Friday, November 29, 2013

Self Driving Cars

The subject came up over Thanksgiving.  Some of the older generation thought there was a place for self driving cars when they got too old to drive themselves. 
   As for me, it will be a cold day in Hell before I left a microprocessor drive me to the store.

Movies on TV for Thanksgiving

Mostly old favorites, Bond movies from years ago, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Indiana Jones.  Nothing that I don't have on DVD.  Seems like Hollywood hasn't made much that people like to watch in recent years. 

Single Payer Health Care == Death Panels

All the democrats like a single payer health plan.  By which they mean the government pays for free health care for all.  Like they have in Britain and Canada. 
  But, what this really means is all health care come from the government, and if the government doesn't like you, you don't get treated.  If you are too old, or a member of the political opposition, or an unpopular group,  or just the wrong astrological sign,  they don't treat you, they just send  you home to die. If they think your pills are too expensive, you do without.   
  No choices, no options, the government controls all.   

Thursday, November 28, 2013

FDA gets squeamish.

From it's shiny tiled laboratories and ivory towers, the FDA wants to ban the spreading of manure on farmer's fields.  FDA claims manure contains germs that will contaminate the crops grown in manure fertilized fields.  Wow! What a discovery.  Must be a Nobel prize waiting for this one.
  Farmers have been spreading manure on fields since 1000 years before Moses.  We have cuneiform tablets from Akkad in Mesopotamia describing the use of manure. That was 5,000 years ago.  In all that time, the practice hasn't killed us.  I doubt that manure turned deadly just last week.  It's the same stuff today as it was in Sargon of Akkad's time. 
   Plus, spreading the stuff out where the sun and rain and wind get at it, will kill just about anything. 
   Anyhow FDA is out there trying to ban the use of manure in agriculture.  Your tax dollars at work. 

So what's a nomad?

When I learned the word, nomads were hunters or herdsmen with no fixed abode.  They followed the game or the graising, striking their tents and moving on as the food sources moved them.  Like Abraham. 
   So I am reading "Stonehenge, the Indo European heritage", by Leon Stover and Bruce Kraig, some European archeaology, discussing the earliest European site.  And this amazing phrase pops up.  "a nomadic people who farmed,clearing forest land for dispersed settlements as they passed." 
   Oh really.  Once they put in the hard work to clear the land and plant, they aren't going to strike their tents and move on, not until the harvest is in anyhow.  And probably not after harvest either.  Harvest ought to produce enough food to get thru the winter, which is entirely too heavy to take with them.  It's generally accepted that farming makes the settled life possible.  The transition from hunter and herder to farmer is the end of the nomadic life.  So, "a nomad people who farmed" makes one wonder about the author's common sense.
   He is describing the "Danubian" or "Linear Pottery" folk, who settled western Europe before the coming of the Indo Europeans.  But he doesn't offer any evidence (potsherds, flints, gravegoods, etc) that the Danubians were nomadic.  So he throws out a hard to swallow concept with no backup.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Three Musketeers, a Steampunk Spoof

Another remake.  They do most of the famous scenes from way back when, D'Artagnan saying farewell to his father, D'Artagnan getting whipped by Rochfort at the inn, going to England to recover the diamond studs.  But the sword fights all degenerate into 20th century kung foo.  Both the musketeers and the Cardinal's guard have airships, the baddies like milady DeWinter turn into goodies.  The cast is pretty much unknown except for pretty boy Logan Lerman who plays D'Artagnan, and Orlando Bloom who plays an undistinguished Buckingham.  They manage to crash an airship onto Notre Dame cathedral.  The steeple punctures the gasbag so they cannot lift off.  Which leads to a sword fight along the roof of  the cathedral. 
   Trouble is, the spoof is so heavy that I could not take anything seriously.  It just goes on, sword fight to kung foo to air ship collision, to sword fight, and on and on.  Nothing seems very real, nobody is ever in jeopardy. 
   It can't hold a candle to the 1970's version with Michael York and Raquel Welsh.

When Obamacare cancels someone's insurance

Ask them if they voted for Obama. 

Weather is clearing up here

TV news has been reporting horrible weather, travel delays, lots of bad stuff.  They show a storm center still down around Philly, heading my way, arriving this evening. 
  You couldn't tell it by me.  Over night snow turned to rain, it's warmed up and rained all the snow off Cannon Mt.  It was blowing and raining hard this morning, but it's tapered off, and its clearing a little now.  Either we get another hit when that storm center gets here, or it blows out to sea and we get dried out.

Would you buy a used COD from this man?

Carrier on board delivery aircraft that is.  An unexciting but vital aircraft.  COD flies high priority cargo from land bases out to carriers at sea.  Back in the day, I well remember LogAir, who flew a big turboprop Argosy transport into our base in Minnesota every day, loaded with spare parts for our fighters.  Plenty of times we would tell Maintenance Control that we would have fighter so-and-so back in commission as soon as LogAir came in.  That was on a stateside Air Force base in peacetime.  I dare say the spare parts situation is worse at sea. 
   Anyhow, the existing fleet of C-2 Greyhounds, after many years of service, is in need of replacement or refurbishment.  The Navy has a bid from Grumman to rebuild the weary Greyhounds, and a bid from Bell-Boeing to furnish V22 Osprey tiltrotors.
  And now, Lockheed Martin is proposing to pull 70 or 80 S-3 Vikings out of the boneyard in Arizona, refurbish them, build new and larger fuselages for them.  Cargo aircraft typically cube out before they weight out, in other words you run out of room to pack stuff into them long before the cargo gets too heavy to fly.  So a new a bigger fuselage would make a better freighter and still be competitive on price.  The S3 Viking is/was a twin jet carrier based antisub aircraft that the Navy retired  a few years ago. 
    So, looks like the Navy is looking at rebuilt Greyhounds, rebuilt Vikings, or brand new and pricey Ospreys.  I have my doubts that the Osprey has enough range, but I don't have any figures.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Greenies want to hike food prices

Heard on NHPR this morning, the greenies are going to push for a state law requiring all food containing "genetically modified organisms "  carry a special warning label.   . There is no evidence that "genetically modified organisms" have ever harmed anyone, in anyway.  The ultra conservative FDA sees nothing wrong with them.  They have been in widespread use for many years with no evidence of problems. 
   Never mind, they must be evil and we shall drive them from the market with a scarlet letter on the package.  That will let us feel good about ourselves for weeks and weeks. 
   For farmers, grocers, and everyone else in the food business, such a law is yet another government regulation, raising costs, exposing them to lawyer predation, and making it harder to stay in business.  For lawyers, fixers, and bureaucrats, such a law is a full employment act. 
   For consumers,  it's just more fine print on the back of the package.  When was the last time you read all the fine print on a box of frozen veggies? 
   If I was in the grocery business, I'd comply with the law by putting "GMO" stickers on everything in the store, just to cover my ___. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Just 'cause you got a cancelation notice

Doesn't mean you are uninsured.  You aren't uninsured until the cancellation notice takes effect.  So sayth Allan Colmes,  Fox News liberal gadfly.  So all of us who received cancellation notices effective in January, we aren't uninsured. 
   Great.  Thanks Allan for letting us know.

Picky software reduces dispatch reliability of 787 Dreamliners

The 787 has more powerful computers than anything flying, more sensors for temperature and pressure and such than ever before, and the software checks all the sensors and keeps issuing warnings to the crew when there is really nothing wrong.  But the crew has to do something when the computers are crying "Failure". Especially, when the computer issues an alarm before takeoff, the aircrew will call maintenance to check it out before they taxi out, leading to late departures.  Boeing claims a dispatch reliability of 97.5% which sounds pretty good, but it means that out of 100 departures, 2 or 3 will be delayed by computers crying wolf. 
   Any how Boeing is updating the software to make it less hypochondriac.   They want to get dispatch reliability up to 99.2%
   Dunno how we ever flew anywhere back in the '60s and '70s before microprocessors.

NSA snooping kills jet fighter sale

Brazil was close to buying Boeing F/A 18 fighters to replace their ancient F5E (1960's) fighters.  But revelation that NSA was eavesdropping on Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and national oil company Petrobras  has soured relations with the US.  The fighter deal may now be dead.
   Thanks NSA.  Keeping America safe by throwing Americans out of work.                                                                                                

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Obama goes for the deal

TV news reports that a deal was reached with Iran last night.  No details are given.   What ever happened to "open covenants, openly arrived at"?  (One of Woodrow Wilson's 14 points from 100 years ago).   One suspects that the deal isn't that good for us. 
    Oh By the way.   The right to enrich is the right to make nuclear weapons.  Iran lacks any right to enrich, or to have the bomb.

Iran goes for the bomb

All the Iranians (or anyone else) needs to make a nuclear bomb, is enough fissionable material, either 90% uranium 235 or plutonium.  U235 occurs in nature. 0.7% of natural uranium is the fissionable U235, the rest is stable U238 which won't make a bomb.  Plutonium does not occur in nature, it has to be made in a nuclear reactor. 
   The Iranians have built up a huge battery of 19,000 centrifuges to separate the fissionable U235 from the inert U238.  They have been running the centrifuges long enough to create tons of uranium enriched to 20%.  Concentrating from 20% to 90% is easier than what they have already done, concentrating from 0.7% to 20%.  Iran is withing spitting distance of the bomb.
   The last thing the world needs is nuclear weapons in the hands of Iranian crazies. 
   So, as the Iranians moved closer to the bomb, we set up an economic blockade on Iran. The US Senate made it law.  They can't import anything technical, not even auto parts, they can't sell their oil.  Surprisingly,  this is working.  Iran is hurting enough to start bargaining. 
   Only the deal the Iranians are offering is "We promise not to make a bomb, and you lift the blockade."
Such a deal.  And Obama wanted to accept it. 
   Fortunately the French were wise enough to reject this "deal".  And probably the US Senate won't fall for it either.
   The deal we want is "You Iranians turn all your uranium and all your centrifuges over to us, and permit no notice inspections of every place in your country.  And you don't get to have reactors.  After that is accomplished to our satisfaction, then we will lift the blockade." 
   If we let the Iranians get the bomb, their neighbors, Saudi and Iraq will build their own bombs.  The Pakis and the Israelis already have the bomb. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Death Spiral

For taxpayers that is. 
TV talking heads worry about Obama care going into a death spiral.  By which they mean only older and sicker patients sign up for Obamacare and the young and healthy won't.  Which means the insurance companies have to raise premiums to pay the bills, which means fewer and fewer healthy patients would sign up, 'cause it costs too much.  As the TV newsies tell it, the entire Obamacare plan would emit black smoke, burst into flames and make a big hole in the ground where it hits.
  Don't you wish. 
  In real life, the insurance companies will cry a lot, and head to the White House for a taxpayer funded bailout. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Nuking the opposition.

Harry Reid decided to do it, he pulled some kinda magic and now the Senate Dems can approve Obama appointments by a simple majority, instead of the supermajority that has been required since Thomas Jefferson's time.  Needless to say, the Republicans are pissed.
   They been talking about doing this for a decade.  I'm wondering why Harry decided to do it now.  Is it cause he figures the Dems are gonna loose the Senate in 2014, so he might as well stack the courts with as many liberal judges as he can?  Is it to give the TV newsies something besides the Obamacare disaster to talk about? 
   Harry must not care much about bipartisan anything.  The Republicans are now mad enough to give the Dems trouble just for spite.  And, when the Republicans do take the Senate, they have a whole list of crusty conservative judges to appoint. 
   On a longer term viewpoint, Harry has thrown the classic Senate mission into the trash.  The Senate rules on filibusters/super majorities have been there since the beginning, to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority.  Used to be,  the majority had to have a lotta votes to jam anything thru that the minority hated.  Not any more.  Granted, yesterday's nuclear option only covered presidential appointments, but next week, we can go for legislation and Supreme Court appointments. 

Broadband is back.

I've been off the air since yesterday.  Today I called the Time Warner service number.  They tried a few things and we decided the modem might have died.  So I went into Littleton, to the Time Warner shop on Union Ave, our a little past Lahout's.  They gave me a new modem.  I took it back and plugged it in and no joy.  I'm still off the air.  So, call the Time Warner trouble number again, and they say they can have a service man out today.  Groovy. 
   And, the service guy gets here. Swaps out the splitter, replaces some tired looking J connectors, still no joy.  He has a clever box the can  plug into the coax and make like a modem.  They track back to the pole, and decide to change out my coax drop.  That does it,. I'm back. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Immigration bill

There are a lot of angles to immigration.  There is a "comprehensive" (something for everyone) bill floating around.  Democrats would love to get some press and maybe a vote on it, anything to deflect the obmacare flak heading their way.  So what's in it for real people?
  Well, it could let in more low end workers for picking crops, construction, retail.  Planters, growers, farmers, and business are in favor of more low price workers.  For the same reasons, unions are against it.
  It ought to do something about the estimated 11 million illegal  immigrants already in the country.  These poor people have no legal standing anywhere and live in terror of a routine traffic stop that gets them deported.  Anyone, employers, the mob, petty criminals, cops, the Border Patrol can abuse them at will. This is unfair, unjust un American, and we ought to fix it.  
   Hispanics and Democrats want to turn all 11 million of 'em into instant citizens.  Hispanics like this 'cause a lot the illegals are friends, relatives and neighbors.  Democrats like this 'cause they think Hispanics will vote a straight Democratic ticket.  11 million voters for your party is not to be sneezed at.  A whole lot of other people see no reason why illegals in the country should get better treatment than the millions of legals who are waiting in line to enter the country. 
   Maybe we could compromise and issue work permits to illegals who have been here for a while, have jobs, look stable, and have stayed out of trouble with the law.  The work permit doesn't let 'em vote, or let them draw welfare, unemployment, medicaid, food stamps, or social security benefits.  But it does let them hold a job, get a driver's license, buy a car, buy car insurance, and send their kids to public school. 
   Or, we could deport them all.  I don't approve of that, most of 'em have jobs, contribute to the community, pay taxes and stay out of trouble.  We need citizens like that. Arresting them and packing them onto buses for shipment back to Mexico is the sort of thing the Nazis used to do.   American is what it is because we have a large and loyal population, both immigrant and native borne.  In fact, immigrants are as loyal, and often more loyal than the native borne.  
   And then honorable service in the US armed forces ought to earn US citizenship.  And illegals who were brought to this country as minor children deserve a break.  It isn't the kid's fault that their parents decided to slip into the US without doing the required paperwork. 
   We ought to have an immigrant quota of 1% of the current population, per year.  America can easily assimilate that many immigrants.  1% would be about 3 million immigrants a year.  We ought to favor the young, the healthy,  the educated, the skilled, the married.  Current policy favors relatives of American citizens, which gets us a lot of grandparents just about ready to retire and draw US social security. 
   If we cannot do enough log rolling and horse trading to pass a "comprehensive" immigration bill, then we ought to pass things that every one agrees on.  Getting something is better than nothing. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Was JFK a Conservative?

With the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination coming up,  TV news is full of chit chat about JFK.  Some of the chitchat  cites JFK policies, his tax cut, his strong anti-communism, and calls JFK a conservative.  I suppose, but fifty years ago, JFK was a liberal.  Sides have changed, the left has moved way left compared to where they were 50 years ago.  By today's standards, JFK is conservative, but by 1960 standards he was liberal.  Standards have changed. 
   It's one thing for modern talking heads to claim a popular 20th century president supports their 21st century political programs.  But if you want to understand want was going down in the 1960's, you need to understand what the words liberal and conservative meant in the 1960's. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gaza Strip Misery?

The Gaza strip is very small,heavily populated, and miserable.  A nearly full page article in the Economist details how bad things are.  The Israeli's won't let anything but food in, the Egyptians are closing the tunnels that used to smuggle in arms and luxury goods, electric power is mostly off.  Then they printed a picture, two small boys, probably seven or eight, playing on a sand pile in front of a crumbling poured concrete building.  The background is pretty miserable, but the two boys are dressed in brand new clean jerseys and patterned shorts.  The clothes look fresh off the rack at  Walmart.  My kids never looked that spandy clean playing out of doors back here in suburban US of A.  Methinks the photo was carefully posed, presumable by Hamas which runs the Gaza strip.
   One wonders why they didn't dress the boys in rags for the photo.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Three-D Printer prints a gun

And even Fox TV news thinks this is horrible.  They had a cop explaining the horror of guns without serial numbers.  Untraceable.  And being all plastic they will go thru airport metal detectors.  End of civilization.  Let's ban 'em.
   This from Fox News.  I hate to think what MSNBC is saying.
   Let's be real.  I can buy a brand new handgun from the likes of Colt, Smith & Wesson, or Ruger for $500-$600.  That's new, top of the line.  Used, bottom of the line they are cheaper.  The 3-D printers  cost three or four times that, even for a home hobby shop model that only does plastic.  Best future development of 3-D printers, brings the cost down to that of an office laser printer.  In 30 years that is.  Laser printers have been on the market for thirty years and they are still too expensive for home use.  Us home hobbyshoppers use inkjet printers. 
   Whereas the utility of 3-D printers for inventors, new product development, making unavailable parts for old and out-of-production machines and appliances, doing artwork, making Christmas tree ornaments, jewelry, fancy furniture hardware, and knickknacks is undeniable, and ought to be encouraged.  If we let BATFE "regulate" 3-D printers, they will load 'em down with so much paperwork that nobody can afford 'em.
   The cop's argument about serial numbers is ridiculous.  A Dremel tool will zip the serial numbers off a gun (or anything else) in seconds.  Plastic guns going thru metal detectors is bogus too.  Air travel would be safer if the passengers carried heat.  For that matter, I don't believe all that plastic gun talk.  They been talking about them for years, but I have never seen one.  Even Glock, which has a plastic frame, still has a steel barrel. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Strange Bedfellows

The NRA is going halfsies with the ACLU on a lawsuit against the NSA.  How's that for a lotta acronyms in one sentence?  The NSA phone spy program keeps a record of every phone call placed all over the world.  It only records which number called which other number, it doesn't record the contents of the call, just the information that appears on your phone bill.  But that's enough to cause a lot of trouble.  NSA could track down every NRA member.  This would make a good start on a national gun registry since most gun owners are members.  From a registry they could move on to confiscation of guns.  Anyhow, the ACLU has it's own problems with NSA telephone surveillance.  For that matter I have some problems with NSA telephone surveillance.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Pivot to Asia

One of the dumber statements to come out of the Obama Administration.  Our European and Mideast allies read "pivot to Asia" as "pivot away from us". As in "let the Russians or Al Quada roll right over us and don't lift a finger".
  The Chinese have to read "pivot" as "America is going to gang up on us".  Not a good thing to have them thinking. 
   And, as a general rule, nobody in the world want's to hear that the Americans are changing policy.  They all know we are the 800 pound gorilla, they mostly see us as benevolent, and changes in US policy scare them. As practical people they fear that "changes" will be the worse for them. 
   That "pivot to Asia" remark was tossed out at a news conference, probably 'cause they couldn't think of anything better to say.  It would have been better to say nothing and avoid putting everyone's teeth on edge all around the world.

Used car prices

Scanning the used car mail box stuffer today, just to see what's what.  We have one year old Cadillac CTS (the four passenger Beemer wannabe) for $30K.  Whereas we have bunch of pickup trucks going for more.   Used to be a Caddy was worth twice as much as a pickup truck.  Not anymore.  For real value, try a Chevy Suburban for $47K.  Plain four door drive-to-work and go-to-the-store  sedans, Toyota, Chevy, Kia, and Ford run in the $16-$20 K range.  Used. 
   I wonder what will be available when my Mercury Grand Marquis wears out and needs replacement?

Friday, November 15, 2013

What should Republicans do about O'care?

Well, the House has tried to repeal Obamacare, repeatedly.  That is kinda worthless.  The Senate won't go along, and even if they did, Obama would veto the measure.  Repeal just ain't gonna fly, at least not until after the 2014 elections, and probably not then either. 
   What about half measures?  Repeal the most obnoxious features, or roll it back a year?  What's in it for us?  Obamacare has pissed off the voters, but good.  It's eating into Obama's credibility, and clout.  Why do we want to stop that?  Let the ObamaDamage continue.  Sit back and watch the fun.  Pass the popcorn. Let the Democrats figure how to wiggle out from under.   We ought to refrain from saying "I told you so", because everyone understands that now, and repeating it just irritates voters, especially those who voted for Obama the second time.
   We should point fingers at all Democrats who voted for Obamacare and are running for re election.  As in "You did this to us". 

What REALLY happeded at Benghasi

The night the consolate was attacked, they sent a call for help.  The US military started to respond.  They didn't have troops close enough to send a rescue party quickly enough, but they did have aircraft.  The aircraft were sent.
   Before the aircraft could arrive, Barack Obama ordered them to return to base.  Two general officers,Gen Carter Ham and Rear Admiral Charles M. Gaouette, refused to abandon Americans to Al Quada.  Obama fired both of them that night.  For good measure, he fired two more the next day. 
  And that's why Obama has been stonewalling the Benghasi affair ever since.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Time Warner broad band fails again

Dunno about those Time Warner guys.  But my broadband has been dropping out about once a week lately.
Maybe Time Warner isn't paying it's Internet backbone fees?  NSA snooping is crashing their computers?  It's not the cable system, my cable TV (comes on the same wire) stays on line, but computer just cannot reach any websites. 

Going to Mars on a budget

The unmanned Indian Mars mission, Mangalyaan, was launched for a mere $80 million according to Aviation Week.  Whereas the next US Mars mission, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN for short), due to launch in a week or two, will cost $671 million. eight times as much.  Granted, the Indian mission only carries 15 kilograms of scientific experiments, but still the difference in cost is striking.  "If India can make the world's cheapest car and the world's cheapest tablet, launching the cheapest Mars mission is no big deal," quipped one Indian space scientist. 
   Mangalyaan has a long way to go.  It will be 10 months coasting out to Mars, at which point it has to make a burn to establish itself in an orbit around Mars.  We all hope that after 10 months in interplanetary space, all the equipment will still be in working order.  Mars is a tough target.  Over half the missions to Mars have failed for one reason on another, including missions by Japan and China quite recently.
  Good luck and God Speed.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

No nukes is good nukes

Aviation Week has a series of articles about selected nuclear powers, the US, the Russians, French, Indians, and Chinese. Other nuclear countries, the UK, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, are omitted.  Interesting selection that.  Dunno what it means other than perhaps Aviation Week just doesn't know anything about the non selected countries.
   They give numbers for the US.  We are down to about 2000 deliverable warheads as of now, and sequestration and budget cutting forecasts a further drop to 1550 by 2018.    Which is WAY down from the bad old days when we had 10,000 warheads aimed at the Russians.  Minuteman missiles are down to 450, from 1080 when Minuteman was first deployed back in the 1960's.  To my amateur eye, the numbers are probably enough to do the job, namely convince everyone in the world that we could reduce their country to a glow-in-the-dark parking lot if they were stupid enough to really piss us off. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Computers get the new jobs.

The computers have moved into vast areas of the workplace.  Back when I  started as an engineer, we made pencil sketches of our designs on squared paper.  We took these down to drafting and drafting would produce gorgeous D size vellum drawings.  The master vellums were kept in drafting, and Ozalid copies were made for production.  Engineering change orders did not take effect until drafting had updated the master vellum and gotten the engineer to sign off on it. 
  Then we got desktop CAD.  It took a while to catch on, maybe ten years, but then we engineers did the drawings with a CAD program running on our desktop computers, and the drafting departments just withered away.  By the time I retired, there were no drafting departments.  That's a lot of good jobs, gone.
   When I started in the business, to make a trip, we called a travel agency to get the air tickets, the rental car reservation and the motel reservations.  By the time I retired, the travel agencies were gone, and I made my own reservations at Orbitz using my trusty desktop.  More good jobs, gone.
   Years ago, when we needed a memo, a letter to a customer, a proposal, an ECO, an instruction manual, a test procedure or anything formal, we wrote it out long hand on a yellow lined pad, and took it down to the typing pool.  They would type up a rough draft, we would correct same, then a final draft got typed.  Each department would have a typing pool.  In addition to typing stuff, they kept the supply cabinets stocked with paper and pencils, distributed the interoffice mail, and served as information centers.  The head of the typing pool always knew everything and everyone.  If you needed to know who to ask, or what procedure to follow,  anything, the typing pool would know.   Then we got Word-for-Windows with spell check and we began to type our own stuff.  Again, the typing pools went away.  Interoffice mail just didn't get delivered, there was no one to deliver it.  More good jobs gone.
   Again, way back when, companies had salesmen, who traveled to customer's sites and sold parts to the engineers.  The idea was, get an engineer to design their part into the circuit, and your company owned that socket for the life of the product.  We engineers were always happy to see the salesmen, 'cause the salesmen always brought fresh new data books, with the specs on all the latest parts.  A salesman was an opportunity to replace your 10 year old TTL databook, with an up to date version.  Then we got the internet.  Companies posted the datasheets on every part they made on the web.  We didn't need data books anymore, we could run off the datasheet on the parts we cared about on the office laserprinter.  I don't think I saw a parts salesman after 1995.  More good jobs gone.
   I wonder what all those draftsmen, travel agents, typists, and salesmen are doing now.    

Monday, November 11, 2013

Humanities wailing about the rise of STEM

Seen on the Web, repeatedly, college humanities profs wailing about the emphasis and money going into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) departments, starving their humanities departments.  Statistics show the rising numbers of students with STEM majors, and the declining number of humanities majors.  This has been around since C.P. Snow wrote about "Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution".  The trend is understandable, college students want to major in something that leads to a job upon graduation.  At least intelligent students do.
   The humanities departments need to connect their disciplines to jobs.  Right now, humanities departments view their mission as training more humanities professors.  That's a loser, their aren't that many college prof jobs out there, and most of them are underpaid "adjunct" professors, part time, no health benefit jobs.   Humanities need to show prospective majors where the jobs are.
  Take English for example.  Show how an English major can lead to jobs.  Creative writing, best selling author is always attractive.  As well as playwright, screenwriting, writing instruction books, advertising copy, journalism.  Surely a knowledge of Shakespeare is useful to writing plays, movie scripts, or TV shows.  Understanding the English novel, from Pride and Prejudice to Hemingway is helpful to writers of mainsteam fiction, genre fiction, romance novels, fantasy and science fiction, westerns and mysteries.  This will require the typical English prof to conceal his aristocratic distaste for things like advertising and genre fiction, but that's better than unemployment.
   Foreign language departments need to expalin the need to speak the language, and know the culture, for overseas work in diplomacy, intelligence, sales, import/export work, journalism, and business.   Employers already know that they need American employees with language skills to represent them overseas.
   History is an ever expanding and super broad field.  Covering everything that ever happened since the invention of writing, makes history the broadest field of all.  History books have gone on to the best seller list from the days of Bruce Catton, and Barbara Tuchman, up thru David McCullough.  Plenty of good fiction have been written with a historical slant, from C.S. Forester to Tom Clancy.   As a background for a career in politics, diplomacy, or intelligence, history is far superior to political science, sociology or economics.  History is real, with real examples.  The others are theoretical, and mostly opinion.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Economist likes inflation

Amusing cover story.  Cover has a cartoon of a limp hot air balloon  sagging toward the sea, where sharks are gathering.  Anyhow the gist of the story is we don't have enough inflation, and central banks, (The Fed!) ought to pump up inflation again.  They spend some words trashing deflation (falling prices and wages) but they never get around to expaling why inflation is good for anybody.  Any how, they are in favor of more of it. 
   They never explain just which measure of inflation they mean.  US labor dept  keeps track of "core" inflation, usually everything except food and fuel. Food and fuel are "volatile" and that makes them evil.  Core inflation is services and manufactured goods, and is "purer" in the view of economists. 
   Unfortunately, they use "core" inflation for all those cost-of-living escalators in union contracts and social security.  Doesn't help me much.  I have to buy oil for the furnace, gas for the car and food for the bod.  My house is clogged with generations of manufactured goods, both hand me downs from the older generation and left-behinds from the children.  I don't buy new stuff much anymore.  But the Social Security cost-of-living escalator works on "core" inflation. 

First Plow of the season

We had a bit of snow last night.  Less than an inch.  But the town plow rumbled by at 6 AM.  That's the first this season.  First plow counts for more than just first snow

Warren Commission

Been a lot of talk on TV about the Kennedy assassination, new evidence, second gunmen, all good Oliver Stone material.
  I clearly remember the day Kennedy was killed.  Word reached us on the Franklin & Marshall campus.  It was just before my afternoon class in Civil War, taught by good old Frederick Klein.  We gathered in the classroom, Fred was clearly shaken.  He said a few words about now he understood how the country felt after Lincoln's assassination.  Then he dismissed the class.  Nobody said much, we settled in front of the dorm TV set to watch the news.  We got to see Ruby waste Oswald live.  And the state funeral.  Those were sad days. 
   Back then, the entire thing seemed fishy.    There was fear in the air.  1963 was the coldest part of the cold war.  Oswald's Soviet Russian connections were in the press, his Russian wife, his stay in the Soviet Union.  Every one still remembered Joe McCarthy.  If the citizens ever got the idea that the Soviets were behind Oswald, all hell would break loose, including a demand for revenge, leading to WWIII.
    They appointed the bluest of blue ribbon committee of investigation available to investigate and report what really happened.  Earl Warren, chairman, was chief justice of the Supreme Court.  You don't get more respectable than that.  The rest of the members were all household names.  They had full and enthusiastic cooperation of  FBI, CIA, the armed services, the Congress, the Dallas authorities, everybody.  All the witnesses (except Oswald) were still alive for questioning.  Events were still fresh in everyone's memory.
   We were disappointed in the contents of the Warren report.  Nobody liked the idea that JFK had perished at the hands of a lone nutcase.  But we accepted it, largely 'cause we figured the commission members were too honest and too patriotic to lie to us. 
    I still feel that way.  The fifty years of conspiracy theories of history from that time to this don't impress me.  I think the Warren Commission, had all the time, all the expertise, all the pressure to produce, that were possible.  I doubt that latter day revisionists will get it more right than the Warren Commission did right after the fact.   
   But they keep trying.  It sells movies.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Sorry doesn't cut it

Obama actually managed to say he was sorry about canceling people's health care policies.  Too bad he didn't promise to fix anything while he was at it.  All talk, no action, that's our boy. 

It's all in the pan

Popovers that is.  Very tasty for breakfast.  Trouble is, they don't always pop for me.  I started out using ordinary stamped muffin tins.  Then I upgraded to pyrex cups.  Either way I have having a 50% failure-to-pop.  They would rise, come out tasty, but half the time, no pop. 
  So I splurged on a brand new Bundt popover pan.  $41 marked down to $35.  Cast aluminum, carefully shaped popover holes.  And it worked.  Made my regular recipe this morning,  filled the new pan half full, and bingo, they all popped.  Must be something magic in this fancy pan. 
   In fact, maybe there is.  Used to be, using muffin pans and such, the top of my popovers would brown and bake solid, rock solid,  too solid for the popping action to push up.  The fancy pan keeps the tops softer longer, and that may be the secret.  Popovers are unleavened bread, no yeast, no baking powder, they rise and pop on steam from the milk alone. 
  I only have to bake about another  30 batches to spread out the cost of fancy pan.  Good thing I like popovers for breakfast.

Friday, November 8, 2013

WIMP detector WIMPS out

The search for WIMPS was returned a negative.  Big new WIMP detector buried deep underground failed to detect any WIMPS.  Either the detector has a problem, or there are no WIMPS.  Stay tuned for future developments.  Perhaps MACHO's are the real answer?


Bring the deck chairs in, it's snowing

I'd left the deck chairs out, hoping for some more weather warm enough to sit out.  No such luck.  Deck chairs are now safely stowed in the cellar, not to be seen for six months. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Republicans don't have alternatives 'cause of special interests

As Obamacare takes on water, and a heavy list to port, the national punditry has been zinging the Republicans for failure to come up with an alternative to Obamacare. 
   That alternative is simple.  We need measures to bring down the sky high costs of US healthcare.  The US spending 19% of GNP on healthcare.  That's twice as much as every other country in the world.  And, as measured by infant mortality rates and life expectancy, US health is no better than, and in fact, not quite as good as, health in any other first world country.  For example  Canada, Britain, Germany,. Japan, France, Israel, Scandinavia, South Korea and others.   In short we are paying twice what we ought to.  If we could bring costs down by half, things would be a lot easier.  The uninsured could take a sick child to the doctor without entering bankruptcy. 
   Measures to bring down costs are well known.  It's just that well heeled special interest groups are dead set against 'em.  They like things the way they are.
   First off, we need to bring down the malpractice costs.  Malpractice insurance, which every MD has to carry, runs $100,000 a year in premiums.  At this point, any unfavorable outcome is malpractice. Any time the patient fails to recover, the doctor gets sued. The lawyers advertise on TV for plaintiffs.  We could adopt the English rule (loser pays court costs).  We could do what New Hampshire did, implement a special medical malpractice  court, we could forbid suits over FDA approved drugs.  We could forbid advertising for plaintiffs.  But, the lawyers are dead set against anything that cuts into their profits.  Most politicians are lawyers, which makes 'em shills or at best highly sympathetic to the lawyers arguments.
  Second, we need to bring down drug costs.  Big Pharma whips out scads of wonderful new curealls, and charges $100 a pill for 'em.  We ought to allow import of drugs from places like Canada, where the national health care system has forced the prices down out of the stratosphere.  Big Pharma is dead set against it.  Obama got their support (and kept Harry and Louise quiet) by promising Big Pharma, no imports.  In fact the government won't even bargain for better drug prices.  Allowing import of drugs would drop US drug prices by half.
   Third we could allow sale of health insurance across state lines.  Up here in New Hampshire, we only have ONE health insurance company, Anthem.  And guess what our rates are?  Anthem just told a third of the hospitals in the state to go out of business, 'cause Anthem won't do business with them any more.  Ought to be, that I can buy health insurance from any US company, no matter what state they are located in.  Naturally the insurance companies are dead set against this idea. 
  In short, special interests have forced up the cost of health care, and the Republicans lack the stones to work against them. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Women's vote beats Cuccinelli in VA

The VA government election was close, closer than the polls were predicting.  McAuliffe only won by a couple of percent over all. 
  But, according to the TV news today, McAuliffe won the women's vote by 10% over Cuccinelli.  That's margin of victory right there.  If Cuccinelli had carried the women's vote, he would be governor right now. 
Same thing happened to Romney last year.  He lost the women's vote by 10% to Obama. Romney would be president today if he have carried the woman's vote.
    What is it with us Republicans that we turn off the chicks? 
    Is it time to get off the anti abortion thing?  Most chicks remember a scary time when they were single, in school, and feared they were pregnant, and feared not being able to find a safe and confidential abortion.  This memory is unlikely to make them vote for Republicans who campaign on anti abortion platforms. 

Obamacare website is fixed when they say it is

Obama administration is claiming that all will be fixed on the website by the end of the month.  Yeah right.  So what do we mean by "fixed"?   That it can process five individuals at once without crashing more than once a day?   Or that it stays up for days at a time while processing 100,000 individuals at once?  Wanna bet, no matter how flaky the website is, the Obamanauts will declare it fixed? 

Newsies cannot count

NHPR was giving yesterday's election results this morning.  They reported on NH, VA, NYC, CO, WA elctions.  Not once did they give a vote count.  Win by a landslide, win by a hair, it's all the same to NHPR.  Or, their staff has difficulty with numbers too large to count on their fingers. 
   Then, to distract us from the Obamacare meltdown, they offered a couple of blue meat stories.  You know, you throw out red meat to excite conservatives, and blue meat to excite liberals. First was a hassle in upstate New York over opening town meeting with a prayer.  Really important story there. 
   Then they had an election finance story.  Some activist was urging the IRS to be even more difficult about granting tax exempt status to 501(c) yadda-yadda organizations lest they use the money for politicking.  Real people are all ready outraged about IRS harassment of conservative organizations, and this idiot wants more of the same.  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Congress fiddles while the country burns

Bring out more violins.  Congress has failed to pass any appropriations bills, we have NSA angering the entire world, they failed to deal with the debt limit, Iran is getting nukes, the Middle East is burning down. Obamacare has paralyzed the economy.
So what does Congress do?
  They pass a special interest bill for gays and lesbians.  I'm sure it will gain the members a few gay and lesbian votes, but really, we have have plenty of non-discrimination laws on the books, we don't really need another. 
   Congress critters ought to spend their time on things  that benefit the entire nation, not dealing out favors to special interest groups. 

It's Halloween for taxpayers.

The US House just gave the banks a big green rustling handshake.  It passed the "Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act"  HR 992 on 30 October this year by a vote of 292 to 122.  A Halloween special.  All Republicans and 70 Democrats, including my Democratic rep Annie Kuster, voted for passage.
   What's going on here?  First we have to understand what "swaps" are.  Swaps are a high stakes gambling vehicle which crashed Wall St back in 2008 and  kicked off Great Depression 2.0.  A "swap" is a deal between two banks, or a bank and a brokerage house, or an insurance company and  a brokerage house, or any mix.  Only two can play.  the deal goes thus. "If  certain bonds that you hold default, I will pay them off for you.  You are relieved of all risk.  In return you pay me a modest fee, in advance."   It amounts to bond insurance against default.  In 2008, big insurance company AIG sold credit default swaps on a whole bunch of shaky bonds.  When the market crashed, all the AIG swapped bonds defaulted.  AIG, big as it was, didn't have the money to pay off on the swaps.  It went broke and we the taxpayers paid off all of AIG's $140 billion worth of swaps.  The resulting market turmoil crashed Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, and others, and kicked off Great Depression 2.0, which is still with us, five years later.
   Clearly "swaps" are dangerous.  And, "swaps" do not promote any kind of economic development.  All the money goes back and forth between Wall St players, none it goes to building new factories, buying airliners, financing inventory, or other useful purposes, it all stays on the Street.  Swaps are a high stakes gambling deal.
    Anyone in their right mind wants to forbid the sale of swaps, 'cause they are so dangerous, and they don't do anything worthwhile.  Anyone, except a banker who enjoys playing bet-the-company games.  And so, the Dodd Frank Act tried to limit swaps playing by forbidding the use of  Federally guaranteed (FDIC) funds to play the swaps market.   Which is a good idea.  A better idea would be to outlaw swaps completely, but they didn't go that far.
    And so, banks and bankers, who really enjoy playing bet-the-company games,  introduced a bill to repeal all the Dodd Frank restrictions on "swaps".  Spin the roulette wheel, the casino is open.  And the House passed it last Wednesday.  One of the Republicans finest hours.   
   And another triumph for the media.  They concealed the existence of this odious bill until four days after passage. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Time Warner Internet Access Croaks, again

I was ready to make the preceding post a couple of hours ago, but Time Warner flaked out on me.  I could not connection with any web site at all.  They fixed what every it was a few minutes ago, but they are having maintenance problems.  For instance, TV channels 2 thru 12 have a severe herringbone interference pattern on screen.  Channels 15 and16 (Cspan) have been dead for months. 

HIgh Speed Rail for Merrie Old England.

The Brits call it  "HS2", a high speed rail line from London to Manchester and Leeds. For a mere $69 billion, a little less in Euro's.  Network Rail, which does the tracks thruout Britain loves the idea, and so does the Dept of Transport. 
  But, Manchester and Leeds are only 150 miles from London, closer than New York is to Boston.  Conventional rail can do 60 mph on decent track, and 100 mph with a little work on the track.  The New York Central was running passenger trains at 100 mph, under steam, way back in the late 1800's.  Properly operated conventional rail ought to make the London-Manchester run in three hours, fast enough to beat airline time.  To fly, you gotta get to the airport an hour before takeoff, and wait for ever to recover your bags after landing.  On the NYC-Boston run, Amtrak takes nearly four hours, running on conventional track laid 100 years ago,  but it's faster than flying.  Conventional British Rail ought to be able to beat airline time on the relatively short London-Manchester run. 
   So I wish our British brothers well, but I think they are pouring money down a black hole to do "high speed rail" over such a short distance. 
   P.S.  Good luck California. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013


The Universe is not heavy enough.  This finding comes from watching galaxies rotate.  They are rotating faster than they ought to be.  Speed of rotation is something Newton worked out, and it's taught in sophomore physics.  Using Newton's math, one can observe the period and diameter of a satellite's orbit, and compute the mass of the primary quite exactly. The stronger the gravitational field, the faster an object has to move, to create enough centrifugal force to keep from falling. 
   They figured the mass of  galaxies by counting the stars in them on the assumption that the mass is all/mostly stars, which shine by their own light and can been seen at great distances.  Assume the astronomers took a few short cuts, like counting the stars in a tiny patch of galaxy and extrapolating the total number of stars in that galaxy. When they computed the mass required to account for the observed rotation speed, they came up short.  The needed mass was two, three, and more times the observed (luminous) mass of the galaxy.  And so, everyone, astronomers, physicists, science writers and so on, accept that there is a LOT of dark (non luminous) matter in the universe.  Like more dark matter than luminous matter. Most of the universe is dark matter.
   The obvious question " What is this dark matter?"  came up with two possibilities.  The universe could be rich in an as yet undiscovered particle. Something as hard to detect as a neutrino but with mass like a proton. These were dubbed Weakly Interacting Massive Particles" or WIMPS for short.  The physicists loved WIMPS,. It gave them a new particle to hunt for.  Now that the Higg's Boson  has been claimed, there are a lot of accelerators and accelerator physicists looking for something else to do.
  The other possibility is simply ordinary matter that is not stars.  Like the earth, or Jupiter.  Jupiter is an interesting case.  It is a near star, it's pure hydrogen, and it radiates more heat than it absorbs from the Sun.  Jupiter must be running low level nuclear fusion way down at its core.  If Jupiter had been a little larger, it would be a star and shine by its own light, and we would live in a binary solar system.  Binary systems are pretty common out there in the galaxy, say 10% or more.
   Stars are formed by a not yet well understood process of gravitational attraction.  Plenty of stars large enough to shine were formed.  You can see them in the night sky.  But, if the process can yield large stars, why can it not yield a lot of small ones like Jupiter? Ones too small to shine.
  This is the Massive Compact Halo Object, or MACHO.   And, this year, somebody detected one.  It turned up in the search for extraterrestrial planets.  It was a Jupiter sized object, way out in deep space, all by itself.
   Right now, WIMPS are ahead, at least they get a lot of good press, and MACHO's are not talked about much.  Me, I kinda like the MACHO idea.  It's perfectly plausible and it doesn't require new invisible and undetectable particles.      

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Put a tax black box in your car?

Some states are talking about it.  They want to collect a mileage tax on everyone's car, so they propose to put a tax black box in every car to record (and tax) every mile driven. 
  Dumb idea.  That's what the gasoline tax does.  And every gas station's pumps are set up to collect gas tax already.  There has been some talk about how better gas mileage on new cars has reduced the take from the gas tax.  Malarkey.  What little improvement in mileage is because more of us are driving cheap econo-boxes now instead of decent six passenger sedans.  And, with Great Depression 2.0 still in effect, fewer of us are driving to work anymore. 
   Many have decried the tax black boxes as unwarranted gov'mint snooping on private business.  They suggest that the tax black boxes will be GPS boxes that will report everywhere we drive to.  That's overkill, just recording mileage off the odometer would do the trick as far as the taxman is concerned. 
   And, it's not widely known, but the computer in all new cars records speed, throttle setting, brake application, miles driven, gear selected, and a lot of other stuff that you would just as soon not have fall into the hands of the cops after an accident.  So far only the car companies know how to read this stuff out.  Wait til the ambulance chasers figure it out.   

Friday, November 1, 2013

Battle of the River Plate

Goldie Oldie British flick from 1956.  A docudrama about the sinking of the Graf Spee at the beginning of WWII.  From the Rank people, whose opening trademark was a giant brass gong being struck with a mallet in the hands of a beefy guy with his shirt off.  It's in Techicolor and Vistavision (wide screen process like Cinemascope).  It came from Netflix.  A period piece from the era of good WWII British war movies.
   They used real ships, including one survivor of the 1939 battle, so the sea scenes are good, not model work.  The real thing, was treated as a tremendous victory by the British, who were yearning for some good news after a disastrous string of German victories.  Graf Spee was an extremely heavy German cruiser armed with 11 inch guns, far more powerful that the 6 or 8 inch armament of contemporary cruisers.  The British, remembering the damage done to them by ultra heavy American frigates in the War of 1812.  In that war much weaker British frigates felt honor bound to engage the Americans, who promptly used their heavier guns and bigger ships to blow the Brits out of the water.  To prevent this sort of foolishness, the Brits dubbed Graf Spee a "pocket battleship", which enabled British cruiser captains to put up their helm and run for it, rather than getting sunk engaging a much stronger vessel.
  Three British cruisers caught up with Graf Spee off South America and closed for a furious gun battle.  None of the ships carried enough armor to keep out the enemy's shells and all ships took quite a bit of damage.  Graf Spee broke off the action and took refuge in Montevideo harbor in neutral Uruguay.  International law forbade neutrals to harbor belligerent warships and so after a couple of days Graf Spee weighed anchor and came out to face the British.  Only she scuttled, blew herself up, rather than engage the three battered British cruisers lying in wait for here off Montevideo.   The British treated their victory as the sinking of battleship rather than a mere cruiser.
   The movie treatment of the Germans is sympathetic.  But they omit a scene where  German skipper Langsdorf gets a chance to explain why he decided to scuttle instead of fight.  They do have scene where the British officers speculate on what Langsdorf might do, they all think Langsdorf will come out and fight.  The action scenes could have been better.  For a sea fight we want to see the guns firing, and then we want to see whether they hit or missed.  The director didn't bother, we see the ships closing, but it is unclear who is hitting and who is missing.
   Anyhow, it's a good sea flick, enjoyable as a period piece.