per flying hour.  Textron-Airland is claiming $3000 per flying hour, which is cheap cheap cheap compared to $24,899 per flying hour for an F-16.  For missions in friendly airspace (Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, South America) where the supersonic speed and huge payload of  advanced fighters isn't needed,  it could be a winner. 
  The aircraft is a twin engine, two seat, smallish aircraft, capable of lifting 10,000 pounds of bombs and rockets, 2400 mile ferry range, with a modest top speed of 430 knots.  The Viet Nam era F105 Thunderchief usually flew with only 4500 pounds of bombs, which makes the Scorpion a heavy duty bomber.  With its modest top speed, Scorpion is dead meat against enemy fighters, but if the enemy doesn't have fighters, it's home free. 
   Can they sell Scorpion to USAF?  It will be a tough sell.  USAF is run by fighter pilots who want to buy the hottest fighter possible.  These are combat veterans who all have memories of that time when a little extra speed or altitude or firepower saved their lives.  Guys like this don't like to buy second best any thing, they want to buy only the best.  Then there is the budget crunch.  USAF is short on money and looking around for things to cut to stay in business.  The thought of  sacrificing some F-35 money, and some F-35's, to get mixed up with a low performance light weight fighter isn't going to be attractive.  Textron-Airland is going to have to pitch the Scorpion to the Pentagon bean counters, who like cheap cheap cheap, rather than Air Force officers. 
   If USAF buys some, then it can be sold overseas.  Overseas buyers look on USAF acceptance as a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  If the Americans will fly it, it's got to be OK.  If the Americans aren't flying it, its probably a death trap. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Welfare for Lawyers

The TV News announced that the lawyers are going to stall around on the Boston bomber case for another four months.  They will tell us what they are going to charge him with in January of 2014.  And I am sure the lawyers will all be drawing full pay for doing nothing.  We know what Tsarnaev did,  first degree murder, a dozen counts.  You don't have to be a lawyer to know that.
   Let's get on with it.   We should have put him on trial  back in June, convicted him and executed him.  Justice delayed is justice denied.  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dealing with Assad's chemical weapons.

Lots of talk about this subject, negotiations, sharing of credit/blame.  Assad asked for $1 billion dollars to destroy his poison gas.  Henry Kissenger  said nice things about it this morning.  Kerry has had meetings with the Russian foreign minister.  Looks like the "international community" is setting up for a years long carnival.

   Here's what ought to be done.  Intelligence reports that the Syrians have 1000 tons of stuff.  That's a little too heavy to lift out with helicopters.  But an ordinary Army truck can handle 5 tons with ease.  That means 200 truckloads.  We can do that.  Have some tanks to lead the convoy,  bring infantry in armored personnel carriers, provide air support, some choppers right over head, jet fighters on 5 minute alert to back them up.  Drive to the storage site.  Drive the lead tanks thru the gate.  Doesn't matter whether the gate is open or closed.  Load the chemical weapons onto the trucks.  Drive back to the seaport.  Drive trucks, tanks, APC's and all right onto the Roll on/ Roll off cargo ship waiting at the pier.  Steam out of harbor.
   Repeat for each Syrian chemical weapons storage site.  The Economist published a map showing where they are.  If they know, surely Mossad or CIA can do as well.  

   Of course this means American troops going on the ground in Syria.  That will cause intense political heartburn in DC.   But, it will solve the problem of Assad's chemical weapons, for real.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Obamacare Software Fail?

The newsies are talking about a bit of software that was supposed to compute Obamacare subsidies is broken.  Well, if you hire lame programmers maybe.  But this is such a simple problem, I could have programmed it, tested it and delivered it in a month.  Compared to programs the keep track of every airline seat in the world, all the space junk in orbit,  routing a 20 layer PC board,  figuring Obama care benefits is child's play.
   The newsies have been concealing the name of the contractor lest he be mocked. 

Friday, September 20, 2013


Adminstration spokesmen, and your run of the mill democrat, keep saying that no help was available to Benghazi on the night they died.
  Not true.
  We have airbases in Sicily, which is only 400 miles away.  Less than an hour's flying time.  1960's vintage jet fighters could reach out 1200 miles from base. Using only onboard fuel, no tanker support.   21st century fighters ought to be able to do as well.  And we have a Mediterranean Sea full of US aircraft carriers.
   Just a single fighter, flying low over our consulate, would have sent a powerful message to Islamist terrorists. Go supersonic and really get their attention.
   The fighting lasted SEVEN hours.  I could have gotten aircraft out of periodic inspection and into the air in that amount of time.  Back when I was in USAF we kept fighters on 5 minute alert, 24/7.
   And how come Obama fired two general officers, General Carter Ham and Admiral Charles Gaouette, the day after Benghazi.  Was it because they were going to send the cavalry to Benghazi on their own authority?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Obamacare comes to NH

   Start up a monopoly.  Anthem is the only insurance company that will be in the NH insurance "exchanges".  All others are shut down.  As soon as Anthem was granted monopoly power, they tell one third of NH hospitals and their associated doctors, to buzz off.  Anthem will not pay any medical bills at the blacklisted hospitals or their doctors.  Littleton Regional Hospital (my hospital) was on the hit list but managed to dodge the bullet somehow and got saved. 
    Is there a difference between "single payer" and monopoly?
   Anthem claims that blacklisting one third of the hospitals in NH will save them money.  It will certainly put a lot of hospitals out of business.  

Words of the Weasel Part 35

"I'm a paid non attorney spokesperson"   Translation.  "I'm a hired liar".

Maybe we issue too many secret clearances?

The Washington Navy Yard massacre was perpetrated by a contractor holding a secret clearance.  Such clearances are supposed to be issued only to people worthy of holding positions of great trust for the United States.  Clearly a homicidal maniac is not such a person.  Within a few days the news media turned up derogatory information that should have disqualified him from a security clearance, and in fact for holding any kind of defense related job.  Obviously the security vetting  failed in Aaron Alexis' case. 
    It probably comes down to too many clearances to be processed with too little time and too little manpower.  Because today, everything is classified and every one needs a clearance just to go to work.  And work backs up if the clearances aren't granted.  In sort, rampant over classification of everything, means nothing is protected.  If everything is classified, then nothing gets extra protection.
   Many years ago I was an avionics maintenance officer on America's newest hottest jet fighter.  In those days, only a few things that would assist an enemy in jamming the fighter's radar were classified.  Everything thing else, fire control, IFF, guided missiles, radar, IR, electronic navigation, data link, gyros, you name it, was unclassified.  The enlisted men who repaired and overhauled the aircraft systems didn't need clearances.  The technical orders (aircraft manuals) were unclassified, the troops could carry them around, out to the flight line, to the chow hall, where ever, without keeping them under lock and key. 
  Years later I was working on the Common Missile Warning System (CMWS), a clever arrangement of cameras and computers that could spot the launch of anti aircraft missiles and warn the pilot.  The computer would get on the aircraft intercom and cry "Missile, Missile, Missile" into the crew's earphones.  On the Common Missile Warning System EVERYTHING was classified.  All the technicians needed a Secret clearance just to enter the building.  The guys that swept the floor needed clearances.  All the manuals were classified and kept in safes.  Guys worked on the equipment from memory, since the manuals were too highly classified to be allowed out on the workbench.   New guys couldn't start work until their clearances came thru.  Which could take months and months.  We always had half a dozen new guys just sitting around waiting for clearances so we could put them to work. 
    In actual fact there was nothing in the CMWS   shops that would have done the enemy any good if he had gotten to it.  The system worked off the light given off by the rocket motor,  there is nothing you can do to change that.  The electronic boxes were all programmable logic arrays and microprocessors.  You need the source code in order to figure out how they worked, to either duplicate them or figure out how to fool them.  There was no source code in our shops, we couldn't read it, and didn't need it.  New boxes coming off the line were bench tested.  If they failed bench test we changed chips until they worked.  No source code needed. 
   If CMWS classification been reduced to the level we had on the F106 fighter program, it would have reduced the number of clearances a lot.  If we looked thruout the defense department, we could find a LOT of overly classified programs.  We could save money and tighten security all in one simple reform,
  "He who defends everything defends nothing".  Old military aphorism probably from Frederick the Great.  "He who classifies everything defends nothing".  New military aphorism from yours truly. 
   If we had fewer clearances to process, perhaps we could take the time to investigate each case and deny clearances to homicidal maniacs. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

So what's a hand tool now a days?

Being a guy, I like tools.  I have a wood shop and a lot of auto mechanical tools for working on the car.  Actually, a fair selection if I do say so myself.  So when one of those Amazon ads popped up, I  clicked on hand tools, just to see what was to be had.
   Surprise.  Not much in the way of real hand tools for sale.  A lot of survivalist throwing axes (tomahawks) and big fighting knives for those getting ready to go back to nature after the bomb.  Civilian versions of the Army entrenching tool.  Some genuine toys, like Bilbo Baggins' sword.  What do you do with that, other than hang it on the wall in the man cave?  Small sets of tools for beginning homeowners in neat plastic boxes.  Other sets with pink handles for beginning lady homeowners.
   No wood chisels, no hand planes, no drills or drillbits, no sets of screwdrivers.  No squares of any kind. No saws.  No sets of wrenches, other than socket sets. 
  In short, not many real tools, a  lot of silly stuff.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Cellulosic Ethanol

President Bush introduced the idea back maybe 10 years ago.  Back then the greenies were pushing ethanol (drinking alcohol) as a motor fuel, it was supposed to save the planet.  For some reason the carbon dioxide created by burning alcohol didn't contribute to Global Warming, where as the carbon dioxide from gasoline did. 
   Anyhow the greenies convinced Congress to require motor fuel to contain 10% ethanol.  Trouble is, you have to make ethanol from corn, which is food, which is responsible for the drastic rise in food prices since the ethanol mandate took effect.
  And so, some greenie claimed that you could make ethanol from waste, the chaff from wheat, the cobs from corn, brush clippings, wood and woody plants.  And the Bush administration tried.  Congress added a mandate to add "cellulosic ethanol" to motor fuel.  Only nobody has been able to make ethanol from garden trimmings yet, so EPA is raising the price of gasoline by fining oil companies for not adding cellulosic ethanol of which there is none to be had.
   And, I doubt that there ever will be any cellulosic ethanol.  Cellulose (wood) is the result of a billion years of plants evolving a material that is inedible to animals.   And it works.  I may have deer eating my vegetables, but you don't see 'em eating the siding off my house.  Or the cord wood off my woodpile.  Inedible to animals means no digestive juices or stomach acids can turn wood into sugar.  And the animals have been evolving digestive juices and stomach acids for as long as the plants have been evolving inedible wood.  This says to me that wood, and woody plant stems cannot be turned into sugar, or alcohol, by anything.  The plants have won.  With the exception of termites, no animal can eat wood.  Which is a good thing, if wood were edible, there would be no forests.  Animals would eat the trees right down to the ground. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Plastic ScotchBrite vs Brillo

Believe it or not, ScotchBrite plastic pads cut thru baked on crud better than Brillo.  It also polishes rust off iron castings better than steel wool.  Surprising that plastic cuts better than steel, but there you have it. 

Media Shield law same-same as a Title of Nobility

I'm against the "Shield Law" thing..  All men are created equal, which means newsies don't get special privileges at law that ordinary citizens do not enjoy.  Also, a federal shield law is half way toward a federal license to do journalism.  Next they will say publishing anything political is a violation of the election laws unless you are a federally recongnized (licensed) newsie.  And then they pull licences for their political opponents (Fox). 
   Plus I don't see any reason why newsies should not be required to testify in court, and even reveal their sources in serious (felony) cases.  Newsies are citizens too (really, they are) and when their testimony could put a school shooter, a child molester, a mafia don, or a crooked politician in jail, they ought to testify. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

So what is Putin trying to do?

Two weeks ago,  Obama was about to take a big hit when Congress rejected his call for Authorization for the Use of Military Force,  21st century jargon meaning declaration of war.  Then, in response to an unplanned remark by John Kerry at a news conference in Europe, Putin jumps up and sells a face saving compromise to the world.  Syria will turn its chemical weapons over to a neutral party and the US won't do missile or air strikes on Syria.  The Americans love the idea, the Administration loves the idea 'cause now they don't have to suffer Congressional defeat, Congress loves it because they don't have to be mean to Obama, the voters love it because they never wanted to get mixed up in Syria at all.  Talk about a win-win.  Everybody in America wins.
   What's in it for Putin?  Sure,  he gets a lot of favorable publicity, and gets to write an Op-Ed in the NY Times,  but  all this is kinda light weight stuff.  Old Joe Stalin would not have been impressed unless the deal brought more land under Russian sovereignty,  more countries into the Soviet block, or destroyed enemy armies in battle.  I don't see that happening here. 
  I think Putin would have done better to leave Obama hoist by his own petard (big mouth).  Had Putin done nothing, Congress would have voted down (or trash canned) the authorization for the use of military force.  That's a big hit.  Obama would have either backed off on Syria, or pressed on without Congressional approval, neither of which would have come out well for Obama.
   Far as I can see, Putin bailed Obama out of a deep deep hole.
   I wonder why. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

I love my cable company

Time Warner that is.  The have the charming habit of hiking my cable bill, just be cause they can.  This month they hiked it up $7.  Just because they can.  Or so they think.
   The telephone company, good old bankrupt Fairpoint, has recently installed a DSL booster on Three Mile Hill, which brings DSL to my house.  I could  take DSL broadband ($29.95) and satellite TV ($32) and only pay $61 to get TV and broadband.  As of this month's rate hikes, I'm paying $60 to get the same services from Time Warner. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What caused Great Depression 2.0

According to The Economist that is.

1.Banks made risky, in some cases ridiculous loans and mortgages because the risky loans paid high interest rates.  When the risky loans defaulted, the banks were stuck.

2,  Regulators like the Federal Reserve failed to crack down on risky loans 'cause every one was making so much money doing it.

3.  Low interest rates, caused by a lot of thrifty savers in China 9 ( the savings glut) drove down world wide interest rates.  The Economist thinks this was a bad thing because investors looking for a better rate of return invested in "dodgy"  (clever British-ism that) securities.  In my view low interest rates are a good thing because it makes it easier for consumers to finance houses, cars, vacations, whatever, which is good for sales.  

4.  Banks and investors lost "trust" in one another.  They began to worry about "counterparties" (borrowers) defaulting, and so began to refuse to lend to the riskier of them.  Another way of stating this, is banks and investors finally wised up a little bit and began to evaluate the risk in what they were doing.

5. Letting Lehman Brothers go bankrupt.  This scared the bejesus out of  everybody in finance, causing them to stop lending.  " Non financial companies, unable to rely on being able to borrow to pay suppliers or workers, froze spending..."   This is pure imagination.  "Non financial companies"  (manufacturers for example)  never borrow to meet payroll.  They make payroll from sales revenue.  If sales dry up, they lay off workers.  They never borrow to pay suppliers, they just pay them late.  Ideally you can turn parts into product and sell the product within the 45 days you have to make good on a purchase order.  If it takes longer, the supplier gets paid later.  If sales dry up, you stop ordering parts.
  As far as I am concerned, they should have let some more companies go bankrupt.  Each bankruptcy teaches finance weenies that when they are not careful, they too can loose their jobs. 

6.  Letting the PIGs (Portugal, Italy, Greece) run up such huge current account debts, otherwise known as borrowing.   Nobody ( including the Economist) understood that joining the Euro means you can no longer print money to pay your debts.  Used to be a Greece could print a lot of money, the value of the money would fall, and so the amount of borrowing was automatically kept within sane limits.  Once they went on the Euro, they could no longer print their own money, and when the loans came due, they could not pay them. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Negotiated settlement in Syria

You hear 'em talking about it.  But it won't work.  Assad knows that he has to win, or he is dead.  Just like Hosni Mubarak, Saddam Hussein, Moammar Qaddafi, all dead.  In a spot that that, is a man likely to cut a deal with his enemies?  He might, maybe, go along with giving up his poison gas, but he isn't going share power with Al Quada. 

Car starting in Winter

Was talking to youngest son, who is out in Minot, North Dakota, about getting his car ready for winter.  Winter in Minot is really really bad.  I recommended he put in a block heater rather than a freeze plug heater, and carry a really long extension cord.  Northern NH winters are harsh, but not so harsh as to require block heaters, where as in Duluth, Minnesota, in which I spent three winters, every car in the city had a block heater. You could tell by the plugs hanging out of the grilles.
   Conversation moved on to other things, but later, I thought of  a number of winter car tricks that I hadn't passed on.  Hence this post.
    Cars have improved greatly since I started driving.  We have alternators now, which throw a lot more juice than the old DC generators,  keeping the battery charged.  We have fuel injection, controlled by clever microprocessors which are much better at getting the mixture right than feet made clumsy by ski boots.  We have solid state ignition that throws a spark so hot it will fire plugs burned out to twice the proper gap.  At 20 below, a 2013 car will most likely crank up and go, whereas a 1957 Chevy most likely would not. 
   One thing that has not improved is the battery.  Being chemical contraptions, they slow down as they get cold.  Batteries are rated for total capacity, (usually 80 ampere-hours) and cold weather cranking current at zero degrees.  (usually 800 amperes)  As the temperature drops below zero,  cranking current goes down. By the time forty below is reached, the battery may not have enough current to light the dome lamp.
   When the weatherman is predicting really cold, you can just bring the battery indoors to keep it warm.  In the morning, a nice toasty warm room temperature battery will crank with enthusiasm.  Or stick a 100 watt light bulb under the hood next to the battery.  Mechanic's trouble light works well.  Stock up on 100 watt bulbs, the greenies are banning their sale.  Or stick a battery charger on it.  The charging current warms the entire battery, as well as bringing the charge up.
   Batteries last three, maybe four winters.  Then they go weak, and won't crank in cold weather.  How to tell when the battery is getting old and tired.  Check the voltage with a multimeter.  A good battery, fully charged, and warm, say after a two-three hour drive, will show 12.8 volts.  As they age, they show less.  When the batttery gets down into the eleven volt range, it's time to go to Sears and get a  Diehard.  Battery voltage is measured engine off.  When the engine is running, what you see is alternator voltage, which needs to be 14 volts or a little more to charge the battery.  If alternator voltage is low, that's the reason your battery voltage is low, the alternator isn't doing it's thing and charging the battery.
When the car fails to crank over,  get out and touch each battery terminal with your bare hand.  If you feel one of 'em getting warm, that's a sign it isn't making good contact.  Couple of times over the years, I have gotten the car to go by pulling the cable off, polishing the cable end and the battery terminal and putting it back together.  You do carry tools in your car?  All you need for this trick is pliers and a pocket knife.
   The sun is your friend in cold weather.  Mid day sun can warm a car up to nearly room temperature, which makes starting more certain.  It may not help if you gotta get to work, but if all you have to do is go to the store, do it at mid day.  Brush the snow off the car so the sun can get at it.
    Back the car into the driveway.  Should you need to jump start it, it's much easier if the hood faces out to the street.  You do carry jumper cables?  It's also easier to ram out thru that snow drift the plow throws across your driveway going forward, rather than backing into it.  Leave the parking brake OFF.  It can freeze ON, and then you are stuck til it melts out.  

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Escape Hatch Opens in Syria

Looks like Obama has found a way to avoid striking Syria and saving some face.  Kerry proposed a deal where Assad gives up his chemical weapons and we don't bomb him.  And, bingo, the Russians take us up on it.  Details are unclear, but Congress will be able to avoid voting for military action that the voters are dead set against, and the democrats in Congress will be able to avoid hanging Obama out to dry. 
   Looks like the famous collision between the irresistible force and the immovable object has been side stepped. 
   Side stepping is so attractive to every one that it will probably take place.   
   Now we can get on with the debt limit, the budget, Obamacare, immigration,  IRS, EPA, and what to do about Detroit. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

There must be consequences

For the use of poison gas.  So say Obama's guys, which includes most of the media talking heads.  But that's not the real issue.  Shall the United States take sides in the Syrian civil war against the current dictator, Basher Assad?  Doing so is highly likely to depose Assad and turn Syria over to the opposition, who are not nice people.  The opposition is largely al Quada and other Islamist crazies who have been video taped eating the hearts and livers of slain government soldiers. If they take power they will impose Sharia law, drive all but muslims out of the country, and line up behind the ayatollahs in Teheran.  The minority communities of Christians, Jews and Alawites are terrified. They know what an opposition victory has in store for them.
    Turning Syria into an Islamist republic will harm the reputation of the United States far more than failing to make good on Obama's idle threats.
    The decision to intervene in Syria must be based upon what it will do to Syria, not what it will do to Obama's reputation.    


They had an ex congresswoman from California on Meet the Press this morning.  She was probably in her fifties, doing a fairly good job of looking like she was only 20.  Blond, Nice tan, good weight, good hairdo.  She said "I got primaried" in the same tone of voice she might have used to say "I got mugged".  Clearly she felt loosing her office in a primary election was dirty, underhanded, un American, and ought to be illegal.  Obviously, an incumbent like her was owed re-election.
   I got news for her.  We invented primaries to let the voters clear out dead wood like her.  Incumbents loose primary elections when they alienate their constituents. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Times are changing

My college alumni magazine turned up in today's mail.  So I flip thru it looking for mention of any one I might still know.  It's been quite a few years.  So skimming the page of newly weds, all dressed in their best, we now have a gay couple smack in the middle of the page.  That did catch my eye.
   Times they are a'changing.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The first A stands for Aeronautics

NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  This week Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for aeronautics, laid out six goals for the aeronautics side of the house.
1. Safe, efficient growth of operations. 
2. Low Boom Supersonics
3. Ultra efficient subsonic commercial aircraft.
4. Low Carbon propulsion
5. Real time system wide safety assurance
6.  Assured autonomy

Growth of operations probably means advanced navigation aids to permit more aircraft to fit into the air.  Sounds good, but the current bottleneck to more flights, is the lack of runways to handle them.  Building new runways is not an NASA mission (it's FAA) and the major difficulty is the armies of NIMBYs who raise political hell every time airport expansion is proposed.

Low Boom Supersonics is more work on cleverly shaped aircraft that make a less noisy sonic boom.  It's interesting,  and a fine science project, but we tried supersonic transports 40 years ago.  They cost too much, both to buy and to operate.

Ultra efficient sub sonic commercial air craft.   At least they limited the project to subsonic.  Boeing and Airbus all ready put a lot of work into this, both companies have higher efficiency versions of their bread and butter airliners under development.  What can NASA bring to the party?

Low Carbon propulsion.  We looked into nuclear powered aircraft back in the fifties.  It got as far as test firing a prototype nuclear engine.  The program was dropped because of radiation safety concerns and the excessive weight and marginal thrust of the Kiwi A engine.  The other  avenue is solar electric propulsion.  There isn't enough energy in sunlight to achieve much more than a pedal power level of performance. 

Real time system wide safety assurance.  Not quite sure what that means, unless they are talking about a computerized system for accident reports, safety advisories, Notices to Airman, and so forth.

Assured autonomy.  We think this means figuring out how to allow unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) to fly in US airspace.   Anti collision policy right now is "See and be seen".  Pilots are expected to look out for and avoid other aircraft.  UAV's are not so good at this, the microprocessors don't scan the sky. UAV's were invented to fly missions too dangerous to send real air crew on.  I was not aware of any places in US air space where the flak is that bad.  Are the druggies using shoulder fired anti aircraft missiles against the Border Patrol? 

Jaiwon Shin is hoping to get $560 million to spend on this stuff.  Down from $1.7 billion in 1998.  Aviation Week feels funding should be increased.  No surprise there. 

In real life, the improvements from the 707 of 1957 to the 787 of 2013 lie in better materials to make the plane from.  Better turbine blade material that lets the turbines run hotter, and better structural materials (carbon fiber) that reduce weight.  I note an absence of any material science research in this NASA program.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Firefox and Internet Explorer tie.

The two rival browsers are neck and neck with 31 % of page views here.  Chrome is coming on strong with 20 %.   Windows is still the dominant operating system, followed by Linux (12%) and Macintosh at 6%. 

Choppers are death traps

Since 1986 there have been 13 crashes of helicopters servicing oil platforms in the North Sea.  127 passengers and crew have died.  The last crash was just last week.  Five US built Sikorsky helicopters and 8 Eurocopter machines were lost.  All the crashes since 2009 were Eurocopter.  European authorities grounded the Eurocopter EC225 in  October 2012 and kept it grounded until just a few months ago. 
   Failure of the main gearbox was responsible for six accidents.  Full power of the engines, 5000 to 10000 horsepower flows thru the gearbox which has to gear the 10,000 RPM of the turbines down to 100 RPM or less for the rotor.  This is a terrible strain, the slightest weakness, stripping of gear teeth, a crack in the casing, loss of oil pressure, bearing failure, anything, and the gearbox blows apart leaving the helicopter hanging in mid air without power. 
   Two helicopters were struck by lightening and two other accidents look like pilot error.  There was one engine fire, one loss of control (reason not given) and last week's accident where all that is known is the chopper lost power and ditched two miles away from Sumburgh airport.
   It's gotten so bad that oil rig workers are reluctant to travel by chopper.  Oil companies are chartering ships to transport their workers.  This is less than ideal, a three hour flight becomes a couple of rough days at sea.  Disembarking from a pitching vessel onto a platform in bad weather is quite dangerous. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Do stealth fighters need active radar jammers?

Some say no.  The idea of stealth is to become invisible on radar.  If the stealth aircraft starts radiating, it can be a give away, similar to violating radio silence at sea.  Jamming can give your position away.  On the other hand,  stealth or no stealth, there comes a point when enemy radar sees you, and is guiding missiles your way.  In this case a range gate stealer, an angle track deflector, a sidelobe jammer, or what ever else has been dreamed up since Viet Nam, can save your bacon.  If you have the equipment on board that is.  If you don't, best to check your ejection seat. 
   The Aviation Week article goes on to criticize the F16 for lacking internal jammers,  and the F15 for having old internal jammers.   Back when I was on the flight line, you put your jammers in pods under the wing.  That way you could upgrade your jammer to meet new threats by just loading a new pod, rather than rewiring the entire aircraft to install new internal jammers. The jammers are most effective against missiles.  A good radar man can often sort the target out from the jamming.  Missiles are dumber than radar men.
  What set off this Aviation Week commentary?  The Malaysian Air Force showed up with new model Russian jamming pods on their Russian built fighters.  The accompanying photo shows a Sukhoi 30 fighter so old that the twin rudders are mounted straight up and down.  The simplest stealth design would have canted the rudders off the vertical, so radar reflections would go down toward the ground, rather than straight back to the enemy radar set.  This bit of stealth has been well known, even to Russians, for at least 10 years, maybe longer. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What matters is Syria, not American credibility

The TV has been all Syria, all day.  Being newsies, they get a lot wrong.  They yack a lot about credibility and what the rest of the world thinks about America.  But intervention in Syria must be decided upon what intervention will do to Syria, not what the rest of the world thinks about us.
   Does anyone think we can just do a fireworks display?   When we intervene against one side, we are handing victory to the other side.  If we zap Bashar Assad, much as he deserves it, we tip the civil war to the opposition, who seems to be mostly Al  Quada.  Have you seen the video of an opposition soldier disemboweling a fallen soldier, and eating the heart and liver, raw?  Do you want to put  those people in charge of Syria?  Think about it. 
   Obama has convinced the entire world that the Americans are flakes.  Intervention is Syria isn't going to make them think better of us.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Words of the Weasel, Part 33

"Military grade" firearms.   Phrase used by anti gun types to imply that some guns are more dangerous, more worth of being banned.  In the real world, a gun is a gun, they all shoot bullets, and bullets hurt.  It is true that guns made for the Army are more plainly finished than guns made for commercial sale.  But a plain finish doesn't effect the shooting quality of a gun. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Flying a satellite in atmosphere

The Mars Atmospheric and Volatile Evolution  ("Maven")  mission, getting ready to launch for Mars, is planning to do just that.  To investigate the Martian upper atmosphere, the satellite will be placed in an elliptical orbit around Mars, which dips into the Martian upper atmosphere to take readings.  The orbit will go within 150 kilometers of the surface.
   That's about the altitude that the old Mercury capsules orbited at.   On Earth, there is enough air left above that altitude to form the ionosphere, important to HF radio transmission.  Clearly the experimenters believe there is a Martian ionosphere, thick enough for Maven's instruments to take a reading on.
   They didn't say how long this can go on before atmospheric drag pulls the satellite down. 
   They mentioned that Mars used to have a strong magnetic field which disappeared some time in the distant past.  That's a new one on me.  It is thought that the magnetic field used to shield Mars from the solar wind.  When the field went away, they think the solar wind stripped away most of the Martian atmosphere.  Just how the ancient Martian magnetic field was discovered, and what might make it go away wasn't discussed. 
   Anyhow they hope to use Maven to measure what in the upper atmosphere might be related to, or causes of, Mars' lack of air and water.